Sunday, 30 January 2011

Test Page One

The BBC purchased h2g2 10 years ago, about the time that I joined. I was interested in events then just as I am now. Moves were in hand to modernise the site but with todays Government cuts the BBC are looking to dispose of h2g2 . If a buyer is not found it is hoped that the BBC will at least retain the site for access only. A lot of people have put a lot of work into the site on a purely voluntary basis.
What would have happened if 10 years ago the BBC had realised that in h2g2 they had a web site that emodied Blogging and Tweeting with a bit of FaceBook all rolled into one. A web site with an active and thriving online community. A snowflake searching to become part of a blizzard. They failed to recognise the full potential, stripping the features of the DNA community web site engine and spreading it to individual message boards. Never the twain shall meet.
It's all there at the old site :-
Better still read the post :-

In the meantime

If it's a dolphin you want a dolphin you can have courtesy of the BBC.

A leaping dolphin.

Members of h2g2 are called 'researchers' and we have one researcher who has created over 200 entries.
There is so much to h2g2 it just can not be lost in cyber space.

A look at sites powered by DNA the BBC website engine that they stripped out of h2g2 and it is clear that the BBC's reason for disposing of h2g2 is something more than Cost Cutting.

A consortium is working towards taking over h2g2 if a buyer can't he found
Don't Panic :-


Guide Entry below taken from the original h2g2 site where there are thousands of entries.
It was created shortly after the BBC first took over.

A rose by any other name. rose
Created: 20th December 2002

Within the h2g2 community a lot of noise was made over its demise and the resulting takeover by the BBC. Pressure groups were mustered and a good grouse was had by all. Lurk around and it becomes apparent that h2g2 researchers were biting the hand that was trying to feed them. There were two main areas of concern :

1 - That the memory of DNA (the man) would slip into obscurity.

2 - The self centred concern of some researchers that they would loose the facilities that h2g2 freely provided for them.

BBC came to the rescue on both counts.

DNA (the man) is enshrined in the ongoing development of the DNAhub. On the second count h2g2 will remain in existence, all be it in a form that will be diluted as BBCi develops specific communities that infringe upon aspects of life, the universe and everything and more and more researchers make their entries under a more organised and controllable collection.

It needs to be recognised that the DNAhub is h2g2 under another name.

As h2g2 grew it would have had to evolve into a much similar form to that being set up under the Hub and it is more than likely that the people who would have done this are basically the same people that are doing it now.

Lets hope that new DNA site subscribers recognise and understand that their real home page is

It becomes apparent that a Home Page for the DNA community sites is on the cards. What will that home page look like ?

How long will it take for 'the DNA community' go full circle so as to encompass Life, The Universe and Everything ?

Ancient Brit - Not for the edited guide


Entry from Pinnipeds Portfolio -

This is one of the first h2g2 entries that I read when I joined h2g2.

The Udderthorpe Paper-Clip Engine
Created: 10th. October 2001

It is easy for us to forget these days, as muzak rings out from a thousand call-centres, that Great Britain once dominated the economy of the world. Its ascendancy was founded upon the brilliance of a handful of Engineers, whose entrepreneurial spirit shaped and defined the Industrial Revolution. The legacy lives on into modern times. What follows is a remarkable tale of latter-day technical innovation, and of an extraordinary man. This is the story of the Udderthorpe Paper-Clip Engine.

Malcolm Armitage was born in the small Northern English town of Udderthorpe in the year of 1957. When we consider what he came to achieve, it is amazing to relate that Armitage began with no formal engineering education and no business management experience. In spite of a dismal academic career, however, he had learned two things in youth which were to give him a unique and particular insight. One was a precise recollection of an entire set of Typhoo 'cigarette' cards on the subject of 'Great British Inventors'. The other was a keen appreciation of the economic factors which underpinned the development of the Industrial Revolution, assimilated when he coincidentally woke up during a school history lesson in 1972.

On chances such as these, miracles of enterprise may be founded. Armitage looked upon a simple lock-up garage and realised that it possessed all of the vital requirements for the establishment of a manufacturing community. There was water in the stand-pipes of the allotments opposite. There was a light bulb in the socket. Moreover, there was a ready supply of labour, since the bookmaker's on the corner of Delphi Terrace had mysteriously burned down just a fortnight before.

It was the Sunday of the first week of June 1988. The events of that incredible summer have been recreated through the acute memory of Armitage's daughter, Margaret, then a child only six years of age. Inspired by Margaret's vivid account, a determined local community has teamed together to rebuild the Engine itself.

Margaret Armitage was born at the height of the Falklands Conflict, though by 1988 the warrior queen who inspired her name had become altogether less popular in Udderthorpe. Her father had been unemployed almost since the day of little Margaret's birth. On that day in June, he finally saw a glimpse of salvation. He realised more than the potential of the lock-up. He saw his product, and the process by which he would make it. A blindingly obvious economic necessity had been overlooked by tycoons and business magnates everywhere, but it was not missed by Armitage. The world needed more paper-clips. The cigarette cards began to blend together in his mind, to realise the machine that would deliver them.

It is a testament to Armitage's innate engineering skill that the prototype machine that he designed carried him through almost five weeks of production, with scarcely a component failure or a major operational adjustment. Moreover, it cost him not one penny to build. He constructed it entirely from materials at hand, including the charred wreck of a Mark III Cortina that lay behind the block of flats that Armitage called home.

The principal source of machine parts, however, was Deirdre's flat next door. We have already noted that life was hard Up North in the sunset of Thatcher's Empire. Since the official abolition of society some years earlier, the council seldom noticed the expiry of its tenants. It was customary among the doughty folk of Udderthorpe to bury the unclaimed dead in their allotments, and to pay respects through the thoughtful commercial exploitation of their possessions. And thus did Malcolm Armitage celebrate the life of Deirdre Boothroyd, late spinster of this parish.

The Paper-Clip Engine was naturally named Deirdre, and it consisted of Deirdre from the formica base-board sawn out of her kitchen work-top to the leaf-springs scavenged from the front-loading door of her Hotpoint. But the power source was provided by Margaret, or more properly by her pet Hamster, Harold. The linkage of his treadwheel to both the stonking-box (as Armitage called it) and the indexing mechanism remains to this day a masterpiece of machine design and of lateral thinking.

To connoisseurs of engineering elegance, Armitage's Engine is sweet inspiration. The three bends required to form a clip are effected by separate strokes of the single stonking-arm. All three motions take place within one rotation of the treadwheel, as does a fourth motion which simultaneously discharges the finished clip and indexes the wire feed. The cam which governs this four-stage cycle is beautifully fashioned from a Mackeson bottle-cap, and Margaret recounts that her mother consumed two crates of stout in a forty-eight hour period as the driven genius strove to perfect its design. The indexing mechanism cunningly exploits the Cortina's rotor-arm, and the hopper which collects the finished product started life as its ashtray.

But in spite of the exquisite technical perfection of his machine, Armitage now met his first serious challenge. He had no wire. A midnight visit to the chain-link fencing alongside the chip-shop yielded a substantial length, but the gauge was to prove unsuitable. A hand-made prototype clip weighed three ounces and spanned the full width of a sheet of foolscap. Armitage briefly entertained the idea of marketing it as a means of retaining sheets of exterior plywood, but he was too astute a businessman to miss the essential technical flaw : the hamster would never have the energy to bend such formidable feedstock.

