Monday 31 October 2011

Oxford University, Emily Hobhouse and the Boer War, Einstein, Tolkien and family links ... Part 2 of 2

As preparations for the Emily Hobhouse talks were being made, and being superfluous to requirements ... I took myself off into town.  What a glorious Autumn day – though I did notice that the temperature was distinctly colder inland, than my balmy Eastbourne coastline.  (The Masters Garden at Balliol College)

Town was full of workers, tourists, students or scholarly sorts walking or riding bicycles, enjoying the gorgeous Autumnal sunshine while hustling and bustling about before the real start of term the following week ...

The Family Butchers in the market
... I had a chance to scout around, relax and soak up the atmosphere.  I’d wanted to go and visit the covered market, which was a wonderful resource for shopping in the days gone by ... it didn’t disappoint, but was way more upmarket than I remember: but still had a butcher, baker, fishmonger ... and probably candlestick maker!  Good coffee shops too ...

Six new galleries will be added in
November 2011displaying the
collections of Ancient Egypt and Nubia
I just wandered imbibing life with no time frame or worries ... making my way to the nearby Ashmolean Museum, which has recently been refurbished and redesigned: I was keen to have a look around – providing me with yet more fodder to tempt my brain to return at a later date.  Not difficult in Oxford ....

... I will return to the Ashmolean in another post, you will understand why if I treat you to a sentence from the Guide Book explaining that one visitor (to the original collection in London pre 1678) described the experience of viewing the collection as “a man might in one day see in one place more curiosities than he should see if he spent all his life travelling”.

St Anthony's Refectory
I walked up St Giles, into Woodstock Road and on up to St Antony’s College, where the first talk was to be held.  St Antony’s is the most international of the seven all-graduate colleges of the University of Oxford, specialising in international relations, economics, politics, and history of particular parts of the world — Europe, Russia and the former Soviet states, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Japan, China, South and South East Asia.

I suddenly found myself in amongst a complete diaspora of academia mainly from South Africa, but all sorts – Professors, Doctors, Researchers, scholars ... and a blind (possibly) Rhodes Scholar studying music from Pretoria ... she was taking some notes on her Braille machine.

Professor William Beinart, Rhodes Professor of Race Relations and Director of Graduate Studies at the African Studies Centre,  St Antony’s took us out for an evening meal in the Hall – which gave him a chance of talking to Jenny about her work and papers.

Corpus Christi College - the
setting for some of the
Inspector Morse tv series
Saturday dawned bright, crisp and sunny – a lovely early Autumn day – tempting us into Oxford before the afternoon talk.  Birgit and I bussed into town, then entered the auspices of Balliol College (which remains on the same spot as when founded  about 1260) to look at the gardens, the chapel etc imbuing ourselves in their golden glow of stone and learning ...

We really had struck the right weekend – this being the time of Matriculation ... the ceremony at which new students are entered into the register (in Latin matricula) of Oxford University, at which they become members. 

Subfusc in the gardens
at Balliol College
It is a requirement that they all wear subfusc – the academic dress: black and white ... a gown, cap, and white bow tie (for men) or black ribbon (for women) ... so the town was full of ‘penguins’!

Carved Zimbabwe Birds on the
pillars of the staircase – an ancient
representation by the Shona tribes
at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe
(ca 11th C) ... probably representing
the Bateleur Eagle or African Fish Eagle.
Birgit and I wove our way around and through these chattering laughing bright-eyed students ... as we wended our way up to Rhodes House, where Birgit still studies occasionally ... and so she could take me in and show me round.

Rhodes House from the garden
Cecil Rhodes (1853 – 1902) was an English-born businessman, mining magnate, and politician in South Africa, from whose Will a Trust was created to fund Rhodes Scholars – these international postgraduate scholarships are considered one of the world’s most prestigious awards.  The Rhodes Scholars are affiliated to a college but enjoy access to Rhodes House with all its facilities.

