Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How long did the Roman empire survive? 2700 years?

During the First Balkan War in 1912 the Greek navy captured the island of Lemnos from the Ottoman Empire and promptly sent soldiers to every village and stationed them in the public squares. Children from all over the island ran to see what these so called Greeks looked like.

"What are you looking at?" one of soldiers asked. "At you Greeks" one of the children replied. "Are you not Greek yourselves?" said the soldier. "No, we are Romans" replied the child.

The above story was told by Peter Charanis, a well known historian, himself born in Lemnos in 1908. At that time, more than half of all Greeks still identified themselves as Romans and lived outside the official Hellenic Republic, in the Aegean, Thrace, but mostly in Asia Minor.

In the following decade, as the Hellenic Republic expanded and encompassed those areas as well (and eventually lost them in 1923), every child was taught to think of itself as Greek, not Roman. Thus ended the world's most ancient national identity, over 2700 years old since the founding of Rome.

However, if the original author is inquiring as to why there is a Chinese nation-state in existence today but no Roman nation-state, then the answer interestingly enough may be found in medieval and modern Greek history.

The gradual collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire forced the remaining East to redefine itself by a predominantly Greek population. Indeed, Roman citizens in the Middle Ages would commonly refer to themselves as Greeks as well as Romans and call their land Greece and Rome (Romania) alike.

This relatively homogeneous state with a sense of common identity among the people, stood in stark contrast to the earlier massive multi-ethnic Empire.

This is the defining characteristic of nationalism, which was growing all over Europe during the middle ages and eventually culminated with the French Revolution in 1789 and the world's first nation-state, France. In Greece proper and Asia Minor however, the totalitarian rule of the Ottoman conquerors hindered Roman nationalism from maturing and prevented it materializing in a Roman nation-state.

When the Ottoman Empire began dissolving in the early 19th century, the Roman people came together and finally did form their nation-state, which they named Greece instead Romania which was the de facto name the people used.

This break in tradition is attributed to the Renaissance on the one hand, which gave birth to admiration of the Classic era, and the increased reliance on the Great Powers for help on the other, who frankly found the prospect of aiding the descendants of Pericles and Leonidas far more appealing than helping the descendants of Basil and Constantine.

More importantly, by identifying themselves as Greeks, they renounced their claims to all and any Roman lands and titles their forefathers held, which put the great monarchs of Europe a little bit more at ease and inclined to help.

Still, once the political integrity of this newborn state was no longer at stake, the Greeks began a series of all out wars against the Ottomans anyway, in an attempt to reclaim all remaining Greek speaking territories in Asia Minor. Had they been successful, the final form of modern Greece would look suprisingly similar to the medieval Roman Empire on a map (The above is a real map published by the Hellenic Republic in 1920).

Friday, April 18, 2014

‘She’s a happy little thing. She never complains about not being able to walk.'

There was a hush of anticipation as the crowd turned to see the girl in the flowing white dress. As she entered the church with an infectious grin, onlookers gasped and wiped tears from their eyes.

It wasn’t the bride they were so happy to see, but four-year-old Bella: the little bridesmaid they never thought they’d see walk down the aisle.

Bella Luckett has cerebral palsy and cannot stand unaided, let alone walk. But she was able to glide down the aisle with her head held high — all thanks to a groundbreaking new harness which attached her to her father, Gary, allowing Bella to take her first steps alongside her dad.

The moment was particularly precious for Gary, 29, who admits to battling with his emotions: ‘I didn’t want to cry in front of the photographers,’ he laughs. ‘But I’m away a lot with work and her mum’s her full-time carer, really, so it was great for me to share this special moment with Bella.’

As for her mum, Natalie, also 29, there was no such restraint. She says she ‘burst into tears’ at the sight of her daughter standing upright for the first time.

‘I was so nervous,’ says Natalie. ‘Before I saw Bella, I noticed my mum in floods of tears: she was further back and could see her before I did.

‘Bella was giggling and smiling as if to say: “Everyone’s looking at me!” I couldn’t help myself; I burst into tears. Gary didn’t cry but he looked very emotional.’

Bella was so distracted by the novelty of walking she forgot to scatter the tulip petals she was carrying.

‘She reached the altar and shouted: “I’ve still got my flowers!”’ says Natalie.

The congregation’s tears turned to laughter as she quickly threw them up into the air all at once.

Gary’s sister Louise asked Bella to be a bridesmaid when she announced her engagement two years ago. At that point they had no idea whether she’d be able to walk, or would have to be carried down the aisle.

It wasn’t looking good, with Bella still unable to stand or even sit up properly in the lead-up to the wedding. Then her parents came across the Upsee, a revolutionary device that helps disabled children become mobile.

News of the incredible garment had been spreading on social networking sites. Such was the demand when online sales began on April 7 that the company’s website crashed.

Designed by the mother of a disabled child, the £269 Upsee resembles a waistcoat with lots of straps.

The simple-looking garment has three parts: an adjustable waistband with back support worn by the adult; a child’s vest, the bottom of which surrounds their pelvis, with padded straps which loop round the top of the child’s legs — these two are connected by four straps which clip together at the child’s shoulder and lower back on both sides.

The third component is the ‘double sandal’, in which the adult’s shoe is joined to that of the child. These enable the adult to lift the child’s foot with each step.

It takes practice to get the hang of it: some children may only be able to stand for short amounts of time at first.

‘The first time I tried it on with Bella, she loved it,’ says Natalie. ‘She asked: “Can we walk down the stairs, Mummy?” Of course that was far too dangerous, but it showed how keen she was to get moving.’

