Tag Archives: corruption

April 30th

On this day in 1315 a man you’re unlikely to have heard of was hanged on the public gallows at Montfaucon. His name was Enguerrand de Marigny and this is his story. To be perfectly upfront with you, his story is not that interesting, but as I was flicking through it, I came across the name of one of his employers and it chimed with me in a that name sounds like someone who has not been in the news at all sort of a way and so I decided to tell it. So, here goes.

de Marigny also stole dolls houses from children

Enguerrand was eventually a chamberlain and a minister of Philip IV (known as Philip the Fair). Philip was a bit of a git. He suppressed the Knights Templar because he owed them a lot of money. By suppress, read disbanded, arrested, tortured and had a few burnt at the stake. He also expelled all Jews from his Kingdom in 1306. In short he was a nice looking chap, but his personality was less than pretty. Now, before Enguerrand got to work for a chap who was already a chamberlain to the king and his secretary. This bloke’s name was Hugues de Bonville.  Unfortunately, Hugues career was cut short when he was found to have paid one hundred and ninety-five francs for sexual relations with a floozy. No one would have minded at all, as most everyone expected his sort to be a bit dirty, but the silly arse tried to cover it up. He lost his job and then got killed in a battle.

None of this matter to Enguerrand who got to be close to the king who thought he was aces and skill. Others didn’t so much because de Marigny was a bit of a smug and oily little twit. He did whatever the king wanted of him, and took bribes and made enemies and created an oil slick in the English Channel. He would have continued on in this way, but unluckily for him, Philip the Fair died after having a bit of a stroke when out hunting. Now, de Marigny was left without his mate, but still with all his enemies. It did not go well for him.

Louis X, Philip’s son and the new king, was creeped out by Enguerrand, so when Charles de Valois denounced him and said he was all about the bribes and putting on over on the king, Louis had him arrested. He was found more or less guilty of all his so-called crimes and Louis decided he should be exiled to Cyprus. De Valois  didn’t think this was good enough as he had really taken against de Marigny, so he made up some shit about Enguerrand being involved in sorcery. As you can see this royal court was all about intrigue and a bunch of bastards trying to out-bastard each other. Despite the charges being so much made up nonsense, Enguerrand was found guilty and hanged in front of a baying crowd on this day in 1315. Many years later, on his deathbed, Louis X felt quite bad about putting Enguerrand to death, so he confessed, said sorry and gave  lot of money to the poor or Paris. But not to the prostitutes as he felt that old de Bonville had done quite enough of that in the past.

Today was the birthday of a curious young man by the name of Kasper Hauser. He was allegedly born on this day in 1812 and died in 1833. We don’t know his birth date for sure, because, well, therein lies the story.

In 1828, young Kasper turned up in Nuremberg with a letter addressed to a Captain Von Wessenig. The letter stated that the author

Kasper, the stabby little liar

(anonymous, but male) had taken Kasper into his house in October 1812 and never let him step outside it.  That he’d instructed him in reading and writing and religion, but nothing else. He asked that the boy be made a cavalryman like his father, but stated that Von Wessenig could either take him in or hang him. Which was nice. The boy also had another letter, allegedly from his mother, which gave his name, his date of birth and that his father, a cavalryman, was dead. Curiously both letter were written in the same handwriting, Kasper Hauser’s handwriting as it turned out. When in front of Von Wessenig, the only words that Hauser said, repeatedly were “I want to be a cavalryman as my father was!” and “Horse! Horse!” He later claimed to have no idea what these words meant and that he had been taught to say them by his captor.

Hauser’s story was that he had lived his whole life in a dungeon, that he woke up to find bread and water by his bed each day and sometimes the water was a bit bitter, at which times he would sleep a lot longer and then wake up to find that his bed straw had been changed and his hair and nails cut. He said that until he was about to leave his captor for ever, he never saw him or any other human being, that he was then taught to stand and walk, to write his own name and to utter the words he’d said to Von Wessenig. Which sounds like utter bollocks and is belied by the information in the letters.

