Posts Tagged ‘Vikings’

Credo! Pat Mills on 40 Years of Thrillpower!

September 14, 2017

Pat Mills is one of the great creators of the British comics industry. In this video from 2000 AD on YouTube, he talks to host Tony Esmond about his career in the comics industry, politics and his determination to give readers working class heroes. The interview was at the 40 Years of Thrillpower convention earlier this year (2017).

Mills is best known as one of the creative forces who seriously upset the establishment with Action before going on to reoffend with 2000AD. Before then he started off writing for the 1970s children’s comics, like Corr! The experience of writing for them was not happy for him. He states that the people behind them had no particular interest in them and very much had a production-line mentality to their creation. He describes how one writer once asked him how many stories he could write in a day. When he said about one every two or three days, the other writer boasted that he wrote three in a day. And then went on to say, probably quite truthfully, that he was making more money than the prime minister. Mills states that the writers at IPC were able to do this because they wrote very much to a formula. He preferred the stories their competitors at DC Thompson produced. Although their comics were also stuck in the past, the stories were better crafted. He describes one strip about a man going around the country having adventures with a horse. As a concept, he says it wasn’t even at the level of afternoon television. But it was well done. The IPC comics, on the other hand, were soulless. It depressed him so much, that, when he and John Wagner, who also later went on to become one of the founders of 2000AD, were writing in a garden shed, he wrote all his scripts on a roll of wallpaper so they formed a continuous strip and he wouldn’t have to go back and read them all again.

British comics in this period were very much stuck in the past, even as British society changed. This was a time when the German experience of the war was appearing in the books of Sven Hassel, reflected in Action’s strip, Hellmann of Hammer Force. But yet Mills found it impossible to launch a strip whose hero was Black. This was to be a strip about a Black boxer. He was told that it wouldn’t work. People would not accept a Black hero. They’d accept a Black supporting character or friend. But as the central character, never. He also thought of introducing one about a Black football player, and that would have been even more controversial. There was a Black football player in one of the London clubs at the time, and he had been treated with racist abuse from the balconies.

Politics and satire have always been an important element of Mills’ work. He says that at one point he became dissatisfied writing for 2000AD, as the management were trying to shift the comic away from its traditional satirical stance, and this very much went against Mills’ own nature. He and Esmond discuss at one point Mills’ memory that, when they launched 2000AD, the management told him that they should imagine a future that they would actually live in. And now, he states, they’re living in it with Donald Trump’s presidency of the US, which Mills compares to the infamous Judge Cal. Cal was the mad Chief Judge in Judge Dredd, modelled on Caligula, who appointed his pet fish as a judge, called in the alien Kleggs to suppress any opposition in Mega City 1, and had another judge pickled. Perhaps we need to be very glad that NASA hasn’t made contact with intelligent aliens yet.

Mills remarks on how very many of the heroes of British literature, from Sherlock Holmes to John Buchan’s Hannay, have been members of the upper and upper middle classes. There are too many of them, and too few working class heroes. He’s been actively trying to redress this imbalance in his strips. It’s why Marshal Law, in his alter ego, used to be unemployed, but is now a hospital orderly. He’s not even a nurse.

He states that as he grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, he read many the authors that were around then, like Dennis Wheatley and John Buchan, all of whom were members of the upper classes. And with some of them, it was actually quite sinister. Buchan was a major propagandist for the First World War, in return for which he was rewarded with the governorship of Canada. And he did it very well. Later on in the video, in response to a question from the audience he remarks on how there is a very definite campaign in this country to suppress anything with an anti-war message. He was asked what the research was for his story in Charley’s War about the British invasion of Russia in 1918-19. He states that there were only two books he was able to get hold of at the time, but since then he got hold of a very good book, which is a much fuller description. This describes how the British officers sent in to overturn the Russian Revolution behaved like absolute animals. This episode has largely been airbrushed from British history. He contrasts with the British media’s refusal to publicise anti-war stories with that of our cousins across le manche. Attitudes there are much different, and Charley’s War, which ran in Battle and was about the experiences of a working-class Tommy in the First World War, is more popular in France even than Britain. This bias against anti-war stories is why you didn’t see Blackadder Goes Forth repeated in the centenary year of the War’s outbreak.

