Friday, 18 July 2014

A Viking Funeral

When I was a kid, I saw Kirk Douglas in "The Vikings" ..... great music, and a larger than life performance by Douglas as the eponymous 'Viking', 'Einar'.  But the bit that struck me most at the time (and even now) was his death. Sword on hand he stretched arms to the sky and shouted "ODIN!". He was then given a full pagan Viking funeral ....

The Ship With The Vikings Body Sails Out, With Fire Arrows Landing Aboard
The Ship Then Sailed Towards The Sunset, Taking His Soul To Valhalla

I was reminded of this, when recently I saw a newspaper report of a little boys funeral, in which local Star Wars re-enactors, accompanied his hearse to the cemetery.

Storm Troopers Accompany A Little Boys Coffin.

I salute his parents, for giving him the modern equivalent of the Viking Funeral .... may his soul reach whatever Valhalla he believed, in a galaxy, far, far away.

Weegie Week

A few years ago I was contracting in the Fylde coast region, and naturally took Bed and Breakfast accommodation in Blackpool during the week. At the time, Blackpool still had more visitors per anuum than Greece & the Greek Islands, and with around 120,000 holiday beds, it had more beds than the whole of Portugal. ... it sounds astounding, but apparently was true. Sadly it doesn't have the weather of Greece or Portugal, but that's another tale ....

This led me to become very familiar with the town and the area, and to the phenomena known locally as Scots Week .... a period of the year (not actually restricted to just one week, but just more noticeable in the week when Glasgow's school holidays precede England's by a week), when large numbers of Scottish people descend on Blackpool for their holidays.

This annual migration, or perhaps pilgrimage is the better term, has been going on since late Victorian times, when "Glasgow Fair Fortnight" (a week's holiday, which was later extended to a fortnight), saw factories and shipyards shut all over Glasgow at the end of July, allowing 'unpaid' holidays for which many joined 'holiday saving clubs', initially to pay for an unpaid week off work, and which was easily converted to a week away on the new 'railways'.

So whilst they don't now come in the numbers of the mid last century, when the large industrial industries associated with the holiday began to shut down, its still a large enough group to leave its mark on the town and indeed the region.

So what its like? .... well I wouldn't describe it as 'lock up your daughters' time, but sometimes the taxi drivers describe the area between Central Pier and South Shore, as 'bandit country' when this 'week' is at its peak in July. Other Scottish visitors to Blackpool from eastern Scotland (aka Edinburgh) describe it as 'Weegie Week' ('Weegies' being the name they give to Glaswegians) ..... not much love their sometimes, and historically Scots from the east have gone to Scarborough.

An Early Start To The Bevvies, Allows You To Catch Some Rays!

The other impacts that I recall is that at 10:00 am on a Saturday morning, there were often chairs outside the B&B's, with sunburnt gentlemen drinking cans of 'Special Brew' and talking in a language which may as well have been Urdu for all the comprehensibility to the rest of us, but which I was assured was a form of English.

Everyone in the area apparently knew when it was the start of the Scottish holidays, because the pub cash registers started filling up with Scottish bank notes, and the fact that after someone in Glasgow got access to a top-end photo-copier, all £50 notes became useless as currency in the area, and shortly afterwards you could only change Scottish bank notes in banks, and even then with much suspicious looks and checking by the tellers.

On a more serious note, the whole town actually has a 'Scottish' sub theme to it, with hundreds of hotels and B&B's called names like the 'Briardene', Strathdene', 'Airedale House Hotel', 'Gleneagles', 'The Osprey Hotel', 'Glendowie Hotel', 'Glenbarrie Hotel', and even the '100 Pipers Hotel'. I am barely scratching the surface here, as there are many more on similar themes, and as this might indicate, a lot of Scots live in the area now.

The local council milks this historic connection, and even targets the Scottish market with a "Blackpool's Back" campaign, that feature adverts made specifically for Scottish TV, and timed to coincide with the Scottish school holidays.

Of course not everyone is as enamoured of Blackpool as the West Coast Scots are, and its a fact that its a rather scruffy provincial place, seemingly full of junkies and petty ex-cons for much of the time (as anecdotally many northern prisons, advise newly released prisoners, to go to Blackpool to find cheap accommodation in the B&B's that can't get any tourist trade), this despite the efforts of the local authorities to clean up the town, both physically and morally.

How Blackpool Looks To Many Visitors ....

Many would agree with author Bill Brysons description of the town, from his book  "Notes from a small Island", of which this is but a brief, but relevant extract:

...... Thus it was, fourteen hours after setting off from Porthmadog that morning, that I arrived tired, dishevelled, hungry and full of woe, in Blackpool, a place that I didn't particularly want to be in anyway. 


