A Reply to Theresa May’s Brexit Letter

26 Nov

Dear Mrs May,

Thank you for your letter, even though it is just more of your usual flim-flam.

First, your supposedly “good Brexit deal” is in reality just another of your crocks of shit that you are attempting to pass off as a tub of chocolate bonbons.  We can all smell your bullshit no matter how you try to disguise it.

Whatever happened to your mantra, “No deal is better than a bad deal!”?  Did you really think, when the deal you are offering is nothing but a thistledown of ifs and maybes, we would forget?  While Tory voters might have the memory of a goldfish with alzheimers, most of the electorate (and especially Remainers) do not.

Moving on to your “clear mission” from your “first day in the job”, despite what you wrote, it has been obvious that your “mission” has been to remain in power for as long as possible through the uniting of  your petulant and squabbling Conservative Party.  It appears that you are utterly unable to distinguish between the interests of your Party and the interests of the nation. Let me assure you, they are not in the leastway congruent.

You say that you “have not lost sight of duty” and I agree; you have remained devotedly dutiful to those hard Brexiters who fund your Party, those whose newspapers could destroy you overnight, and to the Europhobes in your ranks, upon all of whom you rely to remain in power.

Nothing the Conservatives have done in the last decade has been in “the national interest”, let alone working “for our whole country and all of our people” but a sustained attack, through austerity and deliberate underfunding, on the most vulnerable in our society while enriching the most well off.  Brexit is merely a continuation of that scam, from which you and your husband will benefit while the rest of us lose out in multiple ways.

You say you “will honour the result of the referendum”, as though this is some grand virtue.  You have done everything in your power to ignore the illegality of the Leave campaign; pretended that an advisory vote was legally binding; tried to by-pass the very Parliament that you and Leave so loudly proclaim should be sovereign; all so as to inflict Brexit on the UK, which in terms of voting was anything but united.

You will forgive me, Prime Minister, if I don’t believe one word of your guff about controlling borders, money, laws, agriculture or Fisheries Policy.  Your Party’s track-record contradicts your assertions.

Your record  on immigration control, when you were Home Secretary, belies your empty claims; your Party’s  record on money makes your claims equally specious as “the magic money tree” has only been used to enrich the elites and to bribe a minor political party to support your tottering, minority government after you squandered your majority in a vanity election.  The people sent you a message in 2017, Theresa, we don’t like you or your unplanned, blindfold Brexit.

As for taking back control of our laws, we remember only too well how you tried to by-pass Parliament and have fought (and lost time and again) in the highest courts in the land, but not once condemned the tabloid press’s calling such judges “traitors” and “enemies of the people”.  Even you must admit that such behaviour can only lead to a deep suspicion of your highfalutin pronouncement.

As for fisheries, was it not your Party that voted in 2005 against Alex Salmond’s Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill which was intended to remove  the UK from the Common Fisheries Policy?  Will you not sell out the fishing industry in an eyeblink if it will save your Brexit deal? or even just your premiership?  I believe you would.  After all you are quite happy to sacrifice your 13 Scottish MPs for whom it was a red line.  And, who can trust you or your government on agricultural policy after failing to give the Scottish Farmers the money due to them from the EU?

You claim that “The deal also protects the things we value.”  Really?  Well let me tell you, it does not protect a single thing that I value; not my freedom of movement; not my right of residence; not my European Citizenship; not my my multi-culturalism; not my left-wing, Green politics;  not one part of my identity.  In fact, your Brexit has, far from protecting any remaining sense of “Britishness” I might have had, made me thoroughly ashamed of being British.  The only values I see your party espousing are hypocrisy, mendacity, avarice, xenophobia and wishful thinking, none of which can be accommodated by my Christian faith.

While you may have convinced yourself that you are delivering “a Brexit deal that works for every part of our country [sic] – for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” etc., every report (including from your own civil service) says otherwise.  There is no deal that will give Scotland as good a deal as it has as in the EU, for which every council area in Scotland and 62% of Scots voted to remain.  I don’t doubt that you got the best deal you could, but it is still the equivalent of your serving your husband a deep-fried frozen burger in lieu of a grilled sirloin steak!

You say, “It is a deal for a brighter future, which enables us to seize the opportunities that lie ahead”.  You may see a herd of unicorns on the horizon, I see just one which has been assembled by a committee and most closely resembles a three legged camel with a horn up its arse.  Even arch-Brexiteer, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has admitted that you and I will be long dead before Britain sees any real benefit from Brexit!

If my certainty that any money saved from leaving the EU will be squandered on vanity projects (like renewing Trident), tax breaks for big business and the wealthiest 1% and subsidising MPs and peers, offends you, remember that the fault lies with you and your government whose track record on the economy, the NHS, child poverty, homelessness and injustice is woefully inadequate (as condemned by the UN) while your enriching the wealthiest at the expense of the most vulnerable is manifest.  An apposite adage, at this point, would seem to be that in Jeremiah 13:23.

