My worst day!

There I was sitting at the bar staring at my drink when a large,
trouble-making biker steps up next to me, grabs my drink and gulps it
down in one swig.

“Well, whatcha’ gonna do about it?” he says, menacingly, as I burst
into tears. “Come on, man,” the biker says, “I didn’t think you’d CRY.
I can’t stand to see a man crying.”

“This is the worst day of my life,” I said. “I’m a complete failure. I
was late to a meeting and my boss fired me. When I went to the parking
lot, I found my car had been stolen and I don’t have any insurance. I
left my wallet in the cab I took home. I found my wife with another
man… and then my dog bit me.”

“So, I came to this bar to work up the courage to put an end to it
all. I buy a drink, I drop a capsule in it and I sit here watching the
poison dissolve. And then you show up and drink the whole damn thing!

But, hell, enough about me, how are you doing?”

Ray E.

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Bertrand Russell in Brixton prison, 1918

For the first two months of his sentence, life at Brixton prison suited Russell perfectly. Freed from the demands of both political campaigning and romantic attachments, he was able to live precisely the kind of cloistered, contemplative life he craved. The conditions…were not especially harsh. His cell (an extra large one, for which he paid a rent of two shillings and sixpence a week)2 was furnished in style by his sister-in law, Elizabeth and decorated with flowers from Garsington. He had The Times delivered every day, and was, from the great number of books supplied by his friends, able to transform his cell into a reasonably well-equipped study….He did not even have to eat prison food; as a first division prisoner he was allowed to order his meals from outside. Nor was he expected to clean his own cell. The first division was designed for those in the habit of employing servants, and, at sixpence a day, Russell could have his cleaned for him by another prisoner.

1 He was in prison because of his anti-war propaganda and lectures.

2 A soldier in 1914 earned about eight shillings week, with a supplement paid to wives directly. Russell spent six shillings a week on his comforts in prison.

Ray Monk Bertrand Russell: the spirit of solitude p525

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Henrietta Maria: the Heretic Queen of England 1625-49

When Henrietta Maria married Charles the First, England’s vicious anti-Catholicism made her a hate figure. She was a child-bride of fifteen when she married the 25 year old Charles. Her brother, Louis XIII, agreed marriage articles with Charles, which were intended to protect her religious rights and soften England’s anti-Catholic laws. Her golden period was the 1630s when the Queen’s Chapel became a centre for promoting Catholicism. The horrors of the civil wars from 1641-9 included unprecedented religious vilification, which brought out her unbelievable strength of character. She showed intelligence and devotion to Charles, supporting him in his doomed effort to remain king. His execution plunged her into despair for the last twenty years of her life.

Henrietta Maria at the time of her marriage in 1625

Diplomatic marriages involve dowries, which Charles absolutely needed.1 Henrietta Maria’s dowry entitled her to freedom of religion and an additional clause softened anti-Catholic laws. In 1626 Henrietta Maria prayed, in public, at the site of the martyrdom of Catholics at Tyburn gallows.2 This ostentatious avowal of faith exploited the marriage articles and Charles retaliated by reducing her entourage from 300 to three by this action. A new Queen’s Chapel at Somerset House was a lavish building which replaced the first chapel as her place of worship.3 It was supposed to be solely for her use but she used it to promote English Catholicism. “In consequence the queen’s household became a public place of worship, a refuge for metropolitan Catholics.4 Louis hoped to use Henrietta Maria as a Catholic Trojan Horse and by the late 1630s the plan appeared to be working.5

Twenty years prior to Henrietta Maria’s marriage the Gunpowder Plot attempted to slaughter MPs and King James in parliament. This appeared to demonstrate that Catholics were traitors. More substantive was the belief that Henrietta Maria was perverting the court of Charles. Charles was the Head of the Church of England and there were worries that he’d use his power to Catholicise England just as Queen Mary had done in 1553. The General Directory of Worship was written to replace the Common Prayer Book, which denigrated Henrietta Maria. One prayer asked

For the conversion of the Queen, the religious education of the Prince, and the rest of the Royal seed.6

The Uxbridge Treaty, 1646, demanded that the royal children be educated by people nominated by parliament to counter Henrietta Maria’s malign influence.7 In truth they had a point, as Henrietta Maria was of critical importance to Charles. The Civil War saw Henrietta Maria raising money in Europe for Charles’s cause. She went abroad in 1641 to discover how easy it was to sell her jewels, “the proposed visit foreshadowed far more serious attempts by Henrietta Maria, in 1642 and 1644, to sell jewels and other valuables to raise funds in support of the Royalists’ pressing need for such resources.” 8 Henrietta Maria quickly found out that prospective buyers couldn’t pay in cash and they worried that,

