26 March 2011


Baby in the rubble

A Japanese father’s joy
when his daughter
is discovered alive.
A rescue worker’s pride
when he uncovers
a baby in the rubble
huddled and cold but safe.
What determination, self-will, destiny,
stubborn cussedness.
What baby survives three days without
nappy change, food, liquids, love or touch?
A Dalai Lama, a Moses,
a focused, single-minded
selfish gene.

Still the snow fell, still the death knell
but this baby lived
and this tale will be told and re-told as the centuries unfold
and the people who practise Shintoism wonder and ponder
why all this happened to them.
Joselyn Duffy Morton ©

BBC, Radio 7

Hello again,
It was with more than a little nostalgia that yesterday evening I began to draft today's newsletter, knowing it would be the last one I’ll be sending from Radio 7, as next Friday will be our final day on-air before we relaunch as BBC Radio 4 Extra on Saturday 2nd April.
What a long and fascinating journey it’s been so far. It all began in March 2002, when I was invited to create a new archive digital speech radio station, known then as ‘Network Z’ With the assistance of just two newly recruited producers plus an archive researcher - and facing a blank sheet of paper - I have to admit it was a somewhat daunting task. Back then there were a few naysayers shaking their heads as they posed the question  “do you really believe you'll get an audience - who wants to listen to old radio programmes anyway?"
Eight years on - with a name change from BBC 7 along the way - Radio 7 now has an audience of around a million enjoying our  old (and new!) radio programmes’. And with the imminent re-branding of our station, we hope to build an even bigger audience by continuing to bring you a great range of radio entertainment from the archive - and more.
Our first evening of BBC 7 programmes was broadcast on the eve of our official launch on 14th December 2002. With Paul Merton as the host, it was simulcast on our sister station, Radio 4 and it felt exhilarating.
And now, by linking up more with Radio 4, as 4 Extra we have, in a way, almost come full circle.
It’s certainly been uplifting to hear recent trails on Radio 4 show-casing our re-branded network. The trail I heard this morning in the Today programme did make me smile, when it ended with the waspish voice of Kenneth Williams riposting " Life is short - so let's get on with it!" 

And we certainly are getting on with it. Our 17-strong team of producers, broadcast assistant/researchers, archivist and schedule planner have been working all hours in the past few weeks to clear more new programmes resulting in what I think is an excellent schedule for Radio 4 Extra.
Mary Kalemkerian, Head of Programmes, BBC Radio 7

