A wry view of life for the world-weary

Category Archives: History

What Is The Origin Of (189)?…

Dot and carry one

Here’s a rather obscure expression which I first came across as a boy when I was engrossed in Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale of derring-do that is Treasure Island, published in 1883. In Part Four the Doctor regales us with his narrative of events at the stockade, jolly exciting they were too, and he reports “I was not new to violent death…but I know my pulse went dot and carry one.” I hope from the context I was clever enough to surmise that his pulse was pounding or had an irregular beat.

More recently I read Ford Maddox Ford’s Parade’s End, 1924 – 28, and came across this passage; “And Sandbach went off, dot and carry one, and began a furious row…” The context for the use of this curious phrase is completely different from that of Stevenson’s and can only refer to the gait of the unfortunate Sandbach. And then there is Rudyard Kipling’s tribute to the regimental bhisti or water carrier, Gunga Din. “’E would dot and carry one/ Till the longest day was done.”  This might be mystifying if we didn’t have the chorus, “He was Din! Din! Din!/ You limpin’ lump o’ brick dust, Gunga Din.” Din’s dotting and carrying one was down to his gait.

According to Redding Ware’s Passing English of the Victorian Era, published in 1909, dot and carry one referred to a “person with a wooden leg.” He even helpfully explained the meaning behind the component parts thus; “The dot is the pegged impression made by all wooden legs before the invention of the modelled foot and calf. The one is the widowed leg.”  Francis Grose in his invaluable Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1785, identifies an earlier variant, dot and go one. This, he reveals, is “generally applied to persons who have one leg shorter than the other and who, as the sea phrase is, go upon an uneven keel.

So it would appear that our phrase deals with irregularity, initially of gait and then by extension more figuratively to pulse.

But then Grose lets slip a rather revealing clue by way of an aside. He notes that our phrase was also “a jeering appellation for an inferior dancing master, or teacher of arithmetic.” I’m blessed with two left feet and when I trip the light fantastic, the verb is literal rather than figurative and so one can see why an incompetent dance teacher could be likened to someone with mobility issues.

But a maths teacher?

It is a while since I had the joys of learning to do my maths but I seem to recall that when I was doing any sort of complicated calculation I was encouraged to set the units down in a column and to carry over the tens to the next column. It seems that this has been the way of inculcating the joys of mathematics into the noddles of the young for centuries, although in the 18th century dots were used for every unit of ten (or twelve if you were dealing with money) that you wanted to carry over.

Not everyone sees the immediate benefit of learning mathematics and so N Withey – his first name has not carried over – had the bright idea of setting the concepts of arithmetic to song, the result of which was his A Little Young Man’s Companion or Common Arithmetic Turned into a Song, published in 1796. There we find, “the odd pence must go down, sir/ or nought if you have none,/ or for every twelve that you had in pence/ you may dot and carry one.

It is not too fanciful to think that this mathematical convention was then used figuratively to describe the gait (and more relevantly the mark) of a wooden leg. Stevenson’s usage was a further development still.


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

Leslie Keeley’s Double Chloride of Gold Cure

We have seen cures for the evils of the demon drink before but one which took America by storm in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Leslie Keeley’s Double Chloride of Gold Cure.

Keeley opened the first Keeley Institute in 1879 in the Illinois town of Dwight, south of Chicago, with the bold and ambitious claim; “drunkenness is a disease and I can cure it.” He claimed that he had devised a formula which, if injected four times a day, would lead to a miraculous recovery, although he was circumspect in revealing what it contained save that one of the ingredients was gold.

His advertising campaign fuelled by the desire of many to kick alcohol, together with his claim of a 95% success rate, saw business boom. Between 1892 and 1900 his company’s revenues almost topped $3m and there was even a Keeley Day at Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. Those who completed the course were called Keeley graduates and were given a pamphlet by way of a certificate which told the recipient; “You are now numbered among thousands of men and women who have broken the shackles of alcohol and drug addictions by the Keeley method of treatment. Your cure will be as permanent as your life, you will never have any craving for alcohol or other sedative drugs as long as you live, unless you create it by returning to their use, thus re-poisoning your nerve cells.”