Because of the enormous sums involved, the possibility of the reclamation of the items by Parliament at a later date and doubts about the queen’s claims to ownership and therefore her right to sell, the most valuable items remained unsold.9

Henrietta Maria promptly sold all the jewels which were indisputably hers to fund Charles’s campaigns. It’s undoubtedly the case she either sold or pawned Crown Jewels which were definitely not hers. (As a side issue this provided the Dutch with a motive to broker peace so that they could get their money back.) She worked tirelessly to raise money but the only substantive revenue stream was taxation and the rebels controlled London, the greatest source of tax in England. Returning to England, as an enemy, was fraught with challenges once she

evaded the Parliamentarian navy to land at Bridlington in Yorkshire with troops and arms. The pursuing naval vessels then bombarded the town, forcing the royal party to take cover in neighbouring fields; Henrietta Maria returned under fire, however, to recover her pet dog Mitte.10

Henrietta Maria escaped the siege of Oxford, 1644, and despite being heavily pregnant with her ninth child made her way to Exeter. On the 16th June she gave birth and a month later fled England from Falmouth.11 She never saw Charles again.

Henrietta Maria retained her faith against every attack. Charles himself believed her to be a heretic and therefore doomed to go to hell when she died. The political pressures on her were unbelievable and it shows her strength of character that she was steadfast. And she was also an evangelical Catholic never giving up her pious hope that her children would join her faith. Notwithstanding all of this she was an exemplary wife, giving unstinting support to Charles in his futile efforts to remain King of England.

1 Conrad Russell Parliaments and English Politics 1621-9 1979 p209 The dowry was £120,000 paid in two tranches. One came with the Henrietta Maria the other was withheld dependent on the performance of Charles in relation to the marriage articles. The initial negotiations had been held with James I who said that the religious clauses were pointless and might be destructive, “the laws were sleeping so well it was a shame to wake them by a declaration of suspending them. This was typical Jacobean advice: lazy, cynical, shrewd, and ultimately correct.” p210

2 In the period 1585-1649 164 Catholics were martyred with only two in the fifteen years 1625-40. The civil war period saw religious bigotry accelerating and persecution brought 87 executions. For a discussion of this point It’s about a mile between St James Palace, where her first Queen’s chapel was situated, and Tyburn, which would have been a comfortable walk through countryside for Henrietta Maria. This could have done with her huge entourage after Catholic services at St James’s Palace.

3 See and for Henrietta Maria’s two Queen’s chapels.

For the use of the Queen’s chapel to create Catholic population. “Upon this understanding lay the actions of the Capuchins appointed to the Queen? s Household in a purpose-built Chapel at Somerset House, whose mission from 1630, brainchild of Fr. Joseph de Tremblay, laboured to convert the chief courtiers. Ironically it was their very success that became their downfall before they could reach the threshold of influence which they sought.” p5

4 Kevin Sharpe The Personal Rule of Charles the first 1992 p304

5 ibid p305ff

5 C H Firth and R S Riat Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum (collected and edited) 1911 pp588-9

7 S R Gardiner The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution 1625-60 (selected and edited) 3rd edition 1906 p284

8 para 6

9 ibid para 9


11 see also which are her letters to Charles. The letter from Exeter details her ill-health, faith in God and her expectation that she’d die (probably in child-birth). pp244-5





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Women always win

A couple were having a bad patch. They agreed it was best not to talk at all as everything seemed to turn into a row. Their truce was successful and they got used to communicating through written messages.

One day Jim wrote a note to his wife asking her to wake him up the next day as he had an early flight to catch. This wasn’t inconvenient to her as she was an early riser. She wrote back that she’d do as he asked.

The next day Jim woke up two hours late for his flight. Swearing and cursing he was just about to have a row with her when a piece of paper fluttered to the ground.

Wake up! It’s 6 a.m.”


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Book Review: John O’Farrell ~ There’s only two David Beckhams

A wonderful satire on football is exactly what’s needed in a post-World Cup period and this is that book. O’Farrell has made the wildly improbable plausible- including a Raheem Sterling goal.

The book begins with Tony Blair elected as a Master of the Universe. Blair hadn’t yet become a born-again war lord and still has some idea of what matters to the English voter. He resolves to rectify decades of under-achievement by creating a wonder team using science (naturally). Using historic footballing figures he has them cloned so they all reach their peak at the same moment. And that moment is the Qatar World Cup 2022.

O’Farrell’s satire includes numerous marvellous cameo pieces as this extended quotation shows:

Poland’s top goal scorer carefully placed the ball on the spot. He looked up to see the English keeper poised on his line, jumping up and down in anticipation. And then he ran up and kicked the ball with all his might.

And almost in the same instant the joyful sight of the ball bouncing off the crossbar, eighty thousand people exhaling instead of drawing breath; this gift of a goal had been thrown away and the penalty was missed. So hard had he struck the ball that it bounced back in a huge loop over the heads of all the Poland players who had been rushing into the box for any rebound as it sailed towards the halfway line. Here England’s Raheem Sterling had been waiting probably every game of his long career, for this incredibly unlikely possibility. Straight from a Poland penalty, Sterling was suddenly one on one with the Polish keeper. He dribbled, he swerved, he sent the keeper the wrong way, he tapped it in: 3-2!”

Does this book need any more recommendations when you realise this is just one superb example?

O’Farrell, John. There’s Only Two David Beckhams (pp. 109-110). Kindle Edition.

Why you should buy this book: It’s wonderful fun (remember that?)

Why you shouldn’t buy this book: You can’t believe that football is fun

Buy it at:


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A conversation between my parents

Mum: I’ve been bitten by a mosquito!

Dad: I’ll bet it’s regretting it.


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Housing upgrades, repairs and creative tension

In the winter of 1969, I and five other tradesmen were directed to work in a derelict house in Rushmore Road Hackney. Two stories high it had two bedrooms, a large living room and a  brick back edition. There was a kitchen at ground floor with a bathroom above – it was a dump of a property.

Whilst standing empty for several months, it had been vandalised by thieves looking for  scrap metal. All of the pipework, the metal taps, roof lead work and even the cast iron bath and soil stack were stolen. They even took grates out of the fire places.  Many of the floorboards and joists had signs of rot, due to the slates on the back edition roof being removed.

My first task was to take up the floorboards just inside the front door to locate the lead main supply. This had been hacked off just outside of the stopcock. It was easy, with a few fittings, which I carried in the my boot of my car and copper pipe from my roof rack, to reinstate. First things first it was essential to restore the water supply so we could have a brew of tea. The previous occupier had left an old kettle and a few cups and jam jars, in their kitchen. I smashed some rotten floor boards and stacked them in the front room fire place. The kettle soon boiled.

I sent Billy, my apprentice, to buy tea sugar and milk and while we waited we warmed ourselves by the fire. Billy was a nice lad, very keen to please and grateful for the chance to learn the plumbing trade. Old Lloyd the black carpenter, was a bit put out that I had smashed up some of his floorboards, for fire but soon quietened down when I asked, “would you rather be cold?” His Jamaican Windrush bones agreed with what I’d done but the carpenter in him was reluctant. Jack Dwyer, the brickie come plasterer, was a bolshie piece of work. Busted nose as well as cauliflower ears, he looked as if every fight he’d had, he’d lost.  I had been with him before. He always recalled the story of when he was a fair ground bare-knuckle boxer. He’d take on anyone for a five shilling purse*. I think he was definitely punch drunk, as he never seemed quite in control of his temper. Jim Scott on the other hand was an intelligent electrician. In just the first few days on the job, he’d several room rewired, all tagged and ready for their eventual fittings. He spent hours though, in placing a new fuse board, in the hallway.

All went well and we soon had deliveries of timber, slates and iron work. I’d ordered a new pot belled stove for the kitchen along with the galvanised pipe and fittings needed to supply hot water. We made good progress until Bill Shuttler, the Council’s General Foreman turned up. He was known throughout the council workforce as ‘The Undertaker’. A tall skinny man in his late fifties, with a long dour face, a beak for a nose, little piggy eyes, set a bit too close to each other. Thick bushy eyebrows and deep jowl lines from each side of his beak down to his chin.  He was as sour in his attitude as he was in his looks. I don’t think he ever smiled and certainly never made a light hearted comment. In winter he always wore a black full length Crombie overcoat and fedora hat. Hence his nickname.

I don’t know what caused the ruckus but the first I knew was Jack bellowing at Shuttler. By the time I got into the back room where they were I was just in time to block a punch, which Jack had aimed at Shuttler’s jaw. I became a small barrier between the two of them. Both Jack and Bill were bigger than me. I remember thinking that Jack was the most likely to lose his rag, so I faced him, with Shuttler screaming “you’re sacked, for gross misconduct!”

Later, after Shuttler had returned to the Town Hall, he must have thought more about the incident. He sent a message saying if he received an apology he’d rescind the sacking.

*in 2018 that is about £4 correcting for inflation


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