Posts Tagged ‘England’

Scots lost the referendum but may soon be ruling England

March 24, 2015

The 2015 UK General Election is only about 6 weeks away and is turning out to be much more interesting – and entertaining – than I had anticipated. It was in September last year that independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom was rejected – in the event much more decisively than was generally expected – but not the overwhelming rejection that was first anticipated when the referendum was agreed to by the UK Parliament. (55.3% No against 44.7% Yes). The Scottish National Party (SNP) was the main driver for the referendum and for independence and their leader Alex Salmond had to step down as party leader with a bloody nose.

But now with the elections just weeks away, the Labour party has collapsed in Scotland (where the Conservatives are already almost extinct), UKIP has risen in England and the Liberal Democrats have become schizophrenic and irrelevant. The natural party for the Liberal Democrats to cooperate with in 2010 would have been Labour. But since that would not have given an overall majority, they went to bed instead with their natural and historic enemy  – the Conservatives. Which of course lies at the root of their current schizophrenia and the defection of their left wing to the Greens.

The most likely scenario now is that the Scots (via SNP) will effectively be ruling England after the election. Of course the SNP will not be the governing party but they may well be the determining voice in a minority Labour government. And since the SNP is generally further to the left of mainstream Labour, it will help to empower Labour’s more extreme members and may even help to bring in the support of some of the old communists. We could have an ironic – and highly entertaining – situation in the next Parliament. UKIP and the Conservatives could be desperately fighting for the devolution of England and a separate English parliament. Of course they would be no chance of any referendum on EU membership. The English (UKIP, Conservatives, Lib Dems) may have to plead (with SNP and Labour) for a referendum by 2020 for English devolution.

Of course there are many possible outcomes and 6 weeks is an eternity in an election campaign but the numbers provide the entertainment.

  1. Current Parliament (650 seats, 326 needed for majority)
  2. Conservatives 307, Liberal Democrats 57 (coalition 364)
  3. Labour 258, Irish DUP 8, SNP 6, others 14.

But a “very possible” result now is that the next parliament will be totally hung. The only working majority even remotely possible will be with the SNP and Labour together – though it may not be an absolute majority. Paradoxically, this could be a stronger mandate for the SNP both in Scotland and in the UK than any independence could have brought. For the Conservatives there is no redemption with the Lib Dems or with UKIP. They would have to gain seats in England compared to 2010 to prevent this or some similar scenario. And that does not look likely. Based on one forecast model, it could look like this:

UK 2015 possible

UK 2015 possible

So Alex Salmond leading a “Red” Ed Miliband even further left – and surely by the nose – is entirely possible. Scotland could effectively become a “one party democracy”. Perhaps Alex Salmond could emulate Lee Kwan Yew (though he does not quite have the same vision or intellectual stature)! Unlike Lee Kwan Yew, who never had a direct say in the Malaysian parliament, Salmond could extract his full pound (kilogram) of flesh in the UK Parliament. Labour would not be able to achieve any legislation, even if it was just for England, without the Scots.

Maybe the Scots will – of their goodness – eventually allow the English a devolution referendum.

(The hung parliament may well be “democracy in action” but it will also be a manifestation of “levelling down” to the lowest common level. And the lowest common level excludes any possibility of excellence).

Some interesting times ahead!


Dutch beat England AT CRICKET!

March 31, 2014

In the cricketing world this must be the equivalent of a magnitude 9 earthquake or of Jamiaca beating Canada at ice hockey.

Except that this happened 5 years ago as well.

Cricket has in fact been played in the Netherlands for over 150 years – mainly by expats. Their first recorded match as a national team was in 1881. A number of Dutch cricketers have also played at the first class level in England, Australia and India.There is even a Dutch women’s team.


England ended their winter of discontent on a new low as they were beaten by minnows Netherlands at the World Twenty20 in Chittagong.

With neither side able to reach the semi-finals, the Dutch raced to 84-1 in 11 overs before Ravi Bopara’s stint of 1-15 limited them to 133-5.

In reply, England were all out for just 88 as Bopara top-scored with 18.

