Going out with a bang

An elderly, but hardy cattleman from Texas once told a young female neighbour that if she wanted to live a long life, the secret was to sprinkle a pinch of gunpowder on her oatmeal each morning.  She did this religiously and lived to the age of 103.  She left behind 14 children, 30 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, five great-great-grandchildren and a 40 foot hole where the crematorium used to be.

Richard M

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A job in a million

When I started work at Hackney Council I quickly realised I was a cog in a big wheel. Lou Olivo, the area foreman, was pig ignorant, arrogant, and annoying to anyone at a lesser grade than him. We were trash, to be bullied if he got the chance. Well he didn’t with me. During my second week in the wooden hut, laughably called a depot, I asked for more job tickets.

Oh, you’re some sort of flash git,” he said. “OK snake hips,” he rummaged in his paperwork and pulled out a few more tickets. “Get over to Castlewood Road and fix the problem with their bog.” He rammed the job ticket at me.

What’s all that about?” I asked Ted Carter my mate.

Take no notice. That ticket has been punted to every plumber for at least six months and none of them has cured that leak.” At the house a nice old Jewish couple explained that every time they flushed their toilet, water seeped out of the cement at the base of the pan.

Well that can’t be a hard job. It’s either cracked pan or a defective drain.” I hadn’t seen that type of pan before but it looked normal, with a very old wooden seat extending from one wall to the other.

My lad got my hammer and chisel as there was a noticeable crack in the base. That was clearly the cause of the problem but replacing the pan was a separate problem.

I didn’t bother asking Lou Olivo for a remedy but he contacted the plumbing supervisor, Bob Patmore, who came to see me. “That’s a cottage pan. It’s probably two hundred years old,” he said. “The best technique is to chip the cement down to the drain and replace with a new ‘two piece pan’.” A two piece pan was unique to me as I’d never even seen one never mind fitted one.

I returned to the depot, to order the materials which was a ‘two pieces Trap’pan, two bags of prompt cement, a new seat and flap as well as a rubber cone and copper wire. Lou Olivo, had obviously never ordered a two piece pan, and made disparaging remarks about this. “You do know what you’re talking about?” The next day I fitted the new pan within three hours as good as new.

I thought on the way back to the depot, this job is OK, I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder, I can basically pick and choose my jobs. The people of Hackney are nice, and the work is what I make of it. It was encouraging to know that Bob Patmore really knew the trade and was ready and willing to give advice. Thereafter, Olivo was more reasonable but basically still a nasty arrogant bastard.

Olivio redeemed himself when I did a burst pipe job in Portland Avenue. It was a straight-forward leak to a lead pipe but the house was divided with the upper floor separate from the ground floor and basement. The downstairs tenant refused me access to the stopcock in the basement. I was shocked when she told me why she’d refused, “her upstairs has got Cancer, and I’m not letting you bring her germs into my flat!” I told Lou Olivo that I had to get into the basement to isolate the water main Reluctantly giving him credit he laid down the law with the tenant. He told her he would see to it that her flat was repossessed and she would be evicted if she continued to deny entry. Needless to relate I was allowed access. The job took thirty minutes and I had no problems restoring the whole house with its water supply.


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A Natural Garden adjacent to our Tower Block

Our wilderness

This photograph was taken just fifty yards from a twelve story block of council flats, where 146 people live. A wild life garden, abundant with wild flowers and berries in autumn with small animals and insects throughout the year. It has been ‘isolated’ for at least fifty years and probably for decades before that. It’s another part of the rolling hills of Hornchurch, Essex.

The land exudes peace and tranquillity as the river Ingrebourne flows past it.


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Book Review: Joseph Knox~ Sirens

Sirens is a debut novel and is a compelling read. Detective Constable Aidan Waits works undercover in Manchester (Manchester noir?). Naturally the people he’s infiltrating are deeply suspicious, prone to breath-taking violence, and occupied with a wide repertoire of evil-doing. Waits has to demonstrate his credentials, which he does, with considerable gusto becoming a quasi-alcoholic and drug user. Eventually he looks like a down and out. Waits is, apparently, on the cusp of being thrown out of the police for helping himself to confiscated drugs.

Knox has created an entirely plausible character. It’s clear that Waits is undercover because he is already prone to that sort of lifestyle. It also offers insight on the long-term stresses of being undercover.

There is a fascinating sub-plot involving a senior politicians daughter who has become involved with the criminals that Waits is investigating. It isn’t a distraction and adds to the general storyline.

Why you should read this book. This book prevents quick, glib condemnation of undercover police who lose their moral compass.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: It doesn’t feature a maverick Detective Inspector with drink problems who loves obscure music.

Cheap second hand copies here https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/085752433X/ref=sr_1_1_olp?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1504528028&sr=1-1&keywords=joseph+knox


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A child’s keen sense of humour

The boss wondered why one of employees was absent but hadn’t phoned in sick. He phoned his home and a child answered.

‘Is your daddy home?’ ‘
Small voice whispered, ‘Yes, but he’s out in the garden ‘
May I talk with him?’
The child whispered,

‘Well, is your Mommy there?’
‘Yes but she’s out in the garden too.’
‘May I talk with her?’

‘Is anybody else there?’
‘Yes’ whispered the child, ‘a policeman.’
‘May I speak with the policeman?’
‘No, he’s busy.’ whispered the child.
‘Busy doing what?’
‘Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the police dog men.’

