A new study of the Black Death in London has concluded that the disease which wiped out perhaps half of the capital's population in the mid-14th century was not bubonic plague spread by the immigrant black rat from Asia ( The Black Death in London by Barney Sloane, The History Press Ltd 2011). When the plague struck in 1348 nobody had a clue about the nature of such diseases and it was only much later in history that there was speculation about the cause of the epidemic. I am not sure when the black rat and the flea it carried was first implicated but certainly there was no knowledge of the nature of bubonic plague until the nasty bug, Yersinia pestis, was identified in 1894 during an outbreak of the disease in Hong Kong. It is transmitted to humans by a flea that lives on a variety of rodents, one of which is the black rat.
When there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in India in 1994 I remembered that I had a book on my shelves by a zoologist called Graham Twigg which ...Read more
Just before the looting and burning began in London I was thinking about putting down some thoughts about house sparrows. Those in my back garden seem to have gone on days out somewhere now that their young have fledged and I hear them return in the evening. I have no idea where they go but I like to imagine them off in the countryside or down the River Thames taking a dip in the river. They enjoy a bath in the pottery dishes we leave out for them in the back garden.
At the same time as the scenes reminiscent of the Blitz filled the TV screen I read a review of a book about the wartime campaign that became known as Dig for Victory (The Spade as Mighty as the Sword: The Story of World War Two's 'Dig for Victory' Campaign by Daniel Smith Aurum Press). Before 1939, Britain was absolutely reliant on food shipped in from around the world. At the outbreak of war, the German U-Boats laid siege and the Government appealed to the nation to start producing home grown crops and ...Read more
A guest blog from my old friend and colleague on New Society magazine in the 1970s David White. We had been exchanging stories about crime reporting in the old days..........here is his:
My contact with police on the Daily Mirror in 1969 was slight but memorable. Before transferring to the Mirror Magazine, the Mirror's weekly colour supplement, I was attached to the Daily Mirror newsroom as an early form of intern. It was suggested that I might learn something if I shadowed their senior crime reporter . This man and his boss comprised the grandly named Daily Mirror Crime Bureau. Both were ex-Met officers. One a huge, self-important man with crinkly black hair. The other I remember as also large but less pleased with himself, and quite happy to have a beginner at his elbow.
When a body was discovered on Wimbledon Common one morning, the crime reporter and I were sent off to cover the story. It was quickly established by the huddle of police at the scene that this was a gay killing, ...Read more
It is easy to forget now how innocent young people were in the early 1960s. We had perhaps heard about drugs but we had never seen any, not in Richmond, Surrey certainly where I was a reporter on a local newspaper. However, by a strange quirk of fate, I found myself at the centre of a major drug scare which rang alarm bells well beyond the town hall and the local police station.
When I left school at 17 I had a variety of jobs, imagining all the time the terse paragraph that would describe me on the back of my first novel. After working as bus conductor, petrol pump attendant and shop assistant Weightman devoted himself to writing.....Nearly all of my friends went to university and by the time I was twenty I was beginning to feel a social distance from them. While I wore a suit to work they dressed how they pleased and they could experiment with drink and drugs in a way I would not have dared.
I married very young and while working on the ...Read more
Memories of a local reporter
In the mid 1960s I worked as a reporter on a newspaper in Richmond, Surrey which is on the fringes of London's built up area. It was town rather than country and had something of the atmosphere of the so-called " swinging sixties" about it. The Rolling Stones, then one of a number of imitators of black American blues music, played there and Richmond had its jazz festivals. The phone hacking scandal, which has put senior policemen in the Parliamentary dock, has brought back memories of that time and had me mulling over the relationship we had then with the local police.
We got a great many stories from the police and my memory is that we were keen to keep in their good books. I do not recall any criticisms of police operations or police behaviour. As reporters we inevitably got to know the local bobbies. We made regular calls to the police station to look through the OB book. This Occurrence Book listed all kinds of incidents that had ...Read more