Cover caption

Spring blossom Roger Morton

18 March 2011

Toby, the Springer Spaniel

It comes to us all in the end - and it came for Toby my Springer Spaniel this evening, at sunset.  Sixteen years old, he had been getting weaker over the last few days, panting all the time whenever he walked more than ten yards, and I realised the time had come yesterday, when I saw that his gums were almost bone white - and not the deep salmon pink they had been throughout his life.
 I tried to hang onto him one more day but I could see that it was time to go.  He was still eating two days ago, but yesterday was not even tempted by fresh-cooked liver from my hand; it was hard to persuade him to drink, and he just lay sleeping in the kneehole of my desk all day.
Toby came from a farmer at Hundleshope, in a lovely valley called Glen Sax, near Peebles on the river Tweed.  I had been out hiking there in 1995 when I came across an isolated 16th Century farmhouse in this remote valley, which posed a landscape puzzle: endless, steep hills, all around, but where was the river?
I stopped to chat with the elderly farmer, leaning on his gate, and asked him why this valley had no river?  His face lit up - as if he had been waiting for someone to ask such a question; he said that's a very interesting question, and you're the first person to ask it in 30 years!”
He explained, that 10,000 years ago, the mighty River Tweed had run through this valley, but some earthquake or glacier had changed the course of the river, and Hundleshope was left as a deep valley with a floor as flat and featureless as a billiard table, without any trace of  a river, not even a vestige of a stream.  The name was thought to derive from 'Hound's Well Hope' - Hope being a Saxon word for 'farm'.
While we smiled together over this forgotten mystery of geology and glaciers, he suddenly said  "D'ye fancy one o' these pups here ?"  waving his arm to a wicker basket behind, in which eight liver-and-white Springer spaniel pups were squirming and wriggling with delight at my appearance.  "The old bitch has had enough o' them", he said; she was tired of feeding such a large litter. I had no thought whatever of getting a dog!  But the farmer said, “Go on, ye can have one for fifty pounds, it's a bargain!" . 
This was true - the asking-price was less than half  'the going rate'.  He wouldn't sell me a bitch though they were wanted by local gamekeepers, but he would let me have a dog for this knock-down price.
He explained: "you'll never see a day's illness with any of these dogs; they are all from 'working stock'; not a drop of pedigree blood in them"; generations of careful selection had gone into choosing only the strongest dogs and healthiest bitches to breed from. Toby's mother was a farm dog while his father was a 'keeper's’ gun-dog.
The farmer spoke the truth; the only occasion on which Toby ever saw a vet, apart from his first vaccination, was the day he made his final exit at 16 years of age.
 But which dog to choose? All eight pups were wriggling towards the edge of their basket like a herd of inquisitive heifers.  One in particular was bolder than the others -  his eyes gleamed with curiosity and he sported a white blaze on his nose and a creamy chest.
“That one will do,” I said, and after a brief exchange of paper, off we went down Glen Sax - to sixteen years of comradeship and mountain adventure.
 I called the vet this lunchtime and made arrangements. Hoping against hope that when we arrived the vet would say - "oh no, you've mis-diagnosed him, it's not heart failure, he'll live a few months yet." 
But even as I put the phone down, I knew that there would be no reprieve; white-gums means low blood pressure; cold paws and endless-panting means the heart is fading.
'Just in case'. I dug a deep grave out back, beneath the giant Mountain Redwood that I planted as a seed 16 years ago when I got him as a pup. I had collected the seed from the General Sherman Tree, 6,000 ft up in California's Sequoia National Park; I had to use a pick and a sharp edged shovel to hack through the giant redwood's fibrous root to dig the grave; and the idea still intruded, that this was 'just a precaution'.   
So, as the sun was sinking in the West, I coaxed him into the car and we went to meet the vet  who was going to assess him and, if necessary, do him this final service.                           
Of course, in my heart of hearts, I knew full well what the vet would say.  He didn't even need to touch or examine him; just watched me lift the dog out of the car and walk a few steps with him. Toby staggered a little, as if the pavement was at sea, and looked about him, as if lost. I looked at the vet, hoping for some sign of reprieve, but he just shook his head and said “Bring him in”.
I have never taken a dog to the vet to be put to sleep before.  No matter how stoic you think you are, I guarantee you will be skating on jelly for the entire experience.
It was a long, long process; it took over thirty minutes to kill him; but the vet, who ushered him into the next world, was kind and efficient; he made it as painless as he could - though I was a wreck.  It took three syringes of poison to put my boy down: the first was to relax him - with a tiny needle in the scruff of the neck- and we waited 20 minutes for that to take effect.  Then, the vet injected a large syringe of blue liquid - barbiturates-  into the side of his abdomen, and we waited another ten minutes for that to take effect.  But still the old bugger wouldn't quit; he kept fighting it, gasping away like a wheezing steam engine, glancing at me as if to say “we could still beat this thing”.     
Gradually, the drug robbed him of his strength, his body relaxed and the vet said he was fully sedated, but the brown eyes still stared ahead, unflinching.  The vet shaved a foreleg, felt for a vein and slid the final needle in.  He injected a second huge dose of blue-barbiturate and finally, very slowly, the broad-ribbed chest took fewer and fewer breaths, shallower and shallower - and his brave heart stopped beating.
Dogs are not supposed to climb mountains, but this was a heart that conquered most of the great mountain ridges of Scotland: An Teallach, Ben More, Liathach, Ben Eighe, Stac Polly, Arkle, Foinaven and Suilven. He had trailed my boot-heels up The Cheviot a dozen times, and splashed in the waterfalls of The Henhole more times than I could count.  He never tired, never baulked, no matter what near-vertical scree-slope I launched him at. He seemed to know that if I could manage the danger, so could he.  I never actually asked him to rock climb, but we came close to it at times.  This was a dog that loved to body-surf in the waves of Dunbar on January 1st, with frost on the sand; cold mattered not a jot.  You had to beg him to come in out of the freezing waves.
The lasting impression I have of him, at all times, was his sheer immeasurable joy and exultation in every aspect of life; the endless, boundless adventure.
Stuart the vet waited a full minute 'till after the breathing stopped, and then applied the stethoscope to the white curls of his chest. 
“He's gone”, said the vet, and we shook hands, in tears, across the quiet form.
I carried him home and laid him in his grave as the sun scattered a few rags of gold in the far west, towards America.
I shovelled the dark soil back under the giant redwood, stamped the earth down hard above his head and laid a stone slab to keep the fox away. 
Toby the Springer from Hundleshope is finally, finally gone and will be missed as much as he was loved.
The world is smaller tonight.
Graham White
Toby aged 15 years

