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What are you doing here, today of all days? And a very happy Christmas, by the way, from BHDandMe. Wanna read a story? Here’s  Liars League’s Top Ten Stories of their First Ten Years, and BHD’s Hecho A Mano, the filthiest story he ever wrote (up to now), in among ’em! 

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What I really liked about New Zealand wasn’t the spectacular scenery. The scenery was spectacular. I liked the way palm trees and tree ferns exploded like green fireworks from the centre of what looked like ordinary forests (by which I mean, the ones I’m used to seeing). I liked the way you could look down into the craters of Mounts Eden, and Rangitoto, the former spewed of red rock, the latter of black. The dust of Rangitoto, which was as black as coal and as fine as flour dulled our shoes with a grey patina and each step we took ground out a teaspoonful more from the pumice-like scoria. And the phrase itself has such a rhythm about it – The Dust of Rangitoto – there’s got to be a ballad/poem in there somewhere!

But we have scenery. We even have volcanoes, though not dormant ones, and Arthur’s Seat is a plug that you look up at, rather than down into. At Waiotapu the hot springs were colourful and spectacular, and smelly, but the vents you could stare down into and not see the water that you could hear boiling below were, to my ears, the most spectacular (which is a mixed metaphor you might recoil at – though I rather like it). What struck me most there was the way the birds were nesting in the volcanic cliffs’ letting the geo-thermal heat do the work of incubation while they flew in and out of the rock vents catching the insects that lived even there. By the mud pools, where min-geysers (guysers, the Kiwis call them – yis!) threw handfuls of grey gloop a few feet or even only inches up into the air, and the concentric ripples of their falling back moved slowly outwards, the pool-edge bushes grew close enough to get coated in the hot, killing, grime. Life pushes in as far as it can go, and sometimes further. We’re not alone, then, in such follies.

But what I really liked, apart from the wonderful coffee, and the Asian food, all along Ponsonby Road, or on the more edgy ‘K’ road, that turns downhill towards the CBD, was the fact that in New Zealand, the drivers don’t just wait patiently for you to cross at the zebra crossings, they actually wait for you to get to them! And on the lights controlled crossings in the CBD, with not a car in sight for two hundred yards in either direction, the pedestrians wait, equally patiently, for the green man to expose himself. This isn’t waiting the way the Germans are said to, because it’s the rules, or doesn’t seem so, but seems instead to be, well, because they can, and who’s in a hurry? Now that’s what I call civilised.

While I was in New Zealand I visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This museum, Art Gallery, and general tourist trap, offers a history of the founding of the modern state. That involved the agreement of Maori Chiefs, in 1840, to a handing over of power to the British Throne. It was, as you might perhaps expect, a stitch up. The translation of treaty items is shown to have varied widely in meaning between British and Maori versions, giving to one side the reassurance of empty promises, and to the other the sense of entitlement that the British Establishment always cultivates. The more I read and saw, the greater my disquiet, disgust, and shame.

In the case of land holding, for example, apparently Maoris could own their own land, but sell it only to the Government. It’s easy to see where that would lead, and did.

A Maori guide took us around the site, and fed us tidbits of information, including that the tongue, stuck out in the traditional Haka, or Maori ‘welcome’, signified that you looked tasty, and might be eaten.  As at the museum in Auckland, there were wonderful examples of Maori wood-carving, and the equally intricate tattooing. Both tell, in detail the cultural and personal histories of the different tribes, and their individuals. Linguistically the Maoris, perhaps in the way the English have been (are?), are diverse with tribal languages that overlap, but are not quite the same. What wasn’t made clear – at least in what I saw – was whether this was due to the disintegration of a single language – like that of Celtic into its Ps & Qs and so on – or was a stage in the development of a single language out of many – as happened with the creation of English after 1066.

The Haka formed part of a Maori ‘experience’, referred to by one of its ‘cast’ as a ‘show’. In addition to singing, there was a demonstration of traditional Maori fighting skills, with the wooden clubs they once used to kill each other, in what the Auckland Museum displays seemed to suggest had been a state of continual inter-tribal warfare. The ornate carving in the illustration above is on the prow of a huge ‘war canoe’ on the site – the Aircraft Carrier of its day. The metal-bladed weapons, and muskets, that European traders sold to the tribes later, weren’t demonstrated. I thought of the English Morris, and the monarchist Trooping of the Colour, but neither quite matched what we were seeing. I speculated too, as to how a demonstration of drill with the AK47 or some other contemporary icon of slaughter might go down with tourists somewhere – a Native English Reservation perhaps – in 200 years time. I hadn’t realised the extent to which the pre-European, Maori, New Zealand, despite its single, celebrated father figure, had been populated by such parochially antagonistic Polynesian settlers. The guide also told us the nick name for Australian Maoris, whom, she said, ‘could stay there’. We, I’m reminded, as I have been before, are basically the same for all our cultural diversities – not all the reminders have been tinged with such sadness.