It is ironic that having persisited in pursuing a course of national self-harm, that you now ask the public to back you “for the good of our United Kingdom.”  A Kingdom you and your factious Party,  through the internecine struggles for dominance, have riven asunder, fracturing what was left of the Union.  You write, “It must mark the point when we put aside the labels of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ for good and we come together again as one people” – the UK has never been “one people”, not even in its imperial heydey, Ireland and Scotland always being more European and less isolationist than England and Wales. Indeed, your disorganised and chaotic Brexit has driven many of the folk who voted NO in 2014 to want a second independence referendum in which they can vote YES.

Exiting the EU on March 29th, therefore, has less than a snowball’s chance in hell of being “a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country”, so, forgive me if I am unwilling to hitch my EU star onto your wagon of reconciliation just because you mouth a few meaningless platitudes in the hope of bailing you out of the mess which is of your own making.  I am as likely to get behind Brexit as you are to fully, and sincerely, get behind Scottish Independence; until then I will give your Brexit deal exactly the same support your Party’s europhobe MPs gave membership of the EU over the last 45 years.

I particularly enjoyed reading your promise, “I will be campaigning with my heart and soul to win that vote and to deliver this Brexit deal, for the good of our United Kingdom and all of our people.”  Will that be with the same enthusiasm and passion with which you campaigned to Remain in the EU or for the 2017 General Election?  If so, the likelihood of getting your deal, which is almost universally deplored, through the Commons next month is as slim as a hairsbreadth, surely making your whole letter academic.

It is said that you plan to tour the UK to sell your deal to us, but yet again I doubt that is true in the case of Scotland.  I suspect you will follow your playbook by flitting in and out in a matter of hours to address, in some “secret” location, a select audience of Party faithful, Tory aparatchiks and perhaps a Tory businessman’s bored,  “press-ganged” workforce, and only take questions from “friendly” journalists such as those from the BBC or The Scotsman.  While you may believe this is selling the deal to the Scottish people, the majority of Scots will merely laugh at your self-delusion, as contrary to your opinion, we don’t all button up the back!

I understand this reply is pointless as a) you will never see it; and b) because it is impossible to change a mind like yours (similar to concrete: all mixed up and permanently set); so, hell mend ye, Mrs May!

With profound reproach

W R B Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore

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Jonestown Revisited

18 Nov

Some of you will, no doubt, remember with horror the shocking event which occurred 40 years ago today. On 18th November, 1978, over 900 people, a third of them minors (including babies), died in what has come to be known as the Jonestown massacre.  But how could a progressive church famed for its humanitarian work and led by a widely respected pastor, who had dined with the First Lady (Rosalyn Carter) and flown with the Vice-President (Walter Mondale) in his private jet[1], come to such a tragic end?   For readers of 2 Peter 2, the writing had always been on the wall.

James (Jim) Warren Jones was born in the town of Lynn (Indiana) on 13th May, 1931, and preached his first sermon to a group of children when he was just 12 years old.[2]  He married Marceline Baldwin, a local nurse, when he was 18, and they remained together until their deaths in 1978.  He dropped out of Indiana University after just one year so as to concentrate on preaching, but obtained a degree in secondary education through studying at night school.

Despite not having any theological training, Jim Jones became a pastor in a Methodist Church, but left following a dispute over doctrine (v 15).  He then founded his own Church, which was racially integrated (long before such a thing was acceptable), and emphasised “practical Christianity” in the form of a soup kitchen and two nursing homes.  Furthermore, he and his wife (both white) adopted a Korean orphan and two black children.  He legitimated his ministry by affiliating his Church, by now known as the People’s Temple, with the Disciples of Christ, which “allowed him to say that he was an officially ordained member of a 1.4-million-member denomination[3].

However, things started to go badly wrong after he attended a spiritualist meeting and began to believe in reincarnation. He also began to outline supposed errors and contradictions in the Bible, which would not deceive a mature Christian but which could easily disturb those new to the faith, and used them to denounce the Bible as an “idol” (v 1).

Jones, who insisted that his followers call him “Dad” (contrary to the teaching of Jesus – Matthew 23:9), eventually came to believe that he was God’s “heir on earth” (v3).  “Central to Jones’s appeal were his displays of mind reading and faith healing[4] – all of which were fake (v 18) – which he used to attract new members and larger donations.  At the time of his death, Jones was estimated to be worth 26 million dollars, most of which was in overseas bank accounts (1 Timothy 6:10).

In 1964, Jones prophesied that there would be a nuclear war on 15th July, 1967 and “Many gave up everything to follow him from Indiana to Northern California where he assured them that they would be safe”.[5]  In 1970, he opened a new Temple in San Francisco and another “Temple” in Los Angeles two years later.  In 1974, his first failed prophecy having been forgotten, Jones prophesied that a great persecution was about to begin.  A couple years later, many fled with him to land in the Amazon jungle, which the movement had purchased for $1 million, to escape the impending persecution.

