Canada Slim and the Body Snatchers

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 September 2018

I should be dead.

In fact, for at least a quarter of a century.

Back in Canada, I tried to chop a log.

The axe bounced off the log and sliced into my foot.

A mile in the bush limp, a drive home, a quick dash to the local hospital and an ambulance ride from there to the metropolis of Montréal, followed by surgery, hospitalization and convalescence….

And I am alive to tell the tale.

This injury, sadly, was the first of many unfortunate accidents I have had, transforming my body from a wonderland into a battlefield.

In earlier days, blood loss or infection might have ended my life, but I live, as many others live, longer and healthier.

We live in an age where the human anatomy has been mapped, where an abundance of drugs are available, where antiseptic conditions are par for the course in all medical institutions, where medical professionals are highly trained and qualified, where the deliverance of babies is no longer such a danger for infant or mother.

A time of liver and lung, uterus and penis, skull and scalp, arm and hand, face and heart, eye and hip replacements, appendectomies and mastectomies….

A time of virtual and remote, robot-assisted and laser-aided, plastic and emergency surgery….

Days of disinfectant, inoculation, anesthesia, x-rays, MRIs and ultrasound….

 

I take my survival for granted, confident in the advances available to me in case of injury or illness.

 

Sometimes it is good to visit places that remind one of how and why mankind has been able to survive the rigours and ravages inflicted upon the body.

Such a place is in London at a venue of body snatchers and “the fastest knife in the West End“.

The tale begins last fall and travels back in time.

Welcome….

25 October 2017

We spend 80% of our adult lives working, but, on average, 80% of workers often confess that they dislike the work that they do.

My wife is among the happy minority of those who do what they love and love what they do.

My wife is a doctor.

When we travel together it is not uncommon to find us visiting, among many, tourist attractions that are medically themed.

During our week in London we would visit at least three attractions of this nature.

 

(For other London attractions not medically themed, please see: Canada Slim and….

  • the Danger Zone
  • the Paddington Arrival
  • the Street Walked Too Often
  • Underground
  • the Outcast
  • the Wonders on the Wall
  • the Calculated Cathedral
  • the Right Man
  • the Queen’s Horsemen
  • the Royal Peculiar
  • the Uncertainty Principle
  • the Museum of Many

For medically themed London attractions, please see Canada Slim and….

  • the Lamp Ladies
  • the Breviary of Bartholomew)

 

London has its fair share of quirkiness:

Near Wimbledon there is an authentic Buddhist temple that feels like it was discretely teleported directly from Thailand. (Buddhapadipa Temple)

One can climb a castle as if it were the rock face of Mount Everest or the Matterhorn. (Castle Climbing Centre)

Or visit a house lacking electricity and modern plumbing on a Monday night, Silent Night, candlelight tour. (Dennis Severs’ House)

Or tread softly in the necropolis that is Highgate Cemetery.

Come and watch people swing from the gallows. (London Dungeon)

Listen to Anne Boleyn plead her case just before her head is deftly separated from her soft narrow shoulders. (London Dungeon)

Walk by moonlight the Whitechapel backstreets as Jack the Ripper knew them. (London Dungeon)

London Dungeon Logo.jpg

 

We did none of these things, but this is not to suggest that our time was devoid of quirkiness….

 

Time is often not our friend when we travel, so we took the Tube to London Bridge Station instead of walking across the Thames River upon the London Bridge.

We would later sail underneath it but we denied ourselves the tactile experience of trodding upon it.

The River Thames is the longest river in England and the second longest in Britain (after the Severn) and is crossed by over 200 bridges, 27 tunnels, six public ferries, a cable car and a ford.

Thames map.png

Prior to the commencement of my relationship with my wife, I followed on foot the Thames from its source near Cirencester to Oxford.

I would, on visits to London, also spend time by its banks.

 

There has been a London Bridge spanning the Thames since AD 50 and it could be argued that without a London Bridge there might never have been a London.

London Bridge Illuminated.jpg

 

The first London Bridge was built by the Romans (“What have they ever done for us?“) as part of their road-building programme, to help consolidate their conquest.

This Bridge, and those London Bridge constructions that followed until 1209, was built of wood.

These timber crossings would fall into disrepair, be rebuilt and destroyed by both Saxons and Danes, be destroyed by the London tornado of 1091 and the fire of 1136.

The nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” is connected to the Bridge’s historic collapses.

 

After the murder of friend/foe Thomas à Becket, the penitent King Henry II commissioned a new stone bridge with a chapel in the centre dedicated to Becket as martyr.

Begun in 1176, London Bridge was completed in 1209 during the reign of King John.

The Old London Bridge (1209 – 1831) was 26 feet / 8 metres wide, 900 feet / 270 metres long, supported by 19 irregularly spaced arches.

It had a drawbridge to allow for the passage of tall ships and defensive gatehouses on both ends.

By 1358 it was already crowded with 138 shops.

The buildings on London Bridge were a major fire hazard and the increased load on the arches required their reconstruction over the centuries.

In 1212, fire broke out on both sides of the Bridge simultaneously trapping many people in the middle.

Houses on the Bridge were destroyed during Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt (1381) and Jack Cade’s Rebellion (1450).

By the time of the Tudors there were over 200 buildings on the Bridge, some seven stories high, some overhanging the river by seven feet, others overhanging the road forming a dark tunnel through which traffic had to pass.

Yet this did not prevent the addition, in 1577, of the palatial Nonsuch House to the buildings that crowded the span.

The available roadway was just 12 feet / 4 metres wide , divided into two lanes, so that in each direction, carts, wagons, coaches and pedestrians shared a single file lane 6 feet / 2 metres wide.

 

The bridge’s southern gatehouse became the scene of one of London’s most gruesome sights – a display of the severed heads of traitors, impaled on pikes, dipped in tar and boiled to preserve them against the elements.

The head of William Wallace was the first to appear on the gate in 1305, starting a tradition that was to continue for another 355 years.

 

(Keep this morbid tradition in mind while remembering that before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts.)

 

Other famous heads on London Bridge pikes included Jack Cade (1450), Thomas More (1535), Bishop John Fisher (1535) and Thomas Cromwell (1540).

In 1598, a German visitor to London, Paul Hentzner, counted over 30 heads on the Bridge.

John Evelyn’s Diary noted that the practice stopped in 1660, following the Restoration of King Charles II, but heads were reported at the site as late as 1772.

By 1722 congestion was becoming so serious that the Lord Mayor decreed that “all carts, coaches and other carriages coming out of Southwark into this City do keep all along the west side of the Bridge, and all carts and coaches going out of the City do keep along the east side of the Bridge.”

This has been suggested as one possible origin for the practice of traffic in Britain driving on the left.

By 1762, all houses and shops on the Bridge had been demolished through an Act of Parliament.

Even so, the Bridge was narrow, decrepit and long past its useful life.

alt text

 

The New London Bridge (1831 – 1967) was completed in 1831, and was 928 feet / 283 metres long and 49 feet / 15 metres wide.

By 1896 the Bridge was the busiest point in London and one of its most congested: 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossed every hour.

This Bridge is a prominent landmark in T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland“, wherein he compares the shuffling commuters across London Bridge to the hellbound souls of Limbo, the first circle of Hell, in Dante’s Inferno.

Subsequent surveys showed that the Bridge was sinking an inch / 2.5 cm every eight years.

By 1924 the east side of the Bridge had sunk 4 inches / 9 cm lower than the west side.

The Bridge would have to be removed and replaced.

In 1967 the City of London placed the Bridge on the market.

 

On 18 April 1868, the Bridge was purchased by Missouri oil entrepreneur Robert McCullough for US $2,460,000.

As the Bridge was dismantled, each piece was meticulously numbered, then shipped via the Panama Canal to California and then trucked from Long Beach to Lake Havasu City in Arizona.

This Bridge was rebuilt across the Bridgewater Channel canal and opened on 10 October 1971.

Gary Nunn’s song “London Homesick Blues” includes the lyrics:

Even London Bridge has fallen down and moved to Arizona.

Now I know why.

The modern, current London Bridge was opened on 17 March 1973, with a length of 928 feet / 283 metres.

 

Emerging from the London Bridge Tube Station I recall John Davidson’s poem “London Bridge” and think to myself that clearly Heathrow Airport hadn’t been built when he wrote it:

Inside the Station, everything’s so old,

So inconvenient, of such manifold

Perplexity, and, as a mole might see

So strictly what a Station shouldn’t be,

That no idea minifies the crude

And yet elaborate ineptitude.

The main line station is the oldest railway station in London fare zone 1 and one of the oldest in the world having opened on 14 December 1836.

It is one of two main line termini in London to the south of the River Thames (the other being Waterloo) and is the fourth-busiest station in London, handling over 50 million customers a year.

London Bridge tube stn Tooley Street entrance.JPG

 

In Tudor and Stuart London, the chief reason for crossing the Thames, to what is now Southwark, was to visit the disreputable Bankside for its pubs, brothels and bear-baiting pits around the south end of London Bridge.

Four hundred years later, Londoners have rediscovered the habit of heading to Southwark, thanks to the traffic-free riverside path and a wealth of top attractions, with the charge led by the mighty Tate Modern.

Of these attractions, the most educational and strangest is the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, at 9a St. Thomas Street.

The Old Operating Theatre Museum, St. Thomas St. - geograph.org.uk - 1073353.jpg

The operating theatre and garret (1822 – 1862) were originally part of St. Thomas Hospital, itself part of the Augustinian Priory of St. Mary Overie, founded in 1106.

The Priory, which stood on the present site of Southwark Cathedral, provided care for the poor and gave board and lodgings to pilgrims.

The “spital” of St. Mary Overie was named St. Thomas in 1173 in tribute to Thomas à Becket, the Christian martyr murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

When the Priory and the Hospital were destroyed by fire in 1212, the Bishop of Winchester, Pierre des Roches, paid for them to be rebuilt.

The new Hospital, independent of the Priory, was opened in 1215.

It continued to be staffed by monks and nuns, but surgical work was carried out by barbers since the Council of Tours (1163) had ordained that the shedding of blood was incompatible with holy office.

St. Thomas still provided hospitality for pilgrims.

 

Funds for the Hospital were largely provided by donations from individuals who believed giving to the poor would speed their spiritual journey to heaven.

One donation came from Alice de Bregerake who gifted her property in return for a yearly rent of one single rose.

 

(“There’s a lady who knows all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.“)

 

During the early 1500s, Southwark was a thriving community and St. Thomas was at its heart.

Within St. Thomas was the Southwark School of Glaziers, where the stained glass windows for King’s College Chapel in Cambridge were made.

In 1537, the first complete edition of the Holy Bible in English was completed here.

In January 1540 the Priory was dissolved by King Henry VIII, as part of his reforms of the church in England, and the Hospital closed.

In 1551 the Hospital was purchased and repaired by the City of London and two years later Henry’s son Edward VI awarded it a Royal Charter alongside four other London hospitals.

In 1681 fire led to the loss of 24 Hospital buildings.

By 1702 the main Hospital consisted of three grand classical courtyards.

 

In 1703, Dr. Richard Mead (1673 – 1754), one of London’s most famous physicians, was appointed to the Hospital staff.

At the time one of the most common ailments of St. Thomas in-patients, who were treated in the foul wards at the rear of the Hospital, was venereal disease.

Richard Mead 2.jpg

Above: Richard Mead

 

(Remember the aforementioned brothels?)

 

Mead’s recommended cure, aqua limacum (snail water), was included in the Pharmacopoeia Pauperum (a directory of medical treatments to be used in London hospitals) in 1718:

Take garden snails, cleansed and bruised, 6 gallons; earthworms, washed and bruised, 3 gallons; common wormwood, ground ivy and carduus, each one pound and half penny royal; juniper berries, fennel seeds, aniseeds, each half a pound; cloves and cubebs bruised, each 3 ounces; spirit of wine and spring water, of each 8 gallons.

Digest them together for the space of 24 hours and then draw it off in a common alembick.

This is admirably well contrived both for cheapness and efficacy.

It is as good a snail water as can be made….

Mostly given in consumption contracted for viscous practices and venereal contagions, this is the constant drink of those who are under the weakness and decays….

Grapevinesnail 01.jpg

Improvements to the facilities continued throughout the following 150 years.

 

St. Thomas’ Grand Committee Minutes of 21 October 1821 record that the women’s operating theatre be moved from the west end of one of the women’s wards and that “the herb garret over the church be fitted up and in future used as a theatre for such operations instead of the present theatre.

The new operating theatre opened in 1822.

 

John Flint South (1797 – 1882), the son of a Southwark druggist, began his medical training at St. Thomas in 1814.

He was appointed Conservator of the Hospital’s anatomy Museum in 1820 and was made Joint Lecturer in Anatomy in 1823.

In 1841 he was appointed surgeon at St. Thomas, a post he held until 1863.

He was also appointed surgeon to the Female Orphan Asylum in 1843.

South’s Career at St. Thomas spans the entire period of the Old Operating Theatre’s history and as such his memoir, John Flint South Memorials, published 20 years after his death, provides a remarkable insight into how the operating theatre functioned.

Above: John Flint South

 

The Murder Act of 1752 decreed that only executed murderers could be used for dissection, but this did not provide enough subjects for the medical and anatomical schools.

