Sunday, March 16, 2014



Saturday, March 08, 07:30 AM. MH370 ‘lost contact’ with Subang Air Traffic Control at 2.40am. The B777-200 aircraft departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am . It was expected to land in Beijing at 6.30am that same day. The flight was carrying 227 passengers (including 2 infants), and 12 crew members. Malaysia Airlines activated its Search and Rescue team to locate the aircraft. 

Saturday, March 08, 09:05AM MYT +0800 Malaysia Airlines issued its 2nd Media Statement following the above, it read in part:
The passengers were of 13 different nationalities. "Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their Search and Rescue team to locate the aircraft. Our team is currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew. Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support."

Saturday, March 08, 10:30 AM MYT - 3rd Media Statement.
There was speculation that the aircraft had landed at Nanming. The passengers were of 14 different nationalities, one additional from the previous bulletin. These were:-
1. Chinese – 152, 1 infant

2. Malaysian - 38

3. Indonesian - 7

4. Australian - 6

5. French - 3

6. American – 3 plus 1 infant

7. New Zealander - 2

8. Ukrainian - 2

9. Canadian - 2

10. Russian - 1

11. Italian - 1

12. Indian - 5

13. Dutch - 1

14. Austrian - 1

15. Chinese Taipei - 1

The pilot was Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah. A Malaysian, aged 53, he had a total flying hours of 18,365 hours. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981. First officer, Fariq Ab.Hamid, a Malaysian, aged 27, had a total flying hours of 2,763 hours. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007.  
On Saturday, March, MA issued an update at 2.30pm
“We are currently working with international authorities on the search and rescue mission and as at 1400 hours, 08 March 2014, we have no information on the location of the aircraft.” MH370, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, was on a ‘code share’ with China Southern Airlines.

Saturday, March 08, 07:20 PM (MYT) - 5th Media Statement

[There is no 4th statement.]

Repeated the nationalities of the passengers.  The French nationals total increased to “4” from the previous “three”.

Sunday, March 09, 02:00 AM MYT - 6th Media Statement

After more than 24 hours since MH370 disappeared at 1.30am, the search and rescue team is yet to determine its whereabouts. An international search and rescue mission from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam was mobilized yesterday morning. It failed to find evidence of any wreckage.

Sunday, March 09, 02:43 PM MYT - 8th Media Statement
[Note. There is no “7th media statement”. Perhaps Malaysia Airlines withdrew it or made an error in the numbering system, eight being used instead of “7”. This also happened to the 4th statement.]
The need to provide regular updates is understood. MA primary focus is the families of the missing. Initial financial assistance has been given out to all families. Caregivers are already assigned to each family and they are trained staff and volunteers from Malaysia and Australia.” MA also arranging flights for these families.
Monday, March 10, 10:00 AM MYT - 9th Media Statement

Fort-eight hours since lost contact. Search and rescue teams from Australia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines and USA. At least one caregiver is assigned to each family. These caregivers are well-trained staff and volunteers from Malaysia and other organisations. One hundred and fifty "Go Team" members consisting of senior management and caregivers at Beijing to attend to families. In Kuala Lumpur, a different group of caregivers are attending to the families’ needs. Families from other nations apart from China arriving at Kuala Lumpur since early yesterday. More are expected at this date. Malaysia Airlines working closely with the government of China to expedite the issuance of passports for the families as well as with the immigration for their visas into Malaysia.
Monday, March 10, 05:30 PM MYT - 10th Media Statement
The purpose of this statement is to update on emergency response activities at Malaysia Airlines. A few common queries from the media were also addressed. How did the passengers with the stolen passports purchase their tickets? Malaysia Airlines was unable to comment as this was a security issue.   
Tuesday, March 11, 11:15 AM MYT - 11th Media Statement
Day 4. Aircraft yet to be found. Search and rescue teams (SAR) have expanded the scope beyond the flight path to the West Peninsular of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca. The authorities are looking at a possibility of an attempt made by MH370 to turn back to Subang. All angles looked at, with no possibilities ruled out. Assets deployed to cover the search and rescue said to be “extensive“. In total there are nine aircraft and 24 vessels deployed. Apart from the search in the sea, search on land in between these areas conducted. Search and rescue teams analysed debris and oil slick found in the waters. Did not belong to MH370. The craft underwent maintenance on 23 February 2014, 12 days before its final flight. The maintenance was conducted at the KLIA hangar and there were no issues on the health of the aircraft which had e recorded 53,465.21 hours with a total of 7525 cycles. All Malaysia Airlines aircraft are equipped with continuous data monitoring system called the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) which transmits data automatically. No distress calls and no information relayed. 

