Today started... with no agenda... just got in the car and started rolling down some narrow country roads... up and over the Pennines... seeing magnificent views on a bright cloudless day. One of the roads presented us with a slope of 20°... a personal best for out holiday to date... we drove very slowly.
Our morning tea break happened to occur at Bakewell an historic market town... with a 700 year market record... at the heart of the Peak District National Park... renowned for its Roman bridge and mellow stone buildings. We interrogated the staff in the local tourist office... and today we struck gold. An elderly Derbyshire gentleman pulled out his maps and pinpointed the jewels of the county... joining them together with roads not shown on our maps. We are now travelling in peak holiday season... so we did not have these hidden treasures to ourselves... but we were able to pick up on the reasons why wealthy landowners... invested so much resource... building large houses in such remote locations.
Here are a couple of 'must see' villages for you to visit when you are next touring rural England.
Tissington lies within the estate of Tissington Hall... owned by the Fitzherbert family since 1465... call in for a cup of tea... if you know them... we were a little busy visiting the special wells... and couldn't make time. The wells in Tissington are treated with much reverence... there are six of them... all decorated with constructions signifying religious connections. You see... Tissington was spared during the 'Black Death' plague... around 1348... and the reason that the town was spared... was attributed to the purity of the water coming from the wells. On Ascension Sunday... look up your church of England calendar if the date has slipped your mind... over 50,000 people still make a pilgrimage to this remote village to add their decorations to the structures built over the wells.
Ilam is another beautiful village recommended by our Derbyshire gentleman from the Tourist Information Office.
Ilam is best known as the location of the neo-Gothic Ilam Hall, a stately home built in the 1820s, and now a youth hostel owned by the National Trust. It is set in large parklands packed full of Romney Sheep... all very photogenic. While most of the buildings in the village are from the past two centuries, Ilam dates from Saxon times or earlier.
The feature that first grabs your attention upon entering Ilam is the high quality of residential houses in the village... all decorated in a Swiss style. The high quality building design was set by an owner of Ilam Hall... a Jesse Watts-Russell, a wealthy industrialist... in the 1820s.
A hall has been here since John Port had the first one built in 1546. Early on, a number of noted literary figures (including Samuel Johnston... the first guy to write an English dictionary) stayed at Ilam Hall and produced some notable works while staying.
In 1820, along came our hero, Jesse Watts-Russell... Swiss by birth... came along and made the remarkable connection... that the hills around Ilam looked like the hills in Switzerland's Alps. He spent large sums building new premises for his villagers... so that they could have the village look Swiss... after he knocked down their previous hovels). He also built the school in 1857 and funded it, at a time when schooling was not compulsory... so he is a good guy.
Importantly, his son, John Charles, moved to New Zealand in 1850 and built another Ilam Hall. The farm/homestead that he created later grew and became the Ilam area of Christchurch.
Russell Crowe (Robin Hood) ... Scarlett Johansson (Another Boleyn) have filmed around Ilam. Scarlett distinguished herself by receiving a mobile phone call... while she was riding as part of a posse of horses over the top of a hill... perhaps she was taking a call from Henry VIII... with whom Scarlett (as a Boleyn sister) reputedly shared her bed.
Each time I visit these historic villages... I feel a disappointment that in Australia, we have not documented the ancient oral history from our indigenous landholders. There must be so many inventions... battles... romantic events ... that could signal the importance of our local landmarks. We should not discount indigenous history... just because it is oral. Studies have found that oral history has proved to be remarkably accurate over very long periods of time.
Is it too late to collect our precious national history?
In recent times, we often despair at the mean spirited approach our political leaders take towards resolving issues impacting on the national interest. I spent this morning touring the gardens at Barangaroo... being guided by the horticulturalist who gave advice to the Barangaroo Committee charged with responsibility for building the garden. Our guide had many insights into how major decisions were resolved in developing the site. We are talking about a total spend on Barangaroo exceeding 6.4 billion... yes, that's billions with the big B... so lots of big decisions were made.
