Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A good word for the Daily Mail

Of all the British newspapers, the Daily Mail is probably the least respected. I’m the first to admit that on occasion I deride it too. I had an aunt who read the Daily Mail regularly and seemed to actually believe it. Some of the things she said about Black people, for which the Daily Mail would have been her only source of information, probably can't be legally written down on a web page.

Nonetheless, as I said when you were here last week, the on line version of the Daily Mail, however disagreeable you may find its content, is probably the best organised of the on line British papers.

For a start, it is free. Many newspapers on the Net now charge for their services, out of a belief that if they put their publish their content free, nobody will pay to read the same content on paper. So far as I know, that belief has proved mistaken. In particular, The Times is rumoured to be about to abandon its subscription scheme altogether.

Then again, the quality of the Mail’s news is not bad. Breaking news usually gets into the on line paper within an hour or so. This is in contrast to, say, the relentless fake news on offer in the Sunday Sport, which once published a story under the headline World War 2 Bomber Found On Moon. For real news, the only on line paper I can think of which rivals the Mail is The Telegraph, which is as good as any, better than most, and still free.

It is of course its opinions for which the Daily Mail is so widely ridiculed. The Mail obsesses about a handful of peculiarly uninteresting topics, in alphabetical order: house prices, Madeleine McCann, pædophiles, quack medicine, the Royal Family, and women from a lacklustre American city called Los Angeles where clothing appears still to be on the ration.

If you want to read the opinions of the political Right, you can read The Daily Express on line, and if you want to read the opinions of the political Left, you can read The Morning Star as well, although I must say The Morning Star would be more plausible than it is if it didn’t endlessly mistake the Labour Party for something to do with socialism.

Yet the Mail is neither nauseatingly liberal, like The Guardian, which appears to believe that every illegal immigrant, whatever his deeds, should be allowed to stay in the United Kingdom for the rest of his natural life, nor desperately Politikally Korrekt, like the BBC, which still refers to ‘firefighters’ instead of ‘firemen’ in case someone rings them up and pretends to have been dreadfully offended. I sometimes think the BBC would rather yell Fuck! on air, like Russell Brand did in front of the children on Red Nose Day, than describe a man who fights fires for a living as a fireman. Let alone a man who works on the footplate of a steam locomotive shovelling coal onto the fire.

All this ignores one vital consideration.

The opinions expressed by a newspaper, or by any other written communication, are created by their authors. It may be fair to judge the readers of the Daily Mail by the opinions that they read, but because of the Mail’s comment sections, it is also possible to judge the readership by what they write. Often they just write a throw-away catch phrase like ‘Throw them out’ or ‘Bring back the rope,’ but sometimes it is a carefully thought through couple of sentences and often they write what is, politically, the diametric opposite of what would have been posted by the rabid neo-Nazi Daily Mail reader of popular imagination.

Looking at the comments, I have been struck by one or two recurring themes.

Firstly, the sheer illiteracy of some posters. This may well be the true measure of the failure of the schools. Many comments are meaningless, written by readers who are unable to express themselves in written English. I try to skip over those comments rather than rack what is left of my brain working out what the writer wanted to say.

Any comment about a criminal convicted of a violent or sexual offence ignites a sort of firestorm of comments, each one posted by some wannabe gaoler with ideas of torturing the guilty man (it is usually a man) more severely than the wannabe gaoler before him.

Any comment about schools attracts a pile of comments pining for the restoration of the glorious Tripartite System, the competitive, disciplined education system that we had in the ’fifties and ’sixties, instead of the present comprehensive system believed by many (rightly) to set itself the wrong targets and then not hit any of them.

Comments about the afterlife or about everyday vegetables that miraculously cure all known diseases or about children who are the re-incarnation of an ancient prince, king or farmyard animal are greeted with terrifying, enthusiastic credulity.