By the 19th century only about 56 people were being sentenced to capital punishment each year, but with the expansion of medical schools as many as 500 cadavers were needed annually.

Body snatching – the secret removal of corpses from burial sites to sell them to medical schools – became so prevalent that it was not unusual for relatives and friends of someone who had just died to watch over the body until burial and then keep watch after burial to stop it being violated.

Interfering with a grave was a misdemeanour, not a felony, and therefore only punishable with a fine and imprisonment rather than exile or execution.

The body snatching trade was a sufficiently lucrative business to run the risk of detection, particularly as the authorities ignored what they considered a necessary evil.

In Edinburgh, during 1827 and 1828, William Burke and William Hare brought a new dimension to the trade of selling corpses “to the doctors” by murdering rather than grave robbing and supplying their victims’ fresh corpses for medical dissection.

The murders raised public awareness of the need for bodies for medical research and contributed to the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832, which allowed unclaimed bodies and those donated by relatives to be used for the study of anatomy and required the licensing of anatomy teachers, effectively ending the body snatching trade.

 

When pioneering health reformer, Florence Nightingale, returned to London from the Crimean War in 1856 she set up a fund “to establish and control an institute for the training, sustenance and protection of nurses paid and unpaid.

The specialist training of nurses was not universally supported and many doctors viewed it as a threat to their authority.

The work left for nurses, it was believed, required little more than “on-the-job” training.

There were prejudices too against “delicate“, educated women undertaking manual work or having contact with the coarse realities of the hospital wards.

However, Nightingale was an influential and convincing advocate for reform.

The Nightingale Fund raised almost 50,000 pounds.

She chose to establish her School of Nursing at St. Thomas.

The two main deciding factors were Nightingale’s admiration for Sarah Wardroper, St. Thomas Matron and Superintendent of Nurses, and the fact that the Hospital would soon move to a new site where the School could be built to the latest, Nightingale-inspired plan.

The School of Nursing opened at the St. Thomas Southwark site on 24 June 1860 with 15 students.

Florence Nightingale (H Hering NPG x82368).jpg

Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

 

In June 1862, the Hospital moved to make way for a railway line to Charing Cross.

 

With the move, the operating theatre, situated in the attic of St. Thomas Church, was sealed up and lay in darkness for nearly a century.

After the Hospital closed the only access to the roof space of the Church was through an opening, 20 metres above floor level, in the north wall of the first floor chamber of the bell tower.

 

In 1956, Raymond Russell (1922 – 1964), while researching the history of St. Thomas decided to investigate the attic.

He found the garret in darkness, the skylight above the operating theatre had been replaced by slates and the other windows were black with a century of dirt.

Russell’s find was extraordinary:

No other early 19th century operating theatre in Europe has survived.

Image showing operating table and viewing galleries in the operating theatre

It is likely that the use of the garret of St. Thomas as a Hospital apothecary dates back to the present Church’s construction in 1703.

Hooks, ropes and nail holes in the roof and dried opium poppy heads discovered under the floorboards in the 1970s are all evidence of the garret’s former use.

Herbs have been used as medicine since ancient times and before the development of the chemical industry, medicinal compounds were made from natural materials, mostly plants.

Even today, the majority of medicines originate from plant sources.

At St. Thomas, quantities of herbs were purchased from a visiting “herb woman” and the Hospital had its own botanical garden and apothecary’s shop within its grounds.

The apothecary was the chief resident medical officer of the Hospital and was responsible for prescriptions for surgical cases and, in the absence of the physician, for dispensing medicine to all the Hospital’s patients.

In 1822 part of the Herb Garret was converted into a purpose-built operating theatre.

The patients were mainly poor people who were expected to contribute to their care if they could afford it.

Rich patients were treated and operated on at home, probably on the kitchen table, rather than in hospital.

The patients at the Old Operating Theatre were all women.

 

A description of the students packing the theatre to witness an operation has been left by Dr. South:

The operating theatre was of utterly inadequate size for the numbers of pupils who congregated….

The general arrangement of all the theatres was the same: a semicircular floor and rows of semicircular standings, rising above one another to the large skylight which lit the theatre.

On the floor the surgeon operating, with his dressers, other surgeons and apprentices and the visitors stood about the table, upon which the patient lay, so placed that the best possible view of what was going on was given to all present.

The floor was separated by a partition from the rising stand-places, the first two rows were occupied by the other dressers.

Behind a second partition stood the pupils, packed like herrings in a Barrel, but not so quiet, as those behind them were continually pressing on those before and were continually struggling to relieve themselves of it, and had not infrequently to be got out exhausted.

There was also a continual calling out of “Heads, Heads” to those about the table whose heads interfered with the sightseers.

The confusion and crushing was indeed at all times very great, especially when any operation of importance was to be performed.

I have often known even the floor so crowded that the surgeon could not operate till it had been partially cleared.”

 

Patients put up with the audience in their distress because they received medical treatment from some of the best surgeons in the land, which they otherwise they could not afford.

The majority of cases were for amputations or superficial complaints as, without antiseptic conditions, it was too dangerous to do internal operations.

The risk of death at the hands of a surgeon was likely, as there was a lack of understanding of the causes of infection.

Beneath the table was a sawdust box for collecting blood.

The death rate was further heightened by the shock of the operation and because operations took place as a last resort, patients tended to have few reserves of strength.

Until 1847, surgeons had no recourse to anaesthetics and depended on swift technique, the mental preparation of the patient, and alcohol or opiates to dull the patient’s senses.

 

(Dr. Robert Liston (1794 – 1847) was described as “the fastest knife in the West End. 

He could amputate a leg in 2 1/2 minutes.

Indeed he is reputed to have been able to complete operations in a matter of seconds, at a time when speed was essential to reduce pain and improve the odds of survival of a patient.)

Portrait of Robert Liston painted in 1847 by Samuel John Stump

Above: Robert Liston

 

After 1847, ether or choloroform was used.

 

The small room at the side of the Theatre was used to spare the patient the sudden alarm of being brought straight into the Theatre full of students, with the operating table and instruments on view.

Soon after….another female was brought in blindfolded and placed on to the table for the purpose of undergoing an operation for the removal of the leg below the knee.

(The Lancet, October 1829)

 

These were the days before antisepsis (eliminating possible infection in the wound after the operation) or asepsis (avoiding any contamination from the start).

Unsterilized clothes were blood and pus stained while undisinfected hands used undisinfected instruments and sponges from previous operations.

In those days, “surgeons operated in blood-stiffened frock coats – the stiffer the coat, the prouder the busy surgeon“. (Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes)

Holmes c. 1879

Above: American Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809 – 1894)

 

There was no object in being clean.

Indeed cleanliness was out of place.

It was considered to be finicky and affected.

An executioner might as well manicure his nails before chopping off a head.” (Sir Frederick Treves)

Image-Fredericktreves.jpg

Above: Frederick Treves (1853 – 1923)

 

No one wore a face mask or rubber gloves.

There were no blood transfusions nor vaccines.

Neurosurgery, cataract surgery, cardiac surgery, transplant surgery, Caesarian sections and hip replacements were either unknown or too dangerous to attempt.

 

Charles Bell (1774 – 1842), in his Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery (1821), describes the five most complex operations undertaken during the time of the Old Operating Theatre.

Below is a description of what the visitor would expect to see:

To one side a table with instruments, covered with a cloth to preserve the edges of the cutting instruments.

On it we expect to see:

  1. A large cushion with tenacula (sharp hooks), needles, pins and forceps.
  2. Ligatures (binding materials) of every variety, well arranged.
  3. Adhesive straps, well made and not requiring heating, but if they should, let chafing dishes be at hand.
  4. Lint, compresses, flannel and calico bandages, double and single headed rollers, tow, cereate spread on lint.  Let there be no want of sponges, so that when the surgeon calls for a sponge, you have not to seek it among the patient’s clothes.  When a sponge falls among the sand, let it be not necessary to touch the wound with it.
  5. Wine and water and hartshorn (ammonia solution used as smelling salts).
  6. A kettle of hot water, a stoup (flagon) of cold water, basins, bucket, plenty of towels, apron and sleeves.”

Photograph of Sir Charles Bell

Above: Scottish Dr. Charles Bell (1774 – 1842)

 

On the wall are two inscriptions:

 

Miseratione non Mercede (Latin for “For compassion, not for gain“)

 

The other sets out the Regulations for the Theatre as approved by the Hospital’s surgeons:

Apprentices and the dressers of the surgeon who operates are to stand around the table.

The dressers of the other surgeons are to occupy the three front rows.

The surgeon’s pupils are to take their places in the rows above.

Visitors are admitted by permission of the surgeon who operates.

 

The blackboard is a reminder of the Theatre’s use for lectures as a report in The Lancet of November 1923 records:

25 November 1923:  At half past one this day, the following clinical remarks were delivered by Mr. Travers, in the female operating theatre, in reference more particularly to the case of compound fracture….

 

The operating table is made of Scots pine, has four stout legs, and at 60 cm high is low by modern standards.

It has an inclined headboard and a long wooden slide extension at the foot end.

The table stands with the foot end towards the audience.

Beneath the table is the aforementioned wooden box of sawdust.

Distinguished visitors (generally foreign professors) were given seats on chairs, stools or a bench at the foot of the table.

The two small side tables held instruments and equipment.

The cupboard contained the instruments, dressing materials and lotions.

There is a wash stand, also of Scots pine, holding a small basin and ewer of blue and white china.

Above this is a tiny looking glass and a row of pegs from which hang the purple frock coats with grocer’s bib and apron.

A low sturdy wooden chair is used by the surgeon chiefly for cases of piles (hemorrhoids) and leg amputations.

 

The Museum also contains a collection of artefacts revealing the horrors of medicine before the age of science, including instruments for cupping (skin sunction), bloodletting, trepanning (drilling a circular hole in the skull) and childbirth.

There are also displays on monastic health care, the history of St. Thomas’s, Florence Nightingale and nursing, medical and herbal medicine.

 

Once upon a time body snatchers stole corpses so doctors could practice their skills and students learn anatomy.

Once upon a time doctors created more corpses and snatched lives from bodies than surviving patients.

Now doctors snatch many bodies from the jaws of death and generally make them whole.

 

Without Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, ancient Greek and Islamic medicine….

Without the trials and errors of dissection and pathological examinations….

Without the development of cell and neuron and molecular theory….

We would not have evolved to the discoveries and understanding of the body that we as a civilization now possess.

Without an understanding of blood circulation, the evolution of dealing with mental illness, the discovery of germs and the dangers of insects, the founding of the talking cures of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, the study of hormones and immunology, the genetic revelation of genes and genomes, could we have a fighting chance in understanding health and disease in the manner that we do.

Without the stethoscope, the microscope, the hypodermic syringe, the thermometer, x-rays and radiotherapy, the sphygmomanometer (blood pressure measurement), the defibrillator, lasers, the endoscope, ultrasound and CT (computerized tomographic) scanning, MRI (magnetic resonance Imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography), the incubator and medical robots, we would lack the tools that doctors need to heal us and prolong our lives.

Mankind has survived the plague, typhus, cholera, puerperal fever, tuberculosis, influenza, smallpox, polio, cancer and AIDS, and thanks to great discoveries in medicine, though the battle against these scourges remains inconclusive, we still have a greater opportunity to overcome than prior generations had.

Opium provides pleasure and pain relief, quinine treats malaria, digitalis is a tonic for the heart, penicillin cures syphilis and gangrene, the birth control pill offers a woman freedom, drugs for the mind ease mental suffering, ventolin helps us breathe easier, Insulin aids the diabetic, dialysis cleans the kidney, statins lower our cholesterol and vitamins compensate for whatever our diets may lack.

Wounds are properly dressed, anaesthesia makes surgery painless, operations are clean, blood is transfused, exploration of the brain is possible, eyesight can be restored, mothers are less likely to die giving birth, hearts can be healed, organs transplanted, hips replaced and scars reduced by less invasive keyhole methods.

 

Truly, compared to the past, we live in an age of miracles.

 

Sometimes we take modern medicine for granted.

Stand in the middle of the Old Operating Theatre and be reminded how lucky we are to live in this day and age and how far we have travelled to get here.

Above: The Rod of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and Medicine

Sources: Wikipedia / William and Helen Bynum, Great Discoveries in Medicine / The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret Museum Guide / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / http://www.thegarret.org.uk

 

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Land of Confusion

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 April 2018

Of the problems that plague me, one of the biggest is persistence:

The ability to keep on keeping on.

I have to constantly remind and encourage myself that “a professional writer is simply an amateur who didn´t quit”. (Richard Bachman)

With my two blogs – this one and Building Everest – I have to remind myself that I cannot get people interested in what I have to say if I myself am uninterested in what I am saying.

Mount-Everest.jpg

In Building Everest I force myself each day to examine that day and ask myself what was interesting and unique about that day.

With this blog, which has (mostly) evolved into a travel blog in the two years since I´ve started it, I ask myself what was interesting about the places I visited and then I search for the words that will (hopefully) make you interested in (one day) visiting those places I´ve described.

As an English teacher I constantly remind my students that in all communication we must keep in mind one question: WIIFM.