Bella was 18 months old when she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, an umbrella term for loss or impairment of motor function caused by brain damage before, during or immediately after birth.

‘We’d been on edge throughout the pregnancy because I’d had three miscarriages,’ says Natalie, who also has a nine-year-old son, Ollie. ‘Bella was born three weeks early, weighing 5lb 3oz. She didn’t breathe for the first two minutes, then the doctor tickled her feet and she started crying.’

There was no cause for concern at this point. They were kept in hospital for 48 hours before returning to their home in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, where Bella seemed to flourish.’

The first clue that something might be amiss was that ‘she didn’t hold herself right’. Natalie explains: ‘She was always crying and I noticed that when other people held her, she looked uncomfortable.’

Bella didn’t start rolling over at four months as babies are meant to do, but doctors put it down to children developing at different rates.

At a ten-month check-up, the doctor looked at Bella’s legs and referred her to a paediatrician. That’s when Natalie took to Google and recognised the similarity between Bella’s symptoms and cerebral palsy.

‘I was very upset,’ says Natalie, ‘because I just knew that’s what was wrong with Bella. I showed my mum and she agreed.

‘Everyone else, including Gary, kept saying she was fine. But I was like: “No! She’s not.”’

Bella was 18 months old and unable to sit properly on the ground, let alone stand or walk, when the results of an MRI proved Natalie was right.

‘I think the specialist knew that I knew,’ says Natalie, ‘because she just said really quickly: “She has cerebral palsy”. I burst into tears, thinking where would this leave her.’

Bella was diagnosed with a type of cerebral palsy called spastic diplegia.

‘Put simply, the part of her brain that sends messages to her muscles doesn’t work, so the muscles in her legs don’t know how to do their job,’ says Natalie.

‘Her arms are slightly affected, too: she can’t do up buttons or zips on  her own.

‘The doctors were honest straight away. They couldn’t say whether she would ever walk or not. With physio she might manage to do it of her own accord. If not, she might be a candidate for an operation on her spine when she’s seven or eight.

‘I am terrified of the thought of putting her through major surgery. The doctor advised us to leave it later to give her a chance to walk naturally.’

Met with such an uncertain future, Natalie says she and Gary, an oil rig engineer whose work often takes him away from home for weeks at a time, ‘both had a cry’.

Bella started regular physio and  had to use a standing frame for an hour a day.

‘For the first three-and-a-half years I was obsessed with whether Bella would walk,’ says Natalie. ‘I kept thinking about how she would cope in a mainstream school.’

When asked whether she gets depressed sometimes, Natalie’s warm smile instantly crumples.

‘I’m sorry,’ she says, wiping away tears. ‘Yes, most days . . . Sometimes you even get frustrated with your child for not trying hard enough. Then you feel angry with yourself because of course it’s not their fault.’

At that, Bella comes crawling over, clutching a toy. Her big brown eyes peer quizzically through her glasses.

‘It’s not exactly that you blame yourself,’ says Natalie. ‘You just want to help so much but there’s nothing really you can do.

‘Gary’s away a lot so it gets very, very lonely. I have some wonderful friends but there are others who seemed to fall off the face of the earth when she was diagnosed.

‘Everywhere we turned there were reminders of Bella’s disability. She can’t play at the soft play centre with the other children. She can kneel but she can’t sit on things properly: when we go to friends’ houses for lunch there isn’t a special chair for her.

‘Bouncy castle parties or discos are of course out. It even takes for ever to get to the park although it’s down  the road: we have to help her down the slide and I can’t manage that on my own.’

And what about Bella herself?

‘She’s a happy little thing,’ says her mum. ‘She wants to do everything but she never complains about not being able to walk like other children.

‘You’ll just see her stop and look at them running around. She’ll go quiet and you know what she’s thinking.

‘There was a point about a year ago when she became scared of babies starting to walk: her nephews, for example. She wouldn’t go near them. I think she couldn’t get her head round it.’

At two, Bella was given a walking frame, which she can only use for five minutes at a time because her legs get tired. She has a special buggy for longer journeys and in future will be given a wheelchair.

Bella has also been treated twice with Botox injections in her legs. In tiny doses it relaxes the muscles in some people with cerebral palsy by blocking nerve impulses. This allows better control of movement and reduces the risk of muscle and tendon shortening. The effects tend to last from four to six months.

‘She had it for the first time about a year ago,’ says Natalie. ‘I was with my mum and we were supporting her on her feet. Then suddenly she took a step forward: we were amazed.

‘It was wonderful but with cerebral palsy you know that you might take one step forward but there’ll be however many steps back.’

When she had further injections of Botox this January, the effect wasn’t so dramatic. By this point the couple were beginning to lose hope their daughter would walk down the aisle for her aunt’s wedding last week.

At the end of March, they read about the Upsee on Facebook.

‘The idea must have come  from children dancing on adults’ toes,’ adds Gary. ‘Natalie told me about it and I rang the company immediately.

‘It wasn’t yet on sale but after I explained we wanted one to help our daughter be a bridesmaid, they promised to send a demo version in white to match her dress.’

Natalie adds: ‘We were cutting it a bit fine, timing-wise, so I didn’t dare think it would ever happen.’

But sure enough, three days before the big day, the Upsee arrived.  Bella’s physiotherapist had confirmed it would be safe for her to wear as a one-off: at her next appointment she will see whether they can use it more regularly.