But the Mail’s cringing obsequiousness towards the Royal Family is not shared in its comment sections. Many readers harbour dark suspicions about the fate of poor Madeleine McCann, who the Mail insists is probably still alive somewhere. Readers do not seem to share the British and American governments’ fears about the Russian Federation doing all it can to undermine the wonderful western life style which most of us don't enjoy. And readers’ comments on dangerous, drunken or homicidal motorists usually deplore the reckless leniency of the Courts — you know, the magistrates and judges who think that being banned from driving is a sort of punishment, instead of just a reduction to the same status as the rest of us.

I suppose I have to admit to sharing all those opinions except the one about the treatment of criminals.

Then again a lot of comments are written in jest and most of those are funny.

I have been a loyal poster of comments to the Daily Mail since 31 July 2015. In that time I have, I imagine, contributed more to the noise than to the signal, but occasionally I post a comment which attracts either nearly universal agreement or nearly universal disagreement. You can tell whether the readers agree or disagree with a comment because each comment is accompanied by its count of likes and dislikes. Looking at those ratings, you can see the opinions of the readers rather than the writers.

Here, so that you may fairly judge the readership of the Daily Mail, are thirty-one comments, all of them written by me, which met either with near unanimous approval or near unanimous disapproval. With the aid of the specially invented Unanimometer, which appears on the left of each comment and shows the percentage of readers who agreed with me, let’s dive in and take a look at them.

41/43, 95% Unanimometer On personal finance

On a suggestion that you should save one hour’s pay per day, The one piece of advice every self-made millionaire swears by for keeping their finances in check

You report that, ‘If you were earning £8 an hour, you should save £8 every day of March, which would result in you saving £248 by the end of the month.’ And you will have saved £1,000,000 after just over 342 years, 2 months and 24 days. See you at the Ritz!

44/47, 96% On food

On a report that a waitress wrote an insulting remark on a restaurant bill, ‘Small egg and tomato omelette for the weird freak:’ Father fumes after posh café hands him his receipt containing a printed insult about his wife

Could someone explain how an ‘egg and [tomato] omelette’ differs from a tomato omelette?

10/10, 100% On immigration

Reply to a comment on a report that police found three illegal immigrants stowing away in a lorry, Moment police discover three ‘illegal’ immigrants from Eritrea in the back of a lorry after the worried driver rang 999 after fearing people were inside

JC4PM wrote,

Pity we didn’t give them a warm welcome considering the hardships they must have endured. Hardship for most people in the UK is when it rains.

You don’t consider a lifetime on benefits and a free house to be a warm enough welcome, obviously.

35/38, 92% On education

On a report that some schools send badly behaved pupils home on the days of Ofsted inspections, The badly behaved pupils kept hidden from Ofsted

Ofsted have been trying, and failing, to pull the wool over our eyes for years. How comes it that only one school, two on a really bad day, is graded Needs Improvement, Poor, Useless, or Worse Than Useless, but a third of the children in the final year of compulsory education can’t read and seven eighths can’t do simple arithmetic?

7/7, 100% On a report that a girl had been sent home from school following a false allegation that she was selling vibrators, Lutheran school principal suspends girl, 12, for three days for ‘selling sex toys’ in the classroom — but it turns out they were actually ‘water snake wigglies’

Do two members of school staff have nothing more important to do than accuse their charges of imaginary sex crimes? The important question is, can Frances Halbeck read and write? If so, apologise to her and then forget the imaginary sex crimes. If not, sack the teachers.

48/51, 94% On streamed schools: Streaming ‘holds back pupils from poor homes:’ Call to stop dividing pupils by ability as children in lower sets get worse teaching

Demolish the comprehensives. Bring back the Eleven Plus, grammar schools, secondary moderns and technical schools.

29/30, 97% On the Royal Family

On a report that a helicopter sometimes flown by Prince William was involved in a near miss, Prince’s helicopter horror as a lethal drone comes within half a second of his air ambulance in dramatic near-miss

I don’t get it. How do you justify saying, ‘Scrounger William cheats death’ when he wasn’t anywhere near the helicopter at the time? He was probably out in some den of iniquity somewhere, getting off his face with his rich friends.

