Tag Archives: World War II

The Daily Rant: On Daylight Saving Time.

During the Second World War, the British Government introduced the concept of Daylight Saving Time in order to give an extra hour in the evening for the country’s bombers to blow the crap out of its enemies. I was told this titbit of information by a customer in my bar last night, so it has to be true, right?

Whether it or it isn’t is beside the point, DST (or British Summer Time – BST) has been around for as long as I can remember and remains a controversial time of the year. If you like your sleep, then Yay! you get an extra hour in bed. If you’re an insomniac, then Boo! you get an extra hour to stare at the ceiling.

But some people still don’t get it. I get customers asking me if we’re staying open later because we’re gaining the extra hour. I normally treat this question with the contempt it deserves, mainly because when the hour is lost in spring, I’m not asked if we’re going to close early. I have really stupid customers.

So last night, British Summer Time came to an end. All well and good, I say. But if you were to ask me, summer came to an end some time in June. We’ve had nothing but rain since.

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The King’s Speech: A Personal Consideration

I went to see The King’s Speech this evening with a friend. For those of you who don’t know too much about it, the movie tells the story of how King George VI overcame his speech defect – he had a stammer – and led England through World War II. He struck up an unlikely friendship with his speech therapist, an out-of-work actor called Lionel Logue, and it was through this friendship that the monarch gave his defining speech to the nation on the day war broke out. This post is not a review of the movie; although Colin Firth (as George) and Geoffrey Rush (as Logue) deserve what awards that undoubtedly will come their way (including, hopefully, an Oscar or two), my never-ending love for the force of nature that is Helena Bonham Carter (who plays Queen Elizabeth) grew deeper. I’ve never had a crush on a royal before – but I do now. Tim Burton, you are one lucky guy.

When I was younger I had a stammer. I remember all too well an incident at school when I was asked to read out a passage in French during class. It was there, written out in front of my eyes, ready for oration in front of the class. But the words wouldn’t come out. If anyone sees the movie and recalls the very first scene where Prince Bertie (as King George was known to his family) is about to give a speech, you will know that he is struck dumb, to the obvious embarrassment of his wife, servants, subjects and himself. I know exactly how he felt. There is nothing more painful, more humiliating that knowing how to speak, but failing to do so. That was my lot in my early teenage years. In primary school, certain sections of unthinking morons bullied me for it; but in secondary school, I was enabled my friends and teachers to come to terms with it. I didn’t go to a therapist because I didn’t know they existed. It didn’t always happen, though; there were times when I was able to read aloud in front of the class. But I suppose a lot depended on where my head was at the time.

And then it went away, all on its own. In my late teens, I was on live TV, participating in televised Mass for RTE, reading from a Bible in front of camera and whoever watched Sunday morning Mass on television. I spoke on stage, too, as part of song and dance show with my class mates and girls from another school. (That’s when I discovered women, by the way.) But my crowning moment occurred when I was in college.

I announced my candidacy for President of the Students’ Union, and so I was required to speak at the Hustings. For a man with a history of freezing at inopportune times, this speech was fraught with danger. But I gave the speech of my short political life. For five minutes I was brilliant and I was elected by a landslide. To this day, any time I have to speak in public and I’m feeling nervous, I look back to those times (especially that day in college) and realise that nerves are natural to the best of us. I just take a deep breath and then get on with it.

Now it comes back every so often, mainly at times of stress, or when I’m tired – or when I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. What I do then is slow things down, organise my thoughts and carry on. I find making a joke about it lightens the atmosphere considerably. So there you go, that’s my personal take on what is a marvellous film. Do yourselves a favour and go and see it.

Note to Colin Firth fans (of which there are many): He is fantastic in this film, but he does not take his shirt off. Thank you for reading.

When Henry Eight Me.

Matthew Shardlake

I would never consider myself a student of history. To be perfectly honest, it bored me to tears. I blame the way it was taught when I went to school, and my abject laziness in following on with some research on my own.

When I studied history for my Leaving Certificate, I read directly from textbooks and relied on my memory to get me though the exam. I don’t recall what mark I achieved, but I passed it. My teacher didn’t interact with the class in any way; he read directly from textbooks and relied on his memory to get him through the class. Spot the comparison?

