There are some strange professions. Many of them are with the British Royal Household, like Keeper of the Queen’s Stamps, Grand Carver, and Royal Clock Winder. However, the one that caught my eye was written about on October 21, 2018, in the Washington Post: Ravenmaster.

The Ravenmaster takes care of the seven ravens who reside at the Tower of London, the 11th-century fortress that is one of Britain’s most popular tourist sites. It was a prison and an execution site for many, like Anne Boleyn. It has numerous lurid stories from it’s long and brutal history.

Christopher Skaife in his regular Ravenmaster uniform

Ravens seem to have started living at the Tower in the Victorian era when the Gothic Revival was in full swing. Charles Dickens kept a raven as a pet.

The Tower birds are now celebrities in their own right and they receive loving and meticulous care from the current Ravenmaster, Christopher Skaife. He gives them treats of dog biscuits soaked in blood and he has had to climb parts of the Tower to retrieve rogue ravens.

Treats for the ravens

Mr. Skaife was a machine gunner in the British Army for 24 years and then became a Yeoman Warder, one of 37 élite guards who are keepers of tradition and tour guides. He now lives at the Tower with his family. It must be fun for his kids to bring friends ‘home’ for playdates!

The Tower ravens come from bird breeders. They are wild, though acclimated to humans. They roam free during the day. At night, Skaife has to round them up and put them in airy enclosures to protect them from foxes, who ate two ravens in 2013.

Night enclosures

In the morning, Skaife releases the birds in careful order, from least dominant to the most dominant. The birds apparently have a very strict hierarchy which the Ravenmaster must respect. They have also divided the tower into individual territories according to that hierarchy.

Ceremonial Ravenmaster uniform

The birds are scavengers and like to rummage through the trash cans. They are particularly fond of potato chips but they don’t like the flavored kind, like cheddar or onion. So they wash the flavored chips in puddles to get rid of the extra flavoring, which I think is very clever! They are also known to steal sandwiches from children.

Ravens at Tower

Ravens can fly but not too far or too often. They can fly to the roof or the ramparts, but that’s about it. Previous caregivers would trim their feathers so they couldn’t fly at all. But one bird, on Skaife’s watch, climbed up some scaffolding and leaped off it. He died in Skaife’s arms so Skaife will no longer limit the ravens’ flight.

Once one raven did manage to escape the Tower and flew down the Thames River. She was captured by a local birdwatcher who recognized the bracelet on her leg as belonging to the Tower flock. The Good Samaritan put the raven in her gym bag and returned her to her home.

Raven at the Tower

I love all animals so this job caught my imagination. While not the cutest or friendliest of birds, it must be gratifying to preserve a long-held tradition at an historically famous site. Caring for a ‘conspiracy’ or an ‘unkindness’ of ravens, the words for a group of ravens is clearly not a job for everyone.

After eleven years, Christopher Skaife is still going strong at his job. He’s even written an autobiography. Who knew that being a Ravenmaster could be the route to becoming a published author!



Many — probably most — Americans think we have the world’s worst government. We probably do have the world’s worst fool as our president. He is most likely the most narcissistic and stupid person to ever be elected to such a high office.

But the rest of the world is embroiled in equally bad government and an equivalent degree of poverty, corruption, and neglect. England and France and Australia, to name a few. Where you find a government, it will be corrupt.

It’s probably true that all government is corrupt and probably always has been to some extent.

Despite that, there was a portion of good people ready to fight corruption. Who held a desire to improve the life of the citizens who supported them. There were always enough people in power who wanted to improve the quality of life for the citizens who elected them.

Now? We can but hope!

Today, everywhere, the corporate bottom-liners are running the world. It is killing us. Destroying our climate, making it impossible to earn enough money to live on. Making our education useless. Failing to provide an education for the world that is coming.

This is one of those rare times when I’m not sorry I won’t be here to see how this works out. It isn’t going to be easy and I don’t know if we will survive the apocalypse we have made. I want to believe we will manage to overcome the adversity, but I don’t know.

No one knows.

We can hope. We can try, but we can’t make it work unless every nation puts its shoulder (so to speak) to the world. If we do not, it will not be long before we are living on a planet where there is no drinkable water, insufficient food, and air that is unsafe to breathe.


Last week, 16 November 2018, Professor Philip Alston, international lawyer, and UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights made his statement on the shameful state of Britain. He began by pointing out that the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, yet one-fifth of its population live in poverty. Of these, 1.5 million are destitute. The reasons for this, he says, are largely ideological, and government ministers are so fixed on their agendas, they are refusing to acknowledge the evidence presented to them, or acknowledge the consequences of their policies. The problems, Professor Alston states, are set to grow worse, and especially for the most vulnerable: CHILDREN.

“14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%.  For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.”

Amber Rudd, the new Work, and Pensions Secretary dismissed the report on the basis that its tone was ‘highly inappropriate’. Philip Alston’s response, as covered by the Guardian, was to tell her to take action rather than criticize.