A blackboard that Einstein used during one of his lectures at Rhodes House in 1931 was ‘saved’ and is now on permanent display in the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.  The last three lines give numerical values for the density (p), radius (P), and age of the universe.

The Eagle and Child pub was the meeting place of ‘The Inklings’ = C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 – 1983), and others ...  where we too had decided to have our pub lunch prior to our afternoon meeting.

The Eagle and Child
The International Gender Studies Centre (The Centre for Cross-Cultural Research on Women) is hosted now within Lady Margaret Hall – so this is where we headed to for our afternoon session.

The Friends of IGS Newsletter announced “We are hosting a special lecture on Emily Hobhouse, known to students of nineteenth-century women’s history.  The lecture, ‘Three Lives: one person.  Emily Hobhouse 1860 – 1926’ by Jennifer Hobhouse Balme and Birgit Seibold, will explore Hobhouse’s role as a forthright critic of the South African War.”

Lady Margaret Hall founded 1878
It was so interesting being able to meet relatives and mix with so many incredibly erudite people – I felt somewhat out of it – yet thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and opportunity to interact with academia and family.

After we had said our farewells and bid relatives good bye – the core four of us ... two of my mother’s cousins, one with her daughter (whose own daughter has just started at Oxford reading, appropriately, History and Politics) and I ... thought that tea and time together would be a very good idea.

Cotswold Hotel where we had tea
We found a very nice hotel, where they gave us a traditional English tea – with comfortable chairs in a quiet surrounding: lots of tea, smoked salmon or cucumber sandwiches, scones with Cornish cream and strawberry jam, and cheesecake ... so we were all happy!

A Cape Dutch style house in the
village of Hobhouse, Free State, SA
A South African Senior Research Fellow from the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing sat next to me for the talk to the Swaziland Society – and he was bemused at my mention of my mother and uncle, as well as the discussions we had had that had morphed into my blog – and also the fact that we now have a Dementia Unit at the Nursing Centre.  

I mentioned my uncle in the last post, who was extremely complementary about Jenny, as “the compiler of Emily’s papers” ... I’d taken Jenny out to meet Derek and they certainly had one long conversation – obviously both appreciating Emily’s life.  

Wild flowers of South Africa
I just wanted to add as a personal note for me – but which you may find interesting ... I went into Google to check something ... and found a comment/entry to the Obituary posted on my uncle that I quote here:  “I remember Derek as a Fleet Air Arm Observer in 832 Squadron during the war.  He was a very pleasant person and was called by another Observer ‘the most intelligent man he had ever met’.”  That’s a lovely memory for our family.

This rounds off what has become and continues to be an amazing experience ... a historiography – the study of events of the past, while ensuring that the changing interpretations and necessary corrections are made for future historians: family, literati, academics et al ... all set amongst the gleaming, dreaming spires of Oxford intertwined with the newest offerings of the internet.

The whole time has been so interesting ... made more so by being given the opportunity by Jenny and being shown round by a German friend - after all these years of being away!  Thank you - Jenny and Birgit ... for a lovely time.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Oxford University, Emily Hobhouse and the Boer War, schooldays and family links ... Part 1

Oxford City Centre - City of Dreaming Spires
I had a reason to visit Oxford University that bastion of education – where town meets gown – and where I finally got to peer inside the brain of a University.  I was at school in Oxford for nine years and we sallied forth occasionally down the hill – perhaps for Evensong at the Cathedral, or to the ballet or a theatre ... in those days there was not much other  interaction.

Some years later! the school joins in so many activities and educational opportunities that are on offer by a university town, from which the students can benefit before they go out into the world of further learning or earning a living – I’d quite like to go back to school now!  Our visit gave me flashbacks to those days.

Headington School, on hill above Oxford
Jenny, a cousin of my mother’s had come over from Vancouver Island, to give two talks at Oxford – to the Friends of the Swaziland Society, and to the Friends of the International Gender Studies.  Jenny’s great aunt, Emily Hobhouse (1860 – 1926) had been an advocate for improvement of the Boer war camps (mainly) for women and children.

