A Short History of Blogging – reblogged!

Here’s a post from a couple of years ago which might be of interest if you haven’t read it before. (I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

Blogging has always been about self-promotion. The first known blogs were on cave walls, although they were pretty crude, to be honest, and it is often really difficult to make out what the bloggers were on about. There is speculation, indeed, that to refer to them as ‘blogs’ might be a little misleading. The fact that they tend to be short and that it is very hard to make out what they mean, leads some experts to assume that they were an early form of Twitter. And then the fact that they frequently depict crude human figures, especially exaggeratedly female ones, and various animals, suggest that even in these early times, social media were largely the preserve of the young person.

cave paintings

‘Share if you think these babes are hot.’

By the time of the rise of the first true civilisations in Egypt, they were beginning to get the hang of it. They have left massive numbers of inscriptions all over walls and columns and pretty well anything else that they could get a hammer and chisel near.

Egyptian carvings

‘Amenhotep snubbed in Big Brother Pyramid game – LOL’

Some even see the Rosetta Stone as a forerunner of Google, but others don’t.

The first English blogger was The Venerable Bede. His blog is one of the main sources of our knowledge of Saxon times, which is a bit of a bugger really, when you consider how reliable social media are today as a source of modern history. He probably missed out most of the good stuff. But he blogged in Old English, anyway, which no one can understand nowadays so it probably doesn’t matter.

bede

Leonardo da Vinci did a wicked selfie, but would probably be criticised nowadays for how few he produced. To be anyone on social media, it is probably necessary to post a minimum of twenty selfies in any twenty four hour period, but Leo was never up to that. But most of his blogs were all about what would then be science fiction and art and politics…so he’d have fitted in quite well with today’s bloggers really.

Samuel Pepys’ diaries are, of course, just the notes he took for his blogs. They are a mix of politics and news and what his family were up to, and his ‘conquests’ of various ladies. Wisely, he wrote most of this in shorthand and, even more wisely, put the more salacious bits in code. Nowadays, it is unnecessary to use code, since language is now changing so fast that no one can understand anything that was written more than six months ago anyway.

The Puritans thought blogging might be fun so they banned it, along with just about everything else, except breathing and praying. Well, praying, anyway.

A little later, newspapers were invented. These were not really blogs, since they were filled with news, rather than self-promotion, and it took a number of years before newspaper owners and editors realised that. Once they did, however, they worked very hard to make up for lost time, and now there are very few newspapers in the world that print mainly news.

And quite a lot that do not print any news at all.

In fact, they tend to be full of primitive opinion and often depict crude human figures, especially exaggeratedly female ones, and various animals.

And thus life turns full circle.

 

Photo credit (picture 1): jmarconi via VisualHunt.com / CC BY         

Photo credit (picture 2): PMillera4 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Advertisements

The Kashmir Issue

I posted a little while back that I had prepared a rather contentious post.

This is it.

Of course, I realise I risk being shot down in flames over this post. An Englishman blogging on what he thinks might be the solution to an incredibly difficult problem in the Sub-continent. So I will put on my tin hat, duck behind the sandbags, and press ‘Publish’.

As always, I welcome your comments. In fact, it is probably pointless my posting this unless there is a conversation. But, please, keep it polite.

Obviously, I am not the only person to have thought of this idea. Indeed, I read about it a long time ago, when these various options were being discussed to the backdrop of bombs and bullets.

Plus ca change.

twenty eight

I fear there is only one solution that is practical in the long term, but I strongly doubt that the governments of India or Pakistan would have the courage to implement it. For the whole of Kashmir to remain in Indian hands will mean a continuation of the devastating armed conflict in progress at present, with no prospect of it ever ending, plus the ever-present prospect of it escalating into something much more serious. But for it to pass entirely into Pakistani hands would be considered out of the question by the huge majority of the Indian population, and certainly by the whole of the political class.

