An extended article extracted from my new book on Edward Duke and the Amesbury Union Workhouse in 1844 has just been published in the December edition of Genealogists’ Magazine. You can download a copy here: https://www.mirlibooks.com/edward-duke-2.htm
My boat was lifted out of the water last week. A couple of days ago I went to inspect it in its winter storage; I could only stay for a few minutes because of a biting north wind coming in over the water and a temperature of around 5 degrees. Within minutes, I was chilled to the bone in spite of several layers of clothes... Under these weather conditions, people were making the crossing from France to England in inflatable dinghies.
I have a small inflatable dinghy which is used occasionally as a tender and kept in the boat for emergencies. I would never use it for distances of more than a few hundred yards, and then only in summer months, sheltered waters, and relatively calm conditions. I would use it in the middle of the English Channel in November literally only if my very life depended on it.
The people making the trip from France in these fragile craft are so desperate that they are willing to risk their lives and those of their children to come to Britain. They could apply for asylum in any of the EU countries—and in many of them they would be better off financially than they are here; from a House of Commons briefing paper, November 2020, the ‘hand-out’ for asylum seekers is £39.63 per week to cover “food, clothing, toiletries, non-prescription medication, household cleaning items, communications, travel and the ability to access social, cultural and religious life...” Basic accommodation is also supplied. So when asked why they do it, asylum seekers usually say something like they have family here, life is said to be better in Britain, and of course everyone speaks the international lingua franca—English... We ought to be flattered.
So you might think that we would be happy to see them, with 1.1 million job vacancies, shortages on the supermarket shelves for lack of delivery drivers, bus timetables subject to cancellation because of driver shortages, and taxi-driver shortages. Then there is the looming catastrophe that is the NHS, with staff exhausted by the pandemic and leaving in droves, GPs totally overstretched, acute shortages of hospital nurses and doctors, and emergency call-outs taking sometimes ten to twelve hours to reach heart-attack and stroke victims, because ambulances are piled up for hours at A & E there being too few beds and far too few staff to treat emergencies. And so on.
It really doesn’t matter why asylum-seekers want to come here rather than France or Germany, both of which countries have accepted many times more refugees that we have. If people are genuine refugees, i.e. fleeing persecution or harm, we must have a joined-up process for dealing with them. And, contrary to ‘popular’ belief, international law does not require refugees to seek asylum in the first safe country they come to. There is, currently, virtually no legitimate way for a refugee to seek asylum in the UK, which can only be done when the person is physically present in the country. Without a visa, passage would never be granted on the airlines or passenger ferries.
If the government is really serious about saving lives in the channel, it should stop shedding crocodile tears about the poor migrants, stop blaming it all on the ‘evil’ traffickers, cease criticism of the ‘indolent and inefficient’ French, demonstrate some charity, and issue emergency visas to allow these people to travel here legally to seek asylum. Of course it will mean a massive increase in arrivals in the short term, but if it is planned properly, we might even find that we can solve our labour shortage crisis in fairly short order.
Note added 29 November
It is gratifying to see that a number of people have endorsed the sentiments expressed above via Facebook. Re-reading it, I noticed that I had omitted one of the areas of most acute shortage of staff, that being the care sector.
The bawdiness of the text of Lysistrata—see previous post—made me laugh out loud. Apparently as staged, the men wore large comic erect phalluses, while the ‘women’, played by men, had fake breasts made of wood, and also wore wooden stomach ‘enhancers’. The entire process must have been hilarious, and it is a wonder that the actors could ever get their lines out without breaking into fits of mirth. It all sounds like a cross between Whitehall Farce and pantomime. Furthermore, staging theatre is said to have been very expensive, so plays like Lysistrata must have been very popular with the citizens to justify the cost of having them performed.
It is a very far cry from the dignity, grace, decorum, and grandeur we associate with the period of classical Greece, cradle of democracy, which fact must question whether that view has any validity. The received wisdom of the period is of statuesque patrician men with long beards dressed in flowing robes, discoursing on the nature of the universe, the meaning of life, and the ethics and politics by which men should live, with The Acropolis in the background. The women are likewise tall and slim, dressed in long, diaphanous gowns, with elaborate hairdos and jewellery, spending their time in leisure. Many statues, and the detailed pictures on thousands of Greek pots confirm this view.
