Water Lilies by Jim Harris



Russian outrage!


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News that a Russian aircraft carrier and accompanying warships are in the English Channel on their way to the eastern Mediterranean should put fear into the hearts of North Sea fishermen. Here, from my book  The Industrial Revolutionaries is an account of what happened in 1904 when a Russian fleet, en route to Vladivostok to confront the Japanese Navy, mistook Hull fishing boats for the enemy. The illustration above is from a postcard captioned the "Russian Outrage!".

On the afternoon of Sunday 23 October 1904 two fishing trawlers limped back to Hull on the north east coast of England, their flags flying at half mast. Those who came to greet them were at first puzzled, then horrified. The boats, the Mino and the Moulmein, were riddled with shell-holes. On board they carried the bodies of Henry Smith who had been skipper of another of the Hull Gamecock fleet, the S.T Crane, and his boatswain William Arthur Leggett. There were six wounded. It was a wonder that there were no more ...

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The real Baldwin lX Count of Flanders in his crusader armour

One or two political commentators, ruminating on the remarkable emergence of Jeremy Corbyn from obscurity to national prominence, have called to mind the wonderful historical work of the late Norman Cohn entitled The Pursuit of the Millennium.  At the time of the Crusades a great many movements arose, fired by an irrational belief in a utopian vision, and often putting their faith in an imaginary messiah. A tramp sleeping rough in the woods would be identified as a long lost hero of a crusade and carried shoulder high and quite bewildered into town to be crowned King. Lavished with all kinds of luxury for a few months, the imaginary messiah was invariably denounced as a charlatan and forced to flee. Of the many such tales Cohn related in his book, the one which has lodged itself in my memory is of the rise and fall of the messiah he called the “Pseudo-Baldwin. “


When the Crusaders captured Constantinople ...

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Sex in Blackpool


One of the brief fifteen minute talks  I gave recently at the Southbank Centre as part of its The Rest is Noise festival was on the extraordinary organisation Mass Observation which was founded in 1937 in London. Charles Madge, a poet and journalist, Humphrey Jennings a film maker and Tom Harrisson a self-styled anthropologist decided, as part of a project to monitor the mood of the nation, that the English working classes should be studied as if they were a tribe of savages. Harrisson, a keen bird watcher had got a taste for social observation while living with cannibals in the South Pacific and on his return to England camped in Bolton, Lancashire to live amongst the natives. Known to Mass Observation as "Worktown" it became the focus of some intense scrutiny when volunteer "observers" arrived to study the social habits of the locals. The idea was to publish the results in a series of books but only one, The Pub and the People, got into print before the war broke ...

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Off the rails



File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TrevithicksEngine.jpg 

Richard Trevithick's 1804 "strong steam" engine

I recorded Dan Snow’s Locomotion: a history of the railway to see what he had to say about Richard Trevithick, the Cornish mining engineer who built the first working steam locomotives one of which carried 50 tons of iron and 70 men nearly ten miles in 1804. But there was no mention of him. Episode one lurched from a stationary steam engine which pulled a cable to Stephenson’s Rocket in 1830. Nothing in between. And everything that went right in that quarter of a century, every innovation was attributed to Stephenson and his son Robert, who was a mere lad when Trevithick visited them in the North East. I spun back and forth to find out if there was an account of the radical change in technology which made the steam locomotive possible. Nothing. Just a vague reference to steam engines evolving. I sat there thinking: this programme is not on the rails. Everything about it was wrong. Where on earth did Snow and his ...

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Lunar fakery



The death of the astronaut Neil Armstrong has set me thinking about moon stories and the fact that there are still many conspiracy theorists who do not believe that anybody has really landed on it and the whole story is simply an elaborate fabrication. I firmly believe that Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but a story I was told many years ago by a journalist I worked with illustrates the fact that lunar fakery did happen. I was in my twenties, a junior reporter chatting late in the evening to an experienced editor who was seeing out his last days as a kind of executive. He was in a confessional mood, told me about the break up of his marriage, the guilt he felt and many other stories. He had worked in Africa editing a group of newspapers ( I do not remember which country ) and thought he would make a special splash with the first photographs of the surface of the moon sent back from one of the unmanned craft that preceeded Armstrong's historic first steps on the rocky ...

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