Emily Hobhouse
Emily had campaigned in London and South Africa that these camps be improved and was the first civilian to visit them and report back.  I found the whole thing fascinating – but my brain was stretched to the limit – and I learnt to look at historical life in a new light. 

We just don’t think ... and find it so difficult to relate to times gone by – as our reference point seems to be the way we would do things ourselves: no wonder so many of us don’t understand or appreciate history!

Emily Hobhouse had looked after her parents until she was 35, when her father finally died.  They had lived in Cornwall and Emily had been endowed with a ‘big knowledge seeking brain’ (not a Pooh Bear brain: “I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me”) ... and faced many discouragements at home to foster her incredible intelligence and intellect.

Jenny inherited a trunk full of Emily’s papers which she painstakingly published into a book in 1994 – she self-published ... and I hope will have the book re-printed in due course.  My uncle commenting in a letter to me ... “Jenny is far too self-effacing when she describes herself as ‘the compiler’.  Without intruding her own personality and thoughts she has preserved so much that is meaningful about Emily, while providing some marvellous linking passages in her own beautifully written prose”.

This same uncle on the other side of the family, who was high up in Government and knew about these matters having worked in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – when he read Jenny’s book remarked that she had done an incredible job – describing the book ‘as several Christmas dinners in one – and beautifully done’.  Lovely description I think.

Bloemfontein circa 1900
It appears that many people have not appreciated the work that Emily did – where she went, how large her sphere of influence had become ... and how during her years with her parents ... she had had to master the art of organisation, knowing who would help her and why ...

... as well as helping her to expand her knowledge of history, politics and empire at home.  Her elderly aunts, on behalf of their brother, ‘decided’ that a woman did not need an education: Emily’s ability to find her way through the morass of administrative and bureaucratic society served her in great stead.

Jenny has been anxious to correct the ‘political and media portrayal’ of Emily, which had been distorted over the years in Britain and Europe, while the complete opposite was acknowledged in South Africa.

Emily became a thorn in the flesh of the British Government at a time when women were asserting their rights at home anyway ... I won’t go into much more detail except to let you know one or two of the things that stood out for me.

A used £1    1903 Orange
River Colony revenue stamp
The British declared war on the Boer republics in order to convert them into British colonies, which would eventually become part of the Union of South Africa.  This became known as the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1901).

The accepted practice for defeating a guerrilla campaign was to take away their supply mechanism ... ie their farmsteads, stock and importantly their women and children.  Unfortunately the policies of “scorched earth” and civilian internment in concentration camps were the order of the day: the camps were originally called "burgher" or "refugee" camps (burgher = farmer/citizen).

To my mind there are in extremely simple terms two types of concentration camps – those where the civilians were held theoretically for their own good, while a war was fought ... or later on when the term became barbaric as under Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini.

One of the internment camps
The military manual where the ‘rules and regulations’ were set out – did not take cognisance of the fact that South Africa is in the southern hemisphere ... so placement suggestions were always the wrong way round ... facing south, not north.

The conditions were terrible but life for anyone in war is not easy ... the supplies and rations had to be ordered two weeks in advance – how many people would be in camp at that time?  The distribution was via a single track railway with the military demands being first in line ...

Emily invested a great deal of time and energy lobbying, writing letters, detailing reports, visiting camps and travelling back and forth in South Africa, and to London and Europe – she worked tirelessly for the disadvantaged women and children in these camps.

She was loved by the people of South Africa and admired by those like Mahatma Gandhi who asked for her help.  She was a bit of a painter, a writer and an entertainer, and in spite of ill-health travelled easily between countries – even as World War One took its grip. 

National Women's Monument
The South Africans so admired her that they clubbed together to buy her a house in St Ives, the picturesque fishing village in Cornwall beloved of many artists.  After she died her ashes were buried at the foot of the 1913 memorial in Bloemfontein for the women and children, who died in the Anglo-Boer War for whom she had worked so hard.

