Friday, 30 November 2012


An American reader invites  me to write "Skidmore’s War" to help his fellow countrymen see those years through British eyes. Alas this Britisher's eyes are bleary with age and dissipation and seen through any eyes my war, like the rest of my life, is comedy to the point of farce but I will seize on anything that takes my mind of the coming fester-ivities


My family fought at Crecy, Agincourt, Trafalgar, Waterloo, in the Boer and Zulu Wars and World Wars One and Two, so I never really forgave Hitler for starting his war when I was only ten and too young to join in; though I had the Martini Henry rifle my Uncle Alby used to despatch Zulus.  In my bed in Manchester I slept with it by my side longing for invasion.

I vividly remember the lovely autumn day in 1939 when our Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told us that Herr Hitler hadn’t written so we were at war. We were sitting round the powerful radio my dad bought so that he could hear the Orkney fishermen - and on one glorious occasion the Queen Mother -,swearing on the ship-to-shore radio. He always reckoned the Queen Mother had a wider vocabulary.

Later in the war we listened nightly to another broadcast from Berlin of Lord Haw Haw, a loquacious traitor, telling us we were going to lose the war. It was quite unnerving because he would find the home addresses of various Britons and tell them there was a special bomb for them which would be delivered within a week.

My father had joined The Royal Scots when he was 15 in 1914. He served  alongside his father and three of his brothers. Another brother was on his way to join them but his train was involved in the Gretna Green train crash and we still have the brass plaque the Government sent to the families of the war dead. Naturally, as an expert, my father took the war very seriously. All families were issued with Anderson air raid shelters, steel huts which families had to erect in the garden. That was not enough for my father. He buried ours three foot deep in a large pit, then covered the pit with a two foot thick ‘roof’ of concrete.

“There you are,” he told me proudly as he posed for a photograph. “Not only bombproof. Waterproof as well.”

Alas, it was also water-tight as we discovered a year or so later when the bombing started and he pushed me in, to find it had become an underground pond and I  bobbed twice to the surface before he was able to grab my shirt collar and drag me out.

The upshot was we spent the bombing years sharing a shelter with Mrs Cobbold and her daughter Olive across the way. I do not remember much about the bombing but will never forget the first sight of a female bosom when Olive undressed in the confined space we shared.

The other benefit of the war was that it taught me a deep and lifelong mistrust of Government. We were told that all our aluminium domestic utensils were needed for melting down to make Spitfires. Park gates and iron railings went to build tanks. After the war the Government came clean. Neither utensils nor park furniture would have been made into weapons. It was the Government's way of getting us involved in the war. I often wonder how much it got for the scrap.

Then there was the matter of carrots. The Ministry of Information announced the reason our fighter pilots could see in the dark was that they were fed exclusively on carrots. Anxious to improve my chances of getting in the Forces I ate piles of carrots a steeple chaser could not jump over. After a week of carrot chewing I waited for darkness, stepped out of the back door and barked my shins on the dustbin. It was only after the war that we discovered the story was invented to use up a glut of carrots.

We spent every night for the next year in the Cobbolds' shelter. We would wait for the sirens to go which were followed by a Niagara of lavatories being flushed. Followed by the shout of newly married Mrs Cooper at  Number 32 to her husband: “Willis, put your trousers on.” It was odd. Whatever time the sirens went they caught Willis trouserless and my mother glanced significantly at Mrs Cobbold who blushed, becomingly.

My mother took a subjective view of the war. She noticed that both Chamberlain and Hitler had moustaches and was proud of the fact that Mr Chamberlain’s was the more militant. She was always convinced that the Head of the Luftwaffe, Marshal Goering, was in the aeroplane that bombed Maycroft Avenue, where we lived, and wondered how anyone so fat could squeeze into a cockpit.

We children thought being bombed every night was great fun and made huge collections of shrapnel and the fins of incendiary bombs. We knew where to look because whenever a shoal dropped our fathers rushed out with stirrup pumps to douse them with water they carried in buckets and frequently spilled in their haste. Usually after they had refilled the bucket the fire had burned out leaving only the fins.

Going to school the next morning brought the other side of warfare. We passed house after house which had suffered a direct hit and some from which the front walls had been sheared off, exposing the rooms behind them with all the furniture, down to the ornaments on the sideboards, still eerily in place.

At school there were more empty desks in the classrooms most mornings as the casualty list mounted. But when school ended we scrabbled through the ruins of our dead friends’ houses looking for shrapnel.

(to be mercilessly continued).


My learned friend Revel Barker, sometime Managing Editor and  Consiglieri to the late  Robert Maxwell of the Daily Mirror and Editor of the European writes:

Because it was said that Jesus was laid in a manger, the animals were simply assumed for the story development - and of course the later artwork.
In fact, in 'Biblical architecture' it was the norm for the animals to be on the ground floor, and the residents upstairs. The animals provided warmth, and handy food, and fresh milk, etc.

In the Bible there's no mention of an inn (no room at the...) or a stable or a cave. Just the manger, to fire the imagination.

As Bob Maxwell once said to me: "We are not in the business of flattering f...... krauts", but a better query for the Pope to have kicked off might be: What has Bethlehem to do with anything?

The plot is that Joseph had to return to the home of his fathers for a census.
Roman records, normally reliably thorough, don't mention a Jewish census any time around the date when BC became AD.
More to the point - a census isn't about where your family came from. It's about how many people live where... in the present day.
In a Roman census, people were counted where they lived.
So for somebody to live in Nazareth, but go to Bethlehem to be counted because that's where his ancestors came from, is nonsense.
Worse, for a man to trek all that way with a heavily pregnant wife is even greater nonsense.
It's about 80 miles, and via belligerent Samaria.
(The Bible doesn't mention a donkey.)

In Roman-Judaic rule, the man would provide the information on behalf of his entire family. Women had nothing to do with it (except to be counted). 
Bethlehem, of course, was put into the story only so that Jesus could be "born in David's City"... and providing the bloodline from David to Jesus.
Joseph was supposedly a direct descendant of King David.
Fair enough.
Except, according to the version that the Pope accepts... he wasn't the blood father of Jesus. So Bethlehem is a Jewish insertion (to provide a Messiah), not a Christian one.
The Christians, of course, call him Jesus of Nazareth.
Not Jesus of Bethlehem.
Perhaps they know more than they're saying.

NOTE TO THE VATICAN: The Pope has Revel’s permission to use the above  in his Christmas Message.

BeWrite Books has left a new comment on your post "BEDTIME STORIES": 

What makes you think your Lusty Ladies won't see the gaslight of night, Skiddy? Said ladies currently lie upon my desk, and I assure you that they'll have a fair doing-to and fully revealed in all their naughtiness almost before you can say Madam Whiplash. There'll just be a different publishing house logo on the editions now. Everyone should have a lusty lady in the library. Bestests. Neil 


The Leveson Inquiry has ended with the expected vilification of the press and the police whirewashed. I am surorised no one has noted that it was the Media who produced the evidence which prompted the inquiry. An earlier reluctant inquiry was curtailed by the Metropoliton police. It was only after the press, led by the Guardian, had made a fuss about the cover up that a new inquiry was set up. The result is that 90 newspapermen and establishment figures are facing possible jail sentences, The News of the World has closed down with the loss of 300 jobs and around £2 million has been paid by newspapers to victims. Proof, surely, that existing law is protection enough?