Archive for London

How big was the 23rd March Put It To The Vote march? A: too big to ignore

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 25, 2019 by telescoper

This post offers some interesting reflections on Saturday’s march. I recall the anti-War march in 2003 and would say that Saturday’s was similar in size, and both were substantially larger than the one last autumn.

I heard the organisers announce an official estimate of 1 million (without an error bar). Not being able to reach the end of the march – barely got halfway – I can’t make a quantitative estimate. I’ll just say that if someone told me it was two or three times as big as the one in 2018 then I wouldn’t be surprised.

I’ll just add that it was very enjoyable and the participants were very friendly and polite – so different from the abusive and threatening conduct of the other side. That is probably the Remainers’ biggest problem – we’re just too nice. The government is far more likely to be swayed by threats of `blood on the streets’ than civilized peaceful protest, which is why I fear so much for the direction in which the UK is heading.

Kmflett's Blog

How big was the 23rd March Put It To The Vote march? A: too big to ignore

I was not able due to other commitments to pay more than passing direct attention to the People’s Vote in central London on 23rd March.

As might be expected I’m no fan of the named organisers but that is hardly the point. A very large demonstration brings all sorts of people and ideas onto the streets and opens up possibilities.

The organisers pre-claimed the march would be a million strong and repeated that afterwards as well. To be fair with such a large march over a relatively short distance ending up in a restricted space its very difficult to tell. My general views on the size of protests are here:

https://kmflett.wordpress.com/2019/03/21/once-gain-on-the-size-of-protests-the-peoples-vote-march-23rd-march/

There were some slightly odd claims. One twitter post showed the Mall full for a Royal event in a previous…

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A Very British March

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , on March 24, 2019 by telescoper

I’m back in Maynooth now after yesterday’s wonderful demonstration in London. Sources are claiming that about 1.4M people attended. I met filk from all round the country, many of whom had never been on a march before. It’s also worth saying according to the Metropolitan Police that there was not a single incident that they had to deal with.

I’m not very good in big crowds (to say the least) so I stood for a while a little distance from the main body of the demonstration as it assembled in Park Lane. I was astonished to see how many people were joining. It was certainly larger than the previous one, last year.

I eventually joined in when it started moving (very slowly). The people were very friendly and despite the numbers I didn’t get at all panicky. It struck me as being a quintessentially British demonstration, in that it was basically just some very nice polite people waiting politely in a very long queue..

The march was due to start at 12 noon but i didn’t get going until well after 2pm. I had to leave at 4pm, by which I had only got halfway along Piccadilly. Instead of going all the way to Parliament Square I headed back to my hotel, picked up the bag I had left there and took a packed tube to Heathrow. I made it just in time. The plane began boarding just as I ckeated the security checks.

I didn’t take many pictures of the march, but here are a few:

Hyde Park, the Statue of Achilles

Philosopher A. C. Grayling and I..

Beards against Brexit!

It was a wonderful experience to be in the company of so many extremely nice people and I was sad I couldn’t make it all the way to the end!

P. S. The petition on revoking Article 50 has reached almost reached 5 million signatures.

Hands off the Good Friday Agreement!

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , , , on February 22, 2018 by telescoper

 

I’ve been watching with increasing alarm the concerted attempt that certain extremist `Brexiteers’ have been trying to make a case for scrapping the Good Friday Agreement that came about in 1998 after decades of violent conflict in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.  These reckless fools think that derailing the peace process is a price worth paying for their ideological obsession with rejecting anything that involves the EU, in this case the Customs Union that allows an open border between the Republic of Ireland (whose future lies in the vibrant and outward-looking European Union) and Northern Ireland (which will remain shackled to the corpse of the United Kingdom, at least for the time being, until the creation of a united Ireland…). Not surprisingly, Irish politicians and the Irish are incensed about the reckless statements being made by some UK politicians.