What´s in it for me (the reader or recipient of this communication)?

 

Some places seem to sell themselves.

Seine and Eiffel Tower from Tour Saint Jacques 2013-08.JPG

How many millions of words have been devoted to places like Paris or Venice?

A collage of Venice: at the top left is the Piazza San Marco, followed by a view of the city, then the Grand Canal, and (smaller) the interior of La Fenice and, finally, the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

And rightly so.

Others, especially the less known or least promoted places, need more time and imagination not only to convince you of their merits, gentle reader, but as well to convince me that writing about them is worthy of my time and effort.

 

Both blogs are practice, a honing process, the necessary training ground for developing the skills to becoming a paid published writer.

 

But what´s in it for you, gentle reader?

Two things (I hope).

 

First, I want you to see that you and I are similar in our shared humanity and desire to understand.

In a travel article, one does not burden the reader with prologues such as this one, but immediately hooks the reader into involving him/herself in the middle of the promoted place.

I include these Landschlacht prologues to show the process by which I write this blog and thus hopefully encourage you to share your world and experiences, for I don´t wish to write alone but rather as a voice in a united chorus.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Second, I want you to see what I see.

I not only want you to travel with me on my travels and share my experiences but I want to encourage you to travel and share your experiences and realize that travelling is not only a search to make the exotic seem familiar but as well it is the realization that the everyday familarity that surrounds us where we are is to someone else exotic.

 

I want to take you now, gentle reader, on a journey both in space and time.

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I want you to come with me to a place that has drawn others to it for centuries, a place not so famous in international circles but beloved at least by her countrymen.

And as we travel I want to introduce you to a travel companion on this particular journey, a man confused about who he was and what he wanted – a man much like myself (and perhaps like you yourself) – who possessed a bravery – as uncharacteristic today as it was in his day – to openly express his feelings in a manner so candid that it still continues to shock the reader centuries later.

I want you to imagine him not as buried bones and forgotten words inside dusty tomes but as a living, breathing man walking beside us.

For his thoughts and feelings of yesterday are thoughts and feelings still thought and felt today.

Though time and progress have changed the place he once knew, there is much that remains that he could still relate to.

And much about the place and the man I hope that you can relate to.

Come with us now to Sirmione….

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Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lago di Garda is the largest, cleanest, least scenic, most overdeveloped and most popular of the Italian lakes.

Lying between the Alps and the Po Valley, this 370 square kilometre pool of murky water is firmly on many tour operator schedules.

Garda enjoys mild winters and breezy summers.

The northern sover wind blows down the Lago from midnight through morning.

The southern ova wind breezes up the Lago in the afternoon and evening.

This temperate climate is, these Riviera Bresciana resorts are, invaded by large mobs of package holiday clients and locust-like throngs of Austrians, Germans, Italians and Swiss.

To the north, the Lago is hemmed in by mountain crags and resembles a fjord.

On the most sheltered stretch of the Lago´s western shore lush groves of olives, vines and citrus trees grow, resulting in olive oil, citrus syrups and Bardolino, Soave and Valpolicella wines.

As the Lago broadens towards the south, it takes on the appearance of an inland sea backed by a gentle plain.

The restless winds here have created one of Europe´s best windsurfing sites around Torbole and Malcesine on the eastern shore.

Within easy striking distance of the Milano-Venezia autostrada as well as rail and bus Connections from the main Lombardy towns, the southern shore of Lago di Gardo is particularly well-touristed.

Desenzano del Garda, the Lago´s largest town, is a major rail junction where buses connect with trains and several ferries ply their trade up to the northwest tip of the Lago and the town of Riva del Garda stopping off at other resorts on the way.

Desenzano doesn´t detain the visitor for long, though the lakefront is lined with bars and restaurants, though the castle has spectacular views and the Roman villa  preserves some fine mosaics, the busy road running alongside and the constant traffic on the Lago is an everlasting siren call to leave that few can resist.

So, why linger?

Instead….

 

“Row us out from Desenzano, to your Sirmione, row!

So they rowed and there we landed – O pretty Sirmio!

There to me through all the groves of olive in the summer glow,

There beneath the Roman ruin where the purple flowers grow,

Came that “hail and farewell” of the Poet´s hopeless woe,

Tenderest of Roman poets nineteen hundred years ago,

“Brother, hail and farewell” – as we wandered to and fro

Gazing at the Lydian laughter of the Garda lake below

Sweet Catullus´s all-but-island, olive silvery Sirmio!”

(Alfred Tennyson)

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Above: Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

 

The Roman poet Catullus (87 – 54 BC) celebrated Sirmione, this narrow peninsula jutting out from the southern shore of Lago di Garda, as “the jewel of all islands”, thus his name is constantly invoked in connection with the place.

Above: Bust of Catullus, Piazza Carducci, Sirmione

Starting from the 1st century BC, Sirmione became a favourite resort for rich families coming from Verona, then the main Roman city in northeastern Italy.

Catullus praised the beauties of Sirmione and spoke of a villa he had in the area.

Sirmione remains a popular spot in a beautiful setting suffocated by luxury hotels, souvenir stands and tourists.

Go beyond the town battlements, away from the Rocca Scaliagara, that fairytale turreted fortress.

Escape, flee the throngs.

Walk out beyond the town to the peninsula´s triangular hilly head and lie in the shade of cypress and olive groves.

Linger not long, but pass San Pietro, for church frescoes won´t free you from the folks that follow you in search of food, alcohol, cool water and warm rocks.

Boldly march, tracing the path that runs along the edges of the Peninsula.

Ignore the warning signs of slippery rocks and tumbling landslides and continue up to the gate leading to the Grotte di Catullo, where the locals brag was Catullus´ villa.

It wasn´t.

What this was, what this is,  is the semblance of a Roman spa, white ruins where Romans came to take the waters from the hot sulphur spring that lies 300 metres under the Lago.

The scattered ruins, ageless and beautiful, bake quietly in the sun amongst ancient olive trees.

Fragments of frescoes and superb views of the Lago await the valiant wanderer.

We know from historical records that Catullus did retire to Sirmione, coming all the way from the Black Sea by boat, hauling it overland (!) when necessary so he could sail upon Lago Garda.

But what of the man Catullus and why do the folks of Sirmione insist he not be forgotten, even if his actual villa´s location remains uncertain?

For he was one of the Roman Republic´s greatest poets rivalling his contemporaries Lucretius and Cicero in the creation of a golden age of Latin literature.

 

62 BC, Rome

Quintus Valerius Catullus (22) had come to Rome from Verona, where his father was of sufficient financial and social standing to be frequent host to Julius Caesar himself.

Quintus himself owned villas near Tibur and on Lake Garda and had an elegant house in Roma.

Catullus speaks of these properties as choked with mortgages and repeatedly pleads his poverty, but the picture preserved of him by posterity through his poetry is that of a polished man of the world who did not bother to earn a living but enjoyed himself as a bon vivant among the wild set of the capital.

Despite his father´s friendship with Caesar, or because of this, Catullus – a familiar amongst Rome´s keenest wits and cleverest orators and politicians – opposed Caesar with every epigram at his disposal, unaware that his literary revolt reflected the revolutionary times in which he lived.

Catullus had tired of the old forms of Latin literature.

He wanted to sing the sentiments of his youth in new and imaginative ways.

Catullus was resentful of old morals perpetually preached by exhausted elders.

He announced the sanctity of instinct, the innocence of desire and the grandeur of dissipation.

He found life, love and literature revolved around every woman, married or not, who inspired him with comfortably casual love.

Catullus cultivated his friendship with the liveliest woman in his privileged circle, Clodia, whom he named Lesbia in memory of the Greek poetess Sappho of Lesbos whose works he translated, imitated and loved.

Above: Catullus at Lesbia´s, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Quintus was fascinated by Clodia the moment she “set her shining foot on the well-worn threshold”.

She was his “lustrous goddess of the delicate step”.

Her walk, like her voice, was sufficient seduction for any man.

Clodia accepted Quintus graciously as one of her admirers and the enraptured poet, unable to match otherwise the gifts of his rivals, laid at her feet the most beautiful lyrics ever produced in Latin.

A lover´s frenzy raged within him….

“Sparrow, delight of my beloved.

Who plays with you and holds you to her breast?

Who offers her forefinger to your seeking

And tempts your sharp bite?

I know not what dear jest it pleases my shining one

To make of my desire!”

Quintus was consumed with happiness, paid attendance upon her daily, read his poems to her, forgot everything but his infatuation….

History does not record how long this ecstasy lasted, but she who had betrayed her husband for Quintus found it a relief to betray him for another.

Quintus madly envisioned her “embracing at once 300 adulterers.”

In the very heat of his love he came to hate her and rejected her protestations of fidelity:

“A woman´s words to hungry lover said

Should be upon the flowing winds inscribed,

Upon swift streams engraved.”

When sharp doubt became dull certainty his passion turned to bitterness and coarse revenge.

He accused her of yielding to tavern habitués, denounced her new lovers with obscene abandon and meditated suicide, poetically.

But Quintus was capable of more nobler feelings.

He addressed to his friend Manlius a touching wedding song, envying him the wholesome companionship of marriage, the security and stability of a home and the happy tribulations of parentage.

Quintus travelled to Bithyia (Black Sea coastal Turkey) to find the grave of a brother.

Over it he performed reverently the ancestral burial rites and soon afterward he composed tender lines….

“Dear brother, through many states and seas

Have I come to this sorrowful sacrifice,

Bringing you the last gift for the dead.

Accept these offerings wet with fraternal tears,

And forever, brother, hail and farewell.”

His time in Turkey changed and softened Catullus.

The skeptic who had written of death as “the sleep of an eternal night” was moved by the old religions and ceremonies of the East.

In a small yacht bought at Amastria (Amasra), Quintus sailed through the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Adriatic, up the Po Valley to Lago Garda and his villa at Sirmio (Sirmione).

“Oh, what happier way is there to escape the cares of the world than to return to our own homes and altars and rest on our own beloved bed?”

 

Men begin by seeking happiness and are content at last with peace.

 

Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

Our bed and breakfast accommodation, adequate though not overly attractive – (much as women describe me these days!) – lay three kilometres from the centre of Sirmione.

As the B & B was destined to be beyond bus line access and my wife determined to save costs by our not employing taxis our three-day/two-night sojourn in Sirmione meant one hour´s walk between the B & B and the city centre.

We who had been driving everywhere that past week found ourselves wearily trudging back and forth alongside busy boulevards lined much like North American City access ways with anonymous forgettable shopping malls and restaurants forever ignored by the Michelin Guide.

Concrete under our feet, the lakeshore invisible and unattainable, carbon monoxide replacing sea breeze and breath.

Still we made the best of the Sirmione experience that we could.

We ate expansively, drank copiously, swam gloriously in the Lago and in the pools of the Terme di Sirmione spa and bathed ourselves in the warm Italian sun on unforgiving rocks.

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We walked about Roman ruins searching for an ever-elusive emotional link with the ancient past.

 

One should not go to Sirmione in search of happiness but one can find contentment here.

Other English speakers did.

 

The Greek American soprano Maria Callas (1923 – 1977) had, like Catullus centuries before, a villa here.

Above: Maria Callas

The English writer Naomi “Micky” Jacob (1884 – 1964) moved to Sirmione because the weather was kinder to her tuberculosis-stricken lungs.

She was well-known in the town and her home was known as Casa Micky.

Micky wrote more than 40 novels and nearly a dozen autobiographies.

Her novels, best described as romantic fiction, tackled the problems of prejudice against Jews, domestic violence and the political consequences of pogroms in the 19th century.

Although not well-known nowadays, in her day Micky was a well-loved and much respected figure.

She, like Catullus´ poetic inspiration Sapphos, had intimate relationships with other women that were an open secret but never publicly disclosed during her lifetime.

She never gave up her home in Sirmione and died there in 1964.

 

Charles Schulz, the American creator of the famous Peanuts cartoons, on his way to Venice with his family lingered in Sirmione for a week in the 1950s.

He left against his heart describing Sirmione as “extraordinary”.

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Above: Charles Schulz (1922 – 2000)

 

The Pace (pah-chay) Hotel in Sirmione occupies a building with a particularly significant history – the union of an old hotel (Hotel Eden) and the Santa Coruna religious institute for children with heart problems or for persons suffering from nervous complaints.

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At a time when medicine wasn´t particularly evolved, the Lago di Garda was believed to infuse tranquillity and aid convalescence and healing.

Of the many visitors the Pace has hosted, including the aforementioned Charles Schulz, Catullus probably would have most connected with the American poet Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972).

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Above: Ezra Pound

Like Pound, Catullus loved and hated in equal measures of extreme intensity, was capable of generous feeling, was unpleasantly self-centred, deliberately obscene and merciless to his enemies.

Both men danced poetically between love and lust, kisses and kaka, a mix of primitive coarseness with civilized refinement.

Their lines are salted with dirt to give literature taste.

Time magazine in 1933 described Pound as “a cat that walks by himself, tenaciously unhousebroken and very unsafe for children”.

 

During the winter of 1913 Ezra Pound was in Sussex (England) with William Butler Yeats, acting as the elder poet´s secretary.

Above: William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

Temporarily free of the rush of London, each was assessing the other´s work and laying out new directions.