Common sense suggests that only a small fraction of the populace looked like this, and by extension behaved like this. The philosopher Socrates, was famously short, fat, and ugly with a snub nose. He was even caricatured in another of Aristophanes’ comedies, The Clouds.
The reality cannot be avoided: wealthy Athenians paid good money to attend comedies like Lysistrata, and dissolved into hysterics watching men with large knobs chasing men in drag with large wooden tits...
(Listen to Natalie Haynes Stands up for the Classics on BBC Sounds for more on this)
What is the connection between Aristophanes, a lioness, and a cheese-grater?
Aristophanes wrote a play called Lysistrata set in Athens in 411 BC. The eponymous heroine is proposing an interesting way to end the costly and damaging Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta that has dragged on for twenty years. She does this by persuading the women from the warring states to agree to withdraw conjugal rights from the menfolk who are prosecuting the war until they resolve their differences and make peace.
I cannot resist quoting from part of the play—persons of a delicate disposition should note that the following passage is fairly explicit ... Lysistrata is reciting an oath over a bowl of wine (having decided not to sacrifice a white horse and swear on its entrails because she didn’t know where to find one). Her friend Calonice has to repeat the oath, and all the women place their hands on the bowl in participation...
Lysistrata I will have naught to do whether with lover or husband ...
Calonice I will have naught to do whether with lover or husband ...
Lysistrata Albeit he come to me with stiff and standing tool ...
Calonice Albeit he come to me with stiff and standing tool ... Oh! Lysistrata, I cannot bear it!
Lysistrata I will live at home in perfect chastity ...
Calonice I will live at home in perfect chastity ...
Lysistrata Beautifully dressed and wearing a saffron-coloured gown ...
Calonice Beautifully dressed and wearing a saffron-coloured gown ...
Lysistrata To the end I may inspire my husband with the most ardent longings ...
Calonice To the end I may inspire my husband with the most ardent longings ...
Lysistrata Never will I give myself voluntarily ...
Calonice Never will I give myself voluntarily ...
Lysistrata And if he has me by force ...
Calonice And if he has me by force ...
Lysistrata I will be cold as ice and never stir a limb ...
Calonice I will be cold as ice and never stir a limb ...
Lysistrata I will not lift my legs in the air...
Calonice I will not lift my legs in the air ...
Lysistrata Nor will I crouch with bottom upraised, like carven lions on a knife-handle ...
Here, the translator has taken some liberties with the text. Apparently academics have argued for the last two-and-a-half thousand years exactly what is meant...
The original Greek reads: οὐ στήσομαι λέαιν᾽ ἐπὶ τυροκνήστιδος ... Translating word by word:
οὐ no truly/assuredly not
στήσομαι make to stand ...
ἐπὶ on/upon/ being upon
τυροκνήστιδος cheese-scraper, cheese grater...
It has been assumed that Greek cheese-graters had handles carved like lions, and what is referred to is something like—there is no subtle way to say this—'doggie style...' Anyone really interested will find that Google is a great help...
I have researched and written about a number of people from the nineteenth century who studied Classics at Oxford; virtually all of them became Anglican clergymen. It is a source of endless amusement to me to think of them as students in their college rooms poring over the text of Lysistrata with a Greek dictionary, and struggling to translate the above passage. “Cheese-grater? Lioness? Is there something Papa never told me? Scout! Another bottle of wine, for God’s sake!”
COP26 has not achieved its objectives. This is very bad news, but it is worth while looking at the situation that prevails in the UK to understand the reasons. The Sixth Carbon Budget UK Path to Net Zero, published by the Climate Change Committee in December 2020, is 448 pages of text, liberally interlarded with glossy charts, tables, and graphs. You can download it here: https://www.theccc.org.uk
There is much in it to absorb. In the previous post, I went to some lengths to convince myself, and others also, I hope, that global warming leading to climate change is real, and that human activity is either wholly, or mainly, to blame. The question now facing us, is what should we, in this country, do?
