Chimurenga name.


Sketch of an Ndebele Warrior by Robert Baden Powell founder of the Scouting Movement.

Chimurenga is a Shona word which translates as “revolutionary struggle”.  The first Chimurenga was a revolt by the Ndebele (Matabele) and Shona peoples of Matabeleland (now Zimbabwe).  The revolt failed after initial successes, and Matabeleland became Rhodesia.

In the 1960’s and ’70’s the revolt of the Ndebele (PF) and Shona (Zanu) against white rule became the Second Chimurenga.  This one succeeded.  Robert Mugabe, leader of Zanu then united the Shona and Ndebele factions into the Zanu-PF party which has ruled independent Zimbabwe ever since.

Leaders in the brutal guerrilla bush war often adopted war names to enhance their ferocity.  Gentle intellectuals went through over a year of tough bush training at the hands of North Korean and Chinese instructors.  They hardened up and so did their names.  They took cues from movies such as James Bond, Cowboy films, from music icons like Bob Marley, from sportsmen like Muhammad Ali, political leaders like Hitler, Stalin and even Indira Gandhi.

“What’s in a name?” asks Juliette from the Shakespeare play.  “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Bart Simpson suggests “Not if you call it a stink blossom or a crap weed”.

Nominative determinism, the theory that our actions or career tend to fit our names, will see a job as a mechanic go to John Wright instead of Fred Taylor.  Do Chimurenga names work?

Who would you fear more?  Someone called John Oboyo or the guy beside him called Commander Comrade Mao?  Would you prefer to be interrogated by Ariston Ford or by Machete Footchopper?

More to follow on this theme.


High water mark


Septimus Severus died on this day, in Eboracum, Britannia, (modern York, England), in 211 AD.  Under his reign the Roman Empire attained its high water mark as he extended borders in Asia, Africa and in Britain.

Had he survived for just one more year the History of Britain could have been quite different.  In 210 AD Severus laid the foundations for the complete conquest of Caledonia. He repaired Hadrian’s Wall.  Then he moved north and carried out extensive repair work on the Antonine Wall and secured the Scottish Lowlands between Hadrian’s Wall and the central belt from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth.

He then advanced up the east coast of Scotland, constructing forts along the way.  He advanced through modern Dundee, Aberdeen and around the Firth of Moray near Inverness.  The local clans refused to meet the legions and engaged in guerrilla tactics.  Even so it became clear by the winter of 210 that the Clans would have to make peace with these invaders, who seemed relentless.

How different would the history of Britain have been had Caledonia been romanised?  Clan structures, which endured to the rebellion of Bonny Prince Charles would have been replaced with a Roman administrative structure.

But Severus fell ill and withdrew south to Eboracum where he died.  The momentum of the campaign was lost.  His son, Caracalla, re-initiated the campaign, but within a short time sued for peace with the Caledonian tribes.  The Romans withdrew south of Hadrian’s wall and never again ranged north in conquest.

It would be nice, from a Celtic perspective, to depict this as a victory of Celtic passion over Roman organisation.  The truth though is that the Celts had the sense to steer clear of the legions.  They saw what happened in Britain.  So they withdrew to the mountains, woods and bogs.  They left the Romans to fight the cold, the wet, the relentless damp, the plagues of midges that rise on any sunny day.  Against these enemies the Romans had no defence.


Happy Birthday John Cooper Clarke

Dr. John

Amongst all the famous names of the punk rock era and often on stage with them was performance poet John Cooper Clarke, born this day in 1949.  Not as well remembered as the likes of the Sex Pistols, New Order, Elvis Costello or Siouxsie and the Banshees and yet I think his material has stood the better test of time.

He gives a unique, almost diary-esque, point in time view of the UK of the 1970’s.  His references below to the TUC, Kremlin, Whitehouse etc are reminders of the politics of the time.  Whitelaw I am inclined to believe is Gordon, the Scottish footballer.

The Daily Express is a middle market, middle class rag. Not the Times, it is just as trashy in content as the nipple flaunting tabloids with their page 3 girls. Cooper Clarke neatly uses it as a way to lampoon the status hungry readers who lack the class authenticity of the Working or Upper classes in the UK of the time.  A clear attack, for those of us who remember it, on Thatcher’s new middle class home owners with their British Gas shares and their Axminster rugs.

In 2013 Salford university awarded this home grown hero an honorary Doctorate.  His comment : “Now I’m a doctor, finally my dream of opening a cosmetic surgery business can become a reality.”


You Never See a Nipple in the Daily Express: by John Cooper Clarke

I’ve seen the poison letters of the horrible hacks
About the yellow peril and the reds and the blacks
And the TUC and its treacherous acts
Kremlin money – All right Jack
I’ve seen how democracy is under duress
But I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

I’ve seen the suede jack boot the verbal cosh
Whitehouse Whitelaw whitewash
Blood uptown where the vandals rule
Classroom mafia scandal school
They accuse – I confess
I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

Angry columns scream in pain
Love in vain domestic strain
Divorce disease it eats away
The family structure day by day
In the grim pursuit of happiness
I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

This paper’s boring mindless mean
Full of pornography the kind that’s clean
Where William Hickey meets Michael Caine
Again and again and again and again
I’ve seen millionaires on the DHSS
But I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

Feliz cumpleaños Jorge Guillén


One of the spanish poets of the “Generation of ’27” Guillén lived to the ripe old age of 91.

A prolific poet and a respected academic, nominated four times for the Nobel Literature prize.  On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he was imprisoned in Pamplona for political reasons.  He was released and continued to teach in Seville until 1938.

Then he emigrated to the United States.  There is speculation that Nationalist Catholic Spain was an unhealthy environment for an academic married to a Jewish wife.  It certainly proved to be a very unhealthy climate for his fellow Generation 27 poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

So to a poem about death looming in the distance. A grey wall across our future obscuring what lies beyond.