Jones, who was by now becoming drug dependent and increasingly paranoid (v 19), offered his followers freedom from non-existent threats while keeping his followers oppressed.  “While the Peoples Temple was active in humanitarian causes in its communities, Jones’s treatment of his followers was often less than humane.”[6]

Jones maintained control through family separation, interrogation sessions, regular humiliation, ritualistic beatings of children and blackmail.  “Many were coerced or brainwashed into signing over their possessions—including their homes—to the church.”[7]  Not surprisingly, members feared Jones, who sought to keep them in sexual bondage by breaking-up partnerships and not only encouraging, but expecting, “sexual preference for himself from both men and women”.[8]

False prophets like Jones despise authority (v 10) while demanding obedience even to death from their followers.  Jones devised a ritual, which he called “White Night”, in which he would “order his followers to drink an unknown liquid and syringe some into their children’s mouths, telling them that death would follow in 45 minutes.[9]  When the 45 minutes had elapsed, Jones would tell them that it was to test their loyalty to the cause.

Members, who were encouraged to inform on one another, were kept in a state of exhaustion, psychological isolation and poverty, which made defection difficult enough in the USA but nigh impossible in the Guyanese jungle[10], where the camp was patrolled by an armed security team.

The few who did manage to leave told of their experiences and claimed they had been threatened with reprisals; some were reported to have “died mysteriously” [11] soon after their escape. Though there were a few stories in the press, nobody took the rumours very seriously, except for one politician, Democrat Congressman Leo Ryan, who decided to investigate them himself and was given an invitation to visit Jonestown.

Ryan, accompanied by journalists, lawyers and relatives of members of the cult, flew to Georgetown (the capitol of Guyana) on 14th November and visited Jonestown on the 17th, where they were fêted by smiling and dancing cult members,[12] though tapes later recovered showed that Jones had carefully rehearsed the whole display.  All seemed to be going well until Ryan and his entourage came to leave the next morning, when a grandmother “begged Ryan to get her out[13] and 20 others made a similar plea.  They all left on Ryan’s truck, despite one of Jones’s aides trying to stab Ryan, and headed for the airfield, where they were caught by some of the Temple’s security team who shot and killed Ryan, 3 journalists and 3 defectors and wounded 11 others.[14]

Jones then gathered his followers around him and told them that Ryan’s plane was going to be shot down and that “they” (which his followers would have understood to mean the CIA or mercenaries) would parachute in seeking revenge.[15]  As in previous “White Night” ceremonies, a vat of fruit drink was brought in, but this time it was laced with cyanide and barbiturates.  Parents dutifully syringed the liquid into the mouths of their babies and children before drinking it themselves. Death occurred within 5 minutes.  Jones died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  “Fewer than 100 of the Temple members in Guyana survived the massacre; the majority of survivors either had defected that day or were in Georgetown.”[16]

Behind Jones’ chair was a sign that said: “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.[17] But how can we avoid repeating such a tragedy?

For the wider church, it highlights the importance of oversight of pastors, both within the church and independently from without, which would have identified that the church was becoming a dangerous cult.

It also points to the necessity of pastors having sufficient theological training, the lack of which allowed Jones to interpret the Bible to suit his own purposes and ambitions, before ditching it entirely.

Furthermore, churches (mainly within the charismatic and evangelical traditons), in which respect for the pastor (a right and fitting thing which should be met with humility) becomes twisted into an authoritarian demand for blind obedience, are at greater risk of being led astray.

As individuals, the only way to avoid falling victim to such false prophets is to humbly ground ourselves in the Word of God through daily reading and study (2 Timothy 3:16-17), testing every spirit (1 John 4:1) and “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2), who alone is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).


Footnotes:

[1] Butterworth, John (1981), The People’s Temple, “Cults and New Faiths”, Tring, Herts: Lion Publishing, p37

[2] Ibid. p36

[3] Ibid. p36

[4] The Jonestown Massacre, Encyclopaedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/event/Jonestown-massacre#  accessed 28/10/2018

[5] Butterworth, John (1981), p36

[6] The Jonestown Massacre, Encyclopaedia Britannica

[7] Ibid.

[8] Butterworth, John (1981), p37

[9] Ibid. p36

[10] Ibid. p37

[11] Ibid. p37

[12] Ibid. p37

[13] Ibid. p37

[14] The Jonestown Massacre, Encyclopaedia Britannica

[15] Butterworth, John (1981), p37

[16] The Jonestown Massacre, Encyclopaedia Britannica

[17] Butterworth, John (1981), p37

 

Additional Sources:

Wikipedia, Jonestown https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonestown  and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jones both accessed 28/10/2018

Bible Gateway: New Revised Standard Version (Anglicised) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Peter+2&version=NRSVA  accessed 28/10/2018

A Response to Theresa May’s Mansion House Speech

2 Mar

Once again, Theresa May has fulfilled expectations.  She has made a key speech that is, as usual, rhetoric over substance; a chimera of false hope over actuality.

