Friday, November 28, 2014

The Queen Mary

As the advert says ,'I should have gone to Iceland'.
But instead I went to San Diego to look at the zoo.
And it took us 50 hours to get home.
The super duper Dreamliner aircraft with its high spec non jet lag cabin pressure, its electric windows ( darkening not opening) and state of the art in flight entertainment system is a fab plane. So new, it sat on the runway in its wrapper.
It is the most fuel efficient plane ever manufactured.
Because it doesn't actually fly.
It sits on the ground and looks pretty.

The plane we eventually got in (three airports later) had a special  turbulence seeking feature.
The luggage is making its way to Scotland by independent means.
Like I said, should have gone to Iceland.
So here is a blog from a free wheeling jet lagged mind, 

I'm from the part of Glasgow right on the Clyde (well all of Glasgow is on the the Clyde but you get my drift)
My Grandad , as a very young man, riveted bits of the Queen Mary together. My mum, years later worked for the computer that made her valves, all the aunts and uncles worked in shipbuilding somewhere. My dad designed some of the cranes that Browns, Kvaerner, Clyde Ship Builders ordered. Most of them are still in operation.
In China.
So this was  my favourite picture of the QM. Still on the Clydeside. If that ship could think, she's ruminating on her retirement, wishing for the good weather of Long Beach! 
See the wee guy in the foreground, umbrella, running to get out the rain.

Fred Astaire was a famous passenger.

Liberace was another

Yip, I had a shot in a Captain Kirk kind of way.
                                                             Full steam ahead Scotty,

Oh No captain, the engines canny take it

Then for some reason there was a picture of David Niven doing a Highland fling.

During the war, she was painted grey, and became known as the 'Grey Ghost'. The exhibition at her current Loch Beach site naturally emphasises the heroism and the gallantry of  sailings where  16500 men crammed onto a boat built to hold 2000 passengers and 1000 crew. I've been told since that there were many fatalities from overcrowding, some from of crush injury  due to so many being in such a confined space.  That might be anecdotal, the actual reports still seem to be classified.. 

This report of a soldier on board talks about being more afraid of the Scottish weather than the enemy submarines.  The QM was rigged with a degaussing coil to prevent magnetic mines. She zigged zagged her way to make her difficult to track and her sheer speed made her difficult to pursue.

One night, off the coast of Scotland, she was hit by a rogue wave
That was December 1942, She had 16,082 American soldiers on board. which still stands as a record for most passengers transported on one vessel.
She had sailed 700 miles of the New York to GB trip when the wave hit.. It was 28 metres high, and went onto her broad side. The ship rolled 52 degrees. Three more and she would have been over.
A writer chappie called Paul Gallico  read about it many years later and wrote a book inspired by it.
The Poseidon Adventure

This does bring tears to the eye. After all that horror of war, the QM sailing into New York in the darkness. Grey painted, you can imagine her almost invisible in the night air - then they see the Statue of Liberty  lights flashing 'Welcome home' in Morse code.

But this was my favourite story. A young boy, a third class passenger, got into a bit of trouble in the swimming pool and was rescued by - Johnny Weissmuller!

Second class cabin

First class

Third class

Enjoying the sun in her retirement.
When these boats were launched the bow wave caused havoc down the Clyde into Renfrew and beyond. It  flooded everywhere. Kids ( of all ages - my grandparents included ) used to climb on high things on the day. They  leaned out of windows of upstairs neighbours in the tenements and enjoyed every minute of the chaos. Much of the old cine film of these launches is on U tube and worth viewing.
I've read that 18 drag chains acted as the breaks in the QM  and they had to widen the river to give her more of a diagonal to cross on at her launch - otherwise they feared she would ram the riverside further down.

All ship shape captain.

The radio room with radio sets from different eras.

All that wood was covered in leather to protect it while she was 'grey'

Many more crew died than passengers on board. Their cause of death is well documented and listed.
The ghosts that are aboard now don't correlate with any incidents as they are listed.

I found this plaque naming the engineering works where my mum worked the comptometer machine. Weird!

Clark Cable.

First class dining.

Some facts -  'born'  3 April 1929,  Build: John Brown and Company, Clydebank, Scotland
Her hull number was 534. Launched  26 September 1934. Maiden voyage: 27 May 1936
She captured the Blue Riband in August 1936, lost it in 1937, recaptured it in 1938 and retained it until 1952 when the SS United States came along. She was chugging along at about 35 miles per hour.

It's a sign of the times that she was the first ocean liner with a Jewish Prayer room,  It was a policy to show there was no religious issue - any body of any faith could travel.