8/8 against, 100% against On quack medicine

On a story that a dose of cannabis had cured a child of cancer, I gave my little boy cannabis to help cure his cancer

Bedelia posted,

I work in the industry, it’s real. The wilfully ignorant just choose to stay that way.
To Bedelia: You work in the fake news industry? Do you have any vacancies? I had a rare cancer of the nose but I cured it by eating a wet cardboard box.
4/4, 100% On foreign affairs

On a report that Deutsche Bank believes the pound will fall to $1.06, Deutsche Bank predicts the pound will drop by a fifth by the end of the year due to Brexit

Germany calling, Germany calling. Attention, all British persons. We know why your national currency has declined in value to less than two million Reichsmarks to the Pound. Great German economists calculate that before the end of this year, an egg will change hands for fifteen shillings and a loaf of bread for three pounds eighteen and sixpence. The Bank of England is outclassed and outmanoeuvred by the glorious Reichsbank with its ranks of fund managers and cashiers, all of whom are dedicated to terminating all financial activity in Britain. Soon your rations will be scraps of meat and crusts of bread. You will starve, you will freeze, you will sleep on the street etc.

154/161, 96% On a report that British banks are storing money for Russian criminals, Diamonds, Bentleys, private school fees and a £29m townhouse: How Russian cash ‘laundered by UK banks’ was spent

Will the government now give effect to the Russian extradition warrants currently sitting in a waste paper basket somewhere in Whitehall? Or did they really imagine that the oligarchs and their British and American accomplices came by their wealth honestly?

18/20, 90% On a report that British banks allowed Russian billionaires to launder money, British banks including HSBC, RBS, Barclays and Coutts ‘processed £600million in multi-billion pound Russian money-laundering scam’

Jack Herer wrote,

Fines aren’t working with these big corporations
How about bulldozers?

17/17 against, 100% against On defence

On a report that North Korea might start a war, Inching towards nuclear war? It’s terrifying. North Korea’s use of missiles threatens a new global flashpoint which could suck in South Korea, China, Japan and the US

I think the Americans did do something about Korea. They started a war against one of the smallest and weakest countries in the world, and they lost. Any threat of war from North Korea is the Americans’ own fault. Mark you, without it, the film Mash would never have been made, which makes up for the Americans being on the wrong end of about five million nuclear missiles made in China so they fall to bits and don’t go off bang.

17/18, 94% On a report that a British aircraft carrier was scrapped: Rust in peace, Lusty: Ex-British flagship now lies in bits at demolition yard after being ripped apart to make pots and pans

War raged about them. Enemy forces had taken The Weald and were advancing rapidly on Guildford. Colonel McFlare stared at the map. Sweat ran down his face. ‘God damn them! We’ll send in the aircraft carrier. Give ’em something to think about.’ From the desk in the corner of the bunker, Perkins looked up, ready with the notepad to pass the great Colonel’s orders to the ratings. ‘Sir. If I may ask, shall we bombard them with cheap Turkish saucepans or delay the advance by fifteen minutes and serve them boiled potatoes?’

18/20, 90% On Gideon (‘David’) Osborne

On a report that Mr Osborne has six jobs, Defiant Osborne says his six jobs make parliament better as he is berated by MPs in the Commons for ‘impossible’ conflicts of interest

If Mr Osborne can make do with five jobs, can I have the one that he doesn’t want?

28/31, 90% On the afterlife

On a report of strange apparitions, ‘Ghosts find me:’ The spooky revelations of graveyard and mortuary workers

Funny thing about the ‘confession’ and ‘true tales’ sites on the Net is, all the stories are completely true. Nobody ever makes anything up, not even me. I wonder why that is.

19/19 against, 100% against% On pædophile rings

In reply to a comment on a story that fictitious pædophile activity on Coronation Street gave rise to numerous complaints from viewers, Coronation Street ‘could face Ofcom investigation’ after complaints from viewers about “disturbing’ Bethany Platt sex ring storyline

LKM wrote,

Why? These things happen in real life. By not putting them on soaps is ignorant and makes people live in a fantasy where this awful thing doesn’t happen.
Who do you know who’s experienced anything remotely resembling this exaggerated, lunatic invention?
21/23, 91% On the housing shortage

On a report of a very small flat being rented out for £520 a month, Is this the worst flat in London? Tiny studio where the toilet is just inches from the bed goes on the market for £520 a month

Requisition the flat and move purported refugees in.

