Sunday, April 24, 2011

The publishing sensation that made England conquer the world

The King James Bible is 400 years old this year: On Easter Sunday, one historian blasts a trumpet in its honour

By David Starkey

This month sees the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. It is the greatest book in the English language. It made English, and remade England.

It has been printed in millions of copies and hundreds of editions. It gives us our most memorable phrases and arresting images – from ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ to a ‘sting in the tail’.

Called into being by a king, it has carried ideas of truth and freedom and justice and human dignity to the furthest corners of the globe. Its cadences can be heard in the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and President Obama. It is the spice in the new English of the Indian Subcontinent. And yet, extraordinarily, this supreme achievement was the work of a committee – or so we have always been told.

Closer examination reveals a very different story, which overturns our notions of the chronology of this great book and reintroduces an unjustly neglected name to our pantheon of great writers, William Tyndale.

James VI of Scotland succeeded the childless Queen Elizabeth I as James I of England in 1603. There were high hopes for him, and none higher than James’s for himself. He had been king of Scots since he was in his cradle. He was learned; a polished, published author and a patient, canny politician. Above all – and in sharp contrast to the ageing Elizabeth, who had frozen into a sort of querulous immobility – he had vision and ambition.

James I had set himself three main tasks. He wanted to end the long, debilitating war between England and Spain. He was determined to bring about a political union between his two separate kingdoms of Scotland and England. And he even dreamt of reuniting the Christian church, which had been riven by the Reformation into warring factions, as Catholics fought Protestants and Protestants fought each other. All three conflicts, James resolved, would be settled by his deft mediation as the universal Rex Pacificus – ‘the peacemaker king’.

It was indeed an ambitious programme. Less than a decade later, it mostly lay in ruins. England and Spain were at peace, but the English parliament had thrown out a union with Scotland; while the Gunpowder Plot, in which a handful of renegade Catholics had schemed to blow up king, Lords and Commons, had set back Catholic emancipation by generations.

One thing, however, survived from the wreck: the scheme for a new, agreed translation of the Bible. The scheme had first been floated at the Hampton Court Conference, held in Henry VIII’s Thames-side palace in 1604 to try to resolve the bitter disputes within the Church of England between the Puritans, who wanted a stripped-down Protestantism, and the bishops, who were determined to retain a more ceremonious national Church. James, who presided as an anything but impartial chairman, leapt at the idea.

Fifty-four scholars were nominated as translators, of whom 47 actually served. They were divided into six separate ‘companies’ or committees, two meeting at Oxford, two at Cambridge and two at Westminster, and the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha were parcelled out among them. Each committee then went through its alloted portion, line by line and word by word.

They began with the original texts in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic; they compared and contrasted later translations in Latin and many other languages; they scoured reference books and commentaries; they consulted with other scholars on specific issues. And, being academics, they debated and quarrelled endlessly and ferociously.

Contrary to popular belief, however, what the translators did not do was to start the work of translation from scratch. Their instructions, whose substance was dictated by James himself, were quite explicit on the point. Instead, they were to base themselves on the main English Bible translations of the 16th century: ‘Tindall’s (sic), Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva’.

And the greatest of these, and the foundation of all the others – including the King James version itself – was Tyndale’s. It was one translator against 50, but there is no doubt where the balance of creativity lies.

William Tyndale, martyr, Bible-translator and a controversialist so formidable that he left even Sir Thomas More floored in argument, was a near-contemporary of Henry VIII: Tyndale was born in about 1494; Henry some three years earlier.

And Tyndale, like the young prince, benefited from the first wave of Renaissance scholarship in England. Tyndale probably laid the foundations of his excellent knowledge of the Classics at Katharine Lady Berkeley’s Grammar School at Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, a few miles from his place of birth. And he polished it at Magdalen College, Oxford, where Wolsey had cut his teeth as star student and ambitious young don.

Tyndale’s academic career progressed smoothly, too. He graduated BA 1512; in 1515 he was ordained a priest and, a few months later, he began his further studies for the MA. But the next year, Tyndale’s life – and the whole history of the 16th century – changed.

