Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Irish Lord Who Converted to Islam - And Built a Mosque In Kerry

* He would have been the first Muslim to sit in British Parliament, had he claimed the birthright due to him as an Irish peer of the British realm and a Baron of the County Of Kerry in Ireland. 

But Rowland Allanson-Winn was concerned with matters of a higher order than just politics. 

Today, there are many questions being asked about the Muslim community in Britain, their place in society, cultural diversity, integration and the shadow of extremism.

The story of Rowland Allanson-Winn points to a different era, when, right back at the start of the 20th century, in what we might consider less progressive times, a pillar of the British establishment could embrace Islam and the Muslim community.  

He lived and travelled all over the world - from Killarney to Kashmir. He rejected Christianity and embraced Islam as a religion of tolerance. And his story has long fascinated me......

** (and by the way - if anybody wants to commission a radio or TV doc about this guy, feel free to get in touch and send me money) 

                                                              Rowland Allanson-Winn

* Rowland Allanson-Winn was a lot of things in his lifetime. A pillar of the British aristocracy & Empire, a boxer, fencer, martial-arts nut, explorer, engineer, author and road-builder.

He also came very close to being crowned the King of Albania (he was offered the throne twice). And was a Baron of the County Kerry in Ireland.

But above all, this son of the British peerage was a Muslim, who choose the name Shaikh Rahmatullah al-Farooq. And he built one of the first mosques in Britain or Ireland, a private prayer space at his ancestral home in Aghadoe, Co Kerry.

Allanson-Winn With His Great Friend Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din

*** Rowland Allanson-Winn was born in London on January 19th, 1855 and was educated at Westminster and Trinity College, Cambridge, in mathematics. After graduation, he had a range of professions, including (for a time) editor of a regional newspaper in Wiltshire.

However, it was in the early 1890s, when he travelled to Kashmir to become an engineer for the British administration in India, that Allanson-Winn first encountered Islam, in the beautiful, mountainous regions of Kashmir. 

He was, by all accounts, a fascinating, accomplished and open-minded man. A bit of an eccentric in the best sense of the word. One Irish writer described him as 'a man of many parts, a champion middlewight boxer in his day at Cambridge, a distinguished globe-trotter, an editor and excellent raconteur'.

He was also a keen amatuer boxer and one of the earliest exponents of what we know today as "martial arts". In 1890 he co-wrote one of the earliest manuals about self-defence, the classic "Broad-sword And Singlestick", before going on to write one of the first great books about the art of boxing. 

He inherited the title of Baron Of Headly on the death of his cousin in 1913. He could have sat in the House of Lords but did not seek election as an Irish representative. 1913 was also the year that he announced his conversion to Islam, having first encountered the religion in India.

Allanson-Winn had been brought up as a protestant, before studying Roman Catholicism while living in Ireland. But he saw the Christian religions as having what he called a "believe this or be damned" attitude. 

He came to know Islam as a religion of tolerance. 

“It is,” he said on one occasion, “the intolerance of those professing the Christian religion, which more than anything is responsible for my secession. I was reared in the strict and narrow forms of the Low Church party. Later, I lived in many Roman Catholic countries, including Ireland. The intolerance of one sect of Christians towards other sects holding some different form of the same faith, of which I witnessed many instances, disgusted me. …”

A British Peer announcing that he had converted to Islam today would raise some eyebrows (to say the least). We can only imagine what it must have been like in 1913, when the British empire still held sway over millions of Muslims.  

But Allanson-Winn, in his characteristically pugnacious style, made no apologies.

As he said at the time of announcing his conversion (which actually happened in England, after he met Muslims including the Indian lawyer and teacher Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din); 

"It is possible that some of my friends may imagine that I have been influenced by Mohammedans; but it is not the case, for my convictions are solely the outcome of many years of thought. My actual conversations with educated Muslims on the subject of religion only commenced a few weeks ago and need I say that I am overjoyed to find that all my theories and conclusions are entirely in accord with Islam? Even my friend Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din has never tried to influence me in the slightest degree. He has been a veritable living concordance, and has patiently explained and translated portions of the Quran which did not appear quite clear to me and in this respect he showed the true spirit of the Muslim missionary, which is never to force or even to persuade.

He would become a chairman of the British Muslim Society, travel and talk in Muslim communities around the world. And he made the Hajj to Mecca in 1923 (see the photo below).

Allanson-Winn, 5th Baron Headley, was a tireless campaigner for the Islamic faith in Britain and abroad and as he lay on his death bed in England in June, 1935, he scribbled a note to his son, asking that he be buried in a Muslim cemetery; “Means permitting I should like to be buried with my brother Khwaja."

It is easy to see him as an eccentric, in the great tradition of the British aristocracy who travelled the world and often became intoxicated by "Oriental mysticism".

But it seems that nobody who met the man in his life doubted his sincere conviction and his belief in tolerance and the values of other belief-systems. He campaigned tirelessly for Muslims and for understanding between the faiths and wrote several books about the Islamic faith, trying to explain its worth to Christians.

The 5th Baron Headly was a bit of a one-off. 


Daily Sketch - 1913

After a career which has included amateur boxing, civil engineering, the editing of a local newspaper, and expert advice on coast erosion, Lord Headley, an Irish Peer, aged 59, became a convert to Mohammedanism.
The conversion was announced at a meeting of the Islamic Society, held at Frascati’s, Oxford street, by the Rev. Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, who is attached to the Mohammedan mosque at Woking.
“Those who know me will believe I am perfectly sincere in my belief,” wrote Lord Headley in a letter read at the meeting.
Lord Headley may be described as a muscular Mussulman, for when he was at Cambridge he won both the middle-weight and heavy-weight boxing championships. He has written more than one book on the noble art of self-defence. He writes very well, by the way, and has done a good deal of journalistic work in his time. For a couple of years he was editor of the Salisbury Journal.
He has also done a lot of civil engineering in recent years. He superintended some coast defence works at Youghal and similar works on the coast to the north of Bray Harbour. He also did some coast defence works at Glenbeigh, his place in one of the wildest parts of Kerry.
The problem of coast erosion has particularly interested him. At Dover in 1899 he read a paper before the British Association on the history of the reclamation of Romney Marsh.
Lord Headley is a grey-moustached, handsome man, with a fine intellectual forehead and good features, while his habit of smiling when he talks gives him a happy appearance.