England’s 45-run loss echoed the four-wicket reverse they suffered at the hands of the Dutch at Lord’s in 2009.


Before the Sandwich came the snowy chocolatti

September 1, 2013

The use of the word “sandwich” to describe sliced meat between two slices of bread is supposed to originate after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, (13 November 1718 – 30 April 1792). But the invention of the sandwich as a dish probably goes back to the first use of flat breads and of wrapping other edible foods within the breads. As far as we know flat breads originate at least from 4,000 BCE as they were known in Sumeria and Ancient Egypt.

“Sandwich”: It was named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English aristocrat, although he was neither the inventor nor sustainer of the food. It is said that he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, and because Montagu also happened to be the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, others began to order “the same as Sandwich!”. It is said that Lord Sandwich was fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards, particularly cribbage, while eating without getting his cards greasy from eating meat with his bare hands.

But it would seem from research by Kate Loveman that Admiral Sir Edward Montagu, the first Earl of Sandwich (1625 -1672) has an even greater claim to culinary fame than his great, great, grandson. Of course chocolate has been in use for at least some 800 years for pleasure and as a medicine but the first iced chocolate – or is it a chocolate ice? – is still a culinary milestone.The Earldom was created in 1660 and this recipe for a “snowy chocolatti” dates from 1668 or earlier.

The Earl’s iced chocolate recipe

  1. Prepare the chocolatti (to make a drink)
  2. Putt the vessell that hath the chocolate in it, into a jaraffa (carafe) of snow stirred together with some salt
  3. Shake the snow together sometyme and it will putt the chocolatti into tender curdled ice
  4. Soe eate it with spoons

Kate LovemanThe Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640–1730,  Journal of Social History (Fall 2013) 47 (1): 27-46. doi: 10.1093/jsh/sht050


In the mid-seventeenth century chocolate was a new and fascinating product in England, often grouped with two equally exotic drinks, coffee and tea. This article focuses on the early history of chocolate, examining how it was marketed, perceived, and consumed. Chocolate sellers, who included coffee-houses proprietors, frequently made use of print to educate potential customers: the 1640s and 1650s saw chocolate-drinking promoted as medicinal, excitingly foreign, and pleasurable. Further insights into the scientific, governmental, and social factors that drove interest in chocolate during the Restoration can be found in the manuscripts of the first Earl of Sandwich (1625–72).

Despite evidence of considerable industry on the part of chocolate consumers, in the 1690s the success of a new breed of elite chocolate houses led to chocolate becoming strongly associated with leisure and decadence. These cultural associations were promoted in succeeding decades by periodicals, drama, and satirical poems. Throughout the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, consumers’ experimentation with chocolate took place in the context of succeeding government’s fiscal experiments with cacao and chocolate: new tax measures influenced the cost of chocolate and its availability. By consulting a range of sources, from customs records to recipe books, we can track the ways chocolate was used across the decades and the factors in its adoption by different groups of consumers.

BBC News writes:

Dr Kate Loveman, from the University of Leicester, said she found the recipes in manuscripts which belonged to the Earl of Sandwich in 1668.

At the time, the chocolate treats came with a health warning for damaging the stomach, heart and lungs. The research also shows some of the regular themes in chocolate advertising across the centuries.

Dr Loveman, a senior lecturer in 17th and 18th Century English literature, said she was looking through a Samuel Pepys journal when she came across a 30-page section on chocolate.

Dr Kate Loveman
Dr Kate Loveman said the recipe was for a very solid, dark version of iced chocolate drinks. “It struck me as quite an unusual, odd thing because I have never come across anything quite like this before,” she said. “So I thought I would look into it further to find out how unusual it actually was.

“It’s not chocolate ice-cream, but more like a very solid and very dark version of the iced chocolate drinks you get in coffee shops today. Freezing food required cutting-edge technology in 17th Century England, so these ices were seen as great luxuries.”

The Earl’s recipe was written about 100 years before his great-great-grandson allegedly invented the sandwich. Dr Loveman said: “In the 1660s, when the Earl of Sandwich collected his recipes, chocolate often came with advice about safe consumption. 

