Whitby Jets

My daughter and her family visited Whitby on their holidays.  They’re football mad, so they went to the pre-season friendly between Whitby Town FC and FC Manchester.  The commemorative mug is attached, and set me thinking about team nicknames.

Now, my dad used to take me and my brothers to see Charlton Athletic as kids.  Yes, I was there in December 1957 for the most exciting match in the history of the Football League, when we came back from 1-5 down to win 7-6.  Charlton were then called the Addicks, which is pretty obviously a version of Athletic despite the various fanciful explanations about winning teams getting a haddock fish supper (though some fans did turn up with plywood haddocks on a pole to wave around).  The team played in red shirts – still do – so they ran onto the pitch to the tune of “When The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along”.  But some marketing fool decided later to hold a competition for a better nickname, and “Valiants” was chosen.  They play at the Valley, so there is a second-rate pun there, but not much else. Oh, in passing, the Addicks won the FA Cup in 1947 in what was apparently the most tedious match played at the old Wembley: so they enter the record books for the most and least boring matches in English soccer.  And if you’re not yet asleep, Charlton were the first club in England to use a substitute.

Back to the topic in hand – sporting nicknames.  I like nicknames that tell a story – the Saddlers, the Blades, the Potters, the Quakers.  I love names that seem to have no connection at all to current events – like “The Irons” for West Ham United.  What I don’t like are names that are invented simply to match American Football, in the hope that changing the name will unleash massive gate or sponsorship receipts.  Take Wakefield Trinity, a historic rugby league team that was used for the site of “This Sporting Life”, possibly the greatest British sport-based film.  For a few years, some MBA educated idiot decreed that they should be Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.  Now, the wildcat is a ferocious predator, but it is small and nowadays found only in Scotland.  At least that is within 170 miles of Belle Vue, Trinity’s home ground.  The same cannot be said about Leeds and Rhinos, Warrington and Wolves, or London and Broncos, or for that matter Middlesex cricket team and Panthers.  Then there’s Sale Sharks: yes, Britain’s furthest-from-the-sea premier rugby club is named after a fish.  At least sharks exist, which is more than can be said of Huddersfield’s Giants.  Warwickshire County Cricket Club morphs into Birmingham Bears for the short form of the game, based on the bear that appears on the county shield (going back to Earls of Warwick). Leicester Foxes have a similar history, and that’s fine.  Well, fine-ish.  But, come on, Gloucester Gladiators ?  Is that about Spartacus (maybe his mother really came from Chipping Sodbury), or the last RAF biplane fighter ?  Talking of which, Kent Spitfires ?  I know there were plenty of Battle of Britain airfields in Kent, but many flew Hurricanes and Spitfires were made in Hampshire. And Birmingham. Anywhere but Kent, actually.  Does anyone use these modern marketing names without a shudder ? Has a single one of them actually stuck ? Which Yorkshireman will ever be heard to say he’s off to support the Vikings ?

And them there is the affection that there is for criminals.  Nottinghamshire Outlaws, I guess, nod in the direction of Robin Hood. But then you get Pirates, Raiders, Buccaneers, Vikings, Renegades, and Brigands. Hey, guys, what’s wrong with a bit of legal compliance here ?

Back to Whitby.  Whitby Town FC could have enjoyed some wonderful nicknames.  Whitby Vampires, for example, commemorating the arrival of Dracula in the UK.  Or Whitby Jets, to refer to the local semi-precious stone.  How about The Whalers, to let the world know that this is the town that taught Captain Cook his trade, and which ranged over the oceans to bring back oil for lamps and soaps ?  But no, nothing so bold.  What we get is : the Seasiders. Doh !

