Springingtiger's Blog


The Glasses For It

 February is Steampunk Hands Around the World month hosted by the Airship Ambassador. The theme this year is Making Life Better. I have chosen the category ‘Personal Issues’ because Steampunk has added so much to my personal enjoyment of life.

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You should come along, you’ve got the glasses for it!” said my friend Brian as he informed me that the Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society was going to participate in the Glasgow (Scotland) Style Mile Winter Parade. I hadn’t heard of the Style Mile and the existence of Steampunk as a thing had escaped me. A little explanation left me wondering how it had escaped me. I had the glasses, I also had a long association with waistcoats, cravats, bow-ties, hats and other sartorial eccentricities. I was at school when William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton were ‘The Doctor’. My school reading tended to be HG Wells, Kipling, H. Rider Haggard and Michael Moorcock as well as The Eagle and the Rover and Wizard. I loved the cartoons of Charles Addams and Heath Robinson. The school film club brought us films like The Time Machine, 2000 Leagues Under The Sea and Journey To The Centre of the Earth. However Steampunk had never impinged upon my consciousness.

I had accidentally retired early when I was made redundant at the age of sixty. I had time on my hands and so I wrapped a top hat in holly, put on my naval greatcoat, picked up my carved Indian walking stick and joined GUESS on the parade. I was unprepared for just how much fun I would have and how much entertainment we would give the public just by walking among them. I was easily persuaded to attend RaiCon a few weeks later, I had never considered going to a Comic Con previously and I had a marvellous time. Cosplay is another concept that had largely escaped my notice, but what a lovely welcoming group of young (well compared to me) people they are and they seemed delighted to have a bunch of Steampunks wandering around the Con.

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The Society’s annual general meeting came around and inevitably I went along and left at its end, the ‘Chief Engineer’ (Club Secretary) of the Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society. No longer just a pensioner, but a pensioner with a purpose (besides my writing that is). As a representative of Steampunkery and of the Society I threw myself into Steampunk. I had been up until that point an E Bay virgin, but building a Steampunk wardrobe for every occasion can prove costly and I was on a small pension. I not only learned to use E Bay, but became a frequenter of charity shops and antique shops. I was forced to become creative and gradually more adventurous. I began by camouflaging with cogs, burn holes in a used Morning Coat. It was not too long before I had sewn myself a leather coachman’s hat from a bag of scraps bought online. I learned, as I went round charity shops, to look at things differently; I learned to see things not as they were, but as what they could be. Sometimes I bought things merely because they looked as if they could become something amazing even if I could not yet see it. I have even been on a workshop to learn how to use a sewing machine!

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I went online seeking ideas and inspiration on You Tube, Facebook and Google Plus, there are so many of us in cyberspace! Steampunks are very helpful and encouraging and some I call my friends even though we may not yet have met, and some I have. I was amazed to discover how large a community we are and how widely dispersed around the world. I was delighted to discover that many are ̶ like myself ̶ on the autism spectrum, finding in Steampunk an ideal outlet for their imaginations. I find Steampunk is a wonderful vehicle for communicating with the world and building a web of relationships. I now edit a quarterly (ish) online newsletter for the Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society. From the last issue we have started to produce it in association with the Music City Steampunk Consortium of Nashville, Tennessee and hope to have increased participation from them as time goes on.

dscf2236There is something magical and inspiring about the internationalism of Steampunk. I went alone to the Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln last year and had no problem communicating with complete strangers from all around the world. Those who understand Aspergers will appreciate how important that is. However I did not feel as if I were among strangers, I felt very much at home (in the evenings I was staying with my brother outside Lincoln which probably helped too).

There is so much to discover in Steampunk, culture, fashion, art, music, literature, amazing events. My days are never dull despite retirement. Also it opens the door to so many other new interests. In Glasgow we have the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall, the world’s oldest operating music hall and I have become a volunteer in its struggle to preserve a unique cultural institution. I used to study medieval history when I was younger, now I find myself looking at the history of the Georgians, Victorians and Edwardians to inform my Steampunkery and of late I’ve been looking at the American West in the Nineteenth Century in a way I never did before (Bass Reeves…wow!)

