First Zeebrugge Disaster

Reproduction of a Cog

I have vivid memories of 1987 when the MV Herald of Free Enterprise, a Ro-Ro ferry capsized just after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.  It lay in shallow waters, half out of the water, but still 193 passengers and crew were trapped and died in the ship.

Long before Zeebrugge was a port the coastline of Zeeland and Flanders was very different.  The modern landlocked Dutch town of Sluis was, back in 1340 AD the Flemish port of Sluys.

The English under Edward III decided to land an army in the Low Countries in an opening gambit of the 100 years war, on this day, June 24th.  The French moved to the estuary with their superior fleet of 220 vessels.  In an accepted tactic of the day they chained the vessels together to create a floating fortress.

The English entered the river mouth with their fleet of about 130 ships.   They had few warships and mostly used commandeered merchant cogs.  The deep keeled and high sided vessels gave the English longbow men good elevation over the French galleys.  They also had a good following wind and freedom to maneuver.  As the English rained down shot and arrows the hapless French began to cast off their chains to break out of their “fortress”.

As they broke off piecemeal the French ships were hunted down by the English, operating in packs of 3.  In this way they captured over 160 French vessels and sank another 30 or so.  For a loss of 500 men the English took up to 20,000 French lives.  It was an unqualified disaster for France.

But the English navy did not “Rule the Waves” quite yet, and they were unable to convert the victory into any significant long term advantage either on land or sea.  No surprise given that the war was to drag on for a century.  The Knight’s son, the Squire from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales might well have been at Sluys….

With hym ther was his sone, a yong Squiér,
a lovyere and a lusty bacheler,
with lokkes crulle as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
Of his statúre he was of evene lengthe,
and wonderly delyvere and of greet strengthe.
And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie
in Flaundres, in Artoys, and Pycardie,
and born hym weel, as of so litel space,
in hope to stonden in his lady grace.
Embrouded was he, as it were a meede
al ful of fresshe floures whyte and reede.
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day;
He was as fressh as is the month of May.

The Humble Herring

Image result for herring

I have to admit I was never a great fan of herring.  It’s those tiny pesky bones you get in small fish that annoyed me.  We had fresh herring regularly when I was a kid.  That was back in the days when eating fish on Friday was de-rigeur for Catholic families.

Herring was cheap.  So was Whiting, Mackerel and Cods Roe.  As a kid, at the elbow of my mother when she was shopping, you picked these things up.  So knowing it was cheap probably reduced its desirability in my young mind.

But more to the point, my mother would pan fry herrings or grill them and what made Friday special was deep fried fish and chips.  My favourite was deep fried smoked cod.

But herring was an engine of the Industrial Revolution, and in the time before we figured out canning it was one of the most important foods for armies.  So important that there was a Battle of the Herrings fought, on this day, in 1429.  During the Siege of Órleans a supply column was successfully defended from attack at the town of Rouvray to protect the vital supply of food to the English forces.

The English protector of the herrings was none other than Sir John Falstaff, made famous by the plays of Shakespeare.

Herrings were abundantly available in Northern Europe.  Until the modern era and the arrival of the Factory Trawler it seemed that they would never run short.  Herring stocks recover very quickly as they are a fast breeding fish.  The vast shoals were followed and harvested by great fleets of small fishing boats.  Fishermen derived their living from the abundance of this one fish.  Entire communities were engaged in the processing and preservation of the catch.

The fresh fish is still prized in Baltic countries where it is dipped in chopped onions and downed with a shot of aquavit or vodka.

But it is the fact that you can preserve the little oily fish easily that made them the staple of the working class populations.  First farm labourers, then soldiers and eventually poor industrial town populations relied heavily on this cheap and easily replenshed source of protein.

You can simply fillet them and salt them and store them in barrels.  That is probably what the English were defending at the battle of the herrings.  But you can also use a wide variety of other preservation techniques.  Pickling, fermenting and smoking of some variety turn into hundreds of local variants when you carry out some research.

So popular a fish it is of course celebrated in poem and song.  Here is the Clancy Brothers version of the highly popular “Shoals of Herring”

 

Shoals of Herring

Happy Birthday Andrew Motion

Image result for andrew motion

UK poet laureate from 1999 to 2009, following in the footsteps of Ted Hughes (husband of Sylvia Plath).  The top choice for that gig was Seamus Heaney, but the Irishman ruled himself out.