Meanwhile, Bella’s big day took place last Saturday at St Nicholas Church in Wilden, Bedfordshire.

‘We all went over to Gary’s mum’s, where Bella loved having her hair done,’ says Natalie. ‘The Upsee vest was strapped on underneath the white dress. There were holes in the shoulders of the dress for the straps to thread through. At the venue, we attached her to Gary’s hip belt.’

Then they were ready to walk down the aisle ahead of the bride. ‘Everyone had heard about Bella,’ says Natalie. ‘They knew it was a big moment. I could hear Gary’s granny behind me saying: “Oh, isn’t she wonderful!”’

So what did Ollie make of his sister’s grand entrance? He says he was ‘very happy’ and that she looked ‘pretty and cute’. In fact, there was barely a dry eye in the house.

As for Bella, she was very pleased with herself, comparing herself to Cinderella in her floor-length gown.

Afterwards there was a reception, where Bella remained in her waistcoat until pudding. The star of the show, she was then carried on to the dance floor by her many fans.

And how does she sum up the day? ‘It was perfect.’

Kneeling in a ring of teddies poised for a tea party, Bella seems surprisingly content with her lot.

Recalling her daughter’s grand entrance at the wedding, Natalie concludes: ‘It’s bittersweet because she still can’t walk by herself, of course. But Bella’s old enough to remember it — so regardless of what happens in the future, she’ll always have that wonderful memory.

So what CLASS are YOU? An all-too perceptive new book has the answer... and it hinges on your favourite marmalade and what you buy at M&S


What is Englishness? That is the question that social anthropologist Kate Fox set out to answer in her book Watching The English, which became an international bestseller. Now, ten years on, she has dug even deeper into our national foibles and eccentricities to update her study. The result is gloriously entertaining — and painfully accurate!


Most of the English would rather pretend that class ­differences don’t exist, or are no longer important, or at least that we personally have no class-related prejudices. ­Remember John Prescott’s assertion, before the 1997 election, that: ‘we are all middle class now’? He could not have been more wrong. Class still pervades all aspects of English life and culture, it’s just that we are painfully loath to admit it.

So how do you pinpoint someone’s class in 21st century ­England? Certainly, foreigners are often bewildered. ­Occupation is no longer a guide to where you stand in the pecking order: these days, we judge social class in much more subtle and complex ways.

And the truth is that all English people, whether they admit it or not, are fitted with a sort of social Global Positioning Satellite computer that tells them a person’s position on the class map as soon as he begins to speak.

There are two main factors involved in calculating the class to which you, and others, belong: the words you use and, of course, how you say them.


Nancy Mitford coined the phrase ‘U and Non-U’ — referring to upper-class and non-upper-class words. And although some of her class-indicator words are now outdated, the principle remains.

But she didn’t go far enough. While some words may simply separate the upper class from the rest, others more specifically separate the ­working class from the lower-­middle, or the middle-middle from the upper-middle.

There are, however, seven words that the English uppers and upper-middles regard as infallible ­indicators. Utter any one of these seven deadly sins, and their on-board class-radar devices will start bleeping and flashing and you will be demoted to middle class, at best, and probably lower.

1. Pardon:  Here’s a good class-test: when talking to an English person, deliberately say something too ­quietly for them to hear you ­properly. A lower-middle or middle-middle person will say, ‘Pardon?’

An upper-middle will say ‘Sorry?’ (or perhaps ‘Sorry — what?’ or ‘What — sorry?’). But an upper-class and a working-class person will both say, ‘What?’ (The working-class person may drop the t — ‘Wha’?’ — but this will be the only difference.)

2. Toilet: Another word that makes the higher classes flinch — or exchange knowing looks if it’s uttered by a would-be social-climber. The term used by upper-middles and uppers is ‘loo’ or ‘lavatory’ ­(pronounced ‘lavuhtry’, with the accent on the first syllable).

‘Bog’ is occasionally acceptable, but only if said in an obviously ironic-jocular manner. The working classes all say ‘toilet’, as do most lower-middles and middle-middles.

Lower and middle-middles with pretensions or aspirations, however, may opt for suburban-genteel euphemisms such as ‘Gents’, ‘Ladies’, ‘bathroom’, ‘powder room’, ‘facilities’ and ‘convenience’, or jokey euphemisms such as ‘latrines’, ‘heads’ and ‘privy.’

3. Serviette: It’s been suggested that ‘serviette’ was taken up by squeamish lower-middles who found ‘napkin’ a bit too close to ‘nappy’, and wanted something that sounded a bit more refined. Whatever its origins, ‘serviette’ is now regarded as irredeemably lower class. Upper-middle and upper-class mothers get very upset when their children learn to say ‘serviette’ from well-meaning lower-class ­nannies, and have to be pain­stakingly retrained to say ‘napkin’.

4. Dinner/tea: Nothing wrong with this word: it’s only a working-class hallmark if you use it to refer to the midday meal, which should be called ‘lunch’. Calling your evening meal ‘tea’ is also a working-class indicator: the higher echelons call this meal dinner or supper. But the uppers and upper-middles use the term supper much more than the middles and lower-middles, rarely describing an evening meal as ­dinner unless it’s a particularly ­formal occasion — and never, ever using the term dinner party.

For the higher classes, tea is taken at around four o’clock, and consists of tea and cakes or scones (which they pronounce with a short o), and perhaps little sandwiches. The lower classes call this afternoon tea.