The CCC document lists the various categories contributing to UK CO2 emissions (based on 2019, i.e. pre-pandemic levels). The four highest are: Surface Transport, 22%; Industry, 20%; Buildings, 17%; and Electricity Generation, 10%. Breaking this down further, 38% of electricity is for domestic use, around 55% of transport is private vehicles, and of buildings, 54% is for domestic heating. Thus around a quarter of CO2 emissions are from each one of us driving our cars, heating our homes, and running our washing machines and dish-washers.
There is a real conundrum over electricity. Over the last thirty years or so we have, quite rightly, virtually phased out coal-fired power generation, an enormous producer of atmospheric CO2 as well as other noxious emissions (although coal continues to be burnt in various industrial processes and is still used as a backstop in electricity generation). The technology that has mostly replaced it is the combined cycle gas turbine generator (CCGT). These high-tech units use a large gas turbine (basically an aviation style turbojet engine), powered by natural gas; the turbine shaft is coupled to the electrical generator, and the hot exhaust gas is used to generate steam to drive a steam turbine, also coupled to an electrical generator. Efficiencies of well over 50% are achieved. CCGT units typically contribute 40% of the National Grid; at various times last year, they satisfied between 50% and 64% of the total load. The problem with that is, that natural gas is a fossil fuel, there are only between 50 and 80 years’ worth left on the planet at current rates of usage (and Russia has the largest share), and burning it emits CO2 and other pollutants. There are other methods in use to generate electricity—eg solar, hydro, biomass, and direct purchases of electricity from our neighbours—but the ‘big three’ are CCGT, wind and nuclear.
If anything, CCGT generation will have to increase in the short term as coal-fired power generation is completely eliminated and demand for electric car charging and heat-pumps (see below) starts to ramp up. More offshore wind turbines are constantly being built and these, together with one or two new nuclear power plants, will eventually reduce the need for CCGT generation, but this is medium to long term; Hinkley Point C is not due to start electricity generation until 2026 at the earliest. Short term, it is difficult to see how gas usage could be reduced, particularly since at times of light winds, CCGT generation has to increase substantially to fill the gap. All of this is in parallel with the recent quadrupling of wholesale gas prices. The announcement that Rolls Royce has received funding for the design stage of ‘mini’ nuclear reactors is no help, since at the very best, if these devices are built, they will not be producing electricity for at least ten years. The problem of electricity generation feeds directly into the question of domestic gas central heating.
Around half of the natural gas used in this country is produced here, with the balance imported. Of this gas, 25% is burned in CCGT installations for electricity generation, and 33% is consumed by domestic central-heating boilers. A recent story in The Guardian reported that twice as much CO2 is emitted from central heating boilers as from gas fired power generation.
All of this places the environmentally conscious person in a real bind. To make a significant difference to his/her CO2 ‘footprint’, the individual needs to use their car less, lower the temperature in their home, and run the washing machine/dishwasher less often (and pay considerably more for gas, electricity, and petrol/diesel). On the question of central heating, grants are being offered to convert from gas to air or ground source heat pumps. The trouble with that is that the grant on offer—£5k—will cover considerably less than 50% of the cost, and heat pumps use lots of electricity—around a kilowatt for every three or four kilowatts of heat.
Translate these uncomfortable home truths into government considerations, add in the cost of ‘greening’ industry, and we can see why there is no great enthusiasm among most governments for agreeing to significant reductions in CO2 emissions.
What should we do? I don’t know; the only practical comment I can make is to observe that for an island surrounded by sea, not to have a massive investment in tidal power is almost bordering on the criminal. Tidal power is purest green and it is completely predictable. Whatever happens, we are going to need a lot more electricity; the greener the better.
Global warning (sic)
I am convinced that global warming leading to climate change, is a direct result of historic and on-going emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere by human agency. However, there are no certainties in the science behind climate change; science is not like that. Science is about the analysis of probabilities, the construction of theories, correlations, and probable cause and effect, backed up by intense peer review. Nevertheless, as they say in the interminable detective series on the TV at the moment, ‘Follow the evidence...’