From Richard French's ipad

Ho Chi Minh city

How hard it is to not be a tourist these days. When we used to travel in days of youth and yore, child and fancy free, short on cash but high on energy it seemed simple, if not inevitable, to get behind the scenes. We slept in Signora Bisba's front room in a square in then unknown Pallafrugel,  borrowed a very real and grubby garret in the shadow of the Sacre Coeur wandered up the Ramblas when Barcelona was a pre-Olympic slum, slept under the stars and flavoured our coffee with a burning twig in true South African bush style. Tented camps and linen sheets with hot and cold running G and T's had yet to be invented. The first time I crossed Europe I picked up  the Orient Express at the railway station in Venice, leaving a ship bound for Trieste. Not the revamped, repackaged as it never was, James Sterling owned, pretend to be something else, Louis Vuiton and rolling stock Piano Bar that costs more money than God has. This was the real McCoy. Transport for the people. We were rudely shaken from our slumber by exotically uniformed douanniers as we crossed international borders. Fellow passengers joined and left at stations with strange sounding names. Their luggage came not from Bond Street or the Rue de Rivoli but consisted of baskets and rope bound cheap cardboard suitcases, sometimes with a live chicken or several.  We de-trained in Paris and wandered briefly around the quartier that surrounds the Garde de Nord. The City of Light it was not. Although maybe 15 years after the Occupation signs of depression and poverty were still alive and on the surface. We picked up the Golden Arrow for London and future life with aspirations of fame and riches and ... perhaps that is when it all began to change ....
So here, a thousand years later and (on this trip, 13 hotels on) we are thriving on luxury, the weather perfect,  the beach white, the beer freezing, even the South African Red passable, the staff groomed, the laundry left when we go out is returned before we do. Flat screen TV, Wi-Fi, DVD, Aircon, Kindle, Grey Goose in the Mini-Bar, a bucket of ice delivered to our verandah every sundown. So what is there not to like?
It all happened in a flash. The penny dropped at breakfast. (Fresh tropical fruit, eggs any way you want, juices, yoghurts, croissants, Thai this, Viet that) when I was talking to the very charming lady Ossie who runs this place with rare precision. The simple truth is that policy of tourist-driven economies,  in league with hoteliers and travel agents,  are geared to separate the tourist from the local. So  much so that if a non-Viet checks into a hotel with a Vietnamese they are REQUIRED BY LAW to stay in separate rooms. And If our pretty host here in Mui Ne wants to shack up with a buddy for a weekend in Saigon she has to register her movement with the police. Ah ha.
This has been a really marvellous trip. But I am so  glad we broke away from the herd and insisted, contra agents advice, to go to the rough and un-ready off-shore island of Phu Quoc. Here we hired scruffy little motor-bikes and dirt road scrambled to the most far flung and remote beach. This we shared with fishermen, a basic shack cook-house and a middle aged  Air Canada baggage handler who was free-wheeling around the globe on his staff pass. Feet in sand and plastic table legs lapped by the sea, we ate fish cooked in a pot with chilli and beer  frozen in ice made for the hold of a fishing smack. Almost as good as the roasted clams with garlic and lemon grass that were recommended by noisy non-English speaking smiling  Vietnamese youths in a shed, waterside, in Danang. How come our two best meals cost the least money? There is a moral somewhere.
If only were brave enough and poor enough to travel now as we did then. I guess those backpackers are having a ball. Just found out Facebook is blocked in Vietnam. And belief in NO pre-marriage sex and  NO public display of physical contact is high among youth. Any connection between the two ..?
RF Mui Ne Vietnam,
Sent from my iPad