The great Dutch scholar Erasmus had spent much of the past decade in England, where he had been one of Henry VIII’s youthful mentors. The Bible had been one of his preoccupations and, in 1516, he published the fruits of his labours in the form of the first printed text of the Greek New Testament, with a radically revised Latin translation alongside.

Erasmus called his work the Novum Instrumentum (The New Tool) and it divided his world like a freshly honed razor. On one side were men such as Sir Thomas More and, for a long time, Henry VIII himself. They were determined that the Bible should remain a clerical monopoly in Latin, safe from the prying eyes of ordinary folk. On the other side was the German reformer Martin Luther, who was equally determined to put the Bible into the language of the people and let it do its work in the world.

Tyndale was with Luther, and his life’s work now became to translate the Bible into English. He began his task in England. But the clerical establishment proved bitterly hostile and threatened him with the terrible charge of heresy, for which the punishment was burning alive.

In one such encounter his persecutor told him ‘we were better without God’s law than the Pope’s’. Tyndale replied in words that have echoed down the centuries. ‘If God spare my life,’ he said, ‘I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.’

Realising now that ‘to translate the New Testament… there was no place in all England’, Tyndale fled abroad, first to Cologne, then to Worms and, finally, to the great trading city of Antwerp.

In 1526 he published his first version of the New Testament. Then, somewhere and somehow, he learned Hebrew and began the even greater task of translating the Old Testament. He worked with his usual speed and, in 1530, he published the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch. A translation of the Prophet Jonah followed, and he began work on the historical books, Kings and Chronicles. Finally, in 1534, he published a thorough revision of his New Testament in which he improved his own high standards.

It is an astonishing achievement. Still only in his thirties, Tyndale was working underground, with little assistance and few resources. He had to deal with much of the drudgery of printing and distribution himself. And yet this was the result:

‘Though I spake with the tongues of men and angels, and yet had no love, I were even as sounding brass: and as a tinkling cymbal. And though I could prophesy, and understood all secrets, and all knowledge: yea, if I had all faith so that I could move mountains out of their places, and yet had no love, I were nothing.’ (I Corinthians 13. 1-2)

All the great phrases, which have become the very fabric of the language, are there, too: ‘the spirit is willing’; ‘fight the good fight’; ‘the powers that be’. Yet More denounced Tyndale’s great work as ‘a filthy foam of blasphemies’.

This was because Tyndale, basing himself on Erasmus, had dared to translate key words in their Greek meanings as ‘elder’, ‘congregation’, ‘love’ and ‘repent’, instead of the officially approved ‘priest’, ‘church’, ‘charity’ and ‘do penance’.

A hundred years of strife was in the difference, and Tyndale was one of the first victims. He was betrayed to the Flemish authorities, condemned and, having been strangled first (out of respect to his scholarship), his body was burned at the stake.

It is hard to exaggerate the difference between the lonely, hunted Tyndale and the comfortable cohorts of the Jacobean translators, with their fellowships and deaneries. Nine-tenths of Tyndale’s New Testament are reproduced word for word in the King James version.

This is no more radical a revision than the work of any modern publisher’s editor in preparing an author’s manuscript for the press. But there is an alchemy nonetheless. Tyndale had written for the ploughboy. The Jacobean translators were preparing an official text for an established Church which, Protestant though it was, had taken over much of the pomp and circumstance of its old Catholic predecessor.

So back came the traditional translations of the disputed words, such as ‘church’ and ‘charity’. Out went Tyndale’s vivid colloquialisms. ‘In the twinkling of an eye’ became ‘in a moment of time’. ‘Tush, ye shall not die’, Tyndale’s Serpent tells Eve in the Garden of Eden.

‘Ye shall not surely die’, the Tempter says more decorously in the King James Bible. And everywhere the translators aimed for smoothness and dignity: ‘If the words are arranged this way, the statement will be more majestic,’ one argued.