Mrs May, your five tests for Brexit are nothing more than a mix of misdirection and mirage, playing to the gallery and hoping we’d be fooled.  Let’s look at what you said.

“First, the agreement we reach with the EU must respect the result of the referendum.

The referendum has divided Great Britain like nothing else since the War of the Three Kingdoms, and like that particular fracture, it is England once again bullying the other British nations (albeit not by military force) by exploiting a slim majority in what was a non-binding, advisory vote.

It was a vote to take control of our borders, laws and money.”

It was nothing of the sort.  We already had control over all three of those areas.

It was a vote for more money for the NHS; a vote for xenophobia; a vote for nostalgia for an imaginary UK that never existed; a vote based on numerous lies, inter alia about sovereignty, immigration and funding for the NHS.

“And a vote for wider change, so that no community in Britain would ever be left behind again. But it was not a vote for a distant relationship with our neighbours.”

Yes, it was a vote for wider change but not in the way you allege.  It was a protest vote against your Government’s continuance of its failed austerity policy and not a vote for further anguish through unnecessary damage to the economy, which is the inevitable outcome of Brexit.

You and your predecessor, through your austerity policies, which attack the weakest and most vulnerable in society,  have ensured that many communities are being “left behind” irrespective of relationships with our neighbours or elsewhere.  Loss of EU funding will only make this worse as places like Cornwall are quickly coming to realise.

“Second, the new agreement we reach with the EU must endure. After Brexit, both the UK and the EU want to forge ahead with building a better future for our people, not find ourselves back at the negotiating table because things have broken down.”

The UK was always going to be at a disadvantage in the negotiations, as the 27 were bound to unite to protect their union.  There was never any chance that the UK could “have its cake and eat it” as the EU was never going to offer the UK better terms than  it had by being within the EU.  Only an arrogant moron would suppose otherwise.

This hurdle has been aggravateded by the UK’s failure to negotiate effectively – in part due to divisions within your own Cabinet and, in part, due to the incompetence of your Brexit Secretary –  meaning that the most likely outcome is that the UK will crash out of the EU with no deal (let alone a transition period!).  After your speech, and the rate at which time is running out, anything else is a mere pipe dream.

“Third, it must protect people’s jobs and security. People in the UK voted for our country to have a new and different relationship with Europe, but while the means may change our shared goals surely have not – to work together to grow our economies and keep our people safe.

Quite how you imagine that Brexit will protect jobs and grow the economy when your own government’s Brexit Analyses – which, unsurprisingly you did not want to make public – showed that in every scenario Britain will be worse off through leaving. Places like Grimsby are waking up to the fact that their jobs, which are dependent upon exports to the EU, are in serious jeopardy because of Brexit.  Furthermore, EU agencies are already leaving the UK, as are many EU citizens, and some Financial Services organisations are making contingency plans to leave.  So, lovely rhetoric but, like your first speech as Prime Minister, it is little more than candy floss for the naive.

Fourth, it must be consistent with the kind of country we want to be as we leave: ”

Well, Brexit’s put paid to that!

The country can’t agree on what it wants.  The Remainers don’t want the kind of country Brexit offers.  the Leavers, in turn, are utterly divided in what they want from Brexit.  Scotland and Northern Ireland want different things from England or Wales.  To top it all, you squandered a parliamentary majority in a vanity snap-election which left you hamstrung by a bigotted, insular, minority party you cannot afford to offend.  Not even your Cabinet manages consistency under your wavering leadership.  Not so much a second ‘Iron Lady’ as the ‘Plastercine Housewife’.

“…a modern, open, outward-looking, tolerant, European democracy.”

In your dreams!  Brexit Britain is none of those things.  It is a nostalgic, insular and intolerant country, in which your Government has tried to by-pass Parliamentary democracy at every stage of the process, only  being thwarted by the courts.  The UK also has, in the House of Lords, the second largest unelected political decision-making body in the world – hardly a symbol of a modern democracy!  Nor has your Government shown any regard for the democratic mandate of devolved governments, which you ignore and exclude, and/or the democratically derived Devolution Settlements which you are trying to ride over roughshod.

“A nation of pioneers, innovators, explorers and creators. A country that celebrates our history and diversity, confident of our place in the world;”

Meaningless piffle and waffle designed to try and make your pig’s ear look like a silk purse.

Typically backward looking to what was and hoping against hope that it can be repeated if we can just bring back the Blitz spirit.  Revisionist history (in which only Englsih history counts) abounds as Brexiteers try wistfully to make out that the British Empire was a great force for good and optimistically claim that our imperial past can be recreated in a global expansion of trade.  As for diversity, hate crimes have rocketed since Brexit.  Hardly, the basis for anything other than false confidence.