Muerte a lo lejos: by Jorge Guillén

Je soutenais l’éclat de la mort toute pure.



Alguna vez me angustia una certeza,

Y ante mí se estremece mi futuro.

Acechándolo está de pronto un muro

del arrabal final en que tropieza


La luz del campo. ¿Mas habrá tristeza

si la desnuda el sol? No, no hay apuro

todavía. Lo urgente es el maduro

fruto. La mano ya lo descorteza.


…Y un día entre los días el más triste

será. Tenderse deberá la mano

sin afán. Y acatando el inminente


Poder diré sin lágrimas: embiste,

justa fatalidad. El muro cano

va a imponerme su ley, no su accidente.


Feliz cumpleaños Rafael Alberti

One of the Spanish poets of the “Generation of ’27” the flowering of Spanish poetry in the inter-war period which has been called the Silver age of Spanish Poetry.  Cernuda, Lorca and Guillén were all members.

Alberti left Spain at the end of the Civil War (1936-39) and refused to return until Franco died.  He moved to Paris and shared an apartment with Pablo Neruda until the Germans occupied Paris.  He died aged 96 and his ashes were scattered in his favourite place in the world, the bay of Cádiz.

Here is an ode to that city.

Cuba Dentro de un Piano

Cuando mi madre llevaba un sorbete de fresa por sombrero
y el humo de los barcos aun era humo de habanero.
Mulata vuelta bajera.
Cádiz se adormecía entre fandangos y habaneras
y un lorito al piano quería hacer de tenor.
Dime dónde está la flor que el hombre tanto venera.
Mi tío Antonio volvía con su aire de insurrecto.
La Cabaña y el Príncipe sonaban por los patios del Puerto.
(Ya no brilla la Perla azul del mar de las Antillas.
Ya se apagó, se nos ha muerto).
Me encontré con la bella Trinidad.
Cuba se había perdido y ahora era verdad.
Era verdad, no era mentira.
Un cañonero huido llegó cantándolo en guajiras.
La Habana ya se perdió. Tuvo la culpa el
Calló, cayó el cañonero.
Pero después, pero ¡ah! después…
fue cuando al SÍ lo hicieron YES.

Enter a Pilgrim


On this day, Dec 11th, 100 years ago, 1917, General Allenby entered Jerusalem.  In doing so he became the first Christian to take effective control of the city since Bailan of Ibelin surrendered the city to Saladin  in 1187.  (Excluding a limited negotiated return by Frederick II in the 6th crusade 1229-1244).

Allenby clearly understood the deep significance of his arrival in the holy city.  For this reason he elected not to enter in triumph as a conqueror.  Instead he entered as a pilgrim.  He walked in via the Jaffa gate in what was a low key affair, as depicted by the photo above.

I contrast this with the recent decision by Donald Trump to overturn decades of US foreign policy and order the removal of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Trump has done exactly what Allenby sought to avoid.  He made a clear political statement favouring one community over all others.

The result of Donald Trump’s announcement is widespread rioting in the Middle East, not only in Palestine but also extending into neighbouring countries.  The usual flag burning is taking place outside US embassies all over the muslim world.

This manic and destructive act neatly focuses US media attention away from his tax bill, which rewards the super-rich at the expense of the middle class and poor Americans.  So what if a few muslim youths are shot, buildings torched and the people of Israel face a violent backlash?  The important thing is that US Oligarchs can look forward to even greater expansion of their wealth.  And let’s not forget, Trump is one of them.





I have a 19 year old daughter.

Christine Keeler was 19 when she was “introduced” to John Profumo.  If a 46 year old married politician started carrying on with my daughter I would promptly knock his lights out, phone his wife, and expose him in public for the scumbag that he is.

Christine Keeler was a vulnerable girl.  Product of a broken home, her parents split up when she was a child.  Her mother moved in with a boyfriend who made the pretty young Christine feel very uncomfortable if they were ever alone in the disused railway carriage that was their home.

She had a fling with a US serviceman who left her, when he found out she was pregnant.  Her mother basically forced her to have the baby unassisted and the child survived only 6 days.  It is little surprise that Christine escaped as soon as she could.

In the “glamorous” Soho club scene of the 1960’s she was a lamb to the slaughter.  Described by some as a “party girl” and others as a  prostitute she lived in a gray world in the middle.  Exploited but not paid for it.

Christine Keeler had a number of unfortunate relationships with some pretty nasty characters.  She saw firsthand how the “swinging 60’s” was in fact a pretty seedy scene.  There were rumors and the press heard some juicy tales but had no proof.

Everything came to a head when one of Christine’s “boyfriends” lost his temper and fired a gun outside the flat she was hiding in.  Stephen Ward’s flat.

The journalists had a reason to investigate and what they turned up was just too good to believe.  The British Minister for War was in a relationship with a call girl who also shared her attentions with a Russian Embassy attaché who was probably a KGB agent.

When it came to light that Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies were involved in parties with one of his government ministers the PM, Harold McMillan said that his government would not be brought down by 2 tarts.  Profumo lied in parliament about the affair.  He ended up resigning.  The government fell.  Many people blamed the 19 year old girl, by then 22 years old and dragged through the courts.

Christine Keeler died this week.  She never profited from her affair.  She had a pretty sad life.  She is best remembered for the saucy image in the photo above.  A long way from working as a tea lady to make ends meet.

John Profumo, the disgraced minister, devoted his life to the poor.  He had the money to do it.  When he died in 2006 he was lauded for his good works and not blamed for his part in the affair.

As the father of a 19 year old girl I say he was a creep and she was a victim.   It appears that rich and powerful people can attain redemption but that is more difficult for poor people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.  But what do I know?