Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eat in ironed underpants, peel peaches for ladies, and it's 'loo', never 'toilet': Prince Charles's ex-butler on how to dine like a future King

There is a LOL bit towards the end of this article

With his double-breasted tuxedo and Royal tics – nervously fingering his signet ring and toying with his cuffs – Grant Harrold resembles our future King as closely as any 34-year-old Scotsman in copper bangles can.

And as Prince Charles’s former under butler patiently guides me to my butter knife, this is as close as I will ever get to hosting a Highgrove dinner party.

Grant is now a Jeeves for hire. Last week, he agreed a secret out-of-court settlement with the Prince.  He was sacked last year after refusing to move from Gloucestershire to Clarence House, Charles and Camilla’s London residence.

The one-time Royal servant – who earned just £24,000 a year – claimed he was intimidated, threatened and treated as a ‘pariah’ by senior colleagues after refusing to move, despite his ‘exemplary’ seven-year record.

He was then diagnosed with phobic anxiety depersonalisation syndrome, a condition that caused him to suffer panic attacks when he was in a city for any length of time.

This led one unidentified member of the Royal Household to describe Grant as being ‘too dangerous’ to work with the Prince and to ban him from direct contact with the Royals.

Staff are even said to have likened him to Raoul Moat, the killer who also blinded policeman David Rathband.

But self-trained Grant is no Raoul Moat. Since settling his case with Clarence House, he has set up his own company, Nicholas Veitch, passing on Royal etiquette tips for £80 an hour.

And having worked for Prince Charles since 2003, he is a champion of palatial manners, a walking, talking Debrett’s. He insists on ironing underpants, he knows how to eat asparagus, he pales at the mere mention of the word ‘lavatory’.

It means that Grant is the perfect man to lead me through an impromptu dinner party thrown at a country hotel in the shadow of Highgrove.

Hovering at my shoulder at the Hare and Hounds hotel in Tetbury, he starts by helping me redo my bungled  attempt at a bow-tie.  ‘Think of it as a shoelace,’ he says, somewhat unfairly as he himself is wearing a clip-on tie.

Then, as I tackle my salmon caviar, he gently prises the fork from my right hand, puts it in my left and exhorts me to pick up my knife.

‘That won’t do at all. You won’t be getting an invitation to Clarence House any day soon if you eat in that American style,’ says Grant with barely disguised disdain.

He adds: ‘You must always use a knife and fork unless you’re eating asparagus. And you must never hold your knife like a pen.’

If Royal etiquette is a foreign country, dinner parties are a minefield.

My grandfather once told me that a gentleman should – after pudding – peel the peach of the lady seated to his right. I had always hoped this was a euphemism. But no. According to Grant, peach-peeling is de rigueur in Royal circles.

‘It would be utterly proper,’ he says. ‘At dinner, a gentleman must cater to a lady’s whim. If she wants her peach peeled during the fruit course, he should, of course, peel it.’

If Grant, who grew up on a council estate in Airdrie, Lanarkshire,  harbours any resentment towards his former employer, he masks it expertly. He is at pains to point out he retains the highest regard for both Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. After all, he still lives in a cottage on the Royal estate in Gloucestershire and his partner works for the Prince.

Grant had dreamed of going into service ever since watching the  1993 film The Remains Of The Day when he was aged just 15. ‘I adored that movie,’ he says. ‘I wanted to be Anthony Hopkins’ character.’

Really? A tortured butler who works for a Nazi sympathiser before masquerading as an aristocrat?  Grant spins his signet ring furiously. ‘Well, not that bit, no. I just loved  his outfit.’

When Grant’s mother started working as a housekeeper at a country house in Scotland, she secured her then 18-year-old son work alongside her as a butler.

Grant went on to work for the Duke of Bedford, appearing in Country House, the BBC series filmed there, before moving to Highgrove nine years ago. His brother, a footman for the Queen, recommended him for the position.

Charles interviewed him personally and Grant was so well-liked that it was even suggested he was being groomed to become Prince William’s valet. And yes, you do pronounce the ‘t’.

‘When you are a butler you are working with your employer in a very intimate capacity,’ he says.  ‘They have to be able to trust you. Loyalty, discretion and trust are your watchwords. But working for the Royals was the best job anyone could have had.’

Grant is admirably (and sensibly, having now signed two confidentiality agreements) tight-lipped about his time at Clarence House. He won’t even tell me whether the Prince likes to wear his napkin on his lap or tucked into his collar.

But over dinner, he can’t help but let slip the odd, fascinating vignette. What, for instance, is the etiquette if, as a butler, you accidentally see your employer naked?

‘Oh, I’ve lost count of the times that’s happened,’ he says nonchalantly. ‘The trick is to maintain  eye contact and pretend that it  never happened.’

For the record, he has never put toothpaste on anyone’s toothbrush, let alone one used by Charles. And he won’t be drawn on the claim – recently denied by Clarence House – that the Prince demands seven boiled eggs for breakfast so he can choose one that’s perfectly cooked.

Seven eggs or not, Charles apparently always comes down for breakfast, while Camilla prefers hers served on a tray in bed.

Disappointingly, Grant has never ironed a newspaper, but he has run the occasional bath and, of course, ironed the nation’s poshest underpants. ‘I iron everything except socks,’ he says. ‘Doesn’t everyone?’

I am beginning to feel horribly inadequate. I have only just exorcised the humiliation I felt when interviewing Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes. In passing, I mentioned Julian’s fine mantelpiece. ‘Mantelpiece?’ snorts Grant. ‘Do you mean mantelshelf?’

But Grant is a kind instructor. He shows me how to pour the wine, making sure to let the label show. ‘You must always let your guests see the label,’ he says. ‘Unless you’re serving Blue Nun.’

I am almost sure he is joking but it’s devilishly hard to tell beneath his mask of professionalism.  There is, it seems, a right and a wrong way to do everything. ‘The bread must be broken, not cut. And never buttered on both sides like a malt loaf.’

And one must never go to the loo until after the main course.  ‘You should have gone before the meal,’ says Grant, strictly. ‘It is very bad form to leave the table during the starter. And it’s loo. Not lavatory and certainly not toilet.’ Jackets must, alas, stay on at all times – even in the centrally heated fug of the charming Hare and Hounds hotel. ‘It is preferable to sweat than to expose your braces,’ explains Grant.

But surely, Royal types just do and take what they want, when they want, don’t they? Be it another bread roll or another man’s wife. Isn’t etiquette merely a middle-class obsession? Working-class people  are far too sensible to worry about which knife to use, and the aristocracy don’t care a fig for what anyone else thinks.

Grant looks pained.  ‘All sorts need help with etiquette. Lottery winners. Women marrying into grand families. It’s nothing to do with class.

‘I grew up in a council house and my dad worked in a British Gas storeroom, but we always did things properly – a tablecloth and three knives each. Always.’

It’s still traditional for the women to retire to another room while the men enjoy a glass of port and a cigar

Attempting to write shorthand notes and tackle my brill fillet was never going to be a happy marriage and, sure enough, disaster strikes as I upend my glass of red wine over the lady seated to my right.

Berith Sandgrens-Clerk jumps back and just about saves her frock. Instinctively, I try to help salvage the mess with my napkin.

Grant is at my side in a trice bearing salt and cautionary words. ‘You must never, ever dab a lady,’ he  says firmly. ‘Oh, how true,’ agrees Charlotte Janisch, the lady to my left and evidently a past victim of dabbing herself. ‘There is nothing worse than being dabbed by a strange man. Yuk.’

From a discreet distance, Grant sprinkles some salt and, as if by magic, the stain vanishes.

I’m learning fast here – and not just about dabbing.  From the correct way to place your glasses – red wine to the left, water to the right, white in front – to how to leave your cutlery, there is much to absorb.

‘When you’ve finished eating, your knife and fork must be put together at exactly six o’clock on the plate, with the blade of the knife pointing inward,’ I am told.

The ladies leave us after pudding: Charlotte to reclaim her children, Berith no doubt to check her dress.

‘It’s still traditional for the women to retire to another room while the men enjoy a glass of port and a cigar,’ says Grant.

‘Occasionally, a lady has asked for a port, too, but very rarely.’ He looks almost wounded by the memory.

So what do the men talk about in camera?  ‘My gentlemen never talked about money, religion or politics.’

Sex and travel then?

‘I couldn’t possibly comment,’ says Grant, finally allowing himself a  little smile.

And the women?

‘I couldn’t possibly comment on that either,’ repeats Grant, neatly confirming the obvious: that Camilla’s cronies are even bawdier than Charles and his crowd. But we are happily spared such ribaldry. ‘Drive safely,’ says Grant, politely steering me towards the door.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Red Ed’s One Nation hero was a vacuous, egotistical hypocrite who sent British soldiers to die needlessly in foreign wars. (Remind you of anyone?)

By Dominic Sandbrook

There were two big winners from this week’s Labour Party conference. One was Ed Miliband, whose set-piece speech, delivered fluently and without notes, passed off better than even his admirers could have imagined.

The other was a man who has been dead for more than a century, but still casts a shadow over British politics.

By any standards, Benjamin Disraeli, whose spirit the Labour leader invoked with such fervour, was an extraordinary figure.

He was Britain’s only Jewish Prime Minister and one of the founders of the modern Conservative Party. In his two spells in office in the 1860s and 1870s, he invaded Afghanistan and made Queen Victoria Empress of India.

He was a brilliant speaker, an accomplished novelist and a flamboyant showman. But not even someone with Disraeli’s gargantuan self-regard could have expected that one day he would dominate a socialist party conference.