Born Oct 26th 1952 Motion had the good fortune to study under W.H Auden in Oxford and to have Philip Larkin as a colleague at Hull.  He followed Malcom Bradbury as professor of creative writing in University of East Anglia.  Now esconced at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA.  A brilliant poet from a stable of brilliant poets.

Andrew Motion shares a birthday with Dublin Poet Trevor Joyce, but we’ll give this page to Andrew on the day England defeated the All Blacks in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Semi-Final in Yokohama.

Diving; by Andrew Motion

The moment I tire
of difficult sand-grains
and giddy pebbles,
I roll with the punch
of a shrivelling wave
and am cosmonaut
out past the fringe
of a basalt ledge
in a moony sea-hall
spun beyond blue.
Faint but definite
heat of the universe

flutters my skin;
quick fish apply
as something to love,
what with their heads
of gong-dented gold;
plankton I push

an easy way through
would be dust or dew
in the world behind
if that mattered at all,
which is no longer true,
with its faces and cries.

Arnemuiden

carrack_161043578_250

On this day in 1338 a French fleet of galleys attacked a flotilla of five large carracks out of England.  The English were carrying a large wool cargo purchased by Edward III to trade in the Netherlands.

England made good money in the middle ages exporting wool to Europe.  Flanders was the hub of cloth production in Northern Europe.  They converted the raw wool bales into fine cloth carrying out the carding, spinning, dyeing and weaving before passing it onwards for a hefty profit.

The huge French fleet swept down on the English at Arnemuiden in Flanders when they were unloading the cargo.

The English fought back bravely.  John Kingston, captain of the flagship, the Christopher, had three cannon and a handgun on board.  It is the first recorded use of artillery in a European naval battle.

Carracks are sailing vessels, easily outclassing galleys in the open sea, but no match for them in a tight harbour.  The huge French fleet overwhelmed the English, seized the ships and cargo and slaughtered the prisoners.  This was the opening naval action of the 100 years war.

 

Winding Wool: by Robert William Service

She’d bring to me a skein of wool
And beg me to hold out my hands;
so on my pipe I cease to pull
And watch her twine the shining strands
Into a ball so snug and neat,
Perchance a pair of socks to knit
To comfort my unworthy feet,
Or pullover my girth to fit.

As to the winding I would sway,
A poem in my head would sing,
And I would watch in dreamy way
The bright yarn swiftly slendering.
The best I liked were coloured strands
I let my pensive pipe grow cool . . .
Two active and two passive hands,
So busy wining shining wool.

Alas! Two of those hands are cold,
And in these days of wrath and wrong,
I am so wearyful and old,
I wonder if I’ve lived too long.
So in my loneliness I sit
And dream of sweet domestic rule . . .
When gentle women used to knit,
And men were happy winding wool.

This is England – Theresa May

 

Scarborough

Armed police on the beach, guarding the donkeys from Islamic terrorists.  Or are they there to protect old blighty from the immigrants?  Will you “fight them on the beaches”?  Those nice Polish men who erected your garden shed, or changed your car tyres, or unblocked your toilet?

This is the England being created by David Cameron and Theresa May today.  It is a land of fear and suspicion.  It is a world of hate.  It is a place where wealthy people become more wealthy, making armaments to sell to despots and dictators, rebels and freedom fighters on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia, in South America.  And when those distant people have had enough of killing each other sometimes they take a notion to visit violence on the brokers of death.

This is an England where the wealthy resent the very fundamentals that make Britain Great.   The social contract between the people and the state that was forged from the blood sacrifice of two world wars.  Basic housing provision, social welfare, a national health service, public transport and a civil service built on principles of fairness, honesty, trust, service, you know, old fashioned English public schoolboy stuff.

The puppet masters of the Tory party want to dismantle the public contract.  They want a descent into what they have in the USA.  Richer rich and poorer poor.  They have already dismantled British Rail, British Gas, Water and Electricity and sold off the family jewels.  Now they are going after things like the minimum wage, healthcare and housing.

The European Union was in their way.  The EU demands a social contract as the price of membership.  This does not suit the oligarchs.  To get the world they want they needed Britain to be outside the EU.  They sold Brexit to the working class British by dealing in fear, hate, xenophobia, racism and greed.  Basically they sold the seven sins.  And Britain bought them.

Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.  If you buy the seven sins then you get to live them.  What that means, in a real sense, is armed police on the beach on a sunny day.  This is England!