You can judge Professor Alston’s tone in this introduction to his statement:

“The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world.  It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in-depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation. 

And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.  Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.  While the labor and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.”

You can read his full statement on Britain HERE

And his 2017 statement on the United States is HERE

Many thanks to Dear Kitty, Some Blog for drawing my attention to this video.

See original article at: SO DO WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT BRITAIN IS REALLY LIKE FOR 14 MILLION OF ITS CITIZENS? by Tish Farrell, Writer On The Edge

Woven of Myth: The Plantagenets

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England

By Dan Jones

PENGUIN GROUP Viking – 560 pages

Publication Date:   April 18, 2013

This is a highly readable book. Although it is pure history, it’s so beautifully written, so lyrical it feels like a novel. Rarely has any book about this remarkable family given me the sense of destiny and the full impact of their influence and the romance of England’s premier ruling family. To a large extent, the Plantagenets defined England — perhaps even created it. This view of the Plantagenets was unique concept for me. As soon as I read it, it made complete sense. That the more than 200 year reign of this remarkable family, with its peaks and its depths continues to define British identity was something I’d never considered. Now it seems obvious, but like so many obvious things, I never noticed it until the author pointed it out.

It was wonderful to read history where the author appreciates not just the facts, but the drama, romance, story and myth. The imprint left by this ruling family on Great Britain is deep, pervasive and affects every aspect of England’s identity, even in the 21st century long after the family has — technically — disappeared. On many levels, this family can never disappear. They are part of the soil, the air, the heart of the island kingdom they ruled.

From its opening words, the book grabbed me and pulled me in. It “had” me before I had finished the preface, much less the first chapter.

The Bayeux Tapestry, chronicling the English/N...

The Bayeux Tapestry, chronicling the English/Norman battle in 1066

Although I was predisposed to enjoy it, I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. This is a book that greatly and delightfully exceeded my expectations. I have read many books about the Plantagenets, both straight history and as literary “docudrama.” I am very familiar with the stories of each of the monarchs, the wars, the scandals, the affairs, the treachery. It could have been old news for me, but instead, it was like reading it for the first time. What a wonderful fresh voice the author brings to material that has been written about — one might think — to the point where you could reasonably question whether or not yet another tome on the subject serves any purpose.

Was anything new uncovered? Not really new information, but in many cases, a new way of looking at history I have read in many other books. Whether or not the information is new to you will depend on how much else you’ve read. There was no news in it for me, but I’ve been fascinated by the Plantagenets and the British Crown since I was a kid.

The debunking of characters like Simon de Montfort that seem to have surprised some readers wasn’t news to me. I have read sufficient French history of the period to thoroughly detest the man and didn’t need any more help. The same goes for most of these characters. It wasn’t new information that made the book so much fun for me, but the presentation and the obvious relish the author took in the stories and characters. His enthusiasm is infectious.


As you might expect, the book includes maps, lineage charts, all the family connections of the Plantagenets. The story covers that period from Empress Mathilda through Richard II’s loss to Bolingbroke. It stops in 1399, rather before the ascent of the Tudors. The author chose to end his narrative before the War of the Roses, leaving that long and ugly battle for England’s throne for the next volume. I look forward to reading that too.

At 560 pages, it is a long book. I had no trouble with its length other than finding enough time to read the entire thing. It wasn’t hard to become engrossed in each of its sections. Nor does it require any prior knowledge of the period, although prior knowledge certainly doesn’t hurt. You could hardly grow up an English-speaker and not have heard of most of the prominent people that strut, gallop or crawl across the pages. If you’ve read any English history at all, you have surely encountered these Kings, Queens, counselors, courtiers, ministers and more.

If you’ve read Shakespeare, you may feel you know this material well, but anything written by Shakespeare is strongly prejudiced in favor the usurping Tudors. It is untrustworthy as fact. Shakespeare is literature, not history and should be enjoyed as such.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a pleasure to read, whether you are a scholar, history buff,  Anglophone or Anglophile, lover of historical novels … or innocently searching for a great read.

It’s available in hard cover, paperback, Kindle and audio. I don’t believe you could go wrong no matter what version you choose.

Waiting for Dystopia

I’m bemused and a bit bewildered at the furor over how the NSA is spying on American citizens. As a long-time faithful fan of NCIS, Law & Order and so many other cop shows, I’ve become familiar with how easy it is for government agents to get our phone and computer records. Our photos are easy to find on traffic cameras and security footage. It’s the meat and potatoes of television crime shows, so I can’t believe there’s anyone over the age of 5 who doesn’t know when someone is compromising evidence or has forgotten to wear his or her gloves at the crime scene.

Portrait of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. (no ...

Feared FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover – Rumor has it he wore a dress when he wasn’t accusing Americans of being Communists.

We know there are cameras trained on us everywhere we go. It’s even more intense in Great Britain and most parts of Europe, so this isn’t just an American aberration. It’s everywhere.

