Panda to the barricade!

August 29, 2016

From 20th August 2016                                                        PandaBarricade

Several times at the end of carriages on the Paris Metro I saw this poster for the French section of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. At first, I thought it slightly strange, but vaguely familiar. The penny (or centime, or eurocent) gradually dropped, followed up by a quick computer search. Its composition (cropped from landscaped to portrait) mimicked the Delacroix painting

‘La Liberté guidant le peuple’

(You can see it at

The panda, icon of WWF, replaces Marianne, the symbolic figure of Liberty and Revolution in France and the flag now says  WWF rather than being the tricolour of revolution. The two foreground figures on the panda’s right are similar format to the original, with one of them wearing a tall hat. The adoring person in the middle at the front has being replaced by an adoring spaniel.
The corpses in front of the barricade have been cropped off and the poster has less in the way of weaponry.
But the essential feature is a masterpiece of the advertising trade by harking back to an image familiar to all educated French people. The French wording is simple and straightforward; even a foreigner can read it easily. In fact the man at the left of the picture has an English slogan on his t-shirt ‘Keep Calm and Save the Earth’. (I can’t help feeling that General de Gaulle wouldn’t have liked it being in English.)
Figureheads of the WWF have included Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, our Prince Philip and now Prince Charles. I wonder how they would feel about a poster lauding on the 1830 revolution which finally overthrew the legitimate monarchy in France. I hope they would be happy about it if it brings money and support.

My other picture, taken in La Defense, is probably the biggest picture of a panda in Paris; it advertises Beauval animal park in the Loire valley.


Step-free access?

August 27, 2016

From 21 August 2016

On the Sunday afternoon we left our hotel in Levallois and used the Metro to get to Paris Gare du Nord and hence by Eurostar to London and Harold Wood.

The first bit was easy; a 10 minute walk trundling our cases included a couple of pedestrianised streets, including one where the Sunday market was almost cleared up. Paris Metro stations are not the easiest places for people with luggage – I’ll write another posting about that later. I reckon we had to manoeuvre our bags through one ticket gate and down about 30 steps (in several flights) to reach the platform.

Once on the metro train, things really started looking up. We changed at Reamur-Sebastipol and had done a recce. We knew that the change there involved 24 steps up, followed immediately by 6 steps down, thereafter to home there were only 3 fixed steps (in Liverpool St underground station) until we reached our doorstep in Harold Wood.  In Gare du Nord metro we used two escalators followed by a lift to the Eurostar reception. Boarding the train involved a travolator down to the platform. Several steps into the train were a bit challenging, but getting down in St Pancras was less so – different platform height. Inside the Eurostar section at St Pancras were ramped travolators again. Once in the open areas of the station, the Metropolitan-Circle line platforms were reached by a combination of two lifts. The Met-Circle trains now have floors level with the platform. At Liverpool St. there were the unavoidable 3 steps, but we used the lift from the Underground concourse to the Main Line ticket office, leaving only lifting the bags on and off the Greater Anglian train.

There had, of course, been gates (2) at Gare du Nord, at Kings Cross-St.Pancras, Liverpool St (2) and Harold Wood, but I know how to deal with them.

And thanks are due to the young man at Harold Wood station, who seeing me unload my bag from the train, offered me help. I hope that I declined gracefully, as I was then within easy trundling distance of home!


New footbridge at Harold Wood Station

March 10, 2016

From February 16th

Some months ago I attended an exhibition at St. Peter’s to tell us about what would happen in the run up to Crossrail. I was glad to be re-assured that all four lines could still be used by both the TfL (Crossrail) and Greater Anglian trains to keep the services going during maintenance or other problems. My wife was less happy when I told that construction traffic from the A12 traffic lights to the station would use our road on the way to the station; this, so far, doesn’t seem to have made any impact in our road.

It was a couple of months ago that the foundations for the footbridge were put in. This involved closing the fast lines for a weekend while a temporary bridge went, at platform level, between platforms 2 and 1. Then there was no great activity in the station, apparently, for some time. Of course, there was work going on up and down the track, and we have become used extra construction equipment appearing in Station Road at evenings and weekend and to varying sorts of weekend closures. Also there are TWO works compounds occupying perhaps two thirds of the station car-park.

It was a slight shock, therefore to come back from a weekend away and find that most of the new footbridge, obviously pre-fabricated was in place. It is on a grander scale than the original. It is still a long way from finished, as the lifts and the walkway joining it to the booking office block need to be installed. The works compound near the station building is now much emptier!

Joining to the booking office block will involve demolition of the existing footbridge, which has apparently an asbestos roof.

Harold Wood people await further developments with interest.