Armitage floundered for almost two days with this problem, resorting to stripping the paper off freezer-bag ties and even attempting to solder string. In an cruel twist of fate, the test-runs of his Engine had to be carried out on straightened paper-clips. Most of the resulting clips were well-formed, but the irony of his predicament squeezed the pleasure from Armitage's commissioning success. Margaret remembers the unusual savagery with which he thrashed her with a broken bottle that evening.

His greatest frustration was that the town was punctuated with wire-drawing businesses and their industrial customers. He considered partnership, but was loathe to share the fruits of his creativity with anyone. The bank refused him a loan (in fact, they refused him entry). Then, as if by a miracle, his desperate need for capital was assuaged by an unlikely benefactor, Porky's Pal in the 3.45 at Wetherby. The following morning, a Friday, Armitage purchased a coil of fine wire from Norfolk and Goode Ltd of Udderthorpe. This company were themselves makers of stationery fastenings, but by now the irony was on Armitage's side. He relished the prospect of future competition. The second week of his great enterprise was about to begin, and he was finally ready to make clips.

In the weeks that followed, Malcolm Armitage produced one thousand two hundred and twenty six paper clips in condition for sale, with a process yield of some 60% and a unit cost of production (after accounting for his own living expenses, gambling losses, hamster food and a small fine imposed for committing criminal damage to council property) of £2.79 per clip. Armitage was quite undeterred by this last figure. He had his sights firmly set on the luxury end of the paper-clip market. As if to prove the point, every single clip which passed his meticulous quality inspection was smeared with chip-fat and wrapped in a paper coupon hand-torn from the Racing Post.

Armitage had plans to automate this anti-corrosion packaging process, and to upgrade the paper medium to Rizlas once his revenue stream was established. His design for this machine remains with us to this day, painstakingly drawn on a slip of card cut from his characteristic carton of Silk Cut. The Armitage Society hopes one day to prove it, but Armitage himself was tragically never able to do so.

With the benefit of Margaret's hindsight, we know that the beginning of the end occurred some two weeks before production ceased. Armitage knew very well (courtesy of Typhoo No. 50) that securing the intellectual property behind his invention was essential. He researched the patents for related technologies in local libraries, and was one evening dismayed to find that the 800-ton pit-arch gag press invented by Dudley Durdle of Cleckheaton in 1919 matched his own design in some detail. Only the scale was significantly different, as evidenced by the structural steel cage containing the eight thousand hamsters necessary to generate the required torque.

From that moment on, Armitage lived in perpetual dread of competitor emulation of the Engine. He wrote to the Patent Office, seeking their opinion on the novelty of his design. He waited, in a state of high anxiety, for their postal reply every day thereafter. Then, on a Friday evening at the beginning of July, at the bar of the "Heaving Collier" in Nirvana Street, he overheard a conversation that confirmed his worst fears. A plant in Nakamihara, Japan was turning out two million paper-clips a day from a single line, and Norfolk and Goode had just called in the receivers.

Armitage was immediately convinced that the Japanese had stolen his process concept, but he couldn't understand how they'd raised the productivity to such a level. There was nothing wrong with Armitage's mental arithmetic, honed as it was at a dozen racecourses, and he knew that his competitor must be making thirty clips a second after a reasonable allowance for tea-breaks. Perhaps they weren't using his process after all? But a couple of pints later, Armitage was resolute again. He began to believe that such a rate of production could be achieved with a simple refinement of the Engine, and he decided to put his ideas to the test.

Perhaps it was the hangover, or perhaps it was the fear of business ruin, but on that terrible Saturday morning Armitage allowed his exacting professional standards to slip for the first and last time. The Hotpoint was further cannibalised, and Deirdre's fast spin was incorporated into the drive mechanism, facilitated by a pair of her tights. That part of the job seems to have been accomplished competently enough, but Armitage's growing impatience was destined to lead to tragic casualties.

Why Armitage forgot about Harold we will never know, but it is certain that the faithful creature was killed outright as his treadmill screamed up to fifteen hundred revolutions per minute. The Engine itself fared little better. It shot three malformed clips deep into Armitage's groin before catastrophic failure occurred. The stonking-arm buckled and the tadger flew clean through the lock-up window. The eccentric reciprocating sprocket-head was violently ejected from the indexing mechanism, and was left embedded in Deirdre's work-top.

In spite of his terrible injuries, Armitage is known to have spent several minutes attempting to repair the Engine. The task was, of course, beyond him. Weakened by loss of blood and hamster, he seems to have been driven to a fateful decision. Armitage secured the lock-up behind him, and went home to watch the snooker on the telly. He may have intended to return later, but he was destined never to do so. Within a week, Armitage took off with a barmaid from the "Heaving Collier", and has never been seen since.

The heroic project was over. It had lasted for the brief (though highly significant) period of forty-two days. In spite of its ephemeral duration, Armitage's achievements within this fleeting timescale remain breathtaking. No subsequent business venture on the East Side of Udderthorpe has lasted anything like so long, unless you count Mr Lance Boyle's protection racket.

The Engine remained lost to the world for several years after this. Until last year, only one interim development was of any significance. Margaret returned from a family holiday in Skegness in 1991, to be greeted by a distraught neighbour. A door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman had stolen what was left of Armitage's coil of wire, in spite of the best efforts of this worthy neighbour to prevent the theft. By such selfish and unthinking action is the fabric of the nation's industrial heritage unravelled. To say nothing of the fabric of its grammar.

And finally, about one year ago, the latest chapter in the story of the Engine was set in motion. Margaret, now eighteen years of age and in the full bloom of youthful womanhood, found a letter addressed to her father on the doormat. It was from the Patent Office. They had concluded that the Durdle Gag Press was substantially different from the Armitage Engine, and that a patent application in respect of her father's machine would in all probability be granted.

Margaret's curiosity was re-awakened, but she approached the derelict lock-up with trepidation. Fortunately, her current boyfriend had a gift for breaking and entering. Once inside, Margaret gazed in silent sorrow at the mummified remains of Harold, and at the shattered Engine. But at that moment a resolve was rekindled within her, to ensure that the Pride of the Armitages would rise and work again.

The following morning, another improbable twist of fate occurred. As Margaret described her visit to the lock-up to a colleague in the video rental store where she worked, she was overhead by an overcoated figure a couple of aisles away. As luck would have it, this was none other than Professor Cornelius Spragg of the School of Industrial Archaeology in the University of Drabcaster, who was fortuitously seeking research material for his project on Scandinavian Bathing Rituals at that precise moment.

Margaret lead the Professor to the lock-up with some caution, but any thought he might have entertained about showing her his journals disappeared as soon as he saw the Engine. True : it was twisted and broken, and Deirdre's base-board had been ravaged by rodents, but the majesty of Armitage's masterwork still rang out. The Professor's heart leapt at the sight of this magnificent testament to the tenacity and spirit of the common man. In that moment of revelation, the project to reinstate the Engine was born. Through the selfless efforts of dozens of people, that project has come to its triumphant realisation in recent days.

