This football, supplied by Captain Wilfred Percy â€œBillieâ€ Nevill, was kicked over the top by Private A A Fursey, 6th Platoon, B company, 8th (Service) Battalion, The East Surrey Regiment from Carnoy trenches, Montauban, The Somme 1st July 1916.
In this week’s Spectator, Jeremy Clarke visits the WWI Somme Battlefield.
Phone calls aside, the only human contact I had on my ten-day Somme battlefield tour was with the lady who ran the bed and breakfast establishment. My bed was on the upper storey of a disused light railway station in a clearing in a beech wood. Madame lived with her husband in a modern bungalow 100 yards down the line, but came along each morning to cook my bacon and eggs. The greater part of her clientele consists of British Great War buffs. But Covid-19 had kept them away and I had the breakfast table, the old station and indeed the Somme battlefield entirely to myself.
The dining room was once the waiting room. In here the walls were decorated with trench maps and other Great War memorabilia, including a tribute to Captain Billie Nevill of the 8th Battalion East Surrey Regiment, who famously led his men over the top on 1 July 1916 by drop-kicking a football into no manâ€™s land. Heâ€™d written on the football: â€˜The great European Cup-Tie final, East Surreys v Bavarians.â€™ Displayed on a stand was a punctured leather replica of this celebrated football.
[Actually, Captain Nevill Captain WP Nevill, “commanding “B” Company had purchased four footballs for his platoons to kick across No Man’s Land ‘subject to the proviso that proper formation and distance was not lost thereby’. Captain Nevill promised a reward to the first platoon to score a ‘goal’ in enemy trenches.]
After a careful study of the trench maps, one day I went and found the spot from which Captain Nevill had punted his football. Then I followed his path between the British and German front line trenches. The distance was about the same as three football pitches laid end to end. History records that the East Surreys gamely chased the football up the long uphill slope but were scythed down by a German machine gun on the left wing. Captain Nevill reached the German wire and was about to chuck a hand grenade when a late tackle in the form of a bullet to the head ended the match for him. Every morning he looked levelly out from his framed portrait and watched me eat my bacon and eggs off a plate decorated with a design of red poppies. The tablecloth was a pattern of red poppies. Madame invariably served breakfast wearing a diaphanous shawl hand-embroidered with poppies.
Changelings, centaurs, ogres and elves may no longer inhabit the earth, but occasionally we run into their descendants: people so monstrous, incandescent, or freakishly themselves that only a quasi-supernatural description seems to do them justice. In the 20th century they come in all shapes and sizes: from the obvious ghouls and werewolves (Rasputin, Hitler, Idi Amin, Jeffrey Dahmer) to various mid-rank demigods and unicorn-people (T.E. Lawrence, Wittgenstein, Che Guevara, Greta Garbo, Edith Sitwell, JFK, Maria Callas, Howard Hughes, Andy Warhol, Glenn Gould, the late Princess of Wales) down to minor bog-sprites such as Eartha Kitt, Cher or Quentin Crisp. (Such lists are infinitely expandable.) What links each of these disparate individuals is a singularity so tangible as to border on the uncanny. We register each as a unique assemblage of moral and psychic tics: and each, in turn, seems to connect us to some alternative world. We are deeply impressed when one of them weakens and dies.
The sort of singularity I am talking about is often accompanied by celebrity: oneâ€™s palpable strangeness makes one famous. Not always of course: mute inglorious oddballs no doubt spend all their days in obscurity â€“ Unabombers without typewriters â€“ while others shine for a time then disappear. Marion Barbara (â€˜Joeâ€™) Carstairs, the subject of Kate Summerscaleâ€™s vastly entertaining new biography, The Queen of Whale Cay, would seem to fall into the latter category. In the Twenties, Carstairs (1900-93) was briefly yet wildly celebrated as the â€˜fastest woman on waterâ€™ â€“ Britainâ€™s premier speedboat-racer, winner of the Duke of Yorkâ€™s Trophy, and world-record holder in the one and a half litre class. Voraciously homosexual in private life, Carstairs dressed like a beautiful man, smoked cigars, and was pursued from race to race by a gaggle of female fans. (Sir Malcolm Campbell of Bluebird fame called her â€“ apparently without irony â€“ â€˜the greatest sportsman I knowâ€™.) Special â€˜friendsâ€™ included the lesbian actresses Tallulah Bankhead and Gwen Farrar. Carstairs, the Evening News reported in 1925, could â€˜dance a Charleston which few people can partnerâ€™.
By 1934, however, Carstairs had almost completely fallen from view. With several helpful millions inherited from her American mother, scion of the Standard Oil Company, she bought a sparsely populated island in the outer Bahamas and ruled over it for the next forty years in magnificent yet near-total isolation. True, a few celebrities continued to visit: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich (Carstairsâ€™s lover in 1938-39), and the cabaret singer Mabel Mercer, along with the occasional reporter from Life or the Saturday Evening Post. But by the Sixties, Carstairs was all but forgotten â€“ outside the Bahamas, she was known only to a handful of British and American lesbians, in whose doting hearts, pumping away like so many little speedboat engines, her glamorous feats were kept alive. …
Our culture has no term of awe for women who make love heroically: Don Juan and Casanova remain strictly masculine archetypes. Needless to say, heterosexual women get scant public appreciation for their erotic talents: the most gifted Venus or grande horizontale receives ambiguous praise at best. Lesbians fare even worse: no woman in Western culture, including the great Sappho herself, has ever won popular acclaim for her skill at bringing other women to sexual ecstasy.
With Carstairs, however, we are in the presence of world-class charm: Bedroom Eyes for the Ages. Of extraordinary interest is the as yet unwritten history of 20th-century lesbian libertinism: witness the tantalising vignettes we have of the young Elizabeth Bishop on Key West, for example, in bed with Billie Holiday; or Natalie Barney, who took her last lover at the age of 80; or Vita Sackville-West, one of whose lovers cherished the marks on her inner thighs left by Vitaâ€™s earrings. Carstairs would undoubtedly figure nobly in such a history â€“ that is, if the history itself were considered noble. Her true artistry, one suspects, lay in her amorousness, which she approached as a vocation, with something akin to genius.
Yet perhaps Summerscale is right in the end not to turn her subject into allegory. The value of a life such as Carstairsâ€™s lies ultimately in its preposterousness â€“ the sheer exuberance of its strangeness and distance from the everyday. A figure as singular as Carstairs assails oneâ€™s sensibilities the way the god Pan might were he suddenly to materialise in oneâ€™s back garden. One would be tempted to pretend one hadnâ€™t seen him, to explain him away as an optical illusion â€“ a trick of light against the shrubbery. For sanityâ€™s sake, one might even decide to forget him. But such luminescent creatures have a way of returning to view â€“ of reminding us, in their pathos, of all the things we havenâ€™t done, and the things we never will.
Italy is locked down in quarantine. On Thursday evening, David Allegranti, a journalist working for Il Foglio newspaper, shared footage of Italians singing a local folk song together in the darkened streets in Siena, a town in the countryâ€™s north. He wrote on Twitter, “In Siena, the city to which I am very attached, you stay at home but you sing together as if you were on the street. I was moved.â€
Though he did not take the footage himself, Allegranti told HuffPost he was still equally touched while watching and felt the need to share.
â€œThis video is touching,â€ Allegranti, who is based in Rome, told the news website. â€œThe first time I saw it I started to cry.â€
SIG makes more than one model chambered in .45 ACP, but Lance is probably referring to the SIG 220.
Spectator jounalist Kapil Komireddi looked for advice on choosing a self-defense firearm. A retired FBI agent sent him to the horse’s mouth for the answer.
I consulted with a friend, a retired FBI special agent who teaches firearm safety. â€˜What will you be using the gun for?â€™ he asked. â€˜Self-defense,â€™ I replied. â€˜Then the .45 Sig Sauer is the best,â€™ he advised. â€˜But the problem with that gun is confidence. People are intimidated by its recoil, muzzle flash and noise. Shooting it often becomes spray and pray.â€™ He suggested I go meet a man called Lance Thomas for insight.
â€˜The .45 Sig Sauer is the best gun to have in a gunfight,â€™ Thomas concurred. I believed him. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he faced off against 11 armed gunmen in four separate gunfights. Thomas shot six of them and killed five. He became known as â€˜the urban gunfighterâ€™ and appears in Paul Kirchnerâ€™s 2001 book The Deadliest Men: The Worldâ€™s Deadliest Combatants Throughout the Ages, alongside Geronimo, Andrew Jackson and Wild Bill Hickok.
Thomas owned a watch store and back then jewelers in LA were plagued with armed robbery. â€˜It was not if, but when, I was going to get robbed,â€™ he recalled. He arranged an assortment of pistols under the counter for the fateful day. Heâ€™d never been to a shooting range or fired any of them. Nor did he know if they would actually fire.
In the first attack, a gunman aimed at Thomasâ€™s face. He responded as planned, pulling a gun from under the counter and shooting his attacker, who survived and went to prison. Later, two brothers came into his shop and threatened him at gunpoint. Thomas shot them both. My FBI friend visited him after those incidents and suggested Thomas get rid of most of his guns, adopt the .45 and practice using it. â€˜You want a weapon that will absolutely incapacitate the person youâ€™re defending yourself against,â€™ he advised.
I was surprised to find a kinship in Lance Thomas. But, like me, he wasnâ€™t comfortable with guns. He wasnâ€™t a hunter. In fact, he recalled his one experience shooting a bird with remorse. And he would much prefer to go after poachers than big game.
â€˜My self-defense started when I was alone and had a gun pointed at me,â€™ Thomas said. â€˜It wasnâ€™t an issue of robbing me or the watches. Those robbers were seeking to negotiate my life. My life is not negotiable.â€™
He told me I should have a gun Iâ€™m comfortable with and learn how to operate it. â€˜Any man with any strength should go to a .45,â€™ he said â€” it has a large capacity, excellent sight radius, exceptional accuracy and reliability, and a high incapacitation factor.
I decided then and there that my favorite gun is the gun that will save my life.
Colin Dowler, on his 45th birthday, went camping overnight and trail biking on Mount Doogie Dowler, a 7,000-foot peak overlooking Heriot Bay in British Columbia.
When attacked by a Grizzly, this being Canada, he had nothing to defend himself but a tiny Buck pocketknife. (Outside magazine)
As soon as I got out of the bush and onto my mountain bike, I was on the home stretch. I was excited about celebrating my birthday when I got back.
Peddling away, I came around a bend, and there was a grizzly bear, about a hundred feet in front of me. So I stopped and said, â€œHey bear,â€ because thatâ€™s what you do when you see one.
He looked into the bush, looked back up the road, and started walking my way. I kept talking to him. I decided not to turn around to get out of there, but in hindsight, maybe I should have.
The grizzly was pretty close, and my bear spray was gone. It fell out of my backpack somewhere on the mountain. So I grabbed one of my hiking poles and extended it to use as some sort of deterrent. I was still straddling my bike in the hopes that the bear would just step off the trail.
Itâ€™s a logging road, so it was basically two tire marks with a bump in the middle. He continued to saunter up the road toward me but stayed in his lane. He ended up getting pretty close, maybe 20 feet away. It made me nervous that he hadnâ€™t left yet.
I stepped off my bike, and he kind of shuddered, like he was a little bit jumpy in that moment. He kept approaching until his head was parallel with my front tire, and as he walked past, he dipped his head down. We made a little bit of eye contact, and I looked away, because eye contact didnâ€™t really seem like something I wanted to do.
I remember thinking as he was walking by, Man, this would be cool to video. Iâ€™d have footage of a bear walking just clean by me and carrying on his way.
He kept walking by until his rump was almost past my rear tire. And then he did a 180-degree turn.
I spin around, standing with my mountain bike between us. He shuddered again and started walking toward me. I started backing up and talking to him again. I was just trying to speak nicely to the bear in hopes that he would change his mind.
I held out my hiking pole as he approached. I ended up poking him right in the top of the head. He pushed into it, did a flip move with his head that rolled off the pole, and got his mouth onto it. We had a tug-of-war, until he let go of it and started closing in on me again.
I dropped the pole and kept backing up. I flung my backpack between us, hopeful that some food in one of the outside pockets would keep him busy for a bit. He stopped and took a quick sniff, but after maybe half a second, he was coming toward me again.
Then he began doing very slow, deliberate swats at my bike. The first one was pretty mild, but then they got more powerful. As he swatted, I threw my bike at him, and he got briefly hung up on it, but then he lunged forward and grabbed me between my ribs and my left hip.
Thatâ€™s when it really sank inâ€”I was in trouble.
This photo of long-ago insouciant aristocratic youth was appropriated by a wag as the basis for a Facebook jest. I was intrigued enough to look it up and found the original, and the real story, at Pique Show.
In this 1955 photograph, thirteen-year-old Princess Yvonne of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn in Germany is shown tipping back a bottle of Dry Sack sherry as her twelve-year-old brother Prince Alexander sits calmly by, his cigarette nearly finished. The photo was taken while the siblings were aboard a private yacht off the coast of Mallorca.
Before rushing to judgment on the lives of German nobility, it should be known that the photographer behind this image was the children’s mother, Princess Marianne Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn. Affectionately known as Princess “Manni” or her more artistic moniker “Mamarazza,” she was an accomplished photographer, her images becoming featured in magazines as well as gallery exhibitions. Given this background, one can only hope that the shot above is the result of intentional composition and not reckless parenting.