Bookbinding Workshop

What kind of book lover–and Faraday enthusiast– would I be if I didn’t go ahead and try out a bit of bookbinding?

Walking in was one of those moments when you see a beautifully professional piece of creativity and get told, yeah, that’s what we’re doing today… Imagine those pretty books you see in posho stationery shops that are well overpriced but you couldn’t just save money and knock one up at home. Basically that.

Luckily there’s a bookbinders near me which does some great workshops and evening courses. Unfortunately, in this area there used to be a great manual bookbinding industry which has faded over the past 40 years or so. Likely the advent of personal computers and electronic technology hasn’t helped keep up interest in traditional crafts, but luckily we still have people who have the skills to pass on. Seeing bound books on the shelf is not something I ever want to imagine disappearing. People don’t get giddy for that library scene in Beauty & the Beast for nowt, y’all.

There are very likely some bits I’ll miss out as it was a couple of weeks ago and even binding a simple book has a complex process. Anyhow, for our simple textbook here’s how we started.

The paper on the right is already cut to size, sectioned into 4 sheets and folded in half. Then, using a divider (that looks like a pair of compasses but with two points), the points for sewing are marked on the whole block. Then, each of the sections are sewn together right to left, over the tape rather than through it, as the tape needs to remain flexible.

The endpapers are cut to the right size (by using the book block as guide) and folded over. The inside endpaper is glued on the edge of the top page. The outer (on the top here) will be glued onto the cover when complete. Once the end papers were fitted–and the only part of this process where we used electricity–the block was cut by the guillotine. Binding doesn’t always have an electric guillotine, but for something this thin it creates a nice edge.

Using the sewn and trimmed block, card covers and spine are trimmed. Then, with binding cloth (and this can be just for the spine, or front spine and entire back cover, or any other which way you want) the two covers and the spine card are measured out and glued down. There is a space left between the cover and spine pieces for obvious reasons. Then, to ensure the cloth is equal on both sides, it’s measured and trimmed off where necessary.

The cover paper–in this case local marbled paper–is measured out and the card glued down onto it.

Both sides are glued down, and then folded in. A quick go on a huge, heavy Victorian press to secure the glue and the cover is complete! The bone folder (the thing that looks like a lolly stick below)  presses together the cloth in the space where there’s no card, and creates a professional effect on both sides.

As you can see, once the end sheets are glued in place on the cover it creates a really nice handmade effect. The book is closed and then pressed for a final time. This can be a tricky bit, and it’s up to you whether you want to press each side separately in case you need to rearrange the end papers should they slide from the glue. I went full throttle, no going-back stylee and pressed the whole book in one. I think the endpapers were a little too close to the edge of the cover, but I reckon it’s the fault of under-measuring my spine space, and I should’ve given a bit more leeway between the boards.

And the finished article!

I’m definitely going to return and learn more about this skill. Not only can one make lovely (and useful) pieces, but it’s possible to refurbish very badly damaged or coverless books and preserve the original text blocks. I’ll bind one of my own books one day, but as for now, this is kinda how they’re getting bound at the mo:

Pozzuoli 2016 – Day Five

I started the fifth day off with a trip into Naples proper, and a nice big statue of a horse with almost entirely naked romanesque metal guy. Can’t say it was entirely unwelcoming, amirite?

It might be important to point out yet again that I have a very firm girl boner for castles. Mostly any castles. Even castles that are just a wall of stone or so, but especially ones that are accessible fortresses in the Med. Or Wales, but nuance.

So prepare for the following medieval erection (you were thinking it anyway) which is Castell dell’Ovo, one of a good handful of fortresses in Naples, but only one of two I visited internally.

Sorry, I’ll stop it now.

CASTELL DELL’OVO

Castell dell’Ovo is a little out of my normal timescale for castles, being erec–built in the 1500s. I much prefer them pre-1400. But I let them off if they look like the below.

No rooster jokes, if you know what I mean.

After the visit to the above awesomeness I wandered back into the city, as I had me a horse trek up ye olde volcano to be getting to. But it’s worth pointing out that these particular buildings (apartments or hotels, I’m not entirely sure) that span the coastline are not representative to the more inner city buildings, at least in the levels of cleanliness/upkeep. It gets ever grottier the further in you go (not unlike many cities, but Naples is number 1 on my personal list of city-grot, and there are no doubt worse cities I’ve not seen), however, also worth noting that the central buildings are not unlike the other major Italian cities – architecturally, at least, many are just as majestic – it’s just the state of them, which is a shame. But, you know, mafia stuff…

Now as much as I liked Castell dell’Ovo, this particular beauty was actually the castle of King Robert of Naples, who was king for a time during Maria Puteolana’s lifetime. He died in January 1343, eleven months before the Petrarch/Puteolana letter, and some turbulence followed in the succession of his granddaughter, Joanna, to the throne, who was apparently badass. My reading has not yet covered the full political climate of Naples and its surrounding areas, so I’m unclear as to what exactly led Maria to war, though ‘local wars’ are noted in the records of her. Maria may even have visited this castle herself, as Petrarch notes, it would have been easier (and more likely) to summon her to the king, than the king himself go down to Pozzuoli and hunt her down.

Regardless, I didn’t even get to go in there! I had about an hour before I had to be at the pickup spot, and a castle that size and stunnery is far more deserving of at least two. Darnit, I will have to go back then, won’t I?