Over the last year, Margaret's accounts of her father's toil and vision have inspired and guided very many researchers. Of particular value have been the discourses she has delivered while participating in the meetings of the University Photographic Club. It has naturally been imperative for the Professor to remain in close attendance while these highly significant outpourings of the modern history of our community have taken place.

And so you will see that the context of the alleged incidents is one of genuine and significant academic research, as my client has maintained throughout these proceedings. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I would like to thank you for your close attention to what has been a technically complex and wide-ranging narrative. M'lud, that concludes the case for the defence...

The Pinniped Portfolio


11.10.01. Front Page

There are a few thousand entries on all manner of subjects.
Try picking one out at random :-

That man I know so well, puts pen to paper :-

Created: 2nd September 2001 by Pinniped
Soul Cherries

Writing has been good to me. There are more wonders undiscovered, but even if I stop right now the life-store would be replete enough.

Time ago, in my ignorance, I thought that learning to write was a matter of acquiring technique. I honed my tools, and found them sharp enough to cut myself. Then I realised that relating is more important than creating.

The craft worth practising is the sharing of experience. It's fine and clever to embellish the telling with imagination, but there must always be a kernel of self in the thing revealed. In its ideal form, the process is a two-way street. The ultimate gift of true friendship is the exchange of that kind of vision.

So community is at work when people write. Community is the highest achievement of civilisation, but it is a subtle thing and its facsimile is a travesty of its nature.

Think about teaching. The facsimile of teaching is the relating of facts. It's a completely sterile occupation, unless combined with the nature of teaching. The nature of teaching is the cultivation of knowledge in an independent mind.

To be a teacher, you have to want something unusual. You have to want the recipient of your knowledge to make more of it than you can. It's the difference between reproduction and replication. It's the difference between a garden and a museum.

There is something more than this, even. Before experience can be shared, or even portrayed, it must be garnered. Things happen to everyone, but I have learned at last that they don't happen in everyone.

People are very strange creatures. The more they refine the facsimile of intellect, the more they diminish the nature of it. Rationality freezes out experience. Clever people should always beware of becoming intellectual misanthropists, with no capacity for community.

And beware of the temptation to treat the experience of others as inferior to your own. There is no connection between intellect and the quality of experience. The more different you are from someone, the more they might teach you.

In the nature of intellect, people are different. In the facsimile of intellect, people are all alike, if indeed they are people at all. Certainty freezes out discovery. Categorisation freezes out expression.

Among the many curious places that make up h2g2, Peer Review is the strangest. Sometimes there is sympathetic insight and sometimes there is narrow self-importance. Sometimes there is spontaneity and sometimes there is stricture. Sometimes people offer what they think, and sometimes people assert what they know.

Sometimes there is nature and sometimes there is facsimile.

There shouldn't be opinion in the Edited Guide. A surprising conclusion for someone like me to draw? Not really : not when you realise that imaginative propositions are usually tentative and that factual assertions are often opinionated.

Imagination : that’s the key to the nature. It needs courage more than it needs cleverness. It needs intuition rather than practice. It needs connections instead of rules. In the end, it stems from a young and open mind, and the confidence that comes with a light heart.

h2g2 is perfect place to explore the nature. Nothing here has any point. Nothing actually matters. The capacity for risk-taking is infinite, because no-one can fall. There is no right and no wrong, since nothing can be measured against anything else. Freedom is absolute, and writing is all.

Whenever we write, and whatever we write, we should seek the nature and let all else follow. Do only that, and your writing will never be dry.


When this next entry was created 10th. Sept 2005 much discussion took place about whether or not material presented in this way was suitable for h2g2 Edited Guide

Pinniped the author had this to say:-

I’d like to explain how I came to write this Entry and why I’ve put it here in the Edited Guide Writing Workshop.
It started when a friend mentioned that his 11-year old twins had taken part in a school-class project on the Battle of Towton. Working in groups, the children had to invent a character and then tell the story of the battle and its context through this character’s experience.
My friend told me about their ‘Diary of John Hand’. It had clearly made an impression on him. Judging from his description, it must have mixed historical detail with some touching and thought-provoking views about brotherhood and chivalry. I asked to see it, and even suggested that the school might consider posting it to h2g2. He seemed to be put off by my inquisitiveness, though. I dropped the subject, and never got to read the ‘diary’. The idea stuck nonetheless, and so I read up on the battle a little, and got hooked. I soon found myself writing my own take on John Hand’s life.
This is my best effort to date at recreating a story I never read. The historical facts, you’ll find, are authentic or at least true to contemporary records (what war-diary is ever true?) Everything here happened pretty much as described, except for the personal involvement of John Hand himself. As for John’s depiction, too, he’s more true-to-life than another better-known Nottingham bowman, IMHO anyway.
AWW, PR or neither? I’d like to hear your opinion. My only objectives here are to share a good story, and to raise our game both as writers and readers a little bit.

Here is the Entry:-

The Tale of John Hand - a Bowman at the Battle of Towton Field


I was young and headstrong in those days. It was in the early summer of 1485, in the manor-yard at Carlton Barron, that I heard the soldiers speak, and their oratory filled me with a burning desire to right wrongs. This land of ours had been sloughed in war so long that nobody remembered anything else. I thought there was a chance back then, to end it all through one last contest and to claim a long-sought respite. So it was that I resolved to fight for York, just as my father had done. There was a purpose in my step as I strode back to the house.

He was still in the little field, hoe in hand, as I approached. I told him simply that I had decided to go to the war, and he looked at me with his dark eyes and there was a long silence. I could never tell what he was thinking, not in those days when I was too impatient to understand his circumspection. Finally, he said that he would fetch the bow.

He took it down from its place in the rafters, and he closed my fingers about the grip. There was only the great stave and a broken string, still twined to the knocks. There were no arrows nor any of the other tools and small items he must once have possessed. My father, I knew, had no desire to maintain the weapon. His attachment was only to the wood.

If you must fight, he said, quietly, then do so as a bowman. I do not want my son hacked to pieces in the press.

‘You don’t want me to fight at all’ I said, sullenly. ‘But it’s my choice, not yours’.

He put his hand on my shoulder, and I struggled to feel like a man of twenty years, instead of a child. If you will hear my experience, then you might choose better, he said.

‘How long will it take?’ I demanded, my impatience still brimming.

Fetch the hoe, he said. We’re finished out there for today. When I returned with it, he was sitting on the ground with his back to the water-trough, and the sun was straight overhead. He motioned to me to sit beside him, but I was determined to remain standing and so get this over with quickly.

‘You fought at Towton’, I sneered. ‘I know all that already’.

He gave me the slow gaze again. That was not my first battle, he replied, evenly. Did you ever hear of Formigny?

I hadn’t. It sounded French, and I said so.

Let’s start at the beginning, he said.

My father’s name was John Hand, and he was born in Nottingham. These are the things I was taught by him that day, and on many days afterwards, as I learned to listen better and to think more carefully.

In the weeks leading up to the momentous Eastertide of 1461, the Houses of Lancaster and York agreed about one thing only. The coming battle would be winner-takes-all.

Both sides assembled the full might of their support. The size of the forces at Towton Field will never be known with certainty, but it is beyond dispute that both armies were immense by the standards of our day. According to some accounts, one in every fifty living Englishmen bore arms in this single confrontation.