When Pound had almost completed an anthology of new poets, he asked Yeats if there was anyone he had forgotten to include.

Yeats recalled a young Irish writer named James Joyce who had written some polished lyric poems.

Portrait of James Joyce

Above: James Joyce (1882 – 1941)

One of them had stuck in Yeats´ mind.

Joyce was living in Trieste.

Why not write to him?

Pound wrote Joyce at once.

He explained his literary connections and offered help in getting Joyce published.

A few days later Yeats found Joyce´s “I Hear an Army Charging upon the Land” and Pound wrote again to ask Joyce if he could use the poem in his anthology.

Joyce, who had been on the Continent for nearly ten years, cut off from his nation and his language and so far all but unpublished, was surprised and encouraged.

He gave Pound permission to use the poem and a few days later sent a typescript of his book of short stories Dubliners and a chapter of a new novel called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, along with news that he would soon have a play ready.

A prolonged correspondence began, which grew into a long-standing friendship.

Because of World War I, the two innovators of modern fiction and poetry would not meet until June 1920, when Pound persuaded Joyce to come to Sirmione.

If seen through Pound´s eyes, one wonders if the men were satisfied with the results of their meeting….

 

2 June 1920, Sirmione

“In vainest of exasperation

Mr. P passed his vacation.

The cause of his visit

To the Eyetaliann cities

Was blocked, by a wreck, at the station.”

 

“A bard once in landlocked Sirmione

Lived in peace, eating locusts and honey

Till a son of a bitch

Left him dry on the beach

Without clothes, boots, time, quiet or money.”

 

Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

I think much about Pound and Catullus during our long walks to and fro between B & B and town.

I think about how both men resolved in their lifetimes to know more about poetry than any man living.

I think about how both men were really at heart very boyish fellows and incurable provincials, both driven by a thirst for romance and colour, who stumbled magnificently in their individual follies at great cost to themselves.

 

I think about how Clodia, Catullus´ lover, epitomizes today´s modern woman in her determination to lead her own life as she chose, free to love and be loved by whomsoever she desired, a woman who lived and loved with irresistable grace and whose greatest sin was not adultery or lechery as it was her underestimation of the effects that lovers wronged could enact upon her.

 

A woman´s body and soul are hers to decide how they are to be shared.

It is the dimmest of hopes that a mere man is worthy of being her sole obsession throughout her lifetime.

 

I think of how the love of a woman (19) caused Ezra Pound (58) to walk from Verona to the town of Gais, Switzerland, a distance of over 450 miles.

He was so dirty and tired when he arrived that his girlfriend Mary almost failed to recognize him.

The lengths that love drives a man….

 

I think of the lengths my own personal Lesbia has driven me over the past two decades, including the three-kilometre concrete trudge twice a day.

Perhaps marriage is a lot like Sirmione.

One might not always be made happy here, but one is usually contented.

Sources: Wikipedia / Will Durant, Caesar and Christ / Reay Tannahill, Sex in History / The Pace Hotel, Sirmione / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Museum of Many

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 January 2018

It is easy to criticize, easy to destroy and belittle the efforts of others.

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Above: The very critical and much criticized President Donald Trump

 

But sometimes criticism is unavoidable.

 

I have had colleagues at work who have gone both directions when it comes to negativity and praise.

 

One colleague will hide her light under a blanket, not reminding others enough about her significant accomplishments and good work.

She needs to make sure that the people who count – those with whom she works, those who make decisions, those who have influence on her career – are aware of her accomplishments and contributions.

She is amazingly generous about giving others their due when they deserve it, but I feel she neglects to include herself as meriting praise in the team´s success.

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Above: Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910 – 1997)

 

Another colleague can sink a ship with her constant barrage of complaints, negativity and whining about what´s wrong with everyone and everything.

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Above: The RMS Titanic leaving Southampton, 10 April 1912

For her, the glass is always half empty.

Upon arrival at the Pearly Gates, she will invariably ask St. Peter:

“Is that it?”

For her, the worst is about to happen.

She can spot the negative and bad in most everyone at a distance of a thousand paces.

She is Vampirella without the sex appeal, draining energy rather than blood.

Vampirella reclining. She has dark black hair, red lips, and is wearing her red sling suit costume and black high heel boots

And there is not a whole hell of a lot a person can do about her.

She is genetically predisposed to her way of thinking, so she is avoided whenever possible.

 

A tourist attraction gets both types of these visitors:

Those inclined to see the best in the place, not realizing that it is their attitude that influences their positive opinion of the place.

And there is the type who will find negative in the place no matter what.

In this blog, which has become over time a series of travelogues and essays, I am trying to find a balance between these two extremes.

I will try not to wax too poetically about a place, unless it truly is a wonder of wonders that one must see before “kicking the bucket”.

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By the same token I am trying consciously not to let the negative experience I might have had, often through no fault of the place´s own, keep me from seeing the positive aspects of the places I have visited.

 

London, England, 25 October 2018

Take my wife.

Please!

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Above: Comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921 – 2004)

She is a lovely woman but she has special ways about her that make each travel experience with her an adventure.

Her Swabian soul (think of a German version of a Scot´s stereotypical thriftiness) was working overtime on our week´s sojourn in London.

We only had a week and, by God and all the saints and apostles, we were going to see EVERYTHING.

She bought us London Passes and, by God and all the saints and apostles, we were going to use them efficiently.

The London Pass

As she had less time for sightseeing than I did, because her reason for visiting London was to attend an international doctors symposium, she was stressed, grim and determined for us to be the ultimate tourists.

Running, not walking, between attractions.

Viewing museum exhibits without reading their descriptions, unless the museum particularly interested her.

In marrying her I sowed the winds of change.

And as a result there are many times I am swept away by the whirlwind that is my wife.

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Today we visited the Museum of London akin to the way a tornado visits a town: without lingering long in any location, choosing our own path and method of passing through.

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She Who Must Be Obeyed hated it.

I still reserve judgment.

 

The neighbourhood of the Museum is, at first glance, brutal, concrete, unwelcoming.

The city´s only large residential complex is a maze built upon a bombed borough, a labyrithine dystopia of listless pedestrian paths and anonymous apartments straitjacketed by three 400-foot towers.

Barbican Towers

To appreciate this section of city known as the Barbican, one must ignore first impressions of promethian prison and imagine instead that beyond the boundaries of natural hesitation lies a land of soft sensitivity and cool cultural crossways.

Here is an amazing arts centre set along side an artificial oblong lake within and home to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

guildhall school in text

Here be bars, cafés and restaurants.

The Barbican complex is indistinguishable for most folks from the Barbican Centre, whose seven floors feature a concert hall, two theatres, three cinemas, a rooftop garden and an art gallery.

The Barbican Centre is home to one of the top venues in London for jazz, classical and world music and, surprisingly, one of the most affordable (by London standards) places in the city for quality theatre and dance.

The Barbican.jpg

As well as being a champion of young and new artists, playwrights, performers and filmmakers, the Barbican Centre is home to the London Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as one of the largest public libraries in London.

The Barbican Centre has plenty of places to eat and drink.

There are art and design shops and, unexpectedly, a giant conservatory teeming with tropical flora.

 

Here in the Barbican are two of the most neglected spots in London.

 

The church of St. Giles Cripplegate is the Barbican´s solitary prewar building.

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Above: St. Giles-without-Cripplegate Church

A heavily restored early Tudor church, St. Giles is bracketed between a pair of artificial lakes and overlooks an impressive corner bastion of an old Roman fort.

It was here in St. Giles that Oliver Cromwell was married in 1620.

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Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658)

It was here in St. Giles that the poet John Milton was buried in 1674, then unburied in 1793.

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Above: John Milton (1608 – 1674)

His teeth were knocked out as souvenirs and his corpse exhibited to the public until the idea of a putrifying poet no longer appealed.

 

Opposite the former General Post Office, south of the Museum, lies Postman´s Park, one of the most curious and least-visited corners of the city.

Circle of green grass about 10 yards in diameter, with a roughly 3 yard brown central area containing low bushes. Outward-facing park benches are at the circle's rim, and a multistorey brick building with an awning is in the background, across a sidewalk.

Above: Postman´s Park

Here, in 1900, in the churchyard of St. Botolph Aldersgate, the painter and scupltor George Frederick Watts paid for a national memorial to “heroes of everyday life”, a patchwork wall of majolica tiles protected by a canopy and inscribed with the names of common folk who died in the course of some act of uncommon bravery.

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Above: George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904)

It is the classic Victorian morbid sentimental fascination with death.

It is macabre masterpiece literature.

“Drowned in attempting to save his brother after he himself had just been rescued….”

“Saved a lunatic woman from suicide at Woolwich Arsenal Station, but was himself run over by the train….”

Edgar Allan Poe would have loved and Stephan King would love this place.

Flowerbeds and crowded benches stand in front of a long dark wooden structure. On the wall of the wooden structure, parallel rows of pale tiles are visible.

Above: The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, Postman´s Park

 

Hidden in the southwestern corner of the Barbican is the Museum of London, whose permanent galleries are meant to be an educational excursion through London´s past from prehistory to present, as seen through archeological artifacts and massive scale models.

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The Museum was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 2 December 1976, as the first new museum building to open in London since the end of the Second World War.

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Above: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Museum tries to tell the story of London´s development as a city over hundreds of thousands of years: from stone age settlements in the Thames Valley, through the founding of Londinium by the Roman army, to the great world city that London is today.

I use the word “tries” deliberately, because the Museum is a victim of its own success.

It attracted 370,000 visitors in its first six months and has attracted millions since then.

Above: Christopher Le Brun´s Union (Horse with two discs), Museum entry

It has acquired a reputation for excellence as a museum that sees itself as “not simply of or about London, but also for London” and thus seems to encompass a tourist population the size of London that visit it.

The Museum´s mission is to play a part in the lives of all Londoners, to inspire a passion for London, but it is hard to feel passionate about the history of London when half of London congregates within the Museum.

 

The Museum attempts to answer the questions:

How did London come to be such an extraordinary place?

 

(Which begs the unasked question:

What exactly is ordinary and extraordinary?

Can a place be either/both?)

 

Who were the Londoners who lived here in the past?

What does the future hold?

 

The Museum has around one million items in its core collection, plus an additional six million “finds”.

It holds 25,000 items of clothing and fashion, 100,000 paintings, prints and photographs, 17,000 excavated skeletons, 50,000 prehistoric and Roman objects, 50,000 objects from Tudor and Stuart London, 110,000 objects from modern London, 1,800 life stories from individual Londoners, half a million historic documents and a growing collection of items from the yet-unfinished 21st century.

 

Imagine if you will herds of mammoths here where crowds now gather.

Or see if you can a Londinium that boasts a thriving Roman port, a large forum and basilica, public baths, barracks, amphitheatre and temples.

Then imagine a battleground where one civilization replaces another to be itself subseded by yet another: Angles and Saxons, Vikings and Normans, the splendour, hustle and bustle of medieval times with merchants and craftsmen….

Imagine a city that survives the Black Death, Civil War, a Great Fire, the Blitz.

A city where once walked Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare, where a King was publicly executed.

Imagine a city that grows from being the capital of a country to become the centre of an empire.

A busy chaotic place filled with both amusement and hardship, fabulous fortunes and pathetic poverty….

Stroll down the Victorian Walk with the look and feel of London in the year 1900.

The shop fronts, fixtures and fittings are all original.

Peek through the windows of the tobacconist, the barber´s, the chemist´s, the tailor´s, the pawnbroker´s….

See a city that has seen overcrowding and lack of sanitation, failing health and lack of housing.

Where customs changed as technology developed….

Electricity, telephones, motor vehicles and moving pictures that heralded modern times….

 

And what of the future?

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Above: The Shard, London

How can the city reduce its carbon footprint?

Where will the jobs of the future come from?

Should London build higher skyscrapers or deeper Tube lines?

 

The Museum of London could be a great place.

But the Museum suffers from an overabundance of overabundance.

Too many artifacts, too many stories, too many visitors, too much of too much.

The screaming children, the harried parents, a warehouse of the walking weary….

A Museum with a too well-worn welcome mat….

A Museum that one regrets visiting, because one cannot linger undisturbed to absorb all that one sees, because the mass and mob make tranquil contemplation and progressive study of all that can be seen damned difficult and downright discouraging.

And it was this Museum, this overabundance of overabundance, this overwhelming overgrowth, that made me see the Museum as the actual model of what London means to me.

Too much and too many.

I could never live in London, though visiting it from time to time is a pleasant idea.

London is too crowded, too complex and complicated for a wee lad such as I am who came from a wee village and lives in another wee village today.

London is too expensive and expansive.

It is as unnerving as the Museum that exhibits it.

The Museum tries to be everything to everyone but it is everyone that diminished everything the Museum has tried to accomplish.

I don´t belong in London.

Take me home, rural routes, to the place where I do belong.

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Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / The Museum of London

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Company Town

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 December 2017

Soon I will attempt to go back to work.

Bildergebnis für memes about work

I have spent the last two weeks suffering from an extremely durable and nasty viral infection, aka the Man Cold, but finally I believe my return back to work on Monday will be successful.

I have remained indoors, have plied my body with all the medicine – placebos or not – I could, and have slept as much as my body has allowed.