Lagan River Path

March 10, 2016

From: February 14th.LaganPath14Feb16

Belfast is, in Irish, the fort on the river Farset , and if you had been there 300 years ago you would have seen ships docked in the Farset, just like in the Fleet in London or the Ouseburn in Newcastle; but now like small rivers in many cities it is largely underground (under High St, in fact). Belfast is now definitely on the River Lagan. In recent years, the weir that marks the divide between the tidal and non-tidal Lagan has been moved downstream from the Gasworks to where the Liverpool and Heysham ferries used to dock near the city centre. The next weir up is at Stranmillis, and marked the start of the Lagan Navigation, which used the river and bypassed the weirs with locks with canal sections. About 10 miles upstream, in Lisburn, the canal left the river and headed towards Lough Neagh, from there, in the heyday of canals, you could have gone, via rivers and canals, all the way to Limerick in the south-west of Ireland.

Although the canal fell into disuse in 1958, there is still a path following the canal or the river from Stranmillis (about 1 mile from the centre of Belfast) to Lisburn. You can have a nice Sunday walk along a section of the river. Stranmillis to Shaw’s bridge is close to city buses at both ends and the ‘The Lock Keeper’s Inn’ café (involved in a political scandal about 5 years ago) makes a pleasant stop.

But we, Barbara & I with a local friend as guide, decided to walk the next section up, from Drumbeg to Shaw’s Bridge. A bit of shuffling left a car at each end, included a detour by car to local Neolithic fort, the Giant’s Ring, and a coffee at the Stables near the Drumbeg Bridge. So refreshed we walked downstream to Shaw’s Bridge, keeping an eye out for the cyclists who also use the path. The left bank skirts Malone Golf Club, whereas on the Co Down (right) bank it is completely rural except for the former mill village of Edenderry (footbridge from the path).

This all forms part of the Lagan Valley Regional Park and at intervals you can find QR codes (see picture) that should give you access to audio commentary. However, the one I tried was in a spot without much Vodafone signal, so it only downloaded and played some minutes later, as we continued on our way. A very nice outing, within 6 miles of the centre of Belfast.

There is, in quite a lot of versions, a mock heroic ballad about a disastrous barge journey to the canal, with the crew rescued by use of a scarf or braces. The links take you to 2 versions:

Their voyage from the Docks didn’t even take them to Stranmillis! Of course, the Clancy Brothers have recorded the ballad.

Zac Goldsmith’s great-grandfather (and other ancestors)

March 7, 2016

When I was a student at Queen’s University, Belfast there were three on-campus places where students lunched – the Students’ Union, a ‘temporary’ dining hall (the building’s still there!), and the Great Hall.

The Great Hall is an impressive wood-panelled room and at that time it had a discreet cafeteria servery at one end while a selection of oil paintings of University worthies decorated the walls.

Such worthies obviously included Chancellors of the University and I remember that one of them was the 7th Marquess of Londonderry, Chancellor 1923-49; that still makes the most long-serving Chancellor the university has had. His granddaughter, born Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart, the daughter of the 8th Marquess, is Zac’s mum. The 7th Lord Londonderry was a Tory MP before the First World War. Afterwards he became a Stormont MP and minister. In 1926 he moved his career back to Westminster and was a minister in all Tory and National governments until 1935. The family London house, Londonderry House in Park Lane, was famous in the 1930s as a place where the influential met socially.

His family was extremely rich. The 3rd Marquess (who succeeded in 1822) had ‘married well’ to an heiress from north-east England, under whose land were seams of coal. (This accounts for the village of Londonderry in North Yorkshire.) So the family were major coal owners until Nationalisation, as well as major landowners with fine houses in the North-East and Ulster.

The 3rd Marquess’s half-brother, who was briefly 2nd Marquess, is better known to history as Viscount Castlereagh – the title he had during 20 years at the top of Tory governments at the start of the 19th century. He represented Britain at Congress of Vienna and was considered by liberals as a very reactionary figure. Both Shelley and Byron wrote poetry that made it clear that they hated him.

Zac Goldsmith is a golden boy because his father was a very rich man, but not many know that through his mother he has a silver spoon because she was from a rich family which owned much land and many coal-mines.

