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Mark’s Missive

Mark’s Missive IX


By Mark Edward Taylor

As 2014 is the centenary anniversary year of the outbreak of World War One, it will be interesting to examine the life of Sir Edgar Speyer. Taxi drivers may never have heard of this gentleman? Nonetheless, his story is intriguing; much of London from over the one hundred years since World War One began has his imprint upon it, as this banker, philanthropist and former Privy Counsellor left his mark on London and far wider afield.

This column owes much to a book by Antony Lentin titled, BANKER TRAITOR SCAPEGOAT SPY? Published by Haus publishing.

Edgar Speyer was born in New York 1862 to German Jewish parents. They ran the family bank of Speyer Brothers. Edgar moved to London to take care of business here as the family had business interest across both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Edgar Speyer was a celebrated figure in the financial, cultural and political high life of Edwardian England. He was dubbed, ‘King of the London Underground’, having financed and built deep level sections of the underground which form parts of what we now know as the Northern, Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines. He was a close friend of Liberal Prime Minister Asquith. However, as Britain became more embroiled in ‘The Great War’ Edgar Speyer had to leave the country he loved……….

Speyer lived with his family at 44-46 Grosvenor Street W1, just east of Grosvenor Square in a grand building which now houses the offices of stockbrokers, Killick & Co.


Edgar Speyer became a naturalised British citizen twenty years before war began. Sadly though, this commitment to the United Kingdom was not enough for him to be ostracised by society. His tale is one of many stories of the casualties of war. After the beginning of World War One anti German feeling was running pretty high, which is probably understandable? Speyer had been living in England since 1886. He became a British citizen in 1892. Possibly taking citizenship to oil the wheels for financial wheeling and dealing? After all, he primarily was a banker. This said, large scale engineering projects don’t come cheap. Speyer acquired the London General Omnibus Company in 1912 to have its profits offset losses ratcheting up for Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL), the forerunner of the London Underground. His private wealth was used to underwrite the Promenade Concerts, Proms, from 1902 to 1914. He was treasurer of Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition, acknowledged by Mount Speyer in Antarctica. He was a trustee at Whitechapel Art Gallery, donating £2,500. He was chairman of the Nervous diseases Research Fund, president of Poplar Hospital and sat on the board of the Kings Edward’s Hospital Fund donating £25,000 in 1902 (£2.3million present day value). All this philanthropic activity along with contributions to vast capital projects in London made him a baronet in 1906 and a privy Counsellor in 1909.

So why do I have any interest in Edgar Speyer? Well, my father, born in 1934, Canning Town, two years after Speyer died in Berlin. My father entered a world in very different circumstances to the one Speyer had recently left. My dad, let’s call him Jess, because that was his name, like most other east end kids spent a large chunk of WWII out of London being evacuated with his younger brother to Norfolk for all of 1944. This experience for Jess and his brother, let’s call him Ted, because Edward is his name, was a wonderful time. These Taylor brothers came from real poverty to a Norwich childless couple who doted on these two east end street urchins. These boys had a good war. Loved and cared for, entertained and indulged. They were a long way from the tough conditions of east London. My father truly loved Norfolk. Many a family holiday was spent there in the sixties and seventies. Wind and rain and a longing for Spain, we would head for the north Norfolk coast. Set your watch back ten years, Norfolk here we come. There was the odd holiday in Spain, but dad loved Norfolk. He even ended up buying some property there and kept in constant contact with the couple who took him and his brother to their hearts. He died in 2002 at 68, Hilda; the woman who took him in outlived him. He had a nice way of mimicking the Norfolk accent and on our family trips, then one day, we came across the holiday home of Sir Edgar Speyer……This impressive house on the north Norfolk coast could well have been the undoing of Speyer. Called, Sea Marge, in Overstrand, a couple of miles east of Cromer, was a mock Tudor mansion. It still stands today with all its grandeur. I believe it was used as some kind of religious retreat for a while and is now a hotel. Here, when Speyer was staying in Norfolk, accusations were made that he was signalling German submarines, It is alleged radio equipment was found on the premises. Speyer denied this. Nonetheless, Norfolk was his downfall, he was asked to resign form boards, as this affected their donations, his wife was cold shouldered at societies and associations where she held membership and their three daughters had to be removed from school to keep other parents happy. Oh! War, it really is dreadfully unpleasant. Jess and Ted went back to Canning Town when their war it was over…….Speyer, when he lost his war to stay in England, this naturalised British subject, privy Counsellor, of German ancestry and Jewish Ashkenazi ethnicity found himself heading back to the land of his birth and going to live in Boston Massachusetts. Speyer found it congenial. He chose there as it reminded most of an English town. New England….Looking for a New England….

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The jury remains out on whether Speyer was a German spy. Antony Lentin’s book documents his trial. A foreword by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper states Speyer was done an injustice. Much of Speyer’s travails were created by a hostile press. Anti German, Anti Semitic, an uncontrollable Tory backbench baying for blood, Speyer was not able to be saved, even by his influential friends in the Liberal party. Speyer returned from Boston after the war to face the music, confident he could remain in the country he most desired to reside in. His and his family’s British nationality was stripped and his membership of the Privy Council revoked in 1921. The case against Speyer includes corresponding with the enemy from Sea Marge Norfolk, trading with German firms via the US and merely having friends and family in Germany. I guess this must be a problem for the wealthy and affluent that their family networks spread far and wide with boarders no longer becoming barriers, as their influence spans companies and continents with brothers and sisters having the opportunity to work where they feel most comfortable. Welcome to the World, although this was a world of one hundred years ago…………………


Antony Lentin’s book, as part of an episode of the Great War, is an entertaining read that leaves the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. I will give you some observations which caught my eye. You dear reader, will no doubt be familiar with the interment of German and Italian nationals living in the UK during WWII, well in WWI there were the very same circumstances. The Evening News on 8th July 1914 declared, ‘This is Enemy Alien Week’. Three days later a there was a very large demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Two large placards summed up the protesters’ demands: ‘A Clean Sweep’ and ‘Intern Them All’. On hearing of this, the King (George V) was outraged. ‘”Intern them all”, indeed!’ he exclaimed to Margot Asquith. ‘Then let them take me first! All my blood is German. My relations are German. Let me be interned before Speyer’.