Incidentally, the Good Friday Agreement was supported by simultaneous referendums in Northern Ireland (71.1% in favour) and the Republic  of Ireland  (94.4% in favour) ; a majority of the NI electorate also voted against leaving th European Union.  It’s strange how selectively some people are prepared to accept `The Will of the People’…

Anyway, just as a reminder of what is at stake, here are three examples based on my own experiences of what things were like before the GFA, when I lived in London (which I did for about eight years, between 1990 and 1998). During that time I found myself in relatively close proximity to three major bomb explosions, though fortunately I wasn’t close enough to be actually harmed. I also concluded that my proximity to these events was purely coincidental.

The first, in 1993, was the Bishopsgate Bombing. I happened to be looking out of the kitchen window of my flat in Bethnal Green when that bomb went off. I had a clear view across Weavers Fields towards the City of London and saw the explosion happen. I heard it too, several seconds later, loud enough to set off the car alarms in the car park beneath my window.

This picture, from the relevant Wikipedia page, shows the devastation of the area affected by the blast.

The other two came in quick succession. First, a large bomb exploded in London Docklands on Friday February 8th 1996, at around 5pm, when our regular weekly Astronomy seminar was just about to finish at Queen Mary College on the Mile End Road. We were only a couple of miles from the blast, but I don’t remember hearing anything and it was only later that I found out what had happened.

Then, on the evening of Sunday 18th February 1996, I was in a fairly long queue trying to get into a night club in Covent Garden when there was a loud bang followed by a tinkling sound caused by pieces of glass falling to the ground. It sounded very close but I was in a narrow street surrounded by tall buildings and it was hard to figure out from which direction the sound had come from. It turned out that someone had accidentally detonated a bomb on a bus in Aldwych, apparently en route to plant it somewhere else (probably King’s Cross). What I remember most about that evening was that it took me a very long time to get home. Several blocks around the site of the explosion were cordoned off. I lived in the East End, on the wrong side of sealed-off area, so I had to find a way around it before heading home. No buses or taxis were to be found so I had to walk all the way. I arrived home in the early hours of the morning.

 

Does anyone really  want to go back to experiencing this kind of event on a regular basis? If  the UK government is persuaded in its weakness to ditch the Good Friday Agreement then there is a real risk of that happening. And if it does, those calling for it will have blood on their hands.

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Cities 

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on June 5, 2017 by telescoper

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..”

As planned on Saturday evening I stayed at home,  cooked myself dinner, opened a bottle of wine, and watched an old film on DVD. Self-indulgent, I know, but a good way to  have a pleasant evening while avoiding  the crowds at the UEFA Champions League final.

Some time after 10pm  I checked Twitter to see what the score was (4-1 to Real Madrid), and just to check that nothing untoward had happened before or during the match.

It hadn’t, but that was exactly when news was coming in of another terrorist attack in London, this time on London Bridge and in the area of Borough Market. Stories were initially very confused, and I went to bed before a clear picture emerged.

I checked the news feeds again when I woke up and felt the saddest I’ve ever been on a birthday, but still determined to go to Der Rosenkavalier. The best way for us all to beat terrorism is to carry on regardless.

Likewise I didn’t think twice about coming to London today for the Euclid meeting this week. That said, I did arrive very late. Torrential rain overnight in Cardiff, combined with a blocked gutter, led to a flood in my kitchen. I had to call a useful person to fix it the problem, which delayed me by a few hours. Fortunately it was only rainwater in the leak, not nasty stuff backed up from the drain.

Now I’m in London where it is also tipping down, but at least I’m in a pleasant hotel and looking to get a good night’s sleep. The sound of rain can be restful, at least when it’s not flooding your kitchen.

I made my way to the hotel, which is in Bayswater, after a wine and nibbles reception at the workshop. I have never stayed here before and it took a while to find. I was a bit nervous too, as the place is remarkably cheap by London standards. Before correctly locating the hotel I wandered into another establishment on the same street with a similar name. It was quite obviously a brothel, and they politely directed me to the correct address. The hotel turned out to be fine, though obviously without any of the ‘extras’ that would have been available at the other place.