Here I am in my sixties, on the Spectrum, with a whole new and exciting life open to me. I had expected, once the work dried up, to spend my time at home reading and writing and growing old. Now I’m like a child in some sort of brass and copper built Disneyland with a new wonder around every corner, a new adventure over the brow of every hill. Someday I may die by chronological inevitability, but I doubt if I shall ever grow old!

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Steampunkery and Politics

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Steampunk Superhero’s Cosplay

I think it is fair to say we live in strange and troubling times, what with the decision by the English to turn their back on Europe and drag their neighbours also into a new parochial rejection of the outside world, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA who appears also to want to turn his back on the world whilst at the same time plundering its resources. I accept this is somewhat of an over simplification, but the political details are not really my concern here, but rather how people respond to them. I think it is fair to say that that feelings are running high not only in The USA and the UK, but in Europe and throughout the Middle East, look further afield to Africa, Asia and Russia and it looks as if the whole world is on the edge of some sort of emotional cataclysm. So what, if anything, has any of this got to do with Steampunk?

I know that Steampunks like other folk hold political opinions, some are guided by political and religious beliefs so why, when countries are bitterly divided within themselves and from their neighbours, are Steampunks from all around the world still bumbling along together cheerfully? The answer is not ‘Gin’…at least not entirely. I would like to postulate that there are several reasons Steampunk is not dragged into the political morass in which the world now wallows. I have to confess at this point that my reasoning is based upon my observations of British Steampunk, it may be that some countries Steampunk differently, however I suspect that what is true for a British Steampunk is as true for others around the world.

fb_img_1464539054462.jpgThose who know my personal political beliefs to be extremely socialist, republican, and nationalist may find it strange to see me including Scottish Steampunks in the umbrella term ‘British Steampunk’. The truth is that apart from some details of expression there is little to distinguish the attitudes of Scottish Steampunks from their southern neighbours…when in Steampunk mode. And I think that is my first point: Steampunk as a way of thinking occupies a place that is meta to ordinary political thinking. Some Steampunks live in a permanent attitude of Steampunkery, for others Steampunk is more of a cosplay that they put on and off. However as I have said, when in Steampunk mode Steampunks relate to the world differently from other people.

DSCF2074I remember being startled when I realised that in a whole weekend at the Asylum in Lincoln I had heard not one swearword nor a raised voice. There is something about being a Steampunk that induces courteous behaviour. A Steampunk uses politeness like a shield to parry the unpleasantness of the world and wit the blade to return the blow. I will not pretend for one moment that Steampunks do not insult each other, but we do so with wit and humour, perhaps some buffoonery so that there is almost as much enjoyment of defeat as pleasure in victory…when the other side scores a try (or a six) we applaud and enjoy the moment for its own intrinsic artistry. What is saddening about politics at the moment is the depths to which people have sunk in their interactions with each other, people have become nastier, xenphobia, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination and abuse have become commonplace. People have no embarrassment at being caught in a lie. Respect for the rights and opinions of others is no longer considered important or even desirable, there is no place for old fashioned courtesy. Except in Steampunkery where old fashioned courtesy lies at its heart (we do like old fashioned or even an Old Fashioned).

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One might expect a strong conservative streak in Steampunk because of its embrace of old fashioned courtesy and dress. However Steampunk cherry picks what it takes from any era and so while embracing the virtues of the past it rejects its vices. Strong women are very evident in Steampunk circles, frequently armed to the teeth with customised Nerf guns and they’re not afraid to use them! Steampunk is undoubtedly trans cultural as can be seen in its Facebook groups, but also at major Steampunk gatherings that attract attendees from all over the world. Our Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society is not only associated with the Music City Steampunk Consortium of Nashville, Tennessee, but has scheduled a jolly day out with the North East Steampunk Society from England (now that is true internationalism!). I haven’t noticed religion entering the Steampunk conversation except as a costume, we have Steampunk monks with goggles and Victorian Bishops with gaiters at one end and goggles at the other. Given the international nature of Steampunk, I assume that it contains folk of all faiths, but they don’t let it come between them or get in the way of the fun.