Ardent supporters of the Keeley method formed Bi-Chloride of Gold Clubs, later known as Keeley Leagues, which were sort of alcohol support groups. Centres sprang up around the country, the last closing down as recently as 1965, and some half a million alcoholics and addicts are said to have taken the Keeley Cure. Often Keeley would employ doctors who were cured alcoholics and the staff to patient ratio at each centre was reassuringly high.

If you signed up for a course of treatment, as well as the injections four times a day, you would drink a liquid cordial every two hours. The rest of your day was spent in a variety of ways, designed to improve your physical and psychological well-being through rest, controlled diets and group discussions. The atmosphere was described as warm and friendly, far removed from the austere asylums to which alcoholics were normally consigned.

Keeley’s apparent success provoked two reactions – imitation and investigation. Dr Haines’ Golden Remedy, the Geneva Gold Cure, and the Boston Biochloride of Gold Company were among the many imitators who sought to cash in on the craze for golden remedies to alcoholism. More worryingly for Keeley, his success provoked the medical profession to take a closer look into what was in the cure. They used a variety of methods to get hold of the samples, using the handy mail order service or checking into the centres masquerading as alcoholics.

What was surprising is that the constituents of Keeley’s miracle cure seemed to vary – sometimes traces of alcohol, sometimes coca extract and sometimes a combination of strychnine, willow bark, ammonia and aloe. What wasn’t present was gold – indeed, one director was reported to say that the only time they used gold, the patient nearly died.

But the main ingredient was probably atropine, an active ingredient found in deadly nightshade and possessing hallucinogenic properties, which in ancient times was used as an ersatz anaesthetic. It is also poisonous. It may be that drug acted as some form of sedative in the majority of cases but in certain circumstances could induce psychological reactions that would force the patient to see the errors of their ways. It is unlikely to have been the major contributor to the success that Keely claimed.

What was more likely to have helped is the serene atmosphere of the centres, the ability of the patients to get rest, to talk about their problems and share their experiences with others. This is a feature of the treatment of alcoholics today and Keeley in this respect was ahead of his time.

It was just a pity he focused on filling them up with an unproven drug.

An Eye For An Eye Will Only Make The Whole World Blind – Part Six

Hans Island

When diplomats got into erstwhile smoke-filled rooms, it must be difficult to thrash out an agreement which covers every conceivable situation. Take the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This agreement sets out the definition of territorial waters which, for the uninitiated, extend twelve miles from the low water mark of a coastal state. The state involved is entitled to claim that stretch of water as their own but merchant shipping is allowed free passage.

No doubt they were all pleased to have got that one sorted out but they had forgotten the little matter of Hans Island.

Hans Island is about half a square-mile in size, is uninhabited and has no obvious mineral resources. It is slap bang in the middle of the Nares Strait which separates Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark, from Canada. Crucially, the Nares Strait at this point is just 22 miles wide and so under the Convention both the Danes and the Canadians were entitled to call it their own.

So who had title to the island?

The League of Nation’s Permanent Court of International Justice considered the matter as early as 1933 and came down in favour of the Danes. But by that time the League of Nations was on its last legs and soon fell apart, meaning that their decision on the fate of Hans Island carried little weight. The dispute rumbled on.

It next flared up in 1984 when the Danish minister of Greenland affairs visited the island and provocatively stuck a Danish flag on the rocky outcrop. Beneath the flag he stuck a sign, saying “welcome to the Danish island” and left a bottle of schnapps.

This sparked what has been known as the whiskey war. The Canadians could not let the incident pass and so when a delegation of their military visited the island, they raised the Canadian flag, left a sign, saying “welcome to Canada” and left bottles of Canadian Club. And so an extraordinary bout of tit-for-tat was started, Danish and Canadian flags being left as each country’s representatives visited and bottles of hooch placed below the flagstaff. It is still going on and if you are in the area and fancy a drink, you could do worse than land at Hans Island.