There is no doubt, too, that the casualties were far higher than in any other battle on British soil, before or since. Some chroniclers put the death-toll above thirty thousand. The great majority of the dead were Lancastrians, and very many of them died in the hour of nightfall, in the rout on Bloody Meadow after a day of deadlock.

When he told me that last fact, at noon outside our little house in the summer of my twentieth year, I grinned with pleasure. I was surprised when he scowled and called me a fool, but now at last I understand.

Since before my father was born, and indeed since before his father was born, we had fought the French. The war was interminable, its origins a thing of legend. When I was a child, a few old men still told of the glory of Agincourt and the supremacy of the English longbow. By my father’s time, all that had faded. A witch called Jeanne d'Arc had turned the tide, and she turned it in spirit as well as in feats of arms. Although she was killed she could not be killed.

Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset and despised general of the House of Lancaster, presided abysmally over the last campaigns. One by one, the hard-won garrisons were lost, until only Calais was left. By Formigny, fought in April 1450, the French had cannon, the 'culvrin' gun, and they had heavy cavalry too. They had Clermont and Richemont and an irresistible sense of destiny. More than three thousand Englishmen fell, against two-hundred on the French side.

Back in England, civil war was brewing. Henry VI, the puppet of Lancaster, drooled and raved on the throne. Somerset was released from the Tower during one of Henry's lucid spells, and was pitted against Richard of York. At St Albans in 1455, my father's nemesis finally won a battle, and died doing so. His heir, Henry Beaufort, became Duke and defender of the House of Lancaster. Effective rule fell to Margaret of Anjou, Henry's queen.

This new war on our home soil forced almost every Englishman to take sides. Many veterans of the disasters in Normandy and Gascony were repelled by the idea of another Beaufort protecting a French sovereign, and so they were drawn to the Yorkist cause.

Formigny was terrible, said my father, quietly. But it was not as terrible as the retreat, if you could call it a retreat. Those of us who survived were a remnant of a broken army. We blundered from Caen to Calais, expecting all the time to be confronted and killed. Near Rouen we were rounded up, and they saw I was a bowman. I knew all the tales of the French cutting off their prisoners’ hands and fingers, to make sure that none would ever return to fight, but they did no such thing. They merely took our weapons, rolled us in the dirt, and hounded us out of the town.

There was a faint expression of anger in his usually-placid countenance. Right across France, it was the same, he whispered. Harrying and herding; abuse and ridicule, but nowhere did we encounter fear of us. They did not think we were any sort of threat, and that was the worst thing to live with. I hated them for that, and it was that anger inside me that made me stupid enough to fight again

He nodded in the direction of the bow that was leaning beside the door. It took me years to find a faultless yew-bough he said. When at last I did so, I stripped it and steeped it, and I made a bow better than the one I lost in Normandy. I couldn’t wait for the day that I would be called upon to draw it. I swore that in future I would give no quarter, and neither would I ask for any. The next time, it would be better to die than to survive defeat and to linger on unmanned.

‘That’s just the way I feel today!’, I blurted out, and instantly regretted it. He didn’t show his anger, but the contempt in his words revealed it clearly enough.

Ah, but I was not as foolish as you, he retorted. I wasn’t a reckless youth hankering for a chance to assert my manhood. I was an accomplished bowman already, and I was getting better all the time through diligent practice. I was a freeman, and I had my own strip of land, and I was a husband and a father, since your sisters were already born. But none of those privileges meant what they should have meant to me, because I was consumed by a desire for revenge. For ten years I waited for my chance to take it, and when the chance came, it filled a single week of my life. That week changed my outlook forever. It taught me the real consequences of war, so that when my son was finally born three years later, I didn’t rejoice over fathering a potential warrior. I prayed instead that the child would not be lured by notions of a soldier’s honour in the way that I had been.

The intensity of his tirade receded, to be replaced by his familiar calm. Now, he said. You have heard the beginning. Will you hear the rest before you make your choice?

‘Yes please, father’, I answered meekly, and sat down at his feet.

Richard, Duke of York, should have been our King by right, but he was frustrated by Henry’s guardians. When Richard died in 1460, his eldest son resolved to unseat the Lancastrian usurper. Edward's forces set off on their northward march from London at the beginning of March 1461, gathering support on their way to the battle that would resolve the dispute once and for all.

It was in the early evening of Sunday 22nd of March that my father met Brotherton, and began his terrible adventure. John Hand was thirty-eight years old. Their meeting-place was the manor-yard at Carlton Barron - the self-same place where I was enticed by the succeeding generation’s call to arms.

The younger man was a Yorkist captain, hardened beyond his years and charged with mustering all the competent fighting men that he could find. The rabble summoned to Carlton Manor, old men and children brandishing billhooks and scythes, proved to be a disappointment. Only the man with the bow, dark-eyed and stern, showed any promise.

I have my own picture of the scene in my mind :

'Draw it', scoffs the captain Brotherton. Without a word, John Hand raises the bow and pulls it back. The veins in his forearm bulge. The great arc flexes pent, perfectly motionless, silent but for the soft creak of dreadful tension.

The captain clears his throat, all doubt dispelled. 'You've used it in anger, I presume. In France?'

My father nods.

'You fought for Somerset then? Will you now fight against him?'

After a moment's hesitation, another nod.

'Have you heard of Lord Fauconberge?'

This time the dark eyes are blank.

'I'm going to recommend you to the finest commander of bowmen in England', the captain whispers. 'Don't disappoint him'.

It would be another three days before my father met Fauconberge. Early in the morning after his encounter with Brotherton, he gathered a few possessions in his satchel and shouldered his bow. Then he took leave of his family and joined the party on the northward road.

Brotherton had stressed the importance of traveling light. This would not be a long campaign; two weeks at most until the battle was his guess. Here in the middle lands of England, support for York was still strong and provisions could easily be procured. The bulkiest part of my father’s load, therefore, was a great sheaf of arrows, each one painstakingly fashioned down years of long winters’ evenings. What arrows they were : not the delicate lances favoured by sportsmen. They were half as long again, tipped with hammered iron and fletched with tanned hide. They were as black as hell and could unseat a horseman by their sheer weight, even should his armour turn one.

The party that went on from Carlton and the other villages of the Lindrick was sixty strong, and about half of its number were experienced soldiers of one kind or another. Some, like my father were middle-aged veterans of the French wars. Some had fought at St Albans, or in lesser skirmishes of the English conflict. The rest of the party were younger men, mostly strapping and rough-natured serfs, all pursuing a chance to escape their bleak lot. Brotherton and his lieutenants struggled at times to check their ardour, particularly with the womenfolk of the villages they passed. More than once, the band was berated over the importance of the goodwill of the populace. This gathering army must be the peoples’ salvation, not another source of its torment.

They covered about fifteen miles a day. This was not a forced march, since recruitment was still important. Not everyone possessed strong footwear either, and some beasts of burden there refused to be rushed. As a result, my father found plenty of time for practice. Early in the morning of Wednesday 25th, he rose from the hay-barn near Conisborough where they had all slept, with the intention of finding some game. Right outside the barn was a small party of horse in fine livery. It was not hard to guess that the imposing figure at its head was William Neville, Lord Fauconberge.