As you will be aware, the site had remained undeveloped since the days of 'the hungry mile'... most peculiar for such a valuable stretch of land so close to the CBD. Darling Harbour was developed... and pulled city development towards the western end of the CBD. The government released small parcels to allow the Darling Harbour complex to grow northward towards the Hungry Mile. Developers had lodged applications with the State Government... architectural societies held competitions to show a full picture of how the area should be best used. Right from the beginning, Paul Keating was in the ear of the government saying, "There is no need for all this formality... I'll tell you what you should do."
Finally, the state government of the day (Labor) saw that it could fund the development of the area by allowing a mixture of commercial development and gardens over the site. It called a competition to help identity the best design. The major architecture firms in Sydney submitted their plans... and a winner was nominated. Paul Keating did not submit a plan... but had persuasive criticisms of all the plans submitted.
Paul's plan was quite simple... replicate the land lines existing prior to European settlement. Shove all the commercial buildings as far to the south as possible... in one nasty clump of high-rise... and leave as much area as possible for public parkland. He wanted extensive gardens to showcase Australia's flora. Paul left unsolved a couple of technical problems... like, the original landlines included a ridge some 30 metres above the concrete wharf left by the hungry mile. Competing designers pointed out that the harbour maritime authority and the city council would never allow such volumes of fill to be moved through the working city. Paul said that was a problem to be solved by the engineers... but the design had to remain faithful to site... and how the engineers solved this problem was no concern of his. The competing architects advised the government to stop listening to Paul and to stick with their plans... that were practical! The governing committee overseeing the construction was named... and Paul Keating was on the committee. Subsequently, the Labor government was replaced by a Coalition government... but all parties did not interfere with Barangaroo Committee... possibly in fear of getting into a public brawl with Paul.
After many months, some engineers stepped forward... and said Paul's demand for a 30 metres high ridge was not 'impractical'... in fact, it could be self funding. They showed that by excavating a hole of 30,000 cubic metres... and using all the excavation material from cutting some inlets into the shore line... and placing some car parks... convention space... and some display space... underground... below the ridge... Paul's demand of a return to the historic landforms was very practical. Very quietly, the winner of the architectural competition was advised her plan was not required... and the Committee listened to Paul.
In excavating around the site, particular care was taken to cut the sandstone into blocks suitable for dressing the shoreline. The engineers divised a computer system to measure the cut stone... barcode each piece and match with other pieces of suitable size to fit into specified stretches of shoreline. They also divised machinery to pick up three of the specified (barcoded) slabs of sandstone and place them securely in the shoreline. These techniques and machinery are now being used in major sites around the world.
Our guide, Stuart, prescribed the soil mix required at each section of the site. The soil was a mixture of crushed sandstone... ground glass... and compost... delivered with a specified PH balance. Stuart had selected all his plants two years before being moved onto the site. At his holding bay, he trimmed the roots of all plants and placed them into wok-shaped plastic bags... and gave them time to adjust while being closely managed. At the time they were transferred to the site, the plants were deprived of water... so that the limbs became limp... and less likely to snap. The Morton Bay fig trees were the first to be moved... followed by the casuarinas... followed by the eucalypts... all natives of harbour vegetation. At the planting of the first fig tree, there was a formal ceremony where indigenous people of the area... some descendants of Barangaroo's tribe... handed over the land to the city... apparently, a moving ceremony.
In August 2015... the Barangaroo gardens were open to the public... some 10,000 visitors walked the site on the day without congestion.
There remains land between Barangaroo Gardens and the commercial canyons to the south... this land representing 40% of the area of the existing gardens. The Barangaroo Committee is now casting its mind to the detail of the design for this area. Hopefully, they will use the vertical dimension of design as skilfully as they have with the northern end.