In 2005 diplomats from Canada and Denmark agreed a set of protocols to determine the fate of the island amicably but, so far, an equitable solution has eluded them. In 2015 a couple of academics, as is their wont, stuck their noses into this most gentle of territorial disputes by suggesting that the island should be a condominium, shared jointly by the two countries.

What to many seems a sensible way out of an intractable problem has yet to be adopted. After all, there is too much at stake, not least national pride. I suspect that the fate of Hans Island will not be resolved for some time yet and that the extraordinary display of tit-for-tat that the whiskey war is will continue for a while.

The Streets Of London – Part Seventy Five

Rotten Row, SW1

Rotten Row runs in a fairly straight line along the southern perimeter of Hyde Park from its intersection with Carriage Drive at the eastern end to the West Carriage Drive in the west. It has a distinctive sandy, yellowish hue, taking the form of a bridle path made from a mix of gravel and tan, the crushed bark of oak trees and the residue of the tanning process. Its modern day manifestation is a tad shorter than its original form which stretched a mile and a quarter from Hyde Park Corner to Kensington Palace.

The road was built by William III in 1691 to give him a direct route from his newly acquired Kensington Palace to his London residence of the Palace of St James’s. The western approaches to the city at the time were dangerous with highwaymen and footpads on the look-out for unwary travellers. As a security measure William lined the road with 300 lanterns, making it the first road in London to boast street lighting. It also earned the thoroughfare the sobriquet of Lamp Road and was used exclusively by the royal family and members of their court.

In 1737 George II had what is now known as Carriage Drive built and the intention was to grass over Lamp Road. There was a public outcry as other modifications to Hyde Park including the creation of the Serpentine had deprived horse riders of space to exercise their nags. As a compromise Lamp Road was converted into a bridle way – you can still hire a horse and ride along it today.

Around the 1780s the bridle way started to be known as Rotten Row. No one can give a conclusive reason as to why it was so called but there are a number of competing theories, the best in my view being that it is a corruption of route de roi – the Brits are masters at mangling French – or that it took its name from the soft, giving material with which it was constructed. I prefer the latter but there are a number of Rotten Rows to be found around our green and pleasant land and that derivation does not necessarily suit most of them.

What is clear is that Rotten Row became the place for the nobs of London to be seen exercising their nags. They were expected to wear their very best riding clothes and behave with decorum – horses and carriages were to be driven at a sedate pace and no reckless or high-speed driving was allowed. By 1834 the traffic along the Row was so heavy that the authorities required that carriages use George II’s road while horses and pedestrians could continue to use the Row. The only exception was the Hereditary Grand Falconer, the Duke of St Albans, who was granted the privilege of driving his carriage along the Row. He did so just once a year so as to maintain the privilege.

From 1737 the Row was lined with wooden fencing three feet high but in 1853 iron railings took their place and the Row was widened to 100 feet. The railings were taken down during the Second World War and melted down for scrap metal. They were not replaced until towards the end of the 20th century to protect cyclists. The bridle path had by now had reverted to its original width of around 80 feet to accommodate the cycle way.

In 1868/9 a chunk of the Row to the western end was lost to make way for the construction of the Prince Albert Memorial. What is now the Flower Walk in Kensington Gardens is all that remains of it.

What Is The Origin Of (188)?…

Trig and trim

I was rereading Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood a little while ago and came across this description of Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard widow, twice; “in her spruced and scoured dust-defying bedroom in trig and trim Bay View..” Whilst the meaning of the phrase is pretty clear from the context, neat and tidy, it set me wondering where the phrase came from.

My researches unearthed an interesting character, Bishop Douglas, whose bishopric centred round the lovely cathedral village of Dunkeld in Perthshire. Douglas died of the plague in London in 1522, proving that no good ever comes of a Scot when he ventures south of the border, but not before he had translated Virgil’s Aeneid in what he called Thirteen Bukes of Eneades,, of the famous poet Virgil, translated out of Latin verse into Scottish metre, a task he accomplished in just eighteen months. It was published posthumously in 1553 and reprinted in Edinburgh in 1710.