Don Sanderson Trophy 2015

November 6, 2015

Our son, Don Sanderson (Dagenham 1969 – Brno 1999) was in the 1990s the Events Officer of the SquashBJC_-_U17_19_winners Rackets Association (the governing body for Squash in England) – now called England Squash and Racketball. His work involved being tournament director for a number of tournaments, including the British Open and especially junior tournaments, which cater for young players up to 19 in four two-year bands.
After Don’s sudden death in a road accident in 1999, the squash community was very supportive to Barbara and me. This included a charity tournament involving leading players and the decision of England Squash to name the trophy for the under-19 British Junior Championships after Don.
As a result of this, we are invited each year to the Technifibre British Junior Championships, which are now held in Manchester, to present the prizes. Access this year was a little easier than last year, when there was no match in the Manchester City stadium next door to the National Squash Centre!
The skill shown by these young players is inspiring and many of the leading under-19 players go straight on a career in squash, as players and coaches. There is overlap in skills between age bands. The runner-up in the Under-19 girls was last years Under-17 winner and last years Under-15 winner was runner-up in the Under-17 girls. A few girls as young as 14 are quite capable of playing at Women’s Senior level.

Picture (England Squash and Racketball) shows Under-17 Winners Kyle Finch and Lucy Turmel to the left of the photo with Under-19 Winners Georgina Kennedy and James Peach to the right.

Stamps for Sir Nicholas Winton

August 25, 2015

In July I wrote a short appreciation of Sir Nicholas Winton, who had just died. Since then there was a campaign to have him commemorated in postage stamps both in the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom. The Czech Republic agreed quite quickly, but the UK reaction was more cautious, quoting the procedure for such stamps and suggesting that it could be over a year before it was agreed, if at all.

There was a petition on which I was happy to sign. Today, as one of the signatories I received an email indicating success:


Justin Cohen & Richard Ferrer

United Kingdom

25 Aug 2015 — You did it! The Royal Mail has confirmed it will produce a stamp celebrating Sir Nicholas Winton. While stamps are usually decided on two years in advance, this will be fast-tracked to be issued in 2016.

Thank you to each and every one of you that backed our campaign which demonstrated such a strong desire for this rare honour. We hope the stamp will serve as a lasting reminder of Sir Nicholas’ inspirational actions without which thousands would not be alive today.

Thank you once again!”

Silly season story – those ‘Nazi’ salutes.

July 20, 2015

After the story about the Sun front page story about a home movie showing the future Queen, her mother and her uncle doing raised-arm salutes, all sorts of implications have been read into it. I’m quite sceptical; with scientific training, I can understand all sorts of complicated theories without necessarily believing them to be true.

I started from the vague idea that such a salute derived from the Roman Empire and then was revived in Italy by Mussolini. Even that is doubtful. The earliest documented example is apparently an eighteenth century painting of a Roman scene by the French artist JL David. From that it began to be incorporated into other art works such as later paintings, right down to films and TV programmes in our time.

Mussolini wasn’t the first Italian nationalist to use it, either. There are earlier examples, but not much earlier.

We have views of history that are overlaid by later events. Our views now are not how people saw it at the time. Though we now see Hitler as the dominant partner in what was to become the Axis, we forget that Mussolini was the senior partner for about 10 years from the early 1920s, when he seized power within the Italian monarchy. So the Nazis adopting the Fascist salute was a natural development. The period between the wars had examples of ‘Strong Man’ regimes in many European countries, so that, in that spectrum Hitler and Mussolini did not seem as outlandish as we recognise them to be now. In the same period, there were a number of examples of extreme left revolutions savagely put down. Right-wing authoritarians played on the fears of those disruptions to the hilt and portrayed themselves as bringers of order, albeit ones who stabilised by depriving people of human rights. There are books and articles written at the time that embody what now seems a dangerous toleration towards such movements. John Buchan’s novel ‘House of the Four Winds’ describes a coup that is backed by a rather fascistic movement against a communist government. P.G. Wodehouse created, in Sir Roderick Spode, a comical and incompetent fascist leader; his attitude served him ill when he himself fell into the hands of the Nazis. (John Buchan, by the way, devoted his last years, as Governor-General of Canada, to strengthening relations between the UK, USA and Canada in the vital run-up to World War II.)

There is a parallel story of the raised-arm salute. The so-called Bellamy salute was widely used in the USA from 1892 to 1942 to salute the flag and the national anthem, especially in schools. Twelve months into the war with the Nazis, it became an embarrassment and was replaced by the hand-over-the-heart salute that we see many presidents using in our era.

So what was the lead-up to that piece of film? It could have been something like:

What is that funny salute that the new government in Germany is insisting on? Let’s see if we can do it.


How do American schoolchildren salute the flag?


It may have been a matter of role-play. As a grandfather, I know how small children indulge in role play, and they may insist on their adult companions joining in too. Sometimes they are quite happy to take the role of people or animals that they fear, such as scary monsters.

My three explanations may not be true, but I think their just as likely as more sinister explanations I’ve heard.