It must have been 20 years since we first learned about the trap door in Windows. You remember. That’s the security hole designed to let the government peek into our computers. All operating systems have holes in them. Any 14-year old hacker can find them, so surely the FBI can do almost as well. Did anyone think that the holes in our operating systems have gone away? Been patched up? Really?

Blaming one political party or the other, one president or another for extending and expanding the surveillance that’s been ongoing  for decades is pointless. It’s not going to stop no matter what they say or who is in the White House. The agencies that run the surveillance will merely improve their ability to camouflage their activities. Our governments are not going to stop monitoring our computers, telephones, bank accounts, or anything else. We can’t even stop Google and Facebook from having their way with us, so what makes you think we can stop the FBI or Scotland Yard?

It is wrong that governments spy on their citizens? Isn’t that a gross violation of our privacy? In theory I agree. They shouldn’t listen to our boring phone calls. I think it’s possible the cruelest punishment of all would be monitoring the phone calls of adolescent girls, but I digress.

My opinion is (a) it’s not up to me or you, and (b) we can’t have it both ways. We can’t demand more and better security yet expect the government to accomplish it without compromising our privacy.

So, we are faced with a theoretical (but not real) choice. Do we want security or privacy? As for the theoretical but not real aspect of the choice: it’s not up to us. In the United States, agencies of the government are in charge of national security. It’s their job. This didn’t start with Obama , Bush or even Regan. It goes back a long way, at least as far back as when J. Edgar Hoover was The Man and probably long before that too.

This is not an area on which we get to vote. It has been this way since before any of us were born and will continue to be this way after all of us are dead and gone.

Continuing to whine and bitch about it isn’t going to change anything. If you don’t want to be monitored, stop using the Internet. Give up your cell phones. Keep your money under the mattress. Live on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Grow your own food and generate your own electricity. Don’t have a mortgage. Pay all your bills in cash. Better yet, don’t have bills.

Don’t work a regular job and move frequently. Don’t collect social security, Medicare or for that matter, file an income tax return. Don’t register a car and don’t vote. Should you have kids, home school them. Even if you do all these things, if THEY want to find you, they will. Because sooner or later you have to interact with other people and people talk.


I have friends who are awaiting the end the civilization, if not the world. They are planning against the day when they will live in the Dystopia of their nightmares. They want to make sure they have enough guns.

Personally, I think lots of bottled water and canned goods would be more useful. And blankets, first aid supplies, and warm clothing. But I’m not expecting the world to end, and if it does, I figure it will just wither away. Not with a bang, nope, uh-uh. I’m leaning toward the long, tired whimper.

– – –

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Tony Judt

Published: September 5, 2006; 960 pages
Available as an audiobook from Audible.com

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945Tony Judt passed away in 2010 year from cancer. He was born and raised in Great Britain, but was a professor at New York University for more than 20 years. This is not his only book, but in many ways, it is the book he spent his life preparing to write.

He believed the role of an historian is not to merely offer “facts” and let the reader decide what it means. He strongly believed that historians are obligated to set the record straight, to strip away the pleasant stories by which we cloak the ugly truths we’d rather not face.

Thus he undertakes the debunking and de-mythologizing of modern European history. He tears the clothes off the historical emperor, showing the blatant lies that comprise the myth of French resistance, the “neutral” Swiss, the open-minded anti-Nazi Dutch. Laid bare is an ugly legacy of Antisemitism and hatred. I found it painful and personal.

The problems of the book and it’s strengths are the same. Although Dr. Judt follows a more or less chronological path from World War II to the present, he does not do it the typical “timeline” way but rather follows threads of thought, traveling from events to political development, thence to parallel cultural developments in cinema, theater, television and the arts.

If the book has a serious flaw, it is that there is so MUCH of it. I felt at times that I was back at school and should be taking notes.

If you are Jewish and lost family during the Holocaust, this will stir up a lot of stuff that hurts. The depth and breadth of European anti-Semitism and indifference to the shockingly successful destruction of European Jewry is stomach-churning stuff. I knew the facts, but I didn’t grasp the full extent, the breadth and depth. It was a raw and deeply disturbing reminder that with all our flaws, the USA is inherently a better place than the old countries of Europe. They wouldn’t agree I’m sure, but I don’t care.

Español: Mapa de las expulsiones de los judíos...

Expulsion of Jews throughout Europe 1100 through 1600 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is plenty of hatred here, especially recently, but we don’t have hundreds — thousands — of years of institutionalized discrimination and bigotry. Hatred stands outside our approved norms and though there are plenty who embrace it, our constitution, customs and laws consider it wrong.

This is analysis and criticism, not straight history. Tony Judt had a lot of strong opinions. You may not like them and may find them hard to swallow, but this book offers a valid, if ugly, perspective on World War II and the world that emerged in its aftermath.

It is serious reading, but never dull. If you make the commitment to read it, after you are done, you will have learned much and may wonder how much of what you thought was absolute truth is nothing more than modern mythology.