 

Horse Trek – Vesuvius National Park

So, yes, trekking up Vesuvio, eh? On a horse, hm? Well, it was one of the most anticipated outings of the holiday, but I’ll get into to why it was a little disappointing later on.

But first this is me on my steed – Stella!

Anyone familiar with riding will see that’s a Western saddle, commonly known as an armchair. It shares a commonality with the old medieval riding saddles much more than modern English saddles do, and the most obvious aspect is the pommel at the front. I’m not hugely familiar with Western riding (it was my first time), but if, like the others in the group, you were a beginner to riding entirely, you are likely to find Western saddles far more likely to feel comfortable – and sturdier – on. They offer broader support and you’d have to work hard to lose a stirrup, look at the bloody size of them! The reins are one-handed, and the horse is guided by you moving your hand left or right so the reins touch the neck – if the reins touch the right side of the neck, the horse goes left etc.

English tack, if you’re wondering, loses all the excess leather that sits over the horse’s back, there is no pommel, with only a little bump over the withers. There are padded knee supports (unless it’s a riding saddle which is made of almost nothing). Reins are generally two-handed (etiquette, you know), but you can use them one-handed if you’re casually walking, or you’re a jockey, but the reins and bit are always used as aids – right for right, left for left.

There’s usually a brisk debate amongst the horse-folk about which one’s better. They both have their uses, they both have different aspects which make them fun, competitive, and practical – there’s a reason barrel racing uses Western tack and high-speed racing uses English. I’m no expert, but I like both, and the saddle won’t make a difference if your horse is an arsehole.

Anyway, if you’re worried as a beginner about a ride like this I wouldn’t worry at all. Extremely docile horses and comfy saddles make for an easy ride.

 

The below is what much of the ride looked like. Tight and winding paths, some very craggy that the horses manouvred excellently. We did a bit of slow cantering on the wider dirt sections.

Because this trip isn’t to the crater of Vesuvius the highest it gets is about halfway up. The views are particularly magnificent, and very telling. From the right of the photo about 2/3 down, there’s a yellow/brownish streak just above the horizon of the city. That’d be your cloud of pollution, a’ight?

Looking the other way, all this knobbly volcanic rock is new, we were told, and this flow almost reached the farms at the bottoms (where the stables were…) on its last earth vomit. So think again if you believe it’s sleeping soundly.

So,  after coming back down to ground level, we did a weave through some flatter areas and some longer canters, which was nice. I’d feel very cheated if we hadn’t, as cantering on a horse is akin to the feeling of being in a aeroplane at the very moment of take-off  – exhilarating, scary, almost without equal. Then we took a nice stroll back to the stables, where the guys fed us wine.

Overall, I don’t think the trek was particularly amazing-being on a volcano is awesome, but being hurried through the beautiful park, meh. The horses were used almost back to back, not watered between the previous trek and ours (they were tied up about 3 metres away in 25C temp), and they had very little personality. Docile, obedient horses are fine, but robot horses not so much, because you might be having a great time never having been on something like this before, and the poor animal beneath you is going slowly mental.

And I also really do not appreciate my horse’s backside being smacked from behind without my knowledge, whilst I’m on it. This didn’t just happen to me, they did this to force the horses to get up the hills quicker, which was fucking infuriating, mainly because only the lead guy knew English and the others knew ‘Kicka, kicka!’ I’m sorry, but if it looks like the horse could lose a foot by rushing up through the sharpest, craggiest rocks in the world, I am not going to ‘Kicka, kicka!’

 

Sotterranea – the Catacombs of Naples

This building was just round the corner from the Sottereana, but architecturally worthy of the picture.

The Sottereana tunnels were dug out by men, manually. It’s astounding when you see the space down there, and even more so when you realise they were begun in the ancient Greek era. Starting as a quarry the underground tunnels eventually became an aquaduct of 400km long (called “Claudio”) connecting multiple caves along the way.

Indeed, there are still various caves where pools of water still form, however, undrinkable after being closed following a cholera outbreak.

Eventually, as seemingly all places below ground, the tunnels became bomb shelters during the Second World War, and apparently many of the locations witin the system are unreachable due to these raids caving them in.

The little leaflet you’re given on entry is a nice little reminder that Naples is full of secret, undiscovered gems of history as well as the obvious massive volcano-bombarded ruins. They’re even testing out the growth of plant life in them – prepping for the future?

On the same tour you’re taken to the beautiful remains of an amphitheatre, which is now literally built into the walls of the structures sitting on the catacombs. Part of it was refurbished as a (gorgeous) flat, and the cellar beneath contains the old theatre tunnels in fantastic condition.

The theatre itself is Greek-Roman, and was apparently in use from circa 4th century B.C. to circa 2nd century A.D.

A snapshot of Naples city centre before heading back to the B&B. Apparently I should really have been more concerned about being out after dark than I was (my camera makes it look brighter)…

Look at those bloody winter coats people have got on. 25 degrees man.

The Fate of Vultures goes Underground…

Underground Book Reviews, a well-respected review site for indie and self-published authors, is about to release its review of my debut book The Fate of Vultures (it’s been a while coming!) and I’ve seen the preview, which I’m well pleased with. It’s due out on 19th December, written by Steve Wetherall, who kindly chose my book from however long his list of requests was!

