When the 70th anniversary of the atom bomb falling on Hiroshima came around in 2015, I recall writing about the subject for my previous place of cyber employment, as seemed only right. However, I took a slightly different approach to what remains an emotive moment in history by highlighting my connection to the pilot of the Enola Gay, Col. Paul Tibbets. I’m related to him via the American branch of my mother’s family, though it would take a dedicated genealogist to establish the precise bloodline linking us, for all those who could have provided the details are dead and gone. Suffice to say, being a relative of the man who pressed the button that changed the world in the worst possible way is something I’m never quite sure if I should say out loud or not, particularly when the crimes of one’s ancestors now apparently have to be answered for by their living descendants. Where does Col. Tibbets rank on the Woke scale of irredeemably unspeakable skeletons in the family closet, I wonder? And what kind of penance must I pay when it comes to my trial for crimes against humanity, even if I didn’t personally commit any?

Yes, this North Korean-style retrospective punishment is all the rage now that the keys of the asylum have been placed in the hands of the lunatics. The British Library, repository of the nation’s greatest literary legacies, is just one more institution to have surrendered guardianship of the family silver to those who would just as happily toss it into a furnace as flog it. Even the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes has been added to the blacklist catalogue compiled in the wake of the Library’s self-flagellating surrender to the Church of BLM. Why? Well, as if enduring endless vitriolic assaults during his lifetime by unhinged radical feminists holding him responsible for the suicide of his first wife Sylvia Plath wasn’t bad enough, we now learn of another blot on the reputation of a man who died in 1998. Yes, Ted Hughes apparently had a distant ancestor who lived over 200 years before his own birth, one with some involvement in ‘colonialism’ back in the days of the British American colonies – and that is enough to condemn him. Funnily enough, Ted Hughes wasn’t born into wealth built on the profits of slavery and probably had no idea he was infected with the Original Sin of white supremacy, which we now thankfully know to be something all inherently evil non-BAME bastards carry. This is how insane it’s become.

The defacing of a Queen Victoria statue in Leeds at the height of the first wave of insanity back in the summer not only exposed the misogyny of the ‘artist’ but also highlighted his/her lack of education, linking Victoria to the slave trade when the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 – one that outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire bar a few outposts administered by the East India Company – was passed four years before Victoria came to the throne. But, hey, let’s not let any facts get in the way of the narrative, eh? And let’s not mention William Wilberforce or that this country led the way on abolitionism for the best part of half-a-century before finally achieving its aim. It’s probably worth mentioning that Britain didn’t invent slavery either and maybe make the point that it was still a highly profitable industry when Britain ended it. What always gets overlooked – one might almost say deliberately – is that before the advent of the more ruthless archetypal imperialists such as Cecil Rhodes, the British Empire was being shaped by the kind of middle-class, paternalistic do-gooders which the contemporary Woke crowd have more in common with than the British Library and its SJW affiliates would ever dare admit.

They would have regarded themselves as liberal, and they had a champion in the imposing figure of William Ewart Gladstone, Liberal with a capital L. The man who served four different terms as British Prime Minister was a passionate advocate of civilising savages with the Bible, a Victorian missionary in all-but name. He believed he was doing God’s work in converting heathen natives both home and abroad to a proper, Christian way of living, and his disciples set off for far-flung corners of the Empire to spread the Gospel. The colonies that had evolved from trading posts rather than claimed by invading armies were well-versed in the mantra of Free Trade, and those who governed the Empire during its middle period were fuelled by well-meaning, evangelical good intentions. As long as the natives were willing to be converted, they could be ruled by benign overlords with their best interests at heart. Secure in their righteous conviction that they were placed on earth to educate the less fortunate and that their selfless benevolence was sanctioned by the Almighty, they genuinely believed their way was the right way; and compared to, say, the Belgian approach to imperial governance, mid-Victorian imperialists were undoubtedly liberal.

Today’s equivalents have no Empire in terms of physical landmass; but they’ve conquered our public institutions and services – the schools, the universities, the medical profession, the police force, the Law – as well as tech companies, the corporate world, the arts, the mainstream media and politics; so, they basically control the majority of information reaching the masses as well as dictating social discourse and mores. I think that’s the nearest thing to an Empire this century can command without a shot being fired in anger. They’re as possessed by the same absolute, unshakable belief in their own moral righteousness as their Victorian forefathers and they also share their crusading mission to convert non-believers. They may have rejected God in Heaven, but they have their joint earthly religions of Identity Politics and Climate Change; they promote Globalisation with the same zealous fervour as the Imperial Victorians promoted Free Trade; and they place great emphasis on racial categorisation, believing one race is superior to the other; indeed, their belief in keeping the skin colours separate is as strong as that practiced and preached by the distant colonials they profess to detest. What a delicious irony.