The whole thing caused quite the stir and Hauser was put into the care of a schoolmaster who taught him many things and discovered that Kasper had a talent for drawing. Things were going well until Kasper was allegedly stabbed by the man who’d brought him to Nuremberg. What is more likely is that he had cut himself with a razor because the schoolmaster was starting to get the idea that Kasper was a little liar.

He was moved on to another house and before long he was injured again, again almost certainly by his own hand after, again, his guardian was pretty sure that Herr Hauser was a dirty liar. In fact Hauser’s death was almost certainly self-inflicted (a stab wound to the chest), when it turned out yet again that the people he lived with thought he might like to play fast and loose with the truth.

The truth is that Kasper Hauser was almost certainly a pathological liar, who made up the story of his life, conned people and had a strong need to be seen as special and the centre of attention. He did succeed in this. His story is still well-known, especially in Germany and there is even a statue of him in Ansbach.

So, today may or may not be his birthday, but the little liar has been dead for a very long time, so there shall be no happy birthday from me, just the relation of a slightly interesting little story to you, my readers.


Leave a comment

Filed under Almanac

April 18th

On this day in 1930 nothing happened at all. Not a thing. Nothing. Nada. Niente. Nichts. Rien. But surely, you cry, there must have been something. Not a thing. At 6.30pm a BBC newsreader read the news out to the nation. He said “There is  no news.” and the rest of the bulletin was taken up with piano music.

This conjures up a few images.

Hello, Britain, there is no news today.

The staff at the BBC always dressed formally for their “appearances” on the radio. This chap will have booted and suited himself, put oil in his hair, ensured that his tie was just so, maybe gargled  a little so that his voice was just right for the job ahead. And then, after all that all he has to say are four words. The words said, the recorded piano music plays. He arises from his chair, loosens his tie. His job is done for the evening, but he feels strangely unsatisfied. He likes telling the people of Britain what has been happening and he feels he has failed them tonight. An extra Scotch or two at the bar should quell that odd feeling.

Everyone at home would have been settled around their wireless waiting for the news. It was a Good Friday, meaning that many would have spent the day kneeling and praying and being all contemplative as they thought about the significance of Jesus dying for their sins and the resurrection that was due on Sunday. Papa would be lighting his pipe, little Johnny playing with some Meccano at daddy’s feet, little Mary being a good little housewife and helping mama by laying the table. Papa calls for a hush as he waits to hear what the BBC has to tell them that evening. Four words, then piano. “Well strike me!” says papa, “Language!” says mama, “Not in front of the children, Father.”

There was news. Aside from the fact that Mrs Brown might be looking for Percy her missing moggy and Mrs Jones was sure that Mr

Father: "Off to bed now Johnny and Mary, mother and I wish to listen to the porn hour."

Blenkinsop was almost certainly paying more attention to that Miss Peabody than he should be, we know that the evening before Good Friday, the government was desperate to deny a newspaper account of an interview with the home secretary, John Robert Clynes. Unfortunately, and despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to uncover what the interview was about, but Clyne’s main areas of interest in his early months in office were prison reform and the cotton mills, so it might have been something like that. Whatever he’d said or not said, despite the government’s attempts to get the BBC to issue a denial on the 6.30pm news on Good Friday 18th April – knowing that the newspapers were all asleep until the following week – the BBC decided it was not news, or not news they were going to be pressurised into transmitting. There was news, but there was no news.

Our world is now overflowing with news. Nothing is so unimportant that it can’t be reported in tedious and unending detail, no event can be allowed to unfold without tens of outside broadcast teams reporting back to the studio that something is happening, they’re not sure what but they’ll have more (of the same) in five minutes. This sort of reporting veers between the morbid, informative overkill, slightly distasteful rubbernecking, tedium and occasionally bizarre surreality. Last year the OBs were out in force as the police tried to get Raoul Moat to give himself up and then the footballer Paul Gascoigne turned up with chicken and chips and an offer of a bit of fishing for Moaty. The Day Today had come to pass (US readers, this was a spoof news show, find it if you can!). How delicious would it be to turn on the TV one evening, to hear A.N. Other newsreader announce that there was no news and to get half an hour of nice soothing music instead. If I ever get to be the head of the BBC, it is so happening. Until then, we can but dream.

