A New Day Yesterday – Part Six


I am well into the next phase of my pre-tirement plan – down to three days a week and, I must say, it is working well. When I am at work I find that a good portion of my time is filled not with the normal power lunches in which we lay plans for the world domination of the financial services industry but rather by ambling down the pleasant byways in the direction of nostalgia. Many of my contemporaries, unsurprisingly, are laying their plans for escaping the rat-race and it is instructive to compare notes.

And then there are the retirement gatherings. These are events that hitherto, rather like school reunions, I would have run a mile from but as my own retirement becomes every day more imminent there is a grim appeal to them. I know the attendees of these events are self-selecting – after all, you would only trouble to haul your carcass up to the City if you were fit and able – but the over-arching impression of those assembled is that they represent the epitome of rude health. A common theme of their conversation is that in their desire to keep busy and active in retirement they find that they have over committed and after a year of or so find that they have to wind down some of their post-retirement activities. The concept of retiring from retirement is an intriguing one.

A man must have a hobby, they say, and one of the benefits of having a leisurely approach to retirement is that it gives me time to determine how I will spend my leisure time. Drinking has always been a feature of my life, mainly bitters, and with a bit more time on my hands I have decided to broaden my experience and educate my palette. I’m not much of a spirits drinker – I have dabbled with whisky and whilst I like it, it doesn’t like me – I think you need a greater body mass index reading than I have to combat the effect on your innards – and a G&T is usually my tipple of choice.

Having previously only drunk the bog-standard gins produced by Gordon and the like I decided to see what all the fuss about so-called premium gins is all about. Rather like the suffix organic the first thing to note is that any gin with premium attached to its label retails at about twice the price of the ordinary stuff. Whilst in St Ives I found a delightful wine shop called Johns and after some deliberation decided on a bottle of Elemental Cornish Gin.

One evening I decided to sample (ie two stiff doubles) the hooch. The bottle has an appealingly stubby appearance and the top was sealed with wax and had a stopper, plastic rather than cork. Pouring the liquid into a glass with a couple of large ice cubes I took in the aromas and I must say that it smelt very different from the industrial gins I’m used to – a sort of peppery aroma. Adding a splash of tonic – it doesn’t do to drown the spirit – I took my first sip and, wow, what a difference. There was a subtle blend of tastes with more than a hint of citrus to the fore at the beginning but turning to a more bitter but immensely pleasurable aftertaste. The more I drank the more pronounced were the bitter flavours and, frankly, it took all of my iron will to limit myself to the two doubles I had allowed myself.

Organic English grain alcohol and up to 12 different botanicals are used in the mix which is then watered down with Cornish spring water to an acceptable 42% proof. Only 80 bottles are made per batch. I suppose I should go the whole hog and buy premium tonics – Fever-Tree seems to be the trendy one at the moment – make my ice cubes out of spring mineral water and use only organically grown lemons but, even for me, that may be a tad excessive.

Anyway, I am now on the hunt for other premium gins to try. Cheers!

Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Twenty Five


The Rev E.J.Silverton

Quacks come in all shapes and sizes but the key characteristics of a successful practitioner are a veneer of respectability, a cure that appeals to people’s concerns, a good marketing pitch and an impressive bunch of testimonials. Many of the quacks who have come under our microscope have, in some form or other, met these criteria. Someone styling himself a Reverend – and there is no reason to doubt that Silverton wasn’t a man of the Protestant cloth – would seem to be on a winner from the start.

As well as comfort for the soul Silverton had developed what he marketed as the Food of Foods. According to advertisements he was making available to the general public this wondrous manna which provided “wonderful cures of deafness and noises in the head and ears, affections of the eyes, neuralgic pains, indigestion, constipation, blood diseases, kidney and liver complaints, gout and rheumatism, bronchitis, asthma, consumption, general weakness and wasting and (of course) many other diseases”. So appealing did this panacea seem that Silverton who was billed as coming from London – always something likely to impress a provincial audience – was able to hire the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1884 for a series of lectures and free consultations. Silverton was a marketing genius and his pamphlets were full of positive and glowing testimonials, the adverts placed in the newspapers were, for the time, slick and there was an implication that Silverton was a friend of the Prince of Wales – as we have seen before, a royal connection is always a plus.

Alas, it was whilst he was in Manchester that Silverton encounter someone who would prove to be his nemesis – one Detective Sergeant Jerome Caminada of the Manchester city police who saw it as his duty to expose con men such as the Rev. When Silverton was in Manchester Caminada went to see him in disguise, limping heavily and claiming that something was wrong with his foot. Silverton checked his pulse and tongue, completely ignoring the foot, and diagnosed a case of rheumatism for which the cure was, surprise surprise, the Food of Foods which was available for the princely sum of 35 shillings, around twice the average weekly wage.