The result should have been an uneasy compromise. Instead it was a miracle. Tyndale supplied the muscle; the Jacobeans the majesty. And English ever since has been able to move effortlessly from one to the other. At the same time, the language began another and even greater journey.

In 1607, halfway through the work of the Jacobean translators, the first lasting English settlement was established in North America, fittingly enough at Jamestown.

With the Empire as the medium and the King James Bible as the message, English had begun its path to global dominance.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sat-nav: Prehistoric Britons 'used crude sat nav'

Prehistoric man navigated his way across England using a crude version of sat nav based on stone circle markers, historians have claimed. They were able to travel between settlements with pinpoint accuracy thanks to a complex network of hilltop monuments. These covered much of southern England and Wales and included now famous landmarks such as Stonehenge and The Mount.

New research suggests that they were built on a connecting grid of isosceles triangles that 'point' to the next site. Many are 100 miles or more away, but GPS co-ordinates show all are accurate to within 100 metres. This provided a simple way for ancient Britons to navigate successfully from A to B without the need for maps.

According to historian and writer Tom Brooks, the findings show that Britain's Stone Age ancestors were "sophisticated engineers" and far from a barbaric race.

Mr Brooks, from Honiton, Devon, studied all known prehistoric sites as part of his research. He said: "To create these triangles with such accuracy would have required a complex understanding of geometry. "The sides of some of the triangles are over 100 miles across on each side and yet the distances are accurate to within 100 metres. You cannot do that by chance.

"So advanced, sophisticated and accurate is the geometrical surveying now discovered, that we must review fundamentally the perception of our Stone Age forebears as primitive, or conclude that they received some form of external guidance.

Mr Brooks analysed 1,500 sites stretching from Norfolk to north Wales. These included standing stones, hilltop forts, stone circles and hill camps. Each was built within eyeshot of the next. Using GPS co-ordinates, he plotted a course between the monuments and noted their positions to each other.

He found that they all lie on a vast geometric grid made up of isosceles 'triangles'. Each triangle has two sides of the same length and 'point' to the next settlement. Thus, anyone standing on the site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire could have navigated their way to Lanyon Quoit in Cornwall without a map.

Mr Brooks believes many of the Stone Age sites were created 5,000 years ago by an expanding population recovering from the trauma of the Ice Age.

Lower ground and valleys would have been reduced to bog and marshes, and people would have naturally sought higher ground to settle. He said: "After the Ice Age, the territory would have been pretty daunting for everyone. There was an expanding population and people were beginning to explore. "They would have sought sanctuary on high ground and these positions would also have given clear vantage points across the land with clear visibility untarnished by pollution.

"The triangle navigation system may have been used for trading routes among the expanding population and also been used by workers to create social paths back to their families while they were working on these new sites."

Mr Brooks now hopes his findings will inspire further research into the navigation methods of ancient Britons. He said: "Created more than 2,000 years before the Greeks were supposed to have discovered such geometry, it remains one of the world's biggest civil engineering projects. "It was a breathtaking and complex undertaking by a people of profound industry and vision. We must revise our thinking of what's gone before."


Monday, April 18, 2011

Another wonderful steam restoration

To a non-railway buff like me, this glistening heap of steel resembles a life-size version of Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s even painted a similar shade of blue. But in the world of steam engines, this is nothing short of a miracle. ‘It’s like seeing the Titanic raised from the Atlantic and restored to life as an ocean liner,’ says local steam buff Tom Arnold, surveying this wondrous resurrection.

Because Edward II is not just one of the last of the great steam locomotives. It is also testimony to the ingenuity, perseverance and passion of that indefatigable force of nature: The Englishman with a hobby.

Rail enthusiasts — from trainspotters to members of the Brunel family — have been flocking to the Didcot Railway Centre in Oxfordshire this month to pay homage to this fabulous feat of restoration.

It has taken 125 amateur enthusiasts £700,000 and 60,000 hours of voluntary work over 21 years to rescue a heap of scrap and turn it back into a fully operational industrial work of art. Some of the team have not just sacrificed holidays and precious weekends. The whole exercise may even have pushed a few marriages to the brink, too. Now that it is done, several wives have reclaimed their husbands. Others, it must be said, cannot wait for another restoration to lure their husbands out of the house again.