Not voting for Corbyn

Friends ask why I shall not vote for Jeremy Corbyn as the new Labour leader.  Some of his economic policies are attractive. It is welcome to find a politician who doesn’t think the industrial north of England can be rebuilt without decisive new investment in plant, infrastructure and training.   Questioning Trident is surely, too, something that needs to be part of public debate.  The truth is, though, that much of the economics is wishful thinking.  There’s a good dissection here and here, and the idea that there is a hidden treasure of tax evasion to be easily accessed is queried here.  Some of it is plain contradictory: you can either use tax receipts frm evaders and the rich to plug the fiscal gap, or expand the economy, but, er, not both.  However, at least he is asking the right questions even if giving the wrong answers.  The problem comes in his views on foreign policy.  Leaving NATO and the EU seem comparatively mild stuff beside these features:

The idea that someone with these views could be electable is fanciful. More fanciful, however, is the idea that someone with these views  occupies the high ground of moral principle in the leadership campaign.  The defence that ‘we have to talk to people we disagree with if we are to achieve peace’ is valid, until we remember that Corbyn refers to Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’.  And, truth be told, it’s not his job to broker Middle East peace; that’s what governments and diplomats do, and it is tricky stuff.  That’s why the rejoinder that Tony Blair also met nasty people is so fatuous: that was his job as Prime Minister. Corbyn did it out of his own free will.   Let’s hope he is naïve rather than nasty, remembering all the time the judgement of Henry Adams on Robert E. Lee: “it is always the good men who do the most harm in the world”.

The campaign itself is a pretty devastating disproof of the idea that ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’.  One can only hope that whoever wins grow into the job.  Andy Burnham seems like the deputy marketing manager of a photocopy company; he was Health shadow for five years, and never laid a glove on the most ideological and shambolic Ministerial record of that period.  Fish in a barrel would be safe with Andy at the trigger.  Liz Kendall seems pleasant and clever, but in the wrong party.  I’ll vote for Yvette Cooper, who is experienced and carries no baggage (apart from marriage to Ed Balls), and might at least give the Tories something to worry about.



Fake quotations

(This is one of several posts on this topic – see also Quotable Quotes Feb 14)

There are number of well-known logical fallacies.  You can buy a wonderful poster with the most common ones here.  You’ll recognise some old favourites.  “Ad hominem” – attacking the person who says something rather than what they say: only send a tweet attacking Jeremy Corbyn and you’ll quickly see what I mean.   “Slippery slope” – we can’t do a sensible thing like A because it would all end up with Z – remember the Americans who said that same sex marriage was all very well, but we shouldn’t do it because it would end up with humans marrying animals.   I had a recent run on with the anecdotal fallacy – “my wife was a working class kid who made it from a grammar school, so all grammar schools must be great for working class kids”.  This is a version of “smoking doesn’t cause cancer because my grandpa smoked a pipe till he was 96”. Then there’s  “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” – “after that, therefore because of that” – which refers to the belief that because one thing happened after another, it caused it.  This has led many astray, particularly those who claim that vaccines made their child autistic. They had the injection, then the child became unwell – makes sense, doesn’t it.  The bandwagon effect – 30 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong – is a cracker, too.  The Corbyn campaign has been full of the ‘tu quoque’ – ‘you too’ – fallacy.  “You think Arab extremists are bad – just look at what Israel did in Gaza !”.

A popular fallacy on the internet is the ‘appeal to authority’.  This defends a proposition because someone authoritative, or famous, says so.  Which is understandable.  If someone pointed out that my heroes – George Orwell, Maynard Keynes, Bruce Springsteen – said something, I would give it rather more consideration than if Kingsley Amis, George Osborne or Mick Jagger did. But the fact that someone supports something doesn’t make it true.  Least of all is something true if you have made up the support of authoritative figures.  Which happens a lot.

Here are some I’ve noticed recently, and they’re all quotations from famous people. Well, they’re not, actually, but we’ll find that out in passing.

  1. A correspondent to the Sunday Times published a quotation from Cicero, the great Roman statesman. The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance. Coincidentally, this quotation supports the agenda of the Conservatives in the UK, and the Republicans in the USA. Which is no surprise, as it was written by a right wing novelist and first quoted in the House of Representatives by a Republican Congressman in the 1950s.  I think the clue is in the idea that the Roman Empire gave generous assistance to ‘foreign lands’.  Maybe a short check of what happened to Boudicca, Vercingetorix or the tribes of Brittany (or a hundred other conquered places) might suggest the Roman Empire was not quite a worldwide welfare state.
  2. A Twitterer I used to follow became addicted to quotations from Machiavelli. Well, I say quotations from Machiavelli, but … er … they aren’t.  One says “I’m not interested in preserving the status quo – I want to overthrow it”, which rather gives the game away as the great man spent his time working out how “The Prince” could retain power and beat off rivals. Anyone more vigilant to preserve the status quo, or get back in its good books, would be difficult to find. Certainly not Newt Gingrich, whose quotation this actually is. The disseminator of the bogus Machiavelli got very upset when I politely told him they were made up, pausing for a few obscenities before demanding to know if I had read everything Machiavelli wrote.
  3. Then there’s poor old Charles Darwin, who is brought to testify ideas very convenient to the new right. He’s alleged to have said It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. This is, of course, not Darwinism at all: he believed that those who had inherent assets that favoured survival became successful in breeding the next generation.  The idea that individual organisms could themselves change to adapt to their environment comes from Lamarck – or later, Lysenko – and … er … isn’t the same thing at all.  However, it was such a convenient quotation for the political and managerial numbskulls who tell us that we must accept any change, no matter how stupid, that it ended up on the wall of a Californian college.  Poor buggers had to take it down when they found out it was made up by a business studies lecturer in Louisiana in 1963.
  4. Last week, we had a stern portrait of Thomas Jefferson circulated by a screenwriters’ organisation. Superimposed on it was a quotation saying “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”  You may feel this sounds more like a station bookstall self-improvement book than the wisdom of a founding father, and you would be right.  No-one ever found this quotation before 1988.

Recently, the idea that George Orwell said “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” has been tweeted to death. I’ve even got a tea towel that says it, alongside the great man’s portrait.  Problem – no-one can say if or when he said it. And you’ll have heard that Einstein said it was a sign of insanity to do the same thing and expect a different result.  Same problem – no record of him saying it.

There are a couple of points about these alleged quotations.  The first is that, though I’m no scholar when it comes to Cicero, Jefferson, Darwin or Machiavelli, even what I gleaned from a halting grammar school and polytechnic education tells me straight away that they are bogus.  So, what’s the conclusion, apart from finding that the internet is full of people who can’t check fake quotations on the internet ?  I think it goes back to my whine about confirmation bias, about the human trait to find evidence that supports your preformed views more compelling than evidence that challenges them.  People want them to be true, and so don’t expend the energy to check whether they are lies.


Footnote from August 2019.  I should know better than correct a Trumpist using misquotes on Twitter, but I did it last week.  But the alleged quotations were from Winston Churchill and George Orwell, and were obviously bogus: it would in any case be difficult to think of two people who would be more disgusted by the current stance of the Republican Party.  You may, I think, guess the response, and you’d be right to think it was not “thanks for that – I’ll correct my tweet”.  No, it was “You can’t handle the truth !”.  This has the benefit of being a correct quotation, but is a curious defence of falsehood.

Footnote from November 2021: Lord, it’s spreading to sensible, progressive people.  A C Grayling today tweeted that “It’s a sin to be silent when it is your duty to protest” and claimed it was by Abraham Lincoln. Which quote checking websites deny.

Footnote from July 2022: And now it’s spreading to me.  Seeing a tweet that suggested Keir Starmer was boring, I quoted Churchill’s dismissal of Attlee as ‘a modest man with much to be modest about’.  It turns out he didn’t say that at all – if anything it was a left wing critic who thought the 1945 Labour Government wasn’t being radical enough (hah !).  In line with my advice to others, I apologized and changed the tweet.

Tweeting topics

One of the reasons I guess I have been blogging less (apart from running out of things about which to be grumpy) is that I’m tweeting more.  Twitter is a wonderful medium, and is particularly useful when it passes you on to influential articles and thoughtful blogs.  The odd witticism can lighten the day, too.  However, I worry that it might lead to people thinking that the subtleties of political and social discourse can be covered in 140 characters.  Some recent examples:

Tax evasion and avoidance.  The Corbynites apparently believe that there is £120bn of tax being evaded, avoided or just left uncollected: if this were diligently collected, then any hole in government finances could easily be filled.  This is a vast amount of money (total government spending on everything is just over £700bn). I suspect what we have here is genuinely avoided tax (illegal, but not, I suspect, very much – the largest estimate I’ve seen comes from HMRC who think there may be £34bn out there in total); genuinely evaded tax (legal, and so not collectible  but we could change the law – and close overseas bolt-holes – to make Amazon & Starbucks pay their whack) and administrative losses (some of which are scandalous – a former head of HM Customs and Excise was given to cutting sweetheart deals over executive lunches).  Three things, each controversial and arguable, and none explicable in 140 characters.

Another tweet-fest of Corbynism comes when his association with racists and tyrants from around the world is defended – see my earlier blog.  The defence mounted here is that in the search for peace, one must talk to people we disagree with, an opinion normally associated with a photo of the anti-Christ Tony Blair talking to Mubarak or Ghadaffi.  He obvious point – that Blair’s job required him to meet heads of unpleasant governments, but Corbyn was under no such obligation – is probably too subtle for the wisdom of the smart phone.

Then there’s welfare reform, with the public’s estimate of welfare fraud being 27% of the total as against the government’s view that it is less than 1%.  I think the problem here is that there are people who might be able to get out and find a job who can legitimately claim benefit.  Stephen Hawking and David Blunkett could, after all, and they would not be ‘welfare cheats’.  This creates a difference between ‘welfare fraud’ – people defrauding and lying – and George Osborne’s idea of ‘skivers’ – those who could work harder, but don’t as they can legitimately claim benefits.  This idea becomes more powerful when associated with the common idea that there are families with three generations who have not worked due to a culture of worklessness. This is believed not just by the right (Iain Duncan Smith – though the claim has disappeared from his web-site) but also by the left (I remember community workers telling me a similar tale in Sheffield in the 1990s – “there’s no-one in this street who has a job” they would say, ignoring the white vans and rep-mobiles that littered the verge).  Only problem is that it’s not true.  Three problems, each separate, each responsive to different measures, none doable in 140 characters.

Or look at the refugee/migrant issue.  We’re told that many voters are against immigration, or the current volumes of immigration.  But again, it’s a number of issues.  There are EU workers, who have the legal right to come here.  If you want to stop this, we’ll have to leave the EU; and even if we do, the negotiations might allow free movement, or at least allow those already here to stay.  The idea that they’ll be put off by tinkering with social security entitlements is fanciful.  Then there are skilled workers from abroad, keeping the wheels of industry, finance and agriculture turning.  Then we have genuine refugees, fleeing tyrannies, and who do have, in the fullest and most immediate understanding of the word, “a well-founded fear of persecution”.   These people should be settled here quickly and compassionately.  Then there are a larger group who simply want to come to a better life – a country with social peace, uncorrupt police, decent social services, efficient transport and so on.   The way forward here – and I know this is an almost undoable job – is to ensure that their home countries provide the basics of a decent life.   Sometimes the various categories mix together, certainly in UKIP rhetoric, and sometimes in reality, as in the ‘problem’ of those in the ‘jungle’ outside Calais.  You may agree with me that about 5,000 people – a small football crowd – should be able to be dealt with swiftly by the government, either granting asylum or repatriation.  But again, we have a complex issue being represented as either a ‘swarm’ of humanity coming to swamp our economy and social services, or a heartless government resisting a humanitarian crisis.   You’re either for or against migration, it seems, and all of it in 140 characters.