He asked if I was the bowman Brotherton had spoken of. I began to relate my story, but he stopped me, suddenly fascinated by the bow. He refused to believe that I could draw such a thing to the full, and yet still hold it steady.

There were points in his tale where my father seemed lost in reverie. Mostly these were when he described the height of battle, but another such time was this account of his first meeting with Fauconberge. It was always easy to tell that he held the man in the highest esteem.

There was a hayrick at the end of the yard, a little less than a hundred feet off. He told me to shoot into it. I set at half-draw, but he scoffed at that, and told me instead to pull the bow full. I did so, held it longer than necessary to prove that I could, and loosed the shot. Another of the horsemen declared I had missed, but Fauconberge knew I had not. The arrow was entirely buried.

Fauconberge now thought for a moment, and commanded me to shoot over the rick, as far as I could. There was a hedgerow beyond, at about my range, and I asked if I should try and clear it. He raised an eyebow, and told me that I could try. The wind was a little in my favour, and so the next arrow went some yards over. There was a gasp from the others in the party, but Fauconberge only smiled. He told me to loose a string of arrows at that same range, as fast as I could manage.

I fired off six, in about even time, with the one landing as the next was loosed. I think they all cleared the hedge, all at much the same point. At that moment, Brotherton appeared, grinning hugely. Fauconberge gave him a little nod.

My father revealed a glimmer of pride as he recounted the end of the tale :

‘Good man, Hand’, declared Brotherton, clapping my father on the shoulder. ‘Now go and fetch them back’.

Fauconberge held up a hand, still smiling. ‘I don’t think we should tell our new Captain of Bow to gather up arrows’, he said. ‘You fetch them, Mr Brotherton, if you please’.

The first consequence of my father’s elevation was that he was equipped with a short sword and a horse. The former went straight into the satchel, never to be seriously considered as a useful weapon. The horse, however, worried him greatly. He wasn’t entirely new to the seat, but his prior experience was with plough-horses and ponies. Just once before this had he sat astride a warhorse, and then only in a surreptitious act of impertinence during his time in France.

Brotherton gradually persuaded John Hand that a minimum of horsemanship was all that was expected. A steed was a means of traveling fast to reach a battlefield, not to navigate one. The beast in question was a bay mare, placid in nature and a steady follower of the van. Even so, my father spent the next few days in fear of falling off.

The importance of horses to the bow squadron was quickly illustrated. During the afternoon of the following day, with Fauconberge and his party already gone on ahead, Brotherton’s band met a scout returning south along the Pontefract road.

This meeting marked the moment that the escapade changed. An hour beforehand, they had been mocking my hesitancy in the saddle and regaling me with campaign tales. Now they were silent and earnest.

The scout’s news also conveyed a foretaste of the battle to come. Ten miles to the north, the Aire bridges were held against us. The ferry at Pontefract was guarded by Clifford, with perhaps eighty men camped on the northern bank. A few miles to the west, Castleford was occupied by the Lancastrians. These bridges were crucial, since all the fords were impassable with the rivers in spate. This was the end of a brutal winter, and the meltwater was copious.

Fauconberge’s nephew, the Earl of Warwick, was already at Pontefract, facing the ferry with a force of nearly a thousand. The main army of York, with Edward at its head, was camped just to the south. The Duke of Norfolk, with a substantial force also committed to York’s cause, was presumed to be close behind us, and it was to find these troops that the scout had been sent.

Brotherton was very agitated by this news. The size of the Lancastrian force at the ferry, he insisted, was a crude deception, sufficient to engage Warwick in the pinch. The ambush would then be sprung from the woods beyond. He then explained that Henry and his queen were already in York, and that every hour of delay at the Aire crossings would strengthen the forces at their disposal. Finally, he asked what Fauconberge would have us do. To my great surprise, the scout answered that we were commanded to ride towards Castleford and to make camp at Whitwood village, where we should wait on further instructions.

After the scout had ridden on, I remarked indignantly to Brotherton that I was now bound to miss my revenge. After all, we were hardly likely to be called upon to attack the Lancastrians’ southern garrison. He replied simply that I would very soon be proved wrong, and that I had better prepare myself for the thick of the fight. Lancaster was clearly trying to lure us across the ferry. An attack at Castleford, therefore, must already be in Edward’s mind.

It was some time after this that I learned what happened at the ferrybridge. It wasn’t my father who told me, since he was not there to see it. The story came from another veteran of the campaign, and I recount it now for completeness :

Early on Friday 27th March, Clifford’s men began to break up the bridge. This put Edward in a difficult position. He would either have to advance quickly, risking an ambush, or else lose his best option for crossing the river altogether.

Edward elected to send Radcliffe, Lord Fitzwalter forward with a hundred men-at-arms to seize the bridge. The Lancastrians who were engaged in its demolition retreated without a fight, and Fitzwalter struck camp on the north side. Edward had no intention of joining him at this time, since he was sure that Clifford had deployed a battery of archers in the trees beyond the river. If York’s main force were to advance on the bridge, they would be an easy target for the ambush.

Instead, Edward ordered Lord Fauconberge to march his division to Castleford, some four miles upstream, to seize the bridges there. If the bridges could be held against resistance, then Edward would force-march the main contingent west and cross at that point. If, as Edward suspected, the town was only lightly defended, then Fauconberge would ride straight through and fall on Clifford at the ferry from behind.

This westward action would soon involve my father. Back at the ferry, Fitzwalter’s camp was attacked at dawn by the full might of Clifford’s force, and it was wiped out almost to a man. The ferrybridge was in Lancastrian hands again, but Clifford did not anticipate that Fauconberge’s men, who had already been joined by Brotherton’s contingent from Whitwood, were even now streaming across the river at Castleford.

At about nine in the morning, Edward of York put Clifford in a similar dilemma to the one he had been set himself a day earlier. Edward started to advance on the bridge, knowing full well that the alarm of Fauconberge’s sortie would by now have been raised. Rather than being drawn into the trap between two armies, Clifford ordered a retreat to the north. Very soon, Fauconberge was in furious pursuit.

The advance on Castleford was tense, but the Lancastrians chose to defend the fort rather than the bridges. We rode straight through, at a steady canter. On the northern bank, it slowed to a trot as we positioned ourselves for an assault on Clifford’s force. Because the enemy was concealed in woodland and consisted largely of bowmen, our own bow squadrons, with me among them, were held back from the main assault. Instead we would take up positions around the forest margins. Fauconberge planned to ride the enemy down among the trees, and flush them out into our sights as they attempted to escape.

The plan was never executed, because instead we heard the blast of horns ahead. Clifford was attempting to escape before our arrival. I had managed the mare alright until then, but now the van took off at a full gallop. We must have ridden five miles in pursuit of Clifford’s army, but I remember none of it except the struggle to keep my seat. I did not know its name at the time, but it was at the head of a little gorge called Dintingdale Vale that the horses straight ahead of me wheeled round, and I fell off into the bracken.

As I regained my feet, Fauconberge was rallying his bowmen. I could hear the clamour of close-quarter combat on the slopes below, and I realised that the Lancastrians had been chased into a blind valley and so were forced to turn and fight. Our enemies were in a hopeless position. With the high ground in our favour, and at an easy range, it was simply a matter of a confident aim to pick them off.