The artist Grayson Perry once opined ordinary contemporary Brits bear more of a passing resemblance in spirit to the raucous Georgians than the virtuous Victorians; and the parallels between the way in which the Victorians were ashamed of their uncouth historical predecessors and the way in which the Woke cheerleaders look down on the ‘lower orders’ (i.e. Brexit bigots) are glaring. The Victorian lower orders were just as fun-loving and eager to have a good time as both their Georgian ancestors and their present day descendants, but the growing middle classes were controlling the narrative, just as they do today – as well as controlling the soul-destroying industries those beneath them toiled in, just as they do today. The pious propriety of this group and the pressures placed upon people to fall in line with their way of thinking are no different in 2020; and these Victorians had their own ‘cancel culture’ should one of their young women have a child out of wedlock or one of their young men be caught in the arms of another young man; their narrow moral code could destroy an individual with the same callous efficiency as any outraged Twitter troll today.

A key difference is that the Victorian liberals were at least able to channel their fanatical vigour for self-improvement into invention, innovation, and technological progress that did indeed improve millions of lives. The Woke crowd are more interested in destroying than creating; they have the same narcissistic nihilism as the extreme wings of the Reformation, their destructive actions echoing the whitewashing of Saints from church interiors and the tearing down of Catholic icons. They lack both the vision and the compassion of the Victorians at their best, and if that generation of Brits couldn’t keep their Empire together, there’s hope yet that the sun will set on this anti-cultural Woke Empire before long.

© The Editor


Every politician who ascends to the ultimate seat of power seeks to impose their own values and ideas upon the premiership, and though all talk the talk when taking office, few actually have the genuine vision and skill to make real their radical proposals. Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia from 1682-1725, was one of the legendary historical rulers whose ambition was largely realised, especially the cultural revolution he recognised as necessary if his vast lumbering empire was to be dragged out of the middle ages. Influenced by his tour of Western Europe and exposure to Enlightenment thinking, he returned home determined to instigate change. But along with all the political, social and scientific overhauls, there were more instantly noticeable aesthetic alterations; he had taken note of European style, particularly how all the leading figures he was introduced to were clean-shaven.

Imposing heavy taxes on the wearers of beards in Peter the Great’s Russia is perhaps one of the more seemingly trivial changes introduced by this reforming Romanov; but he saw the removal of hardcore facial hair – a long-standing tradition in Russia – as key to his country moving closer to the great nations of Europe by presenting its ruling class as indistinguishable from the French, Austrian or English. A century later, the Prussian hero of Waterloo, General von Blücher, caused a stir during the celebrations in London following Napoleon’s defeat simply by wearing an elaborate moustache at a time when face fashion remained smooth. The Regency Dandies had never seen anything quite like it, and von Blücher set a trend amongst military men of a certain rank that defined them thereafter.

Another German, Prince Albert, was perhaps instrumental in popularising the old upper-lip ‘hairy bogie’ during his high-profile stint as appendage to Queen Victoria. By the middle of the 19th century, moustaches were becoming visible and fashionable adornments on the male countenance; and even if they weren’t, gargantuan whiskers certainly were. Then the beard – for so long a symbol either of idleness or insanity in England – began to sprout on the chins of the powerful and influential. By the back end of the Victorian era, beards had blossomed into huge bushy beasts – impenetrable pubic forests that made every proud owner look ten years older and ten stone heavier.

These thick, dense thickets of fuzz could be worn by everyone from a sporting hero of the masses like the cricketer WG Grace or the age’s great scientific mind Charles Darwin. Indeed, it’s hard to think of an eminent Victorian bereft of a beard; a big beard appeared to signify the virility of Empire and the imperial supremacy of the British. On a more frivolous level, the legacy of von Blücher was also expanded upon as we entered the Edwardian era, when extravagant moustaches re-emerged more outrageously flamboyant than ever – the kind later to be seen under the noses of Jimmy Edwards and Sir Gerald Nabarro as a means of distinguishing both from the spotless visages of their contemporaries.

The final Prime Minister whose face was framed by an archetypal Victorian beard was the Marquess of Salisbury, who left No.10 in 1902 (though we may have a more austere example of the beard renting the property soon – if nobody has confidence in Boris, that is). The last PM to have merely a moustache was Harold Macmillan; he may have stepped down from office in the year that Beatlemania broke, but Supermac had earned his spurs in the distant trenches. Indeed, if we take a rare look at the First World War in purely aesthetic terms, it’s interesting to note how heavy facial hair was one of the minor casualties of the carnage. As a consequence, the Roaring 20s were largely clean-shaven, with the pencil-thin moustache being the sole concession to the former masculine trademark.

For around half-a-century, the beard retreated into a kind of shadowy cult existence; often, it implied an intellectual elitism, usually worn by academics, playwrights or earnest folkies. There was a mini-revival among students inspired by both the fad for ‘Trad Jazz’ and the charismatic firebrand Fidel Castro at the turn of the 1960s; but the beard didn’t really return to the faces of the young on a wider scale until the end of the decade. Once The Beatles gave notice to the Mop Top era by growing moustaches, the razor blade was suddenly downgraded as an essential item in every gentleman’s bathroom cabinet.