Conservatives may not be very evident in Steampunk, but conservation is. Steampunks have a respect for history especially, as the name suggests, for its technology. Nothing sets the Steampunk blood racing more assuredly than polished brass, well oiled pistons, smoothly turning gears, and the ecstatic call of a locomotive whistle. “Ah but,” I hear you say, “Steam engines run on fossil fuels and pump carbon into the air!”…don’t expect a clever argument from me, although I would argue for balance and responsibility. However the Steampunk embrace of steam should be interpreted rather as an embrace of the best of contemporary technology, which in Victorian times was steam. I think we should note that Steampunks are equally enamoured of clockwork. The essential thing about the Steampunk attitude is that technology is employed for the good of society. You may object that Steampunk has its evil villains india94-070and mad scientists with their death rays and killer robots, but they only exist as villains in opposition to the positive technological vision of Steampunk…besides they are playing a role (or possibly over playing in the case of Kenneth Brannagh’s Dr. Loveless) we all come together in the bar at the end of the day. In Steampunk science is treated with respect and so is scientific method and evidence, some (many) of our inventions are fanciful, but they can be so because we are aware of the difference between science and superstition and so are free to play with both. More importantly in Steampunk the urge to conservation manifests itself in an abhorrence of waste, or more accurately a love of recycling and up-cycling. Steampunk is not part of a disposable society; where civilians dispose, we reuse and re-purpose.

I think what sets Steampunk apart politically from much of society is that it is cooperative and sharing. In victory there is little inappropriate triumphalism whether in cosplay competitions or a tea duel…okay there may be a little (I’m not sure ‘little’ is entirely the correct word.) triumphalism in tea duelling, but there’s none of the vicious denigration of the losers that has marked the conduct of Trump supporters and Brexiteers, nor the bitter resentment we have seen from the other side. Steampunks are building a better future for all based on the best of the past and that means magnanimity and mutual support. You will rarely find a Steampunk rubbish someone else’s work, but they will be generous with suggestions for improvement. Steampunks help each other, they share their skills and insights, they encourage each other. I think it is safe to say that wherever you observe someone indulging in selfishness, discrimination, misogyny, xenophobia, abuse, or any form of discourtesy the person you are observing is not a Steampunk. Steampunks are building a future on the foundation of the most noble values of the past. To put things more simply: If they ain’t nice, they ain’t Steampunk! Now it’s Time For Gin!



Death and the New Year.

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Two days into Twenty Seventeen and we’ve already had the terrorist shooting in Istanbul and another mass shooting at a new year’s party. We are being told that a terrorist attack on British soil is inevitable. Am I worried? Surprisingly not in the slightest.

When I say I am not worried I mean I’m not worried about a terrorist attack. Statistically we are all in a lot more danger from dying as a result of an air crash or road accident than at the hands of a terrorist. I am far more concerned that our politicians are going to use the supposed threat of a terrorist attack to further curtail our liberties and to spy upon our every day activities. I am concerned that our politicians’ eagerness to reject the European Convention on Human Rights will undermine the Good Friday Agreement and expose us to the possibility of renewed paramilitary violence in the North of Ireland and to bombings on the mainland. I am worried that withdrawing from the ECHR will provide the Westminster government with an opportunity to destroy the limited devolution settlement Scotland now enjoys and anxious that it will lead to a further diminution of employment rights. The threat of Islamic terrorism against targets in the UK is very low on the list of things that concern me. I see the rise of the Right and of post Brexit xenophobia as far more dangerous to the UK than Islamic extremism.

I have to admit that I can see no logical reason for fearing death. Death is inevitable and no amount of fear will prevent it, only an idiot fears it. On the other hand it is equally stupid to unnecessarily seek death, except possibly in the face of debilitating illness. The upset of bereavement makes a degree of sense, it is natural to be upset when we lose someone we love. However death is inevitable and we will inevitably lose people we love, everyone we know will eventually give up this physical body and move on to something else. There is little point in speculating what comes next because we can’t know until we get there, assuming there is anywhere to get to. If all that awaits us is oblivion then there is certainly no logical cause for fear.