In the translation which was probably worked on in 1519 we find the couplet “the heist sall be full tydy, trig and wicht/ with hede equalle tyll his moder on hicht,” the first appearance of the word trig in print. He used it again later in his translation, “In lesuris and on leyis litill lames/ full tait and trig socht bletand to thaire dames.” Trig was a Scottish adjective for neat or trim, owing its origin to the Scandinavian word tryggr which meant faithful or secure.

The Scottish poet, Hector Macneill, writing at the turn of the 19th century, also used trig in the same sense in one of his odes; “the same with E tricked up; Rudd/ trig her house, and oh! To busk aye/ ilk sweet bairn was a’ her pride!” Both Douglas and Macneill used the adjective on its own rather than as part of the reduplicated phrase that we know today.

Perhaps the blame for hitching trig with trim lies with the Sassenachs. Around the middle of the 16th century a phrase, trick and trim, came into vogue south of Hadrian’s Wall. One of the senses of trick as an adjective at the time, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was being smart, clever or trim, neat, and handsome. Roger Ascham wrote a book in 1545 on archery, called Toxophilus, and there we find an English version of the reduplicated phrase; “the same reason I find true in two bows I have, whereof one is quick of cast, trick and trim, both for pleasure and profit.” The sense is identical; something neat and tidy.

Grammarians have spilt much ink discussing why the Scottish adjective trig became trick when used in England. It may just have been down to mishearing – after all, the thick Scottish accent is often incomprehensible to the effete cloth ears of the Sassenachs – or it may be that there are two distinct roots in play, with different meanings.

What is clear is that the Scottish version has prevailed. Interestingly, the Cyclopaedia of English Literature, compiled by Robert Chambers in 1843 and published in Edinburgh, amended Ascham’s usage to trig and trim. As a Scot he probably enjoyed getting one over the English. Be that as it may, the phrase is today rather obscure but is worth dusting off and bringing back to life, I feel.

A La Mode – Part Five

The Top Hat

I am partial to wearing a hat but I have never had the occasion to wear a silk topper. These days their appearance seems to be limited to weddings with pretensions to grandeur, the Royal enclosure at Ascot and investitures at Buckingham Palace. My chances of wearing one seem pretty remote.

When, to echo the Kinks, you are a dedicated follower of fashion and bestride its cutting edge, you must be prepared for an adverse reaction from those who don’t share your sense of style. Even so, perhaps John Herrington, a clothier based in London’s Strand, didn’t quite expect the reaction that greeted his saunter along the streets of London in early January 1797.

According to the Hatters’ Gazette in the late 1890s, echoing a story that is supposed to have appeared in The St James’ Gazette of 1797 – alas, the original story cannot be traced – he appeared “on the public highway, wearing upon his head a tall structure having a shiny lustre and calculated to frighten timid people…several women fainted at the unusual sight, while children screamed, dogs yelped and a younger son of Cordwainer Thomas was thrown down by the crowd which collected and had his right arm broken.

Worse was to follow for poor Herrington. He had his exquisitely tailored collar felt and was up before the beak on 15th January 1797, charged with a breach of the peace and inciting a riot. For his sins he was required to post a bond for the phenomenal sum of £500. Some versions of the story suggest that he was the inventor of the silk top hat or top hats in general whilst others, given the length of time that lapsed between the incident occurring and the first demonstrable version of the story in the press, have called it a shaggy dog story.

Hats were part of a fashionable man’s apparel and beaver hats, made from felted beaver fur which could be combed into a variety of shapes, were in vogue between 1550 and 1850. Tall, cylindrical hats appear in images throughout the centuries so it is difficult to pin point exactly when the silk topper was first made or why Hetherington’s topper caused such a stir. But there is some evidence to suggest that the development of a silk plush as an alternative to beaver, at least in England, did not predate Hetherington’s ill-fated walk by many years.