I tried working last Sunday and suffice to say I was unsuccessful at keeping what should remain inside the body from coming out.

More detail is neither necessary nor desireable.

I have missed working.

The contact with others, the employment of my days in an useful effort, the desire to achieve as much as possible not only to the benefit of an employer but as well proof that I can be worthy of a paycheque….

I sincerely doubt that I will be singing a chorus of “Thank God It´s Monday” anytime soon, but I was never meant to spend my days and nights lying in bed or sprawling on a couch for too long a period of time.

Bildergebnis für meme couch potato

Though I am gifted with a partner who makes a significant income, I still want to feel that my contribution to the household collective is at least appreciated.

As regular readers (both of them) of my blog know, I am a man of two paid professions….

I am a freelance teacher and a part time Starbucks barista.

Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

And though the former position lacks job security and the latter lacks a vast salary, I am quite content to do both these jobs to the best of my limited ability.

I am happy to have employment, for I am no longer as young as I once was and ageism is truly a problem in Switzerland, especially for those with limited skills or limited qualifications.

Flag of Switzerland

I have thought about perhaps investigating other lines of work outside of gastronomy and teaching.

I don´t have to spend eight hours a day washing dishes or stripping fruit off an orchard.

If sufficiently motivated I could make my own opportunities and go in business for myself.

If I could find within myself the initiative, the determination, the creativity needed and could identify a popular need and exploit it….

Well, who knows what I could accomplish?

Perhaps with my travelling experience and wanderlust I could learn what items can be bought cheaply in one country and be sold profitably in another.

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(Kinder eggs, because of the surprise within could injure a child if swallowed, are forbidden in the US.)

Or I could go to a place where crowds gather and offer them something that they desire: beer on the beach, warm cocoa for the ski slopes, (real) eggs for a political protest!

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I have often considered travel writing for money, but I confess I desire a bit more financial security in the marital bank account before boldly going where no one has gone before and writing about it.

I am a talented singer, a legend in my own mind, but busking requires a kind of foolhardy courage that I lack.

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Working for others in business and industry, though it shall never make me rich (unless I work on Wall Street – slim chance of that) does offer a steady income while a contract lasts.

My friends in Australia, highly skilled and talented individuals, have considered working for a company town, a town that operates oil rigs or deep mines way off in some remote area of Oz.

A blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist quarter, a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter, and constellation of five white stars in the fly – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.

Their idea is not novel and I have heard of towns owned and operated by just one industrial organization, like Fort McMurray in Alberta.

But it wasn´t until this past summer I finally encountered a company town….

 

Crespi d´Adda, Italy, 4 August 2017

English language guidebooks often fail us when we travel the world, so, when we can, we also travel with French and German language guidebooks that often show us places that the Anglos fail to mention.

Beate Giacovelli´s 111 Orte am Comer See die man gesehen haben muss (111 places everyone must see at the Lake of Como) mentions this town as an UNESCO site worth a detour.

Now UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is, at present, quite a controversial topic for Americans at present.

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Based in Paris, UNESCO´s declared purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law and human rights along with the fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.

Above: The Garden of Peace, UNESCO Headquarters, Paris

UNESCO has 195 member states, which now no longer includes the United States.

Above: UNESCO member states (green)

UNESCO pursues its objectives through five major programs: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture and the communication of information.

UNESCO´s aim is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture and communication.

The United States and its present Administration have a tendency to pass laws and apply – or not apply – these laws whenever it suits America´s political interests.

Flag of the United States

Laws passed in Congress in 1990 and 1994 state that the United States cannot contribute financially to any United Nations organization that accepts Palestine as a full member.

UNESCO hasn´t.

Palestine has observer status only.

As a result the United States, under the Trump Administration, accusing the UN of having a bias against Israel and a favouritism towards Palestine, has decided to withdraw from being a member of UNESCO.

Certainly the fact that the United States owes the United Nations over 250 million dollars has no little part to play in this decision.

Flag of the United Nations

The State Department has suggested that the United Nations should be reformed and politics kept out of UNESCO, condemning, for example, the acceptance of Hebron and Jericho as World Heritage Sites because they lie within Palestinian territories.

Above: Jericho

There are, at last count prior to 2017, 1,052 World Heritage Sites around the globe in 165 countries.

814 are cultural sites that have historical or anthropological value.

203 are natural sites that include habitats for threatened species.

35 are a mixture of both cultural and natural.

229 of UNESCO sites have been identified by the World Wildlife Federation as significant for their natural value.

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114 of these are threatened by industrial development, such as illegal logging, mining and petroleum production.

55 of these are listed as being in critical danger, some of them due to military conflicts.

For example, all six of Syria´s World Heritage Sites have been damaged or destroyed in the ongoing Syrian Civil War and the concurrent struggle against ISIS.

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Above: Flag of Syria

Making a place a World Heritage Site does bring attention and pressure to governments to protect the area, but this same publicity can also cause an upswing in tourism leading to further degradation of a location.

To be selected, a World Heritage Site must be an already classified landmark, unique in some respect as a geographically and historically identifiable place having special cultural or physical significance (such as an ancient ruin or historical structure, building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, mountain or wilderness area).

The Site may signify a remarkable accomplishment of humanity and serve as evidence of our intellectual history on the planet.

The Sites are intended for practical conservation for posterity, which otherwise would be subject to risk from human or animal trespassing, unmonitored/uncontrolled/unrestricted access or threat from local administrative negligence.

Sites are designated by UNESCO as protected zones.

The six cultural criteria to qualify as a World Heritage Site – each Site must meet at least one of the criteria – are:

  1. The site must represent a masterpiece of human creative genius and cultural significance.
  2. The site must exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town planning, or landscape design.
  3. The site must bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.
  4. The site must be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
  5. The site must be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land use or sea use which is representative of a culture or human interaction with the environment.
  6. The site must be directly or tangibly associated with Events or living traditions, with ideas, with beliefs, or with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.

The UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site means that culturally sensitive sites are legally protected under the Geneva Convention which determines how war is to be conducted.

It is against the Geneva Convention to commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural heritage of peoples.

It is illegal to use these sites in support of a military effort.

It is against international law to make these sites the object of reprisals or revenge.

Of all the UNESCO member countries Italy has the most World Heritage Sites: 51.

Crespi d´Adda, in the municipality of Capriate San Gervasio, in Bergamo province, 30 kilometres directly south of Lecco, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.

The town's company-built school, church and employee houses

Crespi d´Adda is an outstanding example of a 19th/early 20th century company town built in Europe and North America by enlightened industrialists to meet the workers´ needs.

Villagio Crespi, described as “an architectural jewel” and “the ideal worker´s town”, can be reached from the A4 Torino-Trieste motorway, taking the Capriate exit.

The nearest parking area, after the motorway bridge, is near the cemetery of Capriate San Gervasio.

Upon leaving your vehicle, get ready to take a step back in time.

The town is a pedestrians only zone.

Set your time machine to 1877, the year Crespi d´Adda was founded.

This excellent example of a company town is nearly intact, as though it has always been preserved under glass inside a museum.

Cristoforo Crespi, a textile entrepreneur from Busto Arsizio with a brilliant vision and a strong will, founded this village.

Above: Bust of Cristoforo Crespi (1833 – 1920), Crespi d´Adda

After several years of searching without success, Crespi found this desolate and untamed area near the Adda River and decided to build his cotton mill here.

Above: The cotton mill, Crespi d´Adda

The Adda provided the water necessary to produce energy for the plant and the nearby towns provided an abundant labour force.

In 1877 the creation of the town began.

The river was diverted, a turbine plant constructed, a spinning department built, 5,000 spindles installed, residences for the workers built, and important services (cafeteria, cemetery, clinic, hotel, school, shops and theatre) provided.

Above: Village school, Crespi d´Adda

Above: The church of Crespi d´Adda

Above: The Cooperativa di Consumo store, Crespi d´Adda

The village of Crespi d´Adda was the first village in Italy to have modern public lighting.

Production in the factory began on 25 July 1878.

The factory quickly expanded and in 1886 the first workers´ houses were built.

In 1889, Cristoforo Crespi´s son Silvio became manager of the cotton mill.

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Above: Silvio Crespi (1862 – 1944)

With the support of renowned architects and engineers, Silvio designed the village according to a symmetrical layout, creating different zones dedicated to production, family life and community life.

Crespi d´Adda in its day represented new trends in social thinking and scientific advancement.

Silvio rejected the idea of large multiple occupancy blocks in favour of single family homes, each with its own garden.

Above: A factory worker´s house with garden

Silvio saw gardens as conducive to harmony and a defence against industrial strife.

His policy worked.

In the fifty years of Crespi management there was no strike or any other form of social disorder within the village.

The workers´ houses are lined up along parallel roads to the east of the factory.

A tree-lined avenue separates the production zone from the houses, overlooking a chessboard road plan.

The village´s fortunes depended entirely on the factory.

The worker´s lives were inextricably bound to the Crespi family who provided services and assistance.

Therefore, right from the start, the organization was rigid, both inside and outside the factory.

With various peaks and valleys, the village continued to thrive until the end of the 1920s, but political changes (the rise of fascism), new industry trends and the Great Economic Crash of 1929 brought the Crespi family to the verge of collapse.

In the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, the Crespi family sold the village.

Other managers took over while other changes and opportunities altered the social and economic fabric of the village.

In 2003 the factory closed.

No more smoke emerges from the tall chimney stack that dominates the town.

Today the village is inhabited by a community descended from the original 3,200 workers.

Here the visitor can wander the streets of Crespi d´Adda and see the residential houses, the management villa-castle, the doctor´s house and the priest´s house, the church and the washhouse, the recreational club and the hotel, the school and the hospital, the public bath and the cemetery.

Above: Crespi Castle, Crespi d´Adda

Above: The wash house, Crespi d´Adda

Crespi d´Adda is open during the work week from 0900 to 1230 and on the weekend from 1000 to 1230 during the months of July and August.

Multilingual tours are available if prebooked before arriving on site.

Crespi d´Adda, a model village, a self-contained community, a company town, is not unique in Europe.

The concept of a model village was first developed in England, where at least 29 villages of a similar design once existed.

Six could be found in Ireland, one in Scotland and two in Wales.

On the Continent, the Stadt des KdF-Wagens near Wolfsburg was built for the Volkswagen factory.

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Spain has the model town of Nuevo Baztan outside of Madrid.

Faraway New Zealand´s South Island has Barrhill.

Americans certainly will recognize the idea of company towns for it possesses one of the world´s oldest: Summit Hill, Pennsylvania, built and operated by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company (1818 – 1964).

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Above: West Hazard Street, Summit Hill, Pennsylvania

Traditional settings for company towns have often been where extractive industries such as coal, metal mines and lumber had established a monopoly.

In the former Soviet Union there were several cities (atomgrads) of nuclear scientists (atomicals), particularly in the Ukraine.

Above: Former Soviet atomgrad Krasnokamianka, Ukraine

Catalonia has a high density of company towns, known locally as industrial colonies.

These one hundred industrial colonies are small towns created around a factory, built in a rural area and therefore separate from any other population.

Each colony typically houses between 100 and 500 inhabitants.

At their peak there were over 2,500 company towns in the United States, housing 3% of the American population.

The French city of Le Creusot, the German cities of Ludwigshafen, Wolfsburg and Leverkusen and the Japanese city of Kitakyushu are all company towns.

Similar to Crespi d´Adda, Derwent Valley Mills in Derbyshire, England, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Above: Arkwright Masson Mills, Derwent Valley, Derbyshire, England

The wife and I wandered the streets of Crespi d´Adda by ourselves.

No one on the roads, no visitors at the visitors centre, the restaurant´s only guests doubled by our arrival.

The buildings were locked, the locals away working in other towns and cities.

No babies cried, no children played in the streets, no animals crossed our path, no birds sang.

It was eerie, almost spooky, as if we were participating in some nightmarish scenario from the Twilight Zone TV series.

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The town was empty and silent.

No one moved in it.

No lights on in the houses, no phones rang, no doors opened.

Beds empty and cold, no water running, only the barely perceptible hum of electricity in wires above our heads.

The cemetery was only different from the village in that the resulting silence was explainable by the lack of the living.

Above: Cemetery of Crespi d´Adda

A town where residents remained from cradle to grave now lies barren and bare, devoid of delight, empty of enthusiasm, yet not collapsing from neglect.

No houses are in need of repair, no weeds grow in sidewalk cracks, all is aligned as perfect as a picture.

It was a Friday, a workday.

Does the village resurrect itself on the weekend?

Do the residents hide themselves during visiting times only coming out when everyone else has left?

I am not sure.

We arrived when the village officially opened for the day and left when it closed.

The day was hot and humid.

I am reminded of the band America´s song “A Horse with No Name”:

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On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound…..

After nine days I let the horse run free
‘Cause the desert had turned to sea
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The ocean is a desert with its life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love

And that was what Crespi d´Adda seems to have lost: a sense of love.

The visitor is a spectre, a ghost, a mere footfall.

Crespi d´Adda is well preserved.

Its impact is its silence.