As Speyer resigned form the rail company UERL, his successor, Lord George Hamilton, wrote sympathetically that as an Anglo-German, Edgar was ‘in an absolutely impossible position in the event of war. ‘You have ‘, he concluded, ‘been the victim’.

Reports of Speyer’s so called cloak-and-dagger activity made me chuckle where evidence gained from a housemaid told of mysterious meetings in Lady Speyer’s boudoir. Conversations in German between the Speyers and miscellaneous visitors, said to include a German naval captain, a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a man with an extraordinarily comical name of Guggeniggle!

This evidence was used at his trial in the 1920’s as his Privy Council membership and citizenship was to be withdrawn. His good works twenty years before WWI began counted for nothing. The Home Secretary reluctantly decided to deprive all Speyer’s daughters of their nationality, believing if only the parents had nationality withdrawn the children would be in a willy nilly land. British, but unable to live here, as their parents could not. Scapegoats.

Other leading members of British society were hit hard by war. The Home Secretary, Edward Shortt, lost his only son. As did the Solicitor-General, Mr Justice Salter and the Attorney-General lost his elder son.

Speyers three daughters, Pamela, Leonora and Vivien, who had been deprived of their British citizenship, eventually returned to England. Pamela lived in Sussex and died in 1985. Leonora was married for one year then set up home with concert pianist, Maria Donska, in Kent. She died in 1987. Vivien came to England as one of the first members of the US Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. She died in 2001, aged 94.

Ironically, number 22, Washington Square, where Edgar Speyer lived out his life of gilded exile now belongs to New York University. It houses the Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice! That would have made Edgar smile….

Mark’s Missive VIII




By Mark Edward Taylor

Celia Sanchez is one of the few women whose name comes to mind with the Cuban Revolution. Celia was Fidel’s right hand woman, one of the few women to feature in reports from the revolution. Sanchez was a doctor’s daughter from a bourgeois family, and by all accounts very close to Fidel. She made things happen. So what is Celia’s legacy? I was about to find out….

Here is me, very fortunate to be visiting Cuba for a third time, and having a second crack at the Cuba Solidarity Campaign Cycle Challenge….over 320 kilometres in the gruelling heat on some rough terrain. In 2012, I was defeated by a mere 300 meters of the first day’s 9km climb. This time, 2014, I climbed the very same hill with a bit left in the tank, but was also 300meters short on the final day of our five day cycling adventure. We were due to finish on the last cycle day at the Che Guevara mausoleum, but we were cruelly thwarted by a horrendous tropical rain storm of biblical proportions!……More cycle news to follow….Viva Cycling….Viva Cuba!



From left to right, top row; Darin, Vicki, Yours Truly, Tony, Ron, Jack & Kelly.

Bottom row; Kim, Martin, Hannah, The Amazing & Incredible Stewart, Paul, Debbie & Mr. Sasha FULL POWER Jovetic.

So what has changed since my previous visits of 2005 and 2012? Well, not much really. I guess; I felt Havana was a little cleaner and possibly a little wealthier. Cubans still have it pretty dam hard. However, compared to many folk around the world in the developing nations, Cuba does pretty well. Going with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign means one gets a good insight into Cuban life. There is a caveat though; most Cubans and comrades working for Cuba Solidarity are extremely proud of the country and paint the best possible picture. Many visitors with Cuba Solidarity will go with a gooey, earnest, utopian view. I reckon some come away a little deflated. Everyone is blinding aware of Cuba’s great healthcare and education system to the point of cliché. The real rub is the communist regime. It works satisfactorily, and there would appear to be a fair degree of equal opportunity for everyone. Alas though, not everyone seems to benefit in equal ways…..

I will try and indulge you, dear reader, into the Cuban system, but I can only go on what I have witnessed and researched from talking to Cubans and using internet back-up. My fellow cyclists would have observed much the same as me; however their views could differ or have varying interpretations, as we don’t always see the world in the same way. A communist state has its work cut out to deliver a common vision! What do people really want? And how far can a shared common goal be achieved? Tricky! Yes, I should say so!

There is equality of opportunity which some Cubans would take more readily than others. Bear in mind, everybody earns the same money, roughly £130 per annum, a bus driver, a doctor and a cigar maker. There would be the ability to rake in a little extra cash through using your home as a restaurant or making extra cigars from the private sale of leftover tobacco leaves, or working in tourism where the tips can the equivalent of a months pay in one gratuity. No wonder working in the service sector is a big draw.


Our group of cyclists visited a polyclinic as part of our insight in the Cuban way of life. Shortly before our trip BBC’s Panorama aired a programme stating that Cuban doctors have second jobs, like being a plumber. We quizzed the staff at the polyclinic as to whether this was true? It took some persistent questioning of a dogged like Paxman interrogation to reach an answer. Something could have been lost in translation, but it would appear to be true. Yes, some doctors would be a dab hand with a wrench and a strip of copper pipe. Highly convenient if you happen to be an Urologist!

We met doctors, politicians, barbers, barmen, barwomen, people of dubious means (I was offered hash, coke and sex, but not at the same time) and beggars. The truth is, no matter how equal a society is….some folk are better at life than others, and able to exploit opportunities.

One evening in the city of Sancti Spiritus, I was in the Casa de la Trova, which translates as, the house of the troubadours. The Casa de la Trovas are state run entertainment venues. Under communism, yes, correcto, you get music on the rates.