You can upvote the book on UBR if you like, and it’ll show on their homepage and increase its visibility, and if you haven’t got a copy (and the review makes you want to read it) it’ll be on a Kindle Free Promotion from 19th for five days. The Price of Sanctuary is free on my mailing list! I’ll be getting back to work on the threequel in the New Year.

Thanks to Steve and UBR for the time and effort taken in reading and writing about my work.

Pozzuoli 2016 – Day Four

Bones. Lots and lots of bones. That was day four of the Pozzuoli hols.

Cimitero delle Fontanelle

The Cimitero delle Fontanelle is a huge cave filled with bones. The majority are nameless, and were actually moved from sites such as churches to make way for the newly dead, around the 16th century. Having no information regarding the identity of the remains, it seems a cult developed around them, and they were fiercely defended by those who believed they should receive better respect in death as they had none in life (most were seemingly of the poor and helpless). The remains were cleaned and also given ‘living’ names, and offering s are still being given to these nameless dead hundreds of years since their original disinterment.

The cemetery is an extraordinary site. If you are in the area but are squeamish about human remains, forgive the pun, in the flesh, then either suck it up and understand that this is not a disrespectful site nor is there anything ‘grisly’ about the presentation, or miss one of the most Napolese traditions in the area. It’s rather stunning, extremely humanising – much like the Herculaneum site – and completely fascinating. There are folk tales surrounding some of the remains, and there are thousands of offeings from coins to sweets to ribbons spread out amongst these nameless bones. I think this represents the nostalgia and tradition of human beings at their very best, whilst reminding us of our very fragile mortality.

Vulcano Solfatara (Phlaegrean Fields)

If I’ve not mentioned it enough before that this whole area is volcanic, here is some further proof. Excepting that rather obvious volcano over near Pompeii, the solfatara is probably the most obvious part of Naples that offers us a glimpse into the still very active landscape. It looks rather still below, and this was one of the calmer days here. It’s part of a wider area known as the Phlaegrean Fields, and was much revered as far back as the Romans, possibly beyond. Sometimes there are pipes of searing steam from the ground across the whole white expanse, and likely hordes of people mingling about. I was rather glad to be there in March to be honest as you get a nice view without (other) tourists clogging your photos, you know?

In the centre is a mud pit, you can see the outline – rightly fenced off. It’s the kind of pit you imagine ancient animals being dug out of because the mud is actually bubbling. What you can’t see in this picture, because it’s too high and far for the mild activity that day, is where the steam is escaping from the ground to the left and far middle, but patience is a virtue.

It is said in the Middle Ages the spring water found on the site was used for medicinal purposes. The well from that era remains intact. It may very well have happened that Maria of Pozzuoli (mentoned in Day 1 of the trip) herself used this well, or at least drank water from it.

So yeah. Volcanic. What is being expelled from the bowels of the earth right there is sulphur, and what I didn’t mention was the faint waft of eggs you get when first entering the site. I’ve read that on particularly active days the smell is extant even up the road from the site. It wasnt actually too bad this day, quite mild, but this corner of the solfatara was quite excited on that day. What you can’t experience, due to the size of the video file WordPress won’t let me load, is the jet engine noise that is constant around these vents. It’s like the eternal snorting of a dragon.

Fun fact. People used to crouch inside these little alcoves and breathe in the burning fumes the structure was built over. The left hand side one still works (you might be able to see the steam coming out), and the ceilings are covered in little stalagtites. Suffice to say, I gave it a miss.

In the Area

Random, awesome ruins.

Random, awesome, Italian architecture.

The view of Pozzuoli from up one of the many hills.

Monte Nuovo

This fella is the newest addition to the volcanic family of Naples. And hey, this one’s active. It was formed in 1538 and it sits next to Lago Averno, at approximately 458m high, so is easy to ascend. Hilariously, its birth (or at least the eruptions that shook the land) caused the complete submersion of the Caesar palace I mentioned before (including other sites owned by Nero and Cicero). It actually managed to push a great amount of water from another nearby lake, Lago di Lucrino, into the sea, and so the modern size of this lake is nowhere near what is once was. apologies for the glare, my camera evidently hated being atop a volcano.

This is the view to the east, towards Pozzuoli, and Sorrento to the right.

Evening Walkies Again

Rounding off my day, I got off the train at Pozzuoli near the Antifeatro, and wandered down to the beach. It was a lovely warm evening so I strolled alongside the Roman pier to get another exquisite shot of old Puteoli, before visiting the final place on my route home.

Macellum (Temple of Serapis)

The macellum was the market place in Puteoli, which incorporated the Temple. though obviously beautiful it doesn’t seem much more or less important than any other temple or site in the area. It was actually the focus of many intellectual studies, including that of English polymath Charles Babbage, and also John Soane, who did many drawings of the site. What’s also interesting is that the Macellum is where bradyseism was discovered in the area, as the whole site was completely submerged at one point, yet the stone columns remained standing even when the site re-emerged. This phenomenon created gradual uplift in the earth’s crust – showing that the earth’s crust can move and not always be a destructive earthquake – and eventually, in the 20th century when it happened again, resulted in Pozzuoli being evacuated, through fear of imminent eruption.

