Tag Archives: Spain

May 3rd

On this day in 1808 the brother-in-law of famous alleged-shortarse, Napoleon had hundreds of Madrid citizens shot because they’d had the temerity to be all rebellious about his sneaky takeover of Spain. The incident was part of the Peninsular War and if one is being fair, the Spanish weren’t exactly lovely wee innocents at the start of it. Here, my dear readers, is a potted breakdown of what, er, went down.

Goya's painting of the executions

A couple of years previously, Napoleon had announced a Continental Blockade, which forbade the importation of British goods to continental Europe. Everyone, except the Portuguese and Swedes went along with this. In 1807, Napoleon decided that the Portuguese needed a bit of invading and in Secret talks, he told the Spanish he’d give them Portuguese territory if they gave him a hand. The Spanish wanted the Portuguese fleet so they were well up for it. Ergo, the Spanish didn’t start out as the innocents in this life-size game of Risk.

All was going well-ish, but at the beginning of 1808 the French army started its “stealth invasion” of Spain. At first the Spanish happily welcomed the large numbers of French “reinforcements”, but in February, Napoleon ordered his army to seize various Spanish ports and the invasion stopped being all stealthy and became official.  Even then, some citizens weren’t that fussed about it as they weren’t overly enamoured of their own rulers, but things got a bit serious when Napoleon got the new King (the old one had been kicked off the throne) and his family to go to Bayonne and so that he could make him abdicate and stick his brother, Bonaparte on the throne (which went on to happen on May 5th). The people of Madrid were not even a little bit happy about this and a large crowd converged around the royal palace in an attempt to stop the removal of the family. General Joachim Murat (Napoleon’s brother-in-law and the future King of Naples) got his troops to fire on the crowd. Mistake. People were killed, more people got angry, the rebellion spread, the Spanish barracks at Monteleon disobeyed French orders and joined in, and by the end of the day about 150 French soldiers had been killed by the rebels.

Joachim was raging about the whole thing, so he issued a proclamation to the effect that the nice people of Madrid had been led

Manuela Malasaña who was 18 when she was executed

astray by some bad people, but not to worry because he was going to have those bad people shot dead.  Actually, he wasn’t quite as nice as that. He went on about French bloodshed, prohibited all public meetings, made everyone hand in any weapons they had and shot dead hundreds of rebels just to show everyone else what happened if you messed with Napoleon’s mates. While it was a good, if particularly shitty, idea in principle, in practice all it did was give fire to the cause of the rebellion, which spread to other cities and parts of Spain and made the Spanish very angry indeed.  The fighting that broke out across the country was known as guerilla, or “little wars”. I have to say, hand on heart, that I don’t know for sure that this was the first use of this term; it probably wasn’t. What is certain, is that it came into general use as a result of the Peninsular War. So, there you go fact fans.

Other tying up loose end facts are: the day became a public holiday in the Madrid reason and was celebrated as Dos de Mayo; Goya painted depictions of the uprising and one called El Tres de Mayo de 1808 en Madrid, which are in the Prado; the area where the Monteleon Barracks were, is now known as Plaza de Dos de Mayo and the district surrounding the square is known as Malasaña in memory of Manuela Malasaña who was one of the heroines of the revolt. Oh and Murat and Napoleon eventually got their arses kicked out of Spain.

Today was the birthday of Mary Astor, an actress you’ll almost certainly have seen on the screen, but whose name may be unfamiliar to you.

Mary Astor smoking a tab

She was not one of the Astors, in fact she wasn’t an Astor at all. She was born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke and her screen name was cooked up by the head of Paramount, Jesse Lasky, the producer Walter Wanger and the Queen of Gossip, Hedda Hopper. It suited her. Mary Astor had an air of elegance about her that demanded a name that was less of a mouthful than the one she was born with.

She was in Hollywood from an early age, brought there by her parents who were very much stage parents and very much into siphoning off as much of their daughter’s earnings as they possibly could. For most of her youth she was living on $5 a week from her $2,500 salary, with her parents pocketing the rest and controlling her movements. When she finally broke away from them at 26 years old, they sued for support and got $100 a month. In between times she was making films and making a name for herself. She was also getting married. Her first marriage ended in tragedy when her husband was killed in a plane crash. She had a nervous breakdown, but remarried the doctor who nursed her through it. It wasn’t a  happy union and within a few years she was in New York having an affair with the playwright, George Kaufman. This wouldn’t have been a huge scandal, the studios were pretty good at covering things up, but Mary kept a diary and when she divorced her husband, he stole the diary and tried to use it as evidence against her in a custody trial.

Part of Mary’s USP was the ladylike air she had, so when extracts of her diary were read out, such as:  “I don’t know where George got his staying power.” and “Ah, desert night – with George’s body plunging into mine, naked under the stars …” and “We shared our fourth climax at dawn.” It’s fair to say that there was quite  lot of shock and “Oh my gosh! She has sex and likes it. Criminy!” going on. Her husband had sought to exile her from her daughter’s life and to destroy her career, but he wasn’t successful. She started filming Dodsworth after the trial, the producer Samuel Goldwyn had been advised to replace her, but he refused, and it went on to be an Oscar nominated hit. Later in her career she was the femme fatale in The Maltese Falcon and the beloved and loving mother in Meet me in St Louis. She won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in The Great Lie. But her life wasn’t always happy. She had drink problems, two more marriages, which failed, suicide attempts and, on her mother’s death, the revelation that her mother had hated her.