We know that the Opera House has put Sydney on the world tourist map. Every Cruise Ship that ties up at the overseas terminal has passengers follow the lady holding the umbrella around Circular Quay to view the Opera House. Now, we have Barangaroo... within easy walking distance of the Overseas Terminal through our historic Rocks district... available for the second day of entertaining the Boat People. Yes, Barangaroo is of a quality to complement the Opera House as the signature site of our great city. There are very few cities in the world to present such a high standard of 'dress' as Barangaroo adorns our fair city.
When Paul was whispering in the ear of government saying, "I'll tell you what you should do".... he backed up his unrestrained confidence with the real thing. I defy all of you to walk the Barangaroo gardens and identify a better design for this site. As it turned out, he wasn't too bad in delivering in his role as Federal Treasurer... he will also be remembered for his ability to see how Sydney could be improved.
Today, we are driving from Joan and Johnny's back to London. We'll take a couple of days and look at the never-ending supply of beautiful villages. We are leaving Hexham with particular affection for Northumberland. Have a look at the attached jpeg showing population distribution in the UK. The bottom half of the Nation needs to hang a "No Vacancies' sign in southern regions. Every experience seems to be spoilt by car congestion... traffic lights... queues... and serving-staff fatigued by lots of meaningful contact with the customer. The country is beautiful... but the experience is impersonal.
By comparison, Northumberland is scarcely populated... have a look at the map. We went for a couple of walks with Joan and Johnny... and quite frequently... we'd find spots where you can look around and all you could see was sheep, cattle, rivers, rolling hills and trees... not a house in sight... no other people around... the sense of isolation was delightful.
Another attraction of Northumbria is cultural... and in self-defence... can I emphasise it is not racial. The population of Northumbria is the old traditional ethnic mix. Young and old speak Geordie... look Geordie... know everything about about Geordie-land. This population has a heavy character coming from Viking DNA... the Geordie slang reflects that heritage. Look at the attached map to see the very low percentage of Anglo-Saxon ethics in Northumberland... it is racist isn't it... please forgive my insensitivity. If Scotland can become an independent country within Europe... Northumberland should apply to be one of the Baltic States... it has more in common with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia than it has with London or Surrey. They all speak a variation of English... so language is not an issue.
The focus of today was to look at England's first attempt to introduce a social security net to look after its underprivileged citizens. We visited the 'Poor House' at Ripon... founded by an act of Parliament in the 1860's... during a period of rapid change in the UK. Wool had become a precious commodity... the first steps of the industrial revolution had established weaving mills... powered by watermills. Very quickly, landowners saw that there was greater wealth from kicking tenant farmers off their holdings... and running a flock of sheep. Tenant farmers were shown the door at the first opportunity. While the overall wealth of the country became most comfortable... a subculture of impoverished citizens quickly developed. People started living on the street... dying on the street... what was parliament to do? English society was still structured along lines of class.
There was widespread belief that 'lower classes' were infected with diseases of indolence... insanity... thievery. These diseases are incurable... and were to be treated by isolation and discipline. These are the founding values when building 'poor houses'. The peasant widow with 12 children... who had the misfortune of having her husband die on her... was not treated as a lady with valuable skills who has suffered misfortune... rather, she was treated as a subclass of person... who could not be reconciled into mainstream society... she was to be isolated in case her ailment was contagious. The wealthy classes were terrified that lesser humans should swindle their wealth... by pretending to be destitute when... in fact... they were just lazy.
When a person presented themselves to the poor house... usually women with a clutch of children... they were subjected to the extremes of humiliation... by a panel of upper class men with extreme religious beliefs. The ladies had to prove their extreme poverty... show how long they had lived on the streets... explain how many children had died during this period. Upon admittance... all were stripped... their clothes were put into a sulphur room to kill any fleas, mites and bacteria... while they were bathed and dressed in a poor house uniform. The lucky applicants were given meaningful jobs... while most were set on a fixed routine of prayer and meals... with long intervals where they were required to sit still. Children were separated from mothers for most of the day... and sexes were permanently separated. Some of the more cruel poor houses attempted to generate large incomes by requiring the men to work long hours doing repetitive tasks... like, recycling rope.