Tuesday, March 11, 05:29 PM MYT - 12th Media Statement

Statement in reference to the many queries on the alleged five passengers who checked-in but did not board MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing despite having valid tickets to travel. Malaysia Airlines clarifies that there were four passengers who had valid booking to travel, but did not show up to check-in for the flight. The issue of off-loading unaccompanied baggage did not arise. The claim that their bags travelled without them was untrue.

Tuesday, March 11, 11:30 PM MYT - 13th Media Statement

Malaysia Airlines concerned by the allegations made against First Officer, Fariq Ab Hamid, who is said to often invite women travellers onto the flight deck. “We are shocked by these allegations. We have not been able to confirm the validity of the pictures and videos of the alleged incident. As you are aware, we are in the midst of a crisis, and we do not want our attention to be diverted. We also urge the media and general public to respect the privacy of the families of our colleagues and passengers. It has been a difficult time for them. The welfare of both the crew and passenger’s families remain our focus. At the same time, the security and safety of our passengers is of the utmost importance to us.”

Wednesday, March 12, 01:00 PM MYT - 14th Media Statement

One hundred and fifteen family members in Kuala Lumpur taken care of by 72 different caregivers. At least one caregiver is assigned to each family together with a Mandarin translator for the families from China. Malaysia Airlines' primary focus at this point in time is to care for the families of the passengers and crew of MH370. All costs borne by Malaysia Airlines.

Wednesday, March 12, 11:30 PM MYT -- 15th Media Statement
A total of 94 caregivers including the Senior Management members of Malaysia Airlines were deployed to Beijing immediately. In the days that followed, an additional 18 caregivers were deployed. Regular briefings are conducted to update the families on current progress. During these briefings, the team also takes questions from the families to clear any doubt that they may have.
Thursday, March 13, 12:45 AM MYT - 16th Media Statement
Malaysia Airlines clarifies the claims that some families of the passengers were flown to India instead of Malaysia. Not true. MA flies directly from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur without a transit. There are also no Malaysia Airlines' direct flights from Hong Kong to Mumbai or any part of India.

Thursday, March 13, 11:10 AM MYT - 17th Media Statement

As a mark of respect to the passengers and crew of MH370 on 8 March 2014, the MH370 and MH371 flight codes retired from the Malaysia Airlines’ Kuala Lumpur- Beijing-Kuala Lumpur route. With effect from 14 March 2014, the new flight number to replace MH370 and MH371 will be:-

MH 318 – Kuala Lumpur - Beijing
MH 319 – Beijing - Kuala Lumpur

No changes to the frequency of the services. The company operates its daily services to Beijing.

Friday, March 14, 12:13 PM MYT - 18th Media Statement

Malaysia Airlines answers the “on-going media speculations”. Nothing further to add to the information already provided. Malaysia Airlines to continue to provide regular updates to the general public via the media and its website on all matters affecting MH370.

Saturday, March 15, 05:45 PM MYT - 19th Media Statement

MA confirms that MH370 ‘may have’ remained airborne for several hours after contact lost. Information gleaned from satellite signals alone used to identify the location of the missing commercial airliner. “This naturally took some time, during which we were unable to publicly confirm their existence,” MA stated. “We were well aware of the ongoing media speculation during this period, and its effect on the families of those on board. Their anguish and distress increases with each passing day, with each fresh rumour, and with each false or misleading media report. Our absolute priority at all times has been to support the authorities leading the multinational search for MH370, so that we can finally provide the answers which the families and the wider community are waiting for.”






Monday, February 24, 2014

Little White Lie

THE car parking space at Intu Bromley shopping precinct was tight. As I pulled in the passenger side mirror to leave enough room for the other driver to exit, I scuffed the left front tyre of my car on the post base which protruded out. A silly design actually.

To exit I had to shuffle across to the passenger seat as the other car was too far over. But I made sure that the Hackney cab, which was not black due to the ad emblazoned across it, had enough room via its passenger side door.

My twelve-year-old daughter had an iPad and one of the speakers had been playing up for months. At the Apple Store the staff were incredible. A diagnostics confirmed that the speaker was faulty and not up to its high standards. Rather than send the iPad off to be repaired, which was my daughter's fear, Apple changed it for a brand new one.

We were delighted!

We stopped off at KFC for a snack, popped into HMV for a movie - Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, and Waterstones for a book.

The driver must have returned to green cab. The space alongside mine was now free.

I initially took it for a parking ticket. Jammed under the windscreen wiper was some notepaper, hastily ripped off from a pad. It had uppercase blue-ink handwriting. Six words. One began with a single letter: "U".