  BLACKPOOL AND I DON'T CARE HOW MANY TIMES YOU HEAR THIS, IT never stops being amazing attracts more visitors every year than Greece and has more holiday beds than the whole of Portugal. It consumes more chips per capita than anywhere else on the planet. (It gets through forty acres of potatoes a day.) It has the largest concentration of roller-coasters in Europe. It has the continent's second most popular tourist attraction, the fortytwo acre Pleasure Beach, whose 6.5 million annual visitors are exceeded in number only by those going to the Vatican. It has the most famous illuminations. And on Friday and Saturday nights it has more public toilets than anywhere else in Britain; elsewhere they call them doorways.

Whatever you may think of the place, it does what it does very well or if not very well at least very successfully. In the past twenty years, during a period in which the number of Britons taking traditional seaside holidays has declined by a fifth, Blackpool has increased its visitor numbers by 7 per cent and built tourism into a .250millionayear industry no small achievement when you consider the British climate, the fact that Blackpool is ugly, dirty and a long way from anywhere, that its sea is an open toilet, and its attractions nearly all cheap, provincial and dire.

It was the illuminations that had brought me there. I had been hearing and reading about them for so long that I was genuinely keen to see them. So, after securing a room in a modest guest-house on a back street, I hastened to the front in a sense of some expectation. Well, all I can say is that Blackpool's illuminations are nothing if not splendid, and they are not splendid. There is, of course, always a danger of disappointment when you finally encounter something you have wanted to see for a long time, but in terms of let down it would be hard to exceed Blackpool's light show. I thought there would be lasers sweeping the sky, strobe lights tattooing the clouds and other gaspmaking dazzlements. Instead there was just a rumbling procession of old trams decorated as rocket ships or Christmas crackers, and several miles of paltry decorations on lampposts. I suppose if you had never seen electricity in action, it would be pretty breathtaking, but I'm not even sure of that. It all just seemed tacky and inadequate on rather a grand scale, like Blackpool itself.

What was no less amazing than the meagreness of the illuminations were the crowds of people who had come to witness the spectacle. Traffic along the front was bumper to bumper, with childish faces pressed to the windows of every creeping car, and there were masses of people ambling happily along the spacious promenade. At frequent intervals hawkers sold luminous necklaces and bracelets or other short-lived diversions, and were doing a roaring trade. I read somewhere once that half of all visitors to Blackpool have been there at least ten times. 

Goodness knows what they find in the place. I walked for a mile or so along the prom, and couldn't understand the appeal of it and I, as you may have realized by now, am an enthusiast for tat. Perhaps I was just weary after my long journey from Porthmadog, but I couldn't wake up any enthusiasm for it at all. I wandered through brightly lit arcades and peered in bingo halls, but the festive atmosphere that seemed to seize everyone failed to rub off on me. Eventually, feeling very tired and very foreign, I retired to a fish restaurant on a side street, where I had a plate of haddock, chips and peas, and was looked at like I was some kind of southern pansy when I asked for tartare sauce, and afterwards took yet another early night.

In the morning, I got up early to give Blackpool another chance. I liked it considerably better by daylight. The promenade had some nice bits of cast iron and elaborate huts with onion domes selling rock, nougat and other sticky things, which had escaped me in the darkness the night before, and the beach was vast and empty and very agreeable. Blackpool's beach is seven miles long and the curious thing about it is that it doesn't officially exist. I am not making this up. In the late 1980s, when the European Community issued a directive about minimum standards of ocean borne sewage, it turned out that nearly every British seaside town failed to come anywhere near even the minimum levels. 

Most of the bigger places like Blackpool went right off the edge of the turdometer, or whatever it is they measure these things with. This presented an obvious problem to the Government, which was loath to spend money on British beaches when there were perfectly good beaches for rich people in Mustique and Barbados, so it drew up a policy under which it officially decreed this is so bizarre I can hardly stand it, but I swear it is true that Brighton, Blackpool, Scarborough and many other leading resorts did not have, strictly speaking, bathing beaches. Christ knows what they then termed these expanses of sand intermediate sewage buffers, I suppose but in any case it disposed of the problem without either solving it or costing the Exchequer a penny, which is, of course, the main thing, or in the case of the present Government, the only thing.

But enough of political satire! Let us away in haste to Morecambe. I went there next, on a series of rattling Sprinters, partly to make poignant comparisons with Blackpool, but mostly because I like Morecambe. I'm not at all sure why, but I do .....
tallies in many regards to my own and others view of the town.