“…that meets its obligations to our near neighbours and far off friends…”

Your Ministers repeatedly calling for the UK to not respect its responsibilities on leaving the EU, along with your government’s abject failure to meet its post 2014 obligations to one of its nearest neighbours (Scotland), make it very unlikely that England can be trusted to do so further afield.

“…and is proud to stand up for its values.”

The the most prominant British values, following the Brexit vote, seem to be hypocrisy, mendacity, trickery, xenophobia, intolerance and resentment, of which you and your party can be justifiably proud!  Many, however, are saying that they no longer know what to be British is.  Others are saying that they either cannot identify with Britishness  or are ashamed of it.

“And fifth, in doing all of these things, it must strengthen our union of nations and our union of people.”

Brexit is a disaster for “our union of nations”; it has fractured relations between Edinburgh and London, and Cardiff and London; it is imperilling the Good Friday Agreement (your rhetoric over the Irish border is as specious as it is vague).  The uniformity imposed by England on the Union under the pretence of unity, is in tatters due to the empty platitudes and broken promises of your Party.  Indeed, you and your predecessor have arrogantly done more to break the Union than anyone else in its 300 year history!  What you seem to be attempting is to join four corners of a circle apparently without the faintest idea that it has none.

“We must bring our country back together, taking into account the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate.”

If you have listened to those from the Remain side of the debate, you either did not hear what was said to you or simply chose to ignore it.  There has been no evidence of your taking account of any opinion outwith your divided Cabinet.  And given that you cannot even unite your own Cabinet, let alone your own Party, I don’t rate your chances of even uniting England, let alone the disparate nations of the United Kingdom.  Best of British!

As you started your speech by quoting what you said in your first speech as Prime Minister, let me quote from the open letter I wrote to you in July, 2016:

“…you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe a word of your rhetoric which is so cognitively dissonant with your track record in government…”

“You talked  about uniting the country; it will  require more than platitudes.”

“Your precious Union, as always  since 1707, has less to do with unity than with domination and exploitation.”

Your speeches and Brexit strategies would seem to confirm that I was right on all three counts.

 

 

 

Hurricane Low Q: A Personal Recollection

15 Jan

It is astounding to think that Hurricane Low Q, which devastated Central Scotland, occurred 50 years ago.  Back then, to my child’s mind, a period 50 years earlier (a time when the Great War was still being fought, which with hindsight my grandparents remembered) was, like the Battle of Trafalgar, ancient history to me.   Now, of course, 50 years ago is within my living memory.

Some memories are indelibly graven and one such is that hurricane of the night of 15th– 16th January, 1968.

I remember that the 15th, a Sunday, was unusually mild and very calm without any hint of a breeze, and that we were able to play out in my Grandparents’ garden at Ardoch without coats.   But there was otherwise nothing particularly noteworthy about the day.  I’m sure that my sailor Grandfather would have noted the fall in both temperature and barometric pressure and expected stormy weather, though not even he expected the hurricane which rampaged across our region during the night.

My brother and I slept in a room in the attic of our 300 year old Mill Cottage and we were awoken by the howling of the wind, which lifted and dropped the skylights every few minutes with a loud crash.  In a short time, the howl changed to a shriek and the lights went out.  The sound of hurricane force winds is not something one forgets – and so I knew exactly what to expect when it heard it again almost 20 years later in Worthing during another great storm that was supposed to pass Britain by.

Not unnaturally, we were both crying with fear of the noise and the dark.  My father came up and, surprisingly given the scale of the damage inflicted on so many buildings, did not move us downstairs but gave us a torch, told us to be quiet and to go back to sleep.  We decided to share my bed, probably because I was the elder, but we didn’t sleep again until after the wind had dropped to gale force.

In the morning, we awoke to see the devastation that winds of over 100mph (160kph) had wrought during the night.  There were fallen trees everywhere.  Houses had lost tiles and chimneys – in some cases whole roofs.  But, amazingly, our cottage sustained next to no damage at all – just a few tiles.

My father’s egg business was not so lucky.  He had about 100 hens in Nissan huts in a field near my grandparents’ house.  Bits of twisted metal were found several miles away and dead chickens all over three counties.

I rather think that my mother tried to take us to school, though that may be a false memory.  It maybe she had merely been told that the road from Cardross to Helensburgh was blocked by fallen trees just past Geilston.  Either way there was no school for us that day.  So we spent a happy time playing, childishly oblivious to the tragic loss of homes, possessions and lives that had taken place just a few miles away.

I don’t remember how long we were without electricity, or for how long the petrol station was closed, such things being less important to children who are content providing they are warm, fed and allowed to play, but I suspect it was short in duration or it would have left a greater impression.