'What's it say?' my daughter asked.

'Nothing. It's just a piece of paper blown on to the the car!'
A little white lie.

Perhaps I answered too harshly. Perhaps too evasive. Perhaps she saw a shocked or bemused expression on my tanned face.

She tried to snatch the note.

I snapped at her: 'Leave the bloody thing!'
I decided long ago that I would protect her. They were just words anyway. Quite familiar words though.

Why then the need to hide them from my child, why the little white lie?

I crumpled up the notepaper, placed it in my pocket, surveyed the parking area.

No one in sight.

My mind flashed back to when I was my daughter's age. 'Half caste!' 'Half... breed!' 'Nigger!'
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names...? Names did hurt. Is that what the persons who wrote those words meant to do? Or was it coincidence?

As I exited Intu Bromley, I wondered if the CCTV cameras might reveal the identity of the person who placed the note (pictured below) on my windscreen.

What do you mean, I would like to ask.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Climate change?: history reveals the answer

It was reported in February 1945, that it was the wettest February since 1936. [Evening Telegraph - Saturday 17 March 1945.] In 1936 it was the wettest March ‘for 35 years’ in Scotland. [Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 31 March 1936.] Whilst records taken at the Meteorological Office at Kew recorded the wettest February since 1900. [Aberdeen Journal - Friday 02 March 1923.] The weather report for February 1900 recorded that it was 'the wettest in 25 years'. [Worcestershire Chronicle - Saturday 10 March 1900.]

Know where this is headed? If not read on...

In Bristol in 1876, William Denning recorded the wettest February - 2.874 inches of rain ‘in excess of the average‘ fell. [Birmingham Daily Post - Saturday 04 March 1876.]It comes as no surprise therefore, that, at Chelmsford in 1848 it was the wettest February for 20 years. [Chelmsford Chronicle - Friday 24 March 1848.] Not surprisingly, it was also the wettest in 20 years Manchester too. [Which may suggest that it was also wet in 1828 too.] In July 1819 it was remarked that July was the wettest month ‘upon average’. Usually it was December. Whilst in present-day England, the wettest months are seemingly followed by the longest droughts.

The effects of climate change it seems have always been with us.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

47 Ronin: Slow-motion success?

For some movie investors in the past the theatrical box office was the primary place to gain a healthy dollar's return on an investment. But does it really matter that Keanu Reeves’ new film 47 RONIN failed to put bums on seats in its opening weekend? TheBigRetort says: No. Because it's all about loyalty... and patience

A theatrical release is no longer the primary source of income for a new movie - the additional returns from which lasts for decades not weekends.

The opening weekend results are the predictors on which the ‘book value’ of the asset is judged. The returns to the original (primary) investors over a future finite period are predicted from this.

But the release weekend of a movie alone does not indicate its eventual losses - or gains, surely? - just the cash flow back into risky investor pockets in a small time frame.

For every dollar returned they apparently need to see 25% - plus! Which, let’s face it, is not a bad rate of return for anyone‘s dime.

The problem is when these risky investors place their bets in the tens of millions a quick rate of return becomes ever-more ’paramount’. For the rest it’s a slow rate of return over decades.

It is on patience then and customer loyalty that 47 Ronin will eventually be judged, and not by the expectation of the quick-return 25% plussers.

So, cheer up Keanu.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


We thought the ad makers at Omega were winding us up when we saw the recent ad for one of its watches in the Times online; which boasted, incorrectly:



Of course we know that Buz Aldrin did wear an Omega on the Moon. But what were the magnetic ‘fileds’ it was defying in 2013?

Erm, no such word seemed to exist in the English language?


We had this weird investigative tick in our heads: ‘fields‘ it said.

We contacted Omega via email to give its marketing department a quick ticking off, after all this was in The Times.

Unfortunately it was Christmas - and with little time on its hands, get it? - Omega didn't have a moment to spare in fielding a 'timely' response.

Enuff with the puns already!

Bet they must be going cuckoo in Switzerland.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Harry Bensley - Man in the Iron Mask: Hoax

Since publishing my findings on Harry Bensley, the Man in the Iron Mask, many people have asked for proof that he did not do what he said he did. Bensley claimed that he had trekked around the world, wearing an iron mask, pushing a pram, and living off the postcards he sold in a daring 'wager' with the banker J P Morgan. But now, the proof... that he didn't. TheBigRetort

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Age-old lunar mystery

 From its earliest history, the moon was thought to be less geologically active than the Earth. But what is that stuff its plumes have been seen venting? TheBigRetort uncovers the pages of a forgotten lunar history:

Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser - Saturday 09 January 1869

LUNAR VOLCANOES. On this subject the Academy of Sciences has received curious communication from Dr Montucci. The facts of the case are these: —At the request of the Bureau des Longitudes, the Messageries Imperiales had established a temporary observatory on Sarah Island, opposite Aden, for the purpose of viewing the eclipse of the 18th of August last.

