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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

..and so ends the 2019 Love & Relationships Month (on a high note!) Coming up next - Mad March!

Just Finished Reading: The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes (FP: 2017)

To understand the history of Europe it is vital to understand the history of Germany. Not only is Germany the powerhouse – politically and economically – behind the European project but was a central player in both World Wars (being responsible for one and heavily implicated in the responsibility of the other). Furthermore German culture, science and technology shaped the European world view, helped shape our understanding of the world and helped the world master the natural environment. But the author of this intriguing and often delightful little book (a mere 227 pages) makes a strange assertion – that there is not one Germany but two: West and East and that these half nations have very different histories, natural alliances and historical trajectories. What is more, this has been the case from the very beginning when the Roman Empire created the German people.

It was not that the Empire simply wanted to advance, to take more territory, to conquer the known world. It was far more pragmatic than that. It wanted stable defendable borders. To defend its territories in Gaul Rome built a series of forts along the Rhine and connected them to a defensive line linking up with the Danube River. This area was essentially Romanised for centuries. Further East, as far as the Elbe the Empire had a steadily weakening influence over events and culture. Beyond the Elbe…..? There be dragons and worse, barbarian hordes. This is, of course where the present German capital is. For the rest of history, so the author maintains, this East/West split continued. The Western states in what was eventually a unified Germany (LONG after the supposed unification in 1871) continued to look West to France as their natural ally. Beyond the Elbe the Eastern states looked further East still and gravitated to their natural ally – Russia - which helps explain some seemingly inexplicable elements of the relations between Imperial Germany and Bolshevik Russia as well as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia a generation later. It’s an interesting idea and the author sells it well.

Of course it’s often forgotten that Germany only officially (but maybe not actually) came into existence after the end of the Franco-Prussian war in 1871 when the largest and most militant state (Prussia) felt able to threaten and strong arm to other states inside the geographical area we now think of as Germany into joining it as the unifying power. With its capital (Berlin) firmly to the East of the Elbe the long history of German states looking west essentially came to an end. With the Junkers – farmers in the lawless lands on the edge of Poland – increasingly influential the soul of Germany became gradually infused with a crudely militaristic worldview. Looked at regionally Hitler (for example) never gained much popularity in the Western (in both senses of the word) provinces than he did in the East. It’s quite uncanny how voting patterns map almost exactly onto regional and denominational maps. The cultural divide is there for all to see. Time and again the author showed that in Germany’s LONG history it has mostly been a divided state. The post WW2 division almost exactly shadowed the map of Roman and barbarian ‘Germany’ and (if I’m reading it right from the author’s viewpoint) should have stayed that way. The vote to move the capital ‘back’ to Berlin was only passed by a single vote. This the author maintains was a mistake. The capital of the Germany of the West was located IN the West and not deep in East Germany. It might go a long way to explain the sometimes inexplicable split personality the Germany appears to presents to the world.

After enjoying the previous book in this series (on Europe as a whole) I’m really hoping that there are many more to come – even if it’s just the rest of Europe. These books are incredibly well written and give a real flavour of the subject in a format you could probably ease through over a weekend. Very informative and highly recommended. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Weather or Not?

The English weather can usually be described in one of two words – Mild or Changeable. Yet despite having such a tepid weather system (mostly) we do like to talk about it, that’s certainly one ‘myth’ about the English that’s actually true. The topic came up today because of the rather mild weather we’ve been having lately. This time last year we had the tabloid named ‘Beast from the East’ which was a blast of cold weather all across Europe originating in Siberia. It caused quite a bit of chaos here (including an enforced day out of the office – but still working due to having a work laptop) as well as more snow than I’d seen for a while. This year was something quite different – blue skies, light winds and (in several places) record breaking HIGH temperatures.