In 1794 George Dunnage received a patent for a form of hat featuring a napped, silk shag and in 1798 he was awarded another patent, this time for a ventilating top hat made of waterproof silk which was particularly suitable for coachmen riding atop of their carriage. The firm, Dunnage and Larkin, traded as patent silk manufacturers until 1814. The Piccadilly based milliner, Lincoln Bennett, was also an early pioneer in the development of silk plush and almost certainly would have made silk top hats.

So although Hetherington almost didn’t invent the silk topper, it is entirely plausible that he was one of the first to be brave enough to wear one in public in London. The shiny surface, such a contrast to the dull and dirty clothing that the hoi polloi had to wear, was enough to spark a reaction. Perhaps he just wasn’t very popular.

Ironically, today’s toppers are made of beaver, the last factory making silk hatters’ plush, in Lyons in France, closing in 1969. Legend has it that the two brothers had a major bust up in the process of which they smashed up the looms and threw them into the river. More likely the factory was closed down because of ‘Elf and Safety concerns around the manufacturing process.

Urban myth and top hats seem to go hand in hand.

You’re Having A Laugh – Part Thirteen

The Comte de Fortsas hoax, 1840

I count myself a bibliophile and love being surrounded by books – they do furnish a room, after all. Serious collectors of books specialise – first editions, Victorian novels etc – but the Comte de Fortsas, Jean Nepomucene Auguste Pichauld, took specialising to an extreme. His collection, just 52 strong on his death on 1st September 1839, featured volumes that were absolutely unique, there being no other copies in the world. If he discovered there was a duplicate, he would get rid of his copy.

To the excitement of all serious bibliophiles in Europe, a catalogue plopped through their letter boxes announcing the sale of the Comte’s collection on 10th August 1840. All interested parties were to assemble at the offices of the notary Maitre Mourlon at 9 rue de l’Eglise in the Belgian town of Binche. The catalogue amply illustrated the Compte’s unique style of collecting. In describing a work attributed to Pere Felix Grebard, the catalogue notes “this Pere Grebard is likewise the author of a very rare tragedy, La Morte de Henry le grand, which I have had in my collection, but of which I rid myself, having learned that Mons. J Ketele of Audenarde had another copy of it.

Interest was at fever pitch and prices were anticipated to be astronomic as collectors and even the Belgian national government as well as a representative from the Roxburghe club readied themselves to battle for the honour of picking up some or all of the Comte’s fabulous collection.

There was just one problem.

When the collectors arrived at Binche the day before the great sale, they could not find rue de l’Eglise – it did not seem to exist. They were then hit with further disappointment when they picked up the local newspaper to find a report announcing that the whole collection had been bought by the municipality of Binche for its public library.

Some collectors, in a state of disgruntlement, decided to go home while others decided to satisfy their curiosity by viewing the collection at the library. But the library proved to be just as elusive as the rue de l’Eglise. There wasn’t one.

And then the centime dropped. They had been had.

The perpetrator of this elaborate hoax was a local antiquarian, Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon. In planning the ruse Chalon researched the particular specialities of his intended victims, ensuring that within the catalogue there was something that would appeal to each of them. And then there was the sheer enormity of preparing the catalogue and dispatching it out in good time for each of the collectors to make plans to arrive in Binche in good time for the sale. According to one report, Chalon actually chatted to a group of collectors and confirmed that he had known the Comte well. Apart from exposing the gullibility of the bibliophiles, there is no evidence that Chalon had any other motive.

But all was not lost for the bibliophiles.

The catalogue itself became something of a collectors’ item and quadrupled in price over the next few years. Such was the demand for the catalogue that the original printer, M Hoyois, decided to run off a few more copies together with a facsimile of a letter purporting to have been written by the Comte and some prospective orders from the hoodwinked collectors.

Chalon went to court to prevent the reprint. After all, it would have been contrary to the spirit of the Comte.

What Is The Origin Of (187)?…


Toe-rag is used pejoratively these days to indicate a worthless, disreputable, deceitful type of person, someone rarely worth bothering with. I’m sure we have all come across people to whom this epithet would not be out of place.