Anyway, in the Casa, one gentleman chatting to a group of us was being particularly frank. Nonchalantly he said, “This is it. This is all we have. There’s little uncertainty, no ambition,” shrugging his shoulders. He was resigned to his lot,

I think this campanero should be careful what he wishes for….

Another guy in the Casa de la Trova, name of Luis, plied me and Stewart with Santero rum from a bottle under the table where he also stashed his own cola and ice. Luis had possibly the worst mullet in the Caribbean. He was a one time member of the Cuban judo team and had travelled a bit, mainly Eastern Europe. Drunk as a skunk, he tried to perform minor surgery on a couple of fingers of my right hand that are bent from a genetic condition called Dupuytren’s Contracture. I tried to explain, in Spanish, this would be done by the NHS when I return to London, and asked him to desist from manipulating my fingers, as cycling with a broken hand would not be the best start to the cycle challenge. Despite being aware of Cuba’s world renowned medical reputation.

Cordial relations were resumed and more rum was drunk. Splendidly, Stewart pulled his own bottle of top class Havana Club from under the table and we continued drinking. Eventually we had to leave Luis’s company as he tried to accompany me into the loo for further manipulation possibly. Thank God for the fat lady sat by the toilets who collects a few coins for keeping the loos clean giving Luis short shrift with a piece of her mind. Toilet attendants get my praise. By the way, Santero rum is the cheapest. Our hotel in Sancti Spiritus was the city’s main outlet. Throughout the day and night there was a constant footfall to the hotel’s bar to load up with bottles of Santero. The barman was a little embarrassed about this elixir of the people when I asked. “Why?”

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The cycling part of the trip is magnificent. It is a great way to experience a country. After a few hours in the saddle taking a swim in the Caribbean Sea is heaven. We also had the opportunity to swim in a mountain pool supplied by clear stream water from the Escambray Mountains. We trekked high into the mountains and were accompanied by a wonderful guide called, Omar. He was an expert on fauna and flora, explaining properties of plants for health and well being. He also knew a bit about animals. Cuba rather like the UK has no real wildlife to trouble humans. Omar used to work at a university researching biology. Highly educated, he said patchy internet coverage made the work frustrating, along with computer problems. He enjoyed working in tourism taking groups into the mountains. He had never been outside of Cuba but would like to visit some other countries. The top of his list was Poland.

Later the same day we had an insight into the grassroots underpinning Cuban society. The team of 2014 were invited to attend a Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, AKA the CDR. Previously I had attended a CDR in Cienfuegos, tonight’s meeting was on the outskirts of the UNESCO declared World Heritage city of Trinidad. In an article for Cab Trade News in 2012, I described a CDR as hybrid between what we would know as a local neighbourhood watch meeting merged with a parish council cum vigilante brigade. Trinidad’s CDR was somewhat different. A couple of our cyclists, Martin & Ron said they were expecting to schlep off to some kind of community hall. Wrong. When you live in paradise, you have the street and open air. There’s no need for dusty old halls. The CDR meeting was more of a fiesta this time with entertainment, dancing and singing, women in bikinis leaping about. There were some unsettling issues as residents complained they would see none of the gifts we were encouraged to bring. One woman bemoaned lack of action over domestic violence issues. CDRs, as I stated earlier are there to sort out problems at grassroots levels with unemployment, welfare, security etcetera. Against the negatives, there were many positives, like fun dancing, rum drinking and food to be consumed. I had the opportunity to speak to the whole CDR in Spanish. This may not have been my finest hour, but it was an honour.

The next day at our group meeting we had a long discussion about our CDR trip. The group had many mixed and varying opinions.

The city of Cienfuegos is one of my favourite places on the island. This is where we would witness the May Day parade. As you would expect, this is one of the most important days of the Cuban calendar. The hotel here was called the Union. It was spectacular. As good as anything you could find on planet Earth palatial, colonial Spanish style courtyards with a top pool and a reasonable restaurant, considering how difficult the American blockade can make life. Strangely, on my last trip to Cienfuegos in 2012, I stayed at a damn good hotel on the lagoon that impressed me greatly, called the Jagua. It was a fifties design with remarkable similarities to the, not so far away, resorts of Florida.

As visitors to Cienfuegos at the May Day parade we were treated like dignitaries. We found ourselves in the privileged position of being involved in the parade and marching behind VIPs and veterans of the revolution who led the parade. We were then invited onto the podium, a tier below the veterans and dignitaries, as welcomed overseas guests. The only other non-Cuban visitors present in any number were from Angola. From the podium we had a prime view of the parade that took two hours to pass by and was an amazing array of sound and colour. Most work places were represented from Sandwich bars to pharmaceutical plants to the local petrol station and the much remarked upon ‘Karl Marx Cement Factory’. I was very happy to see the doctor from the previous days polyclinic visit dancing along the street, strutting her stuff, and gyrating with her colleagues. Workers here were proud to march and participate.

Clearly no plumbing jobs to be done on the 1st May.

Lake Hannabanilla is another super stop on the ride. It’s not really a lake but a reservoir harnessing energy through the dam. It is an idyllic spot remote and quiet where I could have easily settled for a few days and done precious little. The views from the hotel rooms look onto the mountains where fierce battles raged against Batista during the revolutionary war. We took a good ferry ride across the presa/pantano before cycling our final leg of the tour to Santa Clara and the fearsome rainstorm that messed up a magical ending to the 2014 cycle challenge. Mother Nature, she is no respecter of making life fit into planned events. I love the way weather always can mess up the best laid of plans….


From Santa Clara we headed back to Havana to do all the tourist stuff and reflect on our adventures. Havana like any world city has enough to keep folk entertained, The National hotel(1930) at the end of the Malecon is grandiose par excellence, and I larged it here her with as fine a lunch as possible laced, with Buccanero beer and Mojitos. Before turning into a bit of a tourist twat, I had visited the Abel Santamaria School for visual impaired children. This was the prime beneficiary for our charitable visit. The students of the school treated us to a concert and tour of the establishment that brought a tear to my eyes in a good uplifting way rather than something sentimental. After all, this is what we came here for……..