But no one disputes the magnitude of the achievement. You can’t help wondering why on earth we don’t put this lot in charge of Britain’s entire rail network.

Everything is magnificently oiled and polished when I arrive. Edward II is not ‘in steam’ when I turn up (it will be this weekend) but it means I can clamber around the cab, and it’s all spotless.

This wonderful old railway shed is full of beautifully-maintained old engines, some of them dating back to the mid-19th century. One giant is kitted out in its World War One khaki livery. But the star of the show — which is open to the public most days — is Edward II.

Resident mechanic David Horsley shows me the controls — a red lever for going forward or backwards, another red lever for fast or slow and a series of handles and valves for braking. Behind me is a huge pile of coal and a very large shovel with which the fireman was expected to keep the boiler fully ablaze. Back-breaking stuff.

I had always imagined steam obsessives to be pedantic gents of a certain age, but David is a mere 26 and has been a railway enthusiast since childhood. Along with everyone else, he cannot quite believe that Edward II will soon be pulling coachloads of steam lovers all over the country. ‘The preservation world called this ''Mission Impossible'' and they weren’t joking,’ says David, who was just five years old when this project began.

To the boiler-suited cognoscenti, this marvel is simply ‘6023’. To the rest of us, it is a very large steam locomotive, one of the last to thunder along what used to be known as the Great Western Railway — GWR or ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ as the oily rag brigade sometimes call Brunel’s engineering triumph.

Edward II was built in 1930 at GWR’s Swindon works. Back then, the company’s biggest and best express locomotives were named after kings. It spent many years speeding from London along the big routes to Cardiff, Bristol and Plymouth at speeds pretty similar to today’s trains.

But in 1948 GWR was swallowed up into the nationalised behemoth of British Rail. Edward II lost its old green GWR livery and was painted in new British Rail blue (the colour it sports today). By 1962, the new management was looking to a steam-free future. Edward II was sold to a scrap dealer in Barry, South Wales, with specific instructions that it was not to be sold on to anyone else. Sentimentality was alien to the dismal Sixties bureaucratic mindset.

The British Rail management wanted people to forget the dirty, sweaty old days of steam and embrace the joys of diesel and electric trains. ‘It was all about looking to the future,’ says Richard Croucher, the chairman of the GWR Society, formed 50 years ago to preserve the memory of the old network. ‘They wanted to wipe out the past.’

Up and down the country, old King class locomotives were sent off to be melted down. But Edward II and its sibling, Edward I, were spared the regicide, simply because the Welsh scrap dealer had them at the back of his yard and never quite got round to chopping them up.

Years later, Edward I was retrieved and lovingly restored by a bunch of enthusiasts. One other King — George V — had also been salvaged and is now a static exhibit at York’s National Railway Museum. But Edward II had always seemed beyond hope. Following a shunting mishap in Barry, its wheels had been chopped off in the Sixties. Many of its parts had been cannibalised to help restore Edward I. And so it just sat in Barry, broken and inert, waiting for the blowtorch.

But there is no defeating the dedicated steam boffin. First, a handful of enthusiasts from Bristol bought the royal carcass in 1985. When they ran out of funds, the Great Western Society decided to get involved. They turned to Dennis Howells, an engineer who has devoted his life to railways. He even owns his own locomotive (don’t ever call these things a ‘train’). ‘I’ve seen some wrecks in my time,’ says Dennis. ‘But that was easily the worst.’

He was up for the challenge, though. The society paid £9,000 for the corpse of Edward II and Dennis assembled a team.

Here was a project for which the term ‘labour of love’ might have been invented. So, did some of the team end up having to choose between Edward II and their wives?

‘It didn’t quite come to that,’ says Dennis, 71. ‘But it can happen. You just have to be sensible about what you ask people to do.’

The biggest challenge was finding some new wheels. None existed, so Dennis and a consortium of engineering brains spent a long time commissioning a fresh set at a cost of some £30,000. The team would meet every other Sunday, all year round, in the Didcot workshop. Some died before seeing their cherished project reach fruition.