According to his cheerleaders in the press, Mr Miliband’s resuscitation of Disraeli was a political masterstroke. Presenting himself as the heir to Disraeli’s One Nation Conservatism — by one count, he used the words ‘One Nation’ no fewer than 46 times — the Labour leader temporarily banished talk of Red Ed, the union barons’ friend.

All his talk of One Nation made him sound reasonable, moderate, even sensible. On the surface, he seemed to be claiming the middle ground for Labour, as Tony Blair famously did in the Nineties.

What really appealed to Mr Miliband about the One Nation slogan, though, is that it invites an implicit comparison with David Cameron’s Tories.

Disraeli’s vision, Mr Miliband told his supporters, was ‘a vision of a Britain where patriotism, loyalty, dedication to the common cause courses through the veins of all and nobody feels left out’. But modern Tories, he said, had a very different mantra: ‘One rule for those at the top, another rule for everybody else. Two nations, not one.’

Of course, that is precisely the kind of thing that Labour leaders always say. But Mr Miliband’s words should have set alarm bells ringing in No  10.

To many hard-working people, struggling through a second recession in just four years, the Coalition appears desperately out of touch. Many ordinary people bitterly remember George Osborne taxing their pasties and Andrew Mitchell calling police officers ‘plebs’.

When David Cameron takes to the stage in Birmingham next week, therefore, he has work to do. At the very least his supporters will expect him to reclaim Benjamin Disraeli’s legacy for the Tory Party.

Yet the great irony is that Disraeli makes a pretty dreadful model for a modern prime minister. And when Ed Miliband’s admirers at the Guardian have finished whipping themselves into a lather of hysterical admiration for the Victorian leader, they might care to remind themselves what Disraeli actually did.

In Mr Miliband’s vision, Disraeli was a dedicated servant of the national interest, devoted only to the well-being of the poor. But to anyone who knows anything about Victorian politics, the image of a frock-coated Mother Teresa is a laughable caricature.

At bottom, Benjamin Disraeli was interested only in Benjamin Disraeli. His entire political career was devoted to his own advancement; it is not for nothing that he famously boasted of having climbed ‘to the top of the greasy pole’.

As a young man in the 1830s, he tried to make his name as a novelist. But when money and fame were slow to materialise, he decided on politics instead.

Like so many of today’s professional politicians, Disraeli had distinctly mercenary motives. Although his father was a rich literary critic, young Benjamin had run up large debts because of his inordinate fondness for the high life. As an MP, however, the law would protect him from imprisonment for debt.

His principles, meanwhile, were as changeable as the winds.

Having initially pretended to be a radical, he then flirted with ultra-reactionary Toryism, opposing efforts to improve the lot of the downtrodden working classes and scorning attempts to reform the corrupt political system.

Indeed, it spoke volumes about Disraeli’s essentially destructive style that he made his name with a devastating attack on his own party leader, the dogged and serious Sir Robert Peel, who wanted to scrap the archaic Corn Laws which protected British farmers against foreign competition.

Peel and his fellow reformers believed that free trade would benefit ordinary British families, who were naturally delighted at the prospect of cheaper food. But in this crucial test of principle, Disraeli preferred to back the wealthy vested interests of the day.

It was entirely typical of his cynical style, though, that once the Corn Laws had bitten the dust, he made no effort to restore them. Throughout his career, he saw principle as subordinate to tactical self-interest.

Most infamously, he bitterly opposed the Liberals’ attempt to bring in parliamentary reform in 1866. At the time, most people were denied a political voice: the Liberals, however, wanted to extend the franchise to a further 200,000 middle-class voters. That was too much for Disraeli, whose contempt for the common man poured forth in a torrent of bile.

Such a Bill, he said fiercely, would open the polling booths to ‘a horde of selfish and obscure mediocrities, incapable of anything but mischief’.

The Bill failed, the Liberals fell from power and Disraeli became prime minister for the first time. So what did he do? He introduced a very similar measure himself, stealing the Liberals’ clothes and carrying off the credit for reform.

Not surprisingly, Disraeli’s flagrant hypocrisy outraged many of his own supporters. Even Nick Clegg’s broken tuition-fee pledge looks trifling by comparison.

It was, said the Tory grandee Lord Cranborne, a political betrayal with ‘no parallel in our parliamentary annals’. The government, he warned, was now ‘borrowing their ethics from the political adventurer’. Cranborne was not alone in his belief that, in essence, his leader was nothing more than a brilliantly opportunistic con artist.

Today, Disraeli’s admirers like to pretend that he had the interest of the common man at heart all along. But this is nonsense, for as Disraeli’s most recent biographer, the eminent Cambridge historian Jon Parry, shrewdly remarks, his image as a social reformer was invented only after he had died.

Indeed, it is telling that like those other shameless mountebanks David Lloyd George and Tony Blair, Disraeli loved the glamour and intrigue of military adventures abroad.

During his longest spell in office in the late 1870s, British soldiers were plunged into battle against a bizarre variety of foes, from the Afghans to the Zulus.

As so often happens, the common soldiers paid a bloody price for the prime minister’s vanity. In Afghanistan, almost 10,000 young British men lost their lives merely to force the Afghans into accepting London’s control of their foreign affairs.

And in South Africa British troops went down to one of the most humiliating defeats in our history, with the Zulu warriors slaughtering more than a thousand of them in a devastating ambush at Isandlwana.

It was little wonder his critics thought Disraeli represented all that was worst about imperialism. But the truth was that, in the absence of any concrete policies or principles, he instinctively fell back on the basest jingoism.

In 1876, he even conferred on Queen Victoria the title of Empress of India, to the outrage of commentators who objected that such tawdry baubles were basically un-British.

It was pure Disraeli: eye-catching, vainglorious, utterly without shame and ultimately demeaning to all concerned. For Professor Parry, Disraeli’s fundamental quality was his ‘astonishing egotism’.

His letters were full of boasts that he was the man who had arranged affairs, that no one else was on hand to share the responsibility, or that no one else was competent.

Instead of surrounding himself with intellectual equals, like his great Liberal rival William Gladstone, he preferred to associate with ‘sympathetic women who could caress his ego’.

And his personal life, which was full of affairs, fell a long way short of Ed Miliband’s conspicuous uxoriousness. When Disraeli died in 1881, Gladstone nicely summed him up as ‘all show and no substance’. Even his novels, observed the great Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, were basically fraudulent.

‘In whatever he has written,’ Trollope remarked, ‘he has affected something which has been intended to strike his readers as uncommon and therefore grand.’ In reality, however, ‘the glory has been the glory of pasteboard, and the wealth has been a wealth of tinsel. The wit has been the wit of hairdressers, and the enterprise has been the enterprise of mountebanks’.

Indeed, on closer inspection even Disraeli’s most celebrated legacy — the principle of One Nation Toryism — begins to evaporate. The phrase derives from his novel Sybil, published in 1845, in which a character warns that Britain is becoming ‘two nations . . . the rich and  the poor’.

Yet at the very moment the book was published, Disraeli was fighting against the abolition of the Corn Laws — the one measure most likely to benefit ordinary people.

As Gladstone wisely remarked, his rival’s ideology was nothing more than ‘some vast magnificent castle in an Italian romance’ — a misleading fiction, a brazen fantasy that could not endure the cold winds of reality.

None of that, though, has ever stopped modern politicians from laying claim to the One Nation inheritance. And it is easy to see why they like it.

Talk of One Nation sounds patriotic, inclusive and moderate. In particular, it allows politicians to pretend they are speaking for the entire country against their divisive, malignant opponents.

There is barely a single party leader in the past half-century who has not invoked it at some stage. Tony Blair, for example, once claimed that ‘it is New Labour that now wears the One Nation mantle’. And even Margaret Thatcher once told her party conference that, under her leadership, the Tories would always ‘fly the flag of One Nation’.

The truth is, though, that the One Nation mantra is not just meaningless but positively misleading. It drowns difficult challenges and hard decisions in a bucket of warm treacle. Patriotic treacle, perhaps, but treacle all the same.

It is a myth that political leadership always means bringing people together and obscuring differences. Leadership is often about making tough decisions between different groups — teachers and parents, say, or doctors and patients, or North and South.

What united the most effective prime ministers of recent times, Labour’s Clement Attlee and the Tories’ Mrs Thatcher, was that neither was prepared to sit meekly in the middle of the road. They were happy to take decisions that alienated people.

In both cases, self-styled One Nation Tories queued up to complain that the premiers had divided the nation. But too often the One Nation slogan is merely an excuse for woolly, weedy, do-nothing politics.

As the Labour firebrand Michael Foot once sagely remarked, if you sit in the middle of the road long enough, eventually you will be run over.

So if I were David Cameron next week, I would not bother trying to reclaim Disraeli. Instead, I would proclaim my attachment to a far greater Victorian politician: the Liberal statesman William Gladstone.

Given that he is already in bed with the Lib Dems, Mr Cameron might shudder at the thought of invoking a Liberal hero.

But he would be in good company: no less a figure than Mrs Thatcher, after all, once told her conference that ‘if Mr Gladstone were alive today he would apply to join the Conservative Party’.

Although Gladstone and Disraeli are forever associated in the public imagination, they could hardly have been more different. Disraeli was funnier, more flamboyant and more dashing.

But on almost every count that actually matters, Gladstone was far superior. He was a more convinced reformer, a more imaginative chancellor and a dedicated public servant who genuinely cared about the plight of the poor.