So, the challenge was over. Almost completed, aside from some very heavy rain. Along with a couple of other riders I had left my bike as a gift to members of our support team knowing my former bike would end up with a good home. One of the coaches of national cycle team would have it at Havana’s velodrome. This is a good idea for future participants. Leave your bicycle in Cuba for a Cuban. They will love it, and you can easily buy a new one once you are back home. With this altruistic gesture out of the way, myself and the other two donors found ourselves able to check in on the best seats Virgin Atlantic could offer. After all, we had no bikes to get through check-in. A tip off from CSC reps told us to ask for seats on rows 75-80 which place you upstairs on a 747 just behind premium economy in a select isolated small section of the airliner. I must admit, it was very comfortable, although I felt a little guilty, gaining a degree of privilege escaping away from the hoi polloi.


Celia Sanchez, Fidel’s best woman would not have been best pleased to see me coming back to London with a degree of privilege. It does beg the question, why does anyone fly to a communist state with an airline offering business class? It’s an anathema. Celia worked hard in Sierra Maestra to get local farmers to back the revolutionaries and overthrow corrupt Batista and bring about a classless, egalitarian society. Sanchez died in 1980 from lung cancer at the age of 59. There is a monument to the woman who toughed it out with the chaps in the town of Manzanillo in Eastern Cuba. She designed Parque Lenin in central Havana. There is many a monument to Che…..Surely; Senora Sanchez needs a more prominent place to be remembered….

So….There is the small question of 300 meters…. I need to go to Cuba again. I have to get on a bike, or take my own and donate it, and cycle a mere 300 meters to truly say I have done the Cuba Cycle Challenge. Hopefully whenever this day comes, the incarcerated Miami Five/Four, Fernando, Ramon, Antonio & Herrado will join Rene and all be safely back home with their families…..por favour….


Mark’s Missive VII


By Mark Edward Taylor

Spain is the most popular destination for British tourists. Brits go there in big numbers during the summer months, many others visit all year round. Plus, some love it so much they move there making full use of all the benefits and privileges membership of the EU brings. It certainly is a wonderful country and fine weather can make such a difference when compared to northern Europe. Like many taxi drivers, I have visited on countless occasions, and thought it would be a good idea to put something together about my travels in Andalusia….

Andalusia is Spain’s second largest region stretching along its southern coast, more familiar as the Costa del Sol. It has the biggest population of Spain’s seventeen regions. Around eight million people, roughly the same as London, albeit in lots more space, although both must have numbers which vary wildly with visitor movements.


Let’s begin on the Atlantic coast in the ancient city of Cadiz whose history stretches back to the Phoenicians, easily 1,000 years before Jesus Christ. Cadiz is a carnival town that likes to party, it is perhaps more outward looking than other Andalucian cities, due to it facing the Atlantic ocean. I stayed in the Parador, which unlike most other Paradors (the state run hotel chain usually found in quality, classic buildings at prime locations) is a glorious modern glass monstrosity. Parador Atlantico is probably one of the finest hotels I have stayed in with stunning views around the promontory of Cadiz and looking out onto the shining sea. On a clear day you can see the Moroccan coastline….like many of the cities in the region there are narrow, cobbled bustling streets and plenty of places to eat. My recommendation for dining would be, El Balandro, with mid-price cuisine and local wines. Booking is advisable.

Cadiz has no airport, the nearest being Jerez de la Frontera a thirty minute train ride north. Jerez is famous for sherry; the English name for the drink derives from Jerez and Britain invests in the industry…..anyone for a glass of Harvey’s Bristol cream?….make mine a Manzanilla – por favor.


A great many Brits have invested in property in Spain, whether it is a timeshare or a rolling rural ranch. London cab drivers who have invested in a home in Spain sometimes identify themselves by having the rear of their taxi-cab sport a sticker of a bull, strategically adhered to their boot lid. Belonging to the European Union makes this property investment much easier. Quite how things would pan out if Farage and his body of elderly brethren were to win control in British politics? UKIP appear to want to take Britain back to a time when it was fine to smoke in hospitals, reel off racists jokes, have cabbies forced to were caps and have nothing to do with those beastly continentals….At election time: I guess there is never much sympathy for British nationals who have homes abroad.

Enough politics, lets get back on the Andalusian trail. Next stop Sevilla. Seville is Spain’s fourth largest city, with a population of over 700,000. It is home to football teams Seville and Real Betis. Betis are supposedly the lefty, workers team playing second fiddle, rather like Athletico Madrid do to Real Madrid. The Giralda tower and cathedral are a, must see, for any visitor. The tower offers fine views across the city and the walk to the top has no steps, just one long winding ramp that could allow a horse to reach the summit. The mighty Gothic cathedral has Christopher Columbus’ tomb housing some of his remains. Keen readers of my Missives columns will know the Columbus’ body was moved around a few times after his death, including a stint in Cuba. Another amazing building is La Plaza de Espana set in the Parque de Maria Luisa. The place was built in 1929 and is a celebration of Spain and the Spanish speaking countries; there are mock baroque towers, arcades and a rainbow of ceramics. To conclude Seville, the food is magnificent. Tapas really comes to life here. This is authentic cuisine beautifully served. Merzula – Hake was amongst my favourites.