Growing more worried as he heard a loud noise in the background, he said ‘What’s that noise?’
‘It’s a helicopter.’ answered the whispering voice.
‘What is going on there?’ demanded the boss, now truly apprehensive.
‘The search team just landed in the helicopter. ‘
‘A search team?’ said the boss.
‘What are they searching for?’
Still whispering, the young voice replied with a muffled giggle….’ME’


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Field Marshal Douglas Haig’s Glittering Prizes

Douglas Haig was adored by the British after he’d defeated Germany in 1918. Traditionally returning military heroes were garlanded with honours and wealth and Haig was no exception. Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, had doubts about the stellar qualities of Haig but it was unthinkable not to reward him and other senior officers. Lloyd George, an adroit politican, did what had to be done. The honours came ‘free’, as it were, unlike the largesse, which was budgeted at £585,000. Haig was rewarded for being a Field Marshal on Armistice Day, not for individual brilliance.

Tradition demanded that senior officers be handsomely rewarded after a successful war. Haig had a strong sense of entitlement. He was exceptionally well connected to royalty and senior politicians, which made his position well nigh impregnable. From 1905 he was a protege of R B Haldane, the Secretary of State for War. In the same year he got married in Buckingham Palace. Haig was a courtier and soldier-politician. He was also very wealthy. In a major breach of etiquette he loaned a huge amount of money to Sir John French a major-general and his commanding officer*. French promoted him, possibly coincidently, on many occasions. Haig successfully conspired against French after the battle of Loos (1915) and was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in his place.

Lloyd George had doubts about Haig’s judgement. These doubts became critically important in 1916. Haig was a cavalryman who’d had great success in the Boer War but the western front was utterly different. In his War Memoirs Lloyd George says, “When I ventured to express… my doubts as to whether cavalry could ever operate successfully on a front bristling for miles behind the enemy line with barbed wire both Generals [Joffre and Haig] fell ecstatically on me…” p323** Those who actually fought the battles Haig planned shared Lloyd George’s doubts. They knew that wars of attrition and movement are mutually exclusive, which meant that the cavalry was obsolete as an attacking force. The cavalry was as obsolete as Haig himself.

Haig’s first set-piece battle was The Somme (1916), which was carnage. The Somme had first day casualities of 60,000. Haig learned very little from the Somme and persisted in similar tactics for a further two years. Haig was a relic of a by-gone era. Appalling military decision-making didn’t prevent Haig from saying that the victory in 1918 was his victory. It naturally followed that as he was victorious he should be garlanded with the fruits of victory. As a result the Somme was ‘forgotten’ and the 1918 focus was purely on the ultimate success.

Lloyd George understood Haig’s political skills and impeccable connexions but still mooted awarding Haig a viscountcy, the lowest feasible aristocratic title*. Haig was outraged. Haig knew he was the benchmark for the entire reward programme and played hard-ball. The War Cabinet capitulated and an earldom was forthcoming. Haig’s earldom was accompanied with a £100,000 cash award. Where Haig led eighteen senior officers followed (see Addendum).

Haig was a poor general who knew the secret of personal advancement. His wealth, social and political connexions promoted his cause and the Armistice clinched it. The returning hero picked up the glittering prizes. The 6th of August 1919 must have been excruciating for Lloyd George as he praised Haig to the skies in Parliament and proposed huge cash awards and honours. Lloyd George got his revenge in his War Memoirs. He trashed Haig’s reputation and it’s stayed trashed ever since.




Admiral of the Fleet, Sir David Beatty


Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount Jellicoe


Admiral Sir Charles E. Madden


Admiral Sir F. C. Doveton Sturdee


Rear-Admiral Sir John de Robeck.


Vice-Admiral Sir Roger J. B. Keyes


Commodore Sir Reginald J. Tyrwhitt



Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig


Field-Marshal Viscount French


Field-Marshal Sir Edmund Allenby


Field-Marshal Sir H. Plumer


Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson

10 000

General Sir Henry Rawlinson


General The Hon. Sir Julian Byng


General Sir Henry Horne


General Sir William Robertson

10 000

General Sir William Birdwood


Lieut.-Colonel Sir Maurice Hankey



Air Vice-Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard


Corrected for inflation £100,000 equates to £4,657,530 in 2016 and therefore £10,000 is £465,753. See debate of 6th August 1919.
Lieut-Colonel Sir Maurice Hankey is interesting in this list as he was a civilian bureaucrat with a military title. http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1919/aug/06/supply#S5CV0119P0_19190806_HOC

*Sir John French was made a viscount on being effectively sacked in 1916 to be replaced by Haig. Haig had a hold on French, his senior officer, when he lent him a very large amount of money, in 1899, which ‘bought’ Haig (some say) promotions. French was deemed incompetent in 1916 and was still awarded £50,000.

**David Lloyd George War Memoirs

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Et tu, Brute?

As he fell, Caesar cried out in Greek to Brutus, ‘You too, child’, which was either a threat (I’ll get you, boy!) or a poignant regret for the disloyalty of a young friend (You too, my child?), or even, as some suspicious contemporaries imagined, a final revelation that Brutus was, in fact, his victim’s natural son and that this was not merely assassination but patricide. The famous Latin phrase Et tu, Brute? (You too, Brutus?) is an invention of Shakespeare’s.”

Mary Beard SPQR: a history of Ancient Rome pp337-8


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