He upheld the principles of free trade, banished corruption from the civil service and introduced universal education for Britain’s children. And although he campaigned passionately for oppressed peoples abroad, he shrank from foreign adven- tures and despised Disraeli’s jingoistic excesses.

Above all, Gladstone was a man of impeccable moral seriousness, a hard-working, high-minded man with the courage to address the thorny issues of the day who left Britain a richer, fairer and more virtuous society than he found it.

How we could do with someone of his intellectual and political stature today. Is there a Gladstone in the House?


Monday, September 24, 2012

The contents of two famous handbags


This is one of the most entertaining articles I have read  -- JR

For men, a handbag is a thing apart, for women  ’tis their whole existence, to misquote Byron and to echo the sentiments of Judge Zoe Smith, who told a handbag thief at Reading Crown Court last week that stealing a woman’s bag ‘is not just inconvenience, it causes fear as well.  Her phone is taken, her cards, her money to get a cab is taken, her keys to the door of her house. Then there is the fear of anyone coming to break into the house’.

Like most women, my handbag  is bursting like a glutton’s belly – but I did learn the art of carrying everything from the two greatest exponents of handbaggery: the Queen Mother and Margaret Thatcher, both friends of my father, the late Woodrow Wyatt. 

The Queen Mother dined and lunched with us four times a year. On each occasion her outfits varied mainly in colour. 

For dinner, she wore a long chiffon dress that might have been fashioned from icing and round her neck would be the contents of King Solomon’s mines. 

For lunch she wore dresses with pleated skirts, a matching hat and ropes of pearls. But it was her bespoke Launer handbags, dyed  to match her outfits, that were  destined to tantalise and instruct.

As she wafted through our front door, her handbag always preceded her. Even when accompanied by a lady-in-waiting, she carried it herself, on her right arm, which was crossed over her magnificent embonpoint. 

The handbag had its own chair, which my father placed beside her, in order to avoid the necessity of her bending the ramrod Royal back.

When we acquired a papillon pup called Mimi, the dog made a leap for the chair. My father did not distinguish himself with his chivalry: ‘It’s not my animal, Ma’am,’ he said, ‘it’s Petronella’s.’

But I have Mimi to thank for the historic moment when the secrets of the Royal handbag were revealed.

As Mimi tore at the primrose yellow silk clutch bag with its satin handle, the Queen Mother giggled. ‘Perhaps she’s sniffed out the chocolates,’ she said, smiling wickedly. ‘The corgis always sniff them out at Sandringham. At least one hopes it isn’t the gin.’

She dipped her beringed hand into her bag and drew out a linen handkerchief containing four Charbonnel et Walker rose-flavoured handmade chocolates.   ‘The blood sugar can get  a little low at my age’ – she was then 85 – ‘but chocolates always do the trick. I haven’t had a dizzy spell yet. Besides,’ she added mischievously, ‘it’s nice to have a treat after an indifferent meal.’

In winter, she continued, she often asked her equerry to pop in a tiny flask of gin.  ‘I don’t approve of heated cars. They are very bad for your health. Many elderly people have caught pneumonia getting out of a heated car on to a freezing street. If one is cold when travelling, a nip of gin is a much more sensible idea.’

Later she confessed: ‘I’m not as nice as you think I am. I am a very vain woman.’

Indeed, she carried a gold powder compact, set with an emerald, given to her by a maharajah. Her gold lipstick holder had been fashioned at Cartier to match. There was always a diamond brooch in a small box, ‘in case I feel like showing off a little’.

What astonished me most, however, was the Queen Mother’s revelation that she always carried a miniature first-aid kit. Might I see it? She obliged and showed me a simple thing you might buy in Boots. 

‘During the war, my late husband, the King, insisted I carry bandages and plasters in my bag and I never lost the habit.   As a matter of fact, I have used it more in the past few years, administering to my great-grandchildren when they get cuts and scrapes, than I did during the Blitz.’

Her handbag prompted the only personal remark I heard her make about her beloved grandson Prince Charles and came just before he announced his separation from Diana.  ‘Charles doesn’t quite understand about Diana and her handbags.  He thinks it is just what the newspapers call fashion, and like all men feels more than two is an extravagance.  'But a handbag is so much more to a woman, isn’t it? It’s an extension of herself. Perhaps that’s why it causes friction.’

I was a schoolgirl of 15 when  I was informed that Margaret Thatcher would be joining us for a family dinner. She wore a red silk blouse and matching skirt and her perfectly manicured fingers were clutching the largest handbag I had ever seen. 

Her black Salvatore Ferragamo handbag would fetch £83,110 at auction in 2000 and a black Asprey number £25,000 last year.Indeed, she and the bag seemed to have an almost symbiotic relationship. As the Iron Lady drank a Scotch before dinner, her free hand never ceased to hover above the handle.

When my mother called us into the dining room, Denis had the task of  carrying his wife’s bag and then placing it under her chair.  I noticed that she gripped it hard with her ankles and occasionally glanced down as if to assure herself that its physical presence was not an illusion.

Once my fear had receded, I asked how many handbags she possessed. ‘Thirty-five, dear.’

She required many handbags in a variety of colours, she told me, due to the frequency of her engagements. But why so large? ‘A woman’s handbag is her house,’ she replied.

Egged on by three glasses of the blissful Hippocrene, I asked her if she might, for posterity’s sake, divulge the secrets of what was then the world’s most famous handbag. 

To my astonishment out came what appeared to be her smalls. On closer inspection, they were two pairs of tights. ‘Moving about all the time, your tights can get laddered,’ she explained. ‘Always carry spares.’

She then extracted a bottle of clear nail varnish. ‘If you run through all three, the nail varnish prevents ladders from spreading.’

Next came a sewing kit. ‘I’m afraid I took that from a hotel,’ she said smiling. ‘But I can’t make speeches with the top button of my blouse missing.’ Had it been anyone else I would have said the look she gave was arch.

She then drew out a powder compact, a mascara and two lipsticks. ‘I use a paler shade during the day and a darker shade in the evening. Under dim lights, a light shade washes you out.’ 

There were cotton buds in case her mascara smudged, two canisters of Elnett hairspray (supreme hold) and a tub of Vaseline.

‘What do you do with the Vaseline?’  I asked nervously. ‘Apply it to my eyelids. It gives the impression that the eyes are larger and more wakeful and it’s a lot more economical than those expensive creams.’

I have never forgotten the lessons from these two legendary women, and as I write this, I have in my handbag one pair of tights (I have fewer engagements than a PM), one bottle of nail varnish, a can of hairspray, a needle and thread, a small bar of chocolate, two plasters and, like both the Queen Mother and Lady Thatcher, no cash or at least very little.

All these things have stood me in excellent stead – more so than some of the men who have complained that my handbags weigh in at 125lb.

I am waiting until I am 80, however, before I pop in the flask of gin.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A triumph of modern architecture

The cost of repairing broken window blinds at London’s iconic City Hall, which houses the offices of Mayor Boris Johnson, is set to top £730,000.

The glass-clad building on the South Bank of the Thames – which was designed by architect Norman Foster and is one of the capital’s landmarks – has suffered from defective blinds for years, hampering efforts to clean its windows.

The bulk of the costs of the repairs are being met under an insurance policy. But the Greater London Authority (GLA) must contribute almost £100,000 in taxpayers’ money – under an excess clause in the policy and for work that it does not cover.

The specially designed roman blinds sit between two panes of glass and should open and close to regulate the amount of light coming into the building, known as the ‘beehive’. Window cleaners are able to open the outside panes and can normally remove the blinds to wash off the grime on the inside pane.

But City Hall insiders say dozens of blinds have stuck, meaning that the inside surfaces of many of the windows cannot be reached. They complain that the cost of cleaning the 3,000-plus panes of glass that clad the building has now topped £12,000 a month, but many are still filthy.

The GLA, which is jointly responsible for the building with developers More London, initially considered legal action against the Swiss company that installed the blinds when the building was constructed a decade ago, but it is no longer in business.

They have now employed a specialist firm to repair or replace the damaged blinds and other broken parts of the windows at an estimated cost of £733,000. The GLA has agreed to pay £72,000 towards the excess on the insurance claim and another £25,000 for further work on the windows that is not covered by the policy.

It said in an official document: ‘There will be a positive impact from these works where windows that have not been properly cleaned for many years will now become accessible, improving the overall appearance of City Hall. ‘Without taking necessary steps to rectify the faults with the building facade, further degradation of the window units will occur.’

More London Estate Management said: ‘The original contractor went into liquidation – but fortunately the developer and the GLA were fully insured against such an eventuality. ‘The necessary repairs are being effected under this insurance following collaboration between the developer and the GLA.’

But Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly group, said: ‘It is amazing that a glass building was built only ten years ago with so little thought given to how the windows could be cleaned and maintained. It shows the real price of when design is considered everything.’

The GLA declined to comment.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lady Mosley

Lady Mosley, who died in Paris on Monday aged 93, was a friend of both Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler, and decidedly more fascinated by the Führer

The third and the most beautiful of the six Mitford sisters (daughters of the 3rd Lord Redesdale), she left her first husband Bryan Guinness to unite her destiny with Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists. The uncompromising temperament of the Mitfords, combined with Mosley's rebarbative politics, involved renouncing the social life of which she had previously been a leading ornament.

Three of Diana Mosley's sisters would follow her in forswearing England for a mixture of a man and ideology. Nancy, her eldest sister, found in Gaston Palewski the personification of her drooling Francophilia. Unity became enamoured of Hitler and shot herself at the outbreak of the war. Jessica became a Communist and married an American of that persuasion.