Changing tack lets sally forth to the enigmatic Gibraltar. Woah! The last time I was in Gib, you could not enter from the Spanish mainland. A boat had to be taken across to Morocco then, ferried back over the Straits of Gibraltar to dock at The rock. In the 1980’s diplomatic relations between the UK and Spain were at a low. Nowadays the border is open with many thousands crossing everyday for work. Gibraltar is the base for many off shore gambling operations with tax saving advantages. In the past Gib had a very large naval base and British pub licensing laws, therefore the bars would close in the afternoon! Last summer we saw the tense nature of relations between Spain and the UK as there was a work to rule by Spanish border officers, therefore, many Spanish workers in the gaming industry struggled to get to work. This was a tit for tat measure over fishing rights for Gibraltar fishermen. Spain has Europe’s highest unemployment figures which makes jobs on The Rock very important. Diplomatic tensions will no doubt flare up again with Spain’s claim to the land. One observation from a family member of mine who lived there for a while is; the people of Gibraltar play the two nations off against each other, there is a time to be British, a time to be Spanish and a time to be Gibraltan.

Marbella is a few hundred kilometres along the coast. A peach of a holiday destination that has a good balance of traditional Spain and those seeking the sun, sea and sand vacation. Close by is Puerto Banus. A glitzy resort famed for hen and stag parties where very expensive luxury cars cruise the harbour. Should you wish? These vehicles can be rented by the hour to give you an air of opulence. Further east is the city of Malaga. This is a port city and has the main airport for Andalusia. I have undertaken the tapas tour here which was an afternoon well spent and highly informative. The tour involves having some of the best food and drinks of the region and takes you to a variety of tapas bars it would be hard to track down under your own steam. A novel restaurant to visit is El Tintero Dos, translated as, Inkwell Two, located on the beach in the barrio of Pedregalejo/El Palo. Waiters parade around the restaurant holding aloft plates of fresh cooked fish inviting you to take what you like the look of. It’s big and noisy and full of locals. After downing your post meal brandy you can take a dip in the sea a mere few meters away. Hic!

Venturing inland is Ronda. The bullring here is considered the most picturesque in the world. It was the first purpose built space for fighting bulls staging the initial contest in 1785. There is an equestrian school attached and a museum of matadors under the seating. Ronda sits high on a gorge above the river, Guadalevin, with three bridges, one Roman, one Arab and a new bridge too boot.

Heading north again is the city of Cordoba; sitting astride of another river, the Guadalquivir. Cordoba has the amazing Mezquita. A building that has seen, Jews, Muslims and Christians worship within its walls. The way light bounces around the interior is glorious. Any person who visits the region and does not make time for the Mezquita is mad. Likewise, should you be in Granada, and don’t visit the Alhambra palace you are crazy. Both these buildings are Moorish influenced and very well preserved. The Alhambra can lift your spirits. American writer, Washington Irvine was so won over by the place he wrote an enchanting book called, Tales of the Alhambra, which can relive the Moorish times of princes in the palace. The flowers, water features and décor are fantastic. A whole day can be spent there letting your imagination run wild.

I have been fortunate enough over the last few years to have been invited to a good friend’s house in a very remote part of Andalucía. He owns a house on the, Pantano de Iznajer, twelve kilometres from the nearest village. The land is blessed with 500 olive trees and is very peaceful and quiet. Once there, you are stuck. There is precious little to do apart from soak up the sun, swim in the pool or reservoir and eat and drink handsomely well. The Pantano de Iznajer is a reservoir formed from a purposely flooded valley during the time of Franco. There is obviously a dam to generate power. Rivers flow down into the reservoir from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and depending on how much snow or rain there has been the water levels change over time. A dry winter will see the tops of church spires from peer out from the water of where people once lived. An elderly gentleman, who has lived his whole life in the area, told me he remembers going to school at the bottom of the reservoir. He wasn’t best pleased to see his village disappear. His football allegiance is to Barcelona many hundreds of miles away. That’s an indicator he was no supporter of General Franco. Andalusia is known as an area that stood against the Franco nationalists. A statue of Franco on the Iznajar dam has been left to crumble, with some vandalism over the years no doubt; it looks evermore a miserable grotesque monument to the fascist leader.

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Almeria is at the eastern end of Andalucía. Its airport services the many holidaymakers. Almeria has a lot of agriculture so our final place to dwell is the town of Mojacar, as farming is not much of a strong point for me. Mojacar has a town inland high up on a hill and another Mojacar on the coast. It is believed to have a micro climate keeping it much warmer in the winter months. Alli oli is a staple of the restaurant tables. A kind of garlic sauce that is ubiquitous. Do you bring Alli oli back home? No. Because it never tastes the same. Mojacar claims to be the birthplace of Walt Disney. His family supposedly left the town when he was two years old. This may or may not be true, as Chicago also claims to be his birthplace.

Great Britain is less than three hours flight time from Andalucía. Our connections with the region are plentiful. As you have managed to reach the end of this article, you can see the diversity and appeal of the place. Why would we want to lessen our connections with the area? Britain in the EU aids these connections and relationships with places across the whole EU. This is the future. A common future for all in a United Europe. A Europe that is at peace. A Europe that works, trades, celebrates, entertains and protects us all.



By Mark Edward Taylor

The Glastonbury festival of 2013 was one of last year’s highlights. I’d never been to Glastonbury before and by sheer good fortune I found myself playing bass guitar on the William’s Green stage on the Sunday night. Thirty-two years ago I was in Department S, who had a top twenty hit with Is Vic there? Now, thirty plus years on Vic is still around and playing England’s greatest festival…..

My previous experiences of Glasto have been sitting on the rank at Paddington Station and taking fares covered in a thin layer of dried mud. The rucksack laden revellers making their way back from the West Country always seemed like they were looking forward to a good shower and my three nights in the glorious Somerset countryside confirmed a shower back at home is most welcome.

Our journey west began on Friday 28th June just after 1-30pm as two of our crew and I left the BP garage on Cambridge Heath Road in a 1966 Volkswagen camper van. I was amazed this classic piece of German engineering got us there and back, as it looked well, like it was from 1966! Oh, me of little faith….clip_image005[1]

The journey there was hell. It felt like most of the population of London and the South East were all going to Glastonbury. The truth is over 200,000 people are at the festival making it the size of a small city.