Of course, in any conflict, people have to make difficult decisions. On 2 October 1942, the QM  sliced through one of her escort ships, HMS Curacoa off the Irish coast. 239 lives were lost. But the QM was carrying thousands of Americans of the 29th Infantry Division to join the Allied forces in Europe and was under strict orders not to stop for any reason as the risk of U-boat attack was too high, The QM had been damaged in the collision but managed to sail on.

At the time it was claimed  she sailed on, regardless but later it was claimed that the Cpt sent one escort boat back to pick up survivors from the stricken Curacoa. Even later, a published memoir reports more than one escort boat went back, saving over 90 of the Curacoa crew.
 Queen Mary was retired after her 1,000th crossing of the North Atlantic.
Her last captain had a geat name; Captain John Treasure Jones. I wonder if he was known as Davie Jones.
My favourite fact, the Whistle on the QM can be heard ten miles away!

Caro Ramsay  27 8 11 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Too little, and far too late. But better than nothing.

I do not know why World War I means so much to me.  

Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by the sheer idiocy of the entire venture.  Unlike World War II, there was no reason to go to war, other than rampant nationalism and male testosterone.  But to war, the major European powers went, resulting in the deaths of millions of men and the associated family tragedies.  The war was so horrific that it still sears people’s minds, even though no combatants are still alive.

800,000 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London - one for each death

My first associations with World War I were through poetry.  Initially I loved the jingoistic verses of Rupert Brooke, who died at the young age of 27 in 1915, not from action but from sepsis en route to fight at Gallipoli.

Rupert Brooke

The Soldier

IF I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

But then my interest turned to the more realistic and bitter verses of Wilfred Owen, who died in Europe at age 25.  In particular, I love the poem Dulce et decorum est, which really benefits from being read out loud:

Wilfred Owen

Dulce et decorum est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime. . . 
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud  
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest  
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.

What really gets to me in this poem is the last line, spat out in ultimate sarcasm and bitterness:  Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori, which means It is sweet and beautiful to die for one’s country.  Owen lifted this line from Roman lyrical poet Horace's Odes.

On this 100th anniversary of the start of one of mankind’s greatest tragedies, I want to say a few words about African involvement in the war.  

I suspect that very few people could tell you anything about the involvement of Africa and Africans in WWI – with the exception, of course, of blog mate Annamaria.  I will leave it to her to cover the East African campaigns, in which well over a million people died, and I’ll postpone to some other time, the campaign in German South West Africa.

I want to pay tribute to the thousands of Black South Africans who went to Europe to support the country’s fighting troops.  They worked as cooks, builders, stevedores, batmen, and so on – but not as combatants.  All in all, over 30,000 non-White South Africans went to the Western Front, and several thousand died. 

The greatest tragedy to befall Black South Africans in the war was the sinking of the troopship SS Mende off the Isle of Wight on February 21 1917 after a collision in thick fog with another vessel, the SS Darro.

SS Mende

On board were 823 personnel of the 5th Battalion the South African Native Labour Corps.  607 of them died.

Of course, they and other Black casualties could not be buried in the same cemeteries as their White compatriots, but were buried in nearby civilian cemeteries and, for all intents and purposes, forgotten.

Until this year . . .

Private Myengwa Beleza was one of the first black South African soldiers to be killed in France during the 1914-1918 war.  He died on November 27, 1916 and was buried in a civilian cemetery at the port city of Le Havre.

In June this year, his remains were exhumed and he was reburied at the South African Memorial, where 600 of his White fellow South Africans are buried.

South African Memorial at Delville Wood - now multiracial

"The re-interment process is part of government efforts to restore the dignity, particularly of those black South Africans who made an immense contribution towards world peace," spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said.

In addition, the Mende disaster is remembered through The Mende Award, which is South Africa’s highest award for bravery.

So after 100 years, some recognition is being made of those who were not White, who lost their lives for King and country.  Far too little, and far too late, I think.  But better than nothing.

Stan - Thursday

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mummy Peng loves Uncle Xi…not that Putin guy...

So, Bouchercon is over and I did not go to Iceland Noir. I am feeling just a tad bitter and jealous about that. Next year, I swear.

No, I came home post-Bouchercon to…copy-edits. More specifically, reviewing the copy edits for my third Ellie McEnroe novel, the series I write that's set in contemporary China. The copy edit process is, for me, a lengthy reminder that I do not understand how to use commas properly, among other things.

Aside from that, I've been working on the draft of a sequel to Getaway. Getaway was set in Mexico. This book is set in the wilds of Houston, TX, and various California locales.

So I'm not all that connected to China at the moment, and tonight I wondered how to approach a post for a blog that's about murders, everywhere, except in the US and Canada. I have a ton to say about the US, if not Canada, so expect me to break that rule in upcoming months, because as absurd as what I'm about to write about is, we have plenty of absurdities here in the US to cover.