In Diana Mosley's memory, Sir Oswald was a figure of unequalled glamour. "He had every gift, being handsome, generous, intelligent, and full of wonderful gaiety and joie de vivre. Of course I fell in love with him . . . and I have never regretted the step I took then."

She left Bryan Guinness in 1932, just as Mosley was forming the British Union of Fascists. To the horror of her family and friends - her father forbade her younger sisters to see her again - she set up house with her two small sons in Eaton Square, and placed herself at the Leader's disposal.

Yet it was for an uncertain future that she had cast herself away. Mosley's first wife Cimmie, Lord Curzon's daughter, was still alive; and Mosley showed no disposition to leave her. "I never dreamed of marrying him," Diana remembered.

It was as though the fairy princess had been carried off by the demon king. As Diana Guinness, she had been a leader of a set which included Augustus John, the Sitwells, Henry Yorke, Evelyn Waugh, Roy Harrod and Robert Byron. Lytton Strachey paid her court.

Her photograph regularly stared from the covers of the society weeklies; her portrait was painted again and again. The face always seemed to come out the same - large, calm, and staring vacantly into space. "She was getting like that in real life too," her sister Jessica acidly observed.

The death of Cimmie Mosley from peritonitis in May 1933 made possible a lifetime commitment to the Leader of the Blackshirts, which she would honour through every adversity. At first, it seemed that she might keep him within the bounds of respectability. "The Leader is so clever and in his way so civilised and English," she explained to Roy Harrod in 1933, "that [his Blackshirts] could not be comparable to the German movement. But if everyone of sensibility, charm and intelligence shuns him, there is definitely a danger that he will come to regard those virtues as vicious and the possessors of them as enemies."

But that same year, on the invitation of Hitler's stooge Putzi Hansfstaengl, Diana Guinness visited Nazi Germany. For her sister Unity, who accompanied her, the holiday was the beginning of an obsession that would destroy her life. Diana was also deeply impressed, and ever afterwards disposed to ignore what she heard of anti-semitism and concentration camps.

Unity Mitford finally succeeded in making Hitler's acquaintance in January 1935, and in March proudly introduced him to her sister. Diana Guinness, in the full flower of her beauty, made a considerable impression; she herself was dazzled. "His eyes were dark blue," Diana rhapsodised about Hitler, "his skin was fair and his brown hair exceptionally fine. In certain moods he could be very funny. He was extremely polite towards women. He was the most unselfconscious politician I have ever come across. He never sought to impress, he never bothered to act a part. If he felt morose, he was morose. If he was in high spirits he talked brilliantly."

Later in 1935 Irene Ravensdale, sister of Mosley's first wife, found the picture of Hitler in Diana Guinness's house at Wootton, in Staffordshire, "particularly painful". Certainly, Diana's partiality for the Führer quite outran that of Mosley, who later in life would refer to Hitler as "a terrible little man".

On October 6 1936, two days after the Blackshirts' humiliating withdrawal from Cable Street, Diana secretly married Mosley in Berlin - a wedding arranged under the auspices of Dr Goebbels, whose wife Magda was a friend of Diana's. Hitler came to dinner after the wedding, presenting a picture of himself in an eagle-topped silver frame. Afterwards, the newly-weds had a fierce quarrel: "We went to bed in dudgeon."

Diana Mosley continued to visit Germany frequently, being involved in negotiations to set up an independent radio station to broadcast to Britain from Heligoland; Mosley hoped that this scheme would finance his movement. She had several private late-night meetings with Hitler in the Chancellery, and he invited her to Bayreuth.

Mosley, meanwhile, took the line that Britain should stay out of any conflict with Germany, in order to preserve the Empire by leaving Hitler a free hand in Europe. As Hitler swept through France in May 1940 Mosley was arrested and imprisoned in Brixton under Defence Regulation 18b, which empowered the Home Secretary to detain in prison "any particular person if satisfied that it is necessary to do so".

In fact, Mosley had frequently declared he would fight for his country in the event of an invasion. But there were many politicians, particularly in the Labour Party, who had scores to pay off. By this time the Mosleys were such pariahs that when Diana gave birth to their youngest son in April 1940 many Britons were inspired to write that they were coming to pour vitriol over her babies.

The Mitfords were cousins of Clementine Churchill, the Prime Minister's wife, and as a girl Diana Mosley used to stay with the Churchills at Chartwell. This did not prevent her imprisonment in Holloway at the end of June 1940.

The conditions under which Diana was imprisoned were ghastly, but she was never one to sue for mercy. Interviewed by a Home Office Advisory Committee under Lord Birkett in 1940, she put her worst foot forward. She admitted that she would like to replace the British political system with the German one "because we think it has done well for that country". Did she approve of the Nazi policies against Jews? "Up to point," she declared. "I am not fond of Jews."

When her lawyer asked if she knew anyone in the government who might help, she gave further hostages to fortune. "Know anyone in the government?" she cried. "I know all the Tories beginning with Churchill. The whole lot deserve to be shot." This was reported to Churchill, who was not amused.

Not until December 1941, after the intervention of Diana's brother Tom with the Prime Minister, was Mosley allowed to join her in married quarters at Holloway. After two more years, in November 1943, they were both released on grounds of Mosley's health, and placed under house arrest until the end of the war.

Evelyn Waugh, who encountered Diana Mosley when she was just out of prison, told his daughter that he was shocked to observe that his friend was wearing a swastika diamond brooch. But then the Mitfords had been brought up to pay scant attention to the opinion of others.

Diana Freeman-Mitford was born on June 17 1910 into a family which her sister Nancy would immortalise in Love in a Cold Climate. Their parents, Lord and Lady Redesdale, featured as Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie. The family first came to prominence in the 18th century, when John Mitford was Speaker of the House of Commons and (as Lord Redesdale) Lord Chancellor of Ireland. His son was raised to an earldom in 1877, but nine years later both titles became extinct.

The Redesdale title would be revived for a cousin, Bertie (pronounced "Barty") Mitford, whose great-grandfather was William Mitford, celebrated as the author of The History of Greece. Bertie's second son, David, Diana's father, married Sydney, daughter of "Tap" Bowles, the founder of Vanity Fair and The Lady. Their only boy, Tom, was killed in Burma in 1944. Of the more orthodox daughters, the second, Pamela, married Professor Derek Jackson; and Debo, the sixth, is the present Duchess of Devonshire.

Diana remembered her father with a great deal more affection than Nancy or Jessica did. "Not only did he make us scream with laughter at his lovely jokes," she wrote, "but he was very affectionate. Certainly he had a quick temper, and would often rage, but we were never punished."

In 1919 Lord Redesdale sold the house his father had built at Batsford, Gloucestershire, and moved to Astall Manor in Oxfordshire. The children loved it, and Diana, "in a supreme effort to make money", kept chickens, pigs and calves. A succession of governesses - Diana thought 15 - abandoned the attempt to instil some education. Nevertheless, Diana read avidly, and though regarded as soft-hearted by her sisters imbibed her share of the family's tough style. "Do try to hang on this time, darling," Jessica remembered her saying when riding. "You know how cross Muv will be if you break your arm again."

The idyll at Astall did not last; after six years Lord Redesdale decided to build a new house on the hill above Swinbrook. It turned out to be a monstrosity, but for the children there was the compensation that he also bought a large house in London, at 26 Rutland Gate. In 1926 Diana was sent to stay in Paris, where she attended a day school and in six months learnt more than she had during six years in England.

Evelyn Waugh thought that her beauty "ran through the room like a peal of bells". Jim Lees-Milne, who was a friend of Tom Mitford's at Eton, remembered her as "the most divine adolescent I ever beheld: a goddess, more immaculate, more perfect, more celestial than Botticelli's sea-borne Venus". In 1928 this vision came to the attention of Bryan Guinness, and within weeks they were engaged.

Lady Redesdale objected strenuously to her prospective son-in-law on the grounds that he was "so frightfully rich". Nancy Mitford thought he was perfectly all right, but could not imagine why her sister should want to marry him. Eventually, though, consent was granted, and the wedding took place on January 30 1929.

Apart from her two sons, the most notable achievement of Diana Guinness's first marriage was a spoof exhibition of the works of a mythical artist called Bruno Hat. Brian Howard produced most of the paintings; Evelyn Waugh wrote the catalogue and Tom Mitford impersonated Hat.

At Biddesdon, their country house near Andover, Diana was able for the first time to employ her talent for interior decoration. At the end of her life she expressed gratitude for having lived in three beautiful houses: Biddesdon, Wootton and, from 1950, the pretentiously entitled (though not by the Mosleys) Temple de la Gloire on the outskirts of Paris; the house was known to their foes as "The Concentration of Camp".

After the Second World War, the Mosleys lived on a farm at Crowood, near Ramsbury in Wiltshire. Though largely ignored by the local residents, they appeared content in their self-sufficiency; whatever else might be said about them, no one could deny the success of their marriage.

In 1951 Mosley, now obsessed with the ideal of creating a united Europe, decided to leave England and divide his time between the Temple de la Gloire and a house he had bought in Galway. "You don't clear up a dungheap from underneath it," he commented of his decision to leave England.

In France, Diana Mosley edited The European, a magazine that boasted contributions from Ezra Pound, Henry Williamson and Roy Campbell. She herself contributed reviews and comment, showing a sharpness that would not have shamed her sister Nancy.