 

Pozzuoli 2016 – Day Three

Day three was a scorcher. Sure, it’s Italy, but it was March, and we’re talking high summer temperatures in southern England at this point. Rising marginally early, I took the train to Baia, to the west of Pozzuoli, which can be seen from the coastline. In the time of old Puteoli, the old Roman pier pointed almost directly at the location of Julius Caesar’s palace (currently taking a dip after being submerged by surprise volcano). The pier still exists in a more dilapidated form and you can walk along it (well, next to it). The palace, however, was at Baia, and the whole area was apparently some kind of beach holiday resort for rich Romans and littered with celebrities at the time.

Baia is marginally sketchy. Mostly the whole area of Naples and the surrounding, bar the Amalfi Coast region, is very run down is places, and graffiti lines many walls even out there. The train stations are not places you’d want to be at night if you’re the sensitive type (I’m not), but to be honest, I went during the week and most people were at work, and I didn’t stay out after dark except in the area I was staying, and once accidentally in Naples. Oopsy! Still alive. The walk from the station took me by some…hmm, interesting places, but it’s hard to fault a walk that leads to a castle and no fewer than three ancient sites within five minutes of each other. And a boat trip to the palace, but that was later on.

Heading along the port road towards the castle at Baia I came across the beauty below. I saw three of these temples in the area during my stay. Seeing actual ancient Roman brick in its homeland was almost as exciting as seeing coffee growing in Devon. Eden Project. I’m British OK? Being March, however, many of these smaller sites were closed off for visitors. If this temple had been less public – behind me in this pic was the port – then I would’ve scaled the fence. Not that I’ve done that before *cough* Dunstanburgh Castle *cough*. Pretty jawdropping nonetheless.

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The temple of Venus, Baia

Continuing up the really big feckin’ hill – well, the castle’s on a damn cliff, what was I expecting, eh? – I came to the motherload itself. Do not be fooled by this photo. It might look rather modest, but it’s actually a behemoth. If you’ve ever visited Naples and seen Castell del Ovo you might understand what I’m talking about. It is a fortress in the truest sense of the word, and the like in Britain I haven’t seen anywhere but Hermitage Castle in Scotland. Even that is marginally eclipsed by this. I have some very stunning pics of the castle from a little later in my trip (day five I think) where I took them from a boat, so you’ll see how monstrous it is later.

The fun thing about this trip was my acquaintance with using Google translate to talk to the staff. I had learnt some very basic stuff but nowhere near “I have a Leisure Pass, but I have already visited Pompeii and Herculaneum for free, so I need to pay here”. Google translate. They let me in free anyhow. The pass, if you want to know, is the Campania Artecard, and it gives you free entry to two or three major attractions then half price entry to subsequent ones. The Campania one also gives free train travel on certain services (the Naples one doesn’t, if I recall correctly, unless you get the week one) so that was also convenient.

Castello Aragonese di Baia

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The lighthouse at Baia. Pozzuoli (and old Puteoli) can be seen on the other shore. The modern jetty that is connected to the old Roman pier juts off to the left, and Puteoli is right above it. The dark section in the middle of the picture beneath the clouds is Vesuvius. The below picture is a view to the south from the castle.

There’s also a beautiful museum at the castle, and it has some stunning artefacts. Give yourself enough time to see it if you ever go.

The next stop on the list was going to be a site a little further inland, but by the time I got round the castle and the museum it was getting a little late, so I decided to visit a site which was back near the Temple of Venus, Parco Archaeologico delle Terme di Baia. It’s an archaeology park, if that wasn’t obvs. Plus I met an Italian cat, look how PWETTY!

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Parco Archaeologico delle Terme di Baia

In March the park is closed at all the main entrances but the top. You have to go in at the top and walk all the way down, and then walk all the way back up. Jesus, if I wasn’t already in dire lethargy, and scorching temps, this could’ve finished me off. It didn’t. I just went really slowly. It is a chargeable site normally, but the Italian guy who I found in the staff hut (or at least I think it was a staff hut…) just waved me on through. I did use a little Italian equating to “Is this the entrance?”, and probably “Mi scuse, sono Inglese” (not for the first time). He wasn’t fussed, onwards for a freebie, again. March is clearly the time to go.

The park is really stunning, and very vast, and covers the side of this cliff kind of thing. It held its own amphitheatre, bathhouses, temples and I think even a laundry. It must have been very extraordinary in its time.

The view from the park over the Temple of Venus and the castle.

One of the starkest things I noticed in my time in the area, especially outside Naples, was that there was fuck all Health & Safety. I am starting to think Britain is the only place that licks the backside of H&S laws… It is more likely the fact that Naples is a Mafiadom.

I say this because the picture above is of an inner room that I trekked to from one of the levels, down some tunnels which had had obvious mini landslides. Perhaps this is a very Darwinian thing to do and I deserve all I get. Well, what I got was an awesome adventure and pictures as proof, so sure, Darwinian. I also climbed up on some stuff in another tunnel and peered into an unexcavated room, which was creepy as hell. ADVENTURE!

Leftover paintings from a large terrace.
Sure is a big round room. Baians were onto Cerebro way before the X-Men. And that is water at the bottom there.
Oranges. Just growing there. Yeah.

Lago Averno

After the park, on the way back from the train, I went to the Mouth of Hell. Was a nice trip actually. Very pleasant. It does say the lake occupies the crater of a volcano. Did I tell you that the whole area of Pozzuoli and Baia is volcanic?

Our lizard overlords. I saw approximately forty-thousand on this trip.
The Temple of Apollo at the Mouth of Hell.

And this concludes our broadcast day. Though it looks like midday here, it was actually getting quite late. I hopped back on the train and headed back home. The B&B home.