The largest record breaker was in Scotland where a previous high temperature recorded on 22nd February 1897 fell on 21st February this year. That’s quite an achievement! Records were also broken – although of nowhere near the same magnitude – in both Wales and England. After last year’s long hot summer I can’t help wondering if we’re in for another heat blast or quite the opposite: months of overcast and light drizzle. With the UK’s weather system it’s anyone’s guess! Of course that makes forecasting so much more interesting in this country. With some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world (it always makes me laugh that the Meteorological Office has the second largest concentration of high-end computers after the spy agency in GCHQ) we can still only predict the weather about 5 days ahead with reasonable accuracy. At 3 days ahead it’s normally pretty spot on – although there are inevitable local variations – but after the 5 day limit things can get very problematic.

Naturally that’s one of the fascinating aspects of the weather – it’s INCREDIBLY complex. I’ve read a little about the early forecasters who really had no idea just how complicated the whole thing was. I’m guessing that if they did realise the complexity of the system they were struggling with many would have thrown up their hands in horror and have given up the quest. Luckily their ignorance protected them from the big picture and they inched their way forward. But like with so much else in the modern world weather forecasting only came into its own with the advent of increasingly powerful computers. Without them we’d be lost in a sea of seemingly inexplicable data. As computers become faster and as software becomes more adept we might be able to push accurate forecasts beyond the 5 day limit – although that’ll probably be exponentially more difficult as we push for a 10 day forecast.

I check the weather every morning to know what to wear that day and that’s essentially the difference between climate and weather. When we have a cold snap – even for days or weeks in the winter – it doesn’t mean the global warming or global climate change is a myth (or just wrong). Climate is often described as the 30 year average. Weather decides if you’re going to wear a coat that day or bother to carry an umbrella. They are VASTLY different areas of endeavour not unlike the difference between a day in the life of any individual and the story of a dynasty. It’s all a matter of scale – both breadth and depth. Personally I’m hoping for another hot summer. Although I’m not a huge fan of oppressive heat – and I really struggle in high humidity – I do so hate being cold. If I had a choice I’d pick a hot day over a cold day pretty much every time. Not forgetting that warm weather is always a great excuse for ice cream and short summer dresses…. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Fast getaway.........

Estonians rescue wild wolf from ice thinking it was a dog

From The BBC

22 February 2019

Kind-hearted Estonian workers rushed to rescue a dog in distress from a freezing river on Wednesday - unaware of the fact they were actually about to bundle a wild wolf into their car. The men were working on the Sindi dam on the Parnu River when they spotted the animal trapped in the icy water. After clearing a path through the ice, they took the frozen canine to a clinic for medical care. Only then was it revealed they had been carrying a wolf.

The Estonian Union for the Protection of Animals (EUPA) said the wolf had low blood pressure when it arrived at the veterinarian's office, which may have explained its docile nature after the men carried it to their car to warm it up. Speaking to the Estonian newspaper Postimees, one of the men, Rando Kartsepp, said: "We had to carry him over the slope. He weighed a fair bit. He was calm, slept on my legs. When I wanted to stretch them, he raised his head for a moment," he added. Veterinarians had some suspicions over the large dog's true nature, but it was a local hunter, familiar with the region's wolves, who finally confirmed it for what it was: a young male wolf, about a year old.

Armed with this new information, clinic staff decided to put the wolf in a cage after treatment - in case it became less docile once it recovered. The EUPA said it paid for the animal's treatment, and that "luckily, everything turned out well". The wolf recovered from its brush with death within the day and, after being fitted with a GPS collar by researchers from the national environmental agency, was released back into the wild. "We are so happy for the outcome of the story, and wish to thank all the participants – especially these men who rescued the wolf and the doctors of the clinic who were not afraid to treat and nurture the wild animal," EUPA said. Estonia is home to hundreds of wolves, only a handful of which have been collared in recent years. As a species, they usually avoid humans. It was picked as Estonia's national animal last year by a group of nature organisations.

[Ooops… Well, it’s a mistake anyone could make!]