Gradually, Britain introduced benefits that replaced the poor house safety net. The social disruption of the industrial revolution became less severe... social cohesion improved. The establishment at Ripon specialised into hospital care... and eventually into an old age centre. However, the poor house format continued through the 1930s... where social security benefits were gained... only with extreme forms of humiliation. The typical length of stay in a poor house was 6 months... whereupon an inmate would be asked to leave... and seek help at the next town. The greatest fear was to die in the poor house... which signalled a failure in the game of life.
Australia has a class that wants to classify people between 'leaners' and 'lifters'... as if there are two classes of citizens. Forget about distinction of 'fortunate' and 'less fortunate'.
We need to look at the starting point for social security... and decide if our Australian society would be a better place if we returned to such values. I think not!
Today, we visited the Roman ruins at Chester... a few miles from Joan and Johnny's place at Hexham. We were fortunate to visit on the day of the annual Roman fair... when the locals dust off their Roman dress up costumes... go out and entertain the crowds with military marching... horse jousting displays... and exhibits of Roman artefacts. There was lots of colours... and lots of photo opportunities.
The Chester site is large... one of the main fortifications defending Hadrian's Wall. There is another large fortification some 20 miles along the wall at Housesteads... so the Picts and the Scots must have been particularly troublesome around these parts. Near the end of the Roman period, Chester and Housesteads became trading centres... where farmers and miners north of the wall offered their produce for sale. Population densities in Northumberland were sparse... so the produce must have been transported from the Edinburgh area.
You can see the map of Roman fortifications on the map with the link:
This map doesn't seem to show a focus on any one part of the UK. Why did the Romans invest so much of their resources in building the wall to defend Northumbria... when it offered no minerals (that we know of)... and agriculture was easier in the climate of south England?
Roman invasion of Britain occurred in 43 AD... and Hadrian's Wall was opened in 128 AD. The Romans did not waste too much time in moving northward. The Romans evacuated Britain in 430 AD... so the Romans had the benefit of the Wall for (perhaps) 300 years... not bad value. Some evidence suggests that the Romans' sphere of influence had contracted within Britain many decades before their evacuation... so (perhaps) the Picts and the Scots had control of the Wall area before 430 AD.
Historians have tried to identify what benefit Rome received from its occupation of Britain. Wikipedia states that imports to Britain included: coin; pottery; olive oil from southern Spain; wine from Gaul; salted fish products from the western Mediterranean and Brittany; preserved olives from southern Spain; lava quern-stones from Mayen on the middle Rhine; glass; and some agricultural products.
Britain’s exports are harder to detect archaeologically, but would have included metals, such as silver and gold and some lead, iron and copper. Other exports probably included agricultural products, oysters and salt, whilst large quantities of coin would have been re-exported to the continent.
On balance, the historical records suggest that Roman's investment in Britain did not pay handsome dividends. Probably, there were many exports taken from Britain that were not recorded... perhaps, slaves, soldiers and pilfered gemstones.
Of the 230 amphitheatres that the Romans built around their empire, 8 were built in Britain. Unfortunately, the Britts destroyed their historic heritage... evidence of ground works remain for Roman amphitheatres, but all the stonework has been reused in newer buildings. Romans built their impressive theatres in 150 locations across Europe... but only one site has been discovered in Britain. There were 11 aqueducts built by the Romans in Britain... most of the aqueducts were small in scale to support their mining activities. Their investment in infrastructure in Britain was significant... even though remaining sites are not as well preserved as those in Europe.