The sky happened to be rather cloudy on that day, and the observer, M. De Crety, could not properly watch the phenomena until after the totality, when the weather cleared up. By that time one-third of the sun's disc was already uncovered, and M. De Crety then perceived three protuberances, not on the sun's limb, but on the moon's, a thing unheard of until then.

They were in the shape of three triangles with their bases attached to the border of our satellite, which they never quitted.

'I observed,' says M. de Crety, 'three luminous protuberances on the moons limb; they were feebly illuminated, and resembled the tops of mountains receiving light from the solar rays.’

‘Fifteen minutes later, two-thirds of the sun's disc having emerged from the moon, the same appendages were seen more strongly illuminated, and better distinguishable from the lunar disc; their summits had the appearance of metal in a state of fusion.’

‘After another quarter of an hour, the central protuberance diminished in altitude,' &c.

From this description Dr Montucci concludes that these excrescences have been either gaseous or formed of solid matter in a state of great division, as ashes; and, admitting that an optical illusion is here out of the question, the observer having made seven diagrams of the phenomenon, he endeavours to explain the mystery by supposing that at the time of the eclipse there was a chain of volcanoes in a state of activity on the posterior hemisphere of the moon, and close to its border, and that what was seen was simply the smoke or ashes-ejected from the craters.

He shows by calculation that an observer's eye could just skim the crest of a lunar mountain 18,000 feet high (there are much larger ones), situated on the posterior surface at a distance of five degrees from the border, so that the whole jet might be seen, while the crater would be out of sight. This, of course, is an extreme case, but the volcano might be larger or smaller, nearer the border or farther off, without endangering the principle on which his explanation rests.

End report

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Loch Ness Monster: the truth

The Loch Ness Monster has fascinated the public imagination for decades. TheBigRetort uncovers movement in the waters of the loch, and finds not a demon but an altogether more simple explanation rippling beneath the waves of our imagination...

As a boy I was hugely intrigued by tales of a monster that had been sighted in a loch in Scotland. Down the years various attempts at capturing or photographing the ‘monster’ resulted in evidence that was fuzzy, or at best vague. The monster just refused to surface... In fact "Nessie" seemed quite stubborn.
When I was a boy I spoke as a boy and when I became a man I cast aside childish things - questioned everything and everyone and did the research, back and back I went...

In 1755, one of the most terrible earthquakes visited Europe. Curiously way up in the north, Loch Ness was also affected by the event. Did the seas rise, I wondered one night as I tried to sleep.

Over a hundred years ago, before the monster was sighted in the loch, a great earthquake occurred at Lisbon...

Many miles away the waters of Loch Ness were also disturbed by the event. [Aberdeen Journal - Saturday 21 September 1901.]

So the waters at Loch Ness were disturbed by earthquakes far far away; and long before the very first sighting of "The Loch Ness M-o-n-s-t-e-r".

[The Evening Post. - Saturday 21 September 1901] "THE EARTHQUAKE AT INVERNESS. ITS PECULIAR EFFECTS. DAMAGE TO PROPERTY. [Evening Post Special.] The populace of the town and the many visitors the Highland capital who experienced the earthquake shock on Wednesday morning will not be in hurry to forget what they underwent between the hours of one and two of the 18th day of the month the first year of the 20th century. Nor can they be blamed, for the shock was one like unto those in recorded history, fearsome and destructive, which are looked upon by the present generation as only "luxuries" of the past. The disastrous effects of Wednesday's catastrophe will never wholly be known, but such as are known are sufficient to show that it has been the most destructive earthquake ever felt in the Highlands.”

The newspaper report went on to highlight “PECULIAR EFFECTS“.

'An "earth wave" at Inverness had the most peculiar effect on the Canal, causing it to combine with the River Ness, and act as sort tidal wave.’

A terrible eruption had taken place on the bed of Loch Ness... This caused a huge volume of water to sweep northwards across the Loch.

Significantly the report intimates the true origins of the ’sea monster’: The earthquake had emanated from Loch Ness, ‘that loch which has many peculiarities, and which has baffled scientists in their attempt to fathom it.’

So: Loch Ness had long baffled scientists; before it started baffling the common (and superstitious) folk. Curiously, just one year after the creature was itself sighted, a prolonged shock was recorded at the loch in 1934. It lasted 15 minutes. And more shocks were 'felt' beneath the loch, suggesting that it was still active.