I knew a lot of interesting stuff happened down through the years but none of it made a blind bit of difference to me. It was all just names and dates. That’s how it was taught. Like most of my generation I learned about history from TV and movies; neither of which could be considered as reliable sources. My first memory of King Henry VIII was when he was played by Charles Laughton. He was a fat fool who had an eye for the ladies, and enjoyed lopping the heads from people who didn’t agree with him. As you do.Dissolution, by C.J. Sansom

Recently I’ve been reading books outside of my comfort zone. Gone for the moment are detective thrillers, sci-fi fantasies. In their place I’ve been reading historical fiction. Enter C.J. Sansom‘s brilliant series of mysteries set in Tudor times and featuring one of the most sympathetic and unique creations I’ve ever had the pleasure to read: Matthew Shardlake.

Shardlake is a lawyer under the patronage of Lord Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s chief political adviser. He is a hunchback and as such suffers more than his fair share of bullying and intimidation. At the start of the first novel, Dissolution, he is a religious reformer, very much on the side of the king and Cromwell. He has no sympathy for greedy monks and agrees with Henry’s plan to dissolve all the monasteries in England. He investigates a murder in one such monastery (okay, maybe there is an element of detective fiction here, but bear with me) and as the case progresses, Shardlake’s philosophy changes and he finds himself at odds with his employers. I’m reading the fourth book in the series, Revelation, and the more I dig into Shardlake’s world, the more I want to know about Henry VIII, Cromwell, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and each of Henry’s six wives.

King Henry VIII

So today I bought a biography of perhaps the most famous king of England: Henry VIII, King and Court, by Alison Weir. The point I’m making is (and I’m sure all of you would agree with me), if you want to learn about history, there are many ways to go about it. But for me, it was a case of engaging with something I wouldn’t normally touch. Historical fiction is my new cause celebre. Through the medium of literature, I am now embarking on a historical journey that will take me the rest of my life to enjoy.

Last week I finished reading a book about World War II, called Hitler’s Peace, written by Philip Kerr. That book reinforced my desire to learn more about Nazi Germany, and the insidious ways Hitler and his cronies went about trying to win the war. And then I had a thought (as I sometimes do) – what kind of books will historical fiction writers of tomorrow write about today?

On This Day…25 September

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Good morning, good day, good evening, and welcome to Saturday’s installment of On This Day. I hope you’re well and that you enjoy your weekend. To set you off on the right path, here’s your daily trip down memory lane. Way down memory lane. So way down in fact, we’re starting with what happened on this day in…

303 – On a voyage preaching the gospel, Saint Fermin of Pamplona is beheaded in Amiens, France. A bit of a wasted journey if you ask me. The French are not for turning.

1066 – The Battle of Stamford Bridge marks the end of the Viking invasions of England. Chelsea FC play their home games there now. I thought John Terry looked like a Norse, all right.

1690 – Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick, the first newspaper to appear in the Americas, is published for the first and only time. No one bought obviously.

The Bill of Rights

1789 – The U.S. Congress passes twelve amendments to the United States Constitution: the Congressional Apportionment Amendment (which was never ratified), the Congressional Compensation Amendment, and the ten that are known as the Bill of Rights.

1906 – In the presence of the king and before a great crowd, Leonardo Torres Quevedo successfully demonstrates the invention of the Telekino in the port of Bilbao, guiding a boat from the shore, in what is considered the birth of the remote control.

1944 – World War II: Surviving elements of the British 1st Airborne Division withdraw from Arnhem in the Netherlands, thus ending the Battle of Arnhem and Operation Market Garden. It was A Bridge Too Far.

1983 – Maze Prison escape: 38 republican prisoners, armed with 6 handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of the Maze prison. It is the largest prison escape since WWII and in British history.

1996 – The last of the Magdalene Asylums closes in Ireland; just one of the many scandals Ireland has endured under the institution of the Catholic Church.

Celebrity birthdays today include:

Mr & Mrs Zeta-Jones Douglas (Image: babble.com)

Catherine Zeta Jones and her husband, Michael Douglas, share their birthdays today. She is 41, he is 66. We wish Michael well as he recovers from throat cancer.

Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, is 59 and still strong with the Force.

Maria Doyle Kennedy, Irish singer, actress and star of The Commitments, is 46.

Hollywood actor Will Smith is 42.

On This Day…15 September

15 September 2010

Whatever Wednesday brings you, may it be filled with blessings, love and buckets-load of hard cash.

Cash is king in my book.

