Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Brexit: a game of two halves



I have always seen Brexit as rather like a football match being played while a raging gale blows torrential rain straight along the pitch. In the first half, the Brexiters had the wind at their backs. Until the negotiations began, they could follow the Groucho Marx tactic that had worked so well in the Referendum campaign: ‘these are my principles, but if you don’t like them, I have others.’

So it was: ‘if you want to leave the EU, but keep all its benefits – no problem. In fact, whatever you want, we can get.’ And Leave built up a useful lead, but in added time, the rather robotic team captain, a recent recruit from their Remain opponents, suddenly kicked the ball into her own net.

Monday was half time. Then came the second half, as negotiations began. That, of course, meant a change of ends and now the Brexiters find themselves kicking into the wind and rain. And they conceded another goal right at the start, as their attempt to discuss a trade deal in parallel with divorce negotiations was summarily dismissed.


Will I predict the result? No. But I don’t think there’s any doubt the Leavers are going to find the second half a lot harder than the first. Perhaps the biggest question is whether the Remainers will finally discover a bit of fire in their bellies. Still all to play for.

See also my post of 28 June 2016.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Tower block disasters



The fire that raged through 24 storey Grenfell Tower, which has killed 79 people, is the deadliest in London during the 21st century, and the worst ever in a UK tower block. Another fourteen people are in hospital.

Until now, London’s most notorious tower block disaster was Ronan Point in Newham in 1968. The building had 23 storeys and was brand new. Families had been in for only two months when at six o’ clock on a May morning, they were woken by a huge explosion and some found their walls ripped away, leaving them staring at a fearful drop just a few feet away.

The whole of one corner had simply fallen away. On floor after floor, furniture was left perched on the edge of the abyss. Five people were killed and eleven injured.

The cause was a gas explosion on the 18th floor – the result of a substandard brass nut connecting a cooker to the gas supply. The council repaired the block and moved tenants back in, but the explosion was a major blow to the prestige of tower blocks, and in 1986, Ronan Point was demolished.


For the story, see London’s Disasters. From Boudicca to the Banking Crisis.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Storms talk, North London




Thank you to the Friends of Highgate Library for inviting me to give a talk on my latest book Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion) last Thursday (May 11).

Very kind and appreciative audience.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Storm-Nature-Culture-John-Withington/dp/1780236611

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Free talk on storms TONIGHT, North London




What were the deadliest storms ever? Which storms changed the course of history?  How have storms been portrayed in literature, art and films? What impact have they had on religions?And are they going to get even stronger?

These are some of the topics I will be tackling in my free talk at Highgate Library Civic and Cultural Centre, Croftdown Road, London NW5 1HB at 1930 tonight.

The talk is based on my book, Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion).

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Free talk on storms - a week today, North London




What were the deadliest storms ever? Which storms changed the course of history? What impact have storms had on religions? How have they been portrayed in literature, art and films? And are they going to get even stronger?

These are some of the topics I will be tackling in my free talk at Highgate Library Civic and Cultural Centre, Croftdown Road, London NW5 1HB at 1930 on Thursday 11 May.

The talk is based on my book, Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion).


Friday, 21 April 2017

The power of lying. The Popish Plot Part 2


For part one, see my post of yesterday.

When Titus Oates presented his ‘evidence’ to the Privy Council, King Charles II tore it to shreds, but Oates had the support of the London mob, and standing up to him publicly - that was quite another matter. It would have caused an almighty row.

So the king did nothing to save from execution at least 15 people he must have known to be innocent, while Oates was heaped with honours and money.

But gradually people became more and more sceptical about Oates' claims, and in 1681 Charles had him arrested and imprisoned. And when the king was succeeded by his brother, the Catholic James II, who Oates had denounced, the perjurer was imprisoned for life, put in the pillory and whipped through the streets of London.


The story was not quite over, though. When James was deposed by his daughter Mary and his son-in-law, William III, Oates was pardoned, released and given a pension.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The power of lying. The Popish Plot Part 1

Some of the Brexit strategists and bankrollers think they are awfully clever to have conned people into supporting them by a campaign of mendacity and deceit, but actually there’s nothing new about lying in order to achieve a political objective, even in England.

Back in 1678, Titus Oates (pictured)  was in a tight corner. His cv included being expelled from school, failing to get a degree at Cambridge, then falsely claiming he had one to get ordained as a Church of England priest. Next he had lied about a schoolteacher whose job he wanted, accusing him of sodomy.

This time Oates got arrested for perjury, but he escaped and in 1675 managed to get a job as a ship’s chaplain. The following year he was sacked for buggery, and arrested again for perjury, but managed to escape again.

Next he tried his hand at becoming a Catholic priest, but got expelled from three different seminaries. What on earth was he to do? Oates decided to turn to the thing he did best. Lying. In September 1678, he concocted fake news on a heroic scale, claiming there was a huge foreign-backed Roman Catholic plot, involving hundreds of priests and nobles.

They were planning a Catholic takeover of England while the Queen’s doctor and her sister-in-law’s secretary were to assassinate King Charles II.


To be continued…………….