Mills is also critical of the way the indigenous mythology and legend of the British Isles has been suppressed in favour of myths from further south – Greece and Rome, and ancient Egypt. Mills’ background, like Kevin O’Neill, was Irish, and his family were very patriotic. He grew up knowing all about Michael Collins, and his middle name is Eamon after the first president of Eire, Eamon de Valera. Yet it wasn’t until he started researching the Irish, as well as the Scots and Welsh legends, that he learned about any of those stories, and was shocked. Why didn’t he know about the warpspasm – the ultra-berserker rage that transforms the Celtic hero Slaine as he goes into battle? He also talks about how, in legend, London was founded by the Trojans as New Troy, and briefly mentions his treatment of this in the story he is or was currently writing for the Slaine strip. He states he wanted to produce a barbarian strip that was set in this country, complete with its grey skies and rain.

Mills has a deep admiration for these Celtic legends, but remarks on how they differ considerably from the other mythological tales. They don’t share their structure. If you read the Norse tales or Beowulf, there’s a structure there. But the Irish – which he uses to include also the Scots and Welsh stories – read like they’re on acid. He’s particularly impressed with the Tain, otherwise known as the Tain Bo Cualnge, or in English, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, and recommends the translation by Kinsella. He’s also particularly interested in finding the bits that were suppressed by the Christian clergy who wrote them down in the Middle Ages. He gleefully quotes one clerical writer, who says that the stories contain much that is true, much that is false, some lies, and some devilish invention, and some which is only fit to be read by idiots. Yeah! he shouts, that’s me!

He has the same mischievous joy when telling how he came to be persuaded to write the Invasion strip, in which Britain was invaded by a thinly disguised Soviet Russia. The management asked him if he wanted to write it. He said he couldn’t get up much enthusiasm. They urged him to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. So he worked his way as best he could through that. He still wasn’t enthusiastic. Then they asked him if he’d like to write a scene with Maggie Thatcher being shot by the Russians on the steps of St. Paul’s. His response: Yeahhh!

He also talks about how the brutal education he received at a school run by the De Lazare order inspired him to write the Nemesis the Warlock strip. The Terminators, and to a lesser extent Judge Dredd, were modelled on them. They were fanatical, and were quite sinister. He remarks that if you go on the internet you can find all sorts of tales about them.

He also talks about an abortive crossover story planned for Marshal Law and Batman. Marshal Law was a bitterly satirical, extremely violent and very funny strip published in the 1990s about a superhero in the devastated San Francisco of the early 21st century, who hates other superheroes. The superheroes in the strip were created for a Vietnam-like war in South America, and have come back disillusioned and traumatized by the conflict. As a result, they form violent street gangs, and Marshal Law is recruited by the police to clean them up. It was a very dark comic that relentlessly parodied superhero comics from a left-wing, feminist perspective. When DC announced they wanted to make the crossover, Mills thought that they weren’t really serious. But they were. So he and O’Neill decided that for the cover, they’d have the Marshal standing on a pile of bodies of the different versions of Batman from all across the alternative Earths of the Multiverse. Then DC’s management changed, and their story policy did too, and the idea was dropped.

Mills also discusses the various ways comics have been launched, only to be merged with other comics. With 2000AD the comic was merged with Tornado and then Starlord. It was a very cynical policy, as from the first these comics were intended to fail, but by merging them with 2000AD and other comics, the management presented it as giving their readers something new, even though it wasn’t, and they felt it was an intrusion. He also responds to another question about which comic he felt folded before its time. The obvious answer to this was Action, which upset the establishment so much that it was banned, before being sanitized and relaunched. Mills said that they knew the comic was doomed. The new editor, who was given control of it had previously edited – and this is almost unbelievable – Bobo the Rabbit – and so didn’t know what he was doing. Mills said that before then they had skated over what was just about unacceptable and knew just how far you could go. Because this new editor hadn’t had that experience, he didn’t, and the comic folded.

The comic that he really feels shouldn’t have folded, and could still have carried on today, was Battle. As for which comic he’d now be working on instead of 2000AD, if it had proved more successful, these were the girls’ comics, like Misty. They vastly outsold the boys’ comics, but ultimately folded because ‘the boys took over the sandbox’. The video ends with his answer to the question, ‘What is his favourite strip, that he wrote for?’ He thinks for a moment, before replying Nemesis the Warlock to massive cheering.

It’s a very interesting perspective on the British comics industry by one of its masters. Regarding Slaine, Mills has said before in his introduction to the Titan book, Slaine the King: Special Edition, that the achievements of our ancestors, the Celtic peoples, has been rubbed out of history in favour of the ‘stern but fair proto-Thatcherite Romans, who built the roads and made the chariots run on time’. I think part of the problem is that the legends Mills draws on – that of Gaelic Ireland and Scotland, and Brythonic Wales – are those of the Celtic peoples, who were defeated by the expanding Anglo-Normans, who made a concerted attempt to suppress their culture. As for the very frank admiration for the Romans, that partly comes from the classics-based education offered by the British public schools.

As for the very staid attitude of British comics in the 1970s, this was a problem. It was actually a period of crisis, when many of the comics were folding because they hadn’t moved with the times. Mills’ idea for a strip about a Black boxer is clearly modelled on Mohammed Ali, the great African-American athlete of the ring. Everyone knew Ali, and he was universally admired, even by kids like me, who didn’t understand or know much about the racial politics behind Ali’s superstardom. Ali said that he wanted to give his people a hero.

Even so, the idea of having a sympathetic Black supporting character was an improvement. Roger Sabin, in his book Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, published by Phaidon, notes just how racist British comics were in the 1960s. This was very controversial, as Black people naturally objected. Sabin cites one strip, in which the White hero uses two racial slurs for Blacks, and another abusive term for Gypsies. And showing the type of strips that appeared in the 1920s, there’s an illustration which shows the Black characters from a strip in one of D.C. Thompson’s comics, either the Dandy or Beano at the time. This was The Colony N*gs. Only they don’t use an asterisk to try to disguise the term.

As for his experiences with the monks running his school, unfortunately he’s not the only one, who suffered in this way. I’ve met a number of former Roman Catholics, who were turned off religion, and in some cases became bitterly against it, because of their experience being taught by monks and nuns. Several of Britain’s most beloved broadcasters from the Emerald Isle were also turned off religion because of this. Dave Allen, who regularly poked fun at religion, and particularly the Roman Catholic church, said that he became an atheist because of the cruelty and the way the priests tried to scare their young charges at his old school. And that mainstay of British radio, Terry Wogan, in a series he presented about Ireland and his life there, said exactly the same about the effect the hard attitude of the teachers at his old Roman Catholic school had on him.

The Roman Catholic church does not have the monopoly on the abuse of children, and I’ve heard some horrifying tales of the brutal behavior of some of the teaching staff – and prefects – in some of the British grammar schools. Dad has told me about the very harsh regime of some of the teachers at his old school – not Roman Catholic – in Somerset. He describes the teachers as sadists, and has a story about how one of the teachers, when one of the boys couldn’t answer a question, threw the lad out of window. Brutality seems to have been built into the British educational system, leaving mental scars and bitter memories.

I’ve very mixed feelings about the British force sent against revolutionary Russia. Perhaps if we’d succeeded, the forty million Soviet citizens butchered by Stalin would have been able to live out their lives, and the peoples of the Russian Federation free of the shadow of the KGB and gulags.

But that’s with hindsight. That’s not why British troops were sent in. The Bolsheviks were anti-democratic and determined to suppress all other parties and factions except their own, even when these were Socialist or anarchist, like the Mensheviks, the Trudoviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries the Left Communists, Anarcho-Communists and syndicalists. But we sent in troops because Britain and the rest of the capitalist world felt threatened by the emergence of a working class, aggressively socialist state. Britain had many commercial contacts with pre-Revolutionary Russia, and Lenin had argued in his pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism that global capitalism depended on European imperial expansion. These nations enslaved and exploited developing nations like Russia. A socialist revolution in these countries threatened international capitalism, as it was here that the capitalist system was weakest. Hence the Bolshevik slogan, ‘Smash capitalism at its weakest link!’

Ordinary Russians, let alone the conquered nations of the Russian Empire, were oppressed and exploited. If you want an idea how much, and what ordinary Russians endured and struggled to overthrow, read Lionel Kochan’s book, The Russian Revolution, published by Paladin. This was the grotty system British troops were sent in to restore.

On a more positive note, one member of the audience in the video thanks Mills for encouraging him to read. The man says he was dyslexic, but it was the comics he consumed as a child that got him reading. He is now a teacher, who specializes in helping children with reading difficulties, and uses comics in his teaching.

This is really inspiring. Martin Barks in Comics, Ideology and Power, discusses how comics have always been regarded with suspicion and contempt by the establishment. They were regarded as rubbish, at best. At worst they were seen as positively subversive. I can remember how one of the text books we used in English at school included a piece of journalism roundly condemning comics as rubbish literature with bad artwork. And this was reprinted in the 1980s! My mother, on the other hand, was in favour of comics because they did get children reading, and used to encourage the parents of the children she taught to buy them when they asked her advice on how they could get their children to read if they wouldn’t read books. This shows how far comics have come, so that they are now respectable and admired.

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Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

ISIS Troops Drugged Up to Fight

November 18, 2015

I found a piece on the atheist news show, Secular Talk, on Youtube discussing a report by one of the mainstream news channels/ programmes claiming that rather than being the fearless ghazis for Islam they claim to be, ISIS’ warriors are so wracked with fear that their leaders have to keep ’em drugged to get them to fight. The claim comes from an interview with a fighter for Hisbollah, the militant Lebanese paramilitary organisation. The fighter claimed that in battles with them, the ISIS fighters all turned tail and ran away. When Hisbollah took one of their bases, they found stacks of boxes of amphetamines. They believed that ISIS had put their fighters on the drug in order to keep them fighting.

So much for the great warriors of the ‘Islamic State’.

Now there are good reasons to treat this report with a pinch of salt. Hizbollah are, like ISIS, a militant Islamic organisation. They too have engaged in bombings and terrorist outrages. Private Eye has published several pieces critical of their non-Muslim supporters in the West, repeating a statement from the self-declared ‘Party of God’ which ran ‘We don’t want anything from you. We just want to kill you.’ An anthropological study of Hizbollah from its origins in the 1980s pointed out that the organisation was claiming to have changed and become more moderate, though the book remained somewhat sceptical of this.

Hisbollah are, in sharp contrast to ISIS, Shi’ah. It has its basis in a Socialist Lebanese Shi’ite party that was infiltrated by religious militants. ISIS are fanatically intolerant Sunnis, who have followed al-Qaeda in murdering and brutalising the Shi’ah population of Iraq. Hizbollah has also used propaganda to promote its aims, and has every reason to try and make ISIS as its opponent look as weak as possible in order to encourage and strengthen its supporters.

On the other hand, that does mean they’re wrong.

Combat stress was known centuries before psychiatrists recognised ‘shell-shock’ amongst the traumatised soldiers of World War I. Paddy Griffiths, a senior lecturer in War Studies at Sandhurst, states that the Vikings recognised it, and called it ‘Battle Foot’ in his book, The Viking Art of War. For all the dark, violent aspect of human nature, some anthropologists believe that killing does not come easily to humans. If you saw the film, The Men Who Stare at Goats, you’ll recall the scene where the mad, New Age major at the heart of the American Army’s secret psychic weaponry programme tells Ewan MacGregor’s character that in the First World War, 80 per cent of the shots initially fired at the enemy were deliberately aimed wide. The same when it came to some of the some conscripts fighting in the Vietnam War. The Men Who Stare At Goats was based on Jon Ronson’s Channel 4 documentary series, Crazy Rulers of the World, in which he went looking for the real psychic warriors in the American army, led by General Stebblebine. And like the mad officer in the movie, Stebblebine really did walk into walls, believing that one day he would be able to pass through them through the sheer power of his mind. The stats about the deliberate inaccuracy of soldiers fighting in World War One and Vietnam are true, however, if only during the initial phases of the conflict before the army realised that they had to train soldiers to kill, rather than just point their guns. The Israeli author, Amos Oz, in an TV interview back in the 1990s, recalled his experiences fighting in the Golan Heights during the Six Day War. He stated that he found the whole situation so difficult to believe and understand, that his initial reaction was to wonder why no-one had called the cops, as the situation was so far beyond his experience.

My guess is that civilised people, regardless of their race or religious beliefs or lack thereof, find killing extremely difficult. Hence all the effort terrorist organisations like ISIS and the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, and violent, genocidal states like Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, put in to demonising their enemies.

And nations have frequently resorted to trying to help their troops keep going through exhaustion and the heavy stress of fighting by using chemical enhancement. The Nazi war machine was extremely efficient, but they used an amphetamine-derivative to keep their troops fighting. The stuff has since re-emerged, to plague deprived American communities as ‘Nazi Crank’.

Another type of recreational drug blighting the lives of the underclass is ‘Black Bombers’. This is again based partly on amphetamines. A friend of mine told me it was developed by the US army to keep their pilots flying bombing missions during the Vietnam War.

And this is the Nazi and US military machines, which were well-funded, trained and professional. And if they had to use drugs to prop up their troopers, it’s not even remotely incredible that ISIS are doing the same to their volunteers.

And the mass of ISIS fighters probably aren’t very good soldiers. A little while ago I found another report from The Young Turks news show commenting on a propaganda video released by ISIS promoting their version of the US’ Navy SEALS. ISIS was showing their version on manoeuvres, loudly proclaiming that they would be swift, efficient killers who would put fear into their enemies.

The result from professional Western soldiers and military analysts was somewhat different. Okay, it was the complete opposite. According to the Turks, it raised laughter and chuckles, rather than heart-pounding terror. The Western military authorities watching it couldn’t believe how bad their fighters were. They even made basic mistakes in the way they held their guns. And these were supposed to be the organisation’s elite killers, the ‘best of the best of the best’.

So, given the caveats above, I’m quite prepared to believe Hisbollah when they say that the ISIS troops they fought ran, and were so bad as soldiers that they needed to take Speed to give them courage.

If it was almost any other army or soldiers, I’d have some sympathy. As I said, for most civilised people all over the world, killing is extremely difficult. I realise that people fight in pubs and nightclubs, or in teenage gang battles, but this usually stops short of the knife or gun or whatever. Quite often before the fight breaks out, somebody jumps in, shouting, ‘Leave it out! It’s not worth it!’ or some such. Or the rozzers arrive to break it up and start giving people rides in the party van.

In the case of ISIS, I have absolutely no sympathy at all. This is the organisation that has butchered and enslaved its way across the Middle East, whose members boasted about how brutal and bloodthirsty they were. The brigade, whose on-line propaganda encouraged some of the jihadi brides to run away from Britain to marry them, bragged that they ‘delighted in carnage’.

Well, long ago a certain Bill Shakespeare, of the Midlands, had this to say about the difference between tough, martial masculinity and loss of humanity, in one of his plays. In the Scottish Play, MacBeth is being urged on by his wife to murder his way to the top to fulfil his destiny, as prophesied by the three witches. He’s initially reluctant, saying ‘Peace, woman, peace; I do all there is to become a man. Who dares do more is none.’
It’s a wise line, which shows you why people are still performing the Bard’s plays after four hundred years. It is, tragically, a lesson in masculinity that thugs and butchers like ISIS haven’t learned, and aren’t interested in learning.

And so I have no sympathy at all. They’re monsters, drugging the mass of their troops up to disguise how weak they really are, while at the same time boasting of atrocities that even the Nazis tried to conceal in case it brought shame on them.

Anti-Kipper Meme: St. George Is an Immigrant

April 23, 2015

I found this meme against rising xenophobia, and, by implication, UKIP over at the SlatUKIP site. It follows a number of similar posters that have been put up around the country, showing individual immigrants, and the vital work they do. Like firemen, lifeboatmen, internet entrepreneurs and so on.

This one is of England’s very own patron saint, St. George.

St George Immigrant

Yup. St. George is an immigrant. His cult was brought to England and popularised by knights returning from the Crusades. Before then, England’s patron saint was St Edmund, an Anglo-Saxon king, who had been martyred by the invading Vikings.

The real St George was a Roman soldier from what is now Turkey, who was executed during the Roman persecution of Christianity for refusing to give up his Christian faith. Over time, the legend grew up around him that he was a knight, who rescued a damsel from the dragon.

Along with St George, the Crusades saw other influences from the Eastern Orthodox churches enter England and the Roman Catholic West. The churches built by the Knights Templars, the crusading order made notorious through later accusations of devil worship and works of pseudo-history like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, were built in a beehive shape, like those of the Syriac and Armenian churches.

And across the Channel in France, several of the new churches built in the 12th century were for Coptic Christians from Egypt, or were at least built according to their churches’ plans.

A few years ago, one of the Beeb’s programme on medieval history also showed that there were clues that some, at least, of the masons working on England’s cathedrals in the 12th century – I think it may have been York minister – were Arabs, due to Arab influences in the building’s design and possibly some remains of Arabic script found on some of the stones. Certainly there was a artisan recorded in London, as ‘Peter the Saracen’. It’s also about this time that the first images and written records of Black people in England appear. There used to be a section about Black people in England on the website of the National Archives, including a miniature picture of one from a 12th century manuscript.

And one of England’s medieval kings even received communion from a Syriac clergyman, Rabban Sauma, when he visited England in the 12th or 13th century.

Which all shows that people of Black and Asian descent have been around in England much longer than Nige and the other Kippers think.

Vox Political: How Many Deaths Have Tory Welfare Cuts Caused?

February 12, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political the other day published this article, How many deaths have Tory evidence-free policies caused?. It reports the Guardian’s article on Labour MP Anne Begg’s questioning of Esther McVile and Chris Hayes of the DWP over whether they actually carried out any studies into how this would affect the benefit claimants on whom it was inflicted. Mike writes

Yesterday’s Guardian article by Zoe Williams about evidence-free government is strangely muted about the main headline-grabber: The fact that she is writing about policies that kill.

“Recently, Dame Anne Begg had some questions for the employment minister, Esther McVey, on the Welfare Reform Act of 2012,” the article states.

“She wanted to know about cuts to benefits, having carefully gathered evidence from charities and food banks in advance. ‘Minimum JSA [jobseeker’s allowance] sanction,’ she began, ‘went from two weeks to four weeks and the maximum went from six months to three years. These are quite sizeable lengths of time, so what evidence did you have on the likely impact on claimants that these extended sanction periods would have?’

“Were there any reasonable grounds that could be shared with any reasonable person to think this policy would be effective – any attempt to visualise how it would look?… There were not. There was a lot of faffing, and some broad and extraneous evidence about sanctions in general. ‘I take it from your failure to answer the question that you did not do any research,’ the chair finally concluded, having grilled McVey and the DWP’s Chris Hayes for long enough.”

Mike then gives his estimate of the number of people dying per year due to government sanctions, based on the available figures and the examples of two claimants, who died within two weeks of each other after being sanctioned by Ashton-Under-Lyme Jobcentre. One died of starvation and exposure, the other joins a long list of people, who took their own lives. Given these examples, Mike suggests the number being killed is 53,040 people per year. This is more people than were killed by William the Conqueror during the Harrowing of the North following the Norman Conquest of 1066. The north had been the centre of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian resistance to the Norman invasion. The north of England had been a Viking kingdom, the Kingdom of Yorkshire, and still retained strong Viking sympathies for the Danish kings. In response William’s troops razed whole villages, reducing vast tracts to wasteland. The result was massive famine. William’s repression of the north was so severe, that even centuries later the villages razed by the Normans were depopulated. Mike’s comparison of the government’s attack on the poor and disabled with William the Conqueror’s Harrowing of the North isn’t a piece of romantic historical hyperbole. It graphically shows the depths of despair and deprivation that this government is forcing on its citizens.

He also quotes Samuel Miller, an academic who has researched the effect of the welfare reforms, who states that there was very little investigation of just how the benefit changes would affect people. This did not, however, stop the creation of the harshest sanctions system in the developed world.

To add insult to injury, Iain Duncan Smith has now crawled out of whichever festering pit he calls home, to spew out another self-aggrandising lie. This time he claims his benefit cuts have saved £50bn.