In the gutter, looking at the stars…

I’ve had a horrible, horrible yeah so far. And yet some great things have continued to happen. Sinking into some weird, unknown, exhausting and mind-fogging horribleness, I’ve recovered somewhat, and feeling about 80% productive at the moment. I receded to about 15% at worst. I wrote nothing, I couldn’t read, I could hardly drag myself up in the mornings and I had nothing to give my poor bicycle. I’ve been told it might have been viral, it could take some time to get over, but I might also still have it. I’ve also experienced the patronising side of the NHS where they don’t believe anything you say. It’s extraordinary. I suppose the Hippocratic Oath isn’t engrained in their values because the most recent GP I saw couldn’t give two shades of shit for what I was telling him. Don’t think I scrimped on the four-page complaint that I’m still waiting on for a reply.

Currently, what I do have, is a common cold. At least I know the immune system is working.

So, taking advantage of the lack of movement I am forcing myself to adhere to outside of the lack of movement I get paid for (work), I’m pushing towards catching up on some missed creativity. FemmesFantastic is not gone, I have just updated with two new posts. One short for Ada Lovelace, and another longer for a book – The Adventures of Mrs Christian Davies – I have been trying to get through all summer (see above).

20160903_175200One of my favourite days was heading off to the National Secular Society’s 150th Anniversary Conference and meeting a favourite writer of mine, Douglas Murray. Apart from being a very sharp and witty orator on a variety of subjects, though his primary focus is Islamisation, domestic terrorism and social cohesion, I find him especially on point when he discusses liberty and freedom. If you are not used to conservative (that’s small c) voices (i.e. not most of the mainstream media) then prepare yourself before you dive in. He’s also a stellar gay (not a typo), and has the giggle of a schoolgirl. A very good place to start would be the great podcast he did for Sam Harris’ Waking Up. Then YouTube loops.

The other gent is Maajid Nawaz, ex-Islamic extremist (!) and current LBC host. Co-incidentally, Maajid also worked with Sam Harris, producing the book Islam and the Future of Tolerance, which I listened to in Audiobook form (by the authors) and was nowhere near long enough in my opinion! Sam Harris was none too taken with Maajid Nawaz the first time they met, which they talk about in the book. Both these guys, and other great speakers on similar topics like Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins (who I couldn’t get near at the conference but he does exist!), have all contributed to my understanding and comprehension of the messy world that is modern thought on religion as politics.

This photo was my second most popular Tweet of all time thanks to Mr. Murray’s retweet too. I did get to have a fairly long conversation with him prior to it, hence the knowledge of his giggle.

Second most important thing, because, to be fair the above made my day as I was unbelievably tired and really needing bed (it was about 5:30pm, and I was 70 miles from home), was the acquisition of an electro-acoustic lyre. Yes. You heard it. Lyre tally is currently 4. I have yet to name it (the other two ancient styles are called Heldris and Gaunt, the 1960s one is also unnamed) so this is my task for the coming week.

With the help of this instrument, I have also made some progress on the musical, and though still missing two key songs – song lyrics are just out of my reach at the moment – it is almost entirely finished in terms of a full first draft. woodyObviously, I have been through most of it more than once, so much of it isn’t first draft, but that’s the nature of musicals, many start with hardly even a grasp of a script.

Aside from my holiday to Pozzuoli, which I will be finishing the posts on soon, I went over to Finland again, at my very worst health, in the summer. There will be more travel posts for some of my favourite places being added in the future.

In the meantime, this is Woody. Luckily, though I didn’t feel amazing, letting a big beast of an animal carry you is a good way of getting some fresh air and exercise. Unfortunately, I tend to forget to take a picture of this lad until I’m on him, hence the headshot.

 

Electoral Fraud and Why We Should Care

I’m very behind with my blog at the moment due to a health problem I am slowly scraping answers for, so forgive my tardy updates and the potential for waffle below. It’s been a struggle to write and to read, so I’ve not got much done in my aims so far this year. I have, however, been free to go on YouTube loops of politics and all that entails due to the fact I don’t need to do anything but look and listen (and hopefully assess to some degree).

Being very much ingrained in the current political debate over Brexit, it has concerned me that this year has already seen election errors amassing to people missing out on their vote in Barnet (London Mayoral) due to not being on the register at the polling station despite being sent cards, and the Conservative party undergoing fraudulent investigations concerning last year’s General Election. It is important because it not only affects our democratic rights and objectives, but it shows that something is not working in how the system is being managed.

It seems, after some research, it is since 2000, after proxy and postal votes on demand became commonplace that electoral fraud took an upturn. This is extraordinarily concerning since there have been suspicious reports regarding postal votes in the General election last year, where Thanet South’s (a UKIP seat, the leader, Nigel Farage’s) boxes of voting slips went missing for approximately 6 hours. What exactly happened I doubt we’ll ever get a truthful answer, but Nigel Farage was denied that seat by a Conservative MP (as were most of the country’s MP’s in England), and the Conservatives are now under investigation for election expense fraud. These are seemingly unrelated on the base level, but I hope to get to the crux of the matter after submitting a letter to the Electoral Commission regarding this fraudulent activity over the past couple of years, plus the current scandal of EU citizens gaining polling cards for the EU referendum, to which they are not entitled.