Amongst the numerous variations on offer in the hirsute hippie era, the Zapata had its moment – eventually becoming synonymous with such contrasting icons of the age as Peter Wyngarde and David Crosby – whereas the beard came to be regarded as an indication of revolutionary radicalism whilst also regaining its old quasi-religious symbolism, as seen on both Maharishi and Manson. By the beginning of the 70s, however, the ubiquitous beard was much as home on the effete chin of an Open University lecturer as it was on the huge blubbery jawline of Giant Haystacks. Even the defiantly androgynous Glam Rock had an unlikely beardie-weirdy in the shape of the larger-than-life Roy Wood.

Post-Punk, the beard represented the old guard as much as the gatefold sleeve of a Yes concept album, and the 1980s was relatively hairless as far as the face went; not until the ‘designer stubble’ craze at the end of the decade did young men looked upon as style icons feel brave enough to forego a shave again. The breakdown of the rigid rules and regulations governing the length of hair and the height of hemlines that began in the 90s (and has continued to this day) probably happened because popular culture finally reached a point where everything had been done before and there was nothing new left to say; suddenly, we entered a pick ‘n’ mix age in which the distinctive looks of recent decades could coexist simultaneously, albeit all stripped of their original context. The reappearance of the beard on young chins certainly wasn’t accompanied by a revival of the tribal significance it had possessed in the 60s; then again, nothing in the culture had tribal significance anymore.

Some men who grow a beard keep it for life – I’d never have known an uncle of mine hadn’t been born with one until I saw a photo of him in his clean-shaven youth, for example; others try it, don’t like it, and never try it again. I myself have never been drawn to it; sideburns are as far as I venture into that area, and being aware of their occasional itchiness makes me wonder how Hipsters or Imams manage to avoid their facial fungus becoming not only a nest for nibbling mites, but a repository for scraps of snacks. Not sure how women feel when their bearded men are amorous, though I should imagine the bushier breed are maybe preferable to the bristly brand; anyone whose stubbly father inflicted ‘chinny pie’ on them as a child could possibly have developed an understandably lifelong aversion to the latter. Women are remarkably adaptable to the individual image whims of their menfolk, however.

As far as most are concerned, a beard today symbolises little at all because its wearers are so varied. It can be worn by humourless Indie musicians, New Age gurus, ex-boy band members seeking to be taken seriously, movie stars aiming to prove their thespian mettle, slovenly students, old hippies, young hippies, and fat dads of both the urban and suburban variety. It has been, like every other fashion accessory of the last fifty years that began as a statement, utterly assimilated into the culture so that any sighting of one induces nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘whatever’. Amazing how many paragraphs the subject can generate during the silly season, mind…

© The Editor


The great recruitment programme for the Boer War at the end of the nineteenth century was the first eye-opener for the British Army as to how the nation’s diet had substantially altered in an extremely short space of time. From possessing a population in the mid-Victorian era that recent research has shown was healthier than we’ve ever been since, the health of England’s cannon-fodder had been ruined by food imports from the colonies; salt-heavy tinned meat, syrup-heavy canned fruit and sugar-laden condensed milk had served to wreck the iron constitution of John Bull. A different kind of diet, though no less damaging, was exposed this week following emergency surgery on a defector from North Korea, revealing a body riddled with grisly parasites.

Apologies if you’re eating as you read this, but the defector – also a military man – was operated on in Seoul to repair injuries sustained during his escape from South Korea’s neighbour. One parasitical worm removed from the injured man was 27cm long, extracted from his digestive tract by a surgeon claiming to have only ever come across such internal infections in medical textbooks before. One would assume a major qualification for joining any army is to have an above average level of physical fitness, so if this soldier is in such bad condition, what does that imply about the rest of the North Korean people?

Nutrition and hygiene in North Korea have long been suspected as being pretty appalling, though the closed shop the country remains has prevented any sustained study of the nation’s diet. Most of the conclusions made by outsiders are dependent upon examinations of recent defectors, and the kind of parasites discovered during the operation on the latest escapee were apparently commonplace in South Korea half-a-century ago until economic improvements all-but wiped them out. Again, apologies are in order if you’re perusing this post with your egg & chips, but some believe the use of ‘night soil’ (i.e. human excrement) as fertiliser in North Korea could have a lot to answer for. The drying-up of state-supplied chemical fertiliser from the 90s onwards has resulted in this desperate scenario, encouraged by the far-from malnourished Kim Jong-un, a man who probably doesn’t have to eat his own shit.

Corn was also prevalent in the soldier’s stomach; more and more North Koreans are dependent on cheap imported corn from China (49,000 tonnes this year so far) following a series of droughts in the country. The scraps of info available, such as that supplied by the World Food Programme, paint a bleak picture of a populace decimated by drought, famine and a totalitarian regime viewing it as utterly dispensable. According to the WFP, North Koreans are on average 5 inches smaller and 15 pounds lighter than their South Korean counterparts due to decades of poor diet with a distinct absence of protein and fats; a quarter of pre-school children are estimated to suffer from chronic malnutrition. The contents of the escaped soldier’s stomach appear to serve as evidence of what a lifetime of a limited diet imposed by Government can do.