“The papers included quite stern warnings about the dangers. It was a drug as far as people of the 17th Century were concerned.

“One physician cautioned that the ingredients in hot chocolate could cause insomnia, excess mucus, or haemorrhoids. People worried that iced chocolate in particular was ‘unwholesome’ and could damage the stomach, heart, and lungs.”

Dr Loveman’s research also shows some of the continuities in chocolate advertising across the centuries, such as links between chocolate and women, pleasure and sexuality.

Back from UK’s coldest spring for 50 years

May 31, 2013

It was a grand holiday for 15 days in the UK.

The warmth of meeting old friends more than compensated for the lack of warmth in the weather. Every day we were in England, the weather we had left behind in Sweden was warmer by a couple of degrees. We had two  reasonably warm and – relatively – dry weekends but it was wet and chilly for the rest of the time.

And now I find that it was the coldest Spring (March – May) in the UK for 50 years.

The average temperature over the period came in at 6.0C, which is 1.8C, or nearly 25 per cent, lower than is typical for the time of year, according to the Met Office.

This makes it the fifth coldest spring since records began in 1910 and the chilliest for 51 years.

A Met Office spokesman said: “The colder than average conditions have been caused by difference patterns at certain times, but generally this season has seen frequent easterly and northerly winds which have brought cold air to the UK from polar and northern European regions.”

Rainfall was lower than normal in March and April but May has been wetter than usual, the Met Office added. As a result, spring has been slightly drier than average, but not as dry as the springs of 2010 and 2011.

So much for global warming! And so much for the utterly negligible impact of  carbon dioxide increase over the last 50 years!!

We stayed with friends during our vacation and everywhere we went we found a current of discontent about energy prices and the manner in which utility bills had increased. Utility bills are never popular at whatever level they may be pitched but the cost of energy is fundamental to our economies. To have a cost of electricity which is some 50 – 70% higher than it needs to be is irresponsible. I reckon that in W Europe the subsidies provided for non-commercial energy production has provided windfalls for about 500,000 owners/developers of wind farms and solar plants but has cost the jobs of about 15 million.

There is little doubt in my mind that it has been the idiot pursuit of “low carbon dioxide emissions” which is now contributing to the lack of growth and lack of jobs in Europe. The common-sense goal of pursuing the most economic sources of energy has given way to the pursuit of the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. To be politically correct but impoverished seems a poor – and rather immature – bargain to settle for.

So much for the idiots who have wasted three generations chasing the mirage of green political correctness but have allowed common sense to wither.

It is time to go back to basics.

A glass half full…..

May 24, 2013

Half our UK vacation is over but half is still to come.

Spring is late but the English countryside is lush and green.

Birmingham airport was rather inefficient but everybody was cheerily friendly.

Traffic was heavy but surprisingly non-aggressive.

It has not been very warm but the warmth of meeting old friends is palpable.

We have not seen much sunshine but we haven’t been drenched.

It is raining today but that allows me to write this post.

It is going to rain all day today but we will be in the British Museum.

Nothing is ever half-empty without also being half-full.


Language is a means to an end – not an end in itself

May 22, 2013

I was reading about the new grammar and spelling tests for 11-year-olds in England. I was a little surprised though at the apparent incoherence of politicians, teachers, teachers unions and even academics about the tests, why they were necessary and what they might help achieve. For the unions, of course, testing of any kind smacks of elitism and becomes an ideological issue. Even among the language professionals there seemed to be a fundamental lack of understanding of the importance – or otherwise – of grammar and punctuation and spelling. Ideology on the one hand versus muddled “keepers of the language” on the other.

Grammar and vocabulary are dynamic – in any living language. “Correct” grammar is a consensual thing – it is subservient to what is considered “acceptable”. What is acceptable grammar is subject to change; with time and subsequent to usage. There is no such thing as an absolute “correctness” of language. Whatever is acceptable is “correct”. No rule of grammar survives if it is continuously violated. Words are continuously absorbed into a language (from science or from other languages or from changes of behaviour or of technology). Words are invented and sometimes reach a critical mass of users and survive while other invented words disappear into oblivion. Some change their meanings over time by changed usage and some die through disuse. In fact it is the fact that a language is changing which defines that it is alive.