There was something
tender in the air
you could feel it
when she opened the door
it lingered between them
warm and loving.
Joselyn Duffy Morton ©

Stephen O'R's Sydney

Niall Ferguson has made a name for himself as a media savvy Economic Historian who seems to be able to hold down a Professorship at both Harvard and Oxford.  Love to see that contract. After his appalling but hugely successful The Ascent of Money (book and TV series) Niall has given us a book about how Westerners beat all the non- Western countries at business and trade therefore giving all us lucky Westerners a lifestyle that non- Westerners can only dream about. 
The book  Civilisation: The West and the Rest argues that there are ‘six killer apps’ that gave the West hegemony over the rest. (One has to remember these apps were brought into play long before the iPad). The six apps are Competition, Science, Modern Medicine, consumerism, democracy and the Protestant Work ethic.
Reviewer Malcolm Turnball reckons that the thread that runs through each one of these apps  is an aspect or facet of freedom.
Now I came to higher education late in life probably around about the time young Malcolm made a fortune selling rainforest timbers from the Solomon Islands. Why the Solomon Islands needed Malcolm to sell their wood is unknown to me. Malcolm made a second fortune when he created sold an email company called Ozemail.  With two fortunes in the bank, he married to the daughter of a leading right wing Barrister and with his own thriving legal career to boot our Malcolm bought the thing that all Sydney-siders dream of; a harbour side mansion.  With his son off to Harvard and his daughter now through school Mal knocked over the sitting Liberal Federal Member for Wentworth in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs – the second richest suburb where old money and new money cohabit peacefully, except when views are at stake.  So having gained pre-selection as Liberal candidate Malcolm donned a Tweed Jacket complete with a suede vest and a blue and white shirt and strolled around the streets meeting and greeting as he went. A squire was born.  He even made it to being leader of the conservative opposition before being usurped for supporting labour’s climate change policy. Malcolm managed to swallow his pride and sits it out on the backbenches waiting for the usurper, Mad Monk Abbot, to self-destruct. Why anyone with all that loot and more than half a brain would want to be involved with politics escapes me
I met Malcolm and his wife Lucy, who was then Sydney’s Mayor, I almost liked him as he seemed to have an interest in history,  however he was extremely rude to my wife.  He was an admirer of William Dalrymple, an English historian who lives in New Delhi and mines Indian Raj history for a living.  I found his book The White Mughuls , intensely boring   but Malcolm was so impressed that he invited Dalrymple to stay at the harbourside mansion.  I can see him dreaming away about having Niall to stay as well, although I think Niall might be a tad too busy for long flights such as the ones to Australya.
Now when I came across Malcolm’s review of Niall Ferguson’s new book in The Monthly (a magazine for successful graduates that don’t have the time to read newspapers I was keen to see how young Mal the Member had handled it. I think he might have fallen in love with Professor Niall in much the same way he had with Dalrymple.  When I had finished reading the review I was annoyed because I knew I had to respond to this example of Eurocentrism and crossing pens with Malcolm was not to be taken lightly given Australia’s liable laws.
What follows is my letter to  The Monthly.
Re: Civilisation: The West and the Rest
‘Both the author and reviewer have presented a surprisingly Eurocentric view of the way Europe came to dominate the non-European world from 1492 on. Lets get a bit of balance happening:
Arab and Jewish traders had built the wealth-producing Indian Ocean trade up over hundreds of years with Armenian, Pharisee, India, South East Asian businessmen and others.  Europeans had long harboured a desire to get a part of this wealth. Marco Polo’s book about his journey on the silk route to China and his return to the west by sea had fed the dreams of many. It was because of these dreams that the Italian, Christopher Columbus, was sent by the Spanish queen to find away into the Indian Ocean. He obviously came second to Vasco da Gama who six years later found him blown south before strong winds and beyond the southern tip of Africa. When the winds eased he headed north again and saw that the land was now on his left side. Vasco had entered the Indian Ocean. The Arabs had lost their barrier between west and east. Once Vasco sailed into the Indian Ocean it was only a matter of time before the West would come to dominate the Indian Ocean and all the seas to China albeit through the barrels of their cannons and muskets.