Of course, the West’s health worries are of a different nature; unlike North Koreans, we have an abundance of choice, albeit both good and bad. The plague of obesity may contrast sharply with the widespread malnutrition in Kim Jong-un’s backyard, though even the relatively recent upsurge in home-grown fatties is nevertheless something we’ve been sliding towards over the last affluent hundred years. It can be traced all the way back to the point in the nineteenth century when processed sugar and salt-based foodstuffs superseded the previous dependency on fresh veg, fruit, fish, eggs and nuts. The impact of just one generation hooked on such a diet was as evident to doctors examining volunteers for the Boer War as any exploitative Channel 5 documentary about ‘Britain’s Fattest Bastard’ would today show how dangerously pivotal the innovations of the late Victorian dinner-table have become to the twenty-first century appetite. Ironically, Kim Jong-un has the kind of physique more characteristic of the West than the Far East, though he (like us) has the choice to overindulge if he so wishes.

However, whilst the imposition of physical ill-health via the portly gangster running North Korea may be unique to dictatorships, the mental malnutrition that goes hand-in-hand with it isn’t. A nation such as ours might be able to boast a higher standard of living for its people than North Korea, though the austerity measures of the past seven years, which have hit the poorest hardest, have long been linked to the increasing tendency of more people than ever to prop themselves up with antidepressants. A new report even attributes Tory policies since 2010 to 120,000 deaths. From a steady decline in mortality rates between 2001 and 2010, the authors of the study claim this trend has subsequently been reversed from the Coalition onwards, with more than 45,000 deaths during the first four years of Dave’s stint at No.10 than anticipated as funding for health and social care fell in real terms.

It’s hardly rocket science that if healthcare provision is underfunded, those most reliant on it are at greater risk of their lifespan being reduced. The social care budget between 2010 and 2014 dropped from 2.20% to 1.57%, and the spending constraints then coincided with a sudden rise in the death rates. One of the paper’s authors referred to austerity policies as ‘a public health disaster. It is not an exaggeration to call it economic murder’. Critics have called the conclusions drawn in the study as ‘speculative’, though I often marvel at the fact that the entire population hasn’t formed an orderly queue at Beachy Head, considering the increasing paucity of reasons to keep buggering on. Then again, at least we’re not living off ‘night soil’. Yet.

© The Editor


A hidden track on his first solo album and a single that understandably failed to pick up much in the way of airplay, ‘Running the World’ by Jarvis Cocker achieved modest notoriety via its catchy chorus, which repeated the simple phrase ‘C***s are still running the world’. One could argue the lyrical sentiment of the song should qualify it as a far more apt number to be covered by a multi-artist ensemble for victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster than an obvious, irrelevant anthem like ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’. But what else can we expect when a clueless cretin like Simon Cowell, a man for whom music is merely a means to a big car and a big house, is the mastermind behind assembling so many practitioners of the vocally histrionic and emotionally sentimental under one roof?

Yes, it’s been a good year for c***s so far. One I’ve referenced in the odd past post, instigator of divorce proceedings that labelled me as an ‘adulterous unknown’ and somebody who also hired a mate from the Met to trawl through my private records without cause or permission, has proven himself king of the c***s yet again with recent actions, though that’s neither a surprise nor something I can elaborate on, unfortunately. But the Karma Police will get him in the end (woah, going backwards to the previous post for a mo there, sorry). Anyway, the wider world has its fair share of the C U Next Tuesday brigade, whether they subscribe to Radical Islam or the EDL, so why go on about it if we all know, eh?

No, I’m not here to moan or whinge or dwell on the dark side; I thought I’d let a little glimmer of hope slip through the bleakness for one post at least. The image accompanying this post was one I captured on camera earlier today, having passed it yesterday. I don’t know who is responsible, but they deserve a medal for making me feel all is not lost, for their glorious creation served as a reminder that, even if c***s are still running the world, some of those not running it are bloody marvellous.

A wooden cabinet attached to a post fixed into the grass beside the pavement, and inside the cabinet, two shelves of books. Seemingly hand-painted in exquisite florid bird motifs, the cabinet announces itself as a ‘Little Free Library’; the only other words on it are ‘Take a book’ and ‘Leave a book’. Apparently commonplace in some corners of the world – friends in Canada tell me they’ve come across them in their neck of the woods – this innovation is new to me and it made my day. Put simply, what a lovely idea.

A couple of hundred years ago, libraries were the province of the academic and the wealthy, incorporated into universities, civic buildings and country houses that excluded the common man, and not just because more often than not he couldn’t actually read. Then came the Victorians with their evangelical zeal for self-improvement in both body and mind; it may be easy and fashionable to mock them, but boy did they leave a hell of a legacy behind them. The Public Libraries Act 1850 was arguably one of the greatest pieces of legislation to come out of the nineteenth century, enabling local boroughs across Britain to establish free public libraries, opening the book of knowledge to all. Further amendments to the Act within a decade of it becoming law extended the reach of that knowledge so that a public library became one of the fixtures and fittings of every village, town and city in the UK; a settlement would appear as incomplete without one as it would without a church, a pub or a post office.