I wonder if Crespi d´Adda will ever go back to work.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Beate Giacovelli, 111 Orte am Comer See die man gesehen haben muss / http://www.crespidaddaunesco.org

 

Canada Slim and the Right Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 December 2017

Is there such a thing as an indispensable man?

This is a question I have often asked myself when considering both my life and the lives of the famous.

I ask myself this question recently as I am, once again, forced to remain at home in bed with, yet another cold that has made both barista work and teaching impractical as I have been reduced to a coughing, sneezing, aching, quivering jellyfish of a man unfit and undesirable for public encounters.

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My voice sounds tortured and hoarse as if it is painfully emerging from a long tunnel.

My appearance is akin to a homeless street person and our apartment reflects this.

The wife mocks the man cold, but hers is a gender that endures menstruation on a monthly basis and usually survives the incredible ordeal of child birth with little hesitation to repeat or memory of the event.

Bildergebnis für man cold meme

Hers is a mind of multiplicity handling every moment and memory simultaneously, while my mind is a series of boxes which are opened only one at a time, so when illness strikes all my focus is upon how truly horrid I feel.

A woman with a cold is simply a woman with yet another complication in her life, for she will incorporate the cold as part of life´s burdens she must bear and will further complicate her life with tortured emotions about the selfishness of her having a cold keeping her from doing her other duties.

A man, though he is aware of the selfishness of having others assume his duties, will moan and groan impatiently focused on his recovery, even so his conscience is little disturbed about staying at home until he deems himself fit to tackle the world again.

I think about work, of course, and consider what my absence will mean to my students and colleagues.

I know that there are other teachers who could teach in my place and that a barista can be replaced.

But does that mean my presence then is insignificant?

I don´t believe so.

For though I am far from being the most competent or qualified barista or teacher, I possess an entertaining and compassionate personality that I believe my students and colleagues value.

But short of historical accident thrusting me into greatness, I am self aware enough to realise that my eventual absence from existence will not impact history or much of humanity that significantly.

Though the life of my wife might have been greatly different without me in it, would she have been happier or sadder had we never met?

If I had not survived an accident with an axe during my teenage years, or if I had perished on the side of the mountain when I was stranded overnight three years ago, would the world have noticed my absence?

My social circle was and remains small.

I would have been missed by a few people, but I believe they would have found the strength to carry on without me.

I don´t believe I need an angel Clarence to show this George Bailey how It´s a Wonderful Life and how vastly different reality would be had I never existed.

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Above: Henry Travis as angel Clarence Oddbody (left) and James Stewart as George Bailey (right), from It´s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Certainly each man leaves his mark on the world by how his actions have affected others.

A man´s greatness could even be said to be measured by how many others his actions affected.

My mind often wonders how reality might be had certain great men never existed or didn´t exist at the time when they were most influential.

The recent resurgence of interest in Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) – with this year´s movies Darkest Hour (starring Gary Oldman) and Churchill (starring Brian Cox) and last year´s Churchill´s Secret (starring Michael Gambon) – have led me to wonder would the world of today be different had Churchill not been present at those moments of yesterday when he made the most impact?

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This hypothetical “What If?” exercise is not so far fetched….

On a holiday in Bournemouth in January 1893, Churchill fell and was knocked unconscious for three days.

Churchill saw action as a soldier and war correspondent and risked his life in India, the Sudan and South Africa.

Above: Battle of Omdurman, Sudan (2 September 1898), where Churchill took part in a cavalry charge

It remains uncertain whether Churchill´s life was in any danger when he was present at the January 1911 Siege of Sidney Street when Latvian anarchists wanted for murder holed up in a house and resisted arrest.

Above: Winston Churchill (highlighted) at Sidney Street, 3 January 1911

And it is also unclear whether Home Secretary Churchill gave the police any operational orders during the Siege, though it has been suggested that when the house caught fire Churchill prevented the fire brigade from dousing the flames so that the anarchists burnt to death.

“I thought it better to let the house burn down rather than spend good British lives in rescuing those ferocious rascals.”

On 12 December 1931, during a lecture tour for his writing, Churchill, while crossing New York City´s Fifth Avenue, was knocked down by a car.

Above: The Empire State Building, completed 1931

Had Churchill not survived these events to become Prime Minister (1940 – 1945 / 1951 – 1955), would Britain have remained resolute against Germany during the Second World War?

How indispensable was Churchill to the world?

This question was certainly paramount in my mind when my wife and I visited the Churchill War Rooms six weeks ago….

Above: An external view of the New Public Offices building, the basements of which were chosen to house the Cabinet War Rooms

London, England, 24 October 2017

In 1938, in anticipation of Nazi air raids, the basement of the Treasury building on London´s King Charles Street was converted into “war rooms”, protected by a three-foot-thick concrete slab, reinforced with steel rails and tramlines.

It was here that Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed operations and held cabinet meetings for the duration of World War II.

By the end of the War, the six-acre site included a hospital, canteen and shooting range, as well as sleeping quarters.

Tunnels fan out from the complex to outlying government ministeries.

It is rumoured there are also tunnels to Buckingham Palace itself, allowing the Royal Family a quick getaway to exile in Canada (via Charing Cross Station) in the event of a Nazi invasion.

Above: Buckingham Palace

Walking the corridors of the Churchill War Rooms and exploring its adjacent Churchill Museum are experiences that live long in the memory.

Every corner tells a story.

Today we take for granted the idea of an underground command centre.

How else can political and military leaders run a country and control armed forces, safe from enemy bombardment?

But the Second World War was the first time that Britain faced such a concentrated aerial threat.

Should there be some sort of central war room?

Where should it be?

How should it be protected?

Who should work there?

What space and equipment would they need?

What exactly would they be doing?

Most of these questions began to be answered only in the final fraught months before Britain went to war.

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

Many of them were still being answered during the War itself, even as bombs rained down over London and the threat of invasion loomed.

The story of the Churchill War Rooms is therefore one of improvisation in the face of deadly necessity.

After the First World War (1914 – 1918), the British government adopted a “ten-year rule”.

Until instructed otherwise, all departments should assume that the country would not go to war again for at least a decade.

Even so, some thought was given to how a future war might be fought.

In 1924, government experts predicted that London would be bombarded by up to 200 tons of bombs in the first 24 hours of a world conflict.

Casualities would be high and the country´s political and military command structure could be severely disabled.

Partly due to the ten-year rule, little was done to heed this warning until 1933 when a belligerent Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

It came as a complete shock when Hitler declared his intention to have Germany leave the League of Nations, the forerunner of today´s United Nations.

War within the next decade suddenly seemed much more possible and the question of national defence became a priority.

In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, adding to international tension.

General Hastings Ismay, Deputy Secretary of Britain´s Committee of Imperial Defence, immediately organised a search for an emergency working refuge to house the Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff in case of a sudden attack.

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Above: Hastings Ismay (1887 – 1965)

Plans were still in a confused state in late May 1938, when the alarming news was received that German troops were massing on the Czechoslovakian border.

There might be war any day, but still no war room.

On 31 May 1938, the site was confirmed, a site conveniently close to both Downing Street (the Prime Minister´s residence) and Parliament.

It was thought that the steel structure of the Treasury building above the War Rooms would provide extra protection against bombs, but a direct hit on the site would have been catastrophic.

From June to August 1938, work on the War Rooms involved clearing rooms, sandbagging alcoves, replacing glass doors with teak, building brick partitions, installing telephone lines and estabishing a connection with the BBC.

As the site was situated below the level of the Thames River, flood doors had to be fitted and pumps installed.

By the end of August, the Map Room was manned and tested and plans were underway for airlocks and steel doors to defend against gas attack.

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Above: The Map Room, Cabinet War Rooms

There could be no hesitation or pause in these preparations.

Hitler had sparked a new crisis on the Continent by threatening to annex part of Czechoslovakia.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to defuse the situation by diplomatic means.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

Above: Neville Chamberlain (1869 – 1940), British PM (1937 – 1940)

On 30 September, Hitler signed the Munich Agreement – heralded by Chamberlain as a guarantee of “peace for our time”, but the Central War Room was theoretically ready for use.

Above: Neville Chamberlain showing the Anglo-German Declaration, aka The Munich Agreement. guaranteeing “peace for our time”, Heston Air Force Base, England, 30 September 1938

It would have been desperately uncomfortable for anyone working there, as the ventilation system was poor, there were no overnight accommodations, no bedding, no kitchen, no food, no toilets or washing facilities.

Work continued on the War Rooms.

On 23 August, Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Russia, leaving the way free for him to attack Poland.

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Above: Soviet Premier Stalin and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, after the signature of the (Vyacheslav) Molotov – Ribbentrop German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, 23 August 1939

On 27 August the Central War Room was officially opened.

On 1 September, Hitler attacked Poland.

Above: Adolf Hitler reviewing the troops on the march during the Polish campaign, September 1939

Two days later, Britain was at war.

The immediate bombardment of London that had been expected for so long failed to materialise in the first nine months of the War, though the War Rooms were operational.

A botched land campaign in Norway in April 1940 and Germany´s sudden attack on the Netherlands on 10 May caused Chamberlain to resign and Churchill to take his place.

A few days later, as British Forces were driven back towards the French coast, the new Prime Minister visited the Cabinet War Room and declared:

“This is the room from which I will direct the war.”

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Above: Cabinet War Room

In the summer of 1940, as the fall of France was followed by the Battle of Britain for aerial supremacy over southern England, Britain stood at risk of imminent invasion.

Above: German Heinkel HE 111 bombers over the English Channel, 1940

On 7 September 1940, Germany launched the Blitz – a sustained bombing campaign against British towns and cities, with London the chief target.

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Britain weathered the Blitz for nine long months.

When the Blitz failed to secure victory over Britain, Hitler turned his attention to the east, launching an invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.

Britain was no longer fighting the Nazis alone.

When, on 7 December 1941, Japan attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, the United States entered the War, changing the fortunes of Britain.

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Above: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, USA

The War Rooms began deception plans intended to divert enemy resources away from genuine Allied operations.

This would play a crucial role in the success of Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944.

The success of the D-Day landings helped to turn the tide of war against the Nazis, but they were not finished in attacking Britain.

On 13 June 1944, the first V1 flying bomb hit London, bringing a new threat to the capital.

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Above: A V1 guided missile

Over the winter of 1944 – 1945, the V1 flying bomb attacks were gradually superseded by the more destructive V2 flying bombs.

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Above: A V2 rocket

By the end of March 1945, most of the V2 production factories had been overrun by the unstoppable Allied advance towards Berlin.

Adolf Hitler spent the final weeks of the War sheltering in his bunker as  Berlin came under attack from Stalin´s armies.

After the fall of Berlin, the Allies declared victory in Europe on 8 May 1945.

By the time Japan surrendered on 15 August, Churchill was no longer Prime Minister having lost the General Election on 26 July.

On 16 August, after six years of continuous use, the War Rooms were simply and suddenly abandoned.

Their historic value was recognised and were mostly left undisturbed.

The preserved rooms were declared a national monument in 1948, with free guided tours given to people who had written to the Cabinet Office.

This practice continued until 1984 when the Imperial War Museum was asked to turn the site into a formal Museum.

Millions of visitors have since walked its corridors, tracing the steps of Churchill and the many men and women – both military and civilian – who helped run this underground complex.

The Churchill Museum was added to the Cabinet War Rooms in 2005 and this expanded Museum was later renamed the Churchill War Rooms.

It has to be said that the Churchill War Rooms is a fascinating place for it is filled with intimate details that bring home the immediacy of those times…

  • The sugar cubes hoarded by a Map Room officer
  • The noiseless typewriters that Churchill insisted be used by his staff
  • Accounts of what it was really like to eat, sleep and work below the streets of London as German bombs fell all around.
  • The coloured lights in the Cabinet War Room that signalled an air raid and the ashtrays positioned within easy reach around the table and the scratch marks on the arms of Churchill´s chair that show how strained the Cabinet Room could become
  • The multi-coloured phones where the men of the Map Room could follow every thrust and counterthrust of the War
  • The actual door that Churchill walked through at 10 Downing Street
  • The tiny Transatlantic Telephone Room where Churchill used to speak in secret to the US President
  • Churchill´s famous “siren suit”, a zip-up coverall that Churchill began wearing for comfort from the 1930s onwards
  • The Union Flag which was draped over Churchill´s coffin during his State Funeral which was broadcast around the world

Above: Grave of Winston Churchill, St. Martin´s Church, Bladon, England

(“I am ready to meet my Maker – but whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”)

  • The weather indicator in the main corridor that would read “Windy” when a heavy bombing raid was in progress
  • The story of how one of the women who worked at the War Rooms had a short relationship with James Bond author Ian Fleming and would be the inspiration for the character Miss Moneypenny
  • One of the Royal Marines guarding the entrance to the Cabinet War Rooms took up embroidery to pass the time.
  • To alleviate the health problems of working underground, staff were made to strip to their underwear and stand in front of portable sun lamps
  • Wartime graffiti on a map in the Cabinet Room showing Hitler fallen on his ass
  • A cat named Smoky that used to curl up on Churchill´s bed
  • A typist who learned that the ship carrying her boyfriend had perished with all lives lost

So, so much to see and learn and discover….

But what of the Great Man himself?