Her loyalty to Mosley remained absolute, though she did venture to suggest, when he stood for North Kensington in 1959, that the use by his supporters of such terms as "fuzzy wuzzies" was not likely to bolster his credentials as a serious politician. In Paris, the Mosleys discovered that they had much in common with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and in 1980 Diana published a book on the Duchess.

If Diana Mosley never enjoyed the literary success of her sister Nancy, she was undoubtedly happier. Thrusting aside all remembrance of Nancy's betrayal of her during the war, Diana proved the main consolation in her sister's painful and protracted final illness, which ended in 1973. But she never made her peace with Jessica, who had declared at the end of the war that the Mosleys should be thrown back into prison. "She's a rather boring person really," Diana concluded.

Sir Oswald Mosley died in 1980, and a year later Diana Mosley suffered from a brain tumour. It turned out to be benign and was operated upon successfully. While convalescing she was visited by Lord Longford. "Of course, he thinks I'm Myra Hindley," Diana remarked.

Although her book of memoirs, A Life of Contrasts (1977), was deliberately provocative, most of those who met her found her a delightful companion, while to her sisters' children she was Aunt Honks. On one subject, however, she remained incorrigible.

"They will go on persecuting me until I say Hitler was ghastly," she acknowledged. "Well, what's the point in saying that? We all know he was a monster, that he was very cruel and did terrible things. But that doesn't alter the fact that he was obviously an interesting figure. It was fascinating for me, at 24, to sit and talk with him, to ask him questions and get answers, even if they weren't true ones. No torture on earth would get me to say anything different."

"I was very fond of him," she admitted in an interview in 2000. "Very, very fond."

Of her sons from her first marriage, the elder, Jonathan, is the 3rd Lord Moyne, while the younger, Desmond, founded the Irish Georgian Society. There were two sons from her second marriage; the younger, Max, is President of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The rhetoric that won the war


Review by Roger Lewis

My guess is that had Winston Churchill been more terse, a year could have been knocked off the Second World War. For what comes across in this anthology of his speeches and writings, chronologically arranged by his authorised biographer Sir Martin Gilbert, is how orotund he was, how fruity and ponderous, like an old fashioned ham actor of the Victorian period who has played King Lear too often.

When I read his famous radio broadcasts, which are as well-known as Shakespeare - ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets … We shall never surrender’ - it is impossible (a) not to hear that rich and much-imitated brandy-soaked bulldog growl and (b) to imagine any modern politician wanting to get away with being so poetical and mannered. Today people expect snappy ‘soundbites’ not lugubrious histrionics.

Perhaps Churchill was always anachronistic? Throughout his life he looked back wistfully to the golden age of the Dukes of Marlborough, even to a misty and romantic time of epics and sagas that never quite existed outside story books.

Visiting Haig and the generals on the Somme during the First World War, Churchill regretted that the heroism of military commanders had vanished.

His ancestor, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, had directed a battle ‘in the midst of the scene of carnage, with its drifting smoke clouds, scurrying fugitives, and brightly coloured lines … He sat on his horse often in the hottest fire’.

Haig sat behind a desk miles away, ‘a painstaking, punctual, public official’, poring over maps and replying to telegrams. ‘There is no need for a modern commander to wear boots and breeches.’ Churchill’s tone is regretful and nostalgic.

Churchill had served courageously in India and the Sudan, and in the Boer War. He took part in a cavalry charge at Omdurman in 1898. He was captured in South Africa in 1899 and escaped by hiding under coal sacks on a train. Though he witnessed plenty of horrors - ‘so terrible were the sights and smells that the brain failed to realise the suffering and agony they proclaimed’ - he nevertheless always saw war and warfare as glorious and glorifying, as something that paradoxically brought out the best in people.

He loved the danger and excitement, which ‘invest life with keener interests and rarer pleasures’. This schoolboyish enthusiasm, couched as it was in the prose style of the authors he’d devoured as a pupil at Harrow (Macaulay, Gibbon, Kipling - what would he have made of Hemingway or Tolkien?), affected all he wrote and said.

Even if only giving a speech about trades unionism or the recent budget, Churchill’s language and narrative thrust was colourfully bellicose and bombastic, full of apocalyptic Old Testament images of fires, floods, clashing swords, ‘the perils of the storm’ and a determination that ‘the fight will be a fight to the finish’. Whether his adversary was Herr Hitler or a political opponent in Dundee, Churchill always saw ‘fire and murder leaping out of the darkness at our throats’.

President Kennedy said of Churchill, ‘He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle’. Churchill was forever choosing to get himself into the thick of it - and it wasn’t only words.

He began the First World War as First Lord of the Admiralty, but resigned from government in order to join the Royal Scots Fusiliers and see action in the trenches. He wanted to share ‘the toils and passions of millions of men. Their sweat, their tears, their blood bedewed the endless plain …’

As mentioned above, what modern politician would dare talk about blood bedewing endless plains? And how many modern politicians would willingly put their own lives at such risk? Churchill may have deployed rhetoric - but at bottom it was not empty rhetoric, even if it got him nowhere in the short term. Throughout the Twenties and Thirties, when for the ruling classes it was the era of cocktails and laughter, Churchill alone kept worrying about the Hun. As early as 1924 he noticed that ‘the enormous contingents of German youth growing to military manhood year by year are inspired by the fiercest sentiments’.

British bright young things were fox-trotting to Noel Coward. In Germany there was a new generation wishing ‘to square the black accounts of Teuton and Gaul’, and for whom Hitler was the figurehead. As Churchill pronounced in 1932, there was ‘the light of desire in their eyes to suffer for their Fatherland’.

For gathering evidence of the neglect of Britain’s defences and warning the Commons about the scale of German rearmament, ‘I was depicted a scaremonger’, Churchill lamented. ‘Masses of guns, mountains of shells, clouds of aeroplanes - all must be ready,’ he implored.

They were not. Neville Chamberlain was duly humiliated by Hitler, and in September 1939 Churchill moved into full weather forecaster mode, promising that ‘the storms of war may blow and the lands may be lashed with the fury of its gales’.

By May the following year, Churchill, at the age of 65, at last became Prime Minister. ‘I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial.’

His style became Biblical, Wagnerian, Homeric. His radio broadcasts were clarion calls ‘to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime’. It was as if he feared the end of the world, and was half relishing it.

The culmination of the measured, thunderous cadences came in the summer of 1940, when 526 pilots were killed in action in the skies above Britain. ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’

Here we see the orator’s tricks. 526 was a heck of a lot to lose. But perhaps Britain really did only have Churchill’s rhetoric to protect it? When the Nazis were poised to invade, we had only 20,000 trained troops, 200 artillery guns and 50 tanks. Realistically, during our ‘darkest hour’ we couldn’t even have defended Eastbourne.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two very funny videos

Holding hands and an unusual use for an Ipad -- and you don't need the sound on for either of them

So papa, how do you like the iPad we got you?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Climate change wiped out one of the world's first, great civilisations more than 4,000 years ago

Climate change led to the collapse of the ancient Indus civilization more than 4,000 years ago, archaeologists believe.

The Indus civilization was the largest - but least known - of the first great urban cultures that also included Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The empire stretched over more than a million square kilometers across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges, over what is now Pakistan, northwest India and eastern Afghanistan.

Now for the first time scientists believe they have discovered that climate change was a key ingredient in the collapse of the civilisation.

The study also resolves a long-standing debate over the source and fate of the Sarasvati, the sacred river of Hindu mythology, the authors believe.

Dr Liviu Giosan, a geologist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and lead author of the study, said: 'We reconstructed the dynamic landscape of the plain where the Indus civilization developed 5200 years ago, built its cities, and slowly disintegrated between 3900 and 3000 years ago.

'Until now, speculations abounded about the links between this mysterious ancient culture and its life-giving mighty rivers.'

Like their contemporaries, the Harappans, who may have made up 10 per cent of the world's population, the group lived next to rivers, owing their livelihoods to the fertility of annually watered lands.

But the remains of their settlements are located in a vast desert region far from any flowing river.

The civilisation was forgotten until the 1920s. But since then, a flurry of research has uncovered a sophisticated urban culture with myriad internal trade routes and well-established sea links with Mesopotamia,

Archaeologists have also discovered building constructions, sanitation systems, arts and crafts, and a yet-to-be deciphered writing system.

Over five years an international team has been combining satellite photos and topographic data to make digital maps of landforms constructed by the Indus and neighboring rivers, which were then probed in the field by drilling, coring, and even manually-dug trenches and samples were tested.

Co-author Dorian Fuller, an archaeologist with University College London, said: 'Once we had this new information on the geological history, we could re-examine what we know about settlements, what crops people were planting and when, and how both agriculture and settlement patterns changed.

'This brought new insights into the process of eastward population shift, the change towards many more small farming communities, and the decline of cities during late Harappan times.'

The study suggests the decline in monsoon rains led to weakened river dynamics, and played a critical role both in the development and the collapse of the Harappan culture, which relied on river floods to fuel their agricultural surpluses.

The research provides a picture of 10,000 years of changing landscapes and the researchers identified a striking mounded plain, 10 to 20 meters high, over 100 kilometers wide, and running almost 1000 kilometers along the Indus, they call the 'Indus mega-ridge,' built by the river as it purged itself of sediment along its lower course.

'The Harappans were an enterprising people taking advantage of a window of opportunity - a kind of 'Goldilocks civilization,' said Dr Giosan.

'As monsoon drying subdued devastating floods, the land nearby the rivers - still fed with water and rich silt - was just right for agriculture. This lasted for almost 2,000 years, but continued aridification closed this favorable window in the end.'