A final memory: in my youthful ignorance, I thought the hurricane was –  like the biblical flood – universal.  Accordingly, I remember asking my American relatives in Vermont, where I was spending the summer of ’68 on my own with my Aunt, how the hurricane had been there.  I was very surprised that they didn’t know what I was talking about, while they were bemused by my question as, of course, there had been no hurricane there, it having originated off Bermuda and moved eastward across the Atlantic.

Black Friday: the Weeklong Day

23 Nov

How many people in Spain had heard of Black Friday a decade ago?  I had through my American relations and then through its stealthy creeping into England, but when I came to Spain some 9 years ago it was not a part of the run up to Christmas.  Though other aspects of US cultural imperialism like “Trick or Treat” and Santa Claus (both purveyors of manipulation and greed) had made their presence felt, the Christmas lights did not go up until early December and sales were safely consigned to January.

Yet over the last 4 or 5 years Black Friday has steadily been gaining traction in Spain, where it has become a weeklong festival of buying, even though the discounts are often not that great.  But a bargain is a bargain, even if we don’t need it, right?

Advertisers, in pursuit of mythical ever-rising profits, constantly bombard us with the message that in order to be happy we have to accumulate more and more possessions; must always upgrade to the latest model; buy the products endorsed by our favourite celebs; and rubbing our neighbours faces in it when they can’t keep up:  Black Friday is our chance to steal a march on them.

Yet, for the majority of folk in the developed world, “Working long hours to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to impress people we don’t care about.” (Dave Ramsey) has become the norm.  This strikes me to be a perspicacious evaluation of life in the 21st century.

Black Friday – like its on-line counterpart, Cyber Monday – is symptomatic of our age, the Material Age, in which people are judged more by what they have than by who they are; more by vain words than by actual deeds; where the financial rewards of the “money men” far exceed that of surgeons, teachers or scientists; and where greed for material things has been recast as a virtue.

While it may be that “Money makes the world go round”, Mammon is a heartless god who can never be satisfied and the supposed gains of our greed, as with all such delusions, are but transitory: none shall pass through the grave.

Yet there is a small band of people who counterculturally eschew this American lifestyle export by boycotting vendors who have “Black Friday” sales or by foregoing shopping entirely on that particular Friday.

Jesus warned, “…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21).  Where is your heart going to be on Black Friday?

Don Roberto Myths

23 Nov

Celebrities are always going to attract myths and Don Roberto was no exception.

I was still at Prep School when I heard the first anecdote, and had recently started secondary school when I heard the second, and the third is from a book published in 1940.  Thus, in less than 30 years after his death, there were mythical anecdotes and stories being told about him.  Here is a very brief selection of the myths I have heard.

An Anecdote

I remember being gleefully told by a family acquaintance, who was old enough to have known Don Roberto in his old age, that the great man had often said, “In every house there should be three taps: one for hot water, one for cold water and one for whisky!”  Unfortunately, my informant was seemingly unaware that Don Roberto had taken the Temperance Pledge and so did not imbibe, making the quote highly improbable.

An Equestrian Tale

A tale, which I heard from an elderly neighbour who was in his 90s, concerns Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  The story he loved to relate to us young Cunninghame Grahams was as follows.

One day, when Don Roberto was visiting the Wild West Show with his friend Col Alexander Maitland Gordon, they were shown a horse that was unrideable.  Maitland Gordon, a cavalry officer bet Don Roberto he could ride the beast without being thrown and duly arranged to return the next day to make the attempt.

The following evening, Maitland Gordon, dressed in riding attire and accompanied by Don Roberto, returned to try and win his wager.  However, whenever Maitland Gordon approached the horse it would buck and kick and he found he could not get close enough to even mount it.  In frustration, he turned to Don Roberto saying, “Well I wager not even you could ride that brute!”  Don Roberto, who was wearing evening dress, calmly lit a cheroot and eyed the horse.  Then he casually approached the horse quietly talked to it and gently stroked its nose before leaping on its back without touching the stirrups.  So poor Maitland Gordon lost two wagers in one evening.

The first problem with the tale is, if the horse had never been ridden, why did it not do as all unbroken horses do when mounted, buck and jump to try to dislodge the rider.  The tale is designed to embellish Don Roberto’s skills as a horseman, and though he undoubtedly was an excellent horseman, even he got thrown badly on occasion and suffered injuries from it.

Second, it is highly unlikely that the Wild West Show would keep a horse that was completely unrideable as it would be of little value to the show (unless for comic value as hapless cowboys chased it around the ring).  Furthermore, given the skills of the Native American Indians and Cowboys at breaking horses, it would not have stayed unmountable for long.  The whole point of the show was to demonstrate the skills of the participants.

Third, I have never been able to find any Alexander Maitland Gordon, let alone one who was a cavalry officer.  Nor can I find any Maitland Gordon (Alexander or otherwise) among Don Roberto’s friends and acquaintances – there is certainly no correspondence between them which is highly peculiar given Don Roberto’s proclivity for letter writing.  Thus, if one of the main protagonists of the tale is fictitious, the whole must be suspect.