Today was the birthday of one of the most infamous women in history: Lucrezia Borgia.Borgia is pretty much  by-word for murder, corruption, incest and lashings of depravity and Lucrezia has been portrayed as a murderous, incestuous bitch throughout most of history. Thing is, she almost certainly wasn’t.

Thought to be a portrait of Lucrezia. You wouldn't mess with her!

By the age of thirteen she’d been betrothed twice, but both engagements came to nothing when the men in question were no longer politically important enough to her father Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI). Her first actual marriage was to Giovanni Sforza when she was still a young teenager. His expediency soon waned and he was convinced to allow the marriage to be annulled on the basis of his impotency. The marriage had not been consummated, but between their separation and the actual divorce, Lucrezia probably got pregnant. Rumours are that it was her brother Cesare’s child, but it is more likely that she was having an affair with her father’s messenger Perotto. The pregnancy was concealed and next up the still young Lucrezia was married to Alfonso of Aragon.

It appears that Alfonso and Lucrezia were happy, which did not go down well with Cesare who liked being the centre of his sister’s attention (whether that’s because he was diddling her is anybody’s guess), so, to cut a long story short, he murdered Alfonso. (This sort of leads one to believe that he was a bit of a psycho nutter who at the very least wanted to diddle his sister). Lucrezia had one final marriage to Alfonso D’Este. This was a happy marriage, though both spouses had lovers, there were quite a few children and Lucrezia was still his wife when she died in childbirth.

According to history, or one should say, according to the history promulgated by enemies of the Borgias (and there were a lot of them, who frankly had good reason to hate the family), Lucrezia was involved in the murdering that went around the family, that she was doing it with her brother and her dad, that she was a wanton harlot and that she used her lady garden to tempt men into sin and eventual death. Or, you know, maybe she was a pawn in her family’s machinations, with enough sense to keep herself a few steps ahead of the game, in her family’s favour and very much alive. She was certainly described as beautiful (thick, long blonde hair, hazel eyes, good skin, nice rack, etc), elegant and charming.  Maybe she did off a man or two, but my guess is that if she did they deserved it. That’s right, I’m on Lucrezia’s side. She was a strong beautiful woman, so of course she’s going to be dissed, the world would turn upside down if history – in the past at least – ever dared to treat a sexually active and confident woman fairly.

So, you beautiful hellion, happy birthday from me. I’m not so much for the killing and shit, but I sure do admire your style, you fine woman!

Leave a comment

Filed under Almanac

April 14th

On this day in 1881 some heavy shit was going down in El Paso, Texas. Mosey on down with me pardners and I’ll tell y’all about it.

My name is Dallas and I'm about to kill you dead.

Now the first thing you should know about this part of the world in the latter part of them there nineteenth century years is that it was one helluva fighty ole place. In this very year the Southern Pacific, the Texas and Pacific and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railways arrived in the town and the population grew to 10,000. Doesn’t sound like that much by today’s big city standards, but it was pretty much a boom town at the time. The boom was great for the economy, but a real bugger for the crime statistics, and that, my friends, is where we come in. You see, in the middle of this fightiness, there was a gunfight. It was epic. It was awesome. It was The Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight. Sure, you’re all more familiar with the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but let me tell you something, those shooters took about 30 seconds to kill three people. I call that, well, frankly, disappointing. So let’s forget about the O.K. Corral and learn all about a real gunfight! Yeehaw!

Here’s what happened leading up to that fateful day. One of the big crime problems was cattle rustling and Johnny Hale, a rancher just outside the city, was a noted cattle rustler. He’d been stealing cattle from some Mexicans and two vaqueros (that’s a Mexican cowboy) named Sanchez and Juarique had been up to El Paso looking for thirty head of cattle he’d stolen off them. But, they’d been gone some time, and their friends and neighbours had set up a posse to come looking for them. Now, this was 1881, and even back then there was a deal of racism aimed at Texas’s Mexican neighbours. Mexicans were not allowed to carry firearms within the city limits. This is not what caused the problem though. The mayor, when he heard why the posse was there, was pretty sympathetic and allowed them to keep their guns and hunt out that low down dog, Hale. A constable called Gus Krempkau rode out with them to the ranch and lo and behold, they found the corpses of Sanchez and Juarique close to the ranch.