26/27. 96% On a report that builders want to build houses on the Green Belt, Call to end the green belt ban: Experts say the housing shortage is holding back Britain’s economic growth

Builders and developers have wanted to get their hands and their bulldozers onto the Green Belt ever since it was created. The problem is nothing to do with the Green Belt and everything to do with extortionate rents and house prices, which suck money out of the economy. Requisition empty buildings, refurbish them and adapt them for residential use, and sell the resulting housing units for £10 each.

13/13 100% On democracy

On the murky details of the Conservative Party’s election expenses, The Prime Minister, the Tatler Tory, his Conservative party Battlebus mistress and a very revealing election expenses leak

Trouble with metaphors and analogies is that eventually people start to believe them. Elections are not a battle. They are democracy in its working clothes. The Tories should repaint the thing and call it the Democracy Bus. Or do Tories imagine an election to be a battle between the forces of good and evil, in which they’re crazed warriors swinging their axes on the side of evil?

67/71, 94% On Jeremy Corbyn MP

On a report that Ann Smith MP had told Jeremy Corbyn MP to resign, Why don’t you just go? Corbyn’s new low as MP tells him to his face to quit.

I thought that when a lowly Member of Parliament did not want to work under the direction of the Leader of the Parliamentary Party, it was the Member who had to resign. So why doesn’t Mrs Wilson, a.k.a. Smith, resign? After, of course, explaining how you get four beds into a one bedroom flat in London.

325/327, 100% On foreign aid

On a report of starvation in Kenya, Victims of the greedy, profiteering vultures of the famine: Shocking dispatch reveals the horrific story of a little boy and his desperate mother starving in the heat of the Kenyan sun

The foreign aid money that could have kept them alive and well is sitting in an anonymous numbered bank account somewhere. Send in the forensic accountants.

9/10, 90% On the BBC

On a report that Google carries unsavoury advertisements, BBC and Whitehall pull ads from Google after it is accused of failing to remove antisemitic content in a ‘breach of law and its own rules’

Tim wrote,

Do something radical, if Google run these ads in at the UK, and the funds go to a proscribed organisation, fine them for every ad until it stops. Yes, I know it is difficult, as the web is world wide, but it can be controlled to the layman with basic filters in place, although I admit, on deep searches this could be a nightmare.
Oh, nonsense. The BBC haven’t been given their own way so they’re throwing a tantrum and taking their ball home.
22/24, 92% On energy policy

On a report that ministers disapprove of energy price rises, Ministers pledge action on rip-off energy bills: Crackdown promised after minister attacks ‘unacceptable price rises’

Does the government really believe its own propaganda — the best way to reduce prices is to allow the rip-off merchants to charge as much as they like? Telling people to buy identical electricity from an identical company that uses the same coal, diesel and copper wires is a waste of everybody’s time and money. People are regularly found frozen to death in Scotland because of astronomic electricity and gas prices. Privatisation has failed again. Re-nationalise the electricity and gas industries without compensation and reduce energy prices by 90%.

3/3, 100% On landing a job

On a story about interviews, Would YOU get the job? The 20 toughest interview questions asked by the world’s most élite firms (and how to answer them correctly)

The easiest way to get a job is to sleep with the manager. The other easiest way to get a job is to be the son or daughter of the manager. Never known either method fail.

75/77, 97% On motoring offenders

On a report of a near miss on the roads, Moment BMW driver ‘holding a can of beer’ shoots out from a junction onto a main road forcing a mother to slam on her brakes to avoid a head-on crash

They’ll fine him at least 75p. Just you wait and see.

1/1, 100% On austerity

On a report of the national insurance increase for self employed workers, Tory backlash grows as minister joins MPs including IDS demanding a U-turn over Budget tax raid on self-employed while Chancellor insists he needs to raise money for Brexit

Squealer explained to the animals that when they experienced a fall in their weekly wage, what they were really getting was an increase in their weekly wage, because the pigs had been so successful at reducing the deficit. ‘Thanks to the financial acumen of our great leader, Comrade Napoleon,’ he squealed, ‘when the deficit appears to be increasing out of all control, it is in reality becoming smaller and more easily manageable.’