He’s a liar and genocide. It’s long past time he was thrown out of government, along with the rest of this cruel, corrupt and thoroughly degenerate administration.

Mike’s article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/02/10/how-many-deaths-have-tory-evidence-free-policies-caused/.

Radical Balladry: John Clare, the Enclosures and the Destruction of the Environment

May 18, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Jess also posted up this poem by John Clare, the 19th century poet and agricultural worker, in her comment to one of my pieces on radical working class music and poetry, as another piece that continues to speak to modern needs and issues today from over a hundred years ago. In this instance it’s the threat to the environment from intensive commercial agriculture.

The Mores

Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed spring’s blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown, and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all – a hope that blossomed free,
And hath been once, no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave
And memory’s pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came, with evening morn and night,
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep, unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now all’s fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors, loosing from the sight, far, smooth, and blea
Where swopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay
As poet’s visions of life’s early day
Mulberry-bushes where the boy would run
To fill his hands with fruit are grubbed and done
And hedgrow-briars – flower-lovers overjoyed
Came and got flower-pots – these are all destroyed
And sky-bound mores in mangled garbs are left
Like mighty giants of their limbs bereft
Fence now meets fence in owners’ little bounds
Of field and meadow large as garden grounds
In little parcels little minds to please
With men and flocks imprisoned ill at ease
Each little path that led its pleasant way
As sweet as morning leading night astray
Where little flowers bloomed round a varied host
That travel felt delighted to be lost
Nor grudged the steps that he had ta-en as vain
When right roads traced his journeys and again –
Nay, on a broken tree he’d sit awhile
To see the mores and fields and meadows smile
Sometimes with cowslaps smothered – then all white
With daiseys – then the summer’s splendid sight
Of cornfields crimson o’er the headache bloomd
Like splendid armys for the battle plumed
He gazed upon them with wild fancy’s eye
As fallen landscapes from an evening sky
These paths are stopt – the rude philistine’s thrall
Is laid upon them and destroyed them all
Each little tyrant with his little sign
Shows where man claims earth glows no more divine
But paths to freedom and to childhood dear
A board sticks up to notice ‘no road here’
And on the tree with ivy overhung
The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung
As tho’ the very birds should learn to know
When they go there they must no further go
Thus, with the poor, scared freedom bade goodbye
And much they feel it in the smothered sigh
And birds and trees and flowers without a name
All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came
And dreams of plunder in such rebel schemes
Have found too truly that they were but dreams.
John Clare
http://ecohist.history.ox.ac.uk//readings/clare-poems.pdf

Firth and Arnove include it in the section, ‘Land and Liberty’, in their The People Speak, as an example of popular protest against the Enclosures, which saw thousands of tenant farmers and agricultural workers forced off their land as they were enclosed and developed by the landlords.

Historians now take the view that before the rise of the Romantic movement, and particularly before Shell published their motoring guides to the British countryside in the 1920s and 1930s, people had a much more utilitarian attitude to the environment. Rather than seeing it simply or primarily as a place of beauty, it was seen instead as a working environment, valued by the people who lived there for the resources they could exploit.
This changed when Shell published their motoring guides, which opened the countryside up to city dwellers, who were now able to travel by car into the countryside to enjoy its beauty and quaint, historic buildings.

I’m not entirely convinced by this. While people I know who’ve come from a farming background have said that the farming and agricultural community does have a much less romantic attitude to the countryside, and does indeed see it in terms of what can be used, people down the centuries have always celebrated it’s beauty. You can see it as a far back as one of the Viking romances. There is a tale where a Viking warrior decides to leave his home due to harassment from other, hostile warriors. Travelling on the road away from his farmstead, he takes one last look at it. He is struck by the beauty of the sun shining on his farm in the valley, and so changes his mind. He turns back, determined to fight for his land and his home.

And of course there are all the songs and poems written during the Middle Ages about the beauty of the countryside in spring time.

As for modern attempts to preserve the environment, these date to the late nineteenth century, when Ruskin and others up and down the country started a movement to preserve the local countryside from development so that local people could continue to enjoy it, over two decades before the Shell Guides appeared. The enjoyment of the countryside, not just as a place of work, but also as a place of leisure and beauty, goes back a long way.