This man of contradictions, this man who took over as Prime Minister when Britain stood alone against the Axis powers, who is remembered for his trademark bowler hat and half-chewed Havana cigars, who is famous for his morale-inspiring speeches and clever wit….

“It is better to be making the news than taking it, to be an actor rather than an critic.”

“I have nothing to offer but blood, tears, toil and sweat.”

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

“….We shall fight in France.  We shall fight on the seas and oceans.  We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.  We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.  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 fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.”

“This is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

An American visitor reported in late 1940 that:

“Everywhere I went in London, people admired Churchill´s energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose.  People said they didn´t know what Britain would do without him.  He was obviously respected, but no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the War.  He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time, the time being a desperate war with Britain´s enemies.”

Without this man´s uplifting spirit, would Britain have surrendered against the overwhelming odds of Hitler´s mighty war machine?

I am convinced that Churchill´s uniqueness of character means that its absence would have lead to Britain´s surrender.

Whether Britain´s surrender would mean Hitler wouldn´t ultimately still turn against Russia, or whether America wouldn´t come to Britain´s aid with or without the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour remains a point of conjecture and the province of alternate history / science fiction writers.

But I think a visit to the Churchill War Rooms is well worth the while, because there are several lessons to be learned here under the streets of London.

We are where and who we are because of what came before.

We need to recall the wars that lead us to where we are today, not to glorify in our victories but rather to somberly recall our losses and learn from them so to avoid future war or at least prepare ourselves for another dark future of bloodshed and destruction.

We are a product of our time and place.

It is doubtful whether Churchill could have accomplished what he did had time and circumstances been different.

In examining Churchill´s past carefully, one can see that he was quite an imperfect man, at times rash, impulsive, egocentric and foolish, sometimes to the cost and risk of others.

Nancy Astor: If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee.

Winston Churchill: Nancy, if I were your husband, I would drink it.

But at a moment when Britain needed a man of courage and conviction, Churchill was indeed in the right place at the right time.

Let us not worship this man, but do offer him our thanks and respect.

Above: Statue of Churchill, Parliament Square, London

As legacies go, this museum and how he is remembered by so many even after so long a time has passed and so many have sacrificed so much blood, tears, toil and sweat then and now, this monument to the dark days of a vicious conflict and a man who steered a nation through them is truly fitting.

This is a living museum, commemorating the lives of those who make our lives possible.

Come to the Churchill War Rooms.

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Live the experience.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Alan Axelrod, Winston Churchill, CEO / Dominique Enright, editor, The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill / Martin Gilbert, editor, Churchill: The Power of Words / Roy Jenkins, Churchill / Imperial War Museums, Churchill War Museum Guidebook

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Above: The Roaring Lion, Yousuf Karsh photo of Winston Churchill, Canadian Parliament, Ottawa, Canada, 30 December 1941

 

 

Canada Slim and the Bad Boss

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 November 2017

This particular post I write today will be different from others I have written since 2017 began.

I do not wish to recount stories and histories or travelogs.

There will few pictures in this post, because I want the reader to truly focus on what I have to say, rather than be distracted by too many photographs.

And this post is a plea to those who have been given responsibility over others.

Above: Coronation picture of Queen Elizabeth II

Let me first begin by saying:

Bosses, especially those in middle management, you have my sympathy.

I am not blind nor deaf to how difficult your job can be, how much pressure is put on your performance, how hard it can be to find good employees.

Life ain´t easy.

But the line between being viewed by the vast majority of your workers as a good boss and being viewed by your workers as someone who needs to be handled as delicately as walking on eggshells is a line that too many managers cross.

I believe that the first problem that managers often have is learning the difference between strategy and tactics.

The fundamental principles of strategy are the same for all managers, all times and all situations.

Only the tactics change – and tactics are modified to constantly changing situations.

Strategy is doing the right thing.

Tactics is doing things right.

A statue of Sun Tzu

Above: Statue of The Art of War author Sun Tzu, Yurihama, Tottori Prefecture, Japan

I believe many managers are confused by this distinction.

So, where does strategy end and tactics begin?

Strategy stops at the headquarters door.

Tactics begin with the customer.

Those in direct contact with the customer need to be motivated and shown how to motivate their customers.

Customers are individual people who, if given the illusion that the salesperson actually gives a damn about them and their lives, will cheerfully pass onto the organisation their hard-earned money.

They will not do this if those that serve them have not been taught that compassion wins more money than the big hard sell.

Richard Branson said it best:

“Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers.”

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Above: Richard Branson

Those on the front line of consumerism, those with direct contact with the customers, will not be motivated if their needs as individual people are perceived as unimportant as compared with filling the coffers of the higher-ups.

We may be seen by management, especially the higher up the ladder of power one goes, as being nothing more than defenseless kittens.

But abused or embarrassed kittens become enraged tigers and will manifest their discontent either…..

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Aggressively with a “Hell be damned” attitude towards keeping their job, where they tell management that they are mad as a cat thrown into a bathtub and are “not going to take it any more”, or….

Passively plant their feet in quiet stubborn resistance by increased absenteeism or a “I simply don´t give a damn” attitude when the boss is not breathing down their necks.

Which is then perceived by management that the employees have an “attitude problem”, not realising in their complete and total blind ignorance that the problem is not so much with the employees as it is with the manner in which they have been dealt.

Profit is a matter of vital importance to the organisation, a matter of life and death for a company, the road to ruin or survival, therefore management must constantly be aware of five factors:

1.  A Spirit of Mission:

Everyone must believe that their role is important and right, so that the entire team can rally a fighting spirit and generate a firestorm of loyalty and commitment.

Generating profit for the upper echelon with no perception of the individual worker´s importance will not motivate the worker to give his best effort to the job.

2.  Outside Forces:

Everyone should be made aware of where their company is in terms of competiton and should be taught the tangents of the industry which the company is in.

Teach and train your employees not only how to sell a muffin but also what is in the muffin and how the muffin is made.

This product and process knowledge makes the employee more knowledgeable and more of an asset to both the customer and the company.

Teach and train your employees to view their job not only for the workplace that they actually work in, but give them the larger picture and teach them to look at how other companies do things and encourage employee feedback and ideas from their observations.

3.  The marketplace

A manager is, theoretically, chosen for his/her knowledge and experience within the organisation or industry, but in industries with high staff turnover what is often the case is that a manager is simply chosen for the fact they showed up to work over a long period of time, which is similar to the idea of a homeless person sleeping in a tunnel for over a year being promoted to the position of tunnel engineer.

Employees, especially those with management potential, need to be taught how to deal with people (customers or not), how to maximise the potential of their workplace, product knowledge, and the art of promoting the product, and not just the price of the product.

4. Leadership

Employees need to be taught that regardless of their position within the firm that they represent the firm in their actions and thus their intimate knowledge of their firm makes them leaders.

In other words, a McDonald´s counterperson should know more about McDonald´s than the customers.

5. Guiding principles

Employees need to be taught the process of how to do their job, where they fit in the overall process and how they can improve within their job in a motivational manner rather than with only negative criticism.

Throwing a new employee into “the deep end of the pool” and expecting them to suddenly be Olympic caliber swimmers and criticizing them when they fail to meet these expectations is quite simply cruel.

Olympic Rings

So, managers, ask yourselves:

Are you a bad boss?

If your employees can answer “yes” to the following questions, then you Sir, or you Madame, are a bad boss:

–  Is your boss someone who demotivates or demoralises you?

–  Is nothing you do ever good enough?

–  Do you have a boss who yells or throws tantrums when things do go his/her way?

–  Are you working for someone who is moody as if on an emotional rollercoaster – one day he/she is cheery and friendly, the next day he/she is downright mean?

–  Does your boss take credit for your work or play favourites or worry only about his/her own career?

–  Is your manager someone whom you don´t respect?

–  Is your boss a negative role model – an example of someone whom you do NOT want to be like when you manage others?

If your employees are nodding their heads to these questions, then you Sir, you Madame, are a bad boss.

The bottom line, and this is important, is that a bad boss is someone with whom the employees can´t do their best work or someone they dread seeing when they go to work.

Their failure to be good employees is often caused by your inability to motivate them to be good employees.

There are two ways to drive a mule: the carrot and the stick.

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Too often employers believe that the stick should be used more than, or instead of, the carrot.

The opposite is true.

Micromanaging your workers expecting them to be lazy or incompetent is not motivational.

Bullying your employees, especially in public, is not motivational.

If you will not listen to your employees, but only insist they listen to you, then this is not motivational.

Show them what to do, occasionally and quietly assessing their performance. 

Trust that they will do what you expect them to do and make certain that it is clear what it is you expect and then leave them to do their jobs.

Praise them publicly and criticise them privately.

Lead by promises of rewards (and follow through with these promises) rather than by threats of punishment.

The average person works 80% of their adult life, so most employees with any sense of pride in their accomplishments identify with the work they do.

If a person is not enjoying their job, then what is the point of devoting most of our limited lifespan to the job?

There must be more to life than simply paying our bills.

If our jobs do not lend our lives purpose, then what is the purpose of life?

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Sources: Wikipedia / Sherrie Gong Taguchi, The Career Troubleshooter: Tips and Tools for Overcoming the 21 Most Common Challenges to Success / Gerald A. Michaelson, Sun Tzu´s The Art of War for Managers: 50 Strategic Rules

 

Canada Slim and the Final Curtain

Flag of Switzerland 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 August 2017

Back in May an employer of mine and I made an agreement:

The school didn’t want me to work for them and I didn’t wish to work for the school.

The position was ended to our mutual satisfaction and with little discomfort on either side.

Despite my age diminishing my abilities of finding work as easily as I once did, I have confidence in my own abilities to survive.

In the past, I have been fired from some positions, sometimes deservedly, sometimes not.

As an employee of various institutions for the past forty years – I first worked as a farmhand in my teen years – I found two things to be true:

  1. You must do what you love and love what you do, or you will never really be “successful” or feel motivated to give your best efforts towards the job.
  2. No matter how hard you try, you will never please all of the people all of the time.

Granted that a person is judged by his/her actions, rather than how they feel or think.

And as most of us spend 80% of our adult lives working, we are defined by our jobs, whether we like this definition or not, or whether a person’s identification by their work performance is a fair assessment of their character or not.

When it comes to employment, not all work is the same.

In an ideal world, employees at an early age decided what profession they wanted, followed their career path without faltering, and advanced up their chosen career ladder without blemishes on their record, rising based on their competence and hard work.

But not everyone has led such a blessed worklife.

Many people have drifted into the jobs and professions they now practice.

Many people hate their jobs and spend their lives enduring their work by counting how many days remain until their vacation or how many hours are left until they can ride away from the jobsite and do some activity as unrelated to their work as possible.

Depending on a person’s educational background, or their ability to have afforded an education financially and emotionally, many folks suffer through positions they can barely tolerate because these positions offer a paycheque.

And many tolerate less than desirable working conditions, because their income supports other people besides themselves.

Chances are strong that, unless you are a gifted networker or your position is secure because of your personal connections to your employer, you will find yourself terminated from a position at one time or another in your life.

For many of us, once we get past the shock and the anger of the “injustice” done to us, once we rediscover that it is not the job that defines us but we define the job, we then pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and once again face the world of work head held high, hopefully wiser for the experience.

Sometimes we are terminated because we did something intolerable in the eyes of the employer.

Sometimes we are terminated because the employer does not like how we did our job even if our performance was according to the standards set by the employer.

Sometimes an employee is simply more expensive to keep on than to fire.

Sometimes the employer simply doesn’t like you and found an excuse to dismiss you.

At this moment, someone somewhere has just been fired.

Despite our lives being more electronically accessible and open now more than any other time in human history, the loss of a job, although painful, is not the end of the world.

We can recover from this job loss and new employment can be found, because we who are not in the public spotlight can spin our employment record in such a way that we can find a new employer who doesn’t have preconceptions as to who we are or what we can do.

But what about those folks who are in the public spotlight and who have lost their jobs in a very public manner?

How do they recover?

Some cases of dismissal are easy to accept, if the employee was dismissed through the worker’s own wrongdoing.

So when I consider the character of folks like Bill O’Reilly, if there are numerous amounts of people accusing you of wrong behaviour, whether legally proven or not, the taint and scandal of having that kind of person publicly representing an organisation reflects poorly upon that organisation.

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O’Reilly is a bully who bullied others too often to tolerate and treated women in ways that were disrespectful and dishonourable.

Fox Media eventually had enough.

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By all accounts, O’Reilly should be financially secure enough to weather the storm and live the rest of his days upon his financial portfolio, but it seems doubtful that he will ever return to the heady heights of television’s Olympus where he once was supreme.

O’Reilly did wrong and he was sacked because of it.

But what of James Comey, the FBI director canned by President Trump?

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Did he do wrong?

And where does he go from here?

Analysis of all this is fraught with several difficulties:

I am just an ordinary man, a Canadian working in Switzerland, lacking inside knowledge or experience in these matters, so what follows are mere opinions and thoughts based on what bits of information I have been able to garner in my own long distance manner.

I am limited to what information is allowed me, for it is not absolutely certain how valid, complete or objective news reports about Comey’s dismissal actually are, though I try to give the media some benefit of the doubt.