For the well-dressed person, having a piece of hosiery between one’s bare feet and shoes is de rigueur. Of course, for those with very few possessions, there is often a need to make do. A toe-rag was a piece of cloth or rag wrapped around the foot as a sort of ersatz stocking. J F Mortlock was transported to Australia for a twenty-one year stretch in 1843. He survived and in 1864 published an account of his experiences called Experiences of a Convict, in which he wrote about the practice of binding one’s feet with rags; “ stockings being unknown, some luxurious men wrapped round their feet a piece of old shirting, called, in language more expressive than elegant, a toe-rag.

In the late 1920s and the 1930s there was a prurient interest amongst the better sorts in the lot of the so-called down and outs. One who made his name out of this sort of thing was the Reverend Frank L Jennings who produced a series of talks for the radio, subsequently published in 1932 as Tramping with Tramps, described at the time as an exhaustive and first-hand study of the vagrancy problem. He spent a month living the life of a vagrant, begging for his food and doing odd jobs. When back in his comfortable normal life he entertained the great British public with tales of his racy and illuminating experiences, earning himself the sobriquet of the Doss House Parson.  Naturally, he was concerned about apparel. “Socks”, he noted, “are very seldom worn. Instead you get a winding of cotton rag round the ball and toes of the foot as a safeguard against blisters. Toe-rags, the tramp calls them.

Another purveyor of this poverty porn, although his fame has outlasted that of Jennings, was Eric Blair aka George Orwell. In his Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933, he noted “less than half the tramps actually bathed…but they all washed their faces and feet, and the horrid greasy clouts known as toe-rags which they bind round their toes.

This style of hosiery having been adopted by and associated with vagrants and other down and outs, it was inevitable that toe-rag would be used figuratively to describe those whom the speaker finds beneath contempt. One of the earliest examples of this usage is to be found in Thomas Frost’s Circus Life and Circus Celebrities, published in 1875; “toe rags is another expression of contempt…used…chiefly by the lower grades of circus men, and the acrobats who stroll about the country, performing at fairs.” D H Lawrence, in a letter in 1912, wrote, “Remember, whatever toe-rag I may be personally, I am the person she livanted with. So you be careful.” And Harold Pinter, in The Caretaker from 1960, included the line “All them toe-rags, mate, got the manners of pigs.

The link between poverty and moral deficiency has been a difficult one for those without much money to break since time immemorial.

Coincidences Are Spiritual Puns – Part Seven

Tsutomu Yamaguchi (1916 – 2010)

I don’t know what constitutes a bad week at work but the one that Japanese engineer, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, had in August 1945 must be pretty high up there.

Working for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, 6th August 1945 was Tsutomu’s last day of a three-month long secondment to the Hiroshima office working on the design of a new oil tanker. He could be excused for thinking about his home in Nagasaki and his wife, Hisako, and baby son, Katsutoshi, as he walked towards the docks to work.

At 8.15 am his thoughts were disturbed by an unusual sight – a bomber looming in the distance and two small parachutes. Then there was an almighty flash and an explosion, the force of which bowled him over. Tsutomu’s ear drums were ruptured, he was blinded temporarily and he sustained serious burns to the left-hand side of his upper torso. What he had witnessed and experienced was the atomic bomb that the Americans had dropped on Hiroshima from the Enola Gay.

Fortunately, he was able to crawl to a nearby shelter, rest a while and then set out to find some of his colleagues. After finding them, he spent the night in an air-raid shelter and decided to make his way home to Nagasaki. Arriving there in the early hours of the morning of 8th August, he presented himself at the local hospital where he was patched up and swathed in bandages. Once he got home, his family barely recognised this spectral figure that walked through the door.

But Tsutomu was a trooper and dragged himself to the Mitsubishi offices in Nagasaki on 9th August. His boss wanted a full account of what had happened in Hiroshima, expressing some doubt that so much death and destruction could be caused by a single bomb. So at 11 am Tsutomo was recounting what he could recall when the landscape suddenly exploded with a flash, sending broken glass and debris into the room. Yes, the Americans had dropped their second atomic bomb – it was almost as if they were following Tsutomu around.