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Just Finished Reading: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (FP: 1952)

It was a stupid mistake, a stupid, thoughtless mistake. But it was done now and there was no going back especially with the letters, the letters that he had delivered himself. How honest of him, how trusting, how stupid. But that was it. There was nothing he could do except work hard, get his bearings and move on. Maybe something would turn up. Eventually, after the shock, after the disorientation, after the feeling of loss something did. On seeing an elderly family being evicted he could simply observe no longer – so he spoke and, much to his surprise, people listened and then, to his even greater surprise, acted. Watching with bemusement as the riot he had apparently initiated began to unfold he had to be told, forced, to flee before the police sirens arrived. Once safe, away from the action, he could relax and take stock but others who had listened to his unscripted outburst had other ideas. Approached in the street they had a proposition for him – join the Brotherhood and they would take care of his financial needs. Listen to them, follow their directives, read their literature, talk when they told him too, talk to the people them told him to, never deviate from the plan and all would go well. At first he couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe his luck and despite everything just couldn’t stay on message. He tried hard, very hard, to make sense of what they told him, what his priorities were, that he should take the long view, that individual lives didn’t matter where history was concerned and they were, above all else, representatives of historical forces. There was no place for individual effort, individual insight, individual thought. The Brotherhood knew best no matter how things looked, no matter who left the organisation and no matter who died. The only crime, the worst crime of all, was to question the will and the resolve of the Brotherhood and slowly, so slowly he began to do exactly that – to question.

Not only is this an American classic but also a recognised classic of Black American writing. You can certainly see why – especially considering the era in which it was published. It did take me a while to get into it. In my earlier years I would have abandoned it after 50-60 pages but, being more mature these days, I persevered and was glad I did. Still this is not an easy read, or at least I did not find it easy. The style, as far as I could tell, varied throughout the book moving from almost ‘stream of consciousness’ to magical realism, to unreliable narrator, to dream state to harsh realism. Sometimes I had to put my faculties into neutral and just let it glide over me. But there were definite moments when I found it very interesting indeed. Although I don’t recall what age it was supposed to take place in I had the definite feeling that it was the 1930s/early 1940’s – although to be honest it had an almost timeless quality about it (those with more knowledge of American culture than me will probably pick up on the references especially to clothes and hairstyles that would help pin the year down) – so I was rather surprised at the argument between the unnamed narrator and an advocate of Black Nationalism on the streets of New York. After reading Malcolm X fairly recently I found that I could appreciate both sides as they shouted at and threatened each other. Although never explicitly mentioned I couldn’t help thinking that the Brotherhood were Marxists of the old school (pre-World War 2 Stalinists by the sounds of their rhetoric) which probably explains why the narrator had to tie himself in knots keeping up with the ideological shifts that swept through the organisation and the criminal disregard for both individual dignity or value. However, despite its classic status (from multiple directions) this still displayed many of the faults of a first novel – where the author essentially tries too hard to pack every good idea he has into the narrative in fear that he’d never get another shot at being published. Invisible Man is a rambling and sometimes incoherent narrative bloated to almost 600 pages in my Penguin edition. Cutting out 100 or maybe even 200 pages with some judicious editing would’ve created, in my opinion at least, a much more focused and, potentially at least, hard hitting novel. Still it’s worth the time, and the undoubted effort, to read it. More than reasonable though somewhat less than great.   

Monday, February 18, 2019

In their off-hours between Kessel run's....
Crash & Burn?

As of tomorrow we will be 39 days from crashing out of the EU unless something unexpected happens – the miracle of the two wings of the Conservative Party agreeing with each other (even temporarily). Although I think there is a scant possibility that the hard-line Brexiteers might hold their noses and sign up to Teresa May’s deal I think that’s actually pretty unlikely giving the push from some quarters for a no-deal Brexit as the preferred way to go. Naturally there are a few problems with leaving on a no-deal basis but essentially it boils down to one thing – the absence of any kind of deal. This has all kinds of implications on both sides of the Channel some of which we are aware of, most of which we might appreciate and some of which will bite us – HARD.