Today, I find half-a-dozen engines in the same giant shed in various states of restoration. A couple of professional engineers are working on specific projects as contractors. Come the weekend, they will be joined by hordes of volunteers. An unexpectedly young face peers out of the boiler of a Saint class locomotive. Alex Beasley, 23, started messing around with steam trains as a child. Now he is a professional boilersmith.

The whole 25-acre site is a museum, sandwiched between two modern mainlines. Today’s inter-city traffic thunders past as David Horsley shows me the only surviving example of Brunel’s famous broad-gauge railway and some alarmingly basic open-air third-class carriages from the earliest days of steam.

I sit down in a plush saloon which served as a travelling drawing room for Churchill and the Royal Family during World War II. The huge old wireless set still works.

Another youngster is hard at work nearby. Local carpenter Mark Werrell, 24, started coming to Didcot as a child with his father, a founder member of the GWR Society. Now, he is a mad keen volunteer himself. He’s got the afternoon off from work. He could be at home watching telly or out in the sunshine. Instead, he has decided to come down here and do some more renovation work on an old luggage van.

It’s not a men-only world, as manager Roger Orchard points out. ‘I would say around five per cent of our volunteers are female and we see lots of women visitors on open days,’ he says. But he acknowledges that a huge project like Edward II can take its toll on some families.

‘I heard that one woman had told her husband: “I hate Didcot and I hate that Edward II train and I can’t wait till it’s finished so you can do the garden.” I think he’s looking for a new project now.’


Sunday, April 17, 2011

New theory on date of Last Supper

ONE of the most famous meals in history is commemorated a day late, a new book by a Cambridge University physicist claims.

Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, who was knighted last year for his contribution to science, argues that the last supper Jesus Christ shared with his disciples occurred on Wednesday, April 1, AD33, rather than on a Thursday as traditionally celebrated in most Christian churches.

The theory would explain the apparent inconsistencies between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke - which say the Last Supper was a Passover meal - and that of John, which says Jesus was tried and executed before the Jewish festival. It would explain another puzzle: why the Bible has not allowed enough time for all events recorded between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.
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Sir Colin's book, The Mystery of the Last Supper, out this week, uses astronomy to re-create calendars, plus detail drawn from texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls to propose a timeline for Jesus's final days.

''The claim I make is that we're misinterpreting some parts of the Gospels because we don't understand sufficiently life in the first century AD,'' he said.

Sir Colin argues that Jesus celebrated Passover early using the pre-exilic calendar, which the Jews used before their exile in Babylon. It would have been understood by early Christians as operating alongside the official Jewish calendar, he said.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of a similar theory in 2007, when he said Jesus probably celebrated the meal with his disciples according to the Qumran calendar, at least a day before mainstream observances.

But Sir Colin said astronomy showed the Pope's theory, although arriving at the same conclusion, was incorrect: the Qumran calendar puts Passover at least a week after the likely date of the Crucifixion.

The prominent British academic, who reconstructs ancient historical events using modern science as ''a hobby'', has co-authored an article in the science journal Nature, which determined April 3, AD33 to be the likely date of the Crucifixion.

''Biblical scholars don't tend to be very mathematical. ''So if I can bring an understanding of ancient calendars to them, they're usually very pleased.''

Dorothy Lee, a New Testament scholar and dean of the theological school at Trinity College, the University of Melbourne, welcomed a stronger grounding of the history of the Gospels, but said their differences were often for theological reasons. ''Therefore [it's] really important not to try and tone them down or artificially harmonise,'' the Reverend Dr Lee said.

The theory could be controversial as it questioned traditional beliefs but Sir Colin said the key revelation was of tolerance. ''I think Jesus is really reaching out to all sorts of people when he chooses not to use this official Jewish calendar,'' he said.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Delingpole on Cameron

If I could go back in time to my Oxford days, I'd warn myself against idolising Cameron

How odd to think that there was a time when I looked up to David Cameron. From the moment we were introduced at the beginning of my second year at Oxford, I remember being mesmerised by his confidence, his charisma, his looks, that amused plummy accent and – yes – perhaps, also, that slight vibe so many Etonians projected in those days that if you hadn't been to 'School' you really weren't quite the thing. It all made you want to get to know him better. Which I did. And I very much liked what I found.

If you'd told me then that David Cameron would one day be prime minister, I'm sure I would have been tickled pink. I didn't know what his politics were but I had my vague suspicions: a belief in traditional English values spiced with a love of liberty and a healthy disrespect for arbitrary authority; almost certainly a distrust of big government and a hatred of political correctness and joyless, snarling, bitter socialism. Just the kind of brave captain you'd want at the helm if ever there was another national crisis.

But now look at him. Here is a guy who had the chance of a lifetime: he could have gone down in history as the man who saved Britain from its greatest crisis since the second world war. He could have rescued our economy, restored our national sense of self-worth, given us back our stolen liberty, rolled back the state, regained our sovereignty, slashed taxes and red tape, stemmed the tide of immigration, clamped down on Islamist aggression and undone all the damage that has been inflicted on us by Blair and Brown.

And what's he offering instead? Some nice photographs taken ten years ago showing just how fit his wife is. The exciting news that Sam is pregnant. A big poster of a young black woman saying she wouldn't have voted Conservative before but now she will because Britain's Broken. Another one showing how baby-soft and pink Dave's cheeks are. Have I missed anything? Not a lot. Cameron's future claim to fame will surely be as a prime minister so floppy and useless he makes Ted Heath look like Winston Churchill.

Which isn't to say that our Dave can't play the hard bastard when he wants to. It's just that, unfortunately, the areas where he has chosen to exercise his Stalinist talents are those least likely to be of benefit to our ruined nation. His fag-roasting ruthlessness has been deployed on things like enforcing party discipline and jettisoning any policy, however quintessentially conservative, which doesn't play well in the key marginals. What it won't be wasted on, apparently, is irrelevant stuff like ideological principle or putting Britain's interests first.

Consider his shabby behaviour over the Common Fisheries Policy. You don't need to be especially conservative or Eurosceptical to recognise this as one of the EU's most shameful on-going scandals. Its effect on the ecosystem has been devastating, with 880,000 tonnes of dead fish being chucked back into the North Sea every year; and not just in EU territory but also off the coast of west Africa which, after due payments to relevant dictators, is now legally plundered by vast Euro factory fleets. The CFP, it emerged last year in a report published by the TaxPayers' Alliance and Global Vision, has cost Britain 97,000 jobs (in fishing and dependent industries) and adds an annual £200 to a family's food bill.

This is why a few years ago a Conservative MP called Owen Paterson – one of the good ones – prepared a Green Paper calling for the repatriation of our territorial waters. Under three successive Tory leaders – Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard – this became official Tory policy. Britain would reclaim the fishing territories which Cameron's spiritual forebear Ted Heath had been gulled into surrendering on our entry into Europe, and would administer them sensibly and sustainably, much as Iceland does. But the moment Cameron became party leader Paterson was swiftly reshuffled and his carefully researched policy was shelved. When I crossly pointed this out to a Cameroon Conservative the other day, his defence was that Dave was of a mind that his party had to pick carefully where to fight its battles. If he was going to confront the EU, he wanted it to be over economics and working directives rather than over fish.

Well fine. Maybe, as some of my more sophisticated friends tell me, there's really no place for high-minded principles in politics.

You've got to do what works, not what's right.

But if that's really so true, how do you explain Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan?

And isn't there a point where this notion that 'politics is the art of the possible' crosses the line from sensible pragmatism into the kind of moral cowardice which entirely defeats the object of being in politics at all?

Dave Cameron is about to get his hands on the biggest, starriest prize yet won by my immensely ambitious Oxford generation – and I don't think any of us envy or admire him one bit. If there's one thing we ghastly Oxonians fear more than anything, it's failure.

And if there's one thing we detest more than a loser, it's a loser who drags us down with him.

