In a week when the oldest recorded message in a bottle was discovered, I wonder what it would be like to send a message the other way, back into our past. What would we tell our younger selves and indeed the world?

A message in a bottle tossed into the sea off Germany 101 years ago and believed to be the world’s oldest was found by a surprised fisherman only last month. The beer bottle containing the scribbled message on a modest postcard dated May 17th, 1913 was pulled out of the Baltic sea, off the northern city of Kiel. The Danish postcard written by a man called Richard Platz had two German stamps on it and a polite message asking the finder to post it on to his address in Berlin.

Message in Bottle

Holger von Neuhoff of the Maritime Museum in Hamburg said: “This is certainly the first time such an old message in a bottle was found, particularly with the bottle still intact.” Researchers then set about identifying the author and managed to track down his 62-year-old granddaughter Angela Erdmann, who still lives in Berlin. “It was almost unbelievable,” Erdmann said after she was able to hold the brown bottle last week in Hamburg, “that was pretty moving,” Erdmann confessed. “Tears rolled down my cheeks.”

Von Neuhoff said researchers were able to determine based on the address that it was 20-year-old baker’s son Richard Platz who threw the bottle in the Baltic while on a hike with a nature appreciation group in 1913. A Berlin-based genealogical researcher then located Erdmann, who never knew Platz, her mother’s father who died in 1946 at the age of 54.

Hang Mandela?
The day Nelson Mandela died, the British Prime Minister David Cameron described him as “a hero of our time.” Indeed, there cannot be many people out there, who doubt that he was. However, shortly after Mandela’s funeral, images began to surface on social media of the “hang Mandela” posters created by the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) in the 1980s.

It is hard to fathom nowadays, but the British Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher did indeed describe Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) he represented as terrorists. Moreover, along with Ronald Reagan’s administration in the US, they actively supported a policy of “constructive engagement” with the apartheid government in Pretoria rather than sanctions against an ally they believed was tempering the spread of communism in Africa. Indeed, it was probably this policy in particular that kept Mandela incinerated on Robben Island, off Cape Town for longer than was necessary.
Hang Mandela
This dark chapter of apartheid support has long since been swept under the political carpet, but it’s not forgotten by those of us who spent some of our spare days and nights among the activists manning the non-stop picket outside South Africa House, in London’s Trafalgar Square, which ran continuously for years. These days it won’t surprise anyone to discover that few people will now openly admit to even being a member of the FCS, like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, let alone admit they actually had a Hang Mandela poster on their bedroom wall or wore one of the thousands of badges and T-shirts that were made for that particularly nasty little campaign.

There was initially some speculation that David Cameron was once seen wearing one of these vile badges. Although it is now generally accepted that he had little or no role in that particular FCS campaign, despite the fact a 23-year-old Cameron did enjoy a trip to apartheid South Africa in 1989, whilst Mandela was still in prison, on a “fact-finding mission” funded by Strategy Network International (SNI). This lobby group was formed in 1985 specifically to fight against the imposition of sanctions on apartheid South Africa.

Hindsight or Foresight
Like many people, there have been times in my life, when I had wished I could have put back the clock and done something quite differently to change one particular situation or other from my past. We are all imperfect and flawed. It has always been a part of the human condition, to make mistakes but then to hopefully learn from them.

In 1913 German power was at its apex and it was more than capable of dominating Europe and influencing world politics for decades to come if only Kaiser Wilhelm II hadn’t succumbed to his jingoistic hatred of Britain and plunged his country in to a ruinous war. Just how ruinous would have been inconceivable to Richard Platz, the 20 year old, who threw the bottle into the sea that same year. I wonder what Platz would have told his younger self if he had been given that chance on his death bed in 1946?

By then Berlin had all but been levelled by the Red Army after the German people were dragged into yet another disastrous war. And yet, there may well have been no Red Army, because there would have been no Russian Revolution fermented by the deprivations of war, and Hitler may well have been more interested in his gift for art, rather than the twisted politics he picked up in the trenches of World War One. So the map of Europe, and for that matter the world may well have looked like quite differently if the old Platz had also used the opportunity to warn the world against reacting, as it eventually did, to that single shot fired into an Archduke in Sarajevo in 1914?

Although less dramatic, a similar thing could also be said about Boris Johnson. Given the chance again how quickly would Johnson, now into his second term as London Mayor, be to rush into the arms of that nest of precocious bigotry: the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) in the 1980’s?