Two things are abundantly clear: firstly, there is no doubt that for more than one hundred years, the average temperature on Earth has been rising. This rise has been far more rapid than the slow increase that has taken place over the previous 10,000 years or so since the last ice age. See below data from five independent sources:
There are far too many contemporary indicators to question whether the effect is real: the accelerating rise in sea level, the retreating Arctic ice-cap—resulting in the final opening up of the North West passage—the melting of glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctic, the bleaching of corals, the huge increase in extreme weather events all over the world, and so on.
Secondly, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been increasing steadily since the start of the industrial revolution. Currently, the CO2 in the atmosphere is 50% higher than pre-industrial levels, when it had been more or less stable for at least 10,000 years. CO2 is the second most abundant greenhouse gas (after water vapour), and contributes to the warming of the atmosphere via the greenhouse effect.
Atmospheric CO2 levels have fluctuated considerably over geological history; see, for example, the data from NASA on variations over the last 800,000 years:
The changes are very apparent, rising and falling every 100,000 years or so, and correlating with warm periods interspersed with ice ages. Note that the current level of CO2 is 50% higher than it has been for more than 800,000 years; it had been rising steadily over the last 10,000 years or so as the result of natural processes—well before large scale human activity—but the recent rise is so fast, it looks vertical on the graph.
We have to ask ourselves two questions: does the current increase in atmospheric CO2 directly and unequivocally result from human activity? And if it does, is it responsible for, or does it contribute to, global warming? The graph below shows atmospheric CO2 from 1750 to the present (magenta line), and emissions of the gas from human activities—industry etc.—(blue line):
I defy any rational person whose mind is not permanently damaged by wild conspiracy theories, to deny that from 1970 or thereabouts there is an almost perfect correlation between the two, and that, therefore, the excess CO2 in the atmosphere is the result of industrial activity. But does increased CO2 in the atmosphere cause the planet to heat up? That is a far more difficult question.
The graph below from NOAA (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) shows the concentration of atmospheric CO2 and global average temperature over the last 800,000 years:
The level of correlation here is quite remarkable and is far too good for there to be any doubt that the two measures—atmospheric CO2 and global temperature—are very closely related. The $64,000 question is: does the one cause the other, or are both affected similarly by a more obscure effect? NOAA is quite candid: ‘While it might seem simple to determine cause and effect between carbon dioxide and climate from which change occurs first, or from some other means, the determination of cause and effect remains exceedingly difficult.’ In other words, the climate on Earth is complicated and is dependent on many factors; no easy answers regarding how it works emerge.
One thing though is unequivocal; however complex is the interaction between the various contributors to the average global temperature, CO2 in the atmosphere appears to track it perfectly.
So what has happened over the last hundred and forty years or so? The graph below shows average global temperate and atmospheric CO2:
Over a period of 140 years to the present day, global average temperature tracks CO2 in the atmosphere; from the 1960s, the correlation is astonishingly good.
The conclusion seems inevitable and unavoidable: atmospheric CO2 is a very good indicator of average global temperature, and both are steadily increasing at a very much higher rate than pre-industrial levels. It certainly convinces me, as it does the majority of the world’s scientists.
What does all of this this mean for the planet? The immediate global consequences of warming are: a steady increase in sea-level both from the simple expansion of the sea as it gets hotter, as well as melting glaciers; the doomsday scenario would occur if large parts of the ice sheet covering Antarctica, Greenland and elsewhere start to melt; most of Holland and much of the UK east coast—including London—would be inundated. In Asia, the Far East, and elsewhere, tens, possibly hundreds of millions of people in low lying areas will become displaced. A number of island nations will just disappear.
Extreme weather events will result in life-threatening storms, wildfires, and floods becoming normal. More ominously, changes in climate will affect crop yields. There will be also be acute water shortages as parts of the planet heat up. ‘Existential’ is a very overworked word at present, but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that climate change really is an existential crisis that will affect every person on the planet over the next fifty to one hundred years.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs