The fight to save Northern England’s historic mills

Interior of Dalton Mills in Keighley, Bradford — ©Historic England

The history of the textile mills of the north of England is one that must not be lost. It is a story too precious to forget. It is the story of industrial revolution, of a way of life that defined and indeed oppressed many people, it highlighted the disparity between privilege and poverty which led to the some of the most important reform of the last few centuries. The poor were given a voice, the privileged few demonstrated their gluttony and the resulting legislation is the reason why today we see injustice and say, “this isn’t right, they can’t do that”. It’s because someone once spoke up and said, “I’m going to speak up now so that people don’t have to in the future” and died hoping they were right and that future generations would continue demanding that their rights be honoured.

As always, with history, this isn’t just an old building. It represents, like a toy from your youth, like a family heirloom, like a recipe, a part of who we are — all of us — why we are what we are today and where we can look for answers about how to change tomorrow. Letting these relics get erased is a sure way to insult the advancements of previous generations and doom ourselves to face the same challenges again, ignorant of our past. Tyrants never forget history. In fact, they use history to see how much farther they can push the envelope. Tragically, the rest of us never seem to care to remember the fight of those that came before. Because we think we’re unique. We think everything happens to us and has never happened before. We think ‘this is different’. We think we’re modern and ‘those people, well those people lived in the past’. Except it’s not different. At it’s core, the human experience is the same. Time and time again. And you live in the present, knowing far more and with more at your disposal than they in the past had, which begs the question: what’s your excuse for forgetting the past?

Textile mills and other such historic relics aren’t just old buildings that cost money to maintain. They are tombstones that mark something and someone important. Their effects and their stories offer lessons that stretch far beyond England and matter to us all. And any effort to let them stand proudly and command their skyline should be applauded and supported.

For more information on what can be done to help save the mills of the north of England, visit:
https://www.historicengland.org.uk/get-involved/protect/mills-of-the-north/

The Ramses II Discovery and Colossal Egos

In what might be one of the most fascinating historical discoveries in the world since the British discovery of Bronze Age settlements in East Anglia last year, an artifact was unearthed this week in Cairo. The Colossus or large statue of Ramses II who ruled 3000 years ago was found near where his temple once stood. He was one of the most powerful rulers in Egypt, reigning for 66 years. Needless to say, they didn’t talk about term limits in those days.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that this statue is likely older than anything around you at this very moment wherever you happen to be sitting, it’s fascinating if a bit challenging to get one’s head around the fact that this statue was buried all this time without being spotted. Buried, in fact, in roughly the same spot as the entire world that belonged to those people 3000 years ago, known today only to Ancient Egyptian History enthusiasts, historians, and archaeologists. What exactly of whatever that man thought of himself, of his prominence, of his importance, or indeed of his reign of power, matters today other than as a period in history?

Ramses II, to the Greeks, was known as Ozymandias. In romantic English poet Percy Shelley’s poem of the same name, a man finds a statue of the famed pharaoh, and sees a pedestal on the statue that reads,

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

However, the man says in response to this boastful declaration,

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Timely, I thought, that this statue of the powerful ruler immortalised in Shelley’s poem should be unearthed from relative obscurity despite all his prowess and magnitude, at our current moment in history when we seem surrounded by several leaders (apparent or actual) claiming their eminence, and yet seemingly oblivious to their own arrogance in thinking they’ll ever matter to anyone in the future. They might consider, if they’re not too enamoured by their self-proclaimed brilliance, whether they’ll leave behind anything more than a failed attempt to transcend and a pile of rubble.

The stars have lost their glitter…

I was just talking to friends last night over dinner about how much the New York we loved was dying when we lived there, how that inspired my short film, how the city isn’t even capable of acknowledging its own declining culture and then someone I know told me today that the Ziegfeld Theatre, late 20th century New York movie history at its most luxurious, is closing. To which I can only sigh in sadness.
ziegfeld_theatre
Again, another movie venue that can’t pay its rent in Manhattan. I’d say “end of an era”, but the sad truth is that era died a long time ago. As I did last night with these friends, I continue to remind Parisians who think Paris has lost too much of what it once was that it’s all perspective and that old Paris is very much alive and well, albeit a bit beaten up in places. Old New York has practically vanished, and that truly is an enormous shame.
As is often the case, Ira Gershwin can be counted on for having the best words for most situations:
“The night is bitter,
The stars have lost their glitter”

Thinking of March 2nd instead of Rosa Parks and December 1st…

On March 2, 1955 a young black resident of Montgomery, Alabama got on a bus and refused to move to allow a white woman to sit down when no more ‘white seats’ were free. She was spending a lot of time learning about the civil rights movement and it must have been from there that she summoned the strength to say out loud on that bus with enough white people to take up all the ‘white seats’ that “it’s my constitutional right” to stay seated. She continued to shout the same thing as she was handcuffed, arrested, and forcibly removed from the bus.

Three other women had the same experience that year. The fourth one, on December 1st, was Rosa Parks. And yet the name Rosa Parks is probably more familiar to most people than that of the first person from March, Claudette Colvin. In fact, another bus incident isn’t even something people usually know about, much less the four other incidents before Ms. Parks’. Why don’t we talk about Claudette Colvin? Rosa Parks was a woman in her 40s, a seamstress, and had the appearance of a middle-class person. Claudette Colvin was 15, unmarried and pregnant. In the end, while building a case against bus segregation, the NAACP and other organisations they were working with felt Parks was a better face for the cause ignoring entirely Colvin’s heroic first act.

For her bold and daring actions standing for the rights her country claimed to empower her with, Ms. Colvin, clearly a remarkable child, was convicted in juvenile court for disturbing the peace on the bus where she defended those rights. There is nothing unheroic about Ms. Parks’ actions. She, along with several others, helped hold a microphone up to the muffled whispers of people suffering in silence. But in a world where we often champion the pioneer and the ground breaker, Ms. Colvin’s omission from our collective consciousness seems an unjust and insulting tribute.

Miss Colvin lives in New York today, more than 50 years on from her historic albeit forgotten moment. In an interview when describing having been nudged to the side at the time and only having gotten a little credit several years later, she simply said, “I feel like I am getting my Christmas in January rather than the 25th…”

Claudette Colvin, at age 15, around the same time as her arrest.

Claudette Colvin, at age 15, around the same time as her arrest.

Incidentally: On Linguistics and Loanwords

Just a new thing I’m gonna do when something is too verbose for social media platforms.

Bizarre (and slightly arrogant) anglophone linguistics…
We’re perfectly fine in English using the Spanish singular loanword ‘conquistador’ but when we pluralise it we don’t follow that grammar with the correct ‘conquistadorES‘, we say ‘conquistadorS‘. And most arrogant of all, if the Spanish said ‘conquerorES‘ instead of ‘conquerorS‘, anglophones would correct them. Yes, English is the most prevalent language in the world (for now) but perhaps it would be a good idea to stop perpetuating dated, anglocentric linguistics that symbolically depreciate other languages. And besides, if you’re going to pronounce it wrong and conjugate it wrong, why not just say “the Spanish/Portuguese conquerors”. Conquistadors sounds like someone with bad spanish ordering a drink at a resort in the Dominican Republic and at least that guy’s doing it to attempt the local language.