Why, Dave? Why? Well, this is only a theory, but personally I blame 'Eton'. Not Eton the superb and surprisingly meritocratic establishment which gave Cameron the best education in the world and whose values every school should emulate, but 'Eton' as it exists in the peevish, bitter imaginations of libtard Guardian-istas: as symbol of all the traditional British values which must be destroyed utterly if we are to live in a land of equality and social justice. And Dave – showing a lack of moral fibre I would never have expected of him – has allowed his policy-making to be dictated by this warped, Fabian version of reality.

If Dave had been to some scrubby comp, we wouldn't be having to put up with this drivel about punishing bankers with new supertaxes or keeping the 50 per cent upper band tax base. Instead he'd have found a user-friendly way of explaining the Laffer Curve to the electorate – he did read PPE, didn't he? – and said: 'Right: less spending money and a bigger national debt; or more spending money and a small national debt?

Your choice!' The politics of conviction, not self-loathing, fear and desperation.

But it never had to be this way. Look at how Boris Johnson deals with it whenever some Jonathan-Freedland-type-chipmeister tries to use his Eton and Bullingdon background against him: he laughs, shrugs his shoulders and cracks on. What need is there for shame? It is, after all, one of the most basic principles of conservatism that no one should be stigmatised by his background.

Dividing the world into endless subcategories of victim groups and oppressor groups is what the other side does, not ours.

Look, I wouldn't go so far as to say that I should have assassinated Dave while I had the chance, while we were still mates. It's not like he's Hitler. But I do think that if I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I'd definitely have a quiet word with the 20-year old me as he looked up in awe at young Dave.

'Don't, Jim, my lad. Seriously. He's not worth it, ' I would tell myself. 'And start planning your political career now. You don't know this yet, but I promise it's true: you'd make a much better Conservative prime minister than that ruddy useless Tory wet.'


Saturday, April 9, 2011

English are now head and shoulders above Scots as growing wealth in the south adds inches to average height

Inadequate nutrition does limit height but it is difficult to imagine that Scots get inadequate nutrition these days. Over-nutrition, more likely. Scots have always moved South to better themselves and taller people probably felt more confident in doing that

If a Scotsman moans that other people belittle him, he might well have a point. For research has shown that the tallest Britons now live south of the border. Scots are, by and large, the shortest people in the UK, with the typical man averaging 5ft 8in. This compares to 5ft 9in for Londoners.

What might add to the Scots’ frustration is that it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, 200 years ago it was a completely different story, with the Scots towering over their English cousins.

Researchers say the reversal cannot be explained by the penchant north of the border for delicacies such as deep-fried Mars Bars.

Instead, they believe it is down to economics, with the pace of the improvement in living standards, nutrition and medicine in England – and particularly in the South – outstripping the change in Scotland.

Professor Bernard Harris, of Southampton University, said: ‘If you drew a map of people living in the early 19th century, then what you would find is the further north you went, the taller on average the population. Now, it would be the other way round. ‘The point is not that the Scots have shrunk, it is that living standards in the South of England have improved more dramatically over the past 200 years than those in Scotland.’

His research shows that two centuries ago the average Scot was an inch taller than those living in southern England, while Norwegians were among the shortest nationals in Europe. Today, the Norwegians are the second tallest nation in Europe, surpassed only by the Dutch, who average around 6ft.

But nationality is not the only thing that affects height, with wealth also adding inches. In his new book, The Changing Body, the professor revealed that there were dramatic differences between the heights of rich and poor classes in 18th and 19th century Europe. In the 1780s, the average height of a 14-year-old working-class child was 4ft 3in, while an upper-class child was 5ft 1in.

Professor Harris said: ‘Today, however, as health services, nutrition, sanitation and education have become universal, upper-class children have continued to grow taller, but at a slower rate than working-class children. ‘The difference between the upper and working-class adults has narrowed to less than 2.5in.’

Professor Harris trawled records from prisons, schools and the military to reveal the link between height and living standards.