Perhaps more importantly, will enough people even remember his past, when the Conservatives finally decide, whether or not to give him his shot at becoming party leader and therefore, quite possibly Prime Minister, once Cameron steps down? So it remains to be seen whether the voting public continue to be entertained and fooled by the bumbling Boris buffoon act and his serial gaffes and affairs, for which he is famous; or will some of us think twice about voting for a man, who once not only advocated apartheid and capital punishment, but also by association, wanted to see Nelson Mandela hanged?


Traitors, Trolls & Kittens

A busy week, mercifully over; with the local elections put to bed for another 4 years. No more ceaseless noise of election vans or wall to wall TV coverage of sound-bites, spin, threats and promises.

Despite the corruption crisis that has embroiled him and his party since December, the Prime Minister actually increased his party’s share of the vote and further entrenched his 12-year rule. But it wasn’t relief Mr Erdogan had on his mind it was revenge.

“We are going to go into the caves of those traitors,” he told the cheering crowds. “Some might try to run away tomorrow but they are going to pay for what they have done.”

His words were directed towards his enemies – chief among them his arch-rival Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Islamic cleric whom Erdogan blames for a widening graft probe and bribery scandal embroiling the premier and his entourage.

Although there will always be those, who disagree (usually people from an older generation) few of us can deny that the internet age has brought many good things. Instantaneous research plus communication through emails and services like Skype, on-line shopping and of course social media have all shaped much of our lives these past few years. However, this new age has come at a price: Viruses, spyware, identity theft, phishing and trolls are a selection of the problems that have arisen from the dark side of the internet. The first four of these things have shaped our habits and made us all a little more cautious and less trusting in order to not fall victim. However, the last phenomenon – trolls is something I had personally not even thought about until recently.


The word troll is taken from Norse folklore, where it represented a monster like creature that lived in the woods, mountains and the darker places – a bit like the bogeyman – and was traditionally blamed for unexplained events, or random vandalism for no other reason than to be mischievous and disruptive. Our modern day troll lives a similar life, although he (it is more often than not a male) probably can’t remember the last time he visited a wood or the mountains and the only dark place he usually occupies is his mothers basement or wherever his computer is set up. From here he may quietly ingratiate himself into a chatroom or a forum, with the ultimate intention of causing disruption, deliberate misinformation or to illicit an angry response from as many people as possible.

Another way he operates is to set himself up with someone else’s name and do his level best to cause the person, usually a celebrity, as much embarrassment as possible or even try and get them into trouble through misinformation or the crude use of ‘evidence’ in the form of photo-shopped pictures or the distortion or montage of something said or done on camera. This is what the troll feeds on, this is why he does what he does. Because in a world where he is probably quite solitary and a failure in relationships away from his computer, the anger directed towards him or the chaos he sows is often the closest thing he is ever going to get to unpaid-for sexual fulfilment.

Some friends – yes unlike most trolls I do have friends – tell me that in my case the troll’s attention is a form of flattery, an affirmation that he wants to be something he is unlikely ever to be, a fairly normal person. While other friends have warned me not to engage, not to even let the troll know you have noticed them at all because by doing so, you deny him the oxygen he needs to exist. However, while I fully intend to adopt this tactic for the future, I am discussing him here more as a sad curiosity rather than as someone, who genuinely disturbs me. Indeed, as he reads this, as I have no doubt he is out there, hidden amongst my readers, I expect the attention he has been given now has him in raptures of delight, perhaps even now clutching that disappointingly small piece of his anatomy that few women will ever see, unless flashed from a raincoat. So be gone foul troll – and try living your own life for a change instead of trying to live it through someone else.

Finally, I have to report that even my poor cat Kitten has not escaped the attention of a troll this week. However, unlike me she is beside herself with anger at the moment after the picture below appeared on the cover of Paris Match under the banner “Winter Fur or Fat?”
Fur or Fat?
Although she has had her run ins with the paparazzi in the past, she totally denies that she has ever been to the street in Bodrum shown in the photo. So instead of gutter journalism she is now convinced that someone else is deliberately trying to discredit her ahead of Kim Kardashian’s up and coming New York wedding, where Kitten was recently honoured to be asked to be one of the bridesmaids.

“I have my suspicions about who might have done this, said a tearful Kitten late on Thursday night, but I am not going to let some scabby little troll, make me suspect everyone and anyone, as is their intention. I am just going to continue getting ready for this wedding so I can be there for Kimikins on her big day.”
At her request I have added the picture above, which although admittedly taken a couple of years ago, I can vouch is definitely her. So in the end I suppose it is ultimately up to you, dear reader to decide for yourself, where the truth may ultimately lie on this occasion?