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Monday, 31 January 2011

Edward Goodrich Acheson (1856-1931)

Anyone? Anyone??
No me neither.
So after the quietly chic terraces of Primrose Hill we walked up to the top of Primrose Hill - one of my most favourite places in the world gazing out over the capital. Looking over to the left the giant constructions of Euston and St Pancreas from which we had come. Ahead of us Regents Park and the humps and bumps of London Zoo. The hill was battered from the sledging that had obviously taken place in the pre-Christmas chill and sprinkled with the detritus of New Year festivities - champagne corks and cages and dead party poppers.
Fotunately the facilities at the bottom of the hill were open. Ive got a few spots a network of loos around central London. Its always a surprise to me how a great city has such a shocking lack of public loos but of course they are you just have to pay for them.
There are a number of blocks of -- well flats would be to sell them spectacularly short - apartments overlooking the skeletal trees of Regents Park and the slow moving moat of Regents Park.
Edward Goodrich Acheson lived here from 1912-1915. Hes not exactly a household name but put out 70 patents and worked for Edison working to develop conducting carbon for Edisons light bulb installing electric power in La Scala in Milan.
He discovered Carborundum aka Silicon Carbide. Its an amazingly hard ceramiclike material and is used in a huge variety of uses - from astronomical telescopes to bulletproof jackets, brakes and clutches for cars and cutting tools.
We didnt hang around. We headed west to St Johns Wood and Lords...

Monday, 24 January 2011

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956)

So we wandered through the assorted overpriced artyness that is camden Market getting away relatively unscathed - M got a ringing charm for her necklace but besides that our bank balances remained intact. I will admit that I was tempted by memories of Istanbuls Grand Bazaar and a stall festooned with glowing multihued orbs but resisted.

We set off past the rubyhued tiles of Chalk Farm tube and crossed over the railway into the big money of primrose Hill - there are a couple of rather incongruous plaques there but I wanted to yap about Babasaheb.
A couple of days before I left India for home the rather antiseptic environs of New Delhi was invaded by truckloads of loudhailer toting sari swathed peeps. It was only afterwards that I learnt that it was Ambedkar Jayanti - the anniversary of his birth.

He was of that generation that made India - modern India. He was instrumental in formulating Indias constitution but many of his ideas have yet to be implemented.He was a jurist, political leader, Buddhist activist, philosopher, anthropologist, historian, orator, writer, economist, scholar and editor - so a bit of a renaissance man!

I came away from India more disenchanted with religion than Id ever been - or at least more disgusted with religions place in social injustice. And boy do they have previous...

He came into conflict with Gandhi as his belief that the Untouchables should have their own electorate would shatter Gandhis idea of a politically united Hindu society. It was to enforce his ideas that Gandhi embarked on a hunger strike at which under intense pressure from other Hindu leaders and fearful of attacks on the untouchable society he decided to drop his demands.

He became Principal of the Government Law College and wrote multiple books on the upcoming Hindu/Muslim schism noting that if their was a demand for a seperate Muslim state there would be little choice but to accept.

He was a major mover and shaker in the formation of the Indian constitution and implemented a series of reserved occupations - an early form of positive discrimination that granted a percentage of civil service posts for untouchables and also instituted a series of civil liberties that protected the rights of individuals.

After Independece disgusted by the opposition to equality for untouchables and after a lifetime of researching Buddhism he renounced Hinduism and converted to Buddhism - but more than that he encouraged his followers to do likewise.

It seems suitable yo echo his rallying call "Educate! Agitate! Organise!"

Monday, 17 January 2011

Tom Sayers (1826-1865)

We had our first London day on the 2nd Jan., which meant that the Aunt Rose memorial walk took place a day late but after a christmas marred by illness we wanted a day out before we returned to work.

We started at St Pancreas and walked up via Camden Town to Primrose Hill and St Johns Wood along the Regents Canal to Maida Vale.

There were a couple of points of interest behind St Pancreas most notably St. Pancreas Old Church where Sir John Soanes tomb which influenced the design of the Telephone Box and Johann Christian bach. There were also a couple of really interesting stuptures/installations which I thought for a moment were piles of discarded snow from our frigid pre-christmas winter.

We wandered north en direction de Camden Town and the delightful tourist trap that is Camden Market. On the hoof I espied the first blue plaque of the year above one of the gallery of so hip it hurts boutiques.

So Tom Sayers whose tomb was pointed out to me in Highgate West a while back as it features a statue of his canine pal Lion who was chief mourner at his funeral, a funeral that featured 100,000 people and which was modelled on the funeral of the Duke of Wellington.

He was born in brighton the youngest of 5 children and at the age of 6 was employed doing odd jobs for holidaymakers ands fishermen (cant help but think of those mongrel kids scraping a little living around the tourist resorts) before moving to London and working as a brickie. He began fighting informally before embarking on a professional pugilistic career in 1849. Not that there was a whole lot of professionalism in the fight game at this point. He fought Nat Langham widely thought of as Englands Middleweight champion and suffered the only defeat of his career.
He had acquitted himself well though and other middleweights feared facing him so in 1856 at 5ft 8 1/2 he decided that hed fight Harry Paulson a heavyweight. In 1857 he won the National Heavyweight Champion and then defeated several opponents before taking on John Camel Sheenan,
Sayers was eight years older than Sheenan, was 5 inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter. In addition he fought most of the 2 hour fight one handed after being injured early on in the fight. The fight was ended after the ropes were cut and the ring invaded. It was his last fight. Public subscription raixsed £3000 after a series of bad business decisions. sadly he lived his last years blighted by TB, Diabetes and alcohol abuse.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Richard Winters (1918-2011)

I'm wondering whether or not to add Richard Winters military rank of Major to the title but that would define him by a relatively short period of his life, and while its for his military exploits that hes remebered I get the idea from the various obit bits knocking around that that would be a less than fair assessment of the man.

He was one of the talking heads that appeared at the end of the HBO series Band of Brothers - old guys with lined faces and eyes sharp with memory, guys who had lived for real the experiences portrayed in the programme. Dropping over Normandy, sheltering in foxholes in the Ardennes, discovering the dark heart of the Nazi regime and then when it was all over picking up the pieces and getting on with their lives afterwards, no idea of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, no counselling - just back to a world made foreign by blood and fear.

Of course much has been written of an exlempory military service, the assualt on an artillery battery portrayed in the series, the Brecourt Manor assault is a text book example of an attack on a fixed position but I think what shines through for me was his care for those under his command, his humanity under combat conditions with orders that needed to be carried out the welfare of his men was all important, the fact that he never asked a soldier to do something thyat he wouldnt do himself.
I hope he rests easy.