Turns out that Hale and some of his cattle rustling brethren were worried that the two Mexicans would find the cattle and come back with more men to dispense justice. So, two of them, Fredericks and Pervey, killed them stone dead. The whole sorry affair was taken to court where it was decided that Pervey and Fredericks would stand trial for murder. Krempkau, who spoke Spanish, was on hand to translate for the Mexicans. When the court adjourned everyone headed out for dinner and beer and that should have been the end of it. But, of course, there was more to come.

Hale had turned up with a friend of his, George Campbell, who had been the town marshal of El Paso (he lost the job because he was a drunk and a dick). They were not happy, but retired

The street where it all went down

to a local tavern to drink and drink and drink a little more. Across the road from the tavern, the newly appointed town marshal, Dallas Stoudenmire, was eating some dinner. He’d been in the court room too and knew all that had gone down. All was quiet until Gus Krempkau arrived at the tavern. Hale and Campbell were pretty much the worse for wear by this time and Campbell started trash-talking Krempkau for being a Mexican lover and talking their goddamned greasy language. He probably said worse. If Deadwood has taught us anything it’s that people in frontier towns and places like that swore like utter fucking bastards back in the day. In the midst of the trash-talking, Johnny Hale – who was so pissed he could barely see straight – got hold of one of Campbell’s pistols shouted “I got you covered, George!” and shot Krempkau. And now the stopwatch starts. Krempkau reeled back and collapsed against a wooden joist, he pulled out his own gun. Dallas Stoudenmire had heard the shot and he ran from the diner with his pistols drawn. He started shooting as he ran and gunned down an innocent bystander, a young chap named Ochoa; this did not slow him down, not even a little bit. Hale saw that his ass was on the line and managed to jump behind an adobe pillar, but Stoudenmire was too quick for him. Hale, popped his head around the pillar and Stoudenmire shot him right between the eyes. Campbell screamed at Stoudenmire to keep out of it, Krempkau, on the verge of losing consciousness shot Campbell twice. One bullet hit him in the wrist, breaking  his hand, the other got him in the foot. He screamed again and Stoudenmire whirled toward him and shot him, hitting him square in the stomach. He carried on walking toward Campbell who was now writhing in agony. Stoudenmire stood over him. Campbell’s last words were “You big bastard! You’ve murdered me!” And indeed he had.

It was all over. Krempkau, Ochoa, Hale and Campbell all lay dead. Now, call me picky, but I think that all of this may have taken a tiny bit longer than five seconds. Indeed some bystanders said afterwards that they thought it was closer to ten seconds. I guess four dead in ten seconds just don’t have that same ole murderous ring to it. Either way, there were still more dead than they managed at the O.K. Corral and in much less time, but for some reason it’s always been overshadowed by them thar Earps and that thar Doc Holliday. I dunno, I guess that maybe the guys from Tombstone had better P.R. agents or something.  But Dallas and Gus have me now and I’m bigging up those shooty men for fearlessly waving their guns around and killing each other for no damn good reason at all. Respec’ y’all!

For Today’s birthday we’re sticking with the law, but going for a less-shooty kind of law man. Today it’s Frank Serpico’s birthday. If you thought he was just a character in a film, played by Al Pacino, shame on you!

Serpico at the time of the Knapp Commission

Frank Serpico was a simple NYPD police officer. He worked as a patrol man, in finger printing and then got assigned to plainclothes where things got a little, sticky. Serpico was pretty disgusted by the widespread corruption he encountered and as a result of him trying to avoid it and refusing to be a part of it his career there was short-lived.  However, he didn’t just walk way from it. He spent the next years trying to bring the corruption to the attention of his superiors. Funnily enough they didn’t seem that interested. He was stymied by red tape and bureaucracy and seemed to be getting nowhere until he hooked up with another officer, David Durk, who felt the same way that he did. Now he head someone on his side, but as time passed  they were still being ignored. Finally after years of trying to go about things the right way, Frank went to the press. In 1970 he contributed to a New York Times story on corruption in the NYPD. This forced the mayor of NYC to do something and the Knapp Commission was appointed to investigate police corruption.