Complete objectivity on my part regarding anything that Donald Trump says or does is difficult for me, for when I consider his record, both before and since his Presidency began, I find it difficult to like, respect or trust this man, despite my dim hope that he may one day prove me wrong.

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But if we can judge a man by the caliber of his enemies, the fact that much of the media despises – and is despised by – him, that he seems to have the lowest approval rate of any President the United States has seen, that he views the judicial branch of government as a threat to his executive power, and that even his own wife is reluctant to even hold his hand in public or share a bedroom with him at the White House, does not say positive things about the man.

Trump is President by default rather than acclaim, reminiscient of Peter Ustinov’s Prince John, in Walt Disney’s animated Robin Hood, in many discomfiting ways.

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Comey’s dismissal has caught my attention, for it brings to mind questions of accountability and the exercise of authority.

Comey’s dismissal matters to the world for it raises the idea of Trump’s possible impeachment, which would have a huge impact on American government and politics both in the United States and abroad.

Who is James Comey?

James Brien Comey Jr., born 14 December 1960, is an American lawyer who served as the 7th Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 4 September 2013 to 9 May 2017.

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Prior to his appointment as FBI Director, Comey was the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (2002-2003), US Deputy Attorney General (2003-2005), general counsel and senior vice president of Lockheed Martin, America’s largest defense contractor (2005-2010), and senior manager at Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut-based investment management firm (2010-2013).

Comey has also been a lecturer on national security law at Columbia University’s Law School, been part of the London-based financial institution HSBC Holdings, and has served on the Defense Legal Policy Board.

In his New York years, Comey helped prosecute the Gambino crime family.

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Above: Carlo Gambino (1902 – 1976), head of the Gambino crime family

From 1996 to 2001, Comey acted as deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, lead prosecutor in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Richmond.

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Above: Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 25 June 1996

From 2002 to 2005, Comey investigated President Clinton’s controversial pardon of Marc Rich, prosecuted three men involved in one of the largest identity fraud cases in American history, indicted Adelphia Communications founder John Rigas for bank, wire and securities fraud, led the prosecution of Martha Stewart for securities fraud, indicted ImClone CEO Samuel Waksal for tax evasion, indicted Frank Quattrone for destroying evidence in the investigation of Credit Suisse and led the prosecutions in Operation Wooden Nickel which resulted in indictments against 47 people involved in foreign exchange trading scams.

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But the halo lost its shine, when in 2005, Comey endorsed a memorandum approving the use of 13 enhanded interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, though he did advocate the prevention or limiting of the use of torture.

(During his 2013 confirmation hearing, Comey stated that even though he believed that waterboarding is torture, he felt that the UN Convention against Torture was too vague and difficult to interpret as banning the practice.)

Flag of  United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

Comey’s halo slipped further when the New York Times reported in 2006 that Comey refused to certify the legality of central aspects of the National Security Agency program, which had been accused of wiretapping many Americans without their knowledge or permission or legal justification to do so.

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In 2007, during a testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Comey said:

“The Department of Justice, in my view, is run by political appointees of the President.

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US Attorneys are political appointees of the President, but once they take those jobs and run this institution, it is very important in my view for that institution that they….be seen as the good guys and not either this Administration or that Administration.”

As FBI Director, Comey delivered a speech at Georgetown University in February 2015, regarding the relationship between police and the African American community:

A vertical oval-shaped black and white design with a bald eagle whose wings are spread and who is grasping a globe and a cross with its claws. Around the seal are leaves and the numbers 17 and 89 appear on either side.

“At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo – a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavoured groups….

Police officers on patrol in our nation’s cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of colour.

Something happens to people of good will working in that environment.

After years of police work, officers can’t help be influenced by the cynicism they feel.”

In a speech at the University of Chicago on 23 October 2015, Comey said:

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“I remember being asked why we were doing so much prosecuting in black neighbourhoods and locking up so many black men.

After all, Richmond was surrounded by areas with largely white populations.

Surely there were drug dealers in the suburbs.

My answer was simple.

We are there in those neighbourhoods because that is where people are dying.

These are the guys we lock up because they are the predators choking off the life of a community.

We did this work because we believed that all lives matter, especially the most vulnerable.”

Then the involvement of foreign powers in US politics suddenly became a very relevant, a very real, problem and the focus of public attention.

According to the media sources that would break the news story, it is unclear how the data breach of the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was actually discovered, but it has been suggested that a product demonstration of CyFIR, an electronic intrusion detection program of Manassas-based security company CyTech Services, uncovered the infilitration that was targeting the personnel records of millions of people.

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In June 2015, OPM announced that it had been breached, a breach which may have started in March 2014 but was not noticed by OPM until April 2015.

This data theft contained security clearance information as well as sets of millions of fingerprints on current, former and prospective federal government employees, US military personnel and those for whom a federal background investigation was conducted.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), however, does not use the OPM system, so they might not have been affected by the breach.

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The media reported that US government officials suspected that Chinese hackers perpetrated the breach, but it remains unclear whether the attack had been sponsored by the Chinese government or not.

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China responded that they had been the target of cyberattacks in the past.

In July, Comey said:

“It is a very big deal from a national security perspective and from a counterintelligence perspective.

It’s a treasure trove of information about everybody who has worked for, tried to work for or works for the United States government.”

And the OPM was not the only classified information situation on American minds.

David Petraeus, a highly-decorated former General, was appointed CIA director on 6 September 2011 but would resign the position on 9 November 2012.

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The Petraeus Scandal would cast many dark shadows on all those it affected.

When Washington socialite Jill Kelley approached the FBI about receiving anonymous threatening emails about Kelley’s supposed affair with Petraeus, it was discovered that they had been sent by Petraeus’ biographer Paula Broadwell.

Above: David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, July 2011

When Broadwell was interrogated, she confessed that she and Petraeus had an extramarital affair for years.

Investigators also discovered that Broadwell had classified documents, but as well that there had been much correspondence between Kelley and another general, John Allen, raising questions of impropriety between Kelley and Allen.

(Both Kelley and Allen have since been exonerated of all misconduct.)

After being briefed on 8 November 2012, President Obama summoned Petraeus to the White House, where Petraeus offered his resignation.

Obama chose not to suspend Petraeus but accepted his resignation.

Comey objected that Petraeus was allowed to plead guilty to only a misdemeanor of mishandling classified information.

In March 2015 it became publicly known that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had used her family’s private email server for official communications, rather than official State Department email accounts maintained on federal services.

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Those official communications included thousands of emails that would be marked classified by the State Department.

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Some experts, officials and members of Congress contended that her use of private messaging system software and a private server violated State Department protocols and procedures, as well as federal laws and regulations governing recordkeeping.

Clinton responded that her use of personal email was in compliance with federal laws and State Department regulations and that former secretaries of state had also maintained personal email accounts, though not their own private email server.

Comey identified 110 emails as containing information that was classified at the time it was sent, but on 5 July 2016 he announced that the FBI’s investigation had concluded that Clinton had been “extremely careless” in handling her email system but recommended that no charges be filed against her.

This 5 July announcement during a 15-minute press conference in the J. Edgar Hoover Building is the first time the FBI disclosed its prosecutorial recommendation to the Department of Justice publicly.

On 28 October 2016, Comey notified Congress that the FBI had started looking into newly discovered emails that may be pertinent to the case – emails that were found on a laptop belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s husband, Anthony Weiner, during an investigation of his sexting scandals.

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On 6 November, Comey notified Congress that the FBI had not changed its conclusion, reached in July, regarding Clinton’s emails.

The problem was that this email controversy had unfolded against the backdrop of Clinton’s 2016 presidential election campaign.

Comey’s path of transparency in informing Congress, who in turn would leak this information to the press, may have influenced the public’s perception of Clinton and the results of the 2016 election.

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According to the Clinton campaign, Comey’s letters effectively stopped the campaign’s momentum by hurting her chances with the voters who were receptive to Donald Trump’s claims of a “rigged system”, but others have argued that Comey’s public actions were just one of cumulative factors that cost Clinton the election, including her decision not to campaign in key states like Wisconsin and Michigan.

On 3 May 2017, Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that:

“It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election, but that honestly it wouldn’t change the decision.”

On the same day (5 July 2016) that Comey announced the FBI´s recommendation that the US Department of Justice file no criminal charges relating to the Hillary Clinton email controversy, the FBI acquired the Donald Trump – Russia dossier by Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 intelligence officer.

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The FBI opened an investigation into the Trump campaign later that month.

Comey asked President Obama permission to write an op-ed warning the public that the Russians were interfering in the US elections, which the President refused as the allegations of misconduct and collusion between Donald Trump and his campaign and the Russian government were unverified.

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Above: Flag of Russia

CIA Director John O. Brennan then gave an unusual private briefing to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on the Russians, which Reid then publicly referred to.

Comey, however, refused to confirm the Trump campaign was under investigation, even in classified Congressional briefings.

In January 2017, Comey first met Trump when he briefed the President-elect on the Steele Dossier.

On 27 January 2017, Trump and Comey had dinner alone together at the White House.

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According to Trump, Comey requested the dinner so as to ask to keep his job and, when asked, told Trump that he was not under investigation.

According to Comey, Trump requested the dinner, asked Comey to pledge his loyalty, twice.

To which Comey replied, twice, that he would always be honest, until Trump asked him if he would promise him “honest loyalty”, which Comey did.

On 14 February, Comey met with Trump during a terrorism threat briefing in the Oval Office.

At the end of the meeting Trump asked the other security chiefs to leave the room, then told Comey to consider imprisoning reporters over leaks and that “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go.”

Comey, as is usual, immediately documented the meeting in a memo and shared it with FBI officials.

On 4 March 2017, Comey asked the Department of Justice for permission, which was not given, to publicly refute Trump´s claim that his phones had been wiretapped by former President Obama.

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

On 20 March 2017, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Comey confirmed that the FBI has been investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and whether any crimes had been committed.

Comey refuted Trump´s tweeted allegations that Trump Tower had been wiretapped:

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“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”

On 3 May 2017, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey said that Russia is the “greatest threat of any nation on Earth….One of the biggest lessons learned is that Russia will do this again.  Because of the 2016 election, they know it worked.”

Trump was angry and frustrated when Comey revealed the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia´s effort to sway the 2016 US presidential election.

He felt Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough attention to internal leaks to the press from within the government.

Comey requested additional money and resources to further expand the probe into Russian interference into the election.

Trump had long questioned Comey´s loyalty to Trump personally and he was angry that Comey would not support his claim that President Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped.

On 9 May 2017, Trump formally dismissed Comey.

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The White House initially stated the firing was on the recommendation of US Attorney Jeff Sessions, listing objections to Comey´s conduct in the investigation into Hillary Clinton´s emails.

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On 10 May, Trump told reporters that he had fired Comey because Comey “wasn´t doing a good job.”

Comey sent a letter to FBI staff in which he said:

“I have long believed that a President can fire an FBI Director for any reason, or for no reason at all.  I`m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed.  I hope you won´t either.  It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply.”

In the absence of a Senate-confirmed FBI Director, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe automatically became Acting Director.

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The next day, Trump stated to Lester Holt in an NBC News interview that Comey´s dismissal was in fact “my decision” and “I was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation.”

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Trump then admitted that the true reason for the dismissal was that “when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Russia and Trump is a made-up story.'”

Trump labelled Comey “a showboat” and “a grandstander.”

McCabe testified before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does” and that “the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey”, contradicting White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders who said she had heard from “countless” FBI agents in support of the firing.

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On 12 May, Trump tweeted “James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press”.

On 19 May, the New York Times published excerpts of an official White House document summarising Trump´s meeting in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, where Trump admits to them:

“I just fired the head of the FBI.  I faced great pressure because of Russia.  That´s taken off.”

In that same meeting, Trump labelled Comey “crazy” and “a real nut job”.

Comey´s termination remains controversial.

Critics have accused Trump of obstruction of justice.

On 22 June, faced with a subpoena for the tapes that Trump alluded to, Trump issued a tweet stating “I have no idea whether there are tapes or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

On 2 August, the New York Times reported that Macmillan Publishers had acquired the rights to Comey´s first book, to be released in spring 2018, in which Comey will discuss ethics, leadership and his experience in government.

I want to read that book.

I, along with millions of people, watched Comey testify in front of a public Senate Judiciary Oversight Committee hearing.

FBI Director Comey Testifies at Senate Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing

I was impressed with the dignity and forthright way he responded to questioning.

I was impressed with him when items not advisable for public exposure he did not refuse to answer but said he would gladly answer these questions to the Committee behind closed doors.

Comey struck me as a good and honourable man who kept his dignity and professionalism no matter how many enemies his honesty would create.

I have lost jobs in the past despite my popularity with everyone save the person terminating me.

I have lost jobs for “doing the right thing” and, on rare occasions, for not doing the right thing.

But my loss of employment was never as dramatic a fall from a high position as the position held by James Comey, nor my loss so public.

James Comey is not perfect.

James Comey made mistakes.

But everything seems to point to an open-faced, open-hearted resolution to follow his conscience and to obey and enforce the law.

I believe, and hope I am never proven wrong in this belief, that James Comey is a good man.

Above: James Comey (right) at the annual Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Conference of 25 May 2016

I only hope that I too will one day be seen as a good man as well.