I can’t stay the whole week here as I have to get back to Cardiff to vote on Thursday, but it’s been nice to catch up with news of the Euclid mission and to meet some old friends. There are about 400 cosmologists here in London for this meeting, some of them familiar some of them less so. The mission won’t be launched until 2021 at the earliest, and it’s unlikely I’ll be involved very much, but it’s still exciting to see it all taking shape.

London looking back

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , on March 23, 2017 by telescoper

I thought I’d do a quick post as a reaction to yesterday’s terrible events in London in which four people lost their lives and several are still critically injured. We now know that the attacker was British and that he was known to the intelligence services. He appears to have acted alone and was armed with knives and drove an ordinary car onto the pavement, hitting a number of people before crashing the car and managing to stab a police officer to death before he was himself shot and killed. Whatever his motivations were, it looks more likely on the basis of information currently available that these were the actions of a crazed individual than part of an international terrorist conspiracy. We should, however, avoid jumping to conclusions and wait for the investigation to be completed.

The first thing I want to do is to express my condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. My thoughts are also with those who were critically injured and I hope with all my heart that they will all recover speedily and completely. Physical healing will take time, but they will need help, support and time  to come to terms with the mental trauma too. The same is true for those who were caught up in this attack and received minor injuries or even just witnessed what happened, because they must have been shocked by the experience. I hope they receive all the help they need at what must be a very difficult time.

The second point is that it’s clear that the police and other emergency services acted with great courage and professionalism yesterday. One policeman sadly died, but the swift actions of his colleagues prevented further loss of life. Ambulances, paramedics and members of the public all responded magnificently to care for those injured, and we shall probably find that their response saved many lives too. They deserve all our thanks.

Finally, I noticed a number of ill-informed comments on Twitter from the usual gang of Far-Right hate-mongers, especially professional troll Katie Hopkins, claiming that London was “cowed” and “afraid” because this attack. I don’t believe that for one minute, and I want to explain why.

I lived in London for about eight years (between 1990 and 1998). During that time I found myself in relatively close proximity to three major bomb explosions, though fortunately I wasn’t close enough to be actually harmed. I also concluded that my proximity to these events was purely coincidental…

The first, in 1993, was the Bishopsgate Bombing. I happened to be looking out of the kitchen window of my flat in Bethnal Green when that bomb went off. I had a clear view across Weavers Fields towards the City of London and saw the explosion happen. I heard it too, several seconds later, loud enough to set off the car alarms in the car park beneath my window.

This picture, from the relevant Wikipedia page, shows the devastation of the area affected by the blast.

The other two came in quick succession. First, a large bomb exploded in London Docklands on Friday February 8th 1996, at around 5pm, when our regular weekly Astronomy seminar was just about to finish at Queen Mary College on the Mile End Road. We were only a couple of miles from the blast, but I don’t remember hearing anything and it was only later that I found out what had happened.

Then, on the evening of Sunday 18th February 1996, I was in a fairly long queue trying to get into a night club in Covent Garden when there was a loud bang followed by a tinkling sound caused by pieces of glass falling to the ground. It sounded very close but I was in a narrow street surrounded by tall buildings and it was hard to figure out from which direction the sound had come from. It turned out that someone had accidentally detonated a bomb on a bus in Aldwych, apparently en route to plant it somewhere else (probably King’s Cross). What I remember most about that evening was that it took me a very long time to get home. Several blocks around the site of the explosion were cordoned off. I lived in the East End, on the wrong side of sealed-off area, so I had to find a way around it before heading home. No buses or taxis were to be found so I had to walk all the way. I arrived home in the early hours of the morning.