In 1971, Serpico was with other officers on a drug raid, when it became clear that his peers were not happy with him. The story of how he got shot in the face is long and convoluted, but at its heart lies the indisputable evidence that while the officers on the raid with him may not have deliberately sent him to be executed, they certainly did not give him back up, support him, or call in his injury when he was shot. Without the assistance of an Hispanic man in the building being raided, Serpico may have died. As it was he was left deaf in one ear and in constant pain from gunshot fragments left in his brain.  Later that year he testified to the Knapp Commission, becoming the first NYPD officer in its history to have the courage to publicly confront corruption in the force.

He retired in 1972 and after spending a decade living in Europe he returned to live in upstate NY. He lectures at universities and

Frank Serpico as he is now

police academies, helps out officers in similar positions to his own and campaigns against corruption and the weakening of civil liberties. Frank Serpico is an ordinary man who refused to stand by and see dishonesty cow honesty into silence.  When Al Pacino met him in 1973 to talk to him in preparation for playing him, he (Pacino) asked why he had done what he did, with all its concomitant risks. Frank replied, “Well, Al, I don’t know. I guess I would have to say it would be because … if I didn’t, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?”

I doubt this blog is your cup of tea (or even coffee), Mr Serpico, but if you happen across it, I want you to know that I think you are a genuine hero, a good and fine man who refused to stay quiet. We need more people like you and it makes me happy to tell people a little more about you. Happy birthday, sir, and I hope you have many, many more.

Leave a comment

Filed under Almanac

Stuff that happened in February 1976

To begin at the very beginning. February 1976 started quite unexpectedly on February 1st and over in the US of A, Rich Man, Poor Man (which introduced us to Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte) premiered on ABC television. To people in the UK, it’s worth knowing – or not – that ABC is the station that shows the Oscars and has for ever and a day. Rich Man, Poor Man came to the UK as well and very popular it was too. It was about a rich man and a poor man  and years later we also got to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy which was  much waited for sequel and featured Alec Guinness as a spy in search of the missing beggar man and thief.

Travis Bickle gets cross when his passenger shows no interest in who he had in the back of his cab the other day

And that was just the beginning of the month. Staying with visual entertainment type stuff, films that were released that month included: Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Return of the Pink Panther and the truly sublime Taxi Driver which starred Robert de Niro as a slightly killy taxi driver and Jodie Foster as a prostitute. One of the most wonderful things about the film was its moral ambiguity and an ending that would just not be allowed today, well not in a mainstream Hollywood movie anyway. It was very much part of a new golden age of movies that started with Bonnie and Clyde and ended some time around the period that the whole world got a hard on for Star Wars. That’ s not to say that George Lucas is totally to blame for the 80s glut of “high concept” movies, but along with his mate Steven Spielberg he pretty much opened the way to the Don Simpsons of this world. The utter twat. Please to  be noting, I do like Star Wars – especially Han Solo and Chewbacca – I just mourn the passing of the ethos surrounding movies in the 1970s, although to be fair to Mr Lucas, it was probably cocaine that messed things up every bit as much as he did.

Moving on! Much as I’d like to stay with films and television, there were other things afoot in February 1976. There was some sport in Innsbruck, when the 12th Winter Olympic Games opened on 4th February. Lots of people did skiing and skating, some of them jumped on tea trays and slid down icy tubes of death and everyone had a tremendous amount of fun in the snow and ice. Meanwhile, away from the Winter Wonderland, political type events were going on.

The US were still doing nuclear testing in Nevada. Why? Well there’s a question. One would have figured that they knew how everything worked by then, but no, they kept on testing. Maybe the government had something against Nevadans and wanted them all to get nuclear type diseases to keep them in their place. One thing’s for sure, even Mulder and Scully never investigated that one, so, well, yeah. Something really strange must have been going on. Conspiratorially yours, etc.

Over in Africa, the last of the Europeans were pulling out. Not out of the goodness of their own hearts, lawks a mercy no! The Spanish pulled their armed forces out of the Western Sahara on 26th February and the following day the Western Sahara declared its Independence. Coincidence? I think not! That said Spain did keep a couple of enclaves in the region, but  not for long. Probably. Hey! I’m only looking at February 1976, I don’t want to give the whole story away!