A little more information on our crew members whom I was travelling with; Del, the drum technician, had been on the very first Department S tour way back in 1980, supporting Toots and the Maytals, even before I joined the band, which was early 1981. Driving the aforementioned camper van was its proud owner, Ken, the guitar tech. This fine pair of much sought after techies were top travelling companions and with no radio or music player in the camper we talked constantly for the six plus hour journeys to and from the festival. These two techies, rather like the rest of Department S, have day jobs. Their technical skills are now applied to swimming pool installation and teaching digital film making respectively. For the record, the other members of Dept S work as a taxi driver, adman, salesman, music teacher and you won’t be surprised to hear the drummer is a demolition specialist!

LE FREAKclip_image003

Once on site and with passes in our hands, we found a peach of place to pitch our tents and park the camper. This was done to the sound of the Arctic Monkeys drifting up the hill as we grappled guy ropes and tent pegs. What we really should have done is forget about the tents and gone off to the West Holts stage to see Chic, featuring Nile Rodgers. That’s one of the Glastonbury dilemmas….too much going on and not wanting to miss anything. We made up for the missed opportunity by drinking heavily and hanging out with music business people. After all, we had filled the camper with beer and wine in Wincanton.

Saturday morning and we awoke to the Rolling Stones sound check. No doubt one of their roadies making the distinctive guitar chops of Keith and Ronnie. We fashioned up a breakfast of sorts washed down with plenty of tea and coffee. We were joined by two other members of Dept S, Sam and Stu, guitar and drums, with Darren their driver. The day was spent checking out the Glastonbury site taking in various acts like the rabble rousing Billy Bragg, eccentric and endearing Laura Mvula and The 1975, whoever they are, while enjoying the odd sherbet. My thoughts were; the Glastonbury audience is very white. It is essentially a place where middle class white people go to freak out! The main sponsors tell you something….The Guardian, The BBC and Oxfam….And there’s nothing wrong with that….

There is a good feel about the place. I was beginning to see why some people love this event so much. Glastonbury is one of the very few events to completely sell out before anyone knows who is going to perform.


Saturday was The Rolling Stones day. Who better to precede them than Rolling Stones lite in the form of Primal Scream? Screamadelica is a wonderful record. It was great to hear some tunes from that including the anthemic, Loaded. Bobby Gillespie, their vocalist looked like a member of Showaddywaddy in his pink drape jacket, nonetheless, they were good value and ideal to set the mood for Mick, Keef et al. Under a moon of love the Rolling Stones hit the Pyramid stage….wow…. an ever constant for fifty plus years, men with an average age of 69, wowed the audience. There have been many column inches written about the Stones this summer, so I won’t. Just a couple of observations, Miss You from the Some Girls album sounded brilliant, as did some tracks from their really earthy, rootsy record, Beggars Banquet. Street Fighting Man, Sympathy for the Devil and a reworking of Factory Girl into; Waiting for my Glastonbury Girl….and I guess he was… Rolling Stones over the years have always kept it raw and simple. At the time those songs were being penned, The Beatles were polluting their albums with silly tunes like Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Octopus’s Garden. The Stones never did comedy. Someone remarked, perhaps The Beatles just had better drugs….


Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman joined the stage for a few numbers, which was a nice touch to show they are all on speaking terms. Jagger has come a long way from 102 Edith Grove, Chelsea, where he shared a grotty flat with Keith and Brian Jones fifty years ago. His wealth is estimated at £189million. He has bought and sold properties around the world and is now believed to be living around the corner from Edith Grove on Cheyne Walk, after a recent divorce.

The audience for this gig must have exceeded 100,000 people. I found it entertaining, but it’s just men with guitars, so I decided to go and drink rum and listen from the simple comfort of a chair.


Sunday morning came and I tried to sleep in as long as possible. We were playing tonight on the William’s Green stage so I had a whole day to fill of not touching any booze until after playing. My strategy had been to maximise alcohol intake for the previous two days to get me through this Glastonbury thing, then, take a long walk on Sunday afternoon to kill the boredom. Being a musician involves a lot of waiting around. You can’t really imbibe, as you may play the right notes, but not necessarily in the correct order. Charlie Watts sums it up best. He states, he has been with the Rolling Stones for 50 years. Five years playing the drums. Forty five years hanging around!

Anyway, Me, Ken and Del set out to walk towards the Glastonbury Tor. The mythical, spiritual rock, sitting erect on a hill about 8miles off the site. We wandered through the whole festival seeing some of the horrible camping conditions some folk had to endure. They looked like refugee camps in Jordan or Turkey. Who pays £200 to spend a weekend living like this? As we walked through the Somerset lanes in glorious sunshine the inevitable happened. Ken and Del found a pub. I drank coffee and left them there nursing some rather fine looking local ale. It was very hot and there would be some revellers getting sunburned. Reflecting on the weather, there was none of the rain and mud that Glastonbury conjures up in your mind. The truth is, since 1999 there have been 10 Glastonbury festivals. Only three have been blighted by mud and rain. 2005, 2007 and 2011. Also another observation is the price of things in the festival. It was all quite reasonable considering it is a captive market. Beer seemed to be the same price as central London, food had a small mark up and cigarettes were cheaper than in London. Late in the afternoon the final members of Department S rocked up. The non-camping, but slightly camp, Bage, guitar virtuoso, and a long standing friend who first got me into this caper. I will always be ever grateful. Plus, Eddie, the front man and singer, who had worked tirelessly to secure this gig. All the band’s ingredients were in the mix. The mighty Department S was complete….. We were ready to rock………

Earlier, The Vaccines had packed the marquee style venue. We followed an act called Public Service Broadcasting. Sam, the guitarist, had a totally different alcohol strategy to me. He hit the stage with a litre of vin rouge in his system. This was no problem. He played a blinder, as the rest of the band. We ran through our back catalogue of singles, hit the crowd of around 400 with some new material that went down well, finishing with Is Vic There? and our trade mark ending of an extended, I Want. Forty minutes of performing, and around eighty hours of hanging about! …….The gathering watching us ran the whole age group with a small troop of Boer war soldiers leaping around. I mentioned white middle class people freaking out, or just being silly…..they were a receptive crowd and I believe some footage can be found on YouTube. Plus, web site Drowned in Sound, kindly recommended Department S as one of the twelve acts to catch at Glastonbury 2013. Thank you.


