The Cheltenham Connection

A couple of things have appeared in various newspapers and periodicals which struck a chord with me, and although at first glance there appears to be absolutely nothing in common between them, on reflection, there was.

Robert Falcon Scott

The two subjects were first, a statue of Scott of the Antarctic, up for auction in London and second, various accounts in the press of the appointment of the new Governor of the Bank of England, the Canadian Mark ‘Canuck’ Carney, photographed with his ‘firebrand’ wife Diana Fox Carney.

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and Diana Carney at the second annual Distinguished Patrons Soiree held in May at the National Gallery of Canada.

Mark and Diana ‘Fox’ Carney

The first item was a photograph on the back of the Art Fund magazine ‘Art Quarterly’ showing a statuette of Robert Falcon Scott dressed in his Antarctic clothing and standing full length, sculpted by his widow Kathleen Scott as a model for a statue commissioned by Christchurch City Council in New Zealand. The 26″ high plaster and wood marquette figure is up for auction by Christie’s auctioneers as a contribution in lieu of inheritance tax for some unknown estate. It was Lady Kathleen Scott who also sculpted the well-known statue of Dr Edward Wilson, one of Scott’s last companions in his doomed race for the Pole 100 years ago, also in Antarctic clothing, standing on the Promenade in his home town of Cheltenham.

Cheltenham, coincidentally, is also the home town of Diana Fox Carney, who lived here for a while before going up to Oxford to obtain a first in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) [must-do degrees for aspiring politicians] as well as a Masters in Agriculture [she is now an eco-warrior!], and meeting her husband who was doing a post-graduate scholarship there from Canada. She first came to his attention when scoring a number of goals during a hockey match, although he was more into ice hockey. Her maiden name was Fox and she still calls herself ‘Miss Fox’ despite 20 years of marriage.

18th Century Election Skit

Fox, it seems, has been a potent local political name, a local Cheltenham flyer from an active late 18th century or early 19th election campaign having come into my hands a year or two ago – possibly referring to the radical politician Charles James Fox. I have not been able to track down the specific ‘Fox’ although it may well have to do with this one who opposed the war against America, slavery and King George III and his prime minister, Pitt. Somehow I don’t think Diana Fox will be quite as revolutionary, but her eco credentials are strong.

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Periodical and Paper Promotions

Back in the news(paper(s)) after a bit of a break, Hanover House B&B ( ) features at the moment as part of a promotion of Alastair Sawdays with The Times where 50 of the top B&Bs featured by Sawdays around the country are providing rooms at two nights for the price of one, available during the winter months.  We have also been selected by Sawdays to feature in a Daily Telegraph promotion but there is no sign of that materialising at the moment. A number of other publications offer us space, although these have probably more limited value in terms of exposure. Some of them originate in Country Life or Country Style types of publications, promoting regions or counties, but frequently with fairly limited circulations. Although it is always pleasant to see one’s business in a glossy magazine in technicolour, if it doesn’t bring in business then it is a false vanity and economy.

To date there has been a fair bit of interest in The Times offer and we have taken a number of bookings, but I would guess that it will be a relatively short-lived affair and the limited period collection of tokens will have expired with no further take-up. The Telegraph offer has also just materialised and we are included amongst a number of select Alastair Sawday establishments giving a discount to registered Telegraph readers, so there may be another small burst.  However our best bet for exposure is still electronically, and hopefully, given some breathing space, our winter circular will be written and sent out to our mailing list quite soon.


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Redacting the Internet

One of the major problems of the interactive and global internet is that it is all too easy to post information on various web sites and on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook which has not been and sometimes is not verifiable. Some of this information, posted without due thought of the consequences (although sometimes it has been posted deliberately to cause maximum damage) may not have been properly researched and is in all likelihood totally inaccurate if not checked and cross-checked by other sources. The examples of Wikipedia and TripAdvisor immediately come to mind! A current example in the news is the list of ‘outed’ possible child or female molesters linked to the Conservative Party in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, posted on various sites on the internet with no possibility of redress, and foolishly presented publicly to David Cameron by presenter Philip Schofield on television yesterday morning.