All of which can pose a few ­problems for foreign visitors: if you’re invited to dinner, should you turn up at midday or in the evening? Does ‘come for tea’ mean four o’clock or seven o’clock? To be safe, you have to ask what time you’re expected. The answer will help you to place your hosts on the social scale.

5. Settee: Or you could ask your hosts what they call their furniture. If an upholstered seat for two or more people is called a settee or a couch, they’re no higher than ­middle-middle. If it’s a sofa, they’re upper-middle or above.

6. Lounge: And what do they call the room in which the settee/sofa is to be found? Settees are found in lounges or living rooms; sofas in ­sitting rooms or drawing rooms.

Drawing room (from withdrawing room) used to be the only correct term, but many upper-middles and uppers feel it’s a slightly pretentious name for, say, a small room in an ordinary terrace  house — so sitting room has become acceptable.

You may occasionally hear an upper-middle-class person say ­living room, although this is frowned upon. Only middle-middles and below say lounge.

7. Upper and middle classes insist the sweet course at the end of a meal is called dessert

Asking ‘Does anyone want a sweet?’ at the end of a meal will get you immediately classified as ­middle-middle or below. ‘Afters’ will certainly also activate the class-radar and get you demoted.
‘Dessert’ isn’t quite as clear as it once was. Some American-influenced young upper-middles are starting to say ‘dessert’, and this is therefore the least offensive of the three — and the least reliable as a class indicator.


 Here’s a hugely revealing quote from a mother whose daughter was in the same house as Kate Middleton at ­Marlborough, a very grand private boarding school:

‘There was always something slightly galling about having your ­children at school with the Middletons. Every ­pristine item of clothing would have a beautifully sewn-in name tape, for instance.

‘It was unthinkable that they’d end up resorting to marker pens on labels like the rest of us. There were huge picnics at sports day, the smartest tennis ­racquets, that kind of thing. It made the rest of us all feel rather hopeless.’

Now, to those who understand ­English class-indicators, this mother’s apparently humble statement — self-denigrating and full of admiration for the Middleton family’s perfections — is not only an indirect boast, but also a subtle snobby put-down. So let’s unpick the coded insults . . .

First, caring about every item of clothing being ‘pristine’, with perfectly sewn-in name tapes, is a middle-­middle or even lower-middle indicator.

Even the word ‘pristine’ is a sneer: only the suburban bourgeoisie regard it as a term of approbation, and fuss about having everything ‘pristine’ or ‘spotless’.

Upper class and secure-upper-­middle mothers (‘the rest of us’, as this mother is careful to remind us twice) would be carelessly indifferent about such trivia and perfectly happy to send their ­children back to Marlborough with crumpled clothes and their initials roughly scrawled in marker pen on their clothing labels. To say that the Middleton family would find this ‘unthinkable’ puts them firmly in their petit-­bourgeois place.

Second, this mother’s professed feeling of inferiority over the Middletons’ lavish picnics at school sports days, their expensive brand-new tennis racquets and ‘that kind of thing’, is yet another veiled insult.

Such ostentatious displays of wealth are clear nouveau-riche indicators.

So, far from making this mother and ‘the rest of us all’ feel ‘rather hopeless’ by comparison, the Middletons’ immaculate clothes, dainty name tapes, fancy picnics and high-priced sports equipment would actually have made them all feel smugly superior.

In effect, what this mother is really saying is that among the truly upper/upper-middle Marlborough parents, the Middletons were not regarded as ‘PLU’ ­(People Like Us) but as jumped-up nouveau social-climbers.

But this is England, so she says it in code: an exquisite example of English irony, in which every line is a snobbish put-down, ­cleverly disguised as a self-­deprecating compliment.


Posh: If you want to ‘talk posh’, you’ll have to stop using the term. The correct upper-class word is ‘smart’. In upper-middle and upper-class circles, ‘posh’ can only be used ironically, in a jokey tone, to show that you know it’s a low-class word.

Mum and Dad: Lower class young people call their parents Mum and Dad; smart children say Mummy and Daddy.

These aren’t infallible indicators, but grown-ups who still say Mummy and Daddy are almost certainly upper-middle or above. Prince Charles provided an example of this at the age of 64, by addressing the Queen as Mummy in his speech at her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Perfume: Mums wear perfume; Mummies call it scent.

Party time: Lower-class people go to a ‘do’; middle-middles might call it a function; smart people just call it a party.

Refreshments: These are served only at middle-class ­functions; the higher echelons’ ­parties just have food and drink.

Portions: Lower-middle and middle-middles eat their food in portions; upper-middles and above have helpings.

Patio: Unsmart people’s homes have patios; smart people’s houses have terraces.


If you need to make a quick assessment of an Englishwoman’s social class, don’t ask about her family background, income, occupation or the value of her house (all of which would, in any case, be rude). Ask her what she does and doesn’t buy at Marks & Spencer.

The upper-middle classes buy food in the food halls, and will also happily buy M&S underwear and perhaps the occasional plain, basic item, such as a T-shirt.

They’d never buy a party dress from the store, and are squeamish about wearing M&S shoes,however comfortable or well-made they may be. And they’ll buy M&S towels and bed-linen, but not M&S sofas, ­curtains or cushions.

The middle-middles also buy M&S food, but get their cornflakes and loo paper at Sainsbury’s or Tesco. Most will buy a much wider range of clothes from M&S than the upper-middles, including some with prints and patterns.

Educated, upwardly mobile ­middle-middles, however, have now joined the upper-middles in rejecting M&S’s patterned clothing — and reserve particular scorn for the heavily embellished Per Una range.