For those of you out there who blame all this on muslims, I give you a poem to think about.  Sassoon wrote this after witnessing the carnage of the Battle of the Somme.  It is violently anti-Christian, and he never published it in his life.  Islam is an excuse given to you by the Oligarchs to engender you with fear and suspicion of “others”.  If you wipe out all the muslims they will find another target for your hate.  They have a manual for this plan, it is called “1984”, written by George Orwell.

 
Christ and the Soldier; by Siegfried Sassoon

The straggled soldier halted — stared at Him — Then clumsily dumped down upon his knees, Gasping

‘O blessed crucifix, I’m beat !’

And Christ, still sentried by the seraphim, Near the front-line, between two splintered trees, Spoke him:

‘My son, behold these hands and feet.’

The soldier eyed him upward, limb by limb, Paused at the Face, then muttered,

‘Wounds like these Would shift a bloke to Blighty just a treat !’

Christ, gazing downward, grieving and ungrim, Whispered,

‘I made for you the mysteries, Beyond all battles moves the Paraclete.’

II

The soldier chucked his rifle in the dust, And slipped his pack, and wiped his neck, and said —

‘O Christ Almighty, stop this bleeding fight !’

Above that hill the sky was stained like rust With smoke. In sullen daybreak flaring red The guns were thundering bombardment’s blight. The soldier cried,

‘I was born full of lust, With hunger, thirst, and wishfulness to wed. Who cares today if I done wrong or right?’

Christ asked all pitying,

‘Can you put no trust In my known word that shrives each faithful head ? Am I not resurrection, life and light ?’

III

Machine-guns rattled from below the hill; High bullets flicked and whistled through the leaves; And smoke came drifting from exploding shells.

Christ said

‘Believe; and I can cleanse your ill. I have not died in vain between two thieves; Nor made a fruitless gift of miracles.’

The soldier answered,

‘Heal me if you will, Maybe there’s comfort when a soul believes In mercy, and we need it in these hells. But be you for both sides ? I’m paid to kill And if I shoot a man his mother grieves. Does that come into what your teaching tells ?’

A bird lit on the Christ and twittered gay; Then a breeze passed and shook the ripening corn. A Red Cross waggon bumped along the track. Forsaken Jesus dreamed in the desolate day — Uplifted Jesus, Prince of Peace forsworn — An observation post for the attack.

‘Lord Jesus, ain’t you got no more to say ?’

Bowed hung that head below the crown of thorns. The soldier shifted, and picked up his pack, And slung his gun, and stumbled on his way.

‘O God,’ he groaned,’why ever was I born ?’

… The battle boomed, and no reply came back.

Poxy King

charlesviii

Charles VIII of France, who was known by his subjects as Charles the Affable.  For me he is the Monarch of the morbus gallicus, the Sovereign of syphilis, the prince of pox.

In 1494 on the death of his relative he exercised his “right” to the throne of Naples.  In a swift campaign he swept through Italy and seized Naples (on this day in 1495) without a siege.   On the way through Italy his French and Swiss troops deported themselves in the usual manner of invading soldiers and raped their way down the peninsula.

The Italians rapidly formed the League of Venice, or the Holy League in 1495 with support mainly from the Neapolitans, Milan, Venice, the Papal States, the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdoms of Spain.

There is a “pre-Columbian” theory that syphilis was present in Europe in some form before this point, but it is also known that it was in the New World.  The popular theory is that the Spanish contingent contained some soldiers and sailors who had been with Columbus in the new world.  Or perhaps they shared the same brothels as the Sailors of Columbus before they departed for Italy.

Whatever the origination there is no doubt that the full blown and virulent explosion of syphilis into Europe can be traced to the war in Naples.

In 1495 the French and Swiss were driven out of Italy by the Holy League, but they brought the disease with them.  They raped and pillaged their way back through Italy to France and then brought the disease home.  It spread throughout the world and was initially a highly virulent disease that resulted in early death.  This supports the theory that it came from the New World for the Europe of the 15th Century had no immunity to the illness.

England had the misfortune to join the League of Venice in 1496. By 1497 the disease had reached England and Scotland.

To this day it remains one of the most horrible and contagious diseases in existence.  Modern antibiotics kept it in check for the last 60 years, but now it is having a resurgence in a world of relaxed sexual mores, anti-biotic resistant strains and low immune conditions such as Aids.

The disease recedes in times of peace, but resurges every time there is a major war.  War is the friend of the Sexually Transmitted Disease.

Consequence

GDYATH

God damn you all to Hell

Consequence : a result or effect, typically one that is unpleasant.