Such, often scurrilous, information, and easily posted is often almost impossible to get retracted or redacted quickly or simply before major damage can be done to often innocent parties. We are wrestling with just such an event at present, albeit on rather a minor scale compared to the sex scandals!  A children’s author, Alan Brunwin, who is deeply involved with social justice problems such as dealt with by ‘Help the Aged’ and in care homes, sheltered housing and housing associations, has inadvertently published a Google Review against Hanover House B&B which is damaging. However the Hanover House he has aimed his guns at – and missed – is Hanover House Housing Association in Chelteham. To try and find out how to get the mistake corrected has been a nightmare. It is difficult to find who or how in Google to get redress for what is in effect inadvertent defamation, and after a lot of rooting around, I eventually put in a message on the back of reporting an illegal post – which is possibly not yet technically true.

I also attempted to contact the author of the review to ask for voluntary withdrawal, particularly as he has never stayed at Hanover House B&B and is therefore in no position to comment on our standards, good or bad. Again a brick wall. Googling him brought up principally his blog site with no means of direct contact, other than responding indirectly to one of his blogs on housing associations in general -but does he read responses? I have no way of knowing and need to contact him personally. Next I tried the business social media site LinkedIn of which we are members, as is Alan Brunwin. However LinkedIn will not allow connection unless I already know the recipient (although this hasn’t stopped total strangers asking to be connected to us!) and asked for Alan’s email address, which is what I was looking for in the first place!  LinkedIn offered an email service to contact Alan Brunwin, but for which I would have had to sign up for a monthly subscription service, a total waste of money as we would probably never use it again.

Finally in desperation, I enrolled on an author’s website ‘AuthorsDen‘ and have now sent Alan a personal and polite message asking him to withdraw the Google Review, which no doubt will be published for the world of authors and readers to see. I just have to wait now to see if it will have any effect or not… Nearly a week later and there is no response from either Google or the author, so so much for an ability to respond or put wrongs right!

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Seeing Red – A SAD Enlightenment

Veronica, I am convinced (as is she) that genetically she originates from somewhere more south than here, where there is relatively unlimited sun. A DNA test is still required to confirm this, but in the long, dark, winter months she seems to suffer more than most. Our quarters in Hanover House B&B ( don’t help too much as although the house is built on a hill and our basement ‘suite’ of bedroom, utility rooms, kitchen and putative breakfast cum sitting room open out onto the rear walled courtyard garden, the front kitchen windows are on or below street level. It doesn’t help that the house is sited almost East-West and so although the main front reception (drawing) room and front bedroom (Tennyson) and Nursery are all brilliantly floodlit by early morning light, the kitchen – the powerhouse – tends to be fairly gloomy.

To prevent Veronica developing any form of light-related depression, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or ‘Winter Blues’ we have invested in a SAD lamp, which looked into regularly for a period of at least about an hour or day, is reputedly able to counteract the lack of natural sunlight and which can also help provide a minimal amount of Vitamin D, thus improving general health, unlike UVA or UVB lights. Statistically, approximately 12 million northern Europeans, 2 million of whom live in the UK, suffer from SAD due to our northern latitude and lack of winter sunshine. Sunlight is necessary for at least 90% of our Vitamin D, although as the health experts state, too much of a good thing could tip over into skin cancer…  It is a fact, stated in a recent study by the Rector of St Andrew’s University in Scotland, Alistair Moffat (also a co-founder of ‘BritainsDNA’ a company set up to test DNA) that Africans’ dark skin is due to the amount of Vitamin D they receive from the African sun, whereas conversely the Europeans are pale due to a commensurate lack.

Sunlight is essential to well-being for various hereditary reasons, particularly the fact that the human body uses daily internal cycles, known as ‘Circadian Rhythms’ to manage and regulate functions such as sleep, appetite, energy, digestion and mood. Any disruption to these rhythms caused by lack of the light ‘cues’, can result in SAD, feelings of sluggishness, disrupted sleep/wake cycles and general depression. In Scandinavia, high suicide rates are often attributed to extreme levels of SAD.