And so, it is from this dodgy ground and the resulting choppy waters that the Loch Ness Monster finally surfaced.





Monday, March 04, 2013

Harry Bensley: The Great Iron Mask Hoax

On the 1st January 1908, following a remarkable wager, a man wearing an iron mask set off on an astonishing 30,000 mile journey around the world - then disappeared. TheBigRetort... The Great Iron Mask Hoax

In previous posts I detailed the extraordinary saga of 33-year-old Harry Bensley, who accepted a bet made between an American philanthropist and an English nobleman: to push a pram around the world, with his face encased inside an iron mask, for a purse of $100,000.
Many sighting were recorded of "The Mask” at that time but then... he inexplicably vanished. TheBigRetort: where in the world did The Mask go?
Almost one year after the wager made between Harry Bensley aka The Man in the Iron Mask, a publication known as “ Answers” (December 19th, 1908, pi63) received a response to this same question; it has remained buried until now.

The respondent – who remained anonymous - had a very interesting tale to tell: hence the headline - "The Great Masked Man Hoax”. 

In response to the "Answers" editor about the disappearance of “Iron Mask” (Bensley), the anonymous writer, claimed he was the mask. It had all been a fabrication, Bensley had been due for release from prison and without any trade to his name he was worried about the future. However, on returning to his cell several library books and magazines had been delivered. One caught his attention: “The Mystery of the Iron Mask.”

Popularised by a number of writers down the ages – the original Man in the Iron Mask (it was actually made out of 'black velvet') followed a narrative that was woven out of a factual account of a prisoner in France.

Undergoing a fretful night in the confines of the prison, it was an iron mask that this supposed "anonymous" writer saw emerging from the shadows of a prison cell. It was all the inspiration Harry Bensley's fraudster and criminal needed. Harry wrote: "That night my thoughts kept reverting to the 'Man in the Iron Mask, ‘til, in idle fancy, I began to draw mental pictures of myself passing through life with an iron mask over my face." 

The hoax was born. Four years previous, Harry Bensley had been sentenced at the Old Bailey in London for a series of bogus claims and deceptions. Also known under the alias “Harry Barker”, the 29-year-old labourer had been collared in South Africa by Scotland Yard. He was  convicted of bigamy under the name “Henry Burrell” and had a number of illicit aliases. 

It was Harry Bensley who became the man in the iron mask.... and the writer of the response to the “Answers” publication.

He went on to explain... How I "Faked" the Wager
His two callings being fraud and deception, Harry Bensley, due for release from his prison cell, began to evolve a scheme of 'considerable profit' – and a mask was its 'chief feature'.
Harry spent the remaining prison term perfecting his plans. Writing the details 'over and over again' on a prison 'slate'; the terms of the wager; the conditions imposed; two wealthy philanthropists - one of whom he had never actually met, the American banker John Pierpont Morgan, and the other a not totally fabricated English 'nobleman' - were prison cell 'creations'. 

Released in November 1907, with a gratuity of 30 shillings - his 'sole worldly possession' - Harry set about commencing his fraud on the nation. It was a fraud that would last a century. Until he was unmasked here that is.

Harry purchased a large map of the British Isles 'and other trifles'.

At Clarkson's, a well-known costumiers. Harry inspected several masks of various origins. The one he wanted, a knight's helmet, was priced at more than he could afford and so he left it 'for the time'. Just hours out of prison, taking the train out to the country where his 'wife' was living, he made known the terms of the 'wager'. Gossip 'soon bruited'. One neighbour agreed to provide the perambulator - 'for a future consideration' - and so became an unwitting accomplice in the century-long deception.

He would not be alone...
Harry did not name the 'nobleman' who assisted in creating the hoax. He was apparently,  "German - a man of superior education, and evidently of some social standing," and they had done time together. It was to this ex con that Harry confided the truth. "To my surprise he offered to finance me, adding also his willingness to help me in any other way besides."
Unfortunately the German wanted a 'backhander' from time to time. 'A heavy tax on my takings' Harry later wrote. 

Nevertheless, Harry finally went home with the twenty-five-shilling iron mask and a moderate supply of pamphlets and postcards advertising 'the wager'.

The mask and pram were also inscribed with the details. Harry was pictured standing boldly wearing the iron mask with the pram and his young aide alongside. The latter an additional expense for which Harry had a ruse, a dodge ‘as ancient as Adam'.