I think a big part of the problem is that, because we’ve been an EU member since the mid-1970’s very few people appreciate what it was like before we joined. Now, with a decent transition period we could probably have a reasonably effective system in place before we actually left. Without that transition we change over from one set of rules to another set (of generic rules) when the clock ticks over past midnight. One minute we have a whole set of regulations everyone follows and are fully aware of. One minute later no one is quite sure what to do any more. This is not the recipe for any kind of economic activity – never mind anything approaching normality.

As the probability of a no-deal increased both sides started making detailed contingency plans. As far as I can tell the EU plans appear to be further along and much more competent than our own. Some have even been arguing that trying to reduce the effects of no-deal on the British economy actually reduces both our bargaining power in Europe and reduces the threat hanging over MP’s from both sides from being forced into a compromise with Teresa May (AKA being forced to agree with everything she says). So I’m guessing that any plans will do make – nothing like leaving things to the last minute - will be half-hearted, half-assed and only partially thought through and implemented. So it’s pretty certain that the first couple of weeks – and maybe a month or so – will be a combination of chaos, panic and the military being drafted in to sort the mess out.

One thing that’s pretty much guaranteed is that there will be shortages in the shops. This will be a combination of supply chain breakdown (which everyone pretty much agrees on will happen even if things run reasonably efficiently at the ports of entry - which they won’t) because of the prevailing just-in-time systems used by most businesses. A lot of companies are spending a great deal of time and money stockpiling supplies but at best that will only relieve some of the stresses for a few weeks. But I think what will really cause a problem will be panic buying. I’m predicting that, by about 15th March (if nothing else changes), people will start to realise that a problem is barrelling towards them – fuelled by the media no doubt – and they’ll start emergency stocking up on things. What that will cause is temporary and local shortages of things and once people see empty shelves in supermarkets they’ll go full panic mode and shops will have to start rationing things. We’ve seen it before when heavy snow is predicted or strikes happened in one industry or another but this will be worse. Much worse. 

Sensible people, it seems, are already pre-panic buying and are steadily, slowly, increasing holdings of coffee, baby wipes and cat food. A little extra on the weekly shop stored away under stairs or in the garage. Freezers are filling up (as are petrol tanks), cupboard space is becoming a premium and best before dates are being checked. The sensible people are digging in….. Personally I’m stocking up on books and body fat – just in case the worst happens….

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Brain function of night owls and larks differ, study suggests

From The BBC

15 February 2019

The brain function of very late risers and "morning larks" during the hours of the working day is different, according to a study. Researchers scanned the brains of night owls with a bedtime of 02:30 and a wake time of 10:15, along with early risers. The tests - performed between 08:00 and 20:00 - found night owls had less connectivity in brain regions linked to maintaining consciousness. They also had poorer attention, slower reactions and increased sleepiness. Researchers said it suggested that night owls were disadvantaged by the "constraints" of the typical working day. They called for more research to understand the health implications of night owls performing on a work or school schedule to which they are not naturally suited.

Scientists took 38 people who were either night owls or morning larks (people who went to bed just before 23:00 and woke at 06:30) and investigated their brain function at rest using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The volunteers then carried out a series of tasks at various times, from 08:00 to 20:00, and were asked to report on their levels of sleepiness. Morning larks were least sleepy and had their fastest reaction time in the early morning tests. They were also found to perform significantly better at this time than night owls. In contrast, night owls were least sleepy and had their fastest reaction time at 20:00, although they did not do significantly better than the larks at this time. The brain connectivity in the regions that predicted better performance and lower sleepiness was significantly higher in larks at all time points, suggesting connectivity in late risers is impaired throughout the whole working day, researchers said. The lead researcher, Dr Elise Facer-Childs, of the University of Birmingham's Centre for Human Brain Health, said the findings "could be partly driven by the fact that night owls tend to be compromised throughout their lives". Dr Facer-Childs said: "Night owls during school have to get up earlier, then they go into work and they have to get up earlier, so they're constantly having to fight against their preferences and their innate rhythms."