She didn’t go under, she found she had a talent for writing wrote two memoirs, the first of which, published in  1959, was totally candid, in a way that most stars were not, about the troubles she’d had in her life and barely touched on her film career. She also wrote six novels and after a long break from Hollywood, she acted again in the 1960s, but most of the rest of her life was devoted to writing.

Mary was a fine woman. When people got over the notion that they thought she was a lady, they realised that she was so much more. A brave, fine, honest woman, a broad with chutzpah and charm. And a damned fine pianist to boot! Happy birthday, Ms Astor. You acted fine, you lived fine and good gosh, you wrote really naughty about the whole sex thing!


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March 11th

On this day in 1526 there was a royal wedding in Seville. Isabella of Portugal travelled there to marry Charles V & I. Don’t worry, she wasn’t being married off to a couple of polygamous monarchs,  Charles was both V – as Holy Roman Emperor and I as King of Spain.


Pretty Lady

You may wonder why we’re having a look at a European royal wedding that happened nearly 500 years ago. Well, I shall tell you. Both Isabella and Charles were members of the Habsburg family. In fact they were first cousins and not the only ones keeping it in the family. Isabella’s brother, King John III of Portugal married Charles’ younger sister. The Habsburgs, you see, were keen on protecting their lands and their power and it was round about this period – although it had started a little earlier – that they began to do this by only marrying another member of the Habsburg family. And that, my dear friends, is what we’re going to take a look at today, because it’s with Isabella and Charles that the whole thing really gets started.


The first documented use of the name Habsburg was in 1108, but at that time they were just  a bunch of counts and not that big a deal on the European stage. They were also marrying outside the family, mostly women or men with lots of land and power, the better to

Remember, they'd try to flatter you in portraits in those days

get more for themselves. They carried on doing this sort of thing for a few centuries until in 1452 Frederick III finally got the role the family had been aiming for all along: Holy Roman Emperor. He was succeeded by Maximilian I and then we got Charles V.


From this time onward nearly every marriage within the Spanish branch of the family was to another Habsburg and not to a distant cousin. They were generally between first cousins, double first cousins, or uncle and niece. Researchers going through the family tree from 1516-1700 found that 80% of the marriages were consanguineous. Now, of course at the start of this intermarriage thing, this wouldn’t have been too problematic. Isabella and Charles were first cousins, but as well as being Habsburgs, they both had mothers who were from outside the family. But as the years went on, first cousins might have nothing but Habsburg parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents. The problems started arising. The Habsburg chin and the Habsburg lip became famous; both are genetic birth defects. On top of this there was also the infant mortality rate among the family which ran at about 50%, which was higher than the average for the period and far higher than the average for such an aristocratic family.

You’d think that as they noticed that things weren’t quite as they should be, that they’d maybe rethink the marrying deal they had going on, but no.  By the time of the last Spanish Habsburg, Charles II, the inbreeding coefficient was so high that even though is parents were only uncle and niece, they might as well have been brother and sister. In fact it was even worse than that. It was as though a few generations of brothers and sisters had produced children, who’d produced children who’d, etc.

Charles II produced no children. He was born with serious physical disabilities and mental problems too. Not only did he have the Habsburg lip and chin, but his tongue was so large that it was difficult to understand his speech. He didn’t start to speak until the age of four and only began walking at eight. He had no schooling, he often didn’t wash and was in no way fit to be the King of Spain. Nevertheless this is what he did become, defying all the odds by living until 1700 and dying just before his 39th birthday. His growth was stunted, he was unable to walk properly, he was epileptic and bald and senile before the age of 35. This was what the Habsburg’s desire to hold onto land and power had come to. The family survived outside of Spain, where outer-marriage was more usual, and continued to be a strong and powerful force until the beginning of the twentieth Century.

If we go back to Charles V and Isabella, we see a handsome couple, whose ancestors, if the family had married more wisely, could have gone on to be as fine and sound as they were. That said, Charlie and Bella weren’t the ancestors that most scientific researchers start with. They were Philip and Joanna of Castile. When considering what went down with the family over the centuries it’s worth bearing in mind that Joanna was known as Joanna the Mad. Poor old Charles II never had a chance.

So, if you were thinking of marrying your cousin or your niece, well first “yuck!” and second. Look at Charles II and just say no.


Today is the birthday of Australian bastard magnate, Rupert Murdoch. He was born into a newspaper family and throughout his life has done all he can to purchase every newspaper in the world and make us all read only the stuff he likes, which is mostly tits and whatever politics he likes best at the moment. Tired of only having newspapers, mostly because the print kept getting on his fancy

Gloomy Gonad

suits, the sad scrotum lookie-likie, started buying television stuff and film studios. It is understood that he cries most nights because he doesn’t own the internet and still hasn’t invented the terminator.


He wants to own the world and the moon on a stick and if you say horrid things about him he turns up at  your house with a poker and threatens to stick it up  your arse if you don’t give him a lollipop and say sorry. I have my lollipops prepared. If Satan was walking around the earth, you get the feeling he’d be a bit like Murdoch, but better looking. One can’t quite imagine Beelzebub choosing to look like a slack walking testicle. So, even though it often seems that Murdoch is the devil, he isn’t, because not only is he not good-looking enough to be old Nick, er, the devil ain’t real people!

Murdoch is merely a very rich, powerful, greedy, arrogant and ugly man, who would own your vital organs if he could. That said he’s 80 today, so he probably won’t be around being all slimy and sort of evil for much longer, so Happy Birthday, Digger, you old fucker. Don’t eat and drink too much, it’s not good for you at your age.


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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.

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