Anyway, my point is that amid these awful terrorist atrocities of the 1990s, people were not “cowed” or “afraid”. Londoners are made of sterner stuff than that. It is true that one’s immediate response when confronted with, e.g. , a bomb explosion is to be a bit rattled. I’m sure that was true for many Londoners yesterday. That soon gives way to a determination to get on with your life and not let the bastards win. The events of the 1990s gave us a London of road blocks, security barriers and many other irritating inconveniences, but they did not bring the city to a standstill, as some have suggested happened yesterday. For the most part it was “business as usual”.

I don’t live in London anymore, but I think Londoners are as unlikely to be frightened today as they were back then. And it will take much more than one man to “shut down the city”. As a matter of fact, I think only a coward would suggest otherwise.

 

P.S. I forgot to mention another event, in 2005, when I was at the precise location of a bomb explosion but precisely 24 hours early…

 

 

 

The Little Red Book Revisited

Posted in Biographical, Poetry with tags , , , , on September 15, 2013 by telescoper

I can hardly believe it, but tomorrow this blog will be five years old; my first ever post was on September 16th 2008. I’ve decided to use this occasion as an excuse to wallow in self-indulgence by reposting some vintage items, with appropriate updates. This one was originally posted on 27th September 2008, but I’ve updated it with a picture of the eponymous little red book and a scan from one of its pages.

–0–

 

It’s now late September and there’s no sign that the Indian summer we’ve been having is going to fade. Once again, I’m sitting outside in the sunshine while Columbo daydreams. In the newspapers there’s yet more panic about the global financial crisis and the US Government’s attempts to persuade Congress to bail out the profligate bankers. The Republicans don’t want to play along, apparently because they don’t like the idea of government getting involved in the markets. I’m opposed to it for the opposite reason, which is I think those who have caused the problem should be the ones that pay for it. If the UK government decides to bail out any banks, I hope it will be at the price of public representation on their boards or even nationalisation.

Not long ago there was talk about energy companies having a windfall tax levied upon them owing to the sudden leap in their profits arising from high oil and gas prices. This seemed like a good idea to me. A retrospective windfall tax on city bonuses to pay for any packages cobbled together to pay the financial sector’s debts appears at least as justifiable as that proposed for the energy sector.

It’s now about a year since my father died. He hadn’t left a will so I had to travel to Weymouth to tidy up his things and organise a funeral. I hadn’t seen him much in recent years and was never particularly close, since my parents split up when I was about 12 and I went to live with my mother when that happened.

My dad never really came to terms with life after the break up of the family. His business eventually went down the tubes and he left Newcastle to live in Weymouth near his sister, my Auntie Ann, who had lived there for quite a while. He had a history of heart problems so his death wasn’t really a shock, but it did bring feelings of guilt to me, for not having kept in touch very well, as well sudden and unpredictable pangs of nostalgia which I’m still a bit prone to.

Among the memories that popped uncontrollably into my mind last year was a visit we made as a family to the house of my late Auntie Vi, who I don’t think I ever met. I don’t remember when this was but it was just after she died, when I guess I was probably about seven or eight which would make it around 1970 or so. My dad was among those invited to the house to help clear it by taking away anything they wanted.

I don’t remember the house very well except that it was rather dark, decorated with Victorian designs, and cluttered with heavy old-fashioned furniture. I imagined Auntie Vi (or “Violetta”, which was her real name) to be quite scary, perhaps like a governess in some gothic novel. I don’t know much about her except that she wasn’t well liked by the rest of the family. There was talk of some scandal, but I never found out what it was. I was just intrigued how she got the name Violetta. Perhaps her parents liked opera.

Wordsworth

The only relic from that visit that I still know about was a little red book that we took home with us. It was a book of Poems by Wordsworth which my mum kept when she split up with my dad and moved out. I asked her about it last year, after my dad’s funeral, and was quite surprised to find she still had it. She gave it to me to keep, and it is on the table beside me now as I write this.

Out of curiosity last year I looked for the date the little book was published, but couldn’t find one anywhere inside. I don’t know why, but the lack of that little bit of information bothered me. I looked on the web to see if there was information about this or similar books was to be found. No luck.