The letter is below, and I’ll keep you up to date with any reply I receive. I wonder if it will be before 23rd June…

Good afternoon,

I am enquiring mainly, but not solely, into the much-reported issue of non-UK citizens being sent polling cards for the upcoming referendum. I would like to know:

  1. Why this issue has occurred
  2. Exactly what is being done to ensure these unentitled people cannot place a vote on election day – this, I believe, would constitute fraud against the electoral commission for not upholding legal rights of UK citizens ensuring their legal rights are protected
  3. What actions will take place at polling stations to monitor this error
  4. Who is responsible for this error

In the last two rounds of voting in this country there has been concern over voting fraud.

In the Electoral Commission fraud briefing, January 2015, prior to the General Election, it stated: “Electoral fraud is a serious issue. But despite some high-profile cases in recent years when electoral fraud has been detected and punished, there is no evidence to suggest that it is widespread. …it remains essential that there is no complacency about the risk of electoral fraud.”

Despite this encouragement against allowing fraud to occur there were instances in the following elections where there was huge doubt cast on the legitimacy of the system.

2015:

– Prior the the GE, approximately 70,000 voters dropped off the register in Birmingham after the system change to individual registration. [links in this post were written out in the original]

– There was concern over GE Scottish votes, with reports being issued in both Glasgow and Edinburgh of people impersonating voters

– There was concern over missing GE votes in Thanet South, with voting slip boxes going missing for 6 or more hours.

18 boxes of postal ballots seemingly appeared out of nowhere in Milton Keynes right before the 10pm deadline, sparking suspicion as to where these votes had been and why the usual small number of boxes, 3 or 5, had nearly quadrupled.

-East Sussex ballot papers, totalling approximately 200,000 (70,000 for hastings, 120,000 for Eastbourne), were stolen on their way to East Sussex constituencies.

2016:

– Barnet voters for the London Mayoral elections were turned away at the polling station as their names did not appear o the register. They had received polling cards and yet were refused the right to return later in the day to cast their vote.

-Widespread fraud relating to the Conservative party, currently being investigated by police across the country in relation to the 2015 GE.

Has there been complacency in the system? Are there untrained workers in the Electoral Commission making these mistakes that are affecting voter’s rights? The Electoral Commission is independent of the government, and so why is it not amending its voting system to correct the fraud that had already happened, and is still happening?

In 2014 Judge Richard Mawrey declared postal voting threw open the system to fraud and called for a scrap of postal voting.

What is the current stance on postal voting with the Electoral Commission, and why has this system not been looked into considering since 2014 there has been some scandal relating to postal voting?

I have only included a limited list of many of the complaints that made national news, but I am sure there are more across the country from irritated voters whose right to a fair election and suffrage has been affected. Considering the Electoral Commission has been in existence since 1950, I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that suddenly the processes of how to conduct an election of any kind in the UK has turned into such a farce.

Quoting from Democratic Audit UK:

“While the Birmingham case represented the most systematic proven case of attempted ballot rigging, there have been numerous other convictions for electoral fraud in the UK since 2000. Court cases relating to large-scale fraud in local elections in Slough in 2007 and Peterborough in 2004 resulted in six convictions each. Following a lengthy police investigation and two re-trials, five men were eventually convicted in September 2010 for electoral fraud offences in the Bradford West constituency during the 2005 general election (the first relating to fraud in a UK general election for almost one hundred years). In total, more than 100 people have been found guilty of electoral malpractice in the UK since 1994. The vast majority of convictions have involved postal or proxy ballots, often in conjunction with attempts to manipulate the electoral registers by registering bogus electors or adding electors to the register at empty properties.

The emergence of electoral fraud as an issue in UK politics cannot be divorced, therefore, from changes in electoral law since the 1990s, which introduced provisions for proxy voting and the widespread availability of postal voting. In particular, the introduction of ‘postal voting on demand’ via the Representation of the People Act 2000 created obvious opportunities for malpractice, especially when combined with a ‘rather arcane’ system of electoral registration.”

100 people guilty of electoral malpractice. In my mind that is 100 too many. Above also suggests that proxy voting and postal ballots are, too, part of the blame in a rise in fraud. I wonder what the Electoral Commission is doing in light of these kinds of fraudulent activity, and why it deems proxy voting, possibly one of the most attractive fraudulent methods of voting in the country, to be a worthy thing? In secret ballots, nobody needs to follow any instruction from a voter as a proxy to mark the voter’s actual choice – they can merrely vote how they like.

I am interested in hearing the outcomes of any investigations and answers to the current issues for the concerns raised above, and hope to be able to share these with my readers and the general public.

So why should we care? Should we hold any trust in the voting system or the people who vie for our support? Before the last General Election I would probably have said yes about the voting system, today I’m on the fence. In terms of the latter, most of them are probably just normal MPs going about their business, but the vast amount of Cabinet ministers are to be listened to with a heavy pinch of salt. What I know it needs is a vast outpouring of concern from the electorate to the Electoral Commission. It was created in 1950 to be independent of the government to protect our democratic discourse, but with fraud on the rise it seems it is failing in that role.

But giving up the vote, or the fight, is probably not the way. When faced with a problem of democracy we must fight for more of it. I don’t personally believe proxy voting should be allowed (as stated above), and postal voting is certainly in need of an overhaul, because certainly it might be needed for people who are housebound or entitled to vote from overseas, for certainly not on demand for most of the electorate. Regardless, the system seems in peril and the trust in the system is certainly cracked. We should care because this is what our entire legal system is built on now, the voice of the people is the last barrier to a totalitarian government, and however flawed you believe FPTP is (I vote for PR) they are still accountable to us, and still have opposition in Parliament.