Red_haired_girl : Isolated Studio Portrait Of An Angry Bitter And Angst Ridden Young Woman With Red Hair Wearing Casual Grey Singlet Over White Background Stock Photo

Coming back to genetic and hereditary factors, a study, which seems to me to have connections with SADness emanating from lack of light in the northern latitudes, was discussed on BBC Radio 4 in the last day or so and is featured in today’s Daily Telegraph. It looks at the pale skin of the northern ‘tribes’ from Scandinavia and the north of Britain particularly, which apparently evolved to enable these people to be able to absorb as much natural sunlight as possible during the relatively limited time it was available, in order to top up the natural reserves of Vitamin D, which are gradually depleted without supplements, during the long, dark winter nights. Linked with pale skin often comes red hair, which is why many British celtic and ‘northmen’ (Viking) descendants are red-haired. Apparently the study indicates that the British might be the most red-headed nation on earth, even more so than the Scandinavians, primarily because although Britain has more light, it also has more cloud. My own family is predominantly very fair-skinned and both my mother and daughter were redheads, my family having originated possibly in the Western Isles of Scotland and migrated gradually to the Scottish east coast around Dundee with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, fishing and whaling industries and the highland clearances.

The study concludes that only one or two percent of the world’s population is red-headed, with Europe as a whole having about 6%, but the UK having 13% of the Scots, 10% of the Irish and 6% of individuals in England. Wales doesn’t seem to appear, but the Welsh celts are descended from the original smaller, dark haired and skinned pre-Roman and Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Pictish and Gaelic tribes. When one considers that the 2% world population probably includes Scottish/Irish descendants throughout the former Empire (North America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand in particular) the proportions are even more stark.

Conjecturally, the massive moves of world populations and increased immigration into the West (North America and northern Europe) of predominantly Afro-Caribbean, Eastern or Asian peoples, without significant artificial aids to boost light and Vitamin D levels, may make an interesting subject for study to see how these peoples might cope in the long term with the climate and low light levels of the north. Presumably at present, immigration of these ethnic groups into Scandinavia, with the possible exception of the extremely liberal Denmark, is still fairly limited. In the long term, Darwin will triumph, but it will take hundreds of years of study to see how evolution will cope, presumably best by intermarriage between native and immigration ethnic groups rather than by racially ‘pure’ immigrant communities which might resist integration.

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Bureaucracy? Guilty as Charged

We often bemoan the fact that life has got tougher, less relaxed, more frenetic and more technological and bureaucratic. Many things have changed for the better, we are a more affluent society, healthcare has improved, we live longer, there is more transparency in public life and society (although it has been argued, not yet enough) and importantly, we have lived for a long time in this country, during a period of protracted peace.

A statement like that generally asks for a ‘however’ and here it comes… Life is hidebound with petty restrictions and the technology has allegedly highlighted and made some crimes easier – child pornography and paedophilia for example. Children can no longer go on ‘Enid Blyton Famous Five’ or ‘Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons’ type of adventures, expeditions or play away from the watchful eyes of fearful parents. Traffic is far denser and moves faster, and again we seem to have moved away from, perhaps the ‘rose-tinted spectacle’ days of the 1950’s and 60’s before the sexual and accessible technological revolutions. The world at a strategic level may have been scarier, with the threat of global, thermonuclear war etc. but at a domestic level, life was simpler and it seems, more relaxed and rewarding.

This hearkening back to the ‘good old days’ is triggered by a recent brush with local Cheltenham bureaucracy and the pettiness of people. In the 80’s and early 90’s, on the cusp of the advent of the Home PC and the other PC (political correctness) Veronica ran a family home as a very pleasant B&B in Beverley, Yorkshire. Many of her longer stay guests became friends too, policement, circuit judges, bishops and other interesting people e.g. Fiona Fullerton the actress, who was appearing locally with co-star Patrick Mower. Life in the B&B was relaxed and happy with the family children, dog, hens and ducks helping create a friendly environment that the guests appreciated. No lightning raids by  health and safety inspectors, accommodation assessors, fire inspectors etc. Competition in the town was easy-going, no internet sabotage, bad TripAdvisor or Google reviews (an example of that has just arisen – an adverse Google review has been raised by a children’t author who has never stayed here but has a ‘bee in his bonnet’ about Hanover House Housing Association, also in Cheltenham and not far from the B&B, about who he has written a series of blogs/posts, but this one had been appended accidentally to us) and no incessant rounds of cold-calling telephone calls offering to improve Google rankings, promote key adwords or boost bookings through high-commission online booking systems that ‘all your competitors use’.