Following us was The Beat, they of hits like, Stand Down Margaret, Mirror in the Bathroom and Can’t Stand Losing You. The William’s Green stage was buzzing. The Beat had many more hits to thrill their audience. The non campers of the band drifted off home which left the rest of us to party through the remains of the festival. Bobby Womack started this for us at the nearby West Holts stage. He had a great sound taking it back to gospel, blues and soul. We crossed 110th street to continue drinking in the Disco Sucks tent while listening to ….err!….Disco….

I retired to sleep at an hour I can’t recall. Glastonbury had taken a lot out of me. I was looking forward to being home and having a shower. Ken deserves praise for dancing til four in the morning then being woken by me and Del and told; gets us home please. Which, he duly did..….Tuesday I would be back in a cab and spending more time hanging around and waiting. Next Dept S gig. The Old Bell, Enfield. Splendid!

Mark’s Missive VI


By Mark Edward Taylor

Get out the crisps and nuts, pour yourself a glass of beer, and lets toast Ben Franklin, former resident of this very parish…………….he once said, “God gave us elbows to make bending our arms easier to drink beer.”………

Franklin lived for many years at 36 Craven Street, WC2. Americans always seem to be impressed by this man. He is held in high esteem, and seeing the house where he lived is a pilgrimage for stateside historians. A short walk up from Embankment Place, London cab drivers can go and see his house, a mere stones throw from Trafalgar Square..……Craven Street gives the centre of London a little taste of Americana as the writer of the great classic, obsessive, America novel, Moby Dick, Herman Melville, also resided briefly on Craven Street at number 25.

So who was this Ben Franklin fellow? And, why so revered by many? The face of Franklin adorns the one hundred dollar bill. He earned the title of “The First American” with his tireless campaigning for colonial unity. A Founding Father of the United States his sphere of interest and influence is impressive, from diplomacy, to politics, science and writing.

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts on 17 January 1706. His father, Josiah had been born in Ecton, Northamptonshire, England and his mother was, Abiah Folger, born in Nantucket, Massachusetts to a Puritan family who had fled England as King Charles I began persecuting Puritans. Ben Franklin was proud of his working class background. His father was a candle and soap maker and wanted him to become a clergyman; however he could only afford to send him to school for two years. Franklin was a voracious reader and had a gift for languages. He worked briefly with his father then became an apprentice printer under the guidance of his older brother, James. His brother founded the first truly independent newspaper in the American colonies called, The New-England Courant. Ben tried to write for the paper but was not allowed to. He began contributing under the cheeky pseudonym of “Mrs Silence Dogood” whose letters caused a stir among the readership. Once James found out about his brother’s secret identity, he was furious, and Ben left town. Aged 17, he was on his own and seeking a new start in Philadelphia.

Knowing his way around a printing press held young Franklin in good stead. Printers were at the cutting edge of eighteenth century technology, rather like today’s new media tech savvy entrepreneurs. Franklin came to people’s notice and Governor William Keith of Pennsylvania sent him on his first mission to England. Governor Keith had misled Franklin so he was somewhat stranded and worked in two prominent London printing houses to make ends meet and try to make his way back to America. Meanwhile, he absorbed as much as he could of intellectual London life expanding his knowledge, honing his writing and communication skills plus, developing a passion for the metropolis. He was only in his early twenties. Over the course of a very long life, Franklin lived to be 84 years old; he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean over ten times. This is when it was no luxury cruise….He writes about using a fizgig, a harpoon like tool, to catch food. Sometimes they would land a dolphin and have no qualms about dining on it.


Much of the time spent crossing the Atlantic would be when Franklin was writing and observing. He had an enquiring scientific mind and was one of the first people to acknowledge the existence of the Gulf Stream, and use it to make trade and travel quicker. He also invented the lightening rod which prevented buildings catching fire when struck by lightening. Another invention was bifocal spectacles along with an energy dispersion oven that would also heat a room. Eclectic innovations or what! clip_image005

His diplomacy skills lead him to damage limitation between Britain and the US after the American war of independence. He served as US ambassador in Paris and Sweden. His philosophical thinking led to many pronouncements and sayings that are commonplace in the English language.” A place for everything, everything in its place,” plus: To have an axe to grind,” the cautionary tale of a man taking his axe to a blacksmith to be sharpened. At the blacksmith, the customer finds himself turning the grindstone while the blacksmith merely hold the axe. “All men are created equal,” possibly not all Franklin’s work, nonetheless, with Thomas Jefferson, this was a crucial mantra to the war against King George III of Britain.

clip_image002[1]Franklin became an abolitionist of slavery in his later life, he knew it was abhorrent, but chose to justify this on economic grounds on writing that, free labour moves at will, whereas keeping slaves required the costs of buying the slaves, interest on the outlay, food, clothing, the sickness incurred and security risks. It took America over sixty years after his death to abolish slavery. He championed the rights of women long before it was fashionable. He praised a vegetarian diet and questioned religious doctrine. As a member of the Enlightenment movement, Franklin was always looking to quiz orthodox religious thinking and allow faith to flourish.


Franklin’s personal life seems somewhat colourful. He clearly enjoyed the company of women. He had an illegitimate son, William, before a common law marriage to Deborah Read, with whom he had two other children. Deborah stayed in the US while Franklin went off to Europe. He stayed at 36 Craven Street for 16 years on and off between 1757 and 1775, just before the Declaration of Independence. Number 36 Craven Street is the only surviving house Franklin lived in. He lodged at Craven Street with Mrs Margaret Stephenson and latterly her daughter, Polly, who went on to marry William Hewson, who ran an anatomy school on the premises. Evidence of this is shown when visiting, as bundles of bones were unearthed in the rear yard. Franklin is believed to have been very charming and Margaret and Pollyclip_image007 were very fond of him. Franklin urged parents to inoculate their children. Here he puts it in his own words from his autobiography, using his own interesting mix of capital and lower case lettering. “In 1736 I lost one of my Sons a fine Boy of 4 Years old, by the Small Pox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly & still regret that I had not given it to him by Inoculation; This I mention for the Sake of Parents who omit that Operation on the Supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a Child died under it; my Example showing that regret may be the same either way, and therefore the safer should be chosen.”


Philosopher, polymath, diplomat, Franklin’s interests were broad. He writes in his autobiography “I had begun in 1733 to study Languages. I soon made myself so much a Master of the French as to be able to read the Books with Ease. I then undertook Italian.” He goes on to mention Spanish too and his year of learning Latin, as a lad, had made these Mediterranean languages easier. This is Franklin at his most boastful, other writings show a more empathetic side. Writing about the Native Americans, he continues; “the Indian Men, when young, are Hunters and Warriors; when old, Counsellors; for all their Government is by the Counsel or Advice of the Sages; there is no Force, there are no Prisons, no Officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment. Hence they generally study Oratory; the best Speaker having the most Influence. The Indian Women till the Ground, dress the Food, nurse and bring up the Children, and preserve and hand down to Posterity the Memory of Public Transactions”…..this is a long way from modern day America with the world’s largest prison population. In 2013, the USA had 1% of its population (320million) banged up. Contrast that with around 85,000 people in prison in the UK and a population of 60million, our percentage is massively lower at 0.14% and the UK has more people jailed than any other EU nation. One wonders what one of America’s favourite sons would have made of these numbers?

To visit 36 Craven Street, check out their web site. The tour is a tad cheesy, however, very informative and with some good acting and sound effects. It could be said, 36 Craven was, de facto, the first American embassy. Nearby you can visit the Sherlock Holmes pub, which as central London tourist pubs goes, is very agreeable. Or, there’s the Ship and Shovel straddling the walkway through to Villiers Street that has Benjamin Franklin quotations decorating the walls. He would be very pleased to see you having ale, as we know, Franklin very much approved of beer drinking. Cheers!….hic…

Mark’s Missive 5


By Mark Edward Taylor


Ever wondered what it may be like to drive a taxi in paradise? Well read on, for the delights of cab driving on a beautiful Caribbean island….

The island of Grand Turk is around seven miles long and a little over one mile wide.

It is situated south of The Bahamas and east of Cuba. The capital is Cockburn Town with the island home to a population of 5,000. On the day I arrived the population trebled as two cruise ships docked at Grand Turk Cruise Center, and this where much business is generated. There are 40 islands making up the Turks and Caicos of which sixteen are inhabited. They are a United Kingdom Dependent Territory with pristine beaches, palm trees, white washed buildings and clear blue warm sea. And, as an aside, did you know? Of the 700 plus islands in the Caribbean, only 30 of them are permanently inhabited. That’s equals to a little over two percent of islands being populated….

So why Turk? The name comes from the Turk’s head cactus, the country’s emblem. Christopher Columbus landed here on his initial voyage to the new world in 1492 and US astronaut John Glenn splashed down in the nearby sea as he became the first man to orbit planet Earth in 1962. All these facts I learned from our taxi driver, Huntley, who gave my wife and me a tour of the isle in his people carrier. We were not the only customers as the cabs are large American vehicles able to accommodate around ten passengers. I got the feeling he was having a reasonably lucrative day. The drivers were working steadily with the tripling of the population. Other days it is not so busy, there’s an international airport and hotels to keep them occupied on this gorgeous island. However, he did admit to me, that when there is no work he is involved in the building trade. This seemed to be the case with other drivers. One female driver, I believe her name is Nikel, impressively combines her cab driving with being an air traffic controller! That’s multitasking!

The taxi drivers are well organised. Of the sixty drivers on the island forty-five were members of the taxi association that includes five female drivers. These are remarkable numbers compared to the London trade were probably only half of drivers are members of a recognised trade organisation like Unite the Union cab section, LTDA or LCDC. Huntley gave me a very strong impression his association improves driver’s working conditions and negotiatinclip_image002[4]g power greatly.

As a British colony the island has quirky bits of UK culture. There’s a street called Chancery Lane, there’s a Freemason’s lodge, Anglican churches and the lighthouse sitting at the island’s northern tip was made of iron cast in England and imported in kit form during 1852. Processing salt from the levees provided an income in the past. Nowadays, the islands have far greater US hegemony following some tensions with the British Governor. Ninety-nine percent of goods are imported from Miami, the US dollar is the official currency, there was a US naval base on Grand Turk from 1954 to 1980 and tourists from the States must make a very large contribution to the economy.

Driving a taxi in paradise? Well, I think it certainly seems a nice way to live, stunning scenery, agreeable climate. No complaining about the weather, unless it is hurricane season. The last one to do damage was hurricane Ike, in 2008. The air is pure and clean, pollution in London is really noticeable once you return from being in a place where the air is fresh. As UK residents agonise over large rises in energy utility bills, due in some part to clip_image001government green taxes, breathing non-polluted air is an unavoidable price we will have to pay. In Turks and Caicos, pollution free, possibly the influence of the corporate cruise line companies could be challenging, but that could be a similar problem many other places having to combat the corporate world…..

Best thing, sit down with a nice cool bottle of Turk’s Head Island Draught and do precious little……

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