We take libraries for granted at our peril, and it’s no coincidence an army of volunteers has regularly stepped up to the job of running them without payment when the local library has been threatened with closure; and a hell of a lot have been threatened with closure in the last decade. The attitude of our so-called superiors in government is that public libraries, as with the Arts, don’t really matter unless one attended the right school or university, probably because enriching one’s intellect isn’t necessarily related to making a profit, which of course matters more than anything else. Alan Bennett compared the closure of public libraries as tantamount to child abuse; he was quite viciously criticised and condemned by philistine Ministers entrusted with the job of closing them, and while his description was possibly a tad melodramatic the sentiment behind the statement was understandable. For a child, free access to books is as important a right as free access to education.

I became a member of my first local library aged around seven, a majestic Victorian edifice with a Gothic clock-tower; and throughout my childhood, whenever my mother ventured to the ‘town street’ to shop when I was at school, she’d pop into the library and pick something up for me she reckoned I’d like. When I was in my teens, this library was one I visited alone, selecting books from the shelf that reflected my changing tastes. Ironically, this was actually the very same library that had been Alan Bennett’s local one when he was growing up, one he returned to in a recent biography on BBC2. I haven’t been there myself now for the best part of 25 years or more (it’s no longer my local), but I’m pleased it’s still there and hopefully providing the next generation of readers with their introductions to the magic of the written word and its occasional illustrations.

Even with the revolutionary arrival of Penguin and their sixpence paperbacks in the 1930s, the price of books has always been beyond the reach of many, meaning public libraries remained the main route to reading for great swathes of the population. But, of course, they also existed for pensioners to go somewhere warm and scan the daily papers on cold winter mornings; more recent decades have seen them expand their portfolio to incorporate records, CDs and DVDs as well as housing photocopiers, printers and the internet – all of which can provide an invaluable service for so many that to write them off as expensive luxuries unworthy of investment or maintenance is to raise earthly bread over heavenly bread.

That one unknown individual or group of individuals took it upon themselves to plant their own miniature library alongside the pavement, offering a wonderful alternative to the dog turds, dried sick and broken glass lining that pavement, is such an inspired and touching gesture that it’s almost enough to restore one’s tried and tested faith in humanity. And that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

© The Editor


001My neighbourhood has one post office – a relatively large one in comparison to some, and very rarely empty; its solitary presence means those seeking the service it offers have nowhere else within walking distance, and it is a genuine oasis surrounded by a desert of trendy bars, coffee shops, pizza emporiums, foreign food outlets and numerous other businesses that exploit obesity. However, rumours recently reached me that whichever horrible corporation owns the premises it has occupied for decades has trebled the rent over the last twelve months in a bid to force the post office out, and this essential community hub now either has to be reduced to sub status in a supermarket or simply disappear forever.

62 post office branches were earmarked for closure last year; a further 37 have been pencilled-in for the same fate this year with an estimated 420 jobs to go. The network of post offices across the country has shrunk around 30% over the past three decades, though the service still has upwards of 17 million customers a week. The increasing trend towards buying and sellng online should, in theory, have revitalised an industry whose traditional income was based around that quaint archaic practice of sending letters, yet continuously falling revenue gave the Government an excuse to capitalise on the situation four years ago.

A public institution aged 500 years young was deemed to be a source of shameless profit for our friends in Whitehall when they took the decision to sell off Royal Mail, thanks in no small part to the persistent pushing of Westminster’s very own Iago, Mr Mandelson, after deregulation opened the market to competition in 2006. Like so much privatisation since the mass closing down sale instigated by Mrs T back in the day, the benefits for the humble customer in the event of a family silver auction have been secondary to private profiteering where the post office has been concerned.

Following the notorious sale of Royal Mail in 2013, a report by the National Audit Office claimed the Government’s hasty flogging of the business cost taxpayers an estimated £750 in just one day. Deliberately undervaluing the share price, the Government entrusted the sale to Old Mother Cable in his role as Business Secretary under the Coalition; disregarding warnings from the City, Cable went ahead with his intentions to float Royal Mail at 330p a share and set aside 16 long-term investors to have priority access. Almost half of these investors sold their shares a matter of weeks later, many to the same hedge funds that Cable had labelled ‘spivs’, making a handsome profit in the process. The Government followed suit in 2015, selling its remaining 30% stake, formally ending its centuries-old connection to the service in the most unedifying fashion. I don’t claim to understand the intricacies of privatisation, floatation and the FTSE 100; but I recognise a rip-off when I see it.

For all the flak they continue to take from revisionists, the Victorians’ sense of Christian zeal when embarking upon their moral reform of the nation’s wellbeing wasn’t restricted to a specifically religious mantra. The codification and new professionalism of sports such as association football and rugby league; the right of every child, whatever their social origins, to receive education for free; the laying out of landscaped civic parkland; the creation of public libraries and public swimming baths – all were designed to open doors to intellectual and physical improvement that only the moneyed classes had previously had access to.