Today, Veronica had a knock on the door from two serious-faced Cheltenham Council Health and Safety inspectors following up a ‘serious’ complaint from some anonymous (to us) person, not even a former guest as it transpired, presumably with a rather large chip on their shoulder.  After Veronica questioned the inspector, ‘The Serious Complaint(s) turned out to be that at some time in the past we had committed the heinous crimes of:

1. ‘Washing a baby in the kitchen sink’ and

2. ‘Having a dog in the kitchen’.

We plead guily to both these capital offences. Later in the day the inspector returned and showed Veronica the complaint, which it turned out, was that some person had trawled through my 200-odd blogs and found a picture of the baby being washed, watched by the dog. This happened over a year ago when our granddaughter Charlotte Emily was visiting, who was then about 12 months old. The dire event, while we were closed to guests, occurred while we were operating wholly as a private family home.  The sink was thoroughly cleaned afterwards and no hygiene standards or rules (as far as we can tell) were violated.  Sophie normally lives in the garden or our bedroom during breakfast times, unless permitted in ‘on invitation’. Only on the explicit invitation of all guests, who must be dog-lovers, present in the upstairs breakfast room does Sophie appear.

Charlotte Emily and Sophie in 2011

Questions arose in our minds that if the crime was so serious, why didn’t those resurrecting JB Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ visit hotfoot at the time of the complaint?  However it seems that this is a ‘new’ complaint although the information is very old (which the Council weren’t to know, unless they’d dug out the blog themselves) and so the inspectors were obliged to follow it up immediately, not knowing what to expect. Having seen the situation for himself, and carrying out a routine health and safety inspection while he was at it, the inspector assessed the situation as requiring no further action and at the same time gave us a clean bill of health.

It is hard to encompass the sheer malice of some petty-minded people who would lodge this sort of complaint with the health and safety authorities by trawling through our blogs and finding anything they could use against us. If they had been so outraged by these ‘apparent’ blatant breaches of life-saving regulation, they had not even got the guts or public spiritedness to even mention their concerns to us first and get our side of the story. Another thought, perhaps unworthy, that comes to mind is that the perpetrator might just be a competitor sore at our continuing high level of business and having a go. The letter, that the H&S people showed us and will copy to us was a cowardly anonymous one, which makes us suspicious….

This event has not shaken the foundations of Hanover House and our reputation is safe. However this underhand means of finding fault does help to chip away at one’s faith in people who could do this sort of thing.

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Cheltenham Links

Sometimes when you have a theme or subject in mind, suddenly and apparently coincidentally you see many references to whatever it is you are thinking about. I have had a number of incidences of reading something and at the same time, the exact subject, name or sometimes obscure word is referred to on the radio or television. This blog deals with just a couple of very recent – like yesterday – examples concerning Cheltenham and links to the town.

On Friday we came back from a short break in the French Alps and on one of the days there, we drove to the lovely lake-front town of Annecy, which is twinned with Cheltenham.  I’m not quite sure what the towns have in common except that both are attractive and surrounded by hills/mountains (except that the gently Cotswolds are hardly mountaineous!). I’m not aware of twinning activities but I’m sure they exist and if we’d had time we might have dropped one of our cards in on the local association/Maire/tourist office!!

Yesterday, Veronica and I went up to London via the Oxford Tube coach, partly to take in an art exhibition, and partly to catch up with younger daughter Charlotte, who is on half-term school break. Having arrived in a rather dull, cool Victoria, we met up with Charlotte at the exit to the Victoria Line tube as she arrived from Tooting Bec (odd name!) and went on to the Imperial War Museum at Elephant and Castle via the Central and Bakerloo lines. As we tubed, I noted on a number of walls flanking escalators and in the pedestrian tunnels as well as in a lift, large posters advertising horse racing at Cheltenham racecourse – somewhat close to home. Another poster I saw while ascending an escalator depicted The Kiss, which famously resided in Cheltenham’s Museum and Art Gallery for a number of years before moving to London.  Incidentally as an aside, there seems to be current craze of tube travellers to identify all the tube stations advertised by symbols in a large street scene poster. For example, a couple even I picked up were a pub sign with Elephant and Castle, a lamb standing in a bathtub (Lambeth), a huge piggy (Bank) etc. Charlotte told us that her flatmate has photographed it so he can work on it at home. Quite a few of the reference symbols seem to be quite obscure…