The Haka is perhaps best known to us in the west from All Blacks rugby matches, but it took on a different hue when explained by our Maori guide. Part greeting, part defiance, part challenge, it is a cultural tradition but when seen on the street outside a bar, staged by a group of Maori youths, to intimidate some others, it carries a potent threat, perhaps even to the extent of seeming an assault.

The Maori population fell, we were told, to a mere fifty thousand, but has been on the rise again, and the provision of education, including in regional tribal languages has vastly improved. That must be good news, for if Auckland is anything to go by, New Zealand seems to be in a turmoil of new building and nascent prosperity. That Maori ‘experience’ though was rooted in the past. An equivalent might be for us to offer a Dickensian tableau to represent the ‘English’ experience. The phrase ‘Victorian values’ springs to mind, but which ones, and who would get to choose?

There’s a powerful dramatisation of the Treaty Signing: Waitangi – What really happened, on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEOx3QyjxIs), and much other material worth taking a look at, on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds Museum website.

I’d never stayed in a posh hotel before. I’d not even stayed in a bed and breakfast. People like us didn’t do that sort of thing. I’d stayed in caravans, or camped, or lodged with my parents’ friends, once or twice. After the age of about five we didn’t take that many holidays. The business couldn’t be left, my parents said. I can remember a holiday with my mother, and one, a few years later, with my father. At the age of twelve, confronted with the prospect of learning French, I really couldn’t see the point. What one earth would I need to know a foreign language for? Unless, of course, there was another war.

The posh hotel had nothing to do with holidays. It was a business course that my father sent me on. Run by a multi-national it was based at a training centre out of town, where they’d mocked up a whole business we could play around in, but they put us up, for four or five nights, in a four-star, city centre hotel. I was the youngest on the course by a decade, and the next youngest was more than a decade younger than the rest. They were all men. Men, in the main, still fronted businesses in those days. They weren’t businessmen though, even if that’s the way they might have been described. That’s why they were on the course – to learn how to run their businesses.

A business is an organisation set up to make a profit for its owners. That was, and I suppose still is, the mantra. Those of us on the course – the older ones that is – hadn’t cottoned on to that. They thought it was something to do with putting your skills to the service of your community, and making a living in exchange. What they were, in the main, was craftsmen who, by virtue of being self-employed had found themselves owning businesses. The multi-national needed them to be more efficient, at selling its product, at keeping themselves afloat.

I remember the first session we took part in, when we were asked question we didn’t even understand, let alone know the answers to. How many times do you turn over your stock in a year? Let me put it another way. How long does it take you to sell the amount of stock you can hold? Blank paper in front of us. Blank faces. The age differences fell away.

We were each given six pounds in cash– to buy ourselves whatever we needed during the week. It seemed a fortune then – before the first oil crisis.

In the evenings we spent our six pounds – it must have been six pounds a day, surely? – on a meal, and drinks, and sat in the bar and talked. These were men who had been young in the war – the 1939-45 one – but were now middle aged, and pushing old. The younger one said he had a tart waiting in his room, if anybody wanted a go before he went up. I think that was to impress me, but he had to explain what sort of tart he meant before I got the allusion, which perhaps took the shine off it for him. I declined the offer anyway.

Fifty years on and I wonder what changes and what stays the same, and at how ideas drift slowly from place to place, colouring the future and coloured by the past.

The entertainer, Harry Secombe, probably best known for being one of the ‘Goons’, was staying at the same hotel and wandered in to the lounge late one night where we were sitting. He did the voice of Neddie Seagoon for us and asked if we were having a good time, ‘boys’? Then his minders steered him away. Celebrities seemed further from us in those days, though, I think, they were probably closer. The old men on that course had lived through the same war as Secombe, Milligan, and Sellers. Wherever they had started out that common experience gave them a connection to Secombe that was not purely to do with having seen his act on TV, and I can recall sensing it as I slumped in my leather chair and witnessed the exchange. The Goonshow now has an online page, is still aired and can be bought as discs or downloads.

I did two courses over a period of a couple of years before leaving my father’s business, which he retired from and sold a couple of years after that. The first taught rudimentary accounting and budgetary control, the second, marketing and merchandising. My father never learnt to be a businessman, in the way that the multi-national meant. I never learned to be a craftsman – not even in words you might think I should add.

Here’s one to look at….

bytheletterbookreviews

Delighted to be able to share with you this afternoon the wonderful cover of Angela King’s novel, The Blood of Kings which is out on the 1st of September 2017. Don’t know about you but doesn’t it look intriguing? You can find out more about the book and the author below. 