It is only for a “dead” language – no longer subject to change by usage – where the vocabulary and grammar are fixed and sterile.

Every language seems to have its share of “keepers of the language” who try and define “correct” grammar and dictionaries of “acceptable words”, their spelling and their meaning. Grammarians and lexicologists tend to overlook the fact that they are – for a living language always – and of necessity – behind the times. They have to be. Some finite time is always needed for the compilation of  their “Grammars” and their “Dictionaries” and – for a living language – the language will have moved on. What they actually achieve is a snapshot at a particular moment time of a living and moving thing. And by the time the snapshot is available, it is already out of date.

But I do believe grammarians and lexicologists are of great value even if language itself is only a tool for communication (no doubt the primary tool for humans – but a tool nevertheless and not an end in itself). But their value lies not (as they might think) in being arbiters of what is “correct” or “incorrect” but in establishing a reference point which then allows for the proper communication of meaning by language.

The purpose of vocabulary and grammar is clarity of what is expressed by language. And this clarity depends upon the commonality of meanings ascribed to words and the rules – the grammar and punctuation –  by which they are strung together. They become important only because an unknown recipient of the language may well have to assume the meaning of the words and their structure. But they are certainly not relevant for the judging of any intrinsic “rightness” or “wrongness”.

To take liberties with grammar and with vocabulary from some established norm is always available to a user of language. But he does need to know what the norm is to be able to take such liberties in the pursuit of an improved communication. The testing then – in my view – becomes simply a tool to ensure that 11-year-olds know what the current established norms are.

Merrie England

May 13, 2013

We are travelling to England for a few days looking up old friends and visiting old haunts.

But it is May, and it is England and there shall be rain.

Shrewsbury, Birmingham, Coventry, Stratford, and around London are the main ports of call.

Meeting up with old friends is always great fun but meeting some for the first time since graduation in 1972 should be especially fascinating.

Blogging will necessarily be light and may be even lighter depending upon

  1. the goodness of the weather, and
  2. the level of the revelries

100 Viking queens to be trapped and transported to England

May 1, 2013

It’s the first of May and May is when they emerge from hibernation and are most abundant in Skåne in southern Sweden. But for some of them the freedom they are enjoying will be short lived.

Trappers from the UK have been given permission to capture 100 queens, refrigerate them to induce an artificial hibernation for travel and then transport them to the UK to “rape and pillage” the country-side and hopefully repopulate parts of Kent. A programme was started in 2009 to reintroduce them to the United Kingdom with queens from New Zealand. However this was not a success as many of the queens died during hibernation. DNA analysis of the New Zealand queens showed they lacked genetic diversity.

The queens of the short-haired bumblebee, Bombus subterraneus, are the unfortunate creatures being hunted. It remains to be seen if the Viking queens fare any better than their Antipodean sisters.

Swedish Radio reports:

British scientists have been allowed to capture and bring home 100 Queens of the short-haired bumblebee, fairly common in Skåne but extinct in England. Bumblebees are needed to pollinate plants and vegetables, said Nikki Gammans from Natural England, who leads this unusual hunt, when she presented the project to a large press contingent  today outside Lund . When the British began this effort last year, it was not everybody who applauded, but the resistance was mainlydue to misunderstandings according to the provincial government in Skåne.

From Natural England:

Short-haired bumblebee (c) Nikki Gammans

Short-haired bumblebee (c) Nikki Gammans

After months of careful planning and negotiations, a team of experts led by Dr Nikki Gammans have embarked on a special mission to bring short-haired bumblebee queens back to the UK from the south of Sweden.

After a period of quarantine, It is hoped the bees can then be released on the RSPB Dungeness reserve in May 2012 and eventually colonise the surrounding area – see press release. …..

…. The Short-haired bumblebee, Bombus subterraneus, was last seen at Dungeness in Kent in 1988 and was officially declared extinct in 2000 after many repeated searches. We believe this bee species along with the other threatened bumblebee species have suffered due to the loss of flower-rich habitats such as meadows.