No, the only prospect of peace that I see is for the state of Kashmir to be partitioned in much the same way as India herself was in 1947. The areas of Muslim majority such as the Vale of Kashmir would need to be ceded to Pakistan, and the remaining ones would remain part of India. Pakistan and the insurgents would need to agree to give up all claims to these areas. This would need to be achieved by negotiation in good faith with goodwill on both sides, both conscious of the risks and the monumental steps they are taking to finally establish permanent peace, and to restore prosperity to a troubled part of the sub-continent. And upon resolution, all parties would need to declare very publicly that this was a solution agreeable to all, and give it their blessing.

It is not as though there is no precedent to that arrangement. After all, both the Punjab and Bengal were divided this way at independence, and although it was strongly resented by some, it was also generally viewed as the only practical solution. And it is what should have happened to Kashmir, then.

If the difficulties in the way of this solution are huge, then so too are the incentives for success. It goes without saying that the loss of life and the devastation caused by the troubles are highly undesirable in the first place, and then there is the massive drain in resources to both sides by keeping huge forces established on either side of the border. With the prospect of peace, then agriculture, industry and tourism could return to normal with major benefits for everyone involved. Lastly, with the removal of the ‘Kashmir Issue’ as a friction between them, it is possible that both sides might finally come to the sort of mutual respect, collaboration, and friendship envisioned back in 1947. Even if the attempt were to end in failure, then the goodwill generated by the attempt could be a positive that might spill over into other areas of India / Pakistan relations.

The alternative solution, sometimes mooted, of an independent Kashmir under UN jurisdiction, appears an unworkable ideal. The state itself is too divided for this to work, and both Indian and Pakistani players would still covert the whole country. It is unlikely that conflict would cease under these conditions; it would be more likely to simply escalate. The small state would forever be reliant on the UN for security, leading to a constant financial drain on the organisation. The peacekeepers, too, would inevitably become military targets raising the risk of  new frictions arising.

I believe that the option of doing nothing is one that must be finally put aside. At present the situation is one where a resented and hated military presence governs within its own borders through fear and the threat of violence, That is not a situation that is likely to ever change to trust. The population are never going to learn to love their rulers that way. The only option in that situation is the eternal continuation of the status quo.

But it lies within the power of the regional players to solve this crisis once and for all, and it is essential that the attempt is made.

Resources for Writers – #1

A long, long time ago (heavens, it seems an age!), I wrote a post about the difficulties of historical accuracy facing writers.

Really? So kind of you – it’s here: HERE

Gosh, people are so kind.

Anyway, I have a number of books which I find invaluable when I am writing, so just to mention a few:

I have a first edition of Chambers’ Encyclopaedia; two volumes, published 1848, which I got for a song many years ago. Of course, anyone who has ever heard me sing will know that cannot be literally true – the only thing I might get for a song would be a heavy fine or a spell in prison. Or a slap. But enough of that.

001

Referring back to my post on historical accuracy, I argued that even contemporary accounts of history are suspect – possibly even more so than many later ones – but as a snapshot of the world as it was seen by a group of British writers in 1848, my Chambers’ Encyclopaedia is invaluable. It gives me their view of other nations and religions, their understanding of science and commerce, and many other topics. A story set in 1848 or thereabouts, would use much of that information.

And 1848 in Europe was known as the year of revolutions – a good setting for a story or ten.

Equally, I set a long short story in 1920’s England, and many of the travel books of the time (I have a guide book to Dartmoor published in 1920) carry adverts for food, drink, hotels, buses, etc, which give a lot of the detail I needed.

Finally, Lonely Planet. My current novel, for which I still don’t have a title – don’t judge me – is set mainly in the India of 1988-ish. The 1986 edition of West Asia on a Shoestring while not being a great deal of use to the traveller of 2017, is incredibly useful to me when writing my book. I can easily get a sense of the price of everything that my English traveller of the story will encounter, and also a sense of what is available – where buses or trains might run, what sort of facilities are to be found in small hill towns, and many other things.

Obviously, our old chum Google is always at hand to help us out with our queries, but resources such as these are not only more accurate, they save us having to sift through many sites that may provide inaccurate information.