A combination of Nagasaki’s hilly landscape and the reinforced stairwell of the office block muffled the intensity of the blast and so Tsutomu escaped relatively unscathed, f you ignore the fact that his bandages had been blown off and he had been subjected to another dose of radiation. He made his way home and was horrified to find that it had been flattened. Miraculously, at the time of the blast his wife and son were out, getting some ointment for his burns, and had found refuge in a tunnel. If Tsutomu had not been caught up in the Hiroshima blast, it is likely that his immediate family would not have survived the Nagasaki bomb.

Although his is a remarkable story, Tsutomu wasn’t the only person to endure and survive the two atomic bombs. Two of his colleagues, Akira Iwanga and Kuniyoshi Sato, were in the wrong place at the wrong time twice as was a kite-maker, Shigeyoshi Morimoto, who was only half a mile from the epicentre of the Hiroshima bomb when it fell. It is thought up to 165 people experienced both attacks but Tsutomu was the only one recognised by the Japanese government, belatedly in 2009, as a nijyuu hibakusha, a twice-bombed person.

Sadly, in Japan hibakusha, atomic bomb survivors, and their progeny were (and still are) discriminated against socially and in the workplace because of fears that radiation sickness was both hereditary and contagious. Although seriously ill with radiation sickness, Tsutomu survived and lived to the grand old age of 94 before succumbing to stomach cancer.

I will never complain about a bad day again!

An Eye For An Eye Will Only Make The Whole World Blind – Part Five

The Märket Lighthouse

As a result of the Treaty of Fredrikshamn, signed on 17th September 1809, the defeated Swedes were forced to concede the whole of Finland, as well as all its territory east of the Torne River, to the victorious Russians. A new border between the two countries had to be established and as is often the way a line was drawn between Sweden and the Aland archipelago, bisecting the tiny, uninhabited island of Märket, all 8.2 acres of it.

That part of the Baltic Sea is particularly treacherous. In 1873 alone, eight ships foundered as they overcorrected their course to avoid the rocky outcrop. Something had to be done and the obvious course of action was to build a lighthouse. Finnish architect, Georg Schreck, was commissioned to erect the structure in 1885.

The point he chose was, not unnaturally, the highest spot on the island, some 3 metres above sea level. There was only one tiny problem – it happened to be in the Swedish part of the island. But the Russians ploughed on regardless and on 11th November 1885 the lighthouse was commissioned. Perhaps reluctant to provoke the Russian bear again, bearing in mind what happened in 1809, the Swedes accepted this illegal encroachment on to their territory but it was a festering sore.

Fast forward to 1917 and following the disintegration of the Russian Empire, the Finns gained their independence and with it, the Russian half of the island of Märket. They manned the lighthouse and carried on as if they owned the spot of land upon which it stood.

From time to time the illegal Finnish occupation of the lighthouse was a source of friction with the Swedes but the matter wasn’t pressed hard as the lighthouse was serving a useful service to passing ships. It was not until 1985 that the thorny problem was resolved and the solution was something that only experienced diplomats could dream up.

The answer was to redesign the border so that the Finns retained the lighthouse – by now it was unmanned, the last lighthouse keeper having departed in 1977 – and the Swedes gained an equal amount of territory to that which they ceded. Rather like an inverted S the new line started in the middle of the island, veering into the Swedish area to ensure that the lighthouse remained under Finnish control and then into the Finnish area to give the Swedes some additional territory. To ensure that the new border was correctly recognised, holes were drilled into the rocks marking the spot.

Just to add some further unnecessary complications, the Swedish portion now falls into two separate municipal jurisdictions. But at least as both countries are subscribers to the Schengen agreement, there is no need for any passport control.

Having legalised their claim to the lighthouse, that seems to have been it as far as the Finns were concerned. It is still operational but is suffering from what can only be described as a lack of tender love and care. It is crumbling and badly needs some maintenance work. Since 2007 groups of volunteers have spent their summers on the island patching it up and showing intrepid visitors to the island.

If you are thinking of paying it a visit, check the weather.