Although the postal service became available to the public under the reign of Charles I, the advent of the Uniform Penny Post in 1840, along with the introduction of pillar boxes twenty years later, chimed with the reforming spirit of the age – one that our supposedly enlightened era would find utterly alien. The formation of the National Health Service in 1948 was perhaps the last grand gesture of benevolence by the State in the nineteenth century tradition, devised by men born during Victoria’s reign and influenced by the ethos of their childhoods. The decline and fall of the NHS over the last couple of decades is, amongst many other things, a cracked mirror on the death of the concept of the common good.

The farming out of public services (or ‘outsourcing’, to use the official title), whether contracting the running of prisons to private companies or switching every customer helpline of your energy supplier to the broken English of the Indian Subcontinent, may seem unrelated; but each development of this nature in its own little way contributes towards the alienation and detachment from institutions many feel today, an alienation and detachment less prevalent when public ownership of public services gave everyone a sense of having a stake in society, even if they were down to their last couple of quid.

One small example came my way recently when a friend applied to work in the care sector; because the pay is so poor, jobs aren’t hard to come by, though she will have to wait upwards of two months to actually begin work due to the endless CRB-type checks she now has to undergo, the sort familiar to anyone working with society’s most vulnerable. These checks are in the hands of – wait for it – none other than the Metropolitan Police Force!

If that doesn’t fill you with confidence, it’s interesting to note that the overseas employees she’ll be working alongside (largely from Eastern Europe) aren’t investigated re their employment history in the country of their origin and are essentially ‘fast-tracked’ into the job. Whilst the unblemished record of a native is subject to scrutiny that instantly assumes all Brits are sadistic Paedos in the making, an immigrant worker who may have previously committed the kind of crimes CRB checks are supposed to safeguard against can effectively walk into a position without any additional delays. Of course, that’s not to say an immigrant worker is any more likely to have a dodgy past than any home-grown employee in the care sector, though surely the same rules should apply to all.

Such a farcical scenario may not appear to be connected to the imminent closure of my local post office, or indeed the disappearance of hundreds of post offices throughout Britain since 2013; but it does seem indicative of the cheap, selfish, suspicious, mistrustful, nasty little country we’ve become and how inequality in all its myriad forms has seen Us and Them assert itself as the dominant narrative of the day.

© The Editor


john-bull-and-dogHealth-wise, the Victorian era tends to throw up images of malnourished urchins with rotten teeth and rickets living on hard bread and mouldy cheese (if they were lucky) after a hard day’s work up a chimney. Not that this wasn’t the case where many of the working poor were concerned, but as a dietary portrait of an entire society it can not only have the effect of imbuing smugness and superiority in the Victorians’ descendents; it can also prove highly misleading, as has been pointed out in ‘How the Mid-Victorians Ate Worked and Died’, a new study published by MDPI, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The Mid-Victorian period roughly covers 1850-75 and the MDPI report claims the generation that lived through that quarter-century was the healthiest this country has probably ever had in its history, a statement which certainly contradicts perceived wisdom. The notoriously high mortality rates in infancy could often be the greatest challenge to the prospect of a long life, but if one could make it to the age of 5, the compilers of the study say life expectancy was more or less the same, if not better, than it is today; and contrary to popular belief, we live on average no longer than they did.

Most fatalities in Mid-Victorian society were due to infections that a combination of improved sanitation and modern science has now rendered non-fatal if treated early enough; workplace accidents were a far higher cause of death as well, though the chronic degenerative diseases that are such prominent killers today were as much as 90% less prevalent than they are now. And for all the moral panic over drunkenness amongst the poor, the alcoholic content of beer (the most commonly consumed drink during this period) was lower due to it being watered down to an extent than no publican could get away with in the twenty-first century. Even cancers were far rarer, especially of that of the lung variety, as the Mid-Victorian era predates the mass industrial production of cigarettes.

The more physical nature of work played its part in the health of the Mid-Victorians as much as what they ate; unlike 2016, very few professions consisted of sitting at a desk all day. They may have ingested between 50% and 100% more calories than us, but they burned it off through work; obesity was associated with the idleness of the wealthy and virtually unknown amongst the working-classes. Public transport was threadbare in comparison to now (not to mention pricey), with the majority walking to and back from their workplace, something Dickens vividly described when witnessing the march of the workers at the crack of dawn. Overall, physical activity far exceeded levels we indulge in today, a factor that undoubtedly contributed towards the healthier condition of the Mid-Victorians.

The Mid-Victorian diet in the study is compared to that of the Mediterranean diet and is regarded as superior to any government dietary recommendations issued now, let alone what the populace actually do eat in the twenty-first century. Most fruits and vegetables were affordable for even the poorest households, largely due to the growth of the railways, which enabled food to be delivered to markets and shops in far higher numbers. Onions, leeks, watercress, carrots, cabbage, turnips, peas, beans, artichokes, apples, plums, cherries and gooseberries were commonplace and cheap. Nuts, particularly chestnuts, were consumed with more regularity than they are today, whereas the presence of backyard hens provided a constant supply of eggs. The nature of the meat eaten back then may not appear especially appetising now (on the bone with accompanying offal), but it would seem the large amounts of fish and seafood that constituted the diet also aided good health.