The cannon was Portuguese main instrument of trade. Though China had invented the cannon it was the waring European states’ who developed it into a serious weapon from 1320 on as they squandered tax money, and lives, in ‘competitive’ rounds of wars where they desperately sought to dominate each other.  The Europeans had little to trade with as nearly everything people desired had originally come from Asia.  It was only because of the Spaniards, using slave labour, mined silver in the Americas (which was then brought back to Europe) that the Europe had something the Chinese actually needed – silver for its currency.
The Portuguese did not set up a ‘trading post’ in Malindi in 1498 but on a later voyage. Their opening gambit in the region was to sink a ship off the Malabar Coast of India killing 700 Muslims returning from the Haj. They also killed thousands of Arab, Indian and other merchants when they took control of the trading port on Melaka in 1507.  Arab ‘competition’ was blasted out of the water if they refused to pay a licence fee in what had been a free trade zone until the Portuguese arrived. 
Europeans did not compete - they stole, defrauded, murdered, monopolised and legislated to become successful in Asia.
The English East India Company operated under a monopoly granted by the English Crown that gave the company the sole right to trade beyond Gibraltar in exchange for a cash fee paid to the English Crown.  This company initially went to the Indian Ocean to seek carrying work but after helping a coup to takeover the Kingdom of Bengal they were given the role of Zamindar (collector of taxes on behalf on the Bengali King).  ‘Clive ‘ of India understood the value of this and sent a ship home with a message for his broker to buy all the shares he could in the English East India Company. A second ship carried the news that sent the value of shares in the English East India Company through the roof.  The English East India Company was able to use taxes collected from Bengalis to buy exquisite Bengali textiles to ship home. Clive made thousands on his share buying and also a large bonus from the company – he was probably the first man convicted for insider trading.  English legislation would later stop Indian imports from reaching England when the Europeans mechanised weaving and then the Company forced the shutdown of Indian textile manufacturing so that Indians had to buy machine made English textiles imported into India.
The English and the Americans were selling opium to 40 million people when the Chinese Government finally woke up to what was going on and tried to stop the trade by burning down an English warehouse containing opium. Europeans and the Americans responded by invading a weak China and forced them to open five ports for western traders to be competitive in.
Ferguson and Turnbull both misunderstood the mission of the seven great Treasure fleets under the command of Zheng He.
The renaissance that Europeans like to crow about began after the Arabs, Jews and others arranged for the classic works of the Greeks and Romans were translated from Arabic to Latin in Toledo. The Arabs had had these works translated from Ancient Greek by Syrians in the 11th century. 
Arabs still suffer to this day from the British meddling in Arab affairs that began over 300 years ago.  Palestine was offered to the French, The Zionists and the Arabs after WWI. No prizes for guess won.
The complete lack of understanding shown by Harvard Professor Fergusson and Liberal treasurer Turnbull is frightening. That Westerners, like these two shining stars of conservatism, still write such rubbish is amazing.  
I recommend those interested to read Louise Levarthe ‘s When China Ruled the Seas for the true story of Zheng He; Nick Robins’ book on the East India Company for information on anti-competitive behaviour plus Albert Hourani’s  A History of the Arab peoples.  For where the Portuguese learned about competition, have a glance at  The Suma Oriental by Tome Pires (Google Books or Mitchell library) Tome was the Portuguese trade analyst on board the second Portuguese fleet at the beginning of the 16th Century. He witnessed the Portuguese takeover of Melaka.
It’s amazing to me that Ferguson and Turnbull are unaware of the true story of the ‘Wests’ take over of most of the world.
This review is absolute bollocks and it’s freaky that Malcolm might one day be Prime Minister of Austraya.

PS The letter will be published (in an edited form) in April’s The Monthly.
Stephen O’Rourke