How we vote, how those votes are collected, and how they are assigned in every election is hugely important and we are right to be suspicious of the news reports that trickle in regarding fraud. I would encourage a bit of letter writing, and welcome anyone to use the reports and wording above if you wish to send one. Hopefully I’ll have something to report soon.

 

Pozzuoli 2016 – Day Two

It’s kind of hard to say anything new or interesting about the two sites I visited on day 2 of my trip: Herculaneum and Pompeii. They’re entirely more famous than any other volcanically suffocated towns (name me another – NAME ME ANOTHER!!), so I visited the former first, as I got up a little later than expected and had to renavigate myself… It’s been on my list of must-dos for donkey’s and so it is law on a trip to the Napolese coast to do them. So below is just a rundown of some of the most stunning bits I saw. I arrived at Pompeii quite late in the day, and missed the bodies I wanted to see (the ones lying on the floor), but still saw some great stuff there.

So, considering I have nothing new to offer (there are billions of documentaries nd books about these places, my input is worth zilch), below is just a rundown of some of the most stunning bits I saw.

Herculaneum (Ercalano)

If you’re going to see Herculaneum then just catch the only train line that goes that way and get off at the station named, unsurprisingly, Ercalano Stavi. Don’t bother with the bus from there, or a taxi that hangs about the station, as it is merely a ten-minute walk down the hill from the station to the site, in a straight line. If you are looking to get anywhere in the area early, then set out earlier than you think you need to. The frequency of the trains are nothing like Tube or Metro services elsewhere – they seem to come few and far between (they are local services but still sparse) so be prepared to wait not only before leaving Naples, but when it’s time to move on to the next site (it doesn’t really matter which you do first in terms of travel).

Anyway, I made it:

The site from the south – the famous crater in the distance. At the bottom of the picture are the archways where the inhabitants fled during the eruption.

Almost the whole site can be seen above. The bridge from the entrance is to the right (the near treeline just below Vesuvius) and there is a little section on the other side of that, which I believe is inaccessible. There is a section of the ruins outside the left of the picture, too, but on entry the whole site is spread out before you.

 

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A Roman fast food shack, we’re told.

 

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Lizard!! There are thousands of them. Two in this instance – one snuck away.

 

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Stunningly preserved painting.

 

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Though this picture doesn’t justify it, this is one of the finest preserved parlours (I think it was a parlour) on site.

 

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A wine seller’s shop, complete with wooden wine rack.

 

Ladies bathhouse changing room (1 of 2, the other was next door). The whole ladies complex was a lot smaller than the males’ but the extant architecture and flooring was just stunning. In the main chamber the bath and marble benches were still there.

 

A frickin’ BED people.

 

The bed & bedroom above is on the left of this domicile. And them there are wooden panels to split the room.

 

The streets of Herculaneum – it seems the dropped road was to combat rainwater in Pompeii, and though Pompeii seemed to employ stepping stones, I saw none here. This was one of the less intact streets.

 

One of the alcoves of remains.

Another alcove (sorry for flare – shiny day!). There are four in total, and it is incredibly humanising seeing their final moments preserved. These graves are important; important to be seen and shared. However, if you are shy about exposed human remains then definitely skip the post on Day 4 of this trip because there are loads…

Pompeii

Forty-five minutes waiting at the station and I arrived at Pompeii. The ruins are a minute round the corner from the station. It was almost 3pm when I got there and so I had less time than expected to get round, even less after queuing behind a massive school group. I already had on my list certain bits I wanted to see, which included the casts of the people still in situ where they died, and so much of my time was spend speeding along, weaving through the earlier visitors. A lot of Pompeii looks the same after a while, and though I am a lover of ruins, I wasn’t too bothered about missing a half-day wander about the site so I could get a glimpse of some of the more interesting remains. Saying that, in future I will go back, and probably add the nearby villas (such as Oplontis) to my agenda too.

 

 

Not a Roman statue, but the plinth I believe is contemporary.

 

The famous dog cast. This is a cast of the cast (I think). I read the original cast was in one of the villas nearby (another good reason to go and visit them).

 

This cast (again not the original) is of the man famously believed to be a beggar. I watched a recent documentary regarding Pompeii, which had used the latest CT scanning technology to see inside the casts, and it uncovered that this man was likely a noble, due to the type of sandals he was wearing (and the fact, indeed, he had sandals). There’s a misconception with some, I think, that the casts of the bodies aren’t really the people who died, kind of like fossils where they’re carbon imprints of what used to be there. However, due to this kind of technology, it shows that inside many of these flesh casts (because that’s more what they are) there are still skeletons within the plaster.  You can see more information here, with some pics. The documentary I watched was with Mary Beard on the BBC. No longer available on iPlayer, but (and don’t tell anyone I said) I’m sure you can find it online somewhere… Not that I’m endorsing that, you know.

 

The dropped road for rainwater to flow down (so Mary Beard tells me).

 

The amphitheatre was on my list of things to see. It’s a shame there’s not a platform for the top. I’m sure there are heritage, monetary or logistical reasons that have prevented one thus far, but I reckon they could sort it. There is also a massive wooden pyramid in the centre of this stadium, which is why I don’t have a full length shot. The pyramid is full of old murals and things, which is very nice, but they could have put it elsewhere as I think it detracts from the size and glory of this particular section.