She said there was a "critical need" to better understand how adapting to school and work times to which people are not suited, may be affecting health and productivity. About 40-50% of the population identify as having a preference for later bedtimes and for getting up after 08:20, researchers said. Dr Facer-Childs added: "A typical day might last from 09:00 to 17:00, but for a night owl this could result in diminished performance during the morning, lower brain connectivity in regions linked to consciousness, and increased daytime sleepiness. If, as a society, we could be more flexible about how we manage time, we could go a long way towards maximising productivity and minimising health risks." Dr Facer-Childs stressed that the differences in brain connectivity are not a type of damage and are probably reversible. There are also some limitations to the study. The tests did not look at brain function later in the day, and it is possible that other factors not picked up on in the study, like lifestyle choices, may have affected the results. Dr Alex Nesbitt, consultant neurologist at King's College London, who was not involved in the research, said the study added to evidence that a person's brain performance is influenced not only by the time of the day but also their body clock. "It is becoming increasingly clear that these factors are important when 9-to-5 routines are widely imposed on people," he added. The authors of the study called for more research to look at whether other brain regions might be affected by being a night owl or morning lark. The research, which also involved the University of Surrey, is published in the journal Sleep.

[Well, duh! I could have told them this and saved them a ton of time and money. My brain is essentially mush first thing in the morning (which to me is *after* the sun comes up!) and I doubt if a life or death situation would wake me up any faster. It’s not even a case of being a zombie till I have my first coffee (which I don’t drink) it’s simply the fact that although I may be out of bed and (seemingly) doing stuff my physical brain is still tucked up somewhere warm and cosy. By about 8am I’m fine. It’s probably sooner in the summer when it’s warmer and lighter earlier but probably not much before 07:30. Nice to know that my brain is actually different for larks. Thankfully I’m on flexi-time so am allowed to show up to work the best part of 2hrs later than most of my team!]

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Just Finished Reading: Brunel – The Man Who Built the World by Steven Brindle (FP: 2005)

There are few other men who could be said to have built a world than the brilliantly named Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In Brunel’s case it is the literal truth. During his lifetime Brunel was either associated with (through his father) or directly responsible for a significant number of tunnels, bridges, buildings (often railway stations), piers, harbours and even locomotives that were directly responsible for the explosion of British wealth and power in the 19th Century. In an age when so much work was pioneering Brunel was an outlier in almost every field of engineering endeavour with few peers to compare himself against – Thomas Telford and Robert Stephenson being some of the few in his class. Combining the skills of architect, surveyor, civil engineer, mechanical engineer and ship designer and excelling in each he transformed the English countryside and its economic prospects in equal measure. No understanding of the consequences of the Industrial Revolution can be arrived at without understanding Brunel’s many contributions. The word Genius has been much abused and is much devalued these days but it is an appellation that can surely be applied to Brunel many times over. Not without his faults, being a hard task master and unforgiving of mistakes, he nevertheless drove himself harder than he drove his staff or his contractors to complete his designs on time and to Brunel’s exacting specifications. Brunel is arguably Britain’s greatest engineer and his legacy lives on in concrete form across the country.

