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May 13th, 2019

05:28 pm
Last Monday:

Hot water bottle burst on Pearl, giving her mild burns on her hip.
Put her in a cold bath while I swapped mattresses and got her a quilt.
While getting the quilt discovered that the linen cupboard had a leak.
Tried phoning my Mum for advice – landline had broken and mobile was not charged.
Ruby was annoyed that Pearl was getting all the attention. Very cross with Ruby.

Honestly, one thing goes wrong and then it is a series of others. Phone and plumbing now repaired. Hip healed. Mattress dried and replaced.

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May 8th, 2019

05:29 pm - Poems on Mischellaneous Subjects
I was bored by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s *Poems on Miscelleneous Subjects* (1854) when I first read them. They seemed mandarin, guarded, obsessively obedient to literary conventions.

Then I read about her life – this is a woman who was anything but obedient to conventions. She was an abolitionist, suffragist, poet, teacher, public speaker, and writer.

Born free in 1825 (but in a slave State), she had a long and prolific career. At 14, Frances found work as a seamstress. During her early twenties, she published poems and articles in the local newspaper and published her first volume of poetry at 20 (extant as a single, recently discovered volume). At 25, the Watkins family fled north after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. She started publishing pieces in antislavery journals in 1839.

Harper's second book, Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854), was extremely popular and was reprinted numerous times.

In 1850, Watkins moved to Ohio, where she worked as the first female teacher at Union Seminary and then Wilberforce University, the first black-owned and operated college. In 1853, Watkins joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and became a travelling lecturer for the group. In 1858 she refused to give up her seat or ride in the coloured section of a segregated trolley car in Philadelphia (100 years before Rosa Parks).

After the Civil War ended she moved south to teach newly freed black people during the Reconstruction. She was a strong supporter of abolitionism, prohibition and woman's suffrage. From 1883 to 1890, she helped organise events and programs for the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union and helped organise the National Association of Coloured Women in 1894, and was elected vice president in 1897.

Such an exciting life. Such conventional poetry. Take for example the stulitifying rhythms of ‘The Dying Christian’.

The light was faintly streaming
Within a darkened room,
Where a woman, faint and feeble,
Was sinking to the tomb.

I assume that Watkins was keenly aware that if she wrote with passion, she would be a hysterical woman. If she ignored classical conventions, she would be an uneducated uppity person who was incapable of understanding western culture. Hence the iron control.

There are some poems with a bit more oomph. *Bury Me in a Free Land* was written when she was seriously ill on an anti-slavery tour before the war, so presumably came from the heart.

I could not rest if I heard the tread
Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
And the mother’s shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.

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April 9th, 2019

05:25 pm
Little Women - a review at the time

‘We cannot commend this book. It is without Christ, and hence perilous in proportion to its assimilation to Christian forms. Don’t put in the Sunday School library.’ Zion’s Herald

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April 1st, 2019

07:47 pm - March books
The Sheik and the Dustbin and Other McAuslan Stories George MacDonald Fraser 1988
The New York Review of Book 2018
Rise of the Isle of the Lost Melissa de la Cruz 2017
The Colour of Magic Terry Pratchett 1983
The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher Debby Applegate 2006
New York Review of Books 2018
Christopher's diary: Echose of Dollanganger Virginia Andrews 2015
Interesting Times Terry Pratchett 1994
Return to the Isle of the Lost Melissa de la Cruz 2016
Unnatural Death Dorothy L Sayers 1927
Enlightenment Now: The case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress Steven Pinker 2018
Guards! Guards! Terry Pratchett 1989
Mutinies, Rebellion and Refusal of Combat in English Speaking Armed Forces 1906-2006 James Wolfe 2009
Your Accomplishments are Suspiciously Hard to Verify Scott Adams 2011
Snuff Terry Pratchett 2011
Annie Swynnerton: Painting Light and Hope Katie Herrington and Rebecca Milner 2018

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March 25th, 2019

05:25 pm
After a search of 1 hour and 20 minutes and the offering of a $5 bounty, Ruby’s shoes were located. By me.

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March 12th, 2019

03:08 pm
Life - has been rather busy lately. Mostly horrible and involving endless work but highlights were Clean Up Australia day at Lake Gwelup and going to sculptures by the sea.

Also, we got soooo close to the International Women's Day rally before we got sore feet and went home.

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03:04 pm - Archibald Forbes, The Afghan Wars, 1892
Archibald Forbes, The Afghan Wars of 1839 and 1379 (1892)

Archibald Forbes had a ridiculously action-packed life. He started out in the army but was invalided out and instead became a war correspondent. One might almost say *the* war correspondent.

He was one of the first to begin using telegrams to send in his reports, with his first work covering the Prussian campaign in Paris in 1871 (by which I mean entering the city with the Prussian invading forces). He survived nearly being drowned in a fountain as a German spy by a French mob, and stayed in the city for the duration of the 1871 commune/massacres/civil war.

In 1873 he represented the Daily News at the Vienna exhibition; subsequently he saw fighting in Spain, on both sides; and in 1875 he accompanied the Prince of Wales on his visit to India. In 1876, he was with Michael Gregorovitch Tchernaieff and the Russian volunteers in their Serbian campaign. In 1877 he witnessed the Russian invasion of Turkey, and was presented to Alexander II as the bearer of important news from the Schipka Pass. On this occasion, the emperor conferred upon him the order of St. Stanislaus for his services to the Russian soldiers.

His life makes Flashman’s life look plausible, though, of course, they had different motives for being at the centre of things.(1)

During 1878, after a brief visit to Cyprus to witness the British occupation, he lectured in England upon the Russo-Turkish war. In 1878-9 he went out to Afghanistan, and accompanied the Khyber Pass force to Jellalabad. He was present at the capture of Ali Musjid, and marched with several expeditions against the hill tribes.

From Afghanistan, he went to Mandalay before zipping back to cover the Zulu war. After the victory of Ulundi, he rode 110 miles to Landman's Drift in twenty hours. Two days after his arrival there he appeared in a state of utter exhaustion before Pietermaritzburg, having ridden by way of Ladysmith and Estcourt, an additional 170 miles, in thirty-five hours. The news of Ulundi first reached England through his agency, he having completely outpaced the official despatch rider. He put in a claim for the Avar medal on the strength of this, but the request was refused by the war office which considered that he was sometimes too critical of their military leaders.

It is his experiences in Afghanistan that fed into *The Afghan Wars*, first published in eight volumes in 1892. The book covered the two major 19th century British campaigns in Afghanistan.

The first from 1839 to 1842 began with the intelligence officer’s head being paraded through Kabul on a spike and ended in the virtually total destruction of the British army, with a sole survivor stumbling out of the Khyber pass to warn the outpost at Jellalabad that all was lost

The entire retreat was disastrous, with about 12,000 camp followers and 4,500 military personnel (some British troops and some Indian troops commanded by white officers) setting out while the survivors measured in dozens. The retreating force made their way slowly through the snow, under constant harrying, losing their supplies, walking into ambush after ambush.

When you read the accounts, they are the stuff of nightmares – people waking up after sleeping to find those next to them had frozen to death; women passing their children to strangers galloping past after their own horses went down under artillery fire; the negotiations for passage out involving one of the British officers hearing the Afghan leader say to his tribesmen in Dari – a language spoken by many British officers – to "spare" the British while saying in Pashto, which most British officers did not speak, to "slay them all"; the female camp followers (having dishonoured themselves by following the British) being stripped naked by the Afghans and left to freeze to death in the snow; panicked troops rushing into a pass under fire only to meet panicked followers rushing in the other direction, with people trampled the death; a last stand at Gandamak on a slight hill in thigh high blood stained snow where they formed a square that held out for some hours until being overrun.

Contemporary British accounts did not refer to this as a war but as ‘the Disaster in Afghanistan’ and they had a brief rerun in late 1842 to demolish parts of the capital and recover prisoners. They set up a puppet Government, and bowed out.

You would have thought that this experience would have meant they would leave well enough alone, but Afghanistan seems to have some fatal attraction for superpowers. The
second Anglo-Afghan campaign in 1878 to 1880 was nominally successful for the British, ending with them marching out with a largely intact army. Once again, the intelligence officer and British representative was slaughtered (along with his servants, hangers on and anyone unlucky enough to be in the area) but the Afghans opted for pitched battles, where the British were able to overwhelm them. They retreated, having got some nominal treaty concessions.

This is the war that Forbes attended and he died in 1900, so was not present for the third Anglo-Afghan war of 1919 (once again, strange, fatal attraction).

With material like this, Forbes’ book could hardly fail to be thrilling. It’s a style of military history that we don’t read so much anymore, full of open jingoism and purple prose.

‘The patriotism of a savage race is marked by features repulsive to civilised communities, but through the ruthless cruelty of the indiscriminate massacre, the treachery of the stealthy stab, and the lightly broken pledges, there may shine out the noblest virtue that a virile people can possess. A semi-barbarian nation whose manhood pours out its blood like water in stubborn resistance against an alien yoke, may be pardoned for many acts shocking to civilised communities which have not known the bitterness of stern and masterful subjugation’

But it is still massively accurate. I read this passage to my co-worker, who was previously in the British army in Afghanistan. He says it would be an entirely accurate description today (except for minor variations in spelling):

‘Afghanistan fifty years ago [1840s], and the same is in a measure true of it to-day, was rather a bundle of provinces, some of which owned scarcely a nominal allegiance to the ruler in Cabul, than a concrete state. Herat and Candahar were wholly independent, the Ghilzai tribes inhabiting the wide tracts from the Suliman ranges westward beyond the road through Ghuznee, between Candahar and Cabul, and northward into the rugged country between Cabul and Jellalabad, acknowledged no other authority than that of their own chiefs.’

He said Herat is lovely country (but hard to see beyond the compounds) and that the Ghilzai people are notoriously ‘mad’. He also showed me photos of a ‘tank graveyard’ which is a well known ‘tourist’ attraction in the area.

Forbes quotes Sir Frederick Roberts, the leader of the second British invasion force who concluded: "We have nothing to fear from Afghanistan, and the best thing to do is to leave it as much as possible to itself. It may not be very flattering to our amour propre, but I feel sure I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us the less they will dislike us.’ My co-worker also agrees.

(1) Forbes also wrote Barracks, Bivouacs, and Battles (1891) which sounds a lot like Flashman’s Dawns and Departures of a Soldier’s Life.

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March 1st, 2019

02:26 pm - February Book
Riders Jilly Cooper 1985
Oil Paintings in Public Ownership - Kent Public Catalogue Foundation 2004
Oil Paintings in Public Ownership: West Yorkshire, Leeds Public Catalogue Foundation 2004
Oilt Paintings in Public Ownership: Birmingham Public Catalogue Foundation 2008
Kill Anything That Moves the Real Amerian War in Vietnam Nick Turse 2013
We Gotta Get Out of this Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War Doug Bradley and Craig Warner 2015
Jessica's First Prayer Hesba Stretton 1866
Poemsq Frances EW Harper 1854
Historic Australian Quilts Annette Gero 2000
The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous Jilly Cooper 1993
Pandora Jilly Cooper 2002
New York Review of Books 2018
American Quilt and Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Amelia Peck 2007

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February 22nd, 2019

07:42 pm - *Jessica’s First Prayer* (1866)
*Jessica’s First Prayer* (1866)

It is unlikely that this very slight children’s book would continue to be read today if it were not for its evangelical message.

Hesba Stretton was the pen name of Sarah Smith (1832 –1911), an English writer of children's books. She was a Methodist and one of the most popular Evangelical writers of the 19th century. Her moral tales and religious stories were printed in huge numbers and often chosen as school and Sunday-school prizes. She became a regular contributor to Household Words and All the Year Round under Charles Dickens's editorship, after her sister had successfully submitted a story of hers without her knowledge. Altogether she wrote more than 40 novels.

The book that won her widespread fame was Jessica's First Prayer, first published in the journal Sunday at Home in 1866 and the following year in book form. By the end of the 19th century it had sold at least a million and a half copies (nearly ten times as many as Alice in Wonderland).
The plot is incredibly slight – Jessica is a street waif with an alcoholic mother who befriends a street coffee seller. She follows him to the Church where he acts as a warden and is converted. In turn, her sweet nature converts him from his money-grubbing ways.

This book launched a thousand sequels, with all those stories about street arabs (a very odd 19th century term for the urban poor) and the importance of philanthropy to the poor. I found it very hard to take the Christian message straight as there is such a long debate about whether or not she should be allowed in the Church as she looks so ‘low’ in her rags and without shoes. In the end, the compromise is that she puts on a second hand cloak belonging to the Minister’s daughter every time she goes to Church so as to not distract the congregation with her scruffiness. Otherwise there might have been some kind of Peterloo-like uprising, I suppose. Surely the more Christian response would have been to clothe the poor?

Having said that, Stretton did herself walk the walk as well as talk the talk. She worked with slum children in Manchester in the 1860s and in 1884 was one of the co-founders of the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children which later combined with other organisations to form the national society we now know. She was the chief writer for the Religious Tract Society which started producing easy-to-read novels and fiction in the 1850s. In her retirement she and her sister ran a branch of the Popular Book Club for working-class readers.

I would also note that the book has a lot of reviews on Goodbooks. Far more than you would imagine that a mostly forgotten work of minimal literary merit would have. It now seems to be read either by:

• Evangelists who like the message and the way the language is pitched at the right level for using as a home school text. It looks like some American publishers still print it.
• People interested in 19th century children’s literature.

My summary – it’s a very short read. The language is plain. The plot is straightforward. It was and continues to be famous only for its evangelical piety.

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January 31st, 2019

06:24 pm
So I just watched the Netflix documentary on the failed Fyre festival. I wanted to know whether anyone else has and how they interpreted the documentary (or the Hulu one or the Internet Historian one)?

I see lots of online articles mocking the attendees for spending so much money on a fiasco that was obviously a con, but my impression of the documentary was quite different.

I feel a lot of sympathy for the people interviewed who all portrayed themselves as trying desperately to put something on the ground in the face of the delusional and ridiculous demands of their boss (of course they would). I’ve been there. Surely we’ve all been there. In my line of work I’m not trying to organise portaloos in a sandpit on an island, but I can totally appreciate a boss who just la-la-la refuses to listen to reality.
I feel lots of sympathy for the unpaid workers.
I recognise a manic, uncontrollable boss who has totally lost touch with the concept of consequences, and I sympathise with those trying to contain the mess he made. It’s hard to walk away when you know you can ameliorate a situation.
The festival attendees are portrayed in the media as idiots who spent $12,000 for a chance to party with stars. Whereas most of the tickets moved seem to have been in the $1,200 range, which seems not bad value for flights, accommodation, food and entertainment for a week. Not my cup of tea without air conditioning, but not an unreasonable act by spoiled millennials.
I find it hilarious that the massive social media advertising campaign using vastly overpaid ‘influencers’ was undone by a photograph of a cheese sandwich posted by a guy with 400 followers. Shows exactly how little it is worth.
Some of the festival goers did behave very badly and carry on like pork chops. OTOH, things degenerated in the evening when they were essentially abandoned and it is important to note that the evening followed a day when the organisers tried to distract them by giving them unlimited tequila but little food or water. So, not surprisingly, there was a kind of riot.
Further, even people completely unrelated to the festival seem to have treated the festival goers like pariahs. They were locked into a large room at the airport overnight. Locked in!

I am pretty clearly watching the documentary through the lens of my experiences, but I definitely recognise writing emails begging the boss to acknowledge reality which are blithely ignored until things fall apart. Did anyone else interpret the documentary that way?

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