Daily Mirror - 1913

That the lure of Eastern religions is affecting an increasing number of Europeans, is again shown by the announcement that Lord Headley, an Irish peer, who spent many years in India, has become a convert to Islam.
The announcement was made by the Rev. Kamal-ud-Din, who is attached to the Mosque at Woking, at a recent meeting of the Islamic Society.
Lord Headley, the fifth baron, succeeded only last January to the title and estates of 16,000 acres in Kerry.
He was born in London in 1855, and has been distinguished as civil engineer, at one time in India and latterly specially engaged in foreshore protection works.
He is an all-round sportsman, being fond of fishing, rowing, skating, swimming, fencing, shooting and golf. In his youth he won the heavy and middle weights as an amateur boxer at Cambridge University.
Lord Headley has four sons, having being married in 1899 to Teresa, youngest daughter of the late Mr. W.H. Johnson, formerly Governor of Leh and Jumoo.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Ballad Of Lucknow Kavanagh V.C. - Carry On Up The Raj

* I'm returning to one of my favourite themes, here, with the incredible story of "Lucknow Kavanagh" - the Mad Irishman who became an unlikely hero of the Indian Mutiny. And one of only five civilians to win the Victoria Cross. It's a small story and a strange one.

For some men are born heroes. Some have heroism thrust upon them. And a few, like Henry James Kavanagh, seize heroism by the throat and strangle it until it gives in. 

So gather round me, ladies and gentleman, as I bring you the strange tale of Mad Mullingar Man Lucknow Kavanagh....

Thomas Henry  Kavanagh VC - One Of Only Five Civilians To Win The Victoria Cross

Cannon-balls were tearing through the walls of the battered British residency. Outside,some 10,000 rebel native troops of the East India Company were grimly pressing home their attack after five months of siege. 

On the night of November 9th, 1857, with a fifth of the garrison defending what was left of the British stronghold of Lucknow already dead, one man was preparing to go to war. But first, he needed to complete his fancy-dress outfit.

Thomas Henry Kavanagh was about to embark on one of the most unlikely missions in British Military history. And he needed the English officers around him to get over their fits of the giggles.

Perhaps it was the strain of the long siege. 

Maybe it was simply the sight of the grimly determined, six-foot, red-haired civil servant before them in pantomime costume.

But General Sir James Outram, commanding the defence, could hardly keep a straight face.  Some of his subordinates had to leave the room, preferring the risk of being cut in half by a cannon-ball to getting caught, rocking with barely-suppressed laughter. 

It was Sir James himself who was rubbing boot-polish on the face of a lowly civil servant from Co Westmeath in Ireland. The unlikely hero of the hour, James Kavanagh. 

Kavanagh stood before him in the lamplight, dressed in "native garb" as a "hindoo peasant",  grimy robes and a turban, with boot-polish smeared across his face. In a moment, he would try to get beyond the walls and through the lines of rebel troops to reach the stalled relief column. Nobody in the room really expected to see him again. 

Henry Kavanagh was 36 and already the father of nine children when the Indian Mutiny broke out. Living with his family in the northern city of Luknow, he had a dull, low-paid job with the Bengal Civil Service and was resigned, as he said later, to a life of “miserable drudgery”.

And then came the Mutiny. When the native troops employed by the East India company to subjugate an ancient civilisation rose up in rebellion. And Henry Kavanagh suddenly found himself at the centre of Great Events, besieged inside the British Residency with thousands of Europeans, assailed on all side by the "natives" who had risen up to expel the British.

And as it all fell apart about him, as fire, death and destruction swept through the British Raj and the Great Conquerors cowered in their isolated forts, Thomas Kavanagh came alive! What had seemed set to be a life of grey drudgery as a minor clerk in some dusty outpost suddenly became the setting for epic heroism. And Thomas Kavanagh was not about to let his destiny pass him by. 

“I resolved to die in the struggle,” he later wrote, “rather than survive it with no better fame than I took into it.”

Five months into the seige of Lucknow, Kavanagh had been one of its bravest defenders. He had almost had his head taken off by a cannon-ball (the shot burnt his ear), one of his daughters died of dysantry and his wife was shot through the leg.

But Kavanagh had never felt so alive, or "glad to be rid of the restraints of civilisation". The grey civil servant had transformed into a technicoloured hero.

After four months, hopes rose inside Lucknow when word somehow arrived that a relief force was on the way. But that force's commander, Sir Colin Campbell, faced a serious obstacle. How could his small force find a way through the various bands of mutinous troops around Lucknow without having to fight every inch of the way?  One previous attempt had been beaten back with major losses. Without a safe way through the lines, Campbell's Scot's highlanders would face the same fate.

It was Kavanagh himself who came up with the answer. He would disguise himself as a native, find his way through the lines and guide the relief force through on the safest and quickest route. 

Of course, being a six-foot tall, ginger Irishman, he might find it hard to pass himself off as a local. But he convinced the general to let him try, in black-face and improvised costume. 

Kavanagh would not be put off from his suicide mission. "I sat amazed by my boldness" he recalled of the moment.

So off he went into the night, dressed like an extra from an Am-Dram production of The Arabian Nights. 

On the night of November 9, 1857, accompanied by a very brave Indian courier called Kunooujee Lal, Kavanagh slipped outside the walls of the residence. He was armed only with a double-barrelled pistol, one-shot for himself, one for Lal, if they were cornered. 

They blundered around in the dark for many hours, barely evaded capture on a number of occasions and finally made it to the British relief force, more by accident than design, shortly after dawn. 