Over the last 60 years, the UK has lost over 97% of its wild flower meadows due to intensifying agricultural practices. It is also likely that the removal of hedgerows from the UK may have reduced the available nesting and hibernation sites for short-haired bumblebees.

While I can see that such a project could be fascinating and challenging, the purpose of the exercise as described by Natural England is rather vague and fuzzy and well-meaning and not at all very convincing. Vague claims of being “critical” to our farming economy read like a sales pitch. These bumblebees failed to adapt / evolve to survive in the UK. Yet they are being  re-introduced without any actions to make the species more likely – genetically – to survive in its new environment. All that has been done is to create some protected habitat (flower corridors). It seems to me that the “conservation” movement is far too backward-looking and must focus more on helping threatened species to evolve genetically rather than trying to prevent the changes to habitat which are inevitable:

Bumblebees pollinate many important agricultural crops and are critical to our farming economy. More bumblebees = better crop pollination – there is evidence that the shortage of pollinators is reducing crop yields. By creating corridors of flower-rich habitat across Romney Marsh area, we have seen an increase and spread in the numbers of bumblebee species in Kent. Five threatened species, which include England’s rarest bumblebee the shrill carder bee, have all increased their geographic range in this area after decades of decline.

Modern English derives from Scandinavian rather than from Old English

November 28, 2012

Linguists at the University of Oslo – Jan Terje Faarlund and  Joseph Emonds – believe they can prove that English is in reality a language  belonging to the Northern Germanic language group which includes Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic and Faroese rather than deriving from Old English where Old English, in turn, was derived from the West Germanic language group brought into Britain by the Angles from Northern Germany and Saxons from Southern Jylland  in the fifth century.

I found learning Swedish from English a lot easier than learning German from English. The number of words similar to English in the other two languages are not so different. So I have always assumed that my ease of learning was due to the similarities of grammar and syntax between Swedish and English.  All the more understandable with this connection between English and old Scandinavian.

New linguistic research has concluded that residents of the British Isles didn’t just borrow words and expressions from Norwegian and Danish Vikings and their descendants. Rather, claim two professors now working in Oslo, the English language is in fact Scandinavian.

Jan Terje Faarlund, a professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo (UiO), told research magazine Apollon that new studies show English “as we know it today” to be a “direct descendant of the language Scandinavians used” after settling on the British Isles during and after the Viking Age. 


UK Met office reported to be predicting a new little ice age!!

October 9, 2011

This report in GWPF where the UK Met Office is said to predicting a return of a little ice age is said to be based on a piece by Jonathan Leake in today’s Sunday Times (which I no longer read or access ever since they starting hiding behind a pay-wall). Somewhat surprising since it supports what I think is happening with our climate and especially since the Met Office, Nature, Jonathan Leake and the Sunday Times are all strong believers in the anthropogenic global warming orthodoxy.

Frost Fair on the Thames 1683-84 by Thomas Wyke. During the Great Frost of 1683–84, the worst frost recorded in England, the Thames was completely frozen for two months: wikipedia

Met Office U-Turn: Europe May be Facing Return Of ‘Little Ice Age’

Britain should brace itself for another freezing winter with the return of La Niña, a climate phenomenon known to disrupt global weather, ministers have warned.

La Niña, in which cold water piles up in the equatorial eastern Pacific, is linked to extreme winter weather in America. Some suggest that last year’s strong La Niña was linked to Britain’s icy winter, one of the coldest on record. The connection between La Niña and weather in Europe is scientifically uncertain but ministers have told transport organisations and emergency services to take no chances.

The warning coincides with research from the Met Office suggesting Europe could be facing a return of the “little ice age” that gripped Britain 300 years ago, causing decades of bitter winters. The prediction, to be published in Nature, is based on observations showing a slight fall in the sun’s emissions of ultraviolet radiation, which over a long period may trigger mini ice ages in Europe.

Some sort of confirmation is in this post here which quotes the same article but is equally incredulous about the U-turn by the Met Office:

Met Office Research Suggests Return of The Little Ice Age?

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