I decided to write a bit about the current political situation in China, which is pretty interesting—there's a major anti-corruption campaign going on, which is simultaneously a party rectification campaign, a factional purge and an honest-to-god anti-corruption campaign, the biggest since the days of Mao Zedong. We're also seeing a Mao-like cult of personality emerging around new president Xi Jinping and his glamorous People's Liberation Army officer folk-singing wife, Peng Liyuan.

They even have inspired a new pop tune that's shaking up the Youku charts. It's called "Uncle Xi Loves Mummy Peng" and features lyrics like:
Men must learn to be like Uncle Xi
Women must learn to be like Mummy Peng
and take after them and love each other
with a warmth that can warm ten thousand families!
You want to hear it. You know you do. It features child rappers.

Although "Uncle Xi Loves Mummy Peng" has been a viral hit in China, not all reactions from Chinese netizens have been positive. I think my favorite response (as quoted by The Nanfang) was:
Crazy; taken too many drugs. 
I wonder if said commenter had seen this example of Peng Liyuan's earlier work…

One thing's for sure: No one is getting in-between this power couple, not even Vladimir Putin. From the Atlantic:
If anyone is going to make headlines at a staid affair like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, it's going to be Vladimir Putin. The swaggering Russian president did passive observers of global leadership conferences a solid on Monday with an act of gallantry (or benign sexism) for the ages. 
Amid the high pageantry of the summit's opening dinner, Putin stood up to gracefully place a blanket around the shoulders of Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan. 

 Here's the footage:

This act of gallantry? Flirtation? Bro-behavior? caused such a stir on Chinese social media and elsewhere that hours after the footage was broadcast, Chinese censors busily scrubbed it from China's internet.

Hey, at least Putin kept his shirt on.

Lisa…every other Wednesday...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Never Forgotten

Though the last surviving Great World War veteran passed away several years ago, the Armistice commemoration honoring those lost in the war to end all wars gets celebrated every year in many of the Mairie's (arrondissement town halls) in Paris. It's a national holiday and the shops are closed.
On November 11 at Place Voltaire, in the packed foyer of the Mairie of the 11th arrondissement, local school children from the lycée Voltaire gathered to sing, a few Résistants to place wreaths, and veterans of the Algerian conflict (it's never referred to as a 'war') held flags.
The ceremony, conducted by a white haired Resistant and former city hall member, began with him lighting a flame sparked from the eternal flame at the Arc de Triomphe. He spoke movingly of how this war resonated and affected the generations of today: these men lost or wounded in the trenches had wives, mothers, sisters, uncles, fathers, children, nieces and nephews. No one who returned, he said, was unaffected. And their families too. The man in the beret was a dentist and former Resistant, someone told me, who'd been captured and put in a camp. He survived but his family didn't.
He brought up, for the first time, how Women had been forgotten in these commemorations - which brought a cheer that he quickly silenced - and their role and work had been just as important. They ran the home, the business and kept the home front running. He introduced the Mayor, the council member who each laid wreaths at the World War I + II memorial sculpted in marble and the students - prompted by a piano note from their teacher - sang what must have been a traditional patriotic song which many of the crowd joined in with. Then the Marseilliese which we all joined in singing. The crowd was a mix of locals, parents, grandparents and the older generation who had lived through at least one war.

Afterwards it was all kissing then up to the next floor and the Salle de Fetes.  The long table was spread with Champagne, it's France, fruit juices and nibbles.
Many of the older men wore medals on their lapels and after un coupe de Champagne spoke about their experiences in Algeria.
A woman, Françoise, who lived near the Mairie spoke with me about her life. She's originally from Brittany, is a widow without children and congratulated several of the students on their singing. Françoise lost her father in the second war, then her mother shortly after. She was raised by grandparents, became a nurse and then met her husband. They moved to Paris and ran a restaurant on Place des Vosges. She told me this was the first time she'd ever come to this ceremony. And so it goes.
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, November 24, 2014

A taste of IcelandNoir

A wonderful conference in a gorgeous land that included:

Late morning dawns...

A serendipitous dinner with my family...

Many fascinating panels...

A rare opportunity to spend time with my delightful blogmate Zoe Sharp...

A display at the local library that included, mirabili dicta, one of my books, very unexpected...

A fun party at Yrsa's house...

A great bus tour with Yrsa...

With views from the bus, some of which read like luminous minimalist paintings...

Fabulous scenery...

With stops to explore...

And spelunking with fellow writers and mystery fans...

And many sleepless, jet lagged hours to contemplate what that electrical outlet is doing up there on the ceiling.

Annamaria - Monday