They are, however, generally happy to buy M&S sofas, cushions and curtains.

Lower-middles buy M&S food, but usually only as a special treat. The clothes, on the other hand, are ­generally regarded as ‘good value’ by the thrifty, respectable, genteel sort of lower-middles: ‘Not cheap, mind you, but good quality.’

Some lower-middles feel the same about the cushions and duvets and towels, while others regard them as ‘very nice, but a bit too pricey’.


Here’s an even easier test. Watch what someone puts on their breakfast toast. Dark, thick-cut Oxford or Dundee marmalade is favoured by the higher echelons, while the lower ranks generally prefer the lighter-coloured, thin-cut brands such as Golden Shred.

The unwritten class rules about jam are much the same: the darker the colour and the bigger the lumps of fruit, the more socially ­elevated the jam. Some class-anxious middles and upper-middles secretly prefer the paler, smoother marmalades and jams, but feel obliged to buy the socially superior chunky ones.

Only the lower classes — older-generation lower-middles in particular — try to sound posh by calling jam ‘preserves’.


Still struggling? Try ­talking cars.

The English like to believe, and will often doggedly insist, that social-status considerations play no part in their choice of ­vehicle. But the truth is that car choice in England is mostly about class.

If you don’t mind causing offence, try saying: ‘I’d guess you probably drive a Ford Mondeo?’ to older members of the middle-middle or upper-middle classes and watch them recoil.

‘Mondeo Man’ was for many years the generic euphemism for a lower-middle-class, ­suburban-salesman type, so class-anxious middles and upper-middles will be highly miffed at being demoted to this social category.

The Mondeo-test can be a pretty good indicator of class-anxiety: the more huffy ­English people are about the suggestion that they drive one, the more insecure they are about their own position in the social hierarchy.

This isn’t a question of price. Cars driven by upper-middles are often considerably cheaper than the Mondeo, and the almost equally ridiculed Vauxhalls. 

Those who regard themselves as being a class or two above Mondeo Man may well drive a small, cheap, second-hand Peugeot, Renault, VW or Fiat hatchback — but they’ll still feel smugly ­superior as Mondeo Man glides past in his bigger, faster, more ­comfortable car.

Upper-middles who pass the Mondeo Test — those who are merely mildly amused by your ­suggestion that they drive a Mondeo — may have class anxieties about the Mercedes.

Try saying to a middle-middle or upper middle: ‘Let me guess . . . I’d say you probably drive a big Mercedes.’

If your subject looks hurt or annoyed or responds with a bit of barbed humour about ‘flashy rich trash’, you’ve hit the ­insecurity ­button. He’s clearly made it into the upper-middle ­intelligentsia,  professional or ‘country’ set, and is anxious to ­distinguish himself from the despised middle-middle ­business class (or the nouveaux riches).

You may well find that his father (or even grandfather) was a petit-bourgeois middle-class businessman who sent his children to smart private schools, where they learnt to look down on petit-bourgeois middle-class businessmen.

Of course, most English people will tell you there’s no longer any Jane-Austenish stigma attached to being ‘in trade’. They’re mistaken.

Interestingly, the upper-middle chattering classes are the snootiest of all: most regard the Mercedes-driving classes with at least some degree of disfavour.

Again, the price of the car is not the issue, nor is the driver’s income. The class issue is all about the means by which one acquires one’s wealth — and how one chooses to display it.

A Mercedes-despising barrister or publisher, for instance, may well drive a top-of-the-range Audi, which costs about the same as a big Mercedes, but is regarded as more elegantly understated. (The Royal Family mostly drive Audis.)

Jaguars have also suffered a bit from a vulgar ‘trade’ connection, being associated with wealthy used-car dealers, slum-landlords, bookmakers and shady underworld characters. But Jaguars have also been the official cars of prime ministers and cabinet ministers, which — to some — lends them an air of respectability. Others, however, feel that this only confirms their ­inherent sleaziness.

What about SUVs? The upper classes and many upper-middles look down on them, particularly the ostentatious ones, which they regard as the height of vulgarity. 

For the snooty higher classes, driving a Mercedes SUV would put you even lower down the social scale than a Mercedes saloon car — you’d be seen as a ‘chav with money’ rather than a rich bourgeois businessman.


Finally, an even more reliable class indicator is the type and breed of your pet. People in the upper
echelons prefer Labradors, golden retrievers, King Charles spaniels and springer spaniels, though they’re highly unlikely to admit that their choice of pet is in any way class-related. Instead, they’ll insist that they like Labradors (or whatever) because of the breed’s kind temperament.

The lower classes, meanwhile, are more likely to have Alsatians, poodles, Afghans, chihuahuas, bull terriers and, of course, Rottweilers.

Cats are less popular than dogs with the upper class, although those who live in grand country houses find them useful for keeping mice and rats at bay. The lower social ranks, by contrast, may keep mice as pets — as well as guinea pigs, hamsters and goldfish.

Some middle-middles, and lower-middles with aspirations, take great pride in keeping expensive exotic fish such as Koi carp in their garden pond. The upper-middles and upper classes think this is ‘naff’.

Horses are widely regarded as ‘posh’, and social-climbers often take up riding or buy ponies for their children in order to ingratiate themselves with the ‘horsey’ set. But unless they also manage to perfect the appropriate accent, arcane vocabulary, mannerisms and dress, they don’t fool the genuinely ‘posh’ horse-owners.