6/6, 100% On mathematics

On a report that if you Own a bag for life? You’re a safer motorist: Sainsbury’s finds shoppers who use eco carriers are less likely to make an insurance claim

Inferential statistics is hard, as Barbie would have said.

9/9, 100% On divorce

On a a story about counsellors for recently divorced women, From fixing your finances to getting you dating again… Marriage on the rocks? Call the ‘divorcierge’

It is sickening to see greedy self appointed nannies making a pile of money out of unhappy marriages.

13/14, 93% On international travel

On a story about leg room on airline seats, Why BA will soon have less legroom than Ryanair: Airline plans to reduce gap to 29 inches so it can add an extra two rows of seats on short-haul flights

Go by train and ship.

20/21, 95% On money

On a story about fake five pound notes, How to spot a fake fiver: Police release tips on how to tell if you have a counterfeit £5 note after a PCSO raises the alarm over alleged forgeries in circulation

If it says ‘Monopoly’ on it and it shows a picture of Uncle Moneybags, then it’s probably a fake.

5/5, 100% On accidentally buying hamburgers

On a story about people who go into Macdonald’s for a salad and buy a hamburger instead, Why do we go in for a salad… but leave with a Big Mac? History of how things become popular revealed

Your use of the word ‘muck’ will offend many people who toil at all hours for low wages in hot and cramped conditions producing what is probably the finest junk food in the world. Macdonald’s food is excellent of its kind. You want filet de bœuf farci en croûte, you go to the five star Michelin restaurant down the road. Don’t insult Macdonald’s.

Friday, 24 March 2017

My favourite television series

My favourite television series, The Adventures of Mukhtar the Police Dog, is back on Russian television after a long absence. It’s a bit like Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, except with a very clever police dog. The series started in 2004 and has run for 798 exciting episodes, and it won the TEFI (ТЭФИ) Award for Best Daytime Television Series from the Russian Academy of Television in 2014 and again in 2015.

Somebody has put the series onto You Tube. Copy and paste ‘Возвращение Мухтара’ into the search box and you’ll find it.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Not the end of the Monarchy

The Daily Mail On Line, even if you don’t like its politics, is a very well organised on-line newspaper. It is free. It makes no effort — so far — to prevent its readers running ad blockers. It is well laid out, all the main stories of the day are previewed on its splash page, and every headline clicks through onto the story.

True, the Daily Mail is the object of much ridicule. It has a reputation, not entirely deserved, for comically rabid right wing politics. One day I’ll write about its politics, but today I’m banging on about something else.

The Mail has curious obsessions with house prices, quack medicine and the clothes chosen by certain young women. But the reason I read the Mail is its very generous comment policy. I can write comments on most of its stories and other readers can, and do, post their own comments and reply to mine. You can read every comment I’ve ever written on stories in the Mail if you click on my profile there.

So that’s my interest declared.

On 18 March 2017, the Mail On Line ran a story called “London Bridge Is Down” about the unsurprising, if mawkish, fact that rehearsals for the Queen’s funeral have been held. The article took its headline from a claim, which I suspect is unlikely to happen when the need arises, that various officials will refer to Her Majesty's demise by the cryptic phrase “London Bridge is down.”

It is not surprising that rehearsals of grave events of state take place regularly. The point that interests me, which so far as I know neither I nor the Mail nor anybody else has considered, is whether the end of the present reign would be a good moment to reform the British Monarchy.

I am a monarchist. Nevertheless I have the feeling that many British subjects are tired of the antics of certain members of the Royal Family and the enormous amounts of money, property and privilege lavished on people of limited talent and unlimited wealth who are related to the Queen but have not a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding her.

So here’s why I am in favour of the Monarchy.