Documents included in his research range from the details of soldiers who fought in the American civil war, to the vital statistics of convicts transported to Australia and measurements taken in British schools.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

What Humber-dingers: The amazing collection of vintage cars... owned by potato merchant from Hull

While more than 80 per cent of all the Rolls-Royces ever built can still be traced today, fewer than one in 100 Humbers has survived

Allan Marshall's collection of 55 Humbers; in the centre is the 1951 Pullman

They were once loved by the British Army, prime ministers, and kings and queens alike. Humbers were known as the poor man’s Rolls-Royce. But while more than 80 per cent of all the Rolls-Royces ever built can still be traced today, fewer than one in 100 Humbers has survived. Even more surprising, the largest collection in Britain isn’t kept in a national museum but belongs to a potato merchant from Hull.

The bonnet of a 1951 seven-seater Humber Pullman, with 30,000 miles on the clock; the badge is a snipe, a game bird famous for being fast and agile

Allan Marshall, 55, keeps 27 Humbers in a 10,000 sq ft building next to his lorry depot. "My father, Reg, bought his first one 51 years ago for £90. It was a 1954 Pullman built for Baroness Rothschild. She used it in London and kept the car garaged at Claridges hotel. Once I took the back seats out to deliver spuds to fish and chip shops. I’ve even used it to tow a 16-ton lorry from York to Hull."

The future King George VI took delivery of his first Humber in 1935. He was so impressed by the limousines that after the war he ordered 47 to be sent to British embassies around the world. Every prime minister of the day arrived at Downing Street in a Humber; Winston Churchill boasted a fleet of five Humber Pullmans. The car’s robust build quality and reliability attracted the attention of the Army too. Specially modified Super Snipe models were turned into field cars during World War II. The most famous, staff car No M239485, was used by Field Marshal Montgomery from the D-Day landings until the end of the war. His 4.5-litre model covered 60,000 miles around Europe in less than a year. The car  is still affectionately known by the nickname he gave it, Old Faithful."

Humbers fell out of favour in the late Fifties. With thirsty, six-cylinder engines they guzzled fuel at just five miles per gallon. The Suez Crisis and rising oil prices meant owners couldn’t haggle a part-exchange – not even for the new, fuel-efficient car of the era, the Mini. The last of the large Humbers were finally sold in 1968.

An interior

Marshall and his team of enthusiasts restore all the cars in the collection themselves, often working up to two years on each vehicle, at a cost of £10,000. "Some of the cars might be worth £40,000 or more now but money isn’t the point. I’ve never sold a Humber and if people want to come and see my collection it’s free. The only money I make from them is by hiring them as wedding cars."

Despite Humbers being seen in TV series like Heartbeat, Open All Hours and the latest Upstairs, Downstairs, Marshall refuses to rent his vehicles to film companies or lend them to other museums for fear of damage.

The English-made Jaegar speedometer. The dashboard of an unrestored Humber.

"I've never had to go looking for a restoration project either. People just phone up or bring them to me. Humbers are like a faithful labrador. My wife Barbara says it’s like an RSPCA for old cars round here."

The highlights of Marshall’s collection include: a Pullman Landaulette, built for King George VI (the King died before it could be delivered); a 1952 Super-Snipe MK3, which was owned by the Queen Mother and kept at Castle Mey in Scotland; and a 1967 Imperial saloon that appeared in The Big Sleep.

Rusting Humber Hawks await restoration

His favourite Humber, however, is the biggest wreck of all. It was found in a Somerset scrapyard, remains covered in dust and has yet to be restored. The 80bhp Snipe dates back to the Thirties and was used by Edward VIII and Wallace Simpson as an unofficial Royal car. They used it to get around London unseen. It just has a small window in the back, so you can’t tell who is travelling inside.

A car radio from a later model (left) and a Pullman engine (right)

The 1932 Humber Snipe used by Edward VIII and Wallace Simpson awaits restoration

A 1955 Humber Super-Snipe - this rare example featured a three-speed automatic gearbox


Friday, April 1, 2011

An amazing conversation

Twin baby boys have their own language