Jenny when she wrote the book from Emily’s papers presented it ‘as being offered to the public in the interests of truth – Emily having been portrayed unfairly and unkindly in the intervening years.

Jenny continues to research Emily’s work during her lifetime, but particularly the period leading up to, and during the First World War – and has recently been across to Germany and Switzerland to further this research.

Dr Birgit Seibold has been collating and publishing Emily’s German and European correspondence, with its attendant papers – so there now is an even fuller picture.  These are published in German, but Birgit has translated a short (166 pages) book entitled “Emily Hobhouse and the Reports on the Concentration Camps during the Boer War 1899 – 1902: Two Different perspectives.”

The walled Botanic Garden on a
lovely October weekend
I had a glorious brain-filled weekend and really need this to spill over into a second lighter post .. so Part 2 to follow!

Dear Mr Postman – my mother is still enjoying her cards, letters, flowers and bulbs ... we are lucky to have such wonderful family and friends.  Today I gather ... she has looked at Perla’s 6oth birthday pictures and had my post read to her!  Wonderful she can still take an interest ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday 17 October 2011

My introduction to Africa - my review of "Dancing in the Shadows of Love"

The red dusty road
 When I first went to Southern Africa in the late 1970s I was so uneducated and naive about life out there ... my geography was quite good, I had my stamp album! – for places, structures, flora and fauna, I knew there were different coloured peoples, but I had no concept of apartheid, the way of life or the tribal aspects.

My father’s brother had married a South African and my mother’s brother had left England to farm in Rhodesia, as it was then.  The family weren’t desperately polite about the peoples and my farming uncle wasn’t terribly successful – it wasn’t the right area, and probably luck was against him – ultimately it was – he was killed on his farm.

Sugar Bird on Protea
And in those days I didn’t ask or delve ... when the time came I went to see some friends in Zimbabwe and a newly married girlfriend in Johannesburg, as well as the two ‘relative’ families.

Oh yes – in my late teens I’d met a South African lady at a course we were both on in London  and I was bemused (shocked) when she said she had clean sheets every day (servants to me were ‘unknown’)...  so when I went out it was with eyes wide open, with a brain completely devoid of anything helpful!

Buffalo Thorn
We, as a family, weren’t terribly social and my airs and graces were pretty simple ... I was easily overawed – getting to southern Africa was like hitting a time-warp ... there were the old colonial ways, the new modern influences, the stick-in-the muds, the mix of nationalities and all that brings ... the racist slurs (which I didn’t understand properly – more importantly couldn’t) and the new continent with its red earth.

I’ve added in this background as Judy’s book “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” took me right back to those early days ... including the albino character.  My mother-in-law’s maid, who needed extra work, came to work for me – not a comfortable situation ... but if I didn’t employ her, there would be less money going back into the family in the township.  To top it off ... Mary had a daughter, who was an Albino – so I certainly felt for them.
When I started reading Judy’s book I had extraordinary reminiscences of those days ... my complete inability in working out what was going on around me – oh yes I fitted in ... but so much was so different to any experience I’d had, yet it was old England.  I was artless – it’s a feeling I still conjure up today.

Judy had sent me a copy of her book through Smashwords, and not owning an eReader, I had my first experience of reading a book on my computer – this I found very easy on the eye.  I was completely swept up into the euphoria of the sights and smells of Africa, the beautiful, yet harsh landscape ... the land that one does not forget.

Cabriole leg –
walnut antique
Victorian 1893
So first things first – Judy on 20 June posts about “Reading eBooks without an eReader” –  that solves the ‘I haven’t got an eReader’ problem ... though her book is now available in print.

I love the cover of “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” by Martin Wenkidu; this painting by Martin, who is a deeply spiritual man, is entitled “Man and the World of Stars” – the story and influence so aptly applied here – are fully explained through an edited transcript – which Judy posted on 7 April.

Before I get to the review itself ... on 25 May ... Judy posts “A Muse of Fire: theinspiration behind Dancing in the Shadows of Love” ... where she sets out how and why her book came about.