Britain is suffering the consequences of cynical politicking.  David Cameron came up with the idea of a Brexit referendum as a means of remaining in power. He used the idea to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party, and secured a majority government for the Conservatives in Britain.  Then he had to pay the price by giving what he promised.

The Brexit referendum in the UK has rolled the country back 100 years.  On the one hand you have British people who still think they have an empire.  They want Britain to be “Great” again.  They miss the “good old days” long before they were born when Britain stood in splendid isolation from European politics.  These are people who simply have no grasp of the complexities of international trade in the modern world.  They believe the lies about the EU costing Britain money.  They don’t understand that their jobs are reliant on exports to the EU and on the flows of trade, capital and currency through Britain because they are in the EU.

On the other hand you have Brexit voters who are simple xenophobes.  They have no passport, have never really encountered other cultures and frankly are afraid to do so.  They rail about “poles taking our jobs” while refusing those same jobs.  They are happy to accept the lies about the “Schrodinger Immigrant”, you know;  the one who steals your job while living on state benefits.

The Brexit outcome has divided the United Kingdom.  London, Scotland and Northern Ireland all want to remain in the EU.  Those who voted to leave are the old, the uneducated and the working class;  the very people who are best protected because of EU membership.  They are people who do not understand economics.

The politicians who lied to the voters about the benefits of leaving the EU seem to be shocked that anyone actually listened to them.  Now that they have succeeded they are facing the awful consequences of the outcome.  What is their reaction?  They are all running for the hills.  Cameron, Johnson and Farage are all gone.  Gove will soon follow.  The idiots who launched this ship of fools have refused to step on board and take the tiller.  They can see that there are no happy outcomes to this path.

Sterling is taking a beating on currency markets and the purchasing power of the British has already collapsed.  International companies who sited in the UK to gain access to the EU are reviewing their location options.  This will have enormous consequences in terms of employment levels.  The EU is playing hardball with the UK in trade terms.  The politicians who believed they would have Norwegian style access to EU markets are now feeling like Maxwell Smart with the end credits rolling, as the doors close in front of them.

The Scots voted only 2 years ago to remain in the UK on the Conservative Party campaign slogan of “Better Together”.  For the Scots the idea of better together encompasses Europe, not just England.  If England successfully negotiates its way out of the EU we may see Scotland negotiate its way out of the UK and back into Europe.

That outcome could see an interesting dynamic emerge.  There is a potential for a United Kingdom of Scotland and Northern Ireland standing separately from the Britain of England and Wales.

All across Europe it was understood that the ordinary voter finds it difficult to understand the benefits of EU membership.  The layman sees the bureaucracy and the raft of laws and regulations.  It is easy for cynical politicians to make personal capital by attacking the EU.  The truth is that the EU is the greatest force for peace in the history of the planet.  It converted a plethora of quarreling nation states into a peaceful and cooperative economic bloc.  It turned a mixed bag of nations into a formidable economic bloc.  The long lists of seemingly tiresome rules and regulations that underpin this cooperation are designed to protect the citizens of Europe and to enhance their lives.

No experiment is perfect. The EU is a work in progress, but it is a great thing.  It takes a particularly small minded, short-term focused, self-serving politician to attack such a wonderful institution.  But then modern western democracy is based on small mindedness, local issues, the time-frame of the next election and selfish politicians.  When I go to the polls I want to vote for leaders, people who will do their best for the welfare of all the people.  Instead I am faced with candidates who promise to deliver medical cards, hospital beds and planning permissions to people who do not deserve them.  I despair.

 

 

 

Bjorking Brilliant

Iceland

Oh yeah, they all laughed in the office when I drew Iceland.  Euro 2016 championship sweepstakes and I got the team that was considered the total no-hoper.

Well who’s laughing now suckers?  Spain, Austria and Croatia all gone.  Ireland, heads high, good effort, but gone.  England….embarrassed, humiliated, shocked.  Brexit 2.

Iceland, a country with a population that could just about fill a decent stadium if you let them stand on the pitch.  Iceland, who have 21 players from their national league in their squad and only 2 players who made it on the international stage.

Iceland may get no further in the competition, but they have been worth every penny of my entry fee.  Come on the land of fire and ice.  Or ice and fire if you are a Game of Thrones fan.  July 3rd we take on the French on their own doorstep.  L’hiver arrive!

Fire and Ice; by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

 

 

 

Leipzig

Leipzig

Growing up in Ireland makes us part of a world that has traditionally been dominated by England.  Much of our understanding of history is influenced by the English weltanschauung.  