By way of security Harry Bensley set about deceiving gullible young men who would assist in the Wager. These unsuspecting 'teenagers' - for a £5 fee - were offered a third of the eventual prize money: if they completed the terms of the Wager. Since Harry never intended completing such a trek, there would be no obligation to pay. On the other hand if this boy left Harry's service within six months of engagement, he would forfeit the fiver. A win-win for Harry.
Old Iron Mask also had to get married 'on the road somewhere' – without removing the mask. This did not stop Harry. "I already had a wife," he admitted. Harry had in fact been married in 1898. A bigamous marriage folowed that would see him sent to prison. It was this 'new wife' that done for Harry and it was she who secretly joined him at safe houses along the route of the wager.
The walking wager begins
It was the morning of the Wager. In London it was 'very foggy'. Harry had driven to the station in a taxi with his 'minder'. They had boarded the Charing Cross train without any attention. However, it was the decorated perambulator that attracted an 'eagle-eyed' stationmaster who asked the man in the iron mask if he had a ticket for it. Finally, it was only when the 'Mask' was halfway across the platform that Harry found himself in the midst of an excited mob.

"For a moment I felt horribly nervous.” However, instead of making a dash aboard his connecting train, Harry started selling his newly-minted postcards: "for all I was worth.” (The postcards listing the fictitious wager can still be found in second-hand shops or on Ebay.) Newspapers later reported that at approximately 10am a train which was carrying a man wearing an iron mask pulled into Charing Cross Station.  A representative from the Daily Mirror photographed the man in the iron mask and his young minder. The walk 'through the world' had commenced.
Flanked by enormous cheering crowds - Londoners literally threw money at masked Harry.  Down the Strand, on to Cheapside, over London Bridge, on towards Woolwich... by the time they stopped it was 9.30pm. Exhausted, they had not eaten since breakfast. They were very hungry.  Later, the Man in the Iron Mask, an ex-con, made an untimely appearance at Dartford Court. He stood charged with peddling postcards without a license. But when his lawyer explained the conditions of the bet - following hearty deliberations - the chairman of the court allowed the defendant, who then offered the alias “Henry Mason”, to remain masked. This was a first in British criminal law. Had the chairman ordered its removal the legend of the masked wager would have died at Dartford. Instead - “We are not anxious to know the (his real) name,” said the court chairman. 

The end is nigh

It had been ten long months since Harry Bensley commenced the iron mask deception. And yet, he had still not left English shores. Of course people were starting to ask questions as they could not remain gullible for so long, could they? In turth, if ever there was one for a man like Bensley, Harry was tired of being welcomed by lord mayors and a gullible admiring public.  A pram full of postcards. A punishing daily routine. A heavy metal helmet.  The fabricated wager  had now become Harry's Pentonville.

The deception was closing like a metal vice around Harrys head - literally. Mobbed by crowds. In the sometimes excessive heat or cold of England. Having to sit through boring speech after boring speech by whatever dignitary was throwing dinner. Harrycould not eat or drink himself due to the helmet. The fictitious wager, sown out of a prison cell, had turned into a heavy burden for its creator and the iron mask had become the cross that Harry the deceiver bore for this his greatest swindle. Finally, after covering a distance of what he claimed was some 2,400 miles, the prisoner in the iron mask threw 'up' the sponge. "My eyes ached, and I suffered with racking pains in my head," Harry opined. It was at Wolverhampton that Iron Mask was finally no more and disappears from newspaper accounts about this time.  

Weeks later, Harry wrote in to the publication "Answers” (remaining anonymous of course): "In conclusion, I can assert without fear of contradiction that I have paid my way, and supported myself, my wife, and my assistant, and the horses and attendants I employed, entirely from the sale of my cards and pamphlets, and I have received nothing in the shape of charity from the first day of my itinerary."

Nothing but deception. Harry Bensley never did make it around the world. He had never intended to leave these shores; not really. Neither was he ever arrested for this his greatest deception.  Could this be why the Great Masked Man Hoax remains unknown - even today? Or is there something else at play in the human psyche that causes fraudsters like Harry to seize upon it?

In the words of one writer, who was referring to the original famous prisoner in the black velvet mask: “If there is found in the history of a people a single point which is not quite clear, Dame Legend immediately takes a hand and furnishes an unending supply of material, from which coming generations manufacture romances which in most cases outlive and conquer the true stories. And there is probably no other case within the last thousand years which proves this adage as well as that of the 'Man in the Iron Mask'.”

Perhaps myths and legends are best left unchallenged.

Harry Bensley died in 1956. His postcards still bare witness to the faded memory of a con in rust-covered iron. And it is on this which the legend of the Mask sits.
[Copyright (c) TheBigRetort 2013. Please use (in part) with accreditation. For further see Answers to Correspondents on Every Subject under the sun. Title later shortened to “Answers”. The Great Masked Man Hoax, December 19th, 1908, pi63. British Library Reading Rooms.]