A kraal 
Last and by no means least – here’s an example of a book that’s been set out to give us an understanding of Africa its myths and symbolisms, the poverty, the racial divide, colonialism, the modernising of the relics of the old ways, yet why the core of each culture is so important to the continuance of life and belief in such life.

It’s a fascinating expose of southern Africa, while drawing on a strong knowledge base of the English language, bringing in Jewish aspects, the indigenous norms, some dialects – the feel of this melting pot that is Africa.

A quiver tree
There are some reviews out there of this wonderfully powerful book ... and so my review takes a slightly different approach – you have my own backdrop to my initiation into Africa - the timeframe of the vestiges of colonial life from the early 1900s to recent times – so many changes, yet Africa remains to draw us into its red dirt, to catch us with its thorns, to woo us with its charms, to teach us to look at the earth and life together – to learn from the wisdom of the indigenous people, who will permeate their thoughts into our souls for the continuance of good.

White Rose
I have posted some photos around the text – to bring to life some words that can be helped with a visual jogger for those who don’t know Africa.  This is a book that you will enjoy, you will learn so much from, a text that will draw you back ... Judy is giving us additional background information in recent posts ... for example: “Shakespeare in the Shadows” of 29 August.

She has given us more than just a book ... more than just a novel – it will open your mind to so many things.   It is a book to be read twice, or thrice ... to refer back to the glossary, to mull over ... as her preface quote by Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Mystic, 1926 – 2011) says:

 “There is only one language, the language of the Heart.
There is only one religion, the religion of Love.”

I highly recommend this book and encourage you all to read it ... Another of Judy's posts:  Can you sever Love from Charity?

The photos I have used don’t refer to this post – but will be found in the book, which I hope will help you visualise the descriptive passages.

Dear Mr Postman – my mother would be amused to know that I’ve written my first book review, bringing in my memories of my early days in southern Africa.  This is now being posted on her 91st birthday ...

... she was awake and all three of us managed to visit – one of my brothers opened the cards and shared the news with her ... and then I went through them again later on.  She cannot eat or drink ... so information, cards and flowers are the things that give her pleasure – and most importantly the companionship.

Congratulations to the winners of Judy's book -  following on the interview with her that I posted on 29 September:
     Patricia of Patricia's Wisdom
     Karen Jones Gowen - Coming Down the Mountain 
     Rubye Jack - Blue Skies Sunny Days 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Steve Jobs and Brain Pickings

I could never get to grips with John le Carre’s 1974 novel ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, so when the new film came to town I took myself off to see it.  I expect most of you are at least aware of the plot whereby a former Cold War spy who is hired to seek out the identity of a Soviet mole hidden within the upper ranks of MI6 – the Secret Intelligence Service responsible for supplying the British Government with foreign intelligence.

Millennium Bridge, London looking north
to St Paul's Cathedral and the City
I still couldn't quite work it out!  But what did stand out was how well acted it is, and as one journalist noted ... “it is a wonderfully stylist visual evocation of a vanished England ... drenched in Scandinavian melancholy and Philip Larkin gloom”.

I would agree having had a father who wore a bowler hat, marched with an umbrella during the era of pea soupers (thick fogs!) in London, while I worked with an ex Russian organisation exporting capital plant and machinery to Eastern Europe ... I was transported back  ...

Nelson's Column during the
Great Smog of 1952
... to those monochrome times ... full of antiquated predigital pieces of equipment ... the telex machine tick-tackering away – I loved sending telexes – very therapeutic – then the wait for the lightbulb and the clickety-clack of ticker tape coming the other way.

I went to Prague in about 1975, then on to Brno, where we exhibited our wares at an East European Fair ... I was followed everywhere, we weren’t allowed to talk to Czech locals etc etc .. on top of that I couldn’t read any of the signs ... 

Wenceslas Square, Prague
... Prague was covered in plastic .. it was dowdy, dusty and miserable: interesting ... that when import agents (not the spy sort) visited us in the UK, they always travelled in at least pairs.  Very sad – but that was life.  ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ is atmospheric to say the least.