Blood of Kings final .jpgBook Description:

  1. A girl arrives in London to search for her brother. Aalia, an awkward, arrogant teenager plans to bring William to his senses, until she discovers that both their lives are based on a lie. Aalia must unravel a web of secrets but has the weight of her past to contend with. Courageous and undisciplined, Aalia gradually comes to terms with the truth that William, her brother, has royal blood. Deciding to undermine the men who want to use him as a pawn, Aalia must negotiate a world where secrecy arms the powerful. But unwilling to ask for…

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The Macmillan Cancer Support Lake District Mighty Hike, 17th June, 2017.
Officially, 25 miles….one GPS said 27.3, and someone else’s 30! Could have been 30! 10 hours walking between 7.00am and 8.00pm. 3,797 feet of accent (in 23 degrees temp). 2 or 3 blisters. Jiggered knee, aches and pains….is that enough?

The rest is out of my hands…but in yours: give here.

My very sincere thanks to those who already have, and to those who are about to!

 

This could be your last chance to sponsor BHDandMe as we tackle the mountain marathon on Saturday 17th June (tomorrow!). Me along with c999 others will be leaving Keswick between 7.00am and 9.00am and heading up Borrowdale into Langstrothdale, over Stake Pass (why it couldn’t be steak pass I don’t know) and into Langdale, through Elterwater to the outskirts of downtown Ambleside! We’re doing all this in aid of Macmillan Cancer Supprt, and if you do want to provide a little cash to that organisation you can go to the link on Just Giving, here.

Well, me ducks (that’s my midland accent)….Twenty Two Years ago today I was diagnosed with Hairy Cell Leukaemia (that’s the first time I’ve spelled that without getting it wrong first time) Since then, in the words of my haematologist (I’m doing well with the spelling today), I’ve been ‘at risk of cure’….Glad to be among you still (hope the feeling’s mutual).

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For fun? Are you kidding? This is what people do to escape pestilence and famine….we’re trekking over the mountains for 26 miles….when the Greek guy did this he popped his jbs immediately afterwards – he was Greek…He wasn’t wearing clogs! (and there was no Macmillan Cancer Support in those days!)

So. I’m walking over the mountains. Would I be asking you for money if I were doing it for fun? Of course I wouldn’t! Why would you be giving me money if I were doing it for fun? That would crazy. Look, I’m going to hate every minute of it, I promise. And if I don’t, I’ll at least have the decency to pretend I do…so come on, up-end the piggy-box, smash the sweet jar, rip up the floorboards, let the dosh see the daylight, get the moths on the wing, and go to Justgiving.com/fundraising/MikeSmith106 and donate something to Macmillan Cancer Support’s Lake District Mighty Hike, June 17th…..here’s the link, in case you didn’t spot it anywhere earlier…..https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Mike-Smith106

This is what I get up to when I can’t get out of it…..it frees the mind and binds the feet. Don’t try it at home (unless you have a very, very big home)…of course you could just go up an’ down the stairs a few thousand times…at least you wouldn’t have to look at views all day, I mean grass is grass, when you’ve seen one blade you’ve seen ’em all…I mean, OK, so there’s flat grass and there’s steep grass, but who cares, it’s still grass….I suppose there’s rocks too, but let’s face it, who in their right mind wants to look at rocks?…don’t get me started on sky…

Macmillan Cancer Support helps people in their time of need, and they need you, and me, to help them do it…please give whatever you can, either by sponsoring me, here or in any other way you can. Thank you.

London’s Mayor appeared on Radio 4 recently, talking about immigration and the projected quotas. Quoting government figures, he suggested that London, on a pro-rata basis, might be ‘allowed’ just under forty thousand immigrants…less than needed to supply the building trade alone (where over 10% of workers will retire over the next five years, apparently). He suggested a special measure for the city that would allow it to have more immigrants, while the rest of England (and of the UK) could continue with its exclusions.

The interesting element in this, which wasn’t picked up by the interviewer, was how, and by whom, this arrangement would be ‘policed’. Presumably some sort of line would have to be drawn around London, and ‘surplus’ immigrants prevented from crossing it , at least so far as moving to other jobs, and to living elsewhere would be concerned. Days out, holidays, and visits, presumably would be OK? Who would draw this line? Who would control its crossing points? London? Or we Provincials? Would we need internal passports to get into, or out of whichever side of the line we inhabited? Would Londoners, wishing to move in to the rest of the UK, or Provincials wishing to move out to London, count as immigrants, and who would be counting?

Either way, it would be the first step in a discernible road. I seem to recall that both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, during their time as Mayors of London, remarked in public, that they thought it entirely feasible the city could maintain itself as a City State, without the aid of the rump of the UK.

In Trieste last year I encountered some campaigners for a sort of ‘free Trieste’. They were convinced that the city – much smaller than London – could successfully go it alone.

When things start to break up it’s not entirely predictable where the fragmentation will stop. We have a surplus of water in this part of the UK, which, global warming continuing, might support the local population if sold at a high enough price to those living in the soon-to-be-drier parts of the present country… Of course, we’d have to seize the reservoirs etc(Just a thought!).