Friday, 27 September 2013

What's life without a little controversy?


You lucky, lucky people. Twice in two days? Blimey. You should feel especially privileged, because (and I don't want to alarm anybody) but I have just had quite a few cups of Lemsip and fought my way through my own Berlin Wall of tissues. I am ill. I like to imagine that you're all there now like 'oh, that poor girl', but I know that you’re probably not and instead are thinking 'why can't we even get rid of her when she's ill?'. In fact, as I write this article I am wrapped up in my fluffy pink dressing gown and struggling to keep my eyes open. But I’ll soldier on, don't you worry about me...In fact, the whole plan was to come home and sleep for eternity, but the pull of history proved just too much for me and I had to have a little read of my history book. And then one thing just led to another... and well. Here I am. So my apologies if this article is a jumble of gibberish and letters unrecognisable as words, but hey. At least I tried.   So, as you have hopefully noticed, underneath the ridiculous ramblings about my life, there is usually some kind of point to my posts.
You just have to really dig for them to find them. But I was reading my book a few minutes ago, and it made a pretty interesting point about Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Now, (as with most things) I know very little about either of them, but I don't really think that this time, it's my fault. You see, I’ve have the extreme misfortune to have been born in that time period where I’m close enough to the whole 'Thatcher' thing, and even closer to the 'Blair' thing, but I’m far enough away from that period to know absolutely nothing about it. The topics are still a bit too controversial for people to bother breaching it with my generation, and frankly, the majority of us couldn’t care less. The result is that I know nothing. At all. I know more about the exact function of a rubber duck than I do about Thatcher and Blair. And, to be honest with you, I'm a little miffed about that. I've always loved controversial leaders, I really can't be doing with wet-blankets. I like my prime ministers to ruffle loads of feathers, even if what they do goes completely against my emerging political values. Maybe its slightly childish of me, but if they're not fiery, I simply don't care. It's the same kind of feeling I used to get from gathering round two boys fighting in the playground and chanting, slightly madly, the word 'Fight'. Just in case they weren't aware of exactly what they were doing. So although there are many things I don't like about Blair, and many things I’m not too keen on with Thatcher, I still have a kind of admiration for them.

You see, both changed their party for good, which sometimes proves more difficult than changing the country itself. Blair moved the party slightly more towards the right, and Thatcher did the one thing that pre-Thatcher conservatism hated: reform. She shook things up big time, whether for the good or the bad, and that’s what I think makes them both pretty cool in my eyes. They weren't afraid to make a bit of a difference.
 So take a leaf out of 'Maggie Thatcher Milk Snatcher', of 'Tony Bliar's book. And I’m not suggesting that you run your country and make changes that will make half the country hate you with a burning passion that they can't quite understand themselves. But don't be afraid to shake things up, even if you worry that you'll be laughed from the room. Because you may just be the one to change things...


Thursday, 26 September 2013

My New Love Affair

 If you were to enter my bedroom, navigate your way through the assorted jumble of clothes, books, bowls, and ''I-d-rather-not-know''s, and finally make your way to the space of floor next to my bed where I keep my books, you should be proud of yourself. Not many people have made it that far alive. If you managed to get over the shock of crossing the abyss, you may notice the three books that have taken up residence next to me bed: British Politics for Dummies, The Communist Manifesto, and Rights of man, common sense, and other Political Writings. Now I won't lie to you and tell you that I have sat down and read each one cover-to-cover in a matter of minutes, and I won’t even pretend to have finished them. If I’m honest, some of them are a little too hard-going for my frazzled brain cells. Even the 'Dummies' book. But that's not quite the point. The point is that they're there, and are dipped in-and-out of every evening before bed, before I settle down to my serious reading: A History of Modern Britain. And, as a result of this dipping, I have actually begun to pick little things up. Not facts and things like that (blame the brain), but more ideas and funny ways of wording things. And what i've found is, I like all this politics malarkey. The books, really, were brought on a whim using money given to me by my fantastic grandparents, basically with a view to making myself just a tiny bit more intelligent, and i've found that I enjoy them. Lets just put this into perspective. I'm a teenager. Perhaps not your average teenager, but a teenager all the same. The whole point of me is to hate everything and have a perpetually negative outlook on the world, approaching each new task with a long-suffering sigh. And up until now, I played the whole 'teenager' part pretty well, if I do say so myself! So for something new to spark my enthusiasm is a miracle likened to England ever winning the world cup again. What i'm trying to say is ; There's always things that you’re knowledge is lacking in, so why not just try and learn a little about it?  Pick up a book, watch a programme, listen to the radio. It doesn't necessarily have to be politics, but just anything! I think it's so easy to stop being amazed by things, and to become complacent. After all, once you've left school, why bother learning anything else? But life can become so much more interesting if you try and learn something new. I did, and I’ve found that I’ve loved it.
 Now, I am by no means professing to be an expert. In fact, my knowledge on pretty much everything is embarrassingly sparse, and I’m pretty sure that the majority of my teachers are close to giving up on actually getting me to learn anything. But it doesn't mean I cant enjoy it. So go on, give politics a go if you haven't already! I dare you...