 

One of the finest mosaic floors I saw here. There may have been others but I didn’t get around everywhere.

 

Bit of Latin – I think it was for a shop or something. I was rushing elsewhere!

The Theatre of Pompey. My climbing up high obsession finally satisfied.

 

One of the monuments in the cemetery district.

 

Villa dei Misteri.

 

The owner??

 

These sculptures were all over the shop, and I think added to the kind of obscure atmosphere of the site. That beast in the background (the mountain thing, not the guy with the arse out) is actually not Vesuvius. That’s sitting about 90 degrees to the left in this pic I think.

Last view of the external.

 

My entire second day well spent in my opinion. I returned back to the B&B for well-earned rest, and to plan for Day 3.

Pozzuoli 2016 – Day One

In March this year I visited Pozzuoli, near Naples, Italy. In doing some research for a new book, I discovered a woman in history called Maria Puteolana [of Puteoli – the old Roman port that became Pozzuoli], and decided to go and eyeball where she lived.

The coastline of Pozzuoli and the neighbouring areas has a much higher waterline than it did in the Roman era, and it’s even gained a little volcano since the 1500s. The Napolese area itself is, of course, famous for its volcanic history. Mount Vesuvius sits near the coastline to the south of Naples (and can be seen from anywhere if you’re off ground level – easy in the area), and nearby the famous excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

What you might not know is that the area to the west of Naples, primarily between Bagnoli and Baia, is also historically known for its volcanic activity. This, and the vast wave of Roman sites above and below the waterline in the area, makes it a pick ‘n’ mix of historical trekking and jawdropping natural amazements.

Day 1

Arrival day was a very early flight from Gatwick, zero glitches (except a slightly late leaving time as ever) and arrival of around 10:30am at Naples International. the recent events in Brussels seemed to have heightened security measures for the airport and so the three flights that landed around the same time as ours were all unloaded outside the airport’s main gate for passport checks. They weren’t much bothered about European passports it seemed as myself and the Brits around me were just ushered through with nary a second look at our ID. A 45 minute wait for almost nothing, very odd.

Most of my morning was spent learning the transport system and attempting a bit of Italian. Though, such an early flight (and an, ahem, rather late night beforehand) had left me a bit worse for wear so English was a struggle at that point. Regardless, I managed to negotiate my way from the airport to Naples centre, stop by the tourist bureau for a bit of info, and then get a ticket to Pozzuoli. On the way to the Pozzuoli line I wandered through this:

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I’ve no idea what it was about, but, you know, snails!

Finally, I got to Pozzuoli, however, the line I took dropped me off at the solfatara station (there are two), and so, after having looked over maps of Pozzuoli quite often in the preceding weeks, I managed to find my way to the coast. On the way, though, I passed by one of the highlights of my pre-planned tour pof Pozzuoli. I had a couple of hours before I could check into my B&B and so decided to head on in.

Anfiteatro Flavio

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The third largest amphitheatre in Italy, the Flavian amphitheatre sits on the outskirts of Pozzuoli. If you don’t use the Campania Artecard (which I advise, hugely) then it’s 4 EURO to get in (around £3-3.50). This is cheap under any circumstance – this is a huge site, has utterly exquisite tunnels beneath it (see below) in almost perfect condition, and is two millenia old. Castles in England under English Heritage (not to be confused with much more affordable and extraordinary fortresses in Wales under Cadw), in far less pristine condition and nowhere near as big can charge around £7-10 (the absolute finest, such as Dover Castle, go at somewhere nearer £20 entry without a membership card!).

Unfortunately, there was no access to the wooden terrace that has been built over the original stone in the tiers, and certainly there for better photo opportunities as well as an understanding the views for the audience of the ancient era. I can guess it’s perhaps due to the quieter tourism in March (tourist season is certainly from minimum April onwards from the opening times I noticed) and less safety staff on hand being the reason for the access being revoked at that  time. There’s not much to complain about at that price, but in the even I visit the area again, I’ll make it later in the year, as it’d be nice to head up to the nosebleeds and feel the full scale of the stadium.

Above is the centre of the basement. The tunnels lead off each other with all these arches all the way round the stadium beneath the stage, and are entirely covered. There are also steps that lead from this level upwards to other tunnels, directly beneath the tiers, that then lead onto the stage. It’s a shame that some of these steps haven’t been altered to allow people to fully explore the routes that gladiators and other performers would have taken to get to the stage, as I think it would have been a wonderful addition to understanding the architecture of the building. Still, it’s entirely stunning, and it might just be funding (most attractions are cheap in the area), so it’s well worth the trip even without all my dreamy flamboyant extras.

Pozzuoli Proper Preamble

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Whilst getting a mite lost on the way to the B&B I stumbled across what I would soon discover was Rione Terra, medieval Pozzuoli which sits on top of old Puteoli. This side shows the Cathedral (top-left, visited another day) and the no-access section, currently under building works.  almost peed myself it was so beautiful.

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And the Napolese and surrounding locals graffiti the shit out of everything; this set in particular was my favourite, though.

Once I got to my B&B I decided not to leave again that evening, instead eating chocolate and drinking tea, watching Castle in Italian. It was a pretty night.

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