We must not make bricks without straw about the events of 1933. And we must remember that all three of the people in the film learnt a lot since, especially in the succeeding ten years. In that they were typical of their contemporaries.

Altogether, a stereotypical silly season story, manipulating emotions and selling newspapers, but of little consequence.

In memoriam Charles Kennedy

July 10, 2015

At the Social Liberal Forum conference, in the Amnesty HQ in Shoreditch on Saturday 4th July, there was an act of Remembrance for Charles Kennedy.

It had been decided that a minutes silence was too glum an act for the outgoing, empathetic and sociable Charles, so we were asked, instead, to applaud for a minute. Very appropriate.

Every Liberal Democrat leader has his own special gifts. Perhaps we don’t appreciate all their qualities when they are in office, but seeing them in action later is often a moment of recognition of what made them so special.

Charles had sympathy, quick wit and judgement of what was right. He clearly cared for people. He was unique and he established a rapport with many inside and outside the party.

I haven’t seen my favourite Kennedy moment quoted anywhere else. It was his first conference speech after he was elected as one of five candidates. Following LibDem principles, we were asked to put the figures 1 to 5 opposite the candidates; this allows 2nd and lower preference votes from eliminated candidates to be transferred, so that the eventual winner has definitely more votes for him or her than the runner-up. (Even in the present 2-candidate race between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, we vote using 1 and 2)

Charles started his speech:

‘I would like to thank all of you who voted for me as Leader, whether as First Preference, or Second Preference or Third….”

I think that was as far as he got, because he was drowned out by the reaction of audience applause and laughter.

It showed modesty, a connection with his audience and a wish to reconcile with those who had stood against him. Before that, we had liked and admired him, but then we loved him.

Sir Nicholas Winton and the Kindertransport

July 5, 2015

It was very sad to hear this week, that Sir Nicholas Winton had died. He was 106.LiverpoolStStatue

Until 1938 he seemed to be just another City of London businessman with interests in Prague.

For those not in the know, although he did more good work, that’s what he was for another half century. However, his memorial is what he did in 1938-9 as the Nazis tightened their noose around Czechoslovakia and Austria. He foresaw what was barely imaginable to most ordinary people that this would result, over the years that followed, in deadly peril for all those Jews who lived in Nazi controlled territory.

It is hard for us, with hindsight, to imagine that Hitler was seen as a fairly normal national leader. So people who warned of the danger to Jews were thought to be exaggerating. Winton used his contacts to approach the British Prime Minister, Chamberlain, and eventually got agreement for this country to accept Jewish children, initially from Czechoslovakia. He organised the trains that brought them to the Hook and thence to Harwich and Liverpool St. He also arranged that families in this country would accept them and care from them. The process went on right up to the start of World War II and was extended to Austria and Poland.

Notice however, that the immigration concession was for children. It did not extend to their parents. Some of the parents, underestimating the Nazi threat, may not have wished to leave. But parents, who could have left, were not automatically accepted as refugees. Many of those who remained were ensnared by the Nazi machine and ended up in death camps. A few were lucky and escaped in other ways or managed to evade their hunters.

Although the death camps were reported at the time of their liberation, interest in them waned in the decades post-World War II. In Communist Czechoslovakia, the official narrative was to emphasize the Communist anti-Fascist struggle and to snopake out the efforts from the West. This even went as far as imprisoning returning Czech airmen who had served with the RAF.

After 1990 Czech exiles could try to reconnect with their families and Czechs in their homeland could discover what the west had done for them. Everyone could hear for the first time what the modest Nicholas Winton had done. He received several British and Czech honours, including being knighted by the Queen in 2002 and receiving the Czech Order of the White Lion in 2014. There are statues of him at stations in Maidenhead and Prague. There are memorials to the Kindertransport children at stations in Gdansk, Vienna and Prague, and at Liverpool St. in London.

The picture shows the statue in Liverpool St near the ticket office. It shows two waiting children and a suitcase, as if they had just arrived from Prague in 1938. The inscription on the plinth says, in Czech ‘for the child’. For some months last year, one of the children was missing; I never found out why, but was cheered when they were reunited.

After my son met his Czech girlfriend in 1997, I started to talk to people about Czech history. One of the things that came out of this was that I found two women whose fathers had come to England on the Kindertransport – you might call them granddaughters of the Kindertransport. One of them was someone I already knew in Harold Wood. The second was a doctor I met at a wedding we attended in Bristol.

(Kindertransport is German for children transport. Many Czech Jews were among those Czechs who spoke German as their first language; you can imagine the difficulty this could cause for some of the refugee children in the UK after 1938.)