Monday, 23 September 2013


The other day, while I was talking to my Dad, he managed to cram the word ‘Machiavellian’ into our casual conversation. How this happened, I will never know, but when he realized that I had no clue what the word meant, I was forced to look it up!

In the Oxford English Dictionary, since the year 1626, the word Machiavellian has existed and it means “the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct” (it is also used to describe one of the dark triad personalities in psychology). However, it was used before this, during the 16th Century (so technically this word used to be slang). This long, six syllable word, which I find impossible to spell correctly, is a direct result of the actions of the diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli who lived during the Italian Renaissance. He is known for saying “the end justifies the means” meaning that the end result will make up for whatever you had to do to get there. He is basically saying be ruthless and you will get what you want: not something which most nice people would advise. During the 16th Century, Machiavellianism was actually seen as a ‘plague’ which was sweeping across Northern European politics and allegedly causing events like the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572 to occur. 

All things considered, I don’t think looking up that word was actually that bad because now I have written a lovely blog entry for all you wonderful people to enjoy. But don’t tell my Dad that.


Sunday, 22 September 2013

Another One of my History Boys

Well. I can't really excuse my absence from my keyboard, except perhaps for the fact that I have spent the past week with my abnormally large nose glued firmly inside 'The History of Modern Britain' by Andrew Marr. Don't worry, a tediously ridiculous book review isn't on the way- the book is far to long for that! Oh no, but, (surprisingly) I have managed to gleam some inspiration for a blog post, so you can all stop pining after your regular dose of badly-written nonsense riddled with spelling mistakes, written by somebody whose brain power has never been the same after reading 'Twilight'. So, on with it.

Now, I've always had a little bit of a soft spot for my unsung hero's of history ( Winston not included), my 'History Boys' as I call them to myself. Sometimes, if you're really lucky, I write about them, and today is one of those brilliant days. Haven't stopped reading yet? Thank you. Now, the majority of Britain and Cold War students will have learnt about a certain Clement Attlee, Labour leader of the post-war years, so you probably won't view him as an 'unsung hero' of history. But although he certainly isn't 'unsung', he definitely isn't widely regarded as one of our country's heroes, and that's probably because the post-war years were pretty much impossible to govern, what with mass homelessness and the country being bankrupt. So why was Britain in such a bad state, I hear you cry? 'The War' would be an easy answer, and not one that an annoyingly insquisitive mind like mine will accept easily. No, the actual 'blame' arguably lies at the door of the USA, although they weren't really in a position themselves to bail us out. You see, during the war, Britain pretty much survived on this thing called 'Lend-Lease', which was this pretty nifty plan through which America loaned us money to help out with the war effort on the home front. Money which was largely spent on keeping the country running and the people alive. Now, at the end of the war, it stands to reason that war-time economic help would have been stopped, and stopped it was. Suddenly, without giving our government time to come up with a contingency plan, and furthering the economic troubles we found ourselves in. We also had to spend large sums of money on our countries abroad to stop them falling to the communism that was sweeping an impoverished Europe, start up our own nuclear programme as the cold war began to heat up so as to kid ourselves we were still a world power, provide some kind of answer to the call for a social revolution, and also handle Indian independence. I can't imagine any governments of today managing all of that (relatively) successfully and surviving. Under Attlee's socialist Labour government, nationalisation began, the surviving remnant of this being our NHS,as well as building on Churchill's foundations for a welfare state, rebuilding council estates and reforming education. A lot of the things that we now have in Britain that we state as 'what makes Britain great' came from Attlee's socialist ideals and efficiency on getting it done. He is so often remembered as 'that bloke who came after Churchill', but Attlee is one of this country's more successful Prime Ministers, and more famous Socialists. Personally, I love the little, uncharismatic man, because I love so many of the reforms he brought into place.
So. I hope you now think a little more of Attlee, the only Labour leader without charisma (if you dont count the rest of them). And i hope I have quenched your thirst for mindless, opinionated, ignorant waffle.
Thanks again for sticking with it this far!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