So I’ll keep tweeting, and reading tweets, but I won’t think I’ve found the answers.

Ernest Babb

It seems that the second most common use of the internet – behind pornography, of course – is family research.  I find it hard to believe that internet commerce isn’t the biggest user, or even pictures of cute cats, but that’s what we’re told.  And I have recently had a glimpse of why that should be.

To start at the beginning. I was in London at a family birthday party, and stayed at my brother’s house.  He gave me a photograph which he had found in our mother’s effects, of a nervous but determined young man in military uniform.  On the back, in my mother’s unmistakable primary school-teacher handwriting, was a message:

“Ernest Babb, son of William Tregeare Babb of Exeter and nephew of Clara Bishop, wearing uniform of Australian Expeditionary Force as he emigrated to Brisbane, Queensland before the First World War”

Clara Bishop was my grandmother, that I knew, but apart from that, nothing.  Then I spent a few minutes on the internet, and it all comes out. I recognise that it is helpful to have an odd surname – Babb rather than Smith or Brown – and that the military are better at keeping records than most, but the ease with which you can find out stuff is astonishing.

The first page of a Google search told me that Ernest enlisted at Capella, Queensland in the 5th Light Horse (service number 1232), and embarked at Brisbane for the front on 17 September 1915 on the HMAT Hymettus, a ship which this web page tells us was able to transport 500 horses.  Another government record revealed he was a 22 year old station hand, born in Exeter, and worked as a station hand. He was unmarried, so did not sign the declaration about giving his wife a portion of his 5 shillings a day (£25.76 in today’s money) wages.

Whether he got to Gallipoli, I can’t say. The 5th Light Horse were certainly there, but maybe not their later reinforcements.   Seems unlikely, as the Australians were withdrawing by the time he would have arrived in Egypt (5thLH left 17 December 1915).  The Discovering Anzac website, however, has all his records.  He was engaged in the Palestine campaigns (remember Lawrence of Arabia).  He started with the Light Horse, and was then transferred to the 2nd Machine Gun Squadron.  Ernest was wounded on 16th November 1917, it seems, at Dueidar, which is a small oasis in the Sinai Desert, though the record simply says “EEF” which stands for Egyptian Expeditionary Force. The casualty record speaks of GSW Foot (gunshot wound).  He was invalided back to an army hospital at Abbassia, then on to Australia on the transport ship ‘Ulysses’ (nothing to do with Alistair Maclean’s novel) on 15 February 1918, arriving 20th March 1918.  He was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal – standard fare, I guess.

That’s it, the product of maybe 90 minutes of bashing a keyboard. There are bits I found but haven’t investigated – such as the Light Horse website, and the history of the 5th Light Horse Regiment.  The enthusiasm for militaria, the passion of Australians for their Anzac history and the excellence of military records is not matched by civilian life.  The trail goes dead when Ernest gets back to Australia – I hope his right foot healed enough for him to have a good life.

There’s another relative story from the Great War, less happy.  One of my great uncles – Frederick William Daly, from my father’s side of the family – emigrated to Canada, and also enlisted in the forces to come to the Empire’s aid, signing up for the 28th Canadian Battalion which was authorized on 7 November 1914, embarked for Britain on 29 May 1915 and arrived in France on 18 September 1915.  Recruited in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the 28th Battalion fought as part of the 6th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division in France and Flanders until the end of the war.

Fred was killed on 18th July 1918.  Family stories said that he was a horseman who died when he went out to calm the horses during an artillery bombardment.  However, when we visited his grave with my Grandma, there were 18 others killed at the same time, which makes the story unlikely.  With the wonders of the internet, which has each day’s battalion records, you can find out the truth, which is that he was killed by a bomb whilst sleeping in the night of 18th/19th July.  If you’re going to be killed in WW1, not a bad choice.  He is buried in Wanquetin Communal Cemetery extension, an addition to a village cemetery near Arras.