The researchers believe they have uncovered the fate of a mythical river, the Sarasvati, described in The Vedas, ancient Indian scriptures composed in Sanskrit over 3000 years ago, which it is believed was fed by perennial glaciers in the Himalayas.

Today, the Ghaggar, an intermittent river that flows only during strong monsoons and dissipates into the desert along the dried course of Hakra valley, is thought to best approximate the location of the mythic Sarasvati, but its Himalayan origin and whether it was active during Vedic times remain controversial.

By 3900 years ago, their rivers drying, the Harappans had an escape route to the east toward the Ganges basin, where monsoon rains remained reliable.

'We can envision that this eastern shift involved a change to more localised forms of economy: smaller communities supported by local rain-fed farming and dwindling streams,' said Dr Fuller.

'This may have produced smaller surpluses, and would not have supported large cities, but would have been reliable.

'Cities collapsed, but smaller agricultural communities were sustainable and flourished. Many of the urban arts, such as writing, faded away, but agriculture continued and actually diversified.'

Dr Giosan added: 'An amazing amount of archaeological work has been accumulating over the last decades, but it's never been linked properly to the evolution of the fluvial landscape. We now see landscape dynamics as the crucial link between climate change and people.

'Today the Indus system feeds the largest irrigation scheme in the world, immobilizing the river in channels and behind dams. If the monsoon were to increase in a warming world, as some predict, catastrophic floods such as the humanitarian disaster of 2010, would turn the current irrigation system, designed for a tamer river, obsolete.'

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Did dogs help us conquer the world? Man's best friend may be the reason why we flourished over the Neanderthals

This guy has got it right about the evolutionary importance of dogs to us but is clearly clueless about why. The big and keen doggy nose makes up for our small noses. The big doggy ears make up for our small ears and limited hearing range. The weaponized doggy jaws make up for our weak jaws. What we bring to the deal is an upright stance and better colour vision that allows us to spot prey from afar

For more than 32,000 years, dogs have been our faithful companions, living, eating and breathing with us as we moved from cave-dwellers to city-builders.

Around this time, the planet lost our closest cousins - and, many argue, our competitors: Neanderthal man, who had previously occupied present-day Europe for a staggering 250,000 years.

Now, an anthropologist is suggesting these two facts may be related - and it was our close friendship with our canine associates that tipped the balance in favour of modern man.

Pat Shipman said that the advantages that domesticating a dog brought for us were so fundamental to our own evolution, that it made us 'top dog' out of the competing primate species.

Shipman analysed the results of excavations of fossilised canid bones from Europe, during the time when humans and Neanderthals overlapped.

The research first of all established a framework to our early 'best friend' relationships, with early humans adding dog teeth to jewellery, showing how they were worshipped, and rarely adorning cave art with images of dogs - implying dogs were treated with a reverence not shown to the animals they hunted.

The advantages dogs gave early man were huge - the animals themselves were likely to be larger than our modern day pooches, at least the size of German Shepherds.

Because of this, they could be used as 'beasts of burden', carrying animal carcasses and supplies from place to place, leaving humans to reserve their energies for the hunt.

In return, the animals gained warmth, food and companionship, or, as Shipman puts it, 'a virtuous circle of cooperation'.

They may also have influenced how we communicate. Humans and dogs are the only animals which have large 'whites of the eyes', and will follow the gaze of another person. This has not been found in other species, and it is argued that, as our man-dog relationship evolved, we learned to use these non-verbal cues more often.

As such,dogs became one of the first tools, or technologies, that humanity began to use, and as the relationship developed both ways, it became a lot deeper ingrained into our psyche.

And, in those early days where every advantage was needed to survive, Neanderthal man might simply have been unable to cope with the new species which rapidly moved across Europe.

In short, Shipman said: 'Animals were not incidental to our evolution into Homo sapiens - They were essential to it. They are what made us human.'


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Titanic survivors vindicated at last

A recently discovered cache of letters seen by the Telegraph absolves Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon of bribery and cowardice

Just when it could safely be assumed that every rivet of the Titanic had been examined, every myth exhausted and every survivor story told, chance has thrown up a rich hoard of new material written by two of the most vilified first-class passengers to escape drowning.

The letters of Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his colourful wife, Lucy, are an extraordinary record of the night of April 15 1912, a century ago tomorrow. They describe not just the unfolding terror of the ship’s sinking, but every detail of how they dressed for the emergency, what they took with them, and their experiences in a perilously small boat before they were picked up by the RMS Carpathia.

There is even a complete inventory of all Lady Duff Gordon’s possessions that went to the bottom of the sea, from feather boas, teagowns and long kid gloves to silk corsets, diamonds and pearls. Head of a famous fashion house, Maison Lucile, she took three fur coats, a large fox fur and seven hats on the voyage to New York. The total value is given as £3,208 3s 6d (around £250,000 today).

The documents have been in a cardboard box in a solicitor’s room for the past 100 years and only came to light when two summer vacation students at the London office of Veale Wasbrough Vizards (the firm that merged with Tweedies, who represented the Duff Gordons) were asked to work through old papers that might be returned to the families of their original clients.

The historical significance of the find is that it contains fresh detail that could finally restore the good name of the Duff Gordons, who were accused of urging, or even bribing, the crew of their boat to row away from the sinking ship and not to pick up survivors, even though the boat wasn’t full. Though they were cleared of all blame by the Board of Trade inquiry in May 1912, they were savagely cross-examined and remained tainted by suspicion that they had acted selfishly.

The box marked simply “Titanic”, which has just been returned to a very surprised Sir Andrew Duff Gordon, Cosmo’s great-nephew, is a time capsule of enthralling witness. “I had absolutely no idea of its existence,” says Sir Andrew. “I am elated that these papers have come to light. I never doubted my great-uncle, who was a most upright and self-effacing person, and his account of that night shows beyond doubt that he acted honourably. But mud sticks and he never really recovered from the allegations made against him. He was deeply upset, and quite reclusive for the rest of his life.”

The couple took the Titanic because Lucy Duff Gordon had couture shops in London, Paris and New York and it was the first ship available to get her to New York to sort out an urgent problem with her lease. They boarded at Cherbourg and travelled under an assumed name, ironically to spare Cosmo unwanted publicity.

Susceptible to premonitions, Lucy describes in one of the documents how she had remarked to her secretary during the afternoon: “It is so awfully cold that we might be passing icebergs.” After a “very merry” dinner, she describes going to bed prepared, as usual, for any eventuality – wearing a pink Japanese padded dressing gown and stockings, with her red curls tied up in a blue chiffon scarf. Half an hour after she retired, she heard a terrific rumbling noise.

“It seemed almost like people playing bowls, rolling the great balls along, and the boat stopped. Then the frightful tearing noise of steam escaping, and I heard people running along the deck outside my windows, but laughing and quite gay.” Her husband, sleeping in another cabin, had heard nothing and was annoyed to be woken up by her.

A steward’s remark: “I hear that we have struck an iceberg but there is nothing the matter,” did nothing to reassure Lucy, and while Cosmo went up on the bridge to investigate, she unlocked her security box and took out a pair of diamond earrings, a diamond necklace and turquoises. He came back somewhat shaken and urged her to dress.

“I took off my nightgown which was underneath my padded dressing gown,” she writes, “put on my chemise and my thick silk drawers and my woollen drawers. Then I put on a warm silk vest with long sleeves. I deliberately thought I would not put my corsets on in case that if I got into the water I should not be able to swim, and put back my warm dressing gown and on top of that… my warm purple dressing gown, and then I put on my little warm motor hat.”

That was not all. Her life jacket was next, topped by her moleskin fur coat with Astrakhan muff. She took a last look at her “lovely little cabin” with its lace, cushions and photographs and a large basket of lilies of the valley. “It didn’t seem possible there could be any danger.” Cosmo took with him into the unknown the Edwardian aristocrat’s survival kit: a flask of brandy, a colt automatic pistol and a handful of cigars, which he later handed out to the seamen in his rescue boat.

The Duff Gordons’ separate, dramatic accounts reveal that Lucy and her secretary Laura Francatelli (known as Franks), far from elbowing others aside, turned down places in two departing lifeboats for women and children because they refused to be separated from Sir Cosmo. Lady Duff Gordon threw her arms around her husband’s neck and stood her ground, a determination that he acknowledges gave him “the opportunity of being saved”.

The deck was empty of people when they saw a third, smaller boat, known as the captain’s emergency boat, appear before them with spaces. This wooden cutter was one of the last boats to be launched. Although it was supposed to hold 40 people, it was full of clutter. Cosmo, in his courteous way, touched an officer on the shoulder and asked: “May we get in this boat?” The three were urged to board, along with two American businessmen, and the sailor in charge was ordered to “pull off” from the doomed ship as fast as possible to avoid being sucked under. There were seven seamen and five passengers aboard.

Lucy watched in horror as the ship’s rows of lights gradually disappeared below the waterline. “Each time that I looked up there was one row of lights less.” In an excitable letter to her daughter, Esme, written four days after the sinking, she reveals a somewhat voyeuristic fascination in watching the ship go down and her annoyance at being so seasick that she missed things. Sister of the romantic novelist Elinor Glyn, she was almost as emotionally flamboyant. “Well, my beloveds,” she writes to her family. “You know how I always said I longed for experiences and adventures and sensations, well, I’ve had it this time and no mistake.”

Her flimsy airmail letter includes a small drawing of their boat, snagged at a dangerous angle as it was lowered 90 ft down to the water. “The behaviour of all the people on the poor Titanic is beyond praise,” she writes. “Hearing all the thrilling blood-curdling tales of some of the survivors and all the excitement of the last few days has quite worn me out but I’m perfectly well and have never turned a hair.”