History Live July 2013

On Saturday the 23rd July I dragged my mum and my sister all the way to Northamptonshire, a good 2 ½ hours drive, to the annual English Heritage History Live Festival.  The event spanned the whole weekend and was filled with battle re-enactments, various Medieval stalls and lecture tents where I spent the majority of my time.   Sadly we arrived in the BBC history lecture tent too late to enjoy the first talk about Vikings and the English Civil War by Giles Kristian because someone (my sister) pressed her snooze button a few too many times, but listened to the next talk by Marc Morris on the Norman Conquest.  
Having explored the usefulness of the Bayeux Tapestry, and pointed out how Bishop Odo of Bayeux who commissioned the tapestry is unsubtly depicted as heroic, Morris then explained the main three ways in which the Normans affected Britain.  One way was castle-building, although they did have sizeable cathedrals, before the Norman invasion the British didn’t have any proper castles.  The Normans took down and reconstructed many of these cathedrals on a much larger scale.  As well as having these new castles,  British fighting techniques were also enhanced by the use of cavalry- pre-invasion, the English got their fighting techniques from the Vikings so had a lot of see warfare and would generally ride to battle and then dismount their horses before fighting- this changed.  Finally, and in my opinion most interestingly, all the ideas of chivalry came from the Normans.  All these fairy-tale like images of a ‘knight in shining armour’ actually came from abroad.  Sparing your enemy if he surrendered had previously been practically unheard of, however William the Conqueror killed a relatively small number of the British once he had secured his place of the throne, and people followed his merciful example.  In fact, once this had become the norm it actually distanced England from Scotland and Ireland who hadn’t changed their ways and were now often view as ‘savage’  by the Medieval English.

Following this, Anna Whitelock talked about her new book, ‘Elizabeth’s Bedfellows’.  When she had finished, I bought (and had signed!) both her books.  ‘Elizabeth’s Bedfellows’ explores Elizabeth the First’s personal life, including facts about her various health problems, her close relationship with her ladies-in-waiting and, of course, her love life.   I’m also currently working my way through her other book about Mary Tudor which is very interesting because instead of writing about her as ‘Bloody Mary’, Whitelock explorers her in a sympathetic light, first exploring the aspects of her childhood which would cause her to make various decisions later in life.  For example, from an early age she was widely praised throughout international courts and referred to as ‘a pearl of the world’, but following her mother’s death, her father’s re-marriage and her refusal to accept her father as the Head of the Church, this previous love and affection was harshly withdrawn.  I would thoroughly recommend both books.

Next, while my mother and sister went to watch a re-enactment of the Battle of Dunbar, I listened to a talk from Roy Hattersley about the Devonshires.  What makes this family so special is that while you find some family names reappearing in political history, such as the Cecils and Dudleys, the Devonshires are present the whole time.  They also tend to have some character traits which Hattersley discussed fondly- for example, at one point in history one of the family members was asked if he wanted to be Prime Minister, to which he accepted on the condition that it wouldn’t be too time-demanding.  If I remember correctly, he was Prime Minister for 3 weeks.

By this point my concentration span had almost completely gone, but I stayed in the tent to listen to the remaining two talks. While,  Sam Willis‘ talk was entitled ‘Despatches from Trafalgar’, he instead focused on a new source he had discovered.  Doing research, he was in the British Library (notably not the national archives) when he asked for a book, not expecting the heavily-protected chest which arrived for him.  Inside was a beautifully decorated book containing naval dispatches, accounts of a battle written by the captain, during the 19th century.  This was a time filled with sea warfare and some of the accounts had been written in the middle of the battle while the captain was injured or parts of the ship were on fire which makes them really seem to come alive.

Finally Linda Porter, sitting down because of a recent foot injury, gave an in depth account of Mary Queen of Scots’ life, her failed marriages and other tragedies which unfolded and led to her death in 1587.
Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day and I would encourage you to go next year!  E.D. 