As we arrived at the Imperial War Museum (IWM), it had just begun to rain, but mild stuff compared to what the US Atlantic Seaboard has just been swamped by, and we quickly bypassed the myriad fascinating exhibits, and made our way up to the Cecil Beaton WWII photographic exhibition. Working our way through the very interesting photographs and mememtoes (interesting titbits such as his pre-war photographs of both Wallis Simpson and the young Queen Mother, his letter of apology to the New York Vogue for his apparent anti-semitic comments, from which he had been sacked as a result, his Oscars for costumes for films such as Gigi, costumes for Puccini’s Turandot, and his fascination for Greta Garbo) I saw a number of photographs of London bomb damage and iconic pictures of war leaders, wounded children (generating sympathy in the USA before their entry into the war), St Paul’s shrouded in smoke and some destroyed churches. One picture of bomb damage that particularly caught my eye however was that of a destroyed, formerly impressive, HMV shop in the city, opened by Sir Edward Elgar in about 1923 – hence the indirect link with Cheltenham and Hanover House B&B. Again as an aside, there are other superb galleries in the IWM including a very graphic and moving one covering the Holocaust, the Blitz Experience, Lord Ashcroft’s sponsored Victoria and George Cross gallery and one covering special operations such as SOE, SAS and other kinds of undercover work and special forces.

Back home, this morning before setting off for work, an item on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme caught my ear, which covered the donation of many of the papers and poems of Cecil Day-Lewis, the Poet Laureate, to Oxford University by his children Daniel and Tamsin. Cecil Day-Lewis was for a number of years a master at Cheltenham College, during which time he wrote a great deal of the poetry and literature that helped make his reputation, although the senior staff and governors of the school believed for much of the time that he brought the school into disrepute. Indeed he finally left under the shadow that a novel he had written in which a public school teacher had an affair with the headmaster’s wife, had somehow reflected reality.

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The Japanese Take on the Cotswolds

Over the past 20-30 years while the economies in Asia and the Far East have grown exponentially (with the odd Japanese slump in between) and the result has been a large population of Chinese and Japanese people who have begun to take a great interest in Western culture and the countryside. As their relatively affluent middle classes have burgeoned, their ability to travel and their interest in doing so has increased accordingly.

Consequently over the past few years we have seen a huge rise in Chinese and Japanese tourists coming to see the Cotswolds and to brave the vagaries and eccentricities of the British Bed and Breakfast as opposed to the safe but predictable hotels. In Hanover House B&B ( we have had our fair share, ranging from a honeymoon couple from Hiroshima, to office workers from Tokyo, hoteliers from Beijing and of course a significant sprinkling from Hong Kong and Singapore. They have proved to be very friendly, courteous and resourceful people and despite in some cases their lack of English, in many other ways they show their European and particularly British contemporaries up, particularly in the areas of manners and child rearing.  Having said that, they are of course human, and if an only Chinese child, for instance, has been brought up in a wealthy and privileged background, it will be a spoiled and capricious as any other. We have experienced both ends of the spectrum but on the whole, welcome oriental guests with open arms, and they seem to like us too, often leaving little gifts for us.

On one fairly recent occasion we had a Japanese journalist/photographer stay, who was producing an article on the Cotswolds for a Japanese audience. He spoke virtually no English but was very pleasant, took lots of pictures and disappeared as quietly and politely as he had arrived.  A month or so later, a complementary copy of a Japanese glossy magazine arrived through the post, and once we’d worked out the technicalities of opening the magazine, there we were, in the company of some other attractive B&Bs in and around the Cotswolds.  It was quite strange to leaf through this back-to-front (from the Western perspective) magazine and to see the pictures of Veronica and the house surrounded by (to us) indecipherable Japanese letters. We haven’t had it translated but trust that it was complementary!

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Elgar in Hereford



Elgar Gazing at Hereford Cathedral

A remote connection, apart from the residence here of his wife as a girl, between Sir Edward Elgar and Hanover House B&B came up today in discussion with a guest. Although we have visited Hereford Cathedral several times in the last few years, we never knew about the statue in the Cathedral Close, of Sir Edward leaning on his trusty Rudge bicycle, sculpted by Jemma Pearson. However a guest of ours, observing a photograph of Sir Edward Elgar with his bicycle on our wall, told us about the statue, which had been sculpted Jemma, a friend of his.