To tie in with this I read Brain Pickings Maria Popova’s revealing account of Steve Jobs’ life – that she experienced from the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ Bulgaria in the 1980s ...  I’d like to print it here – but it’s too long – it epitomises what ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ expresses in the book and shows in the film ... here is some of it:

Vitosha mountain massif in the National Park,
as see from Sofia
Apple and the Bananas: A Steve Jobs Personal Remembrance

In the 1990s, Maria’s mother joined the only official dealer for Apple in Bulgaria ... when Maria says they got their first Mac at home she was handed a portal for curiosity and exploration that helped her lean into knowledge in a way that has since become the fundamental driving force of her intellectual life.

Please read the rest of her post “From Jules Verne to the Iron Curtain, or why ‘bondi blue’ is the defining colour of my curiosity” .. here’s another section:

Finally (now in the US), one fine day in 2004, I bit the bullet and walked into the campus bookstore, which had an official Apple section. I was working three jobs at the time, to pay my way through college, so I ended up eating canned tuna and store-brand oatmeal for a couple of months to offset the expense, but I did walk out with a brand new iBook G4.

Plovdiv - Roman theatre: the oldest city in
Europe (Bulgaria), and the 6th oldest
in the world
It was promptly named Francis by my friends, since I was going through my Frank Sinatra period and that’s all that streamed from my iTunes, the same iTunes through which I discovered Sinatra in the first place.

It was like I had undergone a personal Renaissance. I started taking Francis to all my classes and, often, classes I wasn’t actually enrolled in — curious lectures across various departments, from criminology to nutrition to design history,  that I would drop in on.

I never thought much of my secret hobby, until I heard Steve Jobs’ now-iconic 2005 Stanford graduation address. In it, he recounts the power of a serendipitous visit to a calligraphy class he wasn’t enrolled in, which went on to shape his landmark contributions to design and graphic interfaces.

At the end Maria ties her post up: 

This is the true legacy of Steve Jobs. He didn’t just transform technology, design, and entertainment — he transformed our expectations about technology, design, and entertainment. He not only made us eager to line up for the bananas of our time, but also made us willing to step into the Nautilus library of fascination and never want to leave.

Rolling hills of Kralicky Sneznik, Czech Rep
Thank you Maria for posting such an interesting update to the Steve Jobs’ story – as well as allowing me a link through for the East European tie in ... here’s an (amusing) little story – applicable to this day 51 years ago ...

Nikita Khrushchev was at a United Nations Plenary Meeting and got very rattled by the Filipino Delegate accusing the Soviet Union of swallowing up Eastern Europe depriving the population of “the free exercise of their civil and political rights”.

Apparently he banged his table so hard that his watch fell off .... then to compensate he bent down took his shoe off and used that as his banging instrument instead ... after all the kerfuffle ... the United Nations head to finalise the session then bashed his gavel so hard on his desk – the head fell off – all in that bastion of quiet diplomacy.

A typical Hetzel cover
for a Jules Verne book
(for more see Wiki)
That’s (almost) that ... stories from Eastern Europe that we can marvel at all these years later, while knowing that an exceptional Maria Popova – has created the marvellous Brain Pickings blog – to which creativity she credits Steve Jobs, sadly as she says lost ...

Thank you, Steve, for shaping my childhood, my curiosity, and my creative and intellectual destiny. May you rest in peace 20,000 leagues under the sea.  (Maria Popova)

Nautilus hemishell showing
the camerae in a
logarithmic spiral

One last item that deserves to be read:  Spies – criminals ... blurring the line once again adapting legitimate methods to their own dark deals:

Big Think:  From Crowdsourcing to Crime –sourcing: The Rise of Distributed Criminality by Marc Goodman.... this is a very aware-making article on other ways criminals are using “The Cloud” and getting unsuspecting members of the public to co-operate with their new illegal methods and activities ... it is 7 pages long, but even read or scanned – it is interesting  – and it’s here if we need to come back to refer to it. 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories