You Know Nothing, Mate

There are things you just know.

During your lifetime you pick up knowledge. Stuff that is just true and there’s no row about it. You know it’s true because, not only did mum and dad tell you, your teachers told you, the tv news told you and even Hollywood told you. Stuff like “all scousers are funny”; “all cockneys are the salt of the earth (they only slaughter their own)”; “all trombone players wear sandals”; and of course “all welshmen can sing and would never ever intend to break your neck on the rugby field because they’re nice blokes and just not like that”.

These are the sort of rules, the kind of guiding principles which allow you to steer your ship of life between the shifting sands of the Bay of Uncertainty and the hard, jagged rocks of  the inlet of Oh Fuck it’s Really Happening. It’s now 47 years since people started telling me stuff. I stopped listening to most of them some years ago. Like Homer, there’s only so much I can fit into my brain before something else gets pushed out. The ravages of age, a stroke, and a life of heavy drinking, along with the distraction of the oncoming steam train of certain Alzheimer’s  severely limits the amount of new information I can take on board. Or as Terry Pratchett might put it, I’m fucked in the ‘ead.

So imagine the confusion it causes one so fragile as me, when stuff you just know is fact turns out to be untrue, at least for the sake of selling a few books at Christmas time.

Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun didn’t take their own lives, shortly after making a few dodgy videos for YouTube. Not according to the  new book Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler they didn’t. No, they fled to Argentina, aided and abetted by the Yanks in exchange for Nazi rocket scientists and the information within. According to a report in this week’s The Daily Mail (and who among us could argue with them ?) Mr& Mrs Hitler legged it through Europe and escaped across the sea to South America, presumably free to go on the piss with their chums Josef Mengele, Adolf Eichmann and countless other Nazis we let get away after 1945. The couple brought up their two kids, at some stage divorced, and Mr Hilter (as he then was) finally threw a seven in 1962 at the grand old age of 73.

The Russians claim they captured what was left of the Hitlers from a bunker in Berlin in 1945. What they apparently have are the charred remains of a early version of a McDonalds Breakfast Wrap (Another Fact: These are horrible. Keep away from them and go for the Double Sausage McMuffin.)

It’s a good job Vincent Van Gogh isn’t alive today. He’d be forced to go to Gateshead (up in the frozen North somewhere) where this year’s The Emperor’s New Clothes Prize has been moved to. Presumably Londoners have finally given up pretending that “Pile of Shite in Aspic” is art, and the organisers have decided to move to the Third World in search of new mugs to jump on the “oh-but-you-dont-understand-what-art-is” bandwagon. Howay.

The aforementioned Vincent is no longer with us, of course, having topped himself in a wheat field in 1890 in northern France.

Wrong again.

The Kirk Douglas look-a-like was shot by a couple of brothers in a dispute over a stolen pistol. We know this from the new book imaginatively entitled Van Gogh: The Life (available at all good bookshops, makes the perfect gift). In their book the two American authors trash the widely-held belief that the absinthe-riddled, ginger paintist, having reached the end of his tether with a lack of sales and Anthony Quinn’s acting, took himself off and fell on his own pallet knife. (Sadly for me they make no mention of the time Gauguin asked Vincent if he’d like another canvas. “No thanks, I’ve got one ear”  Van Gogh replied. As the book doesn’t mention this, I now know it to be true.)

The fact that he was shot by a young boy, and didn’t just succumb to the inner-demons of the mad genius that he was has not only rocked the art world, with the sky-high prices of Van Gogh’s work potentially under threat (nutcases sell for more) but worse, Don McLean is having to rewrite one of his songs.

This morning the descendents of Robert Falcon Scott‘s fateful expedition to the South Pole have joined in the campaign to diss everything I thought I knew about everything. There’s a new exhibition in town showing many images, some not seen before, by the trip’s snapper Herbert Ponting (not to be confused with the Ricky Ponting, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes) which for a century have graphically shown the anguish and despair the Brits felt by narrowingly losing out to the Norwegian group led by Roald Amundsen (who’d already seen off the plucky West Germans in the semi-final). The downhearted and disheartened Limeys finally gave up their attempt to return home and were swallowed up by the icy wilderness. Amundsen and his Scandinavians went home to a heroes welcome and a recording contract.

But wait a minute, according to the British ancestors, Scott’s men were not the least bit disappointed to lose. There was, in fact, no race to the pole. There’s was a purely scientific expedition to gain knowledge of the surrounding area for King and Country, with no-one giving a toss whether Amundsen won or not. Ponting set up the most southerly branch of Pront-a-Print, charging a farthing for a photo of the pole and pony on a tee-shirt; Captain Oates left the tent and was never seen again. He is oft quoted as saying “I am just going outside and may be some time”. The end of his sentence was lost in the chill wind. What he really said was “I am just going outside and may be some time. I’ve got all this bunting and balloons to erect for when we see the Norwegians again”. In truth, Scott should not have been played on screen by John Mills but by Norman Wisdom.

So there you have it. Hitler died in 1962, just missing out missing Ronnie Biggs. Van Gogh covered up his own murder and his relationship with young boys and, just like the retreating soldiers at Dunkirk, Scott of Antarctic had nothing to be sad about. It’s a pity they didn’t make it back because The Titanic was waiting for them just off Antarctica to take them home on her second voyage.

99 years later,  a ship was moored off the coast of Libya, waiting for President Muammar Gaddafi who was due to escape on her . However, the ever-popular Dictator would not make it on board nor never get to feel the warm embrace of his old mate Tony Blair again as he died of the multiple bullet wounds he received to the back of the head while resisting arrest.

Honestly. It’s a fact !!!

1066 and All That

England   –   0   vrs   1  –   Normandy
Strauss-Khan  AET
ATT: 59,501

By John Moatson in Hastings
14th October 1066

Here this evening the English suffered yet another in a long line of humiliating defeats at the hands of the unfancied Normandians when an extra-time clincher was grasped by veteran shooter, Dominique Strauss-Khan, sending the home side down to what seems to be a final, crushing blow.  For much of the early action, Strauss-Khan’t had gone missing, concentrating his efforts on his controversial “rape and pillage” tactics, particularly the former. But when an unreliable serving-wench (and some clearly mad slapper scribe) shouted foul, Dominique returned to doing what he does best: sticking his balls in the old onion bag (whatever her name is).

The Citing Committee have since decided that as all that nastiness may or may not have happened over two hours ago, Mr Strauss-Can has no case to answer.

William wins the toss and decides to play with the wind

From the outset the Frenchmen were not considered a threat, such was the animosity between the players and the coach during the warm-up, and the amount of  money they, along with the Holy Roman Empire, have recently had to stump-up to bail out the non-tax paying scroungers of the ancient world. So the English were hoping their opposition would be distracted, but you never know which French side will turn up. Gallic flair, so loved by commentators and Bob Symonds alike, was brought to the fore and after early hiccups, had the English on the back foot.

The English, to be fair, were in disarray from the beginning. Their chief tactician The Silver Fox, (or Le Renard Fraude, as the French know him) had decided to listen more to his close friend and confidant, Squire Werritty, than any of the battle-hardened knights around him. It was clear that Werritty had seen little of real action before and seemed only interested what was in it for him, his sponsors, the Children of Israel, and other generous peoples across the oceans, yet to be discovered.

Le Twin carefully places his waste Defence memos in a public bin. Pic: Ye Monthly Mirror

The English Cavalry were also ineffectual, their horses refusing to budge, the knights having been banned this very morning from administering the whip or spurs to encourage forward movement from their charges. The infantry seemed as if they had been drinking of too much of the mead, or kissing of the Dwarf the night before. All this as well as reports that the Normans had discovered vital English tactical information in a nearby park wastebin, apparently deposited there by some feckless English nobleman (the oddly Gallicly-named Le Twin) have thus far been totally rejected by team manager Johnno the Huge-Disappointment. Johnno added that if England could next time pick more Samoans and New Zealanders, they might just have a chance of winning.

Whatever the reasons for their downfall, it wasn’t long before the English were down by one-King-to-nil as the Norman strike partnership of Strauss-Khunt and Waine Le Rue Née picked out the English figurehead, and it was one in the eye for them. In truth, Harold was not hard to pick out, he being the only one on the field of play wearing German kit. Shortly after, Le Rue Née was asked to leave the field, being deemed to be too violent and stupid to take part. Waine was originally picked for the English squad, but in an interview later he stated that he didn’t mind which “fookin side” he played for as long as he could kick some “fooking coonts up the arse”. It is assumed he will be offered the post of Commissioner of the soon-to-be-formed Metropolitan Police.

Shoulda Gone to Specsavers

The one consolation to England from losing this day to the Normans is that it saves the embarrassment of losing to the Welsh (which this mob surely would) in the next round the following week. Two questions remain for the English Press Barons: Have the Normans peaked too early?; and has conquering King William married the wrong sister?

Very much so, in fact.

A Short History of Just about Nothing

I suppose it happens to each of us from time to time, and this week I started making tentative enquiries as to who or what my ancestors were. I know what triggered it:- a cable channel has been running back-to-back every one of the BBC’s many episodes of Who Do You Think You Are ?, a show where celebrities and the like are taken through a long, often tortuous journey back in time to trace their family trees.

Among the nuggets the show threw up was that Mayor Boris Johnson’s predecessors ruled most of Europe (shock), many of Stephen Fry’s family were jews butchered by the Nazis (v upsetting for him and for the viewer) and Ainsley Harriot’s great, great something or other was a white bloke running a plantation in the West Indies, raping the slave girls wherever he went (knocked a dirty great hole in Ainsley that one, poor sod).

It got me thinking, and that hasn’t happened for a while. I realised that I knew next to sod all about my family. I had known well all four of my grandparents. Both granddads were in the forces -that’s one of them, my mum’s dad Bill- at the top of this page, about to go off to the far east- and the other, Bryan, was a sailor (I have the sea in my blood and if you look carefully you can see where it gets in). But I know little or nothing of their fathers, or their fathers’ fathers. Or their fathers’ fathers’ fathers (ok, Stan don’t labour the point).

Many years ago a bloke called Nigel Bealing (an unknown to my branch of the clan) sent my father a completely unsolicited package which appeared to contain our family tree, or at least the parts he said he’d been able to plot. I’ve no idea where all those documents within that parcel ended up (probably in my dad’s loft) but the only things anyone ever remembers of their contents was a vaguely convincing coat of arms and the fact that we are, apparently, descended from Lord Marmaduke Boleyn, second cousin of Anne Boleyn, she of Henry VIII fame. Boleyn to Bealing in 500 easy years. Hmmm….

Apart from the rather uneasy feeling that there was royalty in my blood (however distant or tenuously linked), the news didn’t really impress me too much, such is the apathy of youth, and I pretty much forgot about it for years after. But as one rapidly approaching his 46th birth anniversary, with the fear of mortality kicking in, and treating myself to a week-long diet of B-listers’ family archives, I decided to my own digging. What would I find? More royalty? Murderers? Artists? Accountants ? (please god, no).

So, having more time on my hands than is decent, I searched for ancestry websites. The start of my long long journey into the past had begun, to become acquainted with all those magnificent old sods whose stories, whose lives and existences I knew nothing at all about. How exciting, I thought. Centuries of Bealings awaited me. Was Anne Boleyn the last of the line to have six fingers? Have we always had small gentetalia? Is my lineage, like Tony Hancock’s “100% Anglo Saxon with just a touch of viking?”. Could it be I’m distantly related to Ainsley Harriot?

First stop: the 1911 census. There he was: My granddad

Apart from the fact that they’d for some reason got his date of birth wrong (he was born in 1900) it was rather pleasing and eerie to see him there in black and white, or black and blue anyway. But apart from that one entry, that’s as much as I got. I don’t know his dad’s name, his DOB or anything really. I could have delved deeper but that would have meant registering and with the site and ‘buying credits’, whatever that meant. My sudden surge of enthusiasm for the past was evaporating like the morning mist on Blackheath common.

No matter. It would wait for another day. It’s taken me 45.9 years to take an interest in old Marmaduke and his descendants so another couple of months won’t do any harm, will it? I logged off and returned to my job-seeking activities. Then tonight, while wading through a whole slew of 911 programs I’d recorded over the weekend I was idly surfing the web when the ancestry bug nibbled me again.

In an act of pure self-indulgence I started Googling the family name. Christ ! There are hundreds of us. Far too many to bother with on a Sunday evening. So I clicked onto Google images to see what I could find there. Here too were many different pictures of Bealings I had no idea existed. There was a John and a Clive. I found a photo of Paul from New Zealand. There was a Crystal Bealing, a black girl from the States and Nicola Bealing, a successful artist from Cornwall. Hundreds of people all with the same silly surname. I suppose if I’d ever joined Facebook I might have found out all of this years ago. But I didn’t. And, just for the record, I won’t.

Feeling reinvigorated, and with plenty of new leads and relatives to keep me busy for the next eon, I was just about to close down my laptop when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a rather odd-looking picture. It was a page from something called Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms.
It is, as is suggested by the title, a list of of rather old an odd words which the medical profession once used. At least I hope they once used them. There, somewhere between some affliction called Bay Sore and the rather alarmingly sounding Beaver Feaver, was this:

If you’re finding that difficult to read, I shall assist. It reads: Beal – A small inflammatory tumor; a pustule. To gather matter; to swell and come to a head, as a pimple. See Boil a tumor. (Prov. Eng.) [Webster1913].

Ok, ok, very funny, I suppose, if your name happens to be Beal. But I’m not. Clearly. But underneath was a derivation, a useage.

An example from an 1853 mortality schedule from Kentucky:

I repeat: Cause of Death: Bealing in the Throat !

Can you image my disappointment? Here I was hoping to discover that I’m the rightful air to the fortunes of some long-forgotten dynasty who were once the toast of the royal courts of Europe, who owned not only all the tea in China but the cups and saucers too. Instead I find that when my forefathers filled in a mortgage application, the staff at Ye Old Abbey National were sent into fits of giggles on reading a letter from a Mr Pustule. I’d had enough again. Sod the lineage. Shut down Mac.

And I don’t want to go down the route of how one could die of “Bealing in the Throat”, I shall leave that to your dirty smutty little minds. Just move away from the computer and forget you ever read about it. Regular readers of this column should find that easy enough.

And the rest is geography.