Last year was marked by the deaths of many much loved celebrities as well as many less widely known benefactors of humanity in various fields, some of whom may have contributed more to the world in practical than even David Bowie. There is a meme on social media at the moment showing Bruce Forsyth saying “I made it, you bastards!” referring to the perception that Twenty Sixteen had been massacring entertainers; and, of course, there is the ever popular meme, “Breaking News: Keith Richard found alive!” The fact is that every year actors, musicians, academics, writers, politicians, and many other people well known in various fields will die and this year will be no exception. While our beloved celebrities are dying there will be many ordinary people dying from illness, war, the effects of the UK Government’s austerity measures, unjust sanctioning of the sick and disabled, road accidents, natural disasters and many other causes and most of us won’t even notice. No one life is worth more than any other, nor any less. Every life should be celebrated and every death marked with respect.

Many of us will die this year. Perhaps some of us by violence, hopefully not. The inevitability of our deaths is not cause for anxiety, nor upset. That we must die is an excellent reason for enjoying our lives to the utmost while we have them. We are all as capable of joy as we are of sadness, so why not choose to have fun? Our joy is not caused by our circumstances, but by how we relate to them. I don’t have any plans to die this year, but I’m not going to worry about the possibility which will be there every year until it isn’t (or I am not). My plan for this year is to live every second to the fullest, anything else is a waste of a precious gift. As for everyone else’s lives, I intend to celebrate them whether they are alive or not. Now I shall retire for the night and probably celebrate Leonard Cohen or Elvis perhaps. So many lives then and now and each (even the worst) carries a gift that deserves to be celebrated.



It’s Funny How The Time Goes.

In NLP there is an hypnotic phenomenon called ‘Time Distortion’. Richard Bandler did a great tape on the subject. Yesterday I had the opportunity to spontaneously experience time distortion.

My patio is about three feet lower than the beds that surround it. I was working on the narrowest of the beds clearing the neighbour’s Clematis from my climbing rose when I stepped back into empty space. I don’t know how long it took me to fall, but it felt like a long time. It was long enough for me to realise that with my right foot still on the wrong side of the patio wall I could not prevent myself from falling. I had time to reflect that I could not roll out of the fall and to focus on breaking my fall so that my head did not hit the concrete slabs of the patio. I moved my left arm to protect my head and moved my right across my body to help absorb the impact. I landed on the side of my left foot, then my knee, but my head remained off the ground until I ceased to fall and lowered it to the ground where I lay for a while unable to move. I am not glad I fell, but the experience of time distortion was interesting. 
Now I am finding that time is moving more quickly than I. Unable to place weight on my left ankle every activity requires planning and movement is agonisingly slow (what an appropriate expression!). Today I am resting with my somewhat swollen ankle raised, doing as little as possible and experiencing a strange sense of timelessness as I observe the world. It is of course another time distortion, the sense that time itself is illusory or perhaps this is reality and time is the illusion.
I have a Werner Erhard tape in which he postulates that there wasn’t time as we know it until religions needed to divide the day so they might pray at regular intervals. For centuries  all time was local, based upon the passage of the seasons and the movement of the sun. Most people had no need to divide time with any accuracy. It was the requirement of ocean navigators for accurate time keeping upon which to make their sextant observations that led to the development of accurate timepieces, chronographs. However for most of us local time, even accurately measured local time, remained local. It was the advent of rail travel that ended local time in Britain. In order to catch scheduled rail services it was necessary for the time in the stations on a route to be coordinated otherwise people in the west of the country would always be late for a train coming from London, whereas those travelling the other way would arrive early at the station and have to wait. More improbably the journey west would appear to be slower on the same route as the journey east.
Everything in creation has its own pace. The planets orbit the stars, chemicals react, materials degrade and rot, seeds germinate and grow, leaves fall, seasons change in sequence, we are born, grow old, and die. All of this is natural. However time with its seconds, minutes, hours, and days; with its weeks, months and years, and the labels we place upon these divisions is made up. Humans created time and then subjugated themselves to its tyranny shackling themselves with clocks, diaries, schedulers, Filofaxes, appointment books, year planners, all made the more tyrannical with the advent of personal computers and smartphones. It is true that we need all this for an ordered society, but sometimes it’s a relief, a necessity to stop time and live the timeless life. The worst time distortion is the distortion we allow time to inflict on our psyche, our values, our peace of mind. Stress is a function of time, deadlines can empower us, but equally destroy us. We complain that we have ‘no time to do anything’ today I have NO TIME and so I can do anything I choose.