There are still many questions regarding the Roman occupation of Britain... and the way the locals used infrastructure after the Romans left. Local warlords created serfdoms and it took many decades for any form of central authority to re-emerge. In the interim, Roman infrastructure decayed or was destroyed.
Lots of "what if" questions arise. If the Romans had left behind an established central authority, the middle ages of Britain may have been quite different.
You know about MI 007... James Bond and all that. You also know about MI 6... the general division of British Military Intelligence. But are you familiar with MI 14... that had over 240,000 agents... that suffered 90% casualty rates amongst its operations' forces... that had not one of its operatives break under enemy torture... had their own prisoner-of-war camps... had its own specialised military medal of honour... and saved more lives than any other division of military intelligence. I refer, of course, to the pigeon intelligence division... located at Bletchley Park... that even managed to leave Allan Turing (the Enigma Code) standing in its shade.
The origins of MI 14 came from WWI... where the extraordinary skills of properly selected and properly trained pigeons became evident. We all know that most homing pigeons navigate using the national road grid. Pigeons do not take the shortest route home. They follow the M1 up to the A7... take a sharp turn at the third roundabout... and then guide into their roost using the big tree over the other side of the river. And pigeons make far fewer mistakes than your partner when reading the latest map... even fewer errors than your favourite SatNav system. We know that many pigeons can track back to base... from unknown starting points... by using the position of the sun... they have memorised the position of the sun at all times of the day... so exactly... that they know their latitude and longitude... roughly... but near enough to guide them back to territory where they recognise landmarks. However, in WWII, pigeon trainers were able to select pigeons who could navigate at night... by seeing the lines of magnetic fields at night... amazing!
At the start of WWII, MI 14 took its learnings from WWI and refined them. They trained falcons to... identify Nazi pigeons by the type of brace around their legs... capture the enemy pigeons in flight... and carry them back to Bletchley Park. There, the code breakers could read the enemy messages and react appropriately. Bletchley Park held the enemy pigeons in prisoner-of-war coops... until the time when they wished to cause confusion by feeding the enemy false orders.
There were many circumstances where radio communications just wouldn't work. It could betray the location of the sender... it could evidence large organisational efforts were being made... perhaps a major offensive. In such circumstances, pigeons had a lot to offer. To assist local nationals militia located behind enemy lines, the Allied bombers would parachute pigeons in cages. The militia would collect the cages... attach messages to the legs of the pigeons and set them free... to fly back to Bletchley Park. The Nazi troops were terrified of pigeons. Anyone in their territories found in possession of a pigeon would often be shot... and the pigeon too. The Nazi army employed troops stationed on the English Channel to watch the skies and shoot every pigeon in sight. They brought to the French Coast every spare falcon they could lay their hands on. Bletchley Park soon realised the value of night-flight pigeons and bred them as quickly as they could. Each Allied patrol would carry with them a couple of pigeons... that saved lives on occasions where radio transmitters wouldn't work. Double decker buses were converted into pigeon coops... and drove along behind the Allies' advancing armies. Some brave birds managed to fly at 1 mile per minute over long distances... at night... across the channel... and bought information that saved many lives.
The crowning glory of military service for pigeons came with D-Day... Allies invasion of France. The Allies had elaborate ruses that lead the Nazi Command into believing that the location of the landing was at Calais. To support the ruse of a Calais landing, all radio traffic around Normandy had to be kept to a minimum. Pigeons were used extensively... and the ruse held... thanks to the humble pigeon.
Next time you want to refresh your memory on the names of WWII heros... keep near the top of your list the 32 pigeons honoured with the Dickin Medal after the war... and if in passing, you hear reference to GI Joe... or Mary of Exeter... or the Flying Dutchman... just pause... lift your lid and thank God for brave flying pigeons.
And if you are an Australian... take pride that the founding species of all the pigeons living in the world today... was an Australian... originating from our shores (together with all songbirds and parrots) shortly after Australia's continental drift separated us from Antarctica.
- Retired, present
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