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Even I was surprised to learn that something like around half of the BBC's top paid journalists and presenters are privately educated. The arrogance and incompetence of the organisation, fully demonstrated by its dismal coverage of the Scottish independence referendum, suggested that the privileged but barely even competent are indeed over-represented in its ranks - but I had no idea how over-represented. I think something like seven percent of the British population is privately educated. So, something is obviously very wrong. And whatever is wrong is not confined to the BBC but a cancer eating away the heart, what's left of it, of British prosperity. Two reasons for this sad state of affairs spring to mind. One is that parents are buying their children into job-network, the Old School Tie. Or it might be that these children of privilege are actually better educated. I have my doubts about this second explanation, there are many state comprehensives that are pretty good but whose former pupils do not dominate the senior ranks of the BBC or the British Army in the same way that those from private schools seem to. But let's say it is true. Could this be because the people who control the purse-strings and levers of power have no real interest in decent education for all - or should I say equal opportunity in life - because their kids are not affected by the shortcomings of state education: That they do not have a dog in the fight. Perhaps the answer is to encourage them to enter the arena. Now, I'm for freedom of choice. If people want to spend extra money on educating their kids they should be allowed to do it. But what if we turned around and said: "If the state isn't good enough to educate your kids, then it's not good enough to give them a job either". Make it that private school pupils are excluded from sitting the exams that eventually lead to public sector jobs. Basically, no tax-funded jobs for those who did not go to state schools. I would hope that this would mean that the British Army would no longer be the largest single employer of pupils from Eton. Of course, the privileged would soon find away to circumvent the policy, but perhaps in the process educational opportunities for the masses might be improved for a short while at least. 

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The recently released film Dunkirk appears to have ignited some interest in the ones who didn't get away and that interest, in Scotland at least, has focused on the 51st Highland Division. The division had been hived off from the main British Expeditionary Force and lent to the French. The bulk of the division was eventually cornered at the French seaside town of St Valery en Caux by a German force under the command of Erwin Rommel. Attempts by the Royal Navy to evacuate the trapped troops came to naught and around 10,000 soldiers went into the bag. Not all were Highlanders or even Scots. The 1st Middlesex and the 7th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, as well as numerous English artillery men, engineers and support troops, also went into the Prisoner of War camps. Back in the 1980s it was proposed to twin Inverness with St Valery. It seemed a good idea to local politicians, perhaps with an eye on some exchange visits with their French counterparts. The Invernessians who spent more than five years as guests of the Germans, many as basically slave labourers down Polish coalmines, were less keen. They remembered that some of the citizens of St Valery had gone out of their way to betray escaping or hiding of British soldiers to the Germans. Now, I don't know why they did that but I can sympathise with my informants', former members of the 4th Camerons, feeling of betrayal. Disappointingly, although the new film has reawakened some interest in the fate of the 51st Division, the same is nowhere near as true for another group of British soldiers who did not get away, the brave defenders of Calais - three battalions of regulars, a Territorial battalion and one-sixth of the British Army's tank force. And as the film apparently barely features the Germans, my guess is that there will be no hint that the Scots of the 52nd Lowland Division and troops of the 1st Canadian Division were landed in France after the Dunkirk evacuation but quickly brought home again when it was realised that the French wanted to thrown in the towel.  

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Years ago, when I worked in Shetland, I was accused of cheating at Trivial Pursuit. Does anyone remember Trivial Pursuit? Actually, it wasn't just me who was accused. It was a couple of other island journalists too. At the end of a hard night at the bar on a Friday night, some of us used to end up playing Trivial Pursuit and perhaps knocking back some more beers from the off-licence. One night, one of the non-journalists in the group accused us of cheating. That hurt, what kind of person cheats at Trivial Pursuit? Yes, we used to get a lot of the answers. But journalists usually know a little about a lot. It's in the nature of the job. So, no sane reasonable person would be surprised that journalists quite often do well at games like Trivial Pursuit. Anyway, a couple of weeks later I spotted our accuser hitch-hiking at the side of the road. He wasn't my favourite person. I was still fuming at his ridiculous and ill-mannered accusation. But I picked him up regardless. The thing about living on an island is that there is no room to hold grudges. Life in a small community means everyone has to rub along. Otherwise things fester and get out of control; and proportion. But obviously, the insult rankled or I wouldn't still remember it.

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The more I learn, the gladder I am that Soviets never did swarm across the border between East and West Germany. It appears that retired British generals seem to think it is now safe to reveal that the British Army of the Rhine was barely even a tripwire and had little chance of containing any westward Soviet thrust. It was a just a big con-trick. Though, who was being conned is open to question. I suspect it was not the Soviets. The BAOR had to cannibalise its entire tank fleet simply to provide enough working Challengers for the two armoured brigades needed to take part in the 1991 First Gulf War. Basically, the BAOR's tank force back in West Germany was partially dismantled scrap until those two brigades returned from the Middle East. The British plan in the face of the Red Tide was for the infantry to engage the Soviet armoured columns pouring onto the plains of West Germany with wire controlled missiles while their tanks somehow manoeuvered themselves into position for a supposedly decisive flank attack. The problem was that the infantry's wire-guided missiles could not penetrate the front armour of the Soviet tanks. It was, as one recently retired general said, like telling a boxer he can only punch sideways. The missiles only worked against sides and rear of Soviet tanks. The plan only worked if the Soviets insisted on reversing across the German plains in their tanks. I also have serious doubts to whether Britain's generals were a professional match for their Soviet counterparts. During the last couple of years of Second World War the Soviets handled their armoured forces far more professionally and proficiently than their British contemporaries. I suspect throughout the so-called Cold War the Soviet High Command continued to value professionalism, innovation, and imagination at a higher level than the Old Boys' network foisted on the British Army. Nuclear weapons would quite possibly have been needed within hours rather than days of the Soviets kicking off their attack. 

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All this recent talk of the 20th anniversary of the British hand-over of Hong Kong to the Communist Chinese reminded me of one of the tenuous links I have to that far-off city. I used to live in the old basement servants' quarters in the old house of the guy who signed the 99-year-lease on the New Territories; the expiration of which triggered the hand-over. I was surprised when I arrived to discover I was sharing a home not only with the owners but with one of the guys who had been a copyboy at the Evening Times when I was a copyboy at the Glasgow Herald. I thought the Times copyboys were a great bunch - with one exception. You guessed it, the exception was was my surprise housemate. He was a sly snide git. So, it was not great surprise when Mr Snide and the landlady were overheard on the stairs sniggering and slagging me and my room-mate Dennis off. That should have perhaps been a warning about what was to come. We all used to pay the rent three or four months in advance. The rent included use of the kitchen upstairs. Then, after we'd handed over the second three or four months in advance the landlady announced the kitchen was now out of bounds to us. By this time, Mr Snide had moved on. The three of us remaining lodgers were students, we could not afford to eat out every night or buy take-away food. We needed to be able cook our own food. It was a very unpleasant surprise. But I don't think the landlady should have been surprised when we found alternative accommodation before she could get her posh but grubby hands on the third instalment of rent in advance .  Maybe another time I'll tell you about how she locked all her tenants out of the house to punish one who had offended her. Once again, by then Mr Snide had moved out. 

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