[Since writing about the above we have made some interesting contacts. Jim Westergard. Jim, a Canadian, has a quite unique series of drawings and wood engravings; one which features ‘Iron Mask’ (reproduced above, and with his kind permission) and other fascinating characters. Andrew Grumbridge for a song dedication. We are also grateful to the curiously titled “Dark Roasted Blend (Weird & Wonderful Things)” for its constant stream of visitors.  DRB was created by Avi Abrams, also a Canadian, in 2005, and boasts around 1 million visitors per month.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Billy Ray Harris: Homeless Candidate Urges, 'Go Green' for jobs

When homeless and jobless Billy Ray Harris recently returned a diamond engagement ring to its owner little did America realise here sat a wise old sage. TheBigRetort into a small part of his wisdom...

Over the Pond honesty has proven to be the best policy when Billy Ray Harris, living on the streets of Kansas City, begging bowl in hand, became the lucky new owner of a very expensive diamond ring; accidentally dropped by distraught real owner Sarah Darling.
Realising the mistake, jobless "Billy Ray" waited for her return.

He later reunited Sarah with her extremely expensive engagement ring.

As a result, Sarah and hubby-to-be set up a Facebook page for donations towards helping Billy Ray - and which has skyrocketed to over 100,000 dollars..
Back in 2010 however, "Billy Ray", living on the streets, gave an interview - here - stating to America: ‘Going green is a good idea’. It would - Billy Ray believed - 'create jobs'.
Fortunately Billy Ray now has enough money to get off the streets of Kansas City and follow that sparkling road back to work.
Proving that diamonds, unlike  jobs, are truly... forever



Monday, February 11, 2013

Sir Steve Bullock , Lewisham A&E, and the Interims: Mayor finds legal funds

Sir Steve Brokebloke


At a point when the public purse is being squeezed ever-tighter, Lewisham Council’s Mayor sends out an urgent appeal: But could Sir Steve look any closer for the cash than his interims? TheBigRetort

Recently an appeal was dispatched to Lewisham residents from none other than Sir SteveBullock himself; to save the local hospital's A&E.
Since nicknamed by us “Sir Steve Brokebloke,” the Mayor of Lewisham claimed that the government and trust administrators did not have the power to downgrade the hospital following failings by its Trust elsewhere.
Apparently we ‘the people’ stand a good chance of winning a legal challenge to the (unlawful) decision so brutally carried out against Lewisham's A&E, and Sir Steve hopes to 'enable' us by making contributions to his Legal Challenge Fund.
But what if Mayor Bullock need look no further than his own council for the dosh? 
First though, the Wiki definition for interim is... 'a temp'...  Curious then is it not that that in October 2005, the former Director for Regeneration at Lewisham was replaced by one Malcolm Smith, then in a similar role at Newham Council. At that time it was stated that (Smith), 'will replace (the former executive) on an interim basis before a permanent appointment is made'. [Emphasis added.]
Yet it was  not until the following year, in 2006, sitting in secret session - without press or public oversight - that a panel of councillors and the Mayor himself decided, (i) that "no appointment be" made for a "full time" Executive Director for Regeneration; and (ii), that Smith, in receipt of a pension and redundancy package from Newham Council, and also employed at Portsmouth, be contracted. 
Lewisham then paid to a firm styled “Interea Consulting Limited” in respect of these services £240,000 - in 2010/11 alone.
The previous year £204,000 was paid out.
In 2008/09, £233,000 was coughed up; 2007/08, £189,000 landed at Mr Smith's feet; and 2006/07, £183,000 was 'doled' out. (Sans VAT and expenses of course.)  
The payments are by no means comprehensive; or for full time employment.

In just one month (March 2011) Interea Consulting Limited billed to Lewisham Council almost £44,000 in respect of Mr Smith’s services..? (VAT and expenses not included.)

Mr Smith did not work in a full time capacity for these payments, as stated above...

From his 2005 appointment, to the termination of his contract in October 2011, an 'interim' (see Wiki) he was actually also a director of Interea Consulting Limited - 50% of the shares of which were owned by his wife; described as a 'librarian' on Companies House files. 
We wrote to the Mayor about this cosy arrangement; in order that we could establish if Lewisham received best value for what is essentially taxayers' money.