I turned instead to the task of finding out whatever I could about the publisher. The book is in a series called “Canterbury Poets” which was published by the Walter Scott Publishing company (London, New York and Felling). That made be laugh. As if anyone could ever have imagined Felling to be on a par with New York or London!

I had assumed that Sir Walter Scott was the famous novelist of Ivanhoe and the Waverley novels, but digging about a little I found out that it was named for someone else entirely. This particular Sir Walter Scott was born in 1826. He had very little formal education, but became a highly successful businessman. By the 1880s he owned a large network of business interests in the North East, primarily involving engineering and construction companies. In 1882 Scott expanded his empire by buying a publishing company “The Tyne Publishing Company”, which had just gone bust. Scott built a new factory (at Felling) and established a new office in London for his new publishing house, and the Walter Scott Publishing Company was born.

I think Scott must have been a very shrewd entrepreneur because the printing business grew rapidly, primarily through its list of editions of classic works of literature that were out of copyright. The Canterbury Poets series was first published in 1884, which is also the date of their first edition of the Wordsworth. These books were extremely well made, with hard covers, fine quality paper and good stitching . They sold for a shilling, which is an astonishingly low price for books of this quality. I can’t be sure, but have a feeling that a lot of them were given as “rewards” , for good behaviour at sunday schools and the like. That market accounted for a lot of the book trade in those days.Sir Walter Scott died in 1910 and the company ceased trading in 1931. At its peak it did indeed have offices in New York, and also sold large quantities of books in Australia.

I found this all out quite easily, because the Walter Scott Company turned out to be quite famous for the role it played in the story of working class literacy, but it didn’t tell me about the specific edition I had. However, I did discover that a scholarly work had been published in 1997 that contained a complete biliography of all the works it published until the company finally went down the tubes. Quite apart from the connection with my peculiar Aunt, I found the whole story quite fascinating. I sent off for the bibliography, which is basically a kind of catalogue that painstakingly records the size, typeface, cover design, and printers colophons for all known editions. (It’s quite boring to read, as you can imagine). I searched through it to find references to William Wordsworth. Number 99c is the entry for the “Poems” of William Wordsworth.

With a bit of work I established that the specific edition I have was first published in 1892 but reprinted many times after that. Details of the book, however, indicate that my version was actually printed in 1902. Among the clues is the fact that the colophon states “The Walter Scott Publishing Co, Ltd.” and it didn’t become a limited company until 1902. The company also moved its London and New York offices a couple of times which helps pin down the date, as these changes are noted on the imprint.

So there you have it. The little red book was printed in Felling in 1902, which happens to be the same year that my little house in Pontcanna was built, just after the death of Queen Victoria. I don’t know how old Auntie Vi was when she died, but she must have been a young girl when she got it and had obviously kept it all the rest of her life. That fits with the way her name is written in pencil, in what looks like a child’s hand, inside the front cover.

The book isn’t particularly valuable. A lot were printed and it’s not particularly rare. I’m not sure Wordsworth is very collectible nowadays either. I am still amazed, though, how well it had withstood the passage of time. Today’s books are cheaply bound and printed on chatty paper. Most modern paperbacks are in bad condition only a few years after you buy them. They made things to last in those days.

It seems appropriate to end with one of Wordsworth’s poems, of which (I forgot to mention) I’m very fond indeed. I’ve picked the start of the Ode “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”, partly because there’s a wonderful setting of this work to music by Gerald Finzi which was performed at this years Proms.

I think it’s apt enough. Here is the first verse as it appears in the Little Red Book:

wordsworth_intiminations

 

Lost in the City

Posted in Biographical, Poetry with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by telescoper

The second Friday of the month is the day of the regular “open” meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society (at 4pm) preceded by parallel discussion meetings on topics that vary from month to month. This month one of the sessions was organized in memory of Bernard Pagel, who died last year and whom I knew a little, so I decided to go to that.