This excellent little book (a mere 180 pages) was a delight from start to finish. The author is clearly a fan and, like many other people, completely in awe of the breadth of Brunel’s genius. Whilst not shying away from his flaws the author spins a tale of a hardworking, driven man who took to his monumental tasks like a fish to water. His skills astounded his contemporaries and are even more astonishing when it is remember that engineering theoretical understanding was still in its infancy and that building after advanced so fast that mere theory struggled to keep up. One of the things that interested me personally was Brunel’s involvement with the Great Western Rail line between London and Bristol – something I have travelled on many times particularly when I worked in London and had friends in Bristol. I will definitely pay more attention to that route next time I travel it! I was also fascinated with the political arguments about railway track gauge sizes (OK, I’m a Geek….) and the fight between the canal and coach companies and the new train builders. I need to read more about that period of history! Finally I was riveted (pun intended) to Brunel’s design and building of the biggest ocean going ships of the time and how the designs not only changed trans-Atlantic travel forever but also influenced Royal Naval designs. I definitely want to read more about the competition between paddle steam power and screw propeller (tested in a very public tug-of-war between to two types of ship). Much more of this sort of thing to come when I can dig it up. I’m convinced that in another life, in another universe, I might have been a civil engineer. It’s certainly exciting enough. Recommended. 

It's Valentine's Day..... DEMAND a Hug!

Monday, February 11, 2019


I made a (semi) special trip to the Mall on Saturday for a few things. I hadn’t been there for a good few weeks so was interested to see what new books had come out – especially as February is a no on-line book buying month (yes, I know it’s technically cheating!). I managed to pick up three books (two of which were on my Amazon Wish List) and impulse bought some vitamins from the Health Food shop as they had a sale on. Then for the other reason to hit the Mall…. A visit to the Multiplex.

For a while now my local multiplex has been showing classic movies normally on their particular anniversaries. I’ve seen 2001, Bladerunner and, most recently, Die Hard. This time – in about 2 weeks – it’s the original Alien which is an incredible 40 years old! (which makes me feel VERY old I can tell you!). I’m going along with a few of my younger geeky friends who amazed me recently by BOTH admitting that neither of them have seen the whole film beginning to end in a single sitting. They both said that they’d seen the beginning, middle and end but not necessarily in that order. So it’s going to be fun to be part of their education as a ‘guide’ to one of THE classic SF-Horror movies from the 20th century. It’s going to be even more fun as one of my friends is rather squeamish so I’m fully expecting him to be bouncing out of his seat at least once or twice.

Of course I got talking to the guy on the till as I bought the tickets. He was probably one of the older staff members – late 20’s/early 30’s I’d guess – and the foyer was reasonably quiet so we had the opportunity to discuss the relative merits of Alien Vs Aliens. After some disagreements we decided that, as they were essentially in different genres (Sf/Horror Vs Combat SF) that they were both exemplars of their respective fields. I still think Aliens (probably the Special Edition/Directors Cut) is the better movie but then I’ve always been a sucker for SF style combat movies.

Naturally with the 40th birthday of Alien we’re about to enter into the anniversary space of my favourite style of movie – Eighties films. From 2020 onwards I expect to be seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Risky Business (1983), Gremlins (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), Ferris Bueller (1986), Top Gun (1986), Aliens (1986), The Lost Boys (1987), Heathers (1988), Say Anything (1989)……. It’s going to be SO much fun seeing them at the movies again (or for the first time as I saw a number of 80’s movies on VHS the first time around).   

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Zoo's Valentine cockroach revenge for ex-lovers

From The BBC

7 February 2019

A zoo in the US state of Texas is celebrating Valentine's Day by inviting visitors to name cockroaches after their ex-partners. In an event called Quit Bugging Me!!!, keepers at El Paso Zoo will feed the insects to hungry meerkats. They will also display ex partners' names around the meerkat enclosure and on social media. Sarah Borrego, the event organiser, said it was a "fun and different" way to celebrate Valentine's Day. "All of us have exes and we are still not over it and it's a great way to get the community in and also get out a little bit of the frustration," she said. The event will be streamed lived on Facebook and on the zoo's "meerkat webcam". Since the event was posted on Facebook on Monday, the names of 1500 ex-partners have been sent to the zoo, with entries coming from as far afield as Germany and Australia. The event has also sparked excitement on Twitter.