After getting some reviving brandy and a pair of dry socks, Kavanagh was taken before General Sir Colin Campbell and insisted that the relief column follow him immediately through the safe route to the walls of the British Compound. 

Campbell's force of Highlanders and Sikhs stole into the city, staged a surprise attack on the besieging forces and saved the day. Lucknow Kavanagh was the hero of the hour! 

The Indian Mutiny eventually petered out, after terrible revenge attacks on the now-scattered rebels. In 1860, Kavanagh was presented with the Victoria Cross, a very rare distinction for a civilian and was celebrated throughout the Empire.

However, with the mutiny over, he slipped slowly back into obscurity. Kavanagh stayed with the British Civil Service oversees and died in Gibraltar in 1882, where he was buried.

It's estimated that more than 200 Irishmen have been awarded the Victoria Cross, around 16 per cent of all VC winners, not bad going for a small nation,

Perhaps the strangest VC story of all belongs to Lucknow Kavanagh.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

1916 And All That - There Will Be Bleurgh!

* A short blog, this, in anticipation of the endless hours of debate, rows, screw-ups, disappointments, recriminations and Thundering Bollixology that will be generated by the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

It was announced in the budget that we will be spending €50m quid on this - which is probably around €49m too much. Cynics might say it's just a giant boondoggle for Official Ireland's favourite historians, pundits and arts mandarins - the Artistic-Industrial Complex.

And by the way, if you are not Irish, not much of this is going to make any sense. Having said that, even if you are Irish.......

Truly, we shall ask - Was it for this?

What's that loud noise, we hear rumbling towards us like a Crossly Tender full of vengeful British Tommies!?

Run away! It's the 1916 Centenary Commemorations - or, to give them their proper title....

"The Basterin' 1916 Commemorations Oh Jaysus Christ Are They Ever Going To Shut Up About This Shite?"

Easter 1916 - The Aftermath

For while we can't say for certain where our crazy little Republic will be by the time Easter 2016 rolls around, we can say one thing without fear of contradiction - by the time we get there, even mentioning the words "Easter" "NineteenSixteen" or "Padraig Pearse" in a pub in Ireland will get you a quick poke in the jaw. And on your way out, a rapid funt up the hole.

Oh God. It's going to happen. We are going to flog this horse to death, re-animate it, flog it some-more and then hang, draw and quarter it outside the GPO. We don't - at official level at least - have the wit or imagination to do anything else.

We won't be able to help ourselves. The Government, our Chattering Classes, our professional People Of Important Thoughts and the History Boys are going to bore the living arses off us with endless, mind-numbing bollix about what this means for modern Ireland, the legacy, the lingering trauma of insurrection and civil war, neighbour-against-neighbour, brother against brother and fish-monger against plumber.

"Ye Stay Here Lads, I'll, er, Cover Ye From The Biscuit Factory. For three days"
We'll overdo it. Because we feel we have to give it the full nine yards. It was quite an event after all. And sure didn't the Brits do a great job on commemorating WWI? We'll just have a look at what they did and bob's yer uncle.

Get Macnas on the phone, somebody feed seven gallons of RedBull into Diarmuid Ferriter and for God sakes make sure Fintan O'Toole is kept sedated because we are going to need him before this campaign is over.

And get me a Bowman. Two if you can find them.

The poor people of Ireland will be battered into submission by endless books, think-pieces, docs, analysis, dodgy recreations and protestors standing outside the Dail with badly drawn signs asking "Was It For This, That Connie Markevic Gave His Life?"

Meanwhile, the Gov will try to make it some inspiring celebration of cultural diversity and inspiration and togetherness you think we can get a couple of quid out of Google to cover the sandwiches?

They already have a hashtag and everything! #IrelandInspires ! And if that don't inspire you to write a letter to Queen Liz II, asking for readmission, nothing will.

And for what? What was 1916 but an ill-thought out military farce, run by a rag-bag of poets, socialists, religious nutters, arch-conservatives, heroes, zeroes, fools, patriots and a few people who happened to wander in to the GPO in search of a postage stamp and ended up fighting the British Empire, by mistake?

It was the latest in a long line of glorious failures. But it succeeded. Kinda, sorta. And only after another two awful wars and the long drawn out insanity of The Troubles.

For the 50th anniversary, there was a big military parade down O'Connell Street, a few speeches and the traditional Rounding Up And Jailing Of The Fallen Women (always a popular one, that) and we just left it at that.

So what should we do this time around? Well, if you were asking me (and nobody in their right mind would) there are plenty of great stories around 1916 that fully deserve to be told. Not the usual guff about Padraig Pearse and the precious blood of Irish patriots - or what 1916 "means" to Ireland 2016 (Feck All) - but the stories of actual human beings of all shades and denominations.

And for the Big Stuff - Do a parade on the weekend in question - get our soldiers who have served with honour with the United Nations to march. Get the Orange Order down (why not, they were a part of the times too and they've loads of experience with parades).

Have an interdenominational service. Fly the flags at half mast. And maybe ask what happened to the ideals and the vision of Ireland held by people like James Connolly. And Michael Collins (blessed be his name).

And forget this touchy-feely, expensive YouTube ad campaign #IrelandInspires bollix. Because that's the fake stuff. The ersatz, Best Little Country In the World shite that fools nobody. Not even the tired cynics and marketing men who are paid ridiculous amounts of money to throw it together. Especially not them.

Commemorate all of the men who died, yes, the Tommys too, because most of them were just kids from the slums of London, Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow.

And maybe do one more thing - do a national essay competition (written, audio or video) for every school-kid in Ireland. Ask them what Ireland means to them and what they want for their future.

Because I can tell you one thing now - it ain't a jaded, cynical social media campaign that says #IrelandInspires.

* hey! Thanks for reading, and don't worry, I'm not off my meds.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Love Is, The Sweetest Thing - Al Bowlly - Wrote Hits, Died In The Blitz

** Of all the musical styles of the 20th century, the classic ballroom crooning of the inter-war period is perhaps the most forgotten and the least likely to be revived. As a style, it is perhaps too mannered, too much of its time and, to be blunt, too strange and campy for modern ears.

However, one crooner from the '20s and '30s who deserves to be remembered (but is now largely forgotten) is the great, the tragic Al Bowlly. I personally love his music, perhaps for its other-worldly sweetness, innocence and sincerity. These are not qualities you associate with most contemporary music.

Bowlly not only crooned the lightly jazz-inflected, romantic songs that your grandparents loved and danced to, he also wrote some of the most memorable tunes of the 20th Century.

He had a brief yet blazing career at the top. And then was killed at the height of the London Blitz. So I thought I would share his story and celebrate his genius in a small way.

As another performer and songwriter, Richard Thompson, sings, Al Bowlly's In Heaven.

The Sweetest Thing - The Incomparable Al Bowlly 

***When Stanley Kubrick went in search of music for the chilling ballroom scene in The Shining - where frustrated writer and Dad Of The Year candidate Jack Torrence enjoys a bourbon-on-the-rocks surrounded by spectral ballroom dancers, he went to his '20s musical adviser John Wadley.

What Wadley brought him was a 1934 recording of "Moonlight, The Stars And You", featuring the voice of a long forgotten crooner called Al Bowlly backed by The Ray Noble Orchestra.

Kubrick brilliantly used the sweet and innocent sentiments of this syrupy ballroom song as a contrast to the increasing psychosis of Jack Torrence. It is, of course, a very chilling, unsettling scene.

And it is Al Bowlly's voice we hear as the tuxedoed barman tells Jack; "Your money is no good here....orders from the house".

Even by the time the recording was made in 1934, Bowlly's style of singing was beginning to go out of fashion. The brassier, hipper, more high-octane sound of American big band Swing era, led by the likes of Glen Miller, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, was about to sweep the old crooners away.

Bowlly was born in Mozambique (to Greek and Lebanese parents) and grew up in South Africa, where he first became a professional singer with the big bands of the day,

As a young man in South Africa, he worked odd-jobs as a barber and a jockey before taking off on an eccentric trek around South Asia, singing in ballrooms, working on tramp steamers and even busking in restaurants and bars to keep body and soul together. He was the resident crooner in the ballroom of the Raffles hotel in Singapore, delivering the "Moon & June" melodies of the era as up-country planters and their wives fox-trotted between the potted palms in the tropical night.

When he eventually washed up in London (he almost didn't make it after gambling away the fare that had been lent to him by a band-leader) Bowlly, with his syrupy voice, dark good looks and dapper style, became a hit, one of the biggest stars of the dance-band era. He had success in the UK, America and on the continent, selling huge amounts of sheet-music (the singles of the day) and popularising many 20th Century classics.

Billed as "Al Bowlly - The Ambassador of Song", his concerts from venues such as the Monseigneur Restaurant in London were broadcast live to millions of enchanted radio listeners, his slightly other-worldly, echo-heavy voice pouring out of illuminated-dial valve-radios in homes across Britain.

Bowlly also tasted success in the US, and for a very brief time, was one of the highest paid vocalists in the business, a serious rival to Bing Crosby.

He recorded between 500 and 1,000 songs (some are lost) and either co-wrote or popularised such classics as "Blue Moon", "Easy To Love", "I've Got You Under My Skin", "The Very Thought Of You" and "My Melancholy Baby". Such was his success, Bowlly was given his own radio show on NBC and went to Hollywood to co-star with Bing Crosby in The Big Broadcast".

However, Bowlly's unwillingness to stay in one place or with one band, together with problems with his vocal chords, led him to return first to London, then South Africa, hoping that the change in climate would do him well.

He lost his voice for long periods, fritted away his money and had to borrow cash to pay for a voice-saving operation in New York in 1938.

My favourite Bowlly song is the one written by his regular band leader Ray Nobel in 1932 and made popular by the man himself, the sublime "Love Is The Sweetest Thing".

Bowlly's first marriage, in 1931, ended on his wedding night, when he found his new bride in bed with another man.

He married again just before the Second World War, when his career was seriously on the slide and he was playing regional ballrooms and restaurants in England, in a bid to pay the bills.

On April 17th, 1941, Bowlly had just given a performance at the Rex Cinema in Oxford Street, High Wycombe, when he decided to turn down the chance to stay locally and get a late train back to his flat on Duke Street, St James, London.

The decision proved fatal. Bowlly's apartment was destroyed by a Luftwaffe parachute mine that detonated on the street outside during a raid in the early hours of the morning. The bomb blew the door of his bedroom off its hinges and the impact of the door on his head killed him instantly.

There was not much notice of his death, not at a time when hundreds of people were being killed every night by the Luftwaffe. Bowlly was quickly buried, along with other Blitz victims, in a mass grave at Hanwell Cemetery.

By the time he had died, the era of the big band crooners had already come to an end. The sweet, sentimental dance music may not have been in step with the furious energy and tension of the war-time years. In the post war years and on into today, you rarely hear his name or his voice.

But Al has left a rich legacy of song and his voice echoes occasionally in popular culture.

He was a more natural performer than most of the crooners, with an easy style and a laidback phrasing that foreshadowed the later style of singing embodied by Sinatra.

You can get a lovley sense of his style and persona here, on Melancholy Baby....

One of my favourite mentions of Al in recent years came in a very overlooked British Movie, I Really Hate My Job, with the great actor Danny Houston delivering a cameo as a ghostly crooner.

Houston's performance is sweet, slightly strange and other-worldly. Just like the voice of the great Al Bowlly.

* Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Don't Fear The Hipster - London Bars You Should Be Visiting

* I'm spending most of my time in That London at the moment. And being a man who likes a good pub, I've been travelling far and wide in search of the best. I thought I'd share my experiences, in the hope that those who visit London can find some great bars that might be off the beaten track - but will worth finding......

The Crate - Canalside - Hackney Wick

I use fashion to express my individuality
HIPSTERS! Everybody knows one, nobody is one. These days, they are the only ethnic group that everybody gets to beat up on. Damn hipsters. Ruining the neighbourhood with their tight jeans, button down shirts, clear-lens Ray-Bans and polite ways. Dontcha' just hate 'em?

In London, to be hipster is to be a social pariah. You'll see suspiciously hipster-ish cafés with ironic "No Hipsters!" slogans chalked on their sandwich boards. Graffiti spray-painted on the walls of certain neighboods will warn "Hipsters Go Home!" or even "Death to Hipsters". Which is a bit much, try substituting "Muslims" or "Irish" into that particular sentiment and see how it reads.

Ah Lads! Hipsters Are People Too!

Tell people you going to Peckham, Shoreditch or Dalston for a drink or a bite to eat and you'll immediately get the "EW! THAT PLACE IS FULL OF F****G HIPSTERS!"

Well, so what? I like hipsters. They're well groomed, normally harmless and fun to look at. Like Hamsters. Hamsters who know how to make a good flat-white.

 Yes, go to some parts of London and every guy under the age of 40 looks exactly the same. Which is a bit weird (we have definitely reached Peak Beard, people!).

But you will also find some great bars. And great, cheap places to eat (hipsters being notoriously stingy).

And some of my favourite bars in London are slap bang in hipster territory. Including...

* The Crate - Hackney Wick

I have a friend (Martin from Tipperary) who has a workshop up in Hackney Wick. He moved in there just before the Olympics kicked off next door in Stratford. And Hackney Wick was a wasteland of old warehouses, crap-clogged canals and seriously dodgy back-streets. Now, Hackney Wick is one of the most stylish (well, Hipster-ish) parts of London. It's said to have the highest concentration of artists in London (they'll all be gone soon as the cool factor they brought to the 'hood sees rents and new loft apartments go up. Ironic or what?). The Crate, a former warehouse on the side of the canal that does greet beers and pizzas, is a great shop to visit when the sun is shining. You can actually do a great little pub crawl around Hackney Wick, there's a great pop-up bar called Grow, a cool restaurant bar called 90 Mainyard and yet another pop-up bar/theatre space (all old trestle tables and industrial space) in the same industrial estate that houses Crate. These are all within a stone's throw of each other.

* Frank's - Fifth Floor, Multi-Story Carpark - Peckam Rye

Franks - The View Over the whole of London is Stunning
Go to resolutely un-picturesque Peckham (currently on the front-line of the Hipster Invasion), find the lane down the side of the PeckhamPlex cinema, go through a little steel door and climb five flights of grimy steps to the roof of the multi-storey carpark and there you will find Frank's. One of my favourite places over the summer. It's not a secret to the in-crowd - but this bar on the roof of one of the biggest multi-story's in South Central London is amazing, for the view it gives you out over the city. You can see the whole of the central London skyline. I had some friends over from Kildare recently. And I took them to the roof of Franks, and pointed out the Shard, St Paul's, Canary Wharf, The London Eye. Sure, they were impressed. But then I pointed at a nearby tower block and told them that it was the original Nelson Mandela House from Only Fools & Horses. And they lost their minds. Out came the cameras, phone-calls were immediately made home..."DAD! DAD! You'll never guess where I am!"....

This is the view from Franks. Stunning. 

There is great food from a couple of street-style shacks and great beers and cocktails. It's closed at the moment for winter but you won't find a better spot to have a bite and a beer on a summer's evening in London (however, be warned - it gets JAMMED during summer weekends)
The Brick Brewery - Peckham Rye 

Nearby - you will find the Brick Brewery - a great little micro-brewery where you can buy a pint made virtually in front of you and sit on the trestle tables underneath the railway line in the yard.

Also in the area - the Montpelier is worth a visit as is the relatively cheap and greatly heralded Italian restaurant, Artusi.

 * The Effra Social - Brixton

Brixton is very close to where I am living at the moment. And it's a fantastic neighbourhood (the last stop on the Victoria line if you are coming from central London or Up North.)

The Effra - Great Place to Dance, Eat, Drink.

The jewel in the crown is the Brixton Market - a fantastic indoor market crammed with tiny restaurants serving every kind of food under the sun, from Asian and African to French, South American and Mexican. It's absolutely hopping at the weekends, when it goes late night.

Also worth a visit is the Effra Social - a former neighbourhood Conservative Club (a sort of social club) that closed it's doors in the late '80s and has recently re-opened as a lovely bar and gastropub.

The Effra is unchanged since the doors closed on the old Conservative Club - there's a dance-hall at the back with a small stage for DJs and bands, it's a time-warp that the new owners have been smart enough to leave virtually untouched. You can almost picture your grandparents dancing to the sounds of Englebert Humperdink back in the day.

Brixton is changing. Fast. People talk about gentrification and how the hipsters are ruining the place. Which is bollix. You can put up with some beardy blokes in tight-jeans if it means getting great food and places like the Effra.

* The Royal Oak - Columbia Road, Shoreditch

Yes, it's on the madly gentrified Columbia Road in the part of London that defines hipster - Shoreditch. And this old man's boozer has been transformed into the kind of gastropub-ish, shabby-chic hangout that drives some people crazy. But it's a beautifully preserved, Edwardian (?) pub with green majolica tiles on the outside and lots of cosy wood, glass and brass on the inside. A real survivor, thankfully given a second life.

* The Princess Louise

Look At That Hipster Fecker

The only pub I'll include here that could not be accused of Hipster-ism - and the closest to the city centre, this Victorian Jewel is close to Covent Garden and the crowd is usually a mix of office workers, tourists and the odd local. But if you are in the city centre, and looking for the authentic London Victorian Pub experience, this marvellous Gin Palace (in the true sense of the phrase) is the place to go. If you can't make it out to Dalston, Shoreditch, Hackney or Peckham, this is the place to go.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Roy Keane - The Latest Shocking Biog Leaks

* Roy Keane! He pulls no punches! And as the latest, often shocking leaks from his new biography reveal, Keano's in an almost permanent state of RAGE! Seriously, it's a wonder he doesn't get out of bed every morning and spontaneously combust. ARGH!

You may have already heard about the Robbie Savage "WHAZZUP!?!" story (and that one will haunt the peroxide blonde MOTD pundit until the day he dies) and Roy's running battles with everybody at Manchester United.

But using a highly placed source (shelf-stacker at Tesco's) - I have gotten my hands on some fresh, shocking stories from the biog. Which is about to make publishing history by being the only major autobiography to be read by the entire universe before it is actually on the bookshelves.

So read on.....

The Only Known Photo Of Roy Almost Smiling
Shortly after it was taken, he had the camera-man shot


"One of my earliest memories is of watching me Mam trying to change my nappy. Now, it may sound strange, but even at the age of four months, I could already sense that her heart was not in it. It was fecking Amateur Hour, to be fair.

"Mam!" (I remember saying) "What's the fecking story, like? I could have changed four nappies myself by this stage!" Later on, as I expertly changed my own nappy for the fourth time that day, I apologised to her. I immediately regretted that. Never show weakness. People take advantage.

And by the way, in case you're wondering,  it's true. My s**t don't stink.

"Me In School - Never Understood The Nick-Name, Like" 

* School-Time

"You go to a new school and you have to let people know who you are, what you are about. So, first day, before they'd even put the jerseys out,  I walked up to the biggest kid in the school-yard and partially strangled him with a skipping rope. "There you go, Son!" (I said as four teachers and a janitor tried to restrain me) "Have a bit of that".

Later on that day, as the headmaster had a chat with me in a secure location, I almost felt like apologising. But then I saw the respect and/or naked terror in his eyes and I thought; "Job done, like. They know you're serious". It was an important lesson for everybody at the school.

"Fail to prepare - prepare to be partially strangled with a skipping rope."

Later on, I partially strangled two Norwegian defenders at Sunderland. And locked the club chairman in a wheelie-bin full of half-eaten Wagon Wheels. And that year? We got promoted.


* Brian Clough And My Big Chance

"It was two days before the big game against Man U and Cloughie pulled me aside. "You, Irishman!" (I let that one pass. A lot of people didn't realise at the time I was actually from Cork). "You're a brave lad. A bit totally basterin' psychotic, mind, but I like that in a player".

The word was, he wanted to start me in the team, but didn't feel it was fair to drop the guy who was already doing a good job for him. The next morning, after the midfielder in question had accidentally run himself over with his lawn-mower, twice, I was in! Of course, some at the club wondered about the accident. Especially as the guy didn't own a lawnmower. And it happened in the men's fashion department of Burton's. But you have to take your chances in this game.

I don't own one of these - I just stare at the grass until it behaves

* Fergie And The Fish-Finger Incident

  "Standards had been slipping at Manchester United for some time. There was all sorts of moaning going on in the dressing room, silly stuff like "I'm not going to do extra training" or "Roy, I'm begging you, I'll try harder at Everton if you just tell me where you are holding my family!".

But it was in the canteen that the final straw happened. I walked in, cool as a breeze. And then I saw it. The Fish-Fingers were Tesco Own-Brand. Now, the last contract I had signed specifically promised Bird's Eye fish-fingers. And everybody at the club knew how I felt about this issue. Of course, there had been a time when Sir Alex had arrived at 5.30am every morning to check the fish-fingers and make sure there were enough of those fiddly tarter-sauce packets (you know, the ones you can't open and then you do and there's tarter-sauce all over your tracksuit? Those utter bastards?).

But as I said. Standards were slipping. Carlos "El Bastardo" Queiroz (I came up with that one. Ha. Ha.) had been put in charge of the fish-fingers. And the man hadn't a fecking clue. So I marched into Fergie's office and screamed about Captain BirdsEye for 15 minutes. The gaffer tried to put me off by saying "Roy, I haven't a f*****g clue what you're talking about, you mad Irish bastard". But he knew all right. Oh yeah. He knew.

Three days later I was out. Two days later I apologised and was back in again. One day later I completely lost it with a bowl of tartar-sauce and was back out again. Life's funny. Ha. Ha.

* What I have Learned From Football, Like.

"I have… seen things you people wouldn't believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like [small cough] tears… in… rain. Time… to die…"

* Thanks for reading. 

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Battle of Cable Street - Irish Dockers & Jewish Workers Against The Fascists

* The Brexit vote - and I'm still a bit traumatised - got me thinking about the UK's working classes - now being casually demonised by many as dumb, racist and worse, the idiot turkeys who voted for Christmas because they don't like seeing brown faces on their high street.

It got me thinking about a now almost forgotten moment in 20th Century Britain - when - as fascism rose across Europe - the working classes of East London united and fought street battles against the Blackshirt movement - and turned back the tide.

It was one of the most extraordinary moments in modern British history - and one group of often demonised, poor and ill-educated emigrants - or economic refugees - united with another - their enemies - to defeat the Blackshirts.

It was the Battle of Cable Street. And it was the Working Classes Wot Won It.


* It's easy to forget. but in the 1930s, with the great democracies reeling from the Great Depression, Fascism was on the rise and seen by many as the future. And not just in Italy, Germany and Spain.

In Britain, firebrand and demagogue Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists - the Blackshirts - represented a major political movement, at one stage, with over 50,000 members. And Mosely took his cue from Mussolini and Hitler, using the politics of hate, mass protests and paramilitary display to rally the disaffected masses and threaten their opponents.

Mosley & His Fascists 
It was a powerful, seductive message in a time of great want and turmoil. The same kind of message we are seeing all over Europe again today, in Greece, Hungary, France and even in Britain. You are not to blame for the sorry state your country finds itself in! It is the outsiders, the Jews, the immigrants, the left-wingers and liberals!

Fascism In London
And Mosely had his sympathisers, both with the Working Classes, who he claimed to identify with (despite being a toff) and many in the ruling classes. It has recently emerged that the British security forces investigated what amounted to a high-level fascist plot, involving many across the British power-elite of the time. Fascism, and the belief that it could triumph in Great Britain, were ideas that were in the air. As the Nazis shouted at the time, "Tomorrow Belongs To Us!"

The Daily Mail was an early supporter of the BUF - running a headline "Hurrah For The Blackshirts" that reflected not so much a great treason or extreme view on the part of the newspaper, but the wider feeling that democracy, or liberalism had failed and fascism offered a real alternative.

It was against this backdrop that Mosley organised what was to be his "March on Rome" - or at least a huge demonstration in the heart of London's most (as the BUF put it) "Jew-Ridden and Communistic" neighbourhoods. The streets around Whitechappel and the East End.

It was part of a campaign of terror already played out in Germany and Italy. Blackshirt gangs had been active in the East End, beating up Jews and Irish immigrants, breaking up meetings and trying to instil fear into their opponents while recruiting the disaffected to their flag.


Along with the Jews and Communists, Mosley and his men also had another target in the East End - the very large Irish community of dockers and their families. He had initially courted the Irish immigrants and found many willing to listen to his message. The Irish of the East End - escaping dire poverty at home - were not exactly known for their peace and goodwill to all men. Irish gangs would repeatedly chase Jews or others out of their neighbourhoods, graffiti such as "No Jews On Our Streets" would regularly appear on walls around Whitechappel. Many Irishmen joined the Blackshirts, Mosley's personal bodyguard for years was a Belfast man who later went on to advise the National Front and other Far Right Groups of the Post-War era.


So, on October 4th, 1936, as The Blackshirts prepared to stage their biggest ever demonstration in London, few could say for certain which way the Irish of the East End would line-up.

But for the large Jewish community, there was no question. If they failed to stand against the fascists now, they knew which way the wind would blow. They had seen what had happened in Germany.

But what would the Irish Catholic dockers, no friends to the Jews, do?

In the end - on one of the most remarkable days in 20th century Britain, the Irish dockers stood with the Jews, the socialists, the communists and the Union men as they fought back. And fight they did. The Battle of Cable Street saw ordinary men and women take to the barricades to force back the tide of Fascism in Britain. And it really did mark the high-water mark for Mosley and his Blackshirts, the point after which his movement went into terminal decline.

Mosley had rallied around 7,000 Blackshirts, the authorities had provided 10,000 policemen (4,000 on horseback) to make sure they could march against the expected opposition from left-wing groups and ordinary East Enders.

What happened was a furious street battle, as the East Enders threw up barricades, fought with the Blackshirts and Police and chanted the Spanish Republican slogan "No Pasaran!" "They Shall Not Pass!"

You can see footage of the battle in the vid below - the song is "The Ghosts of Cable Street", by The Men They Couldn't Hang.

And it is remarkable footage - this is London, in the mid-30s. An army of black-shirted, Sieg-Heiling British fascists fights running battles with ordinary men and women giving the closed fist Socialist salute. It could be Barcelona or Berlin.

****And here's a recent Channel4 news report featuring Max Levitas - who fought the Blackshirts (and who had a brother who fought with the Connolly Column in Spain (Max spent some time in his childhood in Dublin, you may hear a bit of an accent).

Click on this link - Max Levitas****

Mosley was planning a triumph in London before flying out to Berlin the next day to be married to Diana Guinness, formerly Diana Mitford, at the home of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Adolf Hitler would be their guest of honour.
However, as Mosley and his men went into the East End, the anti-fascists learned that he was planning to march through Cable Street. 
On the 70th anniversary of the Battle in 2011, veterans like Professor Bill Fishman gave their recollections of the day.
I heard a loudspeaker say, ‘They are going to Cable Street,’” said Prof Bill Fishman.
 “Suddenly a barricade was erected there and an old lorry was in the middle of the road. The people up the top of the flats, mainly Irish Catholic women, were throwing rubbish on to the police.
“We were all side by side. I was moved to tears to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic dockers standing up to stop Mosley. I shall never forget that for as long as I live, how working-class people could stand together to oppose the evil of racism.”
Former textile worker Beatty Orwell, 94, was just a teenager when she joined the fight.
“I’d never seen so many people in my life,” she recalls.
“There was shouting and shoving, and the police on their horses pushing everyone back. When I spotted Mosley’s lot, dressed in their uniforms like Hitler’s men, I felt sick.
“There weren’t a lot of women there, but that didn’t put me off. We were all in it for a common cause, Orthodox Jews and Irish dockers standing together, when the Blackshirts came to Cable Street.”
Trapped between the barricades and besieged by huge crowds of determined anti-fascists, Mosley's men were forced back. And then the Police Commissioner went to the BUF leader and told him that he had to turn back. There was no way the fascists would march through the East End that day. 
It was a humiliation for Mosley. He had vowed to take over the East End and rally the working classes (many of whom had voted for BUF candidates in local elections) to the flag of fascism. What he actually faced was one of the most significant, single blows dealt to fascism in Europe before the War. The tide had been turned back, in Britain at least.
And while The Battle of Cable Street did not usher in a new era of socialism or universal brotherly love in London, it did show that the ordinary people could organise, fight back and beat the fascists.
As we look to far-right groups such as Golden Dawn in Greece and the English Defence League closer to home, it is a message worth remembering.
* Thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Who's Taking The Horse To France? Ireland's Greatest TV Ads

* A chance encounter with an old friend recently threw up a phrase that meant a lot to us but would make no sense to anybody else in the London pub where we were enjoying a pint; "Who's Taking The Horse To France?" 

So this VERY IRISH SPECIFIC piece is inspired by that question - and is a tour of the Greatest Irish TV ads of all time. So pardon the nostalgia over-load, I'm prone to them. But it's just a bit of fun.

And apologies for the poor quality of some of the video clips - had to do some archeology on YouTube. 

The Way She Might Look At You

Those who doubt the power of TV advertising should ask themselves just one, equine-related question; “Who's taking the horse to France?”

If you grew up watching telly in Ireland in the '90s, that apparently obscure reference should instantly transport you back to a kitchen full of Burberry checks, simmering sexual tension and buttery spuds.

One of a long line of memorable Kerrygold ads, this 1994 mini-drama, featuring a rugged Irish farmer and a classy châtelaine, over from France to buy a horse, gave us thirty seconds of the kind of sexual sophistication we didn't normally associate with range cookers.

An earlier Kerrygold ad had a saucy French trout fisherman called André, sidling up to an Irish B&B owner in her kitchen and asking “Allo? Zere is something I can 'elp?” It was a wonder she didn't drop the frying pan.

Here's a slightly dodgy video clip of the ad in question;

Our best TV advertising in the '80s and '90s often portrayed an aspirational, confident Ireland that would not arrive in reality until the era of the Celtic Tiger.

The ad men behind the Kerrygold brand were particularly adept at mixing the traditional with the modern, with strong, silent farmers and flame-haired colleens offering windswept Celtic allure and Hollandaise sauce to continental visitors.

Their muddy riding boots were hardly hitting the floor in the hall before they were ready to throw caution to the wind with a big knob of butter.

Last Tango in Borris. 

TV ads tended to have a much bigger impact when most homes only had a handfull of TV stations.

And you can probably date most Irish people by asking them to remember their favourite. For many of us, hearing Dusty Springfield sing “Goin' Back” instantly brings to mind a returning young emigrant, a country train station and a drive through the darkening fields towards a brightly lit farmhouse and mammy.

Younger folk will remember a young Michael Fassbender, swimming the Atlantic to New York, to say sorry to a friend. The soundtrack was Mic Christopher's “Heyday” and the product was, of course, Guinness.

The great British advertising guru, David Ogilvy (seen as an inspiration for the Madison Avenue Mad Men of the acclaimed TV drama), once said TV advertising was all about impact.

"You have only 30 seconds in a TV commercial,” said Ogilvy.

“If you grab attention in the first frame with a visual surprise, you stand a better chance of holding the viewer. People screen out a lot of commercials because they open with something dull. When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire."

Today's TV ads tend to move at a quicker pace as they jostle to grab our attention in a very crowded and diverse marketplace (you are as likely to see them on your PC or iPad as on TV).

Only time will tell if today's ads can hope to have the kind of lasting impact that the classic ones of the 80s and '90s had for that generation.

And if you had to draw up a top ten list of the Greatest Irish TV Ads of All Time – it would have to include;
  • 10 – Esat Digifone – The Guy from The Bar.

  • This simple but very effective ad played around with perceptions – the girl sees a gorgeous hunk at the bar, she slips him his number and he calls her up, only to bray “Howya, it's me – the guy from the bar!” in the most comically toe-curling midlands accent you'll ever hear.

  • 9 - Maxol - Free A Nipper
The early '80s were tough enough for this country without Brendan Grace – as Bottler – popping up on our TV screens every half-hour to shout “Free A Nipper – Roight?” But as a catchphrase (for Maxol Petrol Stations), it is as deeply embedded in '80s nostalgia as Ray Houghton's goal in Stuttgart and Charles J Haughey's “We are living away beyond our means”.

  • 8 Guinness – The Island
Better known for the catchphrase “Tá siad ag Teacht” (the only line of dialogue) – This legendary ad was first aired in 1977 and featured a pub full of Guinness drinkers, patiently waiting for a currach to deliver a keg of porter. In 1999, a poll in Marketing Magazine voted it the greatest Irish advertisement of the 20th century.

I love the sound design on this one - spectacular when you consider the period - the tick tock of the clock and the call of curlews ...

  • 7 Harp Larger - Sally O'Brien
“You could fry an egg on the stones here, if you had an egg” - this 1980 classic, with Sally O'Brien and the way she might look at you, had a huge impact on our popular culture. But there was a minor diplomatic incident when it turned out that “Sally O'Brien” was, Padraig Pearse preserve us!, English actress Viki Michelle, who later starred in the sit-com Allo, Allo!

  • 6 Penneys – Got A Whole Lot of Things For Christmas

  • Frist heard in the '80s and revived in the mid-90s, this simple jingle became almost a Christmas Carol for a generation of Irish TV viewers. Impossible to forget.

  • 5 - Bord Na Mona – Marino Waltz
First aired in 1986 - a shining example of a perfect marriage of a tune and a TV ad. You just cannot hear the opening bars of the lovely Marino Waltz without picturing a roaring fire, a deep leather sofa and toes warming up by the flames.

  • 4 – ESB – Going Back
    The young emigrant steps off the train at a country station, his dad is there to bring him home to a brightly lit farmhouse and mammy's cooking. A real-tear jerker from 1988 that still resonates with that generation, many of whom had to emigrate themselves. Trivia fact - the young emigrant is Alan Hughes, now of TV3 and Christmas Panto fame.

  • 3 News of The World – Breakfast With Bertie
“I never thought I'd end up here!” said former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, from a food cupboard, in this ad for the now defunct News of The World Sunday newspaper. Classy, from the weirdo buffon who screwed our fair nation.

What you wouldn't give for the chance to slam a feckin frying pan into that gob.

A nation spluttered out its tea.

2 Guinness - Anticipation
Better known as The Dancing Man – this mould-breaking advert featuring rubber-limbed Irish actor Joe McKinney became an instant, worldwide hit on its début in 1994. The inspired choice of a Perez Prado track – forever known as “ The Da-da-dah Song” - heralded a golden era for Guinness advertising.

1 Guinness – White Christmas

Christmas ads are always the ones we remember best. And this brilliant 2003 spot for the famous stout, featuring snow falling on deserted places around Ireland on Christmas eve, evoked James Joyce's classic Christmas story The Dead, finishing with snow forming a creamy white head on the famous black gates of the brewery in Dublin.

It's the Dublin Christmas we all dream of. And of course, is ridiculously idealised.

Still, lovely stuff.