Being a Chinese billionaire isn’t all glamour

Mortality rate notwithstanding, what’s more disturbing is how these mega wealthy souls met their demise. According to China Daily, 15 were murdered, 17 committed suicide, seven died from accidents and 19 died from illness. Oh, yes, and 14 were executed.


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A snowman in Manchester

Manchester in January 2019

This is a really good site for photographs



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Country Dancing: Thornhill Road School

Thornhill School, Islington, London

In 1949 I started my school life at Thornhill Road Infant School. The Second World War had ended four years earlier and rationing was still firmly in place. Although my family, (two older brothers,  Mum and Dad), were poor, we were no different to any other family in Islington. I liked the school because the teachers were always very pleasant me.

One morning the class was gathered together in May 1950. In the school hall was a large wooden pole with different coloured ribbons hanging from a top circular piece. The ribbons were hanging from the top carousel and each landed in a bit of a heap at the foot of the pole. Each of us was told to go to the pole and select a ribbon. I chose a green one. The boys were told to stand back from the pole by about nine feet, the girls by six feet. One of the teachers put an old record onto an equally old gramophone. Told we were going to dance, my heart sank. I didn’t know anything about dancing, and certainly didn’t want to learn how to. The music started after we were told “this is an old song called “Wassailing Round the Apple Tree”.

We boys were told to skip round the girl in front and to the left of us, then still facing the pole to skip backward to the place where the boy to our right had previously stood.  The girls were told to duck under the ribbon of the boy behind, and to the right of their position. It all seemed very complicated to me, but as we progressed, the coloured ribbons plaited themselves further and further down the May Pole. I got the hang of it soon enough. The music started; I didn’t understand it at all. I tried to think what on earth could wassailing be? As we went in and out of each other, in front and behind our ribbons continued to make a lovely lattice covering down the pole. I wanted to carry on until the pole was completely covered, but the teacher stopped us. We were then told to turn round and do the whole thing again in reverse. I wasn’t the only one to get it all wrong. It wasn’t until the teacher started laughing that we all relaxed … Hot and sweaty, I really enjoyable lesson.

A few months later, say six or seven months, we were again mustered in the hall. Country dancing was the title of the lesson. On being shown what to do, I inwardly cringed. We lined up in two rows, boy opposite girl – we had to slowly move down our respective line as the kids in front of us reached the head of the line. We then (the girl opposite me) and I, had to bow and curtsy to each other, hold hand and skip back down the inside of the two respective lines –  back to the end of the lines. I was shocked (more likely appalled). I’d never spoken to girls in our street as we played street games. Mostly, boys played sensible boy games like “rag-ball or blind man’s bluff”. Girls seemed content to swing on ropes tied on the arms of the gas street lamps. I was deeply embarrassed to be seen holding a girl’s hand. In other dances, we boys had to hold both the girls hands and turn in circles whilst moving in a pattern, which avoided other dancers. These were very intricate dance moves all staged in time with records playing what sounded like an accordion, violin, drum and a tin whistle. Sometimes we were each given, tambourines to slap against our thighs as we danced in time, to the music.

When my two brothers found out that I was dancing with girls, the ribbing was quite merciless but as time passed, other distractions took the place of my dancing. If fact, if truth be known, I actually began to not only like those lessons, I even looked forward to them.


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Beware of scientific barmen

A science lecturer and a student walk into a bar. The scientist says to the barman: “Can I have a glass of H20?”

The barman hands over the drink and the lecturer walks away.

Wanting to fit in, the student says to the barman: “I’ll have a glass of H20 too.”*

His funeral is tomorrow.


* H2O2 is hydrogen peroxide: A swig of which can kill you

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Book Review: Isaac Babel ~ Odessa Stories (Translator Boris Dratyuk) (1910s and 20s)

Babel writes about Jewish life in Odessa at the beginning of the 20th century. Odessa’s a vibrant multi-cultural seaport with a very large Jewish population. Gangsters fascinate Babel and he creates wonderful pen portraits. He also writes about being an intellectual child growing up there.

The brutal criminality of Odessa is written in a series of coup de theatre stories ‘starring’ some vivid personalities. Babel also writes about the stresses of living as a hated minority. He’s an intellectual trying to make sense of pograms and the Bolshevik Revolution.

Benya Krik, the king of Odessa’s underworld, is an important person in this book. Here he’s receiving and acting on information.

The chief, he got all the cops together, gave then a speech…”

The raid’s tomorrow.”[the King]

King, it’s today.” ….

…… “King,” the unknown young man said and chuckled. “Funny thing the police station is burning.”

……. “They left the station, about forty of them,” he said, his jaws trembling, “heading out on their raid. So they take about fifteen steps, and the fire, its already going…..”

Sincerest greetings, Your Honour,” he [the King] said sympathetically. “What can you say at a moment like this? A real nightmare.”

.Oy, what a nightmare…”1

Although the King isn’t the centrepiece story in this collection it’s placed first. Much deeper into the selection is In the basement where a poor Jewish boy invites back a rich bourgeois boy who is nonetheless his intellectual inferior. Needless to relate his mother pulls out all the stops trying to remove obnoxious members of the family whilst the visit is happening. Obviously it doesn’t work and he was shamed. Vibrant and classic family life. Babel at his best.

1 The King pp20, 26-7

2 In the basement p155 ff

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Special Dreams

In sleep it seems, I feel my dreams
Senses alert, as if awake
But more, so much more
Tactile touch, memories restored.

Old friends I once knew
Still true, in every detail
We interact, as if –
I never did stand at their grave.

Completely believable situations
Present, as facts align
I am there, in both body and soul
But, am I in their world or, they in mine?

I think I’m in control
At times, perhaps not
No planning, and no guile
All the while, events unroll.

Sometimes I feel a roller-coaster
Lifts, then dips my emotions
People drift in and out
Life in humanities tidal oceans.

Often, while sound asleep
I wake, involuntary
A noise, an accidental shake
Back in reality, my senses overtake.

Briefly, I want to return
But unsure as to why
Was our laughter or,
our handshake, our last goodbye.

I lay awake, often wondering
Dreams worth, remembering
Those occasional, sometimes poignant
special dreams.


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Possibly posed but unbelievably evocative

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