What you do with your pet can also be a class indicator. Generally, only the middle-middles and below go in for dog shows, cat shows and obedience tests. The upper classes regard showing dogs and cats as rather vulgar, but showing horses and ponies is fine. (No, there’s no logic to any of this.)

Middle-middles and below are more likely to dress up their dogs and cats in coloured collars and bows. Upper-middle and upper-class dogs usually just wear plain brown leather collars.

The middle-middle classes and lower-middles are also more zealous than those at the top and bottom of the scale when it comes to cleaning up after dogs. They’re also more embarrassed when their dogs sniff people’s crotches or try to have sex with their legs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Italian forces in WW2 were not soft and Mussolini wasn't a clown, revisionist historian claims

He was the butt of British jokes and even his German allies portrayed Mussolini as a clown.

But now a British historian claims the Italian fascist leader was actually a mentor to Adolf Hitler - and says claims that his troops were cowards are a myth.

Dr Christian Goeschel of Manchester University, says that the real Il Duce was a guiding light behind the rise of Hitler - who idealised his Italian counterpart and did not see him as a political stooge.

In his new book called 'Mussolini and Hitler - a Fatal Friendship,' Dr Goeshel will attempt to set the record straight. The book is due to be published by Yale University Press in 2016.

Most films and books portray Mussolini as a fool. However, Dr Goeshel says Mussolini was not the bumbling clown that history has portrayed him as in popular culture.

Dr Goeschel, an established authority on Hitler and Nazism, was concerned that little new research had been published on Mussolini since the early 1960s.

Even on TV, anyone associated with Mussolini has been depicted as slightly foolish.

However, when Dr Goeschel started his research in 2010 a different picture of both Mussolini and the Italian war effort emerged.

He travelled up to four times a year to Italy's Central State Archives in Rome to view the official records not normally seen by the public.

While the public have access few bother to make the journey to the outskirts of Rome to view the material.

Mussolini had an incredibly tight control over the Italian press and there was little press freedom and many comic strips even praised him for his achievements.

It meant that there was hardly any satire allowed under Fascism.

Fascists were notoriously weary of modernity and comic strips - which didn't fit well with Italian culture at the time.

In fact, comic strips were regarded as Anglo Saxon democracies.

Even harmless American hero Mickey Mouse was banned  - although it is said that the mouse was a favourite of Mussolini's children who enjoyed watching it

During the second world war, foreign comics were completely banned and Italian authors were not allowed to use speech balloons.

However many foreign comics in the UK and US depicted Mussolini as a clown.

He found written correspondence between Hitler and his role model Mussolini showing the boot was very much on the other foot in the early years of their relationship.

Very early on, Hitler had requested a signed photograph from Mussolini. But Hitler was then an unknown figure and the Italian dictator did not bother to reply.

The Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 was directly inspired by Mussolini's power grab the previous year. But Hitler messed his own attempt up.

It was not until 1931, two years before Hitler completed his rise to power, that Mussolini deigned to send the future Fuhrer a picture.

He signed it with his name and date - June 1931 - but there was no personal message.

Great friendship: In 1931, Mussolini sent the Fuhrer a picture of himself which he signed and dated

Nevertheless, Hitler responded with a fawning letter expressing his gratitude to 'his Excellency Mussolini' for the photo, adding: 'It is a great honour.'

Dr Goeschel said: 'It is only a small detail but I think it is highly significant. 'A correspondence then began between them - which had devastating consequences for Europe.'

Dr Goeschel,35, says the Italian Fascists were a senior partner to Hitler until the mid-1930s, and helped the Nazis rise to power with helpful advice, such as gaining the support of the Middle Classes.

Mussolini only came under Hitler's spell in the later 1930s - when everything started to go wrong for the Italian leader.

Dr Goeschel added: 'We and indeed many Italians tend to play down the role and importance of Mussolini and Fascist Italy, often seeing it as more benign than Hitler and the Nazis.

'The romantic view of Italy has completely overshadowed 21 years of dictatorship. Right from the beginning, they used political violence against opponents.

'Mussolini also breached the Geneva Convention by using mustard gas in Abyssinia and there were war crimes in Libya and Croatia.

'The Italian fascists killed few people than the Nazis did. But that does not mean it was a more benign regime.'

He added: 'Now the time has come to look at this material with a fresh eye and look at it more systemically. My aim is not to be moral judge but tell the true story.

'We need to probe more deeply into this because it is a very powerful myth. Italy has managed to wash its hands of what happened.

'After the war, there was concerted Italian effort to disassociate themselves from the Nazis.

'But the way we deal with our past has implications for modern politics: the Fascist salute can still be given in Italian football games with impunity; fans can throw bananas onto the pitch.

'Some contemporary Italian political parties have a lineage which can be traced directly to the Fascists.'

Jokes about Italy's lack of military prowess and faint-heated approach to combat also did not stand up to scrutiny when he examined records of campaigns such as North Africa, Greece, the Balkans and Russia.

He said: 'It was a very famous assertion that the Germans had to bail out the Italians out.

'But this notion is a post war myth - perpetuated by German war veterans who regarded the Italians as lazy and cowardly.

'The records show the Italians fought courageously and brutally - but were let down by bad leadership.

'Italians also fought on the Eastern front - and testimony by Russian POWs said they were just as brutal as the Germans.'

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why did Germany lose in World War I?

Stephen Tempest

Germany went into the First World War with the advantage of a very large, very well-trained, and very well-equipped army. One-on-one, they could almost certainly have defeated any other country in the world - but they weren't fighting just one enemy. They were outnumbered, and their opponents had access to much greater resources.