I met Bernard Pagel when I started my DPhil at Sussex University in 1985. He taught one of the courses on the MSc Astronomy and we research students were required to attend his lectures. I have to say he wasn’t the best lecturer I’ve ever had; he always seemed unable to look at the class, which is a trait I find quite disconcerting. But he did reveal a wonderfully wicked sense of humour. When a visiting seminar speaker arrived late and after the seminar explained he had dozed off on the train and missed his stop, Bernard suggested that he must have been reading through his transparencies.

I left Sussex to move to London around about the time Bernard retired from his position at Sussex but he immediately took up a chair at NORDITA in Copenhagen where age restrictions were somewhat looser. I had been working for a while with Bernard Jones in Copenhagen so I next ran into Bernard Pagel when I visited there. I still found him a strange and rather distant man, but as often happens the ice was broken when a group of staff, students and visitors went to a nice concert in the Tivoli Concert Hall. If I remember correctly it was a Mozart violin concerto. Afterwards, Bernard let his guard down and talked in a much more relaxed way than I had known before and we became quite friendly thereafter. He was in fact a man with very wide interests outside his own sphere of eminence in astrophysical spectroscopy.

After the meeting was over, I went once more to the Athenaeum for dinner with the RAS Club. I was quite surprised when, after the meal, it was announced that I had written on my blog about my previous dinner there. I’m not convinced that everyone there knew what a blog actually is but maybe some of them have found their way here…

Although I got back home to Cardiff in good time on the last occasion I dined at the Club, I had already decided to go to the opera on Saturday night so didn’t have to rush off to make the last train. Walking back to Bloomsbury where I was staying on Friday and Saturday I suddenly realized that it as almost exactly ten years since I moved out of London to Nottingham. In fact I bought my house in Beeston on 13th November 1998 and commuted back to London for about a month, as my position in Nottingham didn’t start until 1st January 1999.

On Saturday morning I decided to behave like a tourist so I first went to the British Museum. I intended to see the new Babylon exhibition, but by the time I got there after a leisurely breakfast it had sold out for the day so I had to content myself with the permanent exhibits. I don’t think I ever went to the British Museum in all the time I lived in London, so it was interesting although I got completely lost.

I did get to see the Elgin Marbles but I still don’t know how to play. I also ended up in a room full of mummies, which is something I find quite distasteful. Although the mortal remains are incredibly old, they are still human bodies and I don’t like the way they are stuck in cases for people to gawp at. Call me sentimental but I think these should be returned to Egypt and laid to rest with some sort of dignity. I also think the Elgin Marbles should go back to Greece, but for different reasons. If we hand them back, we might actually get some votes in the Eurovision song contest for a change.

The rest of the day I wandered around a few of the dozens of bookshops that clutter the area between Charing Cross Road and Covent Garden, feeling all the time like a complete stranger to the city. So much has changed that it’s nearly impossible for me to believe that I ever actually lived there at all. In one shop I picked up a (very expensive) old book of poems by Shelley and found the following lines (written about Naples rather than London):

I stood within the city disinterred;
And heard the autumnal leaves like footfalls
Of spirits passing through the streets
;

I didn’t buy the book. My mood wasn’t helped by the gloomy light. Although it was quite warm for November, there was a curious purple tinge to the late afternoon which I found a bit unsettling.

On my way back I revisited an old tradition of mine of peering in through the window of one of the electrical goods shops on Tottenham Court Road to check the football results. When I was living in London I was usually out most of the day on weekends somewhere in the West End, so that was the only way to keep apprised of developments. Nowadays I don’t go out as much as I used to, so I find quieter ways of filling the gap between the end of Final Score and the start of Match of the Day that seems to me to symbolize middle age.

Then it was time to get to the Coliseum for the opera followed by supper with Joao and Kim at Belgo‘s where our table, ironically, was next to that of a dozen very raucous girls from Cardiff in town for a birthday celebration.