Bereft of margarine and processed foods, not to mention a lower salt intake, the Mid-Victorians were of a sufficiently healthy constitution to power the engine of Empire as well as providing the armed forces with fitter men than ever. Ironically, Britain’s global dominance made it a target market for edible imports that began to flood into the country towards the end of the nineteenth century. Tinned meats were salt-heavy, whereas canned fruit was syrup-heavy, and condensed milk laden with sugar. It was the sudden increase in sugared foods that sowed the seeds of decline in this brief period of good health, rapidly ruining teeth to the extent that many of the foods consumed in large numbers before could no longer be eaten. This decline, which was so evident when men were being recruited for the Boer War at the turn of the twentieth century, served to create the popular image of the undernourished working poor that we now tend to associate with the whole of the Victorian era.

The MDPI report concludes that today’s intensively grown crops are less beneficial than the organically grown fruit and veg the Mid-Victorians ate, their meat was all free-range, and (to get technical for a mo) their diet contained ‘pharmacological levels’ of phytonutrients that were effectively protection against cancers, heart diseases and other degenerative disorders that are so in abundance today. It makes for surprising, sober and fascinating reading. Not only does it shine a fresh light on an era retrospectively (and, it would seem, erroneously) regarded as a low-point in public health; it also makes one realise that twentieth and twenty-first century advances in medical and pharmaceutical science are only ever a stay of execution when we’re being dished up crap.

© The Editor


CybermenIf, like me, you happen to reside in a neighbourhood that retains the majority of its Victorian architectural roots, chances are you may have noticed the high proportion of churches – even if not all of them are still open for business. In an era when working hours were long and wages were low, Christianity served a purpose beyond mere faith, being at the heart of community life in a way it only appears to be today in rural England. But the church’s core business at its most basic was to offer hope – however slim – and a kind of ethereal distraction from the toil that the mass of the country’s workers endured.

Times change, of course; and religion, at least the one that has been that of the nation for centuries, no longer commands the same authority it once had or is turned to by millions as an escapist alternative to the dispiriting norm. Celebrity culture, certainly for what used to be called the working-class, seems to have taken its place. The reasons for an elevation that is to many utterly baffling are myriad, but the fact that it exists in its current form at all suggests there is a need for it as there was a need for the church in the nineteenth century.

Working conditions then were notoriously bad, even though there had been several pieces of legislation (largely prompted by campaigning reformers) that gradually improved the wellbeing of workers; the days of bewildered orphans being bussed from one part of the country to another in order to provide unscrupulous mill-owners with cheap labour were thankfully gone by the end of the nineteenth century. But for all the vast contrast between the lot of the working man and woman of today and their equivalents just over a hundred years ago, there is little cause for celebration; and many might argue the overall picture implies the situation has got worse rather than better over the past couple of decades.

Parents have always mapped out a newborn’s life, whatever their social demographic. Following in father’s footsteps was a familiar scenario both to those at the top and those at the bottom, whether that entailed journeying along the same prep school/public school/University/Foreign Office conveyor belt as Daddy or joining yer old man darn t’pit. So, in some respects, modern mania for catchment areas and ‘the right school’ isn’t necessarily an entirely unprecedented development. But it does reflect a very contemporary, almost obsessive, desire for absorbing people into the system at the earliest possible age, a mantra of propaganda pumped-out by media. Once Junior boards the educational treadmill in twenty-first century Britain, he or she is on the first lap of a marathon operation that surpasses anything his or her nineteenth century predecessor had to suffer. The old, rather quaint, boast that the National Health Service would provide the people with cradle-to-grave care has now been surpassed by a far less benign watchdog spanning the same timescale.

A child at school today is placed under fanatical observation and surveillance more or less from day one. The bureaucratic box-ticking that has permeated all public services settles its all-seeing eye on the school-kid and will never avert its gaze thereafter, ensuring the child slots into the system; and the system preaches that the child is secondary to concern for what the OfSted report will say. The idiosyncratic teacher who fired and inspired the imaginations of the open minds before him – the kind that could be seen in the likes of ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ or ‘The History Boys’ – has no place in today’s academic institutions. There are boundaries and boxes, and stepping or thinking outside of them is simply not allowed. A teacher is there as a trainer of trainee drones, not simply in terms of a workforce, but in every aspect of work, rest and play; and there’ll be little of the latter once Junior is released into the big bad world.

An unpaid internship or a zero-hours contract – what are they really but updated and rebranded nineteenth century working conditions? A Victorian working man or woman low down the food chain was, in many cases, dependent on their employer for a roof over their heads, a scenario not that different from the tied cottages they’d left behind when migrating from country to town. They could never have imagined owning their own home and the prospect of doing likewise for the working man or woman in both the same position and far higher up the food chain of today is just as implausible.