Therefore, Germany's best hope of winning was a rapid knock-out blow, destroying their enemies' armies quickly and then forcing a peace. If the war bogged down in stalemate, then the Allies' greater depth of resources would allow them to grind Germany down through attrition and defeat them. In effect, that's what happened.

So, Germany lost WW1 because the French army was able to escape the trap set for them by the Schlieffen Plan, redeploy their forces to the Marne, and halt the German advance in September 1914. After that failed, the odds were always going to be against Germany.

Still, German defeat wasn't assured. After the end of the War of Movement in 1914, though, their best hope became outlasting their enemies. That is, hoping that the constant drain of dead and wounded soldiers, and the ever-increasing financial cost of the war, would eventually cause their opponents to throw up their hands and say, "This isn't worth it, we quit".

Germany had the big advantage here that their initial offensive, even though it failed in its wider aims, had still left them in control of almost all Belgium and the most prosperous industrial region of France. Their enemies had to get it back, and Germany could just dig in and defend it. The available technology of WW1 — trenches and barbed wire and machine guns and artillery — meant that the defence had massive advantages over the attack. The Allies would inevitably suffer far higher casualties than the Germans would — though this had to be balanced by the cold-blooded fact that they had far more men available to lose than Germany did.

So here we come to another reason why Germany lost. Their government — which by the middle of the war was increasingly controlled by the Army, with the civilian politicians sidelined — was unwilling to compromise. They had the advantage, they'd demonstrated that they could not be driven out of the territory they'd captured except by a long, grinding battle of attrition. A far-sighted statesman, such as Bismarck, might have seen the moment to offer relatively generous peace terms, demanding only a few minor concessions.  The Allies would probably be happy to accept that rather than keep fighting.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff, however, wanted to wring the maximum advantage from their enemies' weakness. They wanted to turn Belgium into a permanent German vassal state, annex France's main iron and coal fields, ethnically cleanse Poles from a large strip of Poland and turn it into a German colony and make the rest another vassal state, and take the Suez Canal from Britain. Anything less than a total victory would, in their minds, mean defeat. But the British, French and Russians would never agree to such terms while they thought they had the slightest chance of winning - and so the war dragged on. And the longer it lasted, the lower Germany's chances became.

Another possible way to win - or so people at the time believed - was to invent a wonder-weapon that would make you invincible on the battlefield. The submarine, the aircraft, poison gas, the tank: all were put forward as candidates. None of them  actually turned out that way, because they proved less effective in practice than their inventors had hoped, or the enemy quickly found a counter-measure. In the winter of 1916-17 the German leadership fondly hoped that unrestricted U-boat warfare would force Britain to its knees; but the British introduced the convoy system and the war went on.

Some people claim that the German offensives starting in March 1918 were also a chance of winning the war. They approached to within 50 miles of Paris, after all. They used new tactics of infiltration and hurricane bombardments that tore large gaps in the Allied front lines. However, I'm of the opinion that much of this success was illusory. The Germans quickly ran out of steam, their advances capturing large amounts of ruined muddy ground but few vital strategic positions, since these were more heavily defended. They suffered 640,000 casualties doing so, a loss they could not afford — especially since their casualties came disproportionately from their best and most experienced men, since they were the ones in the stormtrooper battalions leading the attacks.

It's probably fair to say that these attacks could perhaps have won the war, if they'd been more successful. In practice, they left Germany more exhausted, their morale shattered, and if anything contributed strongly to their eventual defeat.  Would it have been better to just stay on the defensive and outwait the Allies? Perhaps, but that might risk an economic collapse and revolution back home in Germany. The German leadership didn't really face any good options by 1918, but characteristically they chose the high stakes gamble: win big or lose decisively. They lost.

So that leaves the final question: was Germany primarily defeated on the battlefield, or by conditions on the home front? It's politically controversial because German far-right figures, starting with Ludendorff and culminating with Hitler, claimed that the German army was "undefeated" until it was "stabbed in the back" by politicians (of the Jewish or Communist variety, if Hitler was to be believed) and forced into a humiliating surrender. In reality, I think it was a bit of both.

The British naval blockade cut off Germany from all external sources of supply. They couldn't import food; they couldn't import the nitrates that were used both for fertiliser and to make explosives. They also couldn't sell their own goods abroad, so their economy suffered that way as well. But the German government contributed to their own downfall as well. They thought it would be a short war, so they conscripted most of the farmers from their fields, and equally importantly requisitioned all the horses they were using to pull ploughs. When the war turned out to be far longer and bloodier than they'd ever imagined, the result was famine. By the winter of 1917-18 German civilians were reduced to eating turnips, acorns and potato peelings. One of the reasons the German offensives of March 1918 failed was because the advancing German troops captured British and French supply dumps and found them full of real food - jam, coffee, white bread - they hadn't seen for years. They stopped to loot and fill their bellies, and gave the enemy time to rally his defences.

In Russia, such terrible conditions had triggered revolution and civil war. However, there was a difference. Russia had also suffered severe military defeats, and the people had lost all confidence that their government could actually win the war. The Tsar, discredited and without support, was forced to abdicate: but that created a power vacuum at the top and a slide into anarchy that would only be filled many long months later by Lenin's Bolsheviks.

In Germany, things never got so bad until the end. The German army still occupied Poland and Belgium, and the censored German media hid their defeats and flourished their victories before the public. One reason Hitler's 'stab in the back' theory seemed so persuasive was that the average German citizen didn't know his country was losing the war until suddenly they surrendered. But nevertheless, by summer 1918 the German army was a beaten force.