I had felled half a dozen when I found Lord Fauconberge at my side. He pointed into the trees opposite, and I saw Clifford and a small knot of men about him toiling up the slope. The Lancastrian nobleman was unmistakable, with his singlet in gold and azure check. He wore it over full armour, hence his difficulties in scaling the bank, but the steel would also make effective protection against arrows. Fauconberge was yelling above the din, and struck the edge of his hand across his throat as if in some sort of signal. I looked again, and saw that Clifford wore no gorget. I drew one of the heavy arrows, realising that a near-hit to shoulder or head might slide off and pierce my quarry’s throat.

It’s a terrible gift given to the bowman, that one can sometimes watch the blow descend. I suppose that a swordsman might feel the quiver of pierced flesh at the end of his thrust, and a mace might echo the breaking of a skull in its wielder’s grip. I do not know these things, though, because I have never used such weapons in the heat of battle. All I know is that a bowman’s eye can often follow the arrow down and down onto its target, in a flight made impossibly slow by the tension of the moment. It was like that now. I saw that black bolt arc across the valley in a frozen time all of its own, and I saw it hit him, from behind, just below the nape of his helmet. Clifford was bowled forward by its force, and it pinned him face down into the soil. I knew instantly that he was dead.

I think that my father felt his first qualms about killing in that little dell, even as the victors slapped him on the back and draped Clifford’s blood-soaked singlet about his shoulders. He didn’t tell me that he felt that way, but there was no triumph in his recounting of this, his most glorious moment.

Be that as it may, Edward’s forces had received a mighty boost, and Fitzwalter had been deeply avenged. No more than a handful of Clifford’s men had escaped the valley, and Fauconberge’s casualties were very light. To cheer the Yorkists further, Edward’s great army had crossed the Aire and was soon marching in from the south.

There were only two problems. The first was that there was still no sign of Norfolk. The second was that an immense Lancastrian army was visible at the head of the slope not a mile to the north. With light already failing, it was clear that neither side would contemplate an engagement today. That show of power by Somerset, though, was a chilling masterstroke.

This time, it was left to my father to recover what arrows he could, and it was almost dark as he came to the little village of Saxton, between Dintingdale and the Tadcaster road. There were torches in the churchyard. The hand on his arm made him start, and he saw that it was Fauconberge. The man who emerged from the chapel at that same moment bore a crown and white silks streamed beneath his gleaming pauldrons.

I do not know if my father spoke with Edward, since he did not describe this episode in any more detail than I have done. I know that he never saw his King again, except at distance in the thick of the fray. He told me too, that Fauconberge mentioned him to Edward as the bowman who struck down Clifford, but I do not know if it happened in the churchyard or at some other time.

He took up the story in detail once more with Edward gone, but with Fauconberge still present. The great Lord evidently confided in John Hand to a high degree, and told him first of the parley that had already taken place between the two Houses. It had been agreed that they would meet on the field between their present positions at daybreak. It had also been agreed that there would be no quarter given or asked by either side.

I plucked up the courage to speak plainly with Lord Fauconberge that night. ‘It’s a terrible thing’ I said, ‘that Englishmen should fight one another with no quarter given’.

‘Ah, but there’s a practical reason for it’, Fauconberge replied. ‘Everyone who survives the battle will recognise the same rightful King. There will be no dispute any longer, and this ruinous war will be ended’.

‘King Edward’, said I.

‘You’d better hope so’, continued the nobleman, ‘otherwise you will lie on Towton Field forever’.

I didn’t say anything to that. After a period of silence, Fauconberge changed the subject. ‘Let’s walk to the edge of the village’, he said. ‘I must show you something’.

He pointed into the trees down by Cock Beck, and I could see in the dim light that some had been felled across the stream. ‘The Beck is very swollen’, said Fauconberge. ‘I ordered that those trees be cut so that it can be crossed here by men running over them. I do not think that the stream can be easily forded for a long way to the north of here, at least not by men who will be fit to fight afterwards. That means that the whole western fringe of our battlefield, our left and their right, will be an ice-cold death trap’.

I could not see what he was getting at to begin with, but then he explained further.

‘You know my fish-hook standard?’, he asked.

I nodded. It was the Neville family’s crest, used by all of them except the mighty Warwick, who fought under the sign of the bear and ragged staff.

‘If you see that standard raised, it will be your signal to stand off the field, and take two-dozen men over this crossing. You pick the men, and tell them the plan at first light. Once you’re across, you’ll all return to a point adjacent to the field on the other side of the water. The other bow-captains will see the standard too, and take from it their instruction to fire half their remaining arrows into the top of the bank across the beck, so that your men can recover them. There is a point ideal for this, a sole clearing in the trees to the west where the beck makes a sharp bow. Within the bow, and because of the thaw, a water-logged flood plain has appeared. We’re going to do our best to drive Lancaster into it’.

‘And my task then?’ I asked, although I could see it already.

‘To shoot down every Lancastrian who tries to scale the far bank’, Fauconberge said simply. I must have looked sceptical, because he added : ‘You’re good at it’, rubbing the back of his neck unnecessarily.

I decided to change the subject. ‘How do you know all this about the field?’ I ventured.

‘Good scouts’, he said, with a hint of surprise that I should ask such a foolish question. ‘I know a great deal more too’.

Every minute that I ever spent in that great Lord’s company convinced me more of his brilliance and ruthlessness. He watched the wind like a bowman, and now he pronounced that it would stay in the north all night but swing right round to the south in the first hour of daylight. With it would come snow, he said. I cannot tell how he could know such a thing, but he foretold that it would do so, and it would turn out that he was right in every detail.

‘If all this comes to pass’, he said, ‘I shall want you with me on the right flank of the field. Do you still have any of those ridiculous fence-posts you call arrows? Bring them all’.

Then he put his arm round my shoulder and drew me close. ‘We should sleep’, he said. ‘There’s a dreadful day to follow, and we’ll need all our strength. Twenty-thousand of our brethren are huddled on the frozen soil out there. We’re the lucky ones, with roofs above us’.

I spent that night among sacks and blankets in the nave of Saxton chapel, where an hour before my King had prayed.

At dawn on 29th March, the wind still blew from the north. My father chose his party and explained the plan to them. He told me that he didn’t really expect it to come to fruition. He couldn’t imagine why the Lancastrians would attempt to flee westwards, instead of back north towards their stronghold at York.

The deployment of the armies was formal, since Towton was a staged battle, intended by both sides to produce a decisive outcome. Both York and Lancaster set out three divisions, with bowmen at the flanks and men-at-arms in the middle of the field. The men-at-arms on the Yorkist side, where John Hand could count them, were six files deep on a front half a mile wide. A little reckoning suggests that Fauconberge’s twenty-thousand would not be far wrong for Edward’s army alone, and according to lore, Lancaster numbered half as many again.

The middle divisions were commanded by Edward and Somerset. The Yorkists left was lead by Warwick, opposite Percy of Northumberland for Lancaster. On Edward’s right was Fauconberge, with my father among those under him. Who it was that faced them I do not know. It should have been Clifford, but he was dead.

The two armies stood about a quarter of a mile apart. Away on the opposite side of the field, John Hand saw the gap in the trees, just as Fauconberge’s scouts had described it. He looked back south along the Tadcaster road too, but there was still no sign of Norfolk.

It was a quarter before ten o’clock when my father noticed that the serried banners of both armies hung limp. Then they picked up, and streamed out towards the Lancastrian line, and it began to snow.

Within minutes, there was a blizzard, and the two sides could no longer see each other. It was then that Fauconberge called his bowmen forward, to a position perhaps three hundred yards out from the Lancastrian line. At least two thousand men each loosed their first arrow in unison, at the sounding of a horn. I thought I heard a few arrows strike the ground ahead of us, but any return of fire was slight.

Fauconberge rode up out of the swirling whiteness, right before our line. He pointed his sword straight at me, and then swung it round to point behind him, in the direction of the Lancastrian left division.

‘Do you remember the hedge at Conisborough, Mr Hand? I want you to show me that trick again, right over there. I want you to loose every one of your black arrows in even time. And all the rest of you, draw as full as you can, and fire up at Hand’s elevation. Copy it down the files. While this blizzard hides us, we must break their line’.

The horn blared again, and the volley was the most perfect I ever saw fired. I set another arrow, and fired again, and again. This time the Lancastrian bowmen answered, and a forest of arrows seemed to spring from the ground fifty yards short of us, at the limit of visibility.

I do not know what havoc we caused with the wind in our favour, because we could not see anything. I heard afterwards that the Lancastrians used up a large proportion of their arrows answering our fire, and certainly their onslaught dried up after a few minutes. Several of our men went forward and gathered up a great many arrows for our own use, firing a measure of them back into the Lancastrian ranks as they did so.

After about half an hour of this travesty of battle, and with the snows at last beginning to relent, our harvesters fell back at a run. Fauconberge’s goading had done its work. The Lancastrian left was advancing.

The Lancastrian charge was disorderly. Somerset and the centre joined it late, as though forced to keep up to avoid a broken line, and Percy followed later still. As a result, the charge was repulsed, and the action soon moved to the press in the centre, where there was terrible carnage on both sides. My father and the other bowmen stood deep, picking off the enemy when they could get a clear shot, but by sheer weight of numbers the Lancastrians began to push the Yorkists back. Edward lead numerous sorties to rally his men, and was easily distinguishable through his great stature and by his newly-adopted device of the white rose. Almost magically, he was never so much as scratched.

By the middle of the afternoon, men were clambering over the dead to get at one other, and the Yorkist line seemed to be on the point of buckling. Then, in the nick of time, a call went up that banners were coming along the road from the south, and Edward’s men were reinvigorated.

Norfolk’s army marched under the white lion standard, but John Mowbray, the Duke himself, lay decrepit and ill in a Pontefract hospital. Whoever commanded the division in his stead did so with great presence of mind, because he did not join the rear of the Yorkist ranks. Instead, he lead his men further up the road until they could take a position square on to the Lancastrian left. He set his men-at-arms in a north-south line, and began a steady advance. His bowmen, meanwhile, moved on behind the Lancastrian line and began to fire into their rear.

At about four o’clock, the left of the Lancastrian line broke and the whole battle formation wheeled around, with Edward pressing from the south-east and Norfolk from the north-east. The Lancastrian army was gradually backed down the westward slope and onto the floodplain of Cock Beck, just as Fauconberge had planned. Seeing what was now happening, my father looked to his commander’s position. As he did so, the fish-hook standard rose up.

We crossed the beck within ten minutes of the standard being raised, and I do not think a single one of my chosen party was missing. Finding a decent path on the other side, we came back at a run, screened by trees. We hung back at the edge of the wood, because arrows were pouring into the sward ahead of us in a torrent.

The blood-lust was still in me, although I was dazed and sickened by the things I had seen that day, and so I had kept back one black arrow. The first Lancastrian to gain the slope would meet with it.

The hail of arrows ceased and I walked out towards the top of the bank. Although I realized long afterwards that I could hear the screaming clearly enough, the horrors of the last few hours had deafened me to their meaning. I was totally unprepared for the scene below.

The bend in the stream was a great half-circle, two hundred yards across, and the meadow within it was red, and strewn with all manner of wreckage. The stream itself had disappeared under a mound of bodies, ten feet deep in places. The mound was twitching and seething. At its margins, hundreds of desperate souls clutched and scrambled, and the fire poured into them in a shocking black storm.

It was then that one man came up the bank. He was running fast, but he was bristling with arrow-shafts, like a hedgehog. I do not know how he still lived, let alone moved like that. I do not know how I moved either, but my instinct took over.

The great black dart tore half his face away, and he somersaulted backward with the blood spraying out of him in a horrible skyward arc. He bounced down the bank, and was left sprawling atop the terrible mound in the stream-bottom.

I felt sick. I felt weak. I felt nothing at all. The other men stood beside me, their mouths open with no words to come out.

‘You finish this’, I whispered to the nearest of them, and I walked away. I walked back down the path, and staggered across the stream, over the felled tree. I walked up into Saxton village, and glanced at the churchyard where darkness was closing in once more. I knew I could not go in there, and so I kept walking east, to where I had seen a barn the night before. I don’t remember anything more about the day of the battle.

He had stopped looking at me long before this point in the story. Now, as the shadows lengthened around the water-trough outside our house, he stopped talking as well.

‘Thank you, father’, I said helplessly, and I put my head on his shoulder. We both wept a little.

After a few minutes like this, I stood up and told him that I had made my choice. He told me that I mustn’t, not yet, because the tale was not finished. I couldn’t imagine what more there was to say, and so I insisted that I would never again talk of going to the wars. Nor would I entertain the thought that I was less of a man for not doing so.

My father didn’t say anything. He seemed drained, and suddenly he had become old. I fetched the bow from the doorway, and held it out to him.

He shrugged. When I am gone after your mother, you must place it in the grave, he whispered. There was another silence, and I searched for the words to break it.

‘Did you name me William after Lord Fauconberge?’, I asked.

He sighed, and I couldn’t tell whether he nodded or not.

Let me finish the story, he said.

Dawn broke eventually, and the detail of the barn-roof high above emerged from blackness. I lay on the straw, lightheaded and aching. I could feel the presence of a hundred comrades, and yet they made no sound. Even those who endured grave wounds made no sound. At last we had all learned that weariness and horror numbs the victor too.

It was the morning after Palm Sunday, in the Year of Our Lord fourteen-hundred and sixty-one. It was the first day in his young life that Edward of York would spend as England's undisputed King. Beyond the grey outline of the door, there were torches on the Tadcaster road, and the snow had given way to cold rain.

The opposite wall of the barn, the northwestward one, had no window, and it was just as well. On that side, the fields sloped away to Cock Beck.

Brotherton soon came there. He was subdued, and his arm was in a sling. He told me that Fauconberge would see me. I thought at first that I was to be arraigned for my desertion, but then Brotherton mentioned what the others from the far bank had said. They had reported that only one man reached the crest of the bank before complete darkness fell, and that it was Hand who shot him down.

I knew then that Fauconberge would honour me. Out of this misery, I was destined to secure wealth and privilege, perhaps even land and title for my son. So I searched in the satchel, and took out the little sword that Fauconberge had bade me carry, and I cut the bowstring. Then I walked away.

John Hand turned to face me, and his eyes were both dark and bright. A few hours before, I had been entranced by the power and glory that shower upon a battle’s victor. Now I knew that I might have had those things by birthright, if my own father had chosen to defy his conscience.

Will you change your choice, now that you might have been a nobleman? he asked. But now there was the hint of a smile on his face, and I knew that I would never change, because he had shown me nobility of a truer kind.


Created: 4th August 2003
The Other Side of the World

He works for Mitsubishi, one of the most prestigious companies in this prefecture.

We are walking together on this bright September morning, and all around us is the clamour of a huge modern city. But this is a place of reverence, an island of calm in a turbulent metropolis. A few metres away stands the ruined dome, an incongruous structure among the high-rise offices that surround this pool of green. Ahead of us, on its islet in the Motoyasugawa River, nestles the Peace Park of Hiroshima.

He is a gentle man, quiet but articulate. He was born here, only a couple of years after this place became the world's first Ground Zero. Though he wears a business suit, he strikes me today as almost sage-like. This time, this place, are so portentous. I've been here before, but it didn't feel like this.

We walk out across the bridge, towards the edge of the Park. 'Do you really think that Hiroshima still suffers?' I ask, wondering why my voice is hushed...

'Every year, billions of yen that might have come here go somewhere else', he says, simply. 'Our history still frightens business away; I'm sure of it.' He pauses for a moment, deep in thought. There are birds in the trees around us, where once proud buildings stood.

'We've always tried to move on', he adds. 'We remember and honour the families that were lost, and we remember the painful years that followed. But we try not to live in those times.'

The electronic sign on an office block across the river scrolls round to reveal a calendar. The days are counting down onto 9/11. My companion gazes toward the sign too, and I know that his thoughts have turned the same way.

'It's ironic, sure', he says. His accent demonstrates his familiarity with the United States, and gives a hint of his deep affection for them. 'The pilots who brought our pain were American. They believed they were fighting a just war, and doing God's will. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps their act halted an evil tide, and prevented still more destruction and suffering. But it was never going to seem that way to the people who were left among the ruins.'

We take a few more steps in silence, and then he begins to speak again. 'The burden of history that I spoke of, the mark that the Bomb left on our city. That was really America as well. What tainted us, what taints us still, was American guilt.'

There is another period of reflection. His eyes are bright, suggesting stifled tears. We are approaching the bridge at the other side of the Park, and my friend is the one who is whispering now.

'I have a dear friend, an American. He was in the North Tower that day. He came down fifty floors to escape. He told me that every night since he's woken up thinking he's buried alive. It reminded me of my mother. When she was dying, she finally told me how for many years she dreamed of waking to find her children burning.'

It seems like the city has stopped as I wait for him to continue.

'Americans must learn three things', he whispers. 'They must not confuse sympathy with self-pity. They must keep their sense of honour separate from their desire for revenge. And they must make their memorial in their city, never of their city.'

I am expecting him to add that Americans must remember that they were not the first, but he never does.

The green space is behind us, and towers of glass and steel are all around. His mobile phone rings. A bus pulls up in the Honkawa-cho, emitting a pneumatic hiss. That sound is a trademark of Japan, and the part of my mind that resonates with the country imagines the retreat of ghosts.

He returns the phone to his pocket and grins. 'They've agreed the price', he says. 'They want us to come and discuss the engineering. I think it's time to get back to the future...'

The Pinniped Portfolio


07.08.03 Front Page

Back Issue Page


Lightening does strike twice - Japan : Hiroshima : Sendai
Created: 31st March 2011 by Pinniped -
The World Turns Again -

Pinniped blob

At the beginning of September 2002, Pinniped found himself in Hiroshima, Japan on a business trip. The coincidence of a visit to the world's original Ground Zero a few days before 9/11's first anniversary led to a remarkable conversation, and the Post recorded it here.

In March 2011, a few weeks after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the north-east seaboard of Honshu, Pinniped chanced on correspondence with his erstwhile project partner. It led him to send an e-mail expressing concern and sympathy. He didn't expect what happened next.

My e-mail was tentative. It had been nine years since we last met, and eight without communication of any kind. Would this seem like an intrusion? Might he have retired by now?

The answer to both questions, it seems, was no.

His phone call caught me off guard. It took me a moment to realise who it was, and sometimes we have to be grateful for such moments. My habitual telephone manner would have been facile and over-familiar. Instead I found myself adopting the hesitant reverence of the Peace Park, all those years ago.

Dear Mr Himitsu. I hope that you receive this e-mail and that it finds you well.

He said he was calling to thank me, but also to reassure me. Not everyone understands Japan, he noted. Perhaps Azarashi-chan knows it better than many, but time passes and things can be forgotten.

I wanted to tell you that I am thinking about my friends in Japan right now.

He remembered things I told him a decade ago. He remembered how I'd said that a colleague of mine had been visiting Kobe on business at the time of the 1995 earthquake, and how someone from the steel company had travelled through a shattered city to meet him in his hotel and to apologise for his wasted journey. He remembered that I had daughters, and asked after them.

My feelings are a mixture of sympathy and admiration for a courageous and dignified people.

If I had planned the conversation in advance, I would have talked of the eerie similarities between 1945 and 2011: the devastation and the lingering radioactivity and the thousands who would never be found. I would have mentioned the one profound difference too, that the West was guilty the first time. The Allies chose to assist the rebuilding of Japan in part to assuage that guilt.

I am fearful that there is only pity from the West this time, when Japan needs more than that.

I didn't get to say any of those things. Instead he recalled something quite different that he'd told me that day in the Peace Park. He said back then that the atom bombs would one day become a blessing, in some future time of calamity. The people of Japan people would remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki and through them they would find the belief to come through any sorrow. He told me yesterday that that time had come.

I hope that you and your loved ones are not caught up in the terrible disaster.

He told me that his home was safe in the far west, and that there was no damage out there, and that the groundshock had been perceptible but unexceptional. But then he said that his wife's birth-town was Sendai and that her relatives were now staying with them in Hiroshima Prefecture. There was no way of knowing when they might be able to return home, but for now all that mattered was that everyone was safe, and that he felt lucky and thankful to have a house big enough to accommodate them all.

If there's anything I can do to help, I hope you will suggest it. If not, then please know that you are in my thoughts.

Well of course you must write, he said. That surprised me, because he hadn't really liked the first piece. Respect for the story is worth more than pride in its telling, he said. The first piece was good, but my enthusiasm about it was not. This time, he felt sure that the writer's humility would complement the writing.

Your respectful friend, Mick (Azarashi-chan)

He thanked me and said goodbye, and I started to think of all the things that I should have said.

But I didn't say those things, and so now I must write them instead. These few words are just the beginning. I don't know if I have the ability to tell this story, but I promise to try.

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This Blog will be extended as time and circumstances dictate. It was started as a quick try to see what could be done by a novice Siver Surfer with gleaned computer knowledge. Sorry if I indulge too much in the writing of Pinniped but he writes so well and after all he is my son.