After explosions that split the ship in two, Cosmo recalls “the perfect horror of shrieking” that followed its final plunge. “Even at the distance we were, we heard the most awful cries of agony.”

The idea of going back for possible survivors, he discloses, was not mooted. They were too far away from the wreck, in intense darkness, and it would have been a dangerous and futile gesture because no one could have survived the icy sea for more than 15 minutes. “Cosmo was in no position to give orders,” says Sir Andrew. “He was not in charge of the boat.”

On the boat, the crew said they had lost not only all their possessions but their jobs. Cosmo promised to give them £5 towards restitution – an offer that was deliberately misinterpreted by one of the crew later as a bribe not to return for survivors because the Duff Gordons were allegedly afraid their small rowing boat would be swamped. In a stoical and moving account of the tragedy sent from New York to his anxious siblings, Cosmo writes: “Indeed at that moment I would have given anything that I possessed to anybody who wanted it, as my heart was full of thanksgiving that the two women in my charge and myself were where we were.”

“It was complete nonsense to call it a bribe,” says Andrew Duff Gordon. “My great-uncle was incredibly grateful to survive and what these papers show is that, when they got on the Carpathia, he wrote the seven oarsmen a Coutts cheque for £5 each to replace what they had lost.” His wife, Evie, comments: “One wonders if an act of philanthropy has ever had such dire consequences for its benefactor.”

By the time RMS Carpathia docked at New York with Titanic’s 710 rescued passengers, the press were in full cry – both for survivors’ stories and for people to blame for a disaster that took 1,500 lives. In a handwritten letter to his two brothers and two sisters, Cosmo comments bitterly: “There seems to be a feeling of resentment against any English man being saved.”

He adds: “The whole pleasure of having been saved is quite spoilt by the venomous attacks they made at first in the papers. This, I suppose, was because I refused to see any reporter.” One of the more outrageous rumours was that Duff Gordon had cheated his way on to a lifeboat dressed as a woman.

Though he reassures his family that “all the stories against me have already been contradicted and proved untrue. So I shall sit tight”, his arrival in England was met with another wave of traumatic publicity. Lucy Duff Gordon wrote: “I shall never forget his stricken face when we landed from the RMS Lusitania and caught the boat train for London. All over the station were newspaper placards: 'Duff Gordon scandal’… 'Baronet and wife row away from the drowning’.”

Among the newly discovered papers are Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon’s trenchant “Observations” on evidence given at the inquiry. Point by point, they rebut the “slanders” against them.

“They have both been vilified for far too long,” says Sir Andrew Duff Gordon. “The lovely thing is that it’s now been shown that they behaved very well.”


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mother Nature's deadly mirage sank Titanic

THE blame for the sinking of the Titanic lies not with her lookouts or her skipper, but with an iceberg mirage created by Mother Nature.

British historian Tim Maltin has declared "case closed" on the cause of the disaster after discovering evidence that an optical illusion concealed the iceberg that sealed the ship's fate.

After collating sea and air temperatures taken by ships that passed through the area around the time of the sinking, the Titanic expert found atmospheric conditions conducive to a cold water mirage.

The data indicated that at the time of the collision the ship had been in the middle of a high pressure zone, where freezing waters originating in Greenland met the Gulf Stream.

The lookouts would have been searching for large black objects blocking the stars on the horizon, but refraction of light created by the movement of air currents could have made the horizon seem higher than it was, rendering the attempt ineffective.

He believes the same conditions could also have distorted the Titanic's emergency flares and SOS signals, explaining why they weren't picked up by the nearby SS Californian.

"It's almost as if Titanic sank in a killing zone of nature where all these very dangerous elements combined to make it fatal," Maltin said.

The author and filmmaker investigated ships' logs after reading eyewitness testimonies from survivors who reported a sudden drop in temperature before the collision and unusual observations about the ship's lights and the brightness of the stars.

There were also reports about columns of smoke from the ship flattening out like mushrooms, indicating a thermal inversion.

The presence of the mirage, or "false horizon", would have meant the iceberg was effectively invisible until it was right in front of the ship, making it impossible to avoid. Maltin said the findings vindicated the ship's crew and builders, adding his belief that the vessel would have been safer than any ocean liner in existence today.

"Titanic is so amazing because she represented the best that man could achieve and she represents the best of science and technology," he said.

"People believed that technology could triumph over nature, but what the Titanic teaches us is that the universe is always more powerful."

His theory is put forward in Case Closed, one of three National Geographic documentaries screening as part of the Titanic 100 series, produced to mark the anniversary of the ship's sinking.

Case Closed premiered last week on the National Geographic channel.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

How top Nazi used 'ratline' escape route to flee to South America after the war, by daughter of woman he seduced

Nazi ratlines that spirited thousands of war criminals to freedom are revealed in a new book chronicling the murderous reign of a top foreign office official during the Third Reich.

The life of Horst Wagner, a man with the blood of at least 350,000 Jews on his hands, is detailed in Beloved Criminal: A Diplomat In The Service Of The Final Solution.

Wagner was the link-man between the foreign office and the SS In this role, he aided in the round-ups, deportation and extermination of both German and foreign Jews.

This first major work on him by Gisela Heidenreich is also an intensely personal one for the author - her own mother Edith met and fell in love with him during the war.

During his years in exile Wagner remained in contact with Edith by post, letters which her daughter uses in her work chronicling the escape routes and mini-Reich that the fugitives built for themselves in Argentina.

Heidenreich, who works as a family therapist, has the blood of the Nazi regime in her. She was born into a Lebensborn home - set up by the S.S. for unmarried mothers to give birth and donate their children to the Nazi state.

Her father was the commander of the SS officer school at Bad Toelz in Bavaria.

Wagner, she said, dreamed of becoming her stepfather after he began his affair with her mother.

After escaping from a Nuremberg jail in 1948, he later explained to Heidenreich's mother how he was aided on his way to South America on the so-called Kloster Line, being given sanctuary in a number of convents and holy orders in Austria before heading to Rome.

There the German bishop Alois Hudal, priest-confessor to the German Catholic community in the city, arranged for him to get a Red Cross passport in 1951.

He sailed out of Genoa to Argentina to join such killers as Adolf Eichmann, the supreme mastermind behind the Holocaust, and Josef Mengele, the perverted 'Angel of Death' of Auschwitz, notorious for his grotesque medical experiments.

Hudal also arranged the paperwork for Franz Stangl, the commandent of the extermination camps of Sobibor and Treblinka, to flee to Brazil on a Red Cross passport using Vatican funds.

Stangl, who was eventually extradited back to Germany in the 1960s and died in jail while serving a life sentence of his crimes, oversaw the murder of an estimated 1.4million people at the two camps.

Wagner settled in Bariloche, 1,000miles south of Buenos Aires on the edge of Patagonia, and celebrated weekly in Bavarian-style houses with old S.S. comrades, drinking beer and singing the marching songs of the lost regime.

'The line from Germany to South America lay across Austrian monasteries and an intermediate stop in Slouth Tyrol where the Nazis were to recover from the strains of their journeys,' said Heidenreich.

'Once in Genoa they received the friendly assistance of the Vatican, in particular from Bishop Hudal who furnished them with the International Red Cross passports.'

Using the letters Wagner wrote to her mother, Heidenreich set out to reconstruct the odyssey of the Nazi fanatic and even went to Bariloche to draw a fascinating portrait of how this chilling old boys clique lived so many thousands of miles away from the scenes of their crimes.

'It was a parallel world,' she said, 'developed so far away and with no condemnation in postwar Germany by the public or politicians.'


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bacon butties, roast dinners and a cuppa: The 50 things that Brits love best about Britain show Brits are a nation of food lovers

I'm rather partial to a bacon butty myself

The tasty bacon butty is what we love most about Britain, a survey revealed today. A humble bacon sandwich topped the poll of the 50 things we most adore about the nation, with a traditional roast dinner taking second place.

Nothing washes down a meal better than a lovely cup of tea - which came in at number three in the survey of 60,000 Brits.

Our proud national history came fourth followed by the BBC in fifth, Big Ben in sixth and Buckingham Palace in seventh.

The love for our rolling hills will never dwindle as the beautiful English countryside made eighth spot.

Food continued its domination in the remainder of the top ten, with fish and chips and the Yorkshire Pudding coming in at ninth and tenth respectively.

Incredibly, the poll revealed that cheese is a greater national treasure than our monarch, with cheddar coming in at 13th on the list while the Queen trailed behind in 15th.

For an example of style, class and British engineering, the Aston Martin roared into 17th.

It is clear that Brits love bagging a bargain, which comes in at 30th on the list.

James Bond triumphed over Harry Potter as the nation’s best-loved fictional character.

And proving the quirkiness us Brits are known for is alive and well, that most alternative of British ‘sports’ - cheese rolling - made the last spot.

While perhaps when it comes to love, the debate is over, as Marmite finished narrowly outside the top 50.

‘When it comes to our great loves food is clearly on top and whether it’s a butty, bun or sanger the trusty bacon sandwich is a worthy winner of the top spot,’ said T-Mobile spokesman Spencer McHugh, after the company commissioned the research for a new TV ad.

He added: ‘Whether we’re eating it between bread or rolling it down a hill it’s obvious that we are a nation of food lovers.'