Only the first names or initials of ex-lovers are to be on display in the zoo and on social media. Ms Borrego thinks that the overwhelming response may be an indication "that people are sick of Valentine's" because it is so commercial. She added that the zoo has not received any complaints about the event but that "there might be some backlash" Ms Borrego said the cockroaches will be fed to monkeys as well as meerkats. "Cockroaches are considered a treat for meerkats," she said. The animals will only receive one cockroach each as the insects are "the equivalent of cookies" for humans. Bronx Zoo in New York and The Hemsley Conservation Centre in Kent, UK, are inviting visitors to take part in similar exercises. Last year, Hemsley Conservation Centre had a two-for-one offer for couples to visit the zoo but this Valentine's Day they decided to do something different.

Henry Weedon, the operations manager, said Valentine's Day was a good opportunity for visitors to learn about the insects. Visitors pay £1.50 ($2) to receive a certificate as a "keepsake" of the cockroach named after their ex-lover. "We have had people say we'll give you a £500 donation if you film someone stamping on the cockroach," he said, but the zoo has refused, deciding to keep the cockroaches alive. Like El Paso Zoo, they will also be displaying the names of the spurned lovers on Valentine's Day. Sydney Zoo in Australia has gone one step further - visitors have been asked to enter a competition to name a highly venomous brown snake after an ex-lover. Entrants have to explain to the zoo what their ex did to earn a snake being named after them.

[LOL – So funny! I loved the comment about Valentine's Day was a good opportunity for visitors to learn about the insects…. LOL. I’ll have to find the zoo’s webpage….. ROTFLMAO]

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Love is.....

Just Finished Reading: Keir Hardie – Labour’s Greatest Hero? By Bob Holman (FP: 2010)

Keir Hardie was born into abject poverty just outside Glasgow in 1856. Largely self-educated by reading discarded newspapers and his mother’s Bible along with later help from the local Temperance Union he briefly became the families primary breadwinner at age ten when his adopted father was forced out of work. Graduating from bakery delivery boy to managing pit ponies in the local coalmine he was involved in a mine shaft collapse as a teenager. As he grew older he discovered that he had the gift of oratory – not from a sophisticated speaking technique but from heartfelt and simply expressed beliefs in the value of work and working class lives. But the last thing his employer wanted was a young man, with radical ideas, able to sway his fellow workers to action so both he and his brother were sacked as potential troublemakers. Here Hardies luck changed and he was taken on at a local workers newspaper where he began to excel as a writer of political prose. Informed by his upbringing and his deep belief in the lessons of Christianity he began edging away from the primary opposition to Toryism at the time – Liberalism – and towards a new political stance: Socialism. Still a half formed thing Hardie and others in his immediate circle built the foundations of socialist thought with a British (indeed Scottish) flavour distinct from the European (largely Franco-German) strand. Never a Communist and certainly never an Atheist he helped to found the Independent Labour Party and eventually became the very first Labour MP in the Houses of Parliament.

This was an interesting little book (at just 207 pages) about a largely forgotten politician and social reformer. Few would know his name and fewer still would know his story these days unless they are scholars of left-wing or Labour history. I had heard of him from my father (who, looking back on it, I’m beginning to think was far more Left-wing than I thought!) and from comments in an obscure 1980’s TV comedy series called ‘Brass’. Spoken of in hushed mythic terms Keir Hardie helped to create the Labour Party in Britain almost out of thin air and championed the common man – and even more radically for the time the common woman – with his every breath. Both attacked and feared by most of the press, the ruling elites and the Church (or those parts of the Church to feel the lash of his tongue for their lack of basic Christian charity) he soldiered on with single minded determination to make the lives of the Working class better in any way he could. He certainly deserves to be better known than he is presently. Despite several faults this book might help in bringing him back to the notice of the people he spent his life’s energy trying to lift up. Reasonable.