So what happened on this day down through the years? Lots, let me tell you, lots. Let’s start with…

1776 – American Revolutionary War: British forces land at Kip’s Bay during the New York Campaign.

1830 – The Liverpool to Manchester railway line opens.

1831 – The locomotive John Bull operates for the first time in New Jersey on the Camden and Amboy Railroad.

1940 – World War II: The climax of the Battle of Britain, when the Royal Air Force shoots down large numbers of Luftwaffe aircraft.

1959 – Nikita Khrushchev becomes the first Soviet leader to visit the United States.

1981 – The John Bull becomes the oldest operable steam locomotive in the world when the Smithsonian Institution operates it under its own power outside Washington, D.C, 150 years after it’s initial run.

Image: haildubyus.com

2008 – Lehman Brothers files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.

Birthdays today include:

American actor Tommy Lee Jones, 64.

The same age as ex-controversial film director, Oliver Stone. I wonder what Wall Street II will be like.

The English comedian Jimmy Carr is 38.

Roald Dahl’s granddaughter Sophie, model and author, is 33.

Two years ago today, Richard Wright, founding member of Pink Floyd lost his battle with cancer. Today’s On This Day is dedicated to him. Rest in peace, Richard.

On This Day…10 September

It’s Fruity Friday, people. Grab yourself a banana and get some carbs into ye! Have two – they’re small.

Today, Her Ladyship and I head up to Athlone for a weekend break. God knows we need one. But don’t worry your little heads. I have the weekend’s posts of On This Day scheduled and ready to go. Watch this space.

When you’ve finished watching this space, you will learn that on this day in…

1509 – An earthquake known as “The Lesser Judgment Day” hits Istanbul. Whoever called it that had a wicked sense of humour.

1798 – At the Battle of St. George’s Caye, British Honduras defeats Spain. Fernando Torres missed a penalty in the 90th minute to level the tie.

Simon Bolivar PERUses his domain. Pardon the pun, please.

1823 – Simón Bolívar is named President of Peru.

1939 – World War II: The submarine HMS Oxley is mistakenly sunk by the submarine HMS Triton near Norway and becomes the Royal Navy’s first loss. Bad luck, old chaps!

1972 – The United States suffers its first loss of an international basketball game in a disputed match against the Soviet Union at Munich, Germany.

2008 – The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, described as the biggest scientific experiment in history is powered up in Geneva, Switzerland. Whatever it was it was supposed to do, it’s still doing it…I think.

Happy birthday to:

Jose Feliciano, the blind Latin American singer is 65.

Marian Keyes, bestselling Irish author, is 47.

Colin Firth, Mr. D’arcy from the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is 50.

And Johnny Fingers, formerly of The Boomtown Rats, is 54.

You might know this song, as well as recognising a certain young Robert Frederick Zenon Geldof…

On This Day…6 September

Another Monday signals another week. It is my hope that this week brings all that it should; including the winning lottery numbers.

You know where I live!

Before I head into today’s On This Day. let me first offer my congratulations to the Tipperary hurlers – they are the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions for 2010. Up Tipp!!

On this day in…

1492 – Christopher Columbus sails from La Gomera in the Canary Islands, his final port of call before crossing the Atlantic for the first time. Perhaps he was stocking up on duty-free cigarettes and alcohol.

Henry David Thoreau, Emerson's roomie

1847 – Henry David Thoreau leaves Walden Pond and moves in with Ralph Waldo Emerson and his family in Concord, Massachusetts. The jury is out as to whether Ralphie charged him rent.

1901 – Anarchist Leon Czolgosz shoots and fatally wounds US President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

1944 – World War II: The city of Ypres, Belgium is liberated by allied forces.

1972 – Munich Massacre: 9 Israel athletes taken hostage at the Munich Olympic Games by the Palestinian “Black September” terrorist group died (as did a German policeman) at the hands of the kidnappers during a failed rescue attempt. 2 other Israeli athletes are slain in the initial attack the previous day.

Birthdays today include:

Roger Waters

Ex-Pink Floyd frontman, Roger Waters, is 67

Rosie Perez is 46.

The Wire and Luther star, Idris Elba, is 38.

British tennis players Tim Henman and Greg Rusesdski are 37 and 36 respectively.

On this day in 2007, the world of music lost perhaps its most famous operatic star. Luciano Pavarotti, R.I.P.