A Grand Day Out.

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Today I visited the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and had a wonderful time. I only had a few hours to explore the Garden and so I didn’t see all of it. However I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw. Seventy Acres is a lot of garden and it is laid out in such a way that in order to fully appreciate it you have to walk miles and miles of interweaving paths I suspect that even without visiting the glasshouses the RBGE could fill a couple of days.

Amazingly it costs nothing to explore the Garden. Couple this with an Over Sixties Bus Pass and the Royal Botanic Garden provides an opportunity for a very economic day out. Many of the attractions in Edinburgh charge admittance, however there are plenty that are free, in Scotland it is policy to keep admittance to public museums and galleries free. Edinburgh is well served for museums.20161004_105936_hdr

The extensive glasshouses at the RBGE do charge admission, but it is less than six pounds. Avoid the glasshouses and take sandwiches and the day need not cost a penny. However there are three places within the garden to eat: the East Gate Coffee Bar, the Terrace Café beside Inverleith House, and the Gateway Restaurant at the West Gate. If it’s a nice day you could buy a takeaway cup of coffee at the Terrace and then enjoy it sitting on the benches near the House and just enjoy the view of the Edinburgh sky line. Please take your cup back to the Terrace and dispose of it in the recycling bins. Although the gardens are extensive there are four public toilets which can be reached swiftly (it may help to have one of the £1 maps of the Garden to locate the nearest should you need to). Most of the Garden is wheelchair accessible although some few paths are not suitable. I saw people in wheelchairs enjoying themselves.

As well as the free stuff, the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh has a program of events and courses throughout the year. At first glance I thought them a little expensive, however when I divided the cost of a course by the number of its sessions I realised that they represent good value and the Garden is a teaching aid of which few educational establishments could boast. I should perhaps mention that people who join the Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden receive a useful discount on the cost of events and also in the restaurants,

Because nature changes season by season, so does the garden so no two visits will be quite the same. The varied program of events also provides reason to visit repeatedly. There is much more I want to see, so I shall be back taking advantage of my free bus pass.

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Quizzical Minds

 

On Tuesday evenings it is my habit to go to the Admiral Bar in Glasgow for their Pub Quiz. I don’t go just for the quiz, but to meet people and for the entertainment and the best Macaroni Cheese in Glasgow. The Admiral Quiz is a community event with a core of regulars who verge on being friends while doing their damnedest to get one over on each other. However the glue that binds them is a love of quizzing.

I have no idea what the fascination of quizzes and puzzles is, I am sure psychologists may have explanations, but not I. It seems to be part of human nature to solve problems, the realm of literature is well filled with detective novels, but even old folk tales often contain unexplained mysteries. Mathematics as a tool for solving the worlds problems seems to be as old as humankind. Ancient structures suggest a sophisticated grasp of the principles of geometry and astronomy by ancestors that until recently we tended to dismiss as uncivilised. We have always loved riddles. But why do we love puzzling so much?

When we sit and solve sudoku, or whatever, in the paper there is the satisfaction of overcoming the challenge, a pleasure in celebrating the working of our own minds. I think this is part of our motivation for reading detective novels, the need to make sense of our world. It is the same urge that drove philosopher like Socrates and Marx, scientists like Da Vinci and Darwin, and explorers like Shackleton and Scott. The quest for knowledge as a tool to subject the universe to order and reason underlies all human endeavour and is as essential to religion as to science and politics.

Humanity is also inherently competitive and so we compete against each other in quizzes. When I was was young we had shows like Brain of Britain (we still do), Ask The Family, Top Of The Form, and later University Challenge and Mastermind. They can change the format of the shows to give us things like Only Connect and the one I watched for the first time today, Hive Mind, but the underlying principle is all about showing off one’s knowledge. Occasionally there are shows like The Krypton Factor or The Crystal Maze that focus on problem solving, however most shows rely on giving the people to demonstrate their knowledge.

