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About Dean Swift

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

Further thoughts on American colonial independence

1774: hundreds of anti.Revolution familes leave the Colonies for Canada / travelanguist.com

1774: hundreds of anti-Revolution families leave the Colonies for Canada / travelanguist.com

The war that established the independence from Britain of the thirteen American colonies took place between 1775 and 1783, and is improperly called ‘The American War of Independence’ when it should more correctly be referred to as ‘The American Revolution’ – for that is what it was, a revolution.

In the early 1760s relations between the government in London and the Colonies became even more strained than they had ever been. The London government was intent on taking measures to control everything in the colonies, and the colonists objected, though only verbally at first. They found it difficult to understand why they should be taxed without having proper representation, indeed any representation in London. Independence-seekers gathered in most of the coastal port towns, such as New York, Richmond, Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts. (more…)

By | 2015-08-14T09:59:15+00:00 August 14th, 2015|A History of North America|0 Comments

That’s Hollywood!

During the 1980s and 90s of the last century a giant crop of young, or very young male actors began appearing in major films made in Hollywood, or on location by Hollywood. They were the replacements for the suddenly elderly chaps (Tracy, Peck, Granger, Ferrer, Gable, Stewart, MacRea etc.) some of whom had been making movies in the late 1930s; for example John Wayne, who played a character called ‘John Wayne’ in more than a hundred pictures until his death of cancer. Sometimes half a dozen of these youngsters appeared together in very small parts in films like Dead Poets’ Society, White Squall, The Outsiders or School Ties.

By the year 2015 two or three had become super-stars, getting millions of dollars in films with their name above the title because they are so bankable. Some have vanished into obscurity, mainly because they never managed to change from ‘leading young man’ to ‘middle-age attraction’. One (Swayze) died absurdly young; another is more or less permanently in a wheelchair (Fox). The passing of Time has of course been the leading factor in their lives. Their attractive youth is frozen for ever on Video/DVD/Blueray, but now many are fat-cheeked, heavy-bellied, balding fifty-somethings. Hollywood has, as it always has, passed most of them by.

Here is a sometimes surprising list: (more…)

By | 2015-08-24T17:37:00+00:00 August 11th, 2015|History of the Cinema|1 Comment

Nikolai G. Chernyshevsky

/ goodreads.com

/ goodreads.com

The name is unknown to most of us in the 21st century, and seems to be in a state of banishment from the minds of some of today’s historians too. Yet Nikolai was, as a revolutionary, greatly admired by, among other, Karl Marx himself.

He was born in 1828, and never saw the twentieth century, or its dreadful beginnings in Russia. As the son of an Orthodox priest, he grew to hate injustice, and hoped in the 1850s that Tsar Alexander’s reforms might improve conditions for the serfs, and go some way towards removing injustice. His hopes were in vain, for though Alexander introduced the Emancipation of the Serfs, results were inconclusive and disappointing. The rebel in Nikolai Gavrilovitch itched to overthrow the Tsar and seek a total change of government. (more…)

By | 2015-08-06T10:39:44+00:00 August 6th, 2015|Russian history|0 Comments

Further thoughts on the Ardennes Offensive

US soldiers fighting in typical Ardennes winer weather /warfarehistorynetwork.com

US soldiers fighting in typical Ardennes winter weather /warfarehistorynetwork.com

Shakespeare has generals dancing together in a suitably stately manner, on board ships in his play Antony and Cleopatra. The Battle of the Bulge, a nickname, properly called the Ardenne Offensive, was Hitler’s last and most surprising offenivfe in World War II. It was the greatest ptiched battle in American history, putting up more than 600,000 American soldiers, mostly young and inexperienced, against a mixture of battle-hardened German troops with a heavy admixture of the infamous Waffen-SS, some Hitler-Jugend regiments (boys from 16 – 19 years of age). Together they reached half a million ferocious fighting men who believed their battle must be won against the Allies because the massive and callous Red Army was closing in from the East. The battle between the opposing soldiery was one thing, while the consistent bickering, jealousies, and outright hatred between the US generals and the newly created Field Marshal Montgomery was another. These men were not dancing together, on board ship or knee deep in the snows of Belgium. (more…)

By | 2015-09-18T10:09:43+00:00 August 4th, 2015|German History, US History, World History|0 Comments

Alsace/Lorraine & Schleswig/Holstein

These two tongue-twisters used not only to twist tongues, but eject furious spittle from the pursed mouth of European statesmen and politicians. The problem is not only of dual nationality and two different languages, but also historic bickering between countries traditionally seeing each other as treacherous enemies.

Alsace is a part of North/East France, comprising Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. They lie on the frontier with Germany. Thus enters the traditional loathing of the French for the Germans, and vice-versa. Alsace was a simply a part of France (Lorraine) before finding itself fairly suddenly a part of the German Empire: the fault lies with treaties, as usual: The Peace of Westphalia (1648) and Treaty of Rijwijk (another tongue-torturer, 1697) handed over most of Alsace to France – but in 1871 it was re-annexed by Germany! As if this were not complicated enough, Alsace was subsequently returned to France in 1919 (Treaty of Versailles of immortal memory), and then, though this may difficult to believe, regained by Germany during the Second World War! (more…)

Queen Elizabeth I (the ‘Virgin Queen’)

The queen in 'the Armada Portrait', note the right hand resting comfortably on the globe /en.wikipedia.org

The queen in ‘the Armada Portrait’, note the right hand resting comfortably on the globe /en.wikipedia.org

The only half-decent member of the infamous Tudor dynasty was Elizabeth, born in 1533. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. It is a matter for debate from whom Elizabeth inherited the worst genes, though it is admitted that Anne never went to bed with Henry until he was properly divorced from Catharine of Aragon and a marriage between them had taken place; the Catholic Church had meanwhile been assaulted and robbed, Thomas More and others had been shortened by a head etc. etc. (more…)

The importance of being Okinawa

Yamato goes to war! / tamiya.com

Yamato goes to war! / tamiya.com

In April, 1945, the 2nd World War was very far from over. A huge invasion of the French mainland was planned for June. Japan, however, was seen by the Americans as being equally important as Europe. Tokio must be vanquished too if the Allies were to succeed in the destruction of Axis Powers.

Okinawa is a Japanese island some sixty miles long and very narrow – at certain strategic points only two or three miles wide. But it could prove to be the springboard for a massive invasion of the enemy mainland. It is the largest island of the Ryukyu archipelago, and it was that there that the worst, hardest and bloodiest battles of the Pacific War took place between the beginning of April and 22 June, 1945. The Japanese had carefully built and preserved defence lines already built and manned, and had sworn to their Emperor that their resistance would be fanatical. The latest artillery was concealed behind camouflage, and munitions were ample. (more…)

The ‘White Terror’

Jean Cottereau, leader of the 'Chouans' / en wikipedia.org

Jean Cottereau, leader of the ‘Chouans’ / en wikipedia.org

It is a common misconception that the French Revolution (q.v.), the ‘Terror’ and the fall of Robespierre and other leading Jacobins, led immediately to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte in France, and his very nearly successful bid to make that country supreme in Europe, by waging war on almost everybody else. But the fact is that in 1794 revenge became briefly sweet for those whose lives and properties had been seriously affected by the Revolution.

The so-called ‘White Terror’ was an attack launched against the terrorists, and all who could properly be accused of doing well out of the French Revolution. White was a Bourbon colour, and some historians have taken this as indicating the movement for revenge as a royalist adventure, but this is not strictly true. Very few wanted a restoration of the old régime; they simply wanted to settle old scores. Clever men had taken advantage of the Terror, grabbing land and property by force and murder, including Church lands. Many had appointed themselves as government officials, with powers emanating from the awful force of the ‘Terror’ itself. (more…)

By | 2015-07-14T09:59:08+00:00 July 14th, 2015|French History|0 Comments

The dry martini cocktail

The green olive properly speared / noilly prat.com

The green olive properly speared / noilly prat.com

The history of this cocktail is not without incident. It is a potentially lethal mixture of a raw spirit – gin – with a distillation of the vine, and you were always taught never to combine the two in one glass. The invention was American, perhaps taking place during the years of prohibition and after, again perhaps in New York City, where the Three Martini Lunch soon became fashionable, though it never really disturbed the good American tradition of hard work and commercial success. Manhattan spies tell me it first appeared in either the Algonquin hotel, or the St. Regis, both ultra fashionable with what used to be termed ‘The Upper Class’ US citizen, usually male.

There are many receipts for the making of this explosive sip. Ben Schott says it is Dry Vermouth one third, two-thirds Dry Gin, shaken, garnished and served on or off the rocks. Professional barmen will disagree with the words in italics. ‘Ginger’ Taylor, for half his life chief barman at the Connaught Hotel in Carlos Place, W.I. Had a different method: Half fill your cocktail shaker with fresh ice cubes; pour gently over the ice either Gordon’s or Beefeater’s best gin while you count four seconds out loud: then pour Dry Vermouth just as gently, also counting four seconds. Close the coctelera and shake vigorously as if you are playing the marracas; pour into a special martini-glass (see illustration) and add an unstoned green olive speared with a wood toothpick (or you may own your own pure silver implement). The ice cubes must be prevented from entering the glass by a special filter in the top of the shaker. Sip slowly and do not smoke while sipping, as the tobacco spoils the unique taste.

Shaker with detachable, filtered top / stepoffthecliff.com

Shaker with detachable, filtered top / stepoffthecliff.com

On the market there are many shapes and sizes of Martini glasses. Edith Sitwell had her own glass at her ladies only club in London. According to Gore Vidal, the glass was a small goldfish bowl, which meant that poetess and eccentric Edith would have to be helped a little later into her dining chair to enjoy her ‘Red Luncheon’ – lobster, strawberries and a bottle of red Burgundy.

Some restaurants cheat by employing those horrid bowl-like glasses into which champagne should never be poured. This wine must be served in tall, thin tulip glasses, or those wonderful bubbles escape and the taste is lost. As I was saying, some eating houses cannot be bothered with proper martini glasses. If so, you should withdraw your custom.

Should you feel a bit like James Bond, you will prefer the Vodka Martini, also shaken not stirred, and made with Smirnov vodka. In fact Smirnov is not Russian at all, it is made in America, to a recipe by a Russian. The cocktail is made in exactly the same way, though some like a Maraschino cherry in the glass instead of a green olive. On the subject of olives, do not use one stuffed with anchovy, for obvious reasons or taste and good manners.

One last word: actually they were the last words spoken by Humphrey Bogart the film actor, who was born into an upper-upper-class American family, and spent his working life playing growling bum gangsters. It is said on good authority that when ‘Bogey’ was dying, he whispered, “I knew I should not have changed from whisky to dry martinis”.

A seventeenth century diarist – Samuel Pepys

/ en.wikipedia.org

/ en.wikipedia.org

History too is re-cycled, like glass, water, paper and other essenials. A history book is nothing more than a re-thinking, in some cases revising as well, of what an earlier historian wrote in another book. What happened in the world ten thousand years ago on a certain day is History, but then what happened in our world yesterday is History too. Historians have always relied on contempories who were there, in a great battle for instance, survived injured or whole, and wrote about that battle as soon as they could. This particular piece of history might be heard in the form of a ballad, or published as writing, or become a yarn told in taverns. In a recent very serious case, England discovered that their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, relying on published history texts, have been stating untruths for nearly five hundred years. This is the case of King Richard III, last of the Plantagenets, who died on a battlefield. He was everybody’s wicked uncle, a serial murderer, poisoner of his own wife, assassin of his own brother etc. etc since 1485 because the contemporary historians said so. Though it was mostly mythical, it was taught as fact in schools and colleges. Luckily, the very finest texts that can be used by historians, if they have been preserved well, are diaries. Obviously they were written by first-hand witnesses, though many have been embellished, as a diarist’s wont. It was a diarist, a foreigner whose English was questionable, called Polydore Vergil, who wrote most of the lies about Richard. Another contemporary diarist was Thomas More, an official and well paid Tudor historian, who wrote distatefully about Richard because it suited his book to do so. It was pure propaganda, but it kept More’s head on his shoulders – even if only for a while.

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) is probably the most famous and quoted (and misquoted) diarist in world history. He was nothing more than an Admiralty clerk, who rose after the Restoration of Charles II in the ever-growing British Navy. He became Admiralty Secretary in 1672 when he was thirty-nine. Then he lost his job because some imp accused him of involvement in The Popish Plot (1679). It was nonsense, and he was re-instated in 1684. Meanwhile however, he was keeping a diary which became internationally celebrated, running from January, 1660 to May, 1669. It is fascinating because it provides an intimate picture of everyday personal life (Pepys was exceptionately fond of buxom, pretty, large women), court intrigue (the merriest of melancholic monarchs, Charles II, was on the throne), and naval administration. His account of three national disasters, The Great Plague of 1665/66, the Great Fire of London (1666) that followed, and the impertinent but courageous sailing up the Thames Estuary and river itself of the Dutch war fleet and the damage it did – have been quoted and used by historians ever since. It should be noted that these diaries were written in code which was not de-coded until 1825, one hundred and twenty-two years after Pepys’ death at the age of seventy. (more…)

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