A clear incidence of this influence is the celebration of the importance of Battle of Waterloo in the defeat of Napoleon and the studious neglect of the Battle of Leipzig.  Waterloo was fought by the Seventh coalition, led by an Englishman, the Duke of Wellington.  Leipzig was the victory of the Sixth coalition, led by the Russians under Alexander.

In truth the battle of Leipzig was a far more important engagement.  The coalition fought Napoleon at the height of his power and he was roundly defeated for the first time on the battlefield.  Bonaparte lost the battle, but also lost his reputation for invincibility.  He left the legend of his military genius on the field of Leipzig.

The battle was the greatest fought on European soil until the Great War.  Casualties numbered in excess of 100,000 (higher than Borodino, but spread over 4 days) .  By comparison Waterloo, with 60,000 casualties was a sideshow, a last gasp by an already defeated and spent force.

Ranged against Napoleon where the forces of Sweden, Russia, Austria, Prussia, Saxony and Wurttemberg.  In particular it was seen as a great victory for the Germans in the Alliance.  The painting above is entitled “Declaration of Allied Victory after the Battle of Leipzig, 19th October, 1813”, painted by Johann Peter Krafft in 1839.  This painting is a classic piece of propaganda.  It was repainted at least 6 times, re-arranging the prominence of the allied leaders to suit particular commissions.

If only the British played some small part in the sixth coalition then the painting could have been repainted a seventh time.  We could have seen the British Commander take pride of place at the center of European events.  Then we would know all about the Battle of Leipzig.  Instead when we hear about European wars we hear of Blenheim and Waterloo.

The great commander of the day, the General who marched in only one direction, Forwards, was Blucher.  He triumphed at both Leipzig and Waterloo!  He even has a pair of shoes named after him, and his design became the template for all modern mens shoes.

Song of the Grenadiers:

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules
Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.

Those heroes of antiquity ne’er saw a cannon ball,
Or knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal.
But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

Whene’er we are commanded to storm the palisades,
Our leaders march with fusees, and we with hand grenades.
We throw them from the glacis, about the enemies’ ears.
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

And when the siege is over, we to the town repair.
The townsmen cry, “Hurrah, boys, here comes a Grenadier!
Here come the Grenadiers, my boys, who know no doubts or fears!
Then sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

Then let us fill a bumper, and drink a health of those
Who carry caps and pouches, and wear the loupèd clothes.
May they and their commanders live happy all their years.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

Spanish Flu

Alfonso XIII

Alfonso XIII

What’s in a name?  Diseases are often named after places, and who wants to be remembered for a disease?  Early outbreaks of Syphilis in Europe for instance occured during a French invasion of Italy in 1494.  The French promptly called it the “Italian” disease and blamed it on Neapolitans.  The Neapolitans blamed it on the French soldiers and called it the “French” disease.  The truth is that the strain probably came from the New World, transmitted to Europe by the men who sailed with Christopher Columbus.  Which would make it the Spanish disease.  Or the “Indian” disease since Columbus thought he had found a Western route to India.

Spanish flu was confirmed in the USA in March 1918 in Fort Riley, Kansas.  There is much debate now about the origin of the flu.  What is certain is that it exploded all along the Western Front at the end of World War 1 in the crowded and unsanitary conditions in which troops commonly live.

One theory is that it migrated from the herds of pigs that were kept penned nearby to feed troops.  Another theory arises from a forgotten piece of war history.  Thousands of Chinese coolies were recruited by the allies to provide labour along the western front.  There was an outbreak of H1N1 virus in China around the same time.  Did it originate in Europe and spread to China or vice versa?

In France, England and Germany the wartime propaganda machine was in full swing.  There was no reporting of deaths from flu as this might encourage military action by the enemy.  However Spain was outside of the conflict.  When the Spanish king Alfonso XIII became ill with the flu the pandemic was reported widely, giving the impression that it was rampant in Spain.  As a result it became known as the Spanish Flu.

Now a truly international poet.  Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki.  Born in Italy to a Polish family he was wounded in WW1 fighting for France and died of the Spanish flu.  He coined the terms “Cubism” and “Surrealism”.

Le Pont Mirabeau; Guillaume Apollinaire

Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away
And lovers
Must I be reminded
Joy came always after pain

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

We’re face to face and hand in hand
While under the bridges
Of embrace expire
Eternal tired tidal eyes

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

Love elapses like the river
Love goes by
Poor life is indolent
And expectation always violent

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

The days and equally the weeks elapse
The past remains the past
Love remains lost
Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I