With the celebrations of the School’s 75th Birthday last year, we delved into the school’s past to learn more about life for students and staff through the decades. As is common knowledge, ‘Nonsuch High school’ was named after the legendary ‘Nonsuch Palace’, but it is surprising how little most of us actually know about ‘Nonsuch’.  Firstly, ‘Nonsuch’ got its name two months into the building process which began on the 22nd April 1538, the 30th anniversary of Henry’s accession, because there was ‘no such palace elsewhere equal to its magnificence’.  Notably, the palace was built from scratch, unlike most of Henry VIII’s palaces which were normally converted from other old buildings. It was a massive project, entailing the re-routing various main roads in order to give the King access to the best hunting grounds, and costing at least £24,000 (109 million in today’s money), predominately due to the rich ornamentation and scale of the building.   The grandeur of the whole project could well have been a result of Henry’s ambition to compete with Francis I’s Château de Chambord in France.
Sadly, Henry died on the 27th January 1547 before construction was completed. Various factors, including Mary’s disinterest in hunting, led her to sell the hunting lodge onto the 12th Earl of Arndel who finished off the site’s construction after 1556.  As is excitingly apparent in many Tudor novels, Elizabeth frequently stayed at ‘Nonsuch Palace’ and the site was returned to the throne during the last decade of her reign. It then passed through various hands as it was confiscated and sold off by Parliament after Charles I’s execution in 1649, but then returned again to the throne in 1660.
For a long time historians didn’t know too much about the site because it was taken down in 1682-3 by Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine who was Charles II’s mistress and had been given it in 1670.  She used the money from re-selling the materials to pay off gambling debts- such a waste, think of the ever-so-convenient history trip which Year 8s could have taken annually when studying the Tudors!  And although fragments of the building are held by the British Museum and some of the original wooden panelling can still be seen in the Great Hall at Loselely Park, only three contemporary images of the palace survive.
Apart from the discovery of pieces of pottery from the Palace when soldiers were digging trenches in WW2, Nonsuch Palace was left relatively untouched until 1959 when Martin Biddle excavated the site. Being one of the first post-medieval examples of archaeology meant that the excavation attracted over 60,000 people in a 12week period.  The project was very successful and much information about both the layout of the site and its rich ornamentation was recovered.  For more information on this, please visit  E.D

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Who ever heard of Thomas Paine?

Well, here I am again, you lucky, lucky people. I promise you that it was not my intention to post an article today, but if somebody was the wander round in my head looking for good ideas right now, they'd have about as much luck as a reporter trying to find out where exactly the government expenses has gone. Good ideas are rare, so rare, in fact, that I have ceased to notice them properly, case of point; the time I thought that no harm could come from me gaffer-taping my school bag together. In short, I apologise if today's 'Good Idea' actually transpires to be an idea that frankly leaves you bored out of your mind, and wondering why you don't just skip all the articles with 'E.C' at the bottom of them. You see, for ages I had completely written off Radio 4 in my head as a channel for over-privileged, over-indulged men in their fifties, who like nothing more than to comment on politics while knowing absolutely nothing at all, but decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and tune in last night. I must say, for the billionth time that day, I was proved absolutely and completely wrong. I've always had a little bit of a thing for the unsung hero's of history (Winston being the exception), because usually the only reason they are 'unsung' is that they have been written out of history by the people who would rather they didn't exist. For example, I assume I wasn't taught in depth about American Independance while in primary school because my lessons went along the lines of the teacher pointing at a map and saying 'Used to be ours, used to be ours, used be our, the French got that bit - no idea how that happened but there you go, there's america, we gave that bit back', and some bright spark in the class piping up with 'Why did we give that bit back? Whoever dun that must be a right div'. And because I am, for want of a better word, a bit of a nerd, I always want to fill the gaping holes in my knowledge at every possible opportunity, fully aware that this will be finished by the time I am about 1000 years old. It was with this idea in mind that I tuned into radio 4 to listen to a programme ( is it still a programme if its on the radio?) about a certain Thomas Paine, an eighteenth century revolutionary writer, who apparently lay the foundations for the political landscape of Britain, America, and even France to be changed irreconcilably. So. Who on earth was Thomas Paine, and why am I banging on about him?

At the time of Tom Paine, America was basically a group of colonies ruled by Britain, and needing to pay tax to Britain, and probably not liking Britain. All Americans wanted at the time was to be seen as more important on an international scale, but Tom pushed the boat out with an even more revolutionary idea: That America should be independent, and he publicised this in the (I think) fantastically named 'Common Sense'. Because if you are going to criticise your opponents point of view, you may as well do it in style, and undermine the foundations of British politics, by proposing that we should be a republic. A fierce republican, Paine argued that the concept of inherited leadership was about as credible as the prospect of a hereditary mathematician, and if that were true I'd be whizzing through my maths GCSE right now (my Nan being a genius). Obviously, this didn't really gain him any fans in the British aristocracy, who relied entirely on the power of the monarchy in order to justify their own high status, and the people who did support Paine were the working class, who didn't really have any way of expressing themselves. Paine then went on to write up 'The Rights of Man' part one and two, which stopped just short of socialism, preaching that men should be equal, and inherited superstitions should become a thing of the past. Not only did the British Aristocracy disagree with his idea, they also disliked his writing style as they thought it 'vulgar', meaning that people actually could read it. Its like when broadsheet newspapers slam anything vaguely readable, because you must be really brainy if you can read something that's barely in English. I'm pretty sure those writers of today and the 18th century would pass out if they read any of my articles!

So there we are. A little introduction to good old Tom Paine. I suggest reading more about him if you're interested, as to be honest with you, I haven't the time to continue any further with this article. Thanks again for reading this far, and I hope the article was vaguely entertaining for you!


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