Hereford Cathedral

Elgar had apparently lived in Hereford between 1904 and 1911 and so presumably played the organ at some time or other in the Cathedral. The Cathedral is, of course, one of the three that take turns at hosting the annual Three Choirs Festival ( also involving Worcester and Gloucester. There is an Elgar Trail, which is a 40-mile circuitous route round Herefordshire and Worcestershire taking in various key places that figured in Elgar’s history as well as the countryside he loved.

Map of Elgar routeThe Elgar Trail – Courtesy of Malvern Hills and Worcester City Councils

It doesn’t however include some other locations that were clearly of interest to him, including Hereford itself and places relating to  his wife Alice, such as her family seat at Redmarley d’Abitot (formerly in Worcestershire but since 1931 in Gloucestershire) located centrally between Hereford and Gloucester, and of course 4 York Terrace in Cheltenham! Concerning the latter, it would appear that our plaque celebrating Alice Roberts’ residence in the house has now appeared in a listing, albeit without a picture of the plaque itself, at . There are not many references to visits to Cheltenham itself by Elgar, although his concert diary of 15th July 1910 mentions a trip to the town by taxi while visiting Gloucester to look at a house.

Touching on Edward Elgar, his bicycle(s) (apparently his first was a Royal Sunbeam, bought in 1901), another blogger in the Malvern/Worcester area frequently touches on events in ‘the Shire’ and discusses places of interest with Elgar connections.

Perhaps there needs to be a ‘greater’ Elgar Trail which sweeps outside the local Worcester & Malvern loop and includes Hereford and Cheltenham!

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The Stress of Modern Battle

Royal Hampshires on Patrol in Newry 1972

During the past week, while attending the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme editorial meeting event at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, where items for the next day’s programme were discussed and items of interest requested from the audience, an item in the news came to mind, which is pertinent in a number of areas covering modern warfare and the rules of law and war. Regrettably I was not able to voice my own question, hopefully of interest, that this had stimulated, but the thought stimulated the idea for this blog. At the Festival there were a number of military writers, expounding on a large range of military subjects from battles to military characters, one such being Paddy Ashdown promoting a book on the Cockleshell Heroes, a small group of 10 Special Boat Service personnel who set out to attack German shipping in Bordeaux by canoe and of whom only 2 survived, the rest either drowning or being captured and shot by the Germans. The lecture had been sponsored by Lord Ashcroft, the millionnaire who owns the largest collection of Victoria Crosses and has written books on medal winners and RAF Fighter Pilots in the Battle of Britain. Paddy’s lecture, following on from that, however brought to mind the concept of bravery in general and the psychological pressures on soldiers under highly stressful circumstances.

Local Welcome Derrybeg Estate Newry 1972

The item that I had wanted to raise was because the news had just broken about the arrest of Royal Marines, who it is alleged, conspired to murder a wounded Afghan insurgent, presumably wounded in a firefight with the Marines, no doubt intending to ambush and kill them in the first place. Under rules of engagement, British soldiers can only fire to defend themselves or others and do not initiate gun battles unless under direct threat. However, what is not taken into consideration in such Rules of Engagement, is the psychological pressure on such men and the adrenalin burst necessary to make them function when their lives, and those of their comrades and friends, are in danger. If any casualty is taken as a result of any such action, there is an instinctive reaction, also presumably resulting from adrenalin and anger.

Aide Memoire for Troops In NI 1972

I know from my own experience in Northern Ireland during the IRA campaign in the early 1970s that when a unit takes casualties – it can react rather more aggressively than is desirable and therefore becomes less effective as a keeper of the peace. On the occasion when my battalion had two soldiers killed in an ambush in Crossmaglen in ‘bandit country’ on the border in County Armagh, the rest of the Battalion was immediately confined to barracks for 24 hours while reserve units were brought in to fill the patrolling gap and tempers were allowed to subside. If any army has the capability and manpower to do that, it is desirable, but in this day of minimal troop levels, where there is over-stretch and soldiers carry out far more operational tours than ever before, this is not always possible. Harking back to Northern Ireland, as a battalion it was quite evident to us, that our predecessors, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who had taken a number of casualties, reacted consistently by using aggressive patrol tactics which effectively alienated them from the local community, who on the whole, particularly in the Protestant areas at that time were more sympathetic. This regrettably put any ‘hearts and minds’ activities on the back burner although I don’t believe they would have been welcome in the hardline Republican areas like the Derrybeg estate in Newry from which we received most of our ‘grief’.

UDR Centre Newry on Bn Handover 1972

The point of this diatribe is twofold – first that overstretch may prevent the necessary ‘cooling down’ period after a unit takes casualties (remembering how tightly knit and interdependent these units are under the highly pressurised circumstances of the guerilla war in Afghanistan) and secondly – who knows what pressures these Royal Marines had been under up to the point where they allegedly (cold-bloodedly??) decided to ‘murder’ a man who had presumably shortly before been trying to kill them and their friends – probably without warning!

A Near Miss – Ambushed Vehicle Patrol Newry 1973


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A Literate Cheltenham Ends on a High Note

The 2012 Festival Programme Cover

The Cheltenham Literature Festival, sponsored by inter alia The Times has just rolled to a very successful conclusion. Despite losing its Council funding, it has revised its format, promoted itself shamelessly and increased the seat sales from about 120,000 last year to in excess of 140,000 this year, even in the teeth of the recession (I am reliably informed by my ex-neighbour Robert, who helped the Festival Director sort her specs out after dropping them in front of him). The weather was on the whole kind, and the range of events, staged in both Imperial Square (around and inside the Town Hall) and in Montpellier Gardens as well as on one memorable day at The Centaur at the racecourse, impressive in their range and quality.

Imperial Square Cheltenham

As ever, Hanover House B&B ( was packed, but Veronica and I had made it clear to all our prospecive guests that we intended to attend a number of events ourselves and so the service, including meet and greet, might be even more erratic than usual. As seasoned festival attenders and in many cases, repeat guests, there was no problem, including Veronica and I leaving during the guests’ breakfast on Sunday morning, having provided all the necessaries, to attend a BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme editorial meeting.  It was quite interesting to hear the subjects discussed with the audience appearing during the course of the programme.

JK Rowling at the Festival

As a sample of some of the events we attended, ones that stood out were JK Rowling (discussing her new controversial adult novel ‘The Casual Vacancy’), Michael Palin promoting his new BBC series on Brazil, David Suchet discussing the forthcoming final series of Poirot, Benedict Cumberbatch (with an army of ‘groupies’) on Sherlock and Parade’s End, Robert Hardy on his good friend Richard Burton, on publication of The Burton Diaries, and many others. A short list of one or two that stuck in our minds were ‘Call the Midwife’ and Jenny Agutter, ‘Downton Abbey’, Tony Robinson remeniscing on ‘Blackadder’ and ‘Time Team’ and Darcey Bussell and a large number of famous writers such as Alexander McCall Smith, Salman Rushdie, PD James, Ian Rankin, Terry Pratchett etc. There were also a lot of politicians such as Lord Kenneth Baker and Paddy Ashdown, and journalists and broadcasters like Andrew Marr and James Naughtie. We also had the pleasure of an Olympic star, Victoria Pendleton, promoting a book on her life. There were many others too, too many to list.

Over the weekends, a number of children’s events were staged as well as literary discussion groups, wine-tasting sessions, book-swaps, historians, scientists and medical people making fascinating presentations, poetry reading and the odd drama event. Very odd as it turned out, when a ‘Faulty Towers’ (note the spelling) dinner was staged in the Spiegeltent and Bistro where diners actually paid for a 3-course meal and the opportunity to be insulted by Basil Faulty (a John Cleese look-and-actalilke) together with Sybil and of course Manuel. We attended this event which was quite successful but would have been enhanced if the odd actor had been scattered throughout the diners to provide ‘feed’ to the actors (and not the other way round).

The LOCOG Logo

My final event, which provided the high note, was the last evening’s presentation on the iconic TV series Twenty Twelve (not allowed to use the numerals ‘2012’ as they had been trademarked for the run up to and duration of the Olympic Games) which parodied, but didn’t undermine the activities of LOCOG [I think the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and ParaOlympic Games], and with the Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville in the lead role, actually managed to get Sir Seb Coe to play a cameo role.

The Literary Festival is the crown in Cheltenham’s Festival season (despite what the racing fraternity might say), and it continues to go from strength to strength and long may it continue to do so.

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