A Tall Tale of a Trouncing

The Glaswegian engineer, Samuel Mavor, in a longer reminiscence of Don Roberto, relates the following tale:

An incident narrated to me by the late Professor George Forbes illustrates the fiery energy of Cunninghame Graham.  Don Roberto and his wife spent the summer at Pitlochry and while there he was called to London where he had to remain for two weeks.  During his absence, an acquaintance, son of a well-known Church dignitary, was persistent in unwelcome advances to Mrs Cunninghame Graham, and on Don Roberto’s return she told him of the annoyance she had experienced.  Don Roberto went immediately to the residence of the lothario, and inquired for him, but was told he had gone to Perth in the morning, and would return in afternoon.   Don Roberto strode straightway to the station where he ascertained the time of arrival of the afternoon train from the south; he also found that by taking the train to Dunkeld he could arrive there before the northbound train was due, so off he went to Dunkeld, where on the platform he paced impatiently awaiting the train from Perth.  On its arrival he found his man, opened the carriage door, dragged him out and to the amusement of the other passengers administered a severe beating, then leaving his enemy prostrate on the platform he leapt onto the moving train for Pitlochry.

Indignant at the public thrashing of his son, the irate father insisted on action for assault being raised against Don Roberto.  It fell to George Forbes, who was a friend of the offended family as well as of Don Roberto, to take the part of the mediator, and try to placate ruffled tempers.  Not without considerable difficulty was he able to have the matter smoothed over and further publicity avoided.” (Mavor, Samuel (1940), Don Roberto, “Memories of Men and Places”, London: William Hodge and Company Ltd, pp79-80.)

While Mavor is a masterful storyteller, his reminiscence is riddled with errors and there are numerous problems with the supposedly “secondhand” tale.

First, there is no evidence that Don Roberto and George Forbes were friends, though it is likely they had mutual acquaintances; nor is any reason given as to why Don Roberto & Gabrielle were summering in Pitlochry.  Furthermore, Forbes did not build his Pitlochry house (The Shed) until 1906, the year Gabrielle died.

Second, from the cameo rôle Mavor assigns Gabrielle, it is clear he did not know her.  He has her a meek, docile wife, lacking the nous to ask assistance from Forbes, or even to send a telegram to her husband, but having to await his return to defend her honour.  This does not accord with the historical record of a woman who had run away, not once but twice, to go on the stage; who as a newlywed ranched in Texas and travelled by wagontrain to Mexico City; who roamed Spain with just her Galician maid as her companion; and who was an experienced political orator.  Moreover, if as Taylor speculates in her scholarly biography of Don Roberto, Gabrielle had had to support herself through prostitution when her stage career foundered, she would have been more than able to spurn the unwanted attentions of a spoilt, lovelorn swain.

Third, Forbes does not come out of it as well as Mavor might imagine.  While Forbes brokered peace, he failed to protect his guest from the persistent pest (was he blind and/or mute?) and was obviously so unapproachable that Gabrielle could not ask for is assistance but had to wait for Don Roberto’s return.

Fourth, though one could easily imagine Don Roberto catching a train to intercept his wife’s erstwhile suitor, the fisticuffs does not so readily come to mind.  While Don Roberto undoubtedly had fiery energy and was a man of action, there are no other recorded incident of physical violence (notwithstanding Trafalgar Square, where he was more victim than perpetrator). Don Roberto did not need to “administer a severe beating”, the weapon of choice of the inarticulate, as with the devastating wit for which he was widely renown, he could have so humiliated the poor youth with a haranguing that he would have wished he had had a thrashing instead.

In short, Mavor appears to have uncritically taken his friend’s anecdote and used it to add vividness to his pen-portrait of one of the most colourful characters of his age.

A Family Fable

Much later, when I was an adult, I was told about a Clydebank family which believes that their grandfather, Andrew, son of one Janet Munro, was the illegitimate child of Don Roberto.  They surmise that she had been seduced by Don Roberto while working as a maid at Ardoch.  And this tale has been passed down through the generations as family history.

The family’s genealogist, however, is more sceptical.  He readily admits that Janet was of dubious reputation and the “black sheep” of the family and that the family cannot provide a single shred of evidence she ever met Don Roberto, let alone had any kind of sexual relationship with him.

The facts prejudicial to the Munro claim are insurmountable.  First, at the time the baby would have been conceived, the family were not using Ardoch, which was leased to a tenant; second, Don Roberto, who was newly married, was incontrovertibly abroad (first at Bremerhaven and then at Vigo) at the critical juncture.

Of course, all those who claimed to have personal knowledge of the affair are all safely dead and beyond interrogation, but the myth persists despite the slew of facts which make it utterly impossible.  But when did facts ever deal a deathblow to a rollicking good tale?