Caminada sent two assistants to visit the quack with different symptoms but the remedy was identical. Upon analysis the panacea proved to be little more than a mix of lentils, bran, flour and water. Armed with this evidence Caminada obtained a summons against Silverton for conspiracy to defraud but our quack proved a slippery fish and the stipendiary magistrate failed to bring a criminal case against him.

Notwithstanding this Caminada continued to stalk Silverton wherever he popped up, endeavouring to have his newspaper ads pulled and issuing him with summons. But Silverton was quicker than the law and he and his daughter continued to practise their quackery for around thirty years in all with some significant success.

Silverton died in Nottingham in 1895 aged 60. The local newspaper contains a report of his well-attended funeral and the moving eulogy delivered there. Presumably the congregation were blissfully unaware of that the late lamented clergyman was a quack extraordinaire.

Book Corner – July 2015 (3)


The Fall of the Ottomans – Eugene Rogan

I owe you all an apology. A few months ago I vowed that I would not read another book about the First World War but then this tome came along which documents the war in the Middle East from 1914 to 1920.

In my defence whilst the savagery of the settlement documented in the Treaty of Versailles lit a simmering fuse which ignited German resentment and nationalism thus causing the second World War, many of the geo-political fault lines which are causing the world so much trouble in the Middle east owe their origin to the cavalier imperialism of the English and French in determining the shape of territories without much reference to the indigenous peoples. The most egregious example of that, the so-called Sykes-Picot agreement features heavily today in ISIS propaganda as something they are looking to eradicate. Indeed, their caliphate in Mesopotamia was in direct response to the agreement. Enough of my apologia!

By the start of the First World War the Ottoman Empire was already on its knees, having lost control (to disastrous effect) of the Balkans and a group of aggressive modernisers, the CUP or “Young Turks” staged a coup with the intentions of restoring the empire to its former glory. They sided with the Germans and Austrians and their early campaigns to recover lost territories in the Caucasus and to recapture Egypt ended in humiliating defeats resulting in large-scale and tragic loss of life. For Western strategists looking for success to counterbalance the grinding stalemate on the Western fronts, attacking the weakest member of the enemy had its attractions.

Uppermost in the thinking of the British was the fear of a jihad – one of the aims of the Young Turks was to foment uprisings amongst the Moslem communities of which one of the largest was in unpartitioned India – and an overpowering desire to secure the sea passages to India. Seen in this context an attack at the heart of the Ottoman empire – on the Dardanelles – made some kind of sense. But the need for cannon fodder on the Western front always meant that there were few spare resources for other theatres and losses elsewhere had a detrimental effect on the ability to persecute the campaigns in France and Belgium.

The tragic Gallipoli campaign has been recounted on numerous occasions but mainly from the Western/ANZAC perspective. Rogan switches the emphasis as much to the suffering of the Ottoman troops who, although ultimately victorious (after a fashion), retained control of their territory at enormous cost.

The Young Turks were paranoid and concerned about the presence of fifth columnists in their territory, none more so than the Armenians, some of whom had displayed support for the Russians. The forced migration of Armenian communities and the death marches rightly feature prominently in Rogan’s account.

The Young Turks’ aim at playing on the Western imperial powers’ fears of jihad eventually rebounded on them. The Arabs, who themselves were viewed as potential fifth columnists by the paranoid Turks, were persuaded by British promises which were lacking in actualite to revolt and this, together with the activities of one T E Lawrence, enabled successful campaigns to be launched in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

After the war the demise of the empire was quick. But the sultan was willing to cede too much territory to the victors, prompting his deposition, a civil war, the rise of Kamal Ataturk and the establishment of what is now modern-day Turkey.

Rogan’s account is comprehensive, well written but in a monotone. There are some fabulous characters and eccentrics in the story as well as truly horrendous human tragedies. Rogan’s brush paints them all the same. Still, if you want to understand the region you would do worse than starting here.

Forty Days And Forty Nights – Part Ten



Thanks to vaccine development, astonishingly as late as 1952 courtesy of Jonas Salk and of the now more commonly used oral polio vaccine through Albert Sabin and licensed in 1962, cases of paralytic poliomyelitis caused by endemic transmission of poliovirus are pretty much a thing of the past. But the legacy of this disease remains, polio survivors making up one of the largest groups of people with disability today.

Although major polio epidemics didn’t manifest themselves until the early part of the 20th century, there is clear evidence that polio has been around for a long time. Carvings and paintings from Ancient Egypt show otherwise healthy adults with withered limbs and children walking with the aid of sticks. To prove that the disease was no respecter of status it is thought that the Roman emperor, Claudius, was an early sufferer and the novelist, Sir Walter Scott, can lay claim to being the first recorded victim of polio. He developed “a severe teething fever which deprived him of the power of his right leg” and, indeed, the disease was known in the early 19th century as Dental Paralysis.