Friday, January 27, 2012

Ireland's shame: "The List"

The hate-filled Eamon de Valera persecuted returned Irish soldiers for daring to help Britain fight Hitler

The young airman was desperate to be back with his family and friends at the end of the war. He had done his bit to see off Hitler and make the world a safer place. His one wish now was to be home with ‘my people’. But, instead of a hero’s welcome, what Irishman Martin Walsh feared was being arrested and locked up.

‘Sir,’ he wrote plaintively from England to the authorities in Dublin in 1946, ‘I wish to return as a free Irish citizen once more, without detention or punishment. I would like to have my freedom in Eire and not be caged up like a bird when I go home.’

He sought a written pass ‘to protect me from the military and the police’. His ‘crime’? Leaving Ireland and crossing the water to join the British forces in the struggle against Nazi Germany. It left him in a cruel limbo that, 65 years later, is still scandalously unresolved.

Walsh and thousands of adventurous youngsters were technically deserters. They had enlisted in the Irish Defence Force but with no enemy to fight because of their country’s decision to stay neutral in World War II, they had chosen to slip away to Britain, join up and fight.

After donning British uniforms, some risked their lives on battlefields from Dunkirk to El Alamein and D-Day to Arnhem. Others faced death daily on bomber missions over Germany or suffered the unspeakable hell of Japanese prison camps.

Some — such as Corporal Edward Browne, who was awarded the Military Medal for storming a German machine gun position in Normandy, Bren gun blazing from his hip — paid for their bravery with their lives and would never see Ireland again. Those who survived had every reason to be proud of their contribution to the liberation of Europe from the Nazi menace. But in their homeland they were now outcasts.

At first, Walsh, who had been in the RAF, was given the reassurance he wanted. He was told in a letter he would not be arrested as he got off the ferry. But what the letter failed to mention was that his name was on a secret blacklist, which had been personally authorised by the prime minister, Eamon de Valera.

He would be banned from a job in any civil service department, town hall or state-run service such as the post office, the health service, bus, rail and shipping companies. There would be no pension or benefits. In Ireland, he was effectively a non-person.

History does not record what happened to Martin Walsh, but there is no reason to think his fate differed from any of the 5,000 other men on the now infamous List.

Pat Reid, who had fought the Japanese in India and Burma, failed to find a steady job for 15 years after his return. His family grew up in abject poverty, depending on handouts and soup kitchens to survive.

Denied access to better-paid jobs, men such as Reid were forced into the back-breaking life of itinerant farm labourers, finding what little work they could for virtually slave wages.

The shocking plight of Ireland’s post-war dispossessed — victims of a vengeful anti-British administration — has recently come to light and a campaign is underway for those few still alive to be pardoned. Indeed, signs indicate that the Irish government is indeed soon to redress what many now see as a stain on the nation’s history.

The Irish government of the day had ‘utterly lost its moral compass,’ said Alan Shatter, Ireland’s Justice Minister, in a landmark speech this week that criticised the ‘shameful’ treatment meted out to Irish soldiers. ‘We should no longer be in denial that, in the context of the Holocaust, Irish neutrality was a principle of moral bankruptcy.’

It happened because of the de Valera government’s decision in 1939 to stay out of the war. Ireland, its army so under-resourced they barely had a serviceable rifle between them, had little to contribute militarily. The judgment made in Dublin was that to side with the British would jeopardise the country’s fragile sense of independence so soon after its constitutional split from the UK in 1920.

But that left its thousands of newly enlisted soldiers — who had joined up when it seemed their country might have to fight an invader, whether the Germans, or the British taking over Ireland in order to forestall the Germans — kicking their heels. Instead of fighting for their country’s honour, they were dispatched to cut peat, knee-deep in bogs.

Con Murphy was among those ‘browned off’ by finding himself on work which, as a farm boy, he had joined the army to avoid. ‘It wasn’t soldiering at all,’ he said.

He secretly applied to the RAF, then took a train from Dublin to the North. There were 20 men in his carriage, all ‘deserting’ to join the British forces. They went for a variety of reasons. Some were unashamedly looking for adventure. There was a war and they wanted to be in the action.

Others thought strategically. Dublin University student Derek Overend’s view was: ‘It was best to stop the Jerries getting England first before they could get to us in Ireland.’

Others — probably the majority — felt they could not stand aside from the crusade against fascism. It was wrong to hide behind neutrality when the rest of the world was having to decide where it stood. ‘I wanted to get a crack at the Germans for what they were doing in Europe,’ was a commonly expressed reason.

Even firm republicans such as Thomas Walsh, who as a child had been a runner for the IRA, knew the threat to democracy from Hitler was greater than any danger posed by his old enemy. He swallowed hard, put aside his historic antipathy and joined the British Army.

After the war, they would all face accusations that it was the pay rather than principle that drew them — and this was clearly an attraction in a country beset by unemployment and poverty.

But while that charge might stick against the tens of thousands who travelled to Britain to work in munitions factories and on the land — and who were not stigmatised in any way afterwards — it was unfair on fighting men, who risked death for far less than was on offer for civilian work.

The 12s 6d (about 62p) a day that Richard Fellows got as air crew in an RAF bomber might have seemed a king’s ransom in Cork, but it was poor recompense for a 50 per cent chance of being killed.

Despite Dublin’s neutrality, Irish officialdom seemed in two minds about those who decided to go to Britain to fight. Soldier Phil Farrington slipped away to England and enlisted in the Royal Sussex Regiment but then made the mistake of using his first leave to go home to Dublin. He was arrested for desertion and spent months being starved and viciously beaten in a military jail.

But, in other cases, the authorities colluded with absconders. Michael Baggott was issued with a travel permit to go to Liverpool even though he stated on the form that the purpose of his journey was ‘to join the British Army’. He was advised to alter this to ‘business purposes’ and change the photograph from one of him in Irish army uniform to one in civvies. Then he was allowed to leave.

Ireland’s neutrality was never totally enforced and always veered towards the Allies, despite the undisguised pro-German leanings of some hard-line republicans and the generally anti-British sentiment of the bulk of the new nation’s population. There was more co-operation on the quiet than was officially acknowledged. British flyers who crash-landed in Eire, for example, were repatriated whereas German ones were interned.

Once the conflict was over and the danger passed, however, attitudes hardened again, as was shown by de Valera’s contemptible nose-thumbing gesture of publicly offering his condolences to the German government on Hitler’s death in 1945.

Suddenly the men who had fought for Britain became Dublin’s fall guys. In August 1945, an executive order named 4,983 of them and pronounced them guilty of desertion after a farcical court martial. They were officially dismissed from the Irish army, convicted en masse in their absence without being given a chance to defend themselves.

But the greater injustice was to come. Their names comprised the dreaded List. From that point on, their lives were blighted.

Opposition politicians tried to get this order overturned, arguing that its effect would be to condemn every man on it to ‘destitution and starvation’, along with his family. It was ‘brutal, unchristian and inhuman, stimulated by malice, seething with hatred and oozing with venom’ — a description that decades later seems perfectly apt.

But the order stayed, and the blacklist began to do its dirty work — all the nastier because the alleged ‘sins’ of the fathers were visited on their offspring. If a man could not work, his children starved.

‘We were hungry,’ said Paddy Reid’s son. ‘The kind where you felt your belly was stuck to your back. The attitude was one of no mercy for us. It was pure vindictiveness.’

Then again, if, fearing retribution, a man who fought with the British decided not to return to Ireland, he was deemed to have abandoned his children. The law then allowed them to be forced into state care and sent to special schools run by Catholic orders — now infamous for physical cruelty and sexual abuse.

In those brutal homes, their names were marked with the initials ‘SS’ – standing for the Gaelic words ‘saighdiuir Sasanach’ (British soldier), but with chilling Nazi undertones that seem to have gone unnoticed by the Irish authorities. They were subjected to even harsher treatment than the rest.

Even more astonishingly, because the list of deserters did not differentiate between the living and the dead, the orphans of men who had died in action in the war were also singled out and treated in this abominable way.

The wrongs perpetrated in those post-war years still trouble the now elderly men who were blacklisted and vilified. After enduring a jail term in Cork when he first deserted, on his release Phil Farrington fled once more to England and joined up again. He was in the final assault on Germany in 1945 and helped liberate the Belsen concentration camp.

Returning home, he knew to keep a low profile and never wore his campaign medals. He remembers that, because of prejudice against those who had fought with the British, he was warned not to visit certain areas, ‘or they’ll have you’.

Now in his 90s, he still has nightmares that the police will come for him and he will be put back in prison. His dread of the knock on the door has no basis in reality but it is the genuinely felt fear of a frail old man. ‘I see it in his eyes even today,’ says his grandson, Patrick. The pardon campaigners are seeking would put at least this old soldier’s mind at rest.

There are, though, apologists who argued at the time and still claim that men like Farrington deserved their punishment. They were deserters who reneged on their uniform, flouted the law and put Ireland’s neutrality in jeopardy.

The flaw in that argument is that, unlike most deserters in military situations, these men were choosing to run towards the guns rather than away from them, placing themselves in the front line rather than ducking out of danger. Moreover, retribution was exacted after the war, when neutrality was no longer a live issue.

The action taken against them had no practical purpose except to persecute those who had dared to defy de Valera and his intransigent anti-British stance. It was essentially spiteful and small-minded, an act of petty revenge.

As author Robert Widders, who highlighted the fate of the returning soldiers in his recent book, Spitting On A Soldier’s Grave, puts it: ‘The deserters from the Irish army who joined the Allied struggle faced the horrors of the bloodiest war in history. They have earned our respect and gratitude. They deserved better than the List.’