There are several reasons for this. American historians understandably emphasise the arrival of a million fresh American soldiers onto the battlefield. British and French historians counter this by pointing out that the Germans had already been halted and pushed back by their armies, before more than a handful of Americans actually entered combat. (The US Army decided to spend about a year recruiting and training up its troops, and refused to commit them to battle until they were ready). Perhaps the fairest thing to say here is that it was the fear of the US army, rather than the US army itself, which pushed Hindenburg and Ludendorff into making their ultimately fatal gamble in Spring 1918 to try and win the war before the Americans arrived.

Starting in August 1918, the combined Allied armies under the command of the French marshal Foch pushed back the Germans all along the line. They had multiple advantages: fresh manpower from the United States and the British Empire; high morale; modern equipment including tanks and ground-attack aircraft, which first saw use in mass formations in this time; new tactics, such as creeping or lifting artillery barrages. The Germans, meanwhile, were reeling from the failure of their Spring offensives, and were almost out of manpower and resources. Ludendorff called 8 August 1918 the "Black Day of the German Army" because when faced by a new-style Allied attack (French, British, Australian and Canadian troops with 532 tanks) the German defenders at Amiens surrendered en masse. 15,000 German soldiers surrendered in a single day, something that was all but unprecedented in German military history. But over the next hundred days, tens of thousands more Germans would also give up the fight.

The final defeat of Germany can be pinpointed to one night: 28-29 September 1918. General Ludendorff was at his headquarters in Spa, Belgium, listening to news of Allied offensives all along the line. Belgians, British and Commonwealth, French and American troops were all moving steadily forward. Then came news from an unexpected quarter: Bulgaria had surrendered.

Bulgaria had joined Germany's side back in 1915, in return for a promise of territory captured from Serbia. The Allies had landed troops in Salonika (Thessaloniki in Greece) to combat them, but for three years the front had been an utter backwater. But now French troops, backed by British, Serbian and Italian units, had broken through and were advancing rapidly north towards the Danube. Bulgaria, its forces shattered, agreed to surrender. This revolutionised the strategic situation, because Austria-Hungary was also teetering on the verge of collapse, only propped up by German garrisons. An Allied offensive across the Danube into Hungary would be the last straw. And if Austria-Hungary surrendered, would the next step be French and Italian troops marching down from the Alpine passes to invade Bavaria?

The next morning brought the final piece of bad news. The German army had pinned its faith on the Western Front on the Siegfried Stellung, called the 'Hindenburg Line' by the Allies. This was a purpose-made line of state-of-the-art fortifications, constructed in 1916-17 to act as a final backstop, a ne plus ultra of their defences. By the end of September the Germans had been forced to retreat back to this line, but they were confident they could hold it there. They were wrong. An attack on 29 September by British and Australian troops broke through the Hindenburg line at its strongest point, the St Quentin Canal. As at Amiens the previous month, thousands of German troops surrendered rather than fight to the finish.

For Ludendorff, all this bad news at once was too much to bear. He appears to have had something of a nervous breakdown, believing that the war was now unwinnable. His main concern, as he told some of his associates, was preserving the army intact so it could crush any Communist revolution that might break out after Germany surrendered. He therefore ordered Germany's civilian government (yes, that was the way it worked by this stage of the war) to ask President Wilson of the USA for immediate armistice terms.

The actual surrender negotiations dragged out for another five weeks, mainly because the British and French didn't trust Wilson to deal with the Germans alone. But once the decision to surrender had been made, the momentum became unstoppable.

Britain and France produced over 8,000 tanks in the war: Germany produced 20.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

New research reveals Mafia mobsters are NOT all psychopaths

Mafia mobsters are not all psychopaths despite their reputation for being gangsters who kill, traffic drugs and kidnap, a new study claims.

Italian researchers Schimmenti and colleagues, who are based in the birthplace of the mafia Sicily, went to a prison in Palermo to interview 30 convicted mobsters.

They questioned 39 prisoners in the same institution who were jailed for non gang-related crimes.

The researchers then used the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) to determine whether any of the subjects showed psychotic characteristics.

The 20-item list of personality traits and recorded behaviors associated with psychopathy - such as pathological lying, lack of empathy and an impulsive nature - is a common assessment used to determine whether someone has the personality disorder.

Interviewees are assessed and given a score - with those marked above 30 being deemed a psychopath.

The researchers discovered that none of the Mafia members they questioned scored over 30. Conversely, 10 per cent of the comparative group did.

The report observed of the mafia members: 'This means that they were less ‘manipulative’, ‘Machiavellian’, ‘narcissistic’, ‘unemotional’, ‘parasitic’ and/or ‘impulsive’ than the other participants.

'Further, during the interviews, they often expressed concerns for their children and their families, and they had never ceased to write and call them. Such expressions of attachment were less apparent among the comparison men.

'Even criminal actions for most of the Mafia members were led by loyalty to their families or adherence to the family’s ‘mission’ rather than personal interest.

'It is possible that these individuals compartmentalized their lives and behaviors –on the one side, the Mafia affairs, on the other side, their positive feelings and affects towards relatives and friends.'

The study also noted that Mafia members are less likely to have substance abuse problems than others in prison.

Of the mafia members, the researchers found 57 per cent had been jailed for violent offenses, 23 per cent for murder and the remainder for crimes such as kidnapping, trafficking drugs and fraud.