Michael Underwood in 1789 provided the first clinical description of polio, calling it “a debility of the lower extremities” but it was not until 1840 that the first medical report on it was produced (by Jakob Heine) and 1890 before an empirical study into an epidemic had been carried out (by Karl Oskar Medin).

Prior to 1900 major epidemics were unknown but in the first decade of that century localised paralytic polio epidemics appeared in Europe and the United States. By 1910 epidemics were a regular occurrence, particularly in the summer months in major conurbations. At its peak in the 1940s and 50s polio would kill or paralyse upwards of half a million people a year.

Probably the most (in)famous epidemic was that announced in Brooklyn on June 17th 1916. In that year there were over 2,000 deaths in the city of New York alone. This announcement coupled with the press printing the names and addresses of the victims and the (re)introduction of quarantine engendered a climate of panic. Thousands fled the city, cinemas were closed, meetings cancelled and children were warned to avoid drinking from public water fountains and to eschew swimming pools and beaches.

It was the youngsters who were most at risk – the peak age for contracting polio in the United States in 1950 was between 5 and 9 years of age, although a third of those who contracted the disease were over 15 years old. Prior to the development of the vaccines treatment was rudimentary. The first approach was quarantine and cardboard placards were placed in windows warning all and sundry that a sufferer was quarantined inside. A fine of up to $100 was levied in 1909 on those breaching the terms of the quarantine or for removing a placard.

From 1928 when it was first used in a Children’s Hospital in Boston until the 1970s polio victims were often encased in the metal chambers of an Iron Lung, often for months or years or, indeed, for their duration of their lifetime. This fearsome machine assisted the patients in their breathing and whilst the various manifestations of the Lung undoubtedly saved lives, they were costly – about the price of an average house – and cumbersome and, frankly, offered the patient a miserable existence.

Perhaps the most famous survivor of polio was Franklin D Roosevelt who contracted the disease in 1921 and his campaigning and establishment of the March of Dimes did much to improve the lot of polio survivors.

I Don’t Want To Belong To Any Club That Will Accept People Like Me As A Member – Part Ten


The King of Clubs

The King of Clubs was founded in February 1798 by a group of friends meeting at James Mackintosh’s house but constituted as a club by 1801, the brain-child of the elder brother of the famous English wit and fellow member, the Rev Sydney Smith, Robert aka Bobus. He earned his sobriquet because of his excellence at knocking out perfect Latin hex and pentameters, an undervalued skill I always think.

At the time when politics was split between Whigs and Tories, the King of Clubs was firmly in the Whig camp and was known around the metropolis as a dining club where you would hear and engage in erudite conversation across all manner of subjects but principally around books, authors and literature. You were sure to be dazzled by wit and erudition, the club being described by one contemporary as “a gathering-place of brilliant talkers, dedicated to the meetings of the reigning wits of London”. One topic was banned, the one that bound them together, politics!

The club seems to have met on a Saturday and one of the venues it frequented was in Harley Street where sumptuous dinners were held at the cost to members of the princely sum of 10 shillings and six pence. However, over time the club settled on the Crown and Anchor which was at the Fleet Street end of the Strand, on what is now Arundel Street. Membership was not cheap. The original subscription was 2 guineas although this was reduced to £2 in 1804, rising again to 3 guineas in 1808 and settling at £3 from 1810. Nevertheless, membership was highly sought after and in 1808 it was decided that the club would be restricted to thirty persons, all of whom had to be resident in England.

Sometimes you could become a member without the requisite wit and repartee. In 1810 Sydney Smith reported that they had elected an importer and writer, one Mr Baring, on the condition that he lends £50 to any member when applied to!”

By 1819 the club had moved to the Freemasons’ Tavern and then to Grillions in Albemarle Street and latterly to the Clarendon Hotel. Despite the high cost of the dinners, accounts from the club suggest they represented very good value. One dinner for twelve members cost £24 and included two bottles of Madeira, two bottles of Port and three bottles of Claret. The availability of so much hooch doubtless added to the conviviality of the occasion and the flow of conversation.

Rather like guests appearing on modern-day “ad lib” panel shows members were expected to prepare bon-mots, witticisms and anecdotes which they would weave into their conversation at appropriate moments to achieve maximum effect. There were some perils in adopting this approach as the experience of one Mr Boddington shows. Boddington had carelessly left his notes lying around and one of the leading lights, Richard “Conversation” Sharp, alighted on them. He made a note of all the stories and took particular delight in recounting each of them before the hapless Boddington could open his mouth.

So taken by their wit and conversation that one member suggested that they should be recorded in a magazine, the Bachelor, even suggesting that there was enough material for a twice-weekly edition. Nothing came of it and so little remains of their sparkling wit. All this cleverness was not to everyone’s taste and contemporary evidence suggests that the club became a parody of its former self, where show outweighed substance. After a quarter of a century the club folded but as one member reminisced, “our King of Club days with Mackintosh, Bobus, Dumont and Romilly were days that the Gods might envy!