And God help the writer that uses that.

The Past in a Foreign Country; We Did Remarkably Similar Things There

Or, following in my father’s footsteps, or something like that.

Putting up some old postcards of Darjeeling earlier this week set me to thinking. And, let’s face it, anything that can achieve that is a good thing!

I have posted before that my father spent time in India, both during the Second World War and in the days leading up to Partition. If you would like to re-read it, the link is here: My Father In India

In this post, I mentioned that when I first visited India in 1989, at least, my first proper visit rather than simply passing through on the way to Nepal, I visited the Red Fort in Delhi, taking plenty of photographs, of course.

Some while later, at home, I was going through some of my father’s photographs, and discovered that I had taken a photograph of a view of the mosque in the Red Fort that was almost identical to one that he had.

img

Above: the one my father had. And, below: the one I took.

img_0001

Looking at the minaret in front of the dome closest to the viewer, it seems I took my photograph from the archway to the left of the one my father’s photograph is taken from, but otherwise we must have been standing in the same spot. My father would have been quite a bit younger at that time than I was when I visited the Red Fort, and the circumstances very different. But I’m sure that he felt the same sense of awe that I did.

Now there are mature trees behind the mosque, a couple of low hedges in front, and the creepers on the wall have gone.

Otherwise, the view is the same.

And because my father is no longer here, there is an extra poignancy to this; although our footsteps crossed and merged at this place, thousands of miles away, and we both must have lingered in this same spot and, who knows, possibly thought similar thoughts, the passage of time means in reality we might as well have been tens of millions of miles apart.

And this led me to look more closely at his other photographs.

There are not many, perhaps thirty or forty of them, but it is strange that when he was on leave in India, one time, he went with a few chums up to Nainital, and again there appear to be photos taken from spots where I have stood. The images are not the same, this time, but again our footsteps must have crossed.

I think the greatest regret I have about this, other than the obvious one that he is no longer alive, is that I cannot talk about these places with him. But just sharing them is good, even if it does make me feel sad.

Historic Darjeeling

Digging into my (admittedly rather small) old postcard collection, I came across a few picturing Darjeeling.

imga

On this first one, other than the title, there is no information on the card. It is unused (as are the other two here), so I do not even have a postmark to help me guess what date the picture was taken. I would guess, however, that although the postcard was probably printed in the 1930’s, the photo could be ten or twenty years older than that. It looks as though the road on the right is The Mall, and the one running from left to right a little way below the skyline could be Hill Cart Road. Looking through a magnifying glass, it is possible to see that there are plenty of pedestrians, but I cannot make out a single vehicle. The photo would have been taken from a high spot on Dr Zakir Hussein Rd, near where the TV tower now stands.

img_0001

The second one is simply labelled ‘Native Village, Darjeeling’, and is the representation of a hand-tinted black and white photo. ‘Darjeeling’ is much more than the town, of course, and covers a large area all around it. Other than that, I could not hazzard more than a guess where this village lies. Searching through a few internet sites, however, I found another copy of this with a date of 1910.

img_0002

Finally, ‘The Railway Loop above Tindharia, Darjeeling’. Also hand coloured, this particular picture appears to be a copy of a photograph taken in 1880 by Bourne and Shepherd. Also known as ‘Agony Point’, this was built to enable trains to tackle the steep gradients by spiralling around instead of going straight up or down. It is renowned for being an incredibly tight loop.

Perhaps this is also a good place to slip in a link to my previous blog post:

My First Long Trip to India (5) in which I wrote about my impressions of Colonial era India when I visited Darjeeling for the first time.

We’re better than you are!

I don’t buy into this ‘My country is better than yours’ crap.

070

Are we talking about the political systems? I suppose we are, because that’s what seems to be grabbing all the headlines.

Yet the countries that seem to be the subjects of this particular debate are all, on the surface, at least, democracies. So, no difference then?

Hmm…

It might be ‘Our country’s values’, of course, because that’s another hot one at the mo.

Hang on, though, what does that mean? People were banging on about that yesterday, but I’m more than a little uncertain whether such a basket of goodies actually exists. ‘We are against racism and misogyny!’ Sounds good to me, only that’s not true. Some of us are, certainly, but you only need to spend a reasonable amount of time in any pub on a Saturday night, to hear plenty of racist and misogynist talk. And not just pubs. In every walk of life, you can hear this talk: doctors’ waiting rooms, shops, offices, bus stops…

We’re hardly perfect.

If a country is the sum total of its citizens, then you will struggle to identify that country’s ‘values’.

Culture? Culture cuts across borders, it is not constrained by them. We read books and see films and plays that have been written and produced by artists worldwide. Frequently, we have no idea where they actually hail from in the first place.

‘But,’ I hear an angry shout, ‘it is our indigenous culture that makes us great!

Uh-huh? I am often bemused when a famous painting in a British collection is under threat of sale to a foreign buyer and there is a collective wail of ‘Our cultural inheritance is in danger!’ Bemused, because nine times out of ten the painting in question is by an Italian or French or German or artist of some other nationality.

If we only had British paintings in our gallery things would look rather different.

And the Elgin marbles? Ours, dammit! Our inheritance!

The treasures filling our museums from all the countries we colonised and asset-stripped…

Maybe it’s our religious inheritance. Christian, according to a lot of the stuff I hear.

In 2015, 42% of the British population identified themselves as Christian. (British Social Attitudes survey) Those who actually attend church regularly, however, number only 5-6% of the population.

The vast majority of the British population do not go to church, so how can we be a Christian country?

What about our history, then?

Well, good and bad, like most countries. We abolished slavery in the 1800’s – all well and good, but we had profited hugely from it in the years before. The lot of a slave in the British West Indies, for example was horrendously barbaric.

Empire? Pfft.

Votes for women? Eventually, and only after a concerted attempt to trample the movement underfoot, using a fair degree of violence in the process.

Everyone will have their own ideas of what we do well, of course. I am proud of the fact that we give our share of aid to projects designed to eradicate poverty and disease around the world, and disaster relief. I am grateful that despite the failings of the system (and they are many) we live in a country where our representatives can be thrown out and re-elected on a regular basis. We cannot, in theory, be held without trial, and we are not in constant danger of being mown down by gunfire in our streets and schools.

But, before we get too cocky about that, remember how things can change over time.

Vigilance, my friends, vigilance…

Varanasi and Sarnath

The city of Varanasi is probably the most important place in India to Hindus, whilst the ruins of Sarnath, some 10km away, mark the remains of a site of great importance to Buddhists. I stayed there for three days, some 8 years ago.
039
Dasaswamedh Ghat, Varanasi. Taken from the top of the steps (ghats). The River Ganges is the holiest river to Hindus, and Varanasi is the one of the holiest cities. Previously named Benares (and often so still called) and Kashi (City of Life), it is visited by Hindus in their millions who come to bathe in the Ganges to purify their souls. In a final journey, many are cremated here and their ashes cast into the river, believing that this will help to achieve liberation from rebirth.

040

The river Ganges from Dasaswamedh Ghat, Varanasi.

038

Stalls on the ghats at Varanasi. Varanasi never seems less than vibrant and colourful.

055

And another stall near the ghats.

049

Down at the ghats I was trailed by this cheerful young rogue demanding money to have his photo taken or to show me the sights or sell me souvenirs or lead me to stalls where I could purchase to my heart’s content or…whatever.

037

Street scene in Varanasi. The church in the middle distance is Saint Thomas’. This was taken quite early in the morning when I was on my way to the ghats. Early afternoon as I was returning, it was packed solid, traffic completely unable to move.

004

10km outside Varanasi lie the ruins of Sarnath. After the Buddha had achieved enlightenment at Bodhgaya, he came to Sarnarth – a walk of some 250kms or so, through what would have been highly dangerous country then – to seek out his former companions and in the Deer Park there he gave his first sermon, on the turning of the wheel of law. This comprises the Buddha’s path to Enlightenment: the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold path and the Middle Way. In the 3rd century BC, the emperor Ashoka, a convert to Buddhism after witnessing the terrible carnage of a war he had unleashed, built stupas and monasteries here as well as an engraved pillar. These survived until the end of the 12th century when they were destroyed during the Muslim invasions and not rediscovered until 1834 by a British archaeological team.

008

 

This altar stone in the ruins of Sarnath) is still being used by pilgrims for pujas.

013.JPG

Dhamekh Stupa at Sarnath . This solid cylindrical tower, 33m in height, supposedly marks the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon. The base is stone, covered in delicate carvings, and the upper part brick.

016.JPG

Carvings adorning the base of the Dhamekh Stupa.

A Shared Humanity

‘The world knows nothing of its greatest men’ goes the old saying. Or women, of course, since it is men who tend to write these things. I may have alluded to this before.

017

I was reading a blog post by Rajiv earlier today, on the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and we swapped a couple of comments, the result of which decided me to write this short post. You can read Rajiv’s post here: Partition in the Punjab

Those of us who did not live through that time, cannot really imagine the full horror of it all. The figures alone are dreadful.

14 million people were displaced, forced to move from their homes to either what remained India or became East or West Pakistan, by any means of transport available, frequently on foot. Those that survived the journey, frequently one of tremendous hardship, carried memories that were often too dreadful to relate.

Most lost their possessions.

Families were split apart and separated, many of them never to meet again.

Millions of refugees.

Up to 1 million were killed in what were effectively religious killings – the actual figure is unknown. Trains were set on fire, men and women, adults and children, lost their lives in what became a frenzy of killing.

Much, of course, has been written of this over the years, and the blame placed on many shoulders. The British were extremely culpable in this case, mainly through neglect and thoughtlessness. Those that assumed power in India and Pakistan need to take their share of the blame, too.

But the world, as I remarked at the start of this post, knows nothing of its greatest men. Or, in this case, its greatest men and women, or at least very little of them.

On both sides of the new borders, whilst most people succumbed to fear and many to hatred, whilst innocent lives were taken and dreadful acts carried out, there were many, many people who sheltered and saved those of other religions who had been their friends and neighbours before, often at great personal risk.

They gained nothing from it, but simply displayed their common humanity.

I have read of a few examples of this, a few stories from both sides of that border, and I have seen it mentioned briefly in documentaries.

But now, before the last players in that tragedy finally pass away, it would be marvellous if there could be a concerted effort to collect these stories and record them, as an inspiring example of people reaching out to each other across what is, once again, becoming a depressingly familiar religious divide, and, most importantly, remembering and commemorating their bravery.

Pitfalls for Writers – no.6: Historical Accuracy

 

‘Dear Mr. Author.

Whilst reading your book ‘Oh what fun and laughter we had during the time the Black Death wiped out our village’ the other day, I was disappointed to notice that you mentioned July 23rd 1449 as having been a sunny day in your fictitious village. From the descriptions you provide, you have clearly located said village a little to the south of present day Norwich, and my extensive researches prove that July 23rd 1449 would have been a rainy day there.

Yours disgruntledly,

A Pedant.’

How accurate do you need to be, as a writer, with historical facts?

If you are writing a non-fiction book, you have to be scrupulously accurate, no matter what subject it is.

End of.

On the other hand, if you are writing fiction, you have a certain amount of leeway. First of all, though, it is worth saying that if you sell enough copies of your book you will eventually attract correspondents like the fellow above. Is that something to worry about? Only if they get to know where you live, perhaps. Otherwise, send them a nice reply, thanking them for their diligence, and assuring them that you will correct your dreadful fault in the next edition. On the other hand:

‘Dear Mr Author.

The Black Death was actually sweeping the country in 1349, not 1449.

Yours smugly,

A Historian.’

This time, you’ve screwed up.

And yes, it matters.

Very minor inaccuracies are bound to slip through, and very few people will notice them. And if they do, they will not think anything of them.

Except for Arthur Pedant, of course.

The big things are another matter. Imagine reading a novel set in the days around the Russian Revolution, and then the author tells you that the Bolsheviks rose up against the state in 1927 instead of 1917. Or that they were led in the beginning by Stalin. Immediately, the author’s credibility has evaporated, as has their story.

Because the reader no longer believes the author, and they no longer accept their story.

The moral here, then, is don’t skimp on the research!

It is possible to radically change the facts of history, but the difference is that to do this the author must present it as the whole point of the story. In steampunk novels, the whole history of Victorian Britain is altered, but the reader accepts this as it is the premise behind the genre. It is seen not as a mistake, but as a narrative invention.

In many science fiction novels, the premise is a future that is the result of a different history than that which actually happened. For example, the Germans won the Second World War, or of different worlds or dimensions in which history diverges from the accepted version. Again, this is accepted by the reader, as it is the premise that the story is set on.

It is possible to break this rule, but to do so the author has to break it in such a way that it is quickly obvious that they have done it deliberately, and not by mistake.

One might, for example, set a novel in Victorian England that is not steampunk – a detective story, perhaps – but in which Queen Victoria is assassinated in 1860. As this is something that no one could possibly put in by accident, it will be seen as part of the invented narrative and accepted.

Well, probably. Where is Arthur Pedant?

Libya – Leptis Magna

Libya certainly seems to have suffered more than its fair share of misfortune over the years.

I was there in 1988 for six months – not that I’m suggesting that was one of their misfortunes – which should have been a good opportunity to get to know one of those countries that chose to be rather secretive and closed off to the outside world. It didn’t work out that way, of course.

As Westerners, we found it very hard to penetrate Libyan society and, to be honest, we really didn’t try that hard. There were almost no opportunities for socialising with local people, we were regarded with great suspicion by the authorities (although so were most of the general population, of course), and so we ended up in our enclaves even more than is usual in most ex-patriot societies.

But despite that, I discovered that the majority of the Libyans I did meet were wonderful, warm-hearted people. A few were slimeballs, but the same goes for the Westerners – many were great folk, but a few of them were also slimeballs, including the so-called friend who amused himself one evening by spiking my drinks with near-neat alcohol, knowing I was driving home afterwards. If by any freak of chance you ever read this, Shaun, you really are a shit.

It was always said that, as unpleasant and bad as Gaddafi undoubtedly was, there were others around him who were even more seriously dangerous and unhinged. Unfortunately, it seems that a number of them and their colleagues are still wreaking havoc in the country, along with the twisted followers of Isis and various other militias.

But the purpose of this post is to put up some photos that I took in Leptis Magna, which was a huge Roman city a couple of thousand years ago, and is located on the Mediterranean coast near the town of al Khums, some 125 km east of Tripoli. It is the largest extant Roman city outside of Turkey, and is a Unesco designated World Heritage site. I had visited Rome in the past, and I was astonished to see the extent of the remains at this site, which easily dwarfed those in the Roman capital.

Libya was certainly a place where I generally felt uncomfortable taking photos, and so I took very few other than these ones. The quality of the photographs, though, are generally very poor, I’m afraid, since all I took with me was an incredibly cheap camera. I was warned that there was a good chance that anything you took into Libya might get confiscated or simply stolen. The prints have also faded badly over time, and so these are presented purely for general interest.

I do have some more photos of Leptis Magna somewhere, which might be in better condition, so I will try to hunt them out for another time.

Leptis Magna is another one of those ancient sites that is under threat of destruction by the fanatics of Isis, and although I have followed quite a few threads on the internet, I am unable to find out whether there has been any actual destruction there yet. What I do know is that a group of very brave Libyans have formed a kind of militia to protect the ruins. I can only hope that they, and the ruins, are all well.

IMG_0004

Roman  Amphitheatre

IMG_0001

Roman basilica – converted to a church in the fourth century AD

IMG

Roman baths

IMG_0002

Along a Roman street…

IMG_0003

Through doorways and buildings…

IMG_0005

…and along another Roman street.