Their working hours are barely shorter than the working hours of their nineteenth century ancestors and they will have to keep working for more years, probably up until their mid-seventies. Money they owe may not land them in debtor’s gaols anymore, but in all likelihood they will never pay off all their debts before they die; their debtor’s gaols are the jobs that drain them and the homes they don’t own. Where do they go for much-needed, albeit temporary escape? They want to watch a family of rich bitches talk bollocks as opposed to a lone, lonely vicar talk bollocks. The Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Kardashian both offer unrealisable dreams because dreams are necessary when reality is a master-plan drawn-up by people with no imagination, no compassion, no heart and no soul, people who don’t have to live the lives they’ve designed – Tory, Labour, Liberal or Whig.

The unacceptable face of capitalism? The unacceptable face of Britain.

© The Editor


d7e11002cd980b7e96b55a95b0ac8b0e[1]A paediatrician asks a mother to video her mentally disabled daughter enduring one of her regular spasms in order that he can make an effective diagnosis; a side-effect of her child’s condition is that the spasms cause her to rip her clothes off. Upon being told this, the physician whose job it is to tend to the medical needs of children informs the mother he cannot view any such videos. Despite the fact that visual evidence of the spasms will enable him to treat them correctly and possibly ease the girl’s suffering, he cannot look at it because he fears possession of such material will result in him being placed on the sex-offender’s register. The mother also hesitates at capturing her daughter’s spasms on video for fear she will be charged with making offensive images; sending them to the paediatrician could land her with an additional charge of distributing offensive images. Therefore, a woman who gave birth to a child born naked and a man whose profession sometimes requires him to examine children without clothes on both back away from helping a sick child because of fear. This is a true story, told to me by someone who was told it by the mother of the child. What an absolutely ludicrous, not to say tragic, scenario.

This is an extremely smug century. A consensus is afoot that we are sophisticated, liberated and no longer hindered by the repressive sexual pressures that stifled personal freedoms in the past. If the products of this culture have an imagined nemesis, it is the Victorians. Women couldn’t vote and were second-class citizens encased in constricting corsets; homosexuals were locked away and broken by the prison system; black people were oppressed colonial cheap labour, barely better off than when they were slaves; the poor lived in squalid hovels with no social safety net other than the workhouse. Weren’t the Victorians terrible and aren’t we so much better? Are we?

Last year, a BBC documentary on Lewis Carroll aired, in which the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ author’s pioneering photographs received extensive coverage. Carroll – or as he was known beyond Wonderland, Charles Dodgson – specialised in somewhat sentimental portraits of children that enraptured their parents, most of whom were present when Dodgson’s elaborate set-pieces were staged and captured on camera. Many of these images featured children unclothed, something that at the time was supposed to emphasise the virtuous innocence of vulnerable cherubs whose lifespan hovered in a permanent state of uncertainty. Sensibilities today see such images rather differently.

One overlong segment of the documentary was devoted to an image of an unidentified naked pre-pubescent girl whose identity was speculated as being that of the real Alice’s sister, Lorina Liddell; nobody could even say for certain that Charles Dodgson had actually taken the photograph. But this formed part of the predictable discussion on whether or not Dodgson’s penchant for participating in a late nineteenth century vogue for photographing children pointed to him being a paedophile. The squeamish icing on the twenty-first century censorious cake, however, was that the programme-makers wouldn’t even let the viewers see the photograph in question. A Victorian photo of a girl who will have been dead for at least fifty years – and that’s if she lived to a very ripe old age – couldn’t be shown on television in 2015 because it was deemed to be offensive to the sensitive sensibilities of our oh-so superior age.

‘Victorian Values’ is a wide-sweeping term that is only ever used dismissively; it is supposed to represent everything bad that has gradually been superseded by more enlightened thinking and living. Yet, as hypocritical as the Victorians’ attitude to flesh and pleasures thereof allegedly were, they were not terrified of the flesh of children – and they were not expected to see pleasure in it at all, unlike their ‘sophisticated’ successors over a hundred years on. Of course, there were some adults then who had unnatural sexual desires towards children, just as there were before the Victorians and just as there are today; but the key difference between then and now is that the nineteenth century acknowledged paedophilia as a rare symptom restricted to a minority rather than a commonplace perversion inherent in the majority.

Today, one has to prove the absence of such feelings because their absence is not accepted. It is a given, a presumption that they are in all of us, simply waiting to be exposed. A series of laws introduced over the past decade seem designed to catch us out, to coax these feelings into the open, like some form of thought entrapment; and if they happen not to be in us, they have to be implanted in us because they’re supposed to be there. These laws encourage instant suspicion and rushes to judgement, and they persuade people to think the worst of everyone. They negate rationality, provoke paranoia and self-doubt, inspire mob mentality, and more than anything, they generate a primitive brand of pseudo-religious, finger-pointing fear unprecedented in a secular society.

The Victorians were supposedly so averse to the sight of naked flesh that they covered piano legs because they resembled the indecently-exposed legs of ladies. How silly, eh? But they weren’t horrified by the sight of children as nature intended; we are. And that’s progress.

© The Editor