In the Netherlands a huge scandal was emerging centring around the Lockheed Corporation and bribes. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands had received a lot of money from the corporation and he wasn’t the only one. Internationally, Lockheed had been handing out millions of dollars to all and sundry to ensure that their planes were bought by the military. Their Chair and Vice-Chair had to resign on 13th February in the face of everyone being all “Ooh, how dreadful, you corrupt so and sos!” (It was 1976, swearing wasn’t quite as common as it is now, so even when very angry, people were careful not to call a fucking bastard an utter bollockhead). Of course, Lockheed didn’t suffer too much. A few laws were passed to stop bribery and corruption, most notably in the US, but funnily enough bribery and corruption didn’t quite go away.

Meanwhile, somewhere far, far away in the South Atlantic, Argentinian destroyers fired across the bows of a British ship called the Shackleton. It was probably the start of a wee bit of trouble that later developed into the Falklands war, which was the moment that British people all went to their maps and breathed a huge sigh of relief when they discovered the Falklands weren’t islands just off Scotland so we weren’t about to be invaded by Eva Peron.

One other political type happening is worth remembering. Moscow, still under the rule of Leonid Brezhnev, prepared to issue posters of Margaret Thatcher, not yet PM, but getting ready to thrust herself upon the world and make the 1980s utterly bloody miserable for most of the UK, depicting her as the Wicked Witch of the Cold War. Alas, there is no pictorial evidence of this available to us, but it’s nice to know that the Soviets were one step ahead of the rest of us in recognising what a stain on humanity Maggie really was.

Onwards and upwards. Heaven sent type stuff. In this month Basil Hume became Archbishop of Westminster (and was called a

Basil tells his mate about the time I rubbed his belly. Hilarity ensues

cardinal a few months afterwards). When I was but a young girl, I got to meet Basil Hume on retreat. We were in the queue for dinner and for reasons that totally escape me now, I rubbed his belly – it was a little rounded, which sort of belied his lean image – and, well, I rubbed a Cardinal’s belly. I think I asked him if I could, but knowing me I probably didn’t and just went for the rub. I hasten to add that this was entirely innocent on both our parts. Hume did not order me to rub him and there was no frisson between us. It was just a very ordinary belly rub, albeit, a very strange thing for a young girl to do to a Cardinal. He was a very nice man indeed.

Before we get to the very end of this strange round-up of events, we should take a quick peek into the hallowed world of art. In this month the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain), put on display Equivalent VIII, which quickly became known as “The Bricks”. It was, to all intents and purposes a pile of bricks. The public was in uproar about it, or to be more precise, the media said the public was in uproar about it. Well, taxpayers’ money had been paid for the bricks and oh my gosh! The Tate had been conned, etc.  The Bricks, were just the latest in a long line of artworks that left people thinking that they’d discovered that the Emperor was naked. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t. Equivalent VIII is still on show at the Tate Modern. These days people get in less of a two and eight about them.

And finally we turn our minds to death. This month saw the death of an artist who was loved by everybody, L.S. Lowry. Thought of by many as a naive artist, Lowry’s most famous paintings and drawings are of the industrial landscape of Salford, featuring many vaguely abstract figures, often called matchstick men. Lowry’s influence has been wide and the love of his work is still going strong 35 years after his death.

No cats were harmed in the formulation of Heisenberg's principle, which is more than can be said for his mate Schrodinger

This month also saw the tragically early death of Florence Ballard, the real voice of the Supremes. She was dropped from the group in 1967 after one too many arguments with Berry Gordy who had made Diana Ross his mistress and the leader of the Supremes. She had a solo career, but things were never right for Florence after the Supremes and she died of coronary thrombosis on February 22nd 1976.

There were many other births and deaths in this month, but compiling a list of them would be tedious for both you and me. I shall leave you with one last death: on the first day of this month, as Rich Man, Poor Man was starting on ABC, Werner Heisenberg breathed his last, of this we are certain. We think.

Leave a comment

Filed under Almanac