That someone wins a quiz does not mean they are cleverer than their opponents nor that they know more, merely that they knew the answers to a particular set of questions. The quiz team that can ace a picture round on vintage biscuits may well be left floundering when faced with the task of identifying twenty football strips. I think one of the joys of the Admiral quiz is that the variety of questions means that no team wins all the time. It touches on something people too often overlook, that knowledge is not only useful, but that it can, and should, be fun.



Those Days Are Gone…(The Lessons of History)
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WRNS, RNVR, & me

Today a friend on Facebook posted a tribute to her newly deceased uncle. In it she referenced his time as a ‘Bevin Boy’ called up to serve during the Second World War not in the Armed Forces, but as a coal miner. We sometimes forget that the whole armed struggle would have been in vain had not the infrastructure existed to support it. The post reminded me of a recently shared picture fron a veterans parade showing a weeping man, alone, carrying a wreath, marching as the last member of his battle group. It occurs to me that very soon there will be none of that generation who endured the Second World War left to remember it. It is not something that should be forgot.

Our politicians and captains of industry are of a generation whose eldest were but children in the war. For many the dark years of World War Two are nothing more than a source of cheap insults to score political points. It is sad to see the sacrifices of so many millions cheapened by a generation so fixed on their own gain that they treat the deaths of millions whether in mid Twentieth Century Europe or Twenty-First Century Syria with utter disregard. I was appalled when Ken Livingstone referenced Hitler’s support for a policy of forced settlement of Jews in Palestine is a cheap criticism of a particular political lobby. I was even more appalled when Michael Foster attacked those who supported Jeremy Corbyn as Nazi Stormtroopers. I was angry not just because of the dishonesty, but because it cheapened the sacrifices of a generation.

I don’t know much about my father’s war except that he spent most of it on a minesweeper keeping open the Mediterranean sea lanes and that he didn’t like Stukas. My mother was in the WRNS when she met him, she drove a lorry. I remember her telling me of how she drove the young men down to their ships and how when the ships returned to port she drove the bodies of those same young men back for burial because sea burials might have provided washed up bodies for Nazi propaganda. My uncle retreated across North Africa before Rommel and then fought his way through Europe from France to Germany. He told stories about his war, but only ever the funny anecdotes, he didn’t like dive bombers either. Every time a politician uses the war to score a debating point he pours contempt on the deaths and the scars seen and unseen of those who were there, that is why it is important that we keep their memories alive. The truth should not be buried along with the dead.

The Chilcott Enquiry stressed the importance of learning the lessons of the Iraq War. The truth is we are very bad at learning the lessons of any war, that’s why we keep fighting them. We dwell on the victories and acts of heroism and conveniently hide the truth of the profiteers who made money from the war, the treachery and cowardice that are also part of any conflict. As long as we glorify war we will breed new generations eager to fight them, of course we also continue to provide a good income for those who make and sell the weapons. Just as fortunes were established by slave owners and still enjoyed by their descendants today, so were the profits of war enjoyed by an elite whose children continue to occupy the upper echelons of society.

There have been commemorations of the battles of the Great War, but much less about the domestic history of that war. We remember Churchill sending tanks into France, but tend to ignore him sending them to crush demonstrations against intolerable labour practices in Glasgow. We are inclined to forget Mary Barbour and the brave women of the rent strikes exploited by profiteer landlords while their husbands were fighting and dying in Flanders. Ironically during all the commemorations of the Great War and the ignoring of the Rent Strike Conservative MPs, many of whom are landlords themselves refused to pass legislation compelling landlords to make the properties they let fit for human habitation. Finally as I think about the Clydesiders and the labour struggles of the earlier Twentieth Century my attention was drawn to a remark in yet another article about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party that quite rightly pointed out the valuable part played by the Jewish community in building the Party one of the writer’s examples was Manny Shinwell. I remembered a conversation I once had with Fenner Brockway about the need to capture the memories of the early campaigners while they were still with us. Of Manny Shinwell he said, “Manny was one of us, but he turned!” Not an anti-semitic comment merely an expression of Brockway’s lifelong refusal to compromise his socialist principles. Not long after that conversation I shared a taxi with Phillip Noel Baker and he talked non stop about Eleanor Roosevelt, I wished I could have recorded him. We allow too many of our past generations to go without leaving a record of their life, times and personal memories and opinions, we need to remember and learn from the lessons of our history.