These examples make me wonder whether there are any other myths about Don Roberto out there waiting to be collected and debunked.

Bad Willie’s Crime

20 Sep

Every family has its black sheep and in our family, it is William Cunningham Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore and Finlaystone (1775 – 1845), who is known by a number of soubriquets: “Bad Willie”, “The Runaway Laird” and “The Swindler”.

Born into a wealthy family and given every advantage, William was described as “a person of considerable accomplishments” who “although he possessed a love for the fine arts, it was in the more imitative and mechanical ones that he excelled”, being “without rival at turning the lathe”. And, indeed, he left some very fine ivory pieces, including a chess set with which my grandfather and I used to play our coffee-house games.

In his youth, William fell in with the Prince Regent’s set becoming an inveterate gambler.  He squandered the family art collection and the estates he had inherited (hence, “Bad Willie”) and by 1828 he had been forced to flee to the continent to escape his creditors (earning him the epithet of “Runaway Laird”).  But it is how he came to be known as “The Swindler” that is the most interesting part of his story.

Having lived briefly in Brussels and Tours, Bad Willie moved to Florence in 1832 with his second wife, Janet, their son Alexander and their daughters Susan and Margaret.  He was joined a couple of years later by his stepson, Allan George Bogle, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who had been on half-pay for about two years.

Bad Willie made his living in Florence by mechanically reproducing the rare engravings of artists such as Rafael Morghen, Domenichino and Guido Reni with great genius by use of a machine of his own design.  It was there that he fatefully made the acquaintance of the Marquis de Bourbel, a schemer, who had married an English heiress, and was now plotting to swindle the bankers Glyn & Co out of £1,000,000 by means of forged letters of credit.

Bad Willie was clearly at the heart of the plot, as was his stepson, whom he helped to enter into a partnership with two respected gentlemen of commerce to form a new bank “Bogle, Kerritch & Co, whose business rapidly grew to be highly profitable thanks to Mr Kerritch’s business contacts.  In 1839, Bad Willie introduced the Marquis de Bourbel to Bogle, Kerritch & Co as an investor.  But that was not his main contribution to the plot.  It was Bad Willie’s particular skill and his tracing machine that De Bourbel wanted so as to mechanically forge to perfection the signatures of Glyn, Hallifax, Mills and Co for the faked letters of credit.

The plot moved on apace when De Bourbel went to London where he encountered an old friend, another gambler of good family, the Baron d’ Arjuzon, who gladly joined the scheme.  Together they managed to procure the same paper Glyn & Co used for their letters of credit and then in January 1840 obtained a genuine letter of credit from them from the strong box of Bogle Kerritch & Co. of which Bogle was the custodian.

Another of the band, calling himself Comte de Paindry, tested his forged letter of credit by presenting it at Bogle, Kerritch & Co and received £200.  However, he returned the money the following day claiming that a shopkeeper had cast doubt on the authenticity of the letter.  He stated that rather than have his honourable name brought into question he would rather cancel the transaction, which the bank did, noting on the letter that it had been done at “the request of the bearer.”  This had the benefit of allaying suspicion and reassuring other lenders.

Once they had their forged letters, 6 of the conspirators travelled in pairs to different countries under assumed names to start presenting their letters on the same day, 19th April.  At first, all went well and they were able to draw large sums, but as is often the case, they got greedy.  D’Arjuzon successfully withdrew £750 in Brussels, but his companion, Perry (alias Ireland), was refused a further £750 in Antwerp the following day as the banker was suspicious that another advance was needed so soon and contacted the police.  Perry was arrested on the Ostend Ferry fleeing the country, which news caused the rest of the gang to decamp in great haste.

Nonetheless, they had managed to defraud various banks in Italy, Belgium, France and the Rhineland of the vast sum of £10,700 6s in just 6 days.  Surprisingly, none of the principal conspirators suffered any serious consequence.  Bad Willie’s family were not so fortunate.

The Times had published a letter on 26th May from one of their correspondents, Joseph Lawson, in which the fraudsters had been named, including Bad Willie, his son Alexander and his stepson, Allan Bogle.

Bogle sued Lawson for defamation of character.  However, the evidence of his involvement was such that the jury awarded him the paltry damages of just one farthing, and, as the judge refused to certify, he had to bear all of his legal costs.  His reputation and finances ruined, he died 10th April, 1843 in Westminster.

According to The Times, Alexander, who was described as a “debauched and dissolute young man”, was living under an assumed name in France “in great want and misery”, when he died of an infectious disease in a nursing home near Paris, less than a year after the scandal.  He was just 23 years of age.

Bad Willie was arrested in Florence – probably having returned to try and destroy his machine –  and then expelled from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany with a ban from ever returning.  He eventually made his way back to London, where he died some five years later without ever facing any punishment.