But its important to point out that many millions of repeat visitors don't agree with this description ..... also, it should be noted that the town was actually shafted by the then governing Labour Party, when a local parliamentary bill, to allow a super Las Vegas style casino to be built by the town (with a promised £300 - £500 million windfall in related private investment), was first hijacked by a 'casino everywhere' regeneration plan, and then Blackpool, the originator of the idea was actually dropped from the scheme in favour of Leeds, and then finally, Gordon Brown ditched the whole scheme anyway, leaving Blackpool high and dry, and losing all its private investment funds from the US.

About as dirty a piece of politics, as that rather nasty little government managed in its undistinguished time in office, and one that has left a legacy not just nationally, with the debt crisis, but also regionally, on a small town, in the north west of a small island.

Even Not Believing Is A Crime

One of the many issues Islam has with the rest of the world at the moment is its basic insecurity ..... by that I mean that any belief system that has to condemn to death anyone who tries to leave it, or anyone who believes there are different ways to practise the same faith, has some really big self belief problems. For instance, all these 'British' Muslims who go over to Syria, to 'do Jihad' and 'fight Allah's enemies', apparently do not find it in anyway strange, that all those enemies of Allah that they are killing, are also 'Muslims', who also claim that they are fighting the enemies of Allah.

I guess nutters just don't do irony .....

This Badly Written Missive, is a Testament to Multiculturalism and a UK Education.

But perhaps a good example of this insecurity, and I don't mean its treatment of those  converting to another faith .... that's death, no discussion, just death for the convert (and probably for their still Muslim family as well), is its treatment of those who profess non-belief in Allah, just saying that they are an atheist .... in some places this is possibly a death sentence as well, but where there is a semblance of secular governance (such as Non Boko Haram, Nigeria),  a protestation of atheism leaves the 'liberal' (or constrained) Imam bemused.

So what do they do?

Well telling them to go on their way, and agreeing to disagree isn't an option .... so in Nigeria, the man is detained in a hospital psychiatric ward as obviously mentally ill, for not believing in Allah anymore. One such victim is Mubarak Bala, a chemical engineering graduate, but also the son of an Islamic leader (which is probably why he wasn't killed), who was detained against his will for 18 days, only being freed by accident,  when a doctors' strike saw many patients discharged, simply because they couldn't be looked after.

He has now demanded that another doctor evaluate him, and then to put it on the record that he was not suffering from a mental illness as the hospital had stated. He would probably be better off leaving the north of Nigeria after death threats, but he has apparently decided to resume living with his family in a spirit of reconciliation ..... Good Luck with that mate!

One is reminded of the Soviet and Maoist mental hospitals, where political opponents were deposited and usually declared insane, after being given harsh drug treatments to 'cure them' of the belief that Soviet Communism was wrong .....

Where Being Happy Is A Crime

When the citizens of Iran decided to overthrow the Shah's government, they presumably did so in the expectation of happier times ahead. Well roll on thirty five years, and we now know that as well as gaining a corrupt clergy (who are very happy), we now understand that in Iran, happiness is circumscribed by what the religion and the regime say is allowable. Get it wrong and the punishments can range from a warning from the 'religious police' to imprisonment or even worse .... the death penalty.

All for trying to enjoy your life in a manner that hurts no one. But then what hope have you, in a land where there is even a crime of 'offending public chastity' ... the latest to fall foul of this are a group of male and female students (or maybe wanna be actors and actresses ... their story has altered as the events have unfolded), made a video for 'YouTube', in which they were 'Happy we are from Tehran'. Apparently this involved dancing to the song 'Happy' by Pharrell Williams. A song which has seemingly enjoyed global success amongst the young and which even I have just about heard (I am getting old!), and to which people around the globe have made video tributes too.

 This Video Is A Crime In The Islamic Republic Of Iran

The Tehran video was a big hit amongst this tribute fraternity and especially amongst the young educated Iranian community in Iran and the Diaspora .... this brought it to the attention of the religious rulers, who declared that all participants should be arrested for 'offending public chastity' because the girls were unveiled in public. There is also a suspicion that dancing also offended the regime, although there isn't a law against it .... yet.

The usual attempts to put a brave face to the world on this outrage, included the ineffectual President (Power resides with the clerics) tweeting  "#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviours caused by joy." .... the social media users have also tweeted #freehappyiranians of course this had made no difference and they have been paraded in front of TV and the media.

Of course Iran isn't the only such regime ... most Arab or Muslim countries have similar sentiments towards women and dancing (except where its young boys 'chai boys' dancing for rooms of men, in which case its accepted), but its not wholly restricted to that religion or region. North Korea is probably as bad as place to be 'happy', if not worse in many respects, and there are other states where it could be difficult .... Tibet under Chinese occupation must be a soul destroying place for Tibetans.

What a fearful fate it must be, to live in any land where happiness is tantamount to being a crime ... final words to the sentiments on the video.

"Happy was an excuse to be happy. We enjoyed every second of making it. Hope it puts a smile on your face."


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