The monarchy is the only means I know for the leader of the United Kingdom to be politically neutral. You need an apolitical figure to perform ceremonial duties such as opening Parliament, signing Bills into law, pinning medals onto distinguished soldiers, giving out honours to those whose donations to the political party of government merit them, speaking to assemblages of nonentities in Brussels and generally opening supermarkets and town halls.

The alternative usually canvassed is an elected President. The problem is, unless the elected President can refrain from being a member of any political party, he (she) is a representative of a fraction of the electorate, and can’t possibly represent everybody. If you save your platoon from being incinerated by an enemy daisy-cutter, do you really want to receive your hard earned medal from a member of the political party that sent you into the war in the first place?

The last serious reform of the Monarchy took place in 1649 when Oliver Cromwell ran the country for a while, slaughtering many thousands of civilians and, once established as ‘Lord Protector,’ presiding over a bizarrely intolerant theocratic regime until his death in 1658. After that, much to the relief of your average yeoman, the Monarchy returned and normal service was resumed as soon as possible.

Three and two thirds centuries after the failure of the only revolution that Britain ever had, can we imagine reforms to the monarchy that might keep it going a bit longer? After all, to quote Quentin Hogg, a. k. a. Lord Hailsham, speaking in 1943, ‘If you do not give the people social reform, they will give you social revolution.’

Here are my proposals for reform. I wrote some of these in a comment on the ‘London Bridge is down’ story, which is why I spent so long introducing the story earlier. At the time of writing the comment has 5 votes in favour and 12 against, so I can tell you before you start to read it that you’ll probably think I’m wrong in every point.

Abolish the hereditary principle. Instead, allow any British subject to apply for the job of Monarch by filling in a straightforward form on line or on paper at the local Job Centre. Choose the successful applicant completely at random. The successful applicant shall reign for the rest of his (her) life or until he resigns.

Abolish the Civil List. The incumbent shall receive a salary equivalent to that of an industrial manager and shall have at his disposal a properly audited expense account. Establish conditions of work such that constant drunken skiving will be tolerated, but not paid.

All remaining members of the Royal Family, their husbands, wives, children, girlfriends, boyfriends, friends, relations and hangers-on shall either get a job or be expected to apply for social security, job seekers’ allowance and a Council house.

Palaces to be donated to the National Trust, converted into residential accommodation and used to house purported refugees and recently arrived immigrants. Two exceptions will be granted: one palace in England and one in Scotland shall be rented to the incumbent and will qualify as permitted expenses.

All gifts, favours and trinkets given to the incumbent shall be donated to an appropriate museum or sold at auction and the proceeds given to the poor.

A Royal Train shall be built, maintained and operated by any appropriate train operating company except Branson’s Breakdowns.

A number of Corgis shall be provided by the kennels of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Animals and the incumbent shall provide for their welfare.

The House of Lords shall be replaced by an elected chamber whose members shall not speak for a political party nor for the inhabitants of a particular geographical constituency, but who will state their own opinion, like the people on Question Time who aren’t there to read scripts prepared in advance by their respective Central Offices.

A person shall also become a member of the House of Lords on payment of about £500,000 at 2017 prices to the political party of government, thereby preserving the most remarkable feature of the present system of choosing who governs Britain.

Last and most definitely least, Members of both Houses of Parliament shall wear uniform, just to remind them of the reason we put them there.

That would set us up as a twenty-first century democracy.

25 March 2017. Off topic: Blocked! Today I've been blocked from adding the following comment to a story about Deutsche Bank’s prediction of a further fall in the value of the Pound Sterling, Deutsche Bank predicts the pound will drop by a fifth by the end of the year due to Brexit

Judge for yourself. Here’s the comment.

Germany calling, Germany calling. Achtung! Achtung! All Britisch citizens! Ve know vhy your vainglorious national currency has declined in value to less than two million Reichsmarks to the Pound. Herr Hilter's personal economist calculates that before ze end of zis year, vun egg vill change hands for fifteen schillinks and a loaf of bread for three pounds eighteen and sixpence. The Bank of England is outclassed and outmanoeuvred by the glorious Deutsche Reichsbank viz its vast reserves of looted gold, its well resourced hedge fund managers and its highly trained cashiers, all of whom are dedicated to bringink the financial superiority of the Britisch Empire to an end by nine o'clock on Tuesday. Your rations vill be no more than scraps of meat and crusts of bread, you vill all starve, you will be freezink cold and live in Underground stations etc. etc.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The writing on the wall

Long, long ago, in the heat of battle, a man picked up a brick and, just before throwing it at the enemy, realised that there was a good way of keeping the enemy away from his territory that didn’t involve throwing the brick at him, or at all. President Trump is only the most recent of a long line of generals, emperors and politicians to realise that if you stick large numbers of bricks together with mortar, you can assemble a wall, which with luck and good planning the enemy will find difficult to scale. By building a wall you might be able to keep the enemy off your home turf.

I imagine that when I mention a wall following a territorial boundary, most people think of some horror such as the Berlin Wall, which achieved considerable notoriety, or the Peace Walls that, still unknown to most, run along the religious dividing lines of Belfast.

Click on the thumbnail. The full size photograph opens in a new window.
The photographs are all somebody else’s copyright. I acknowledge the rights of the copyright owners.
Berlin Wall Peace Wall Hadrian’s Wall Byker Wall (wall) Byker Wall (balconies)

Walls do not have to be quite as ugly as those, and if you are going to build walls, you might as well make them attractive things to look at. Hadrian’s Wall, which runs roughly along the border between England and Scotland, is so attractive that tourists come from miles around to see it, and at certain places along its 73 mile length, several organisations of local teichologists have reconstructed the wall so you can see what it looked like during the second, third and fourth centuries AD when Emperor Hadrian, his heirs and successors built it, manned it and maintained it so well that large parts of Hadrian’s Wall are still standing. Secretly I hope that when Scotland gains its independence, the reconstruction of Hadrian’s Wall will be the first thing on President Connery’s agenda.

The Mexican Border is 1,954 miles long. It would be nice to think that any wall which may eventually be built all along that enormous distance will be reasonably attractive to look at. Hadrian’s Wall is a hard act to follow, and you can’t get centurions for love or money these days, but I draw the attention of any wall-building contractor who may be reading this diary to my favourite wall, the Byker Wall, which runs for a mile and a half through Byker in eastern Newcastle upon Tyne. Ralph Erskine was the architect, construction began in 1967, the wall was granted Grade 2 Listed Building status in 2007 and the whole thing has recently been refurbished.

What lay behind the design is that a motorway was planned to run adjacent to a housing estate. The housing estate was designed to withstand the noise of the motorway. 1800 flats were built in a continuous wall, with the kitchens and bathrooms on one side and bedrooms and living rooms on the other. The kitchens and bathrooms have small windows, with the result that the motorway noise in the bedrooms and living rooms would have been at a tolerable level. The fad for building motorways through the middle of housing estates died out before the Byker Wall was finished, fortunately, and the motorway against whose noise the Byker Wall was designed to protect its residents was never actually built. Students of transport engineering will not be surprised that there never seems to have been any question of abandoning the motorway just because the residents didn’t want it. They must’ve felt as though they were talking to a brick wall.

1,300 Byker Walls joined end to end, made up of about two and a quarter million flats, would neatly occupy the Mexican border from end to end. What of the cost? President Trump has mentioned that he would like the Mexicans to pay for the wall. If he really wanted to, he could sell the apartments that make up the Mexican Border Wall to the Mexicans and probably make a handsome profit.

And if that doesn’t keep the Mexicans at bay, the only other thing the President can do will be to hurl bricks at them.

14 March 2017. Today's edition of The Long View on Radio Four discussed The Great Hedge of India, also known as the Indian Salt Hedge and the Inland Customs Line. It was an impenetrable thorn hedge 2,400 miles long, built by the British to keep contraband out of British territory in India in the late nineteenth century, which the programme compared to Trump's wall along the Mexican border with the US. Today only two miles of the Great Hedge remain.

21 March 2017. Today I coined the word teichologist and put it into this post. Teichologist means a person interested in walls. I derived it from Greek, τείχος, a wall.