The Mayor's response though was curious, and not what we expected at all...
Usually open and helpful in all matters Lewisham, 'Steve' did not feel able to assist - 'on this occasion'. 
Neither could the Mayor 'discuss publicly' what was said about individual candidates ‘whether appointed or not' to the post of Executive for Regeneration.
Individual candidates..? There was only one candidate: Malcolm John Smith.
Curiously too, despite evidence to the contrary, the Mayor also claimed that he was 'not present' when the decision was taken not to employ a full time executive for the role in regeneration.
MINUTES of the meeting of the APPOINTMENTS COMMITTEE... MONDAY, 17 JULY 2006 at 9.15 a.m.
Councillor Morris (Chair); Councillor Michel (Vice-Chair); Councillors Alexander, Klier, Peake and the Mayor (Steve Bullock) [Emphasis added.]
APPOINTMENT OF EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR REGENERATION (Resolved: that no appointment be made.) [Emphasis added.]
The above decision by the Mayor and councillors added to the bills Lewisham would later receive in respect of this 'interim' position.
Given that Mr Smith by then appeared to be in the employ of the council, since 2005, the former Exec for Regeneration having moved on, the meeting to decide the role would also seem to be somewhat late in the day too.
Later minutes also record:
MINUTES of the meeting of the APPOINTMENTS COMMITTEE...WEDNESDAY 23 JULY 2008 at 1.30PM.
Councillor Morris (Chair); Councillors Alexander, Klier, and Russell.
Apologies for absence were received from the Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, and Councillor Michel. [Emphasis added.]
Also Present Councillor Best
Exclusion of the Press and Public
RESOLVED That under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following items of business on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information...
The following is a summary of the items considered in the closed part of the meeting: Appointment to the Role of Executive Director for Regeneration. [Emphasis added.]
Prior to arriving at the decisions shown above and following 'the Committee were briefed on the circumstances leading to the previous offers of, firstly, a three month contract and then a two year fixed term contract.' 


"The Committee reviewed the operation of the contract over the last two years and carefully considered the options at their disposal concerning appointment to the post on a fixed term or permanent basis. The Committee asked for any increases in contract value to be kept in line with JNC awards.

"Having received the written views of the Vice-Chair and advice from the Head of Personnel & Development, the Committee concluded a renewal of the contract for a further two year period was in the best interests of the Council, but that this decision was taken on the basis of the circumstances of the case and was not a precedent to be used for other positions and gave no guarantee as to any future renewal.  [Emphasis added.]

"The above was resolved and the panel made the following recommendation:
That the contract of Malcolm Smith as Executive Director for Regeneration be renewed for a fixed term period of two years starting 1 October 2008 and that the Head of Personnel & Development negotiate the terms of the contract in line with the proposals contained in the report." 
Ignoring the fact that the above does not mention Interea Consulting Limited - anywhere -  and that the contract was to cease in October 2010 (why then was Mr Smith employed until October 2011?), the Mayor also informed us that no papers were retained by members of the panel monitoring the (secretive) selection process above: But why? 
And what were the 'written views' of the Vice Chair (Councillor Michel)?  

What too was the big secret requiring a closed session? Perhaps it was the vehicle by which the interim was to be paid... Interea. Perhaps?
Unfortunately we shall never know. 
To be fair to the Mayor, though rather forgetful, even though his shoulder has been touched by The Sword he is usually quite an open and amiable bloke - which is why he has this publication amongst his fan base - but this does not look at all transparent.
The minutes do record the Mayor’s presence; a presence that set the interim gravy train in motion; for a role that redefines the usual definition of 'temp'; and a role that ceased in October 2011 - after our probing - and a year after it was supposed to cease; following a secretive meeting which 'gave no guarantee as to any future renewal'...?
What is going on at Lewisham Council one may well ask.
Malcolm Smith it should be said has done nothing wrong; other than line his pockets from an available public purse, he was simply being paid huge sums for his remarkable efforts; and for which he was rewarded... handsomely. But an expertise that apparently saw no other challengers... in the whole of the United Kingdom? Why he is too described both as an ‘Interim’ and a 'local government officer’ may have staff at the Inland revenue scratching heads. 
But that aside… back to our proposal. The former interim’ Exec for Regen used to live in the borough of Lewisham. Should he or his family have needed it he would have had full use of Lewisham‘s A&E.  May TheBigRetort respectfully suggest therefore that Mayor Bullock forward his appeal letter to Dorset - where Mr Smith now resides. One never knows, a little contribution may be forthcoming.
Malcolm Smith, to give him his due, has been open about his directorship. However, the “interims” remaining at Lewisham, somewhat less prone to stepping out of the shadows, do not publish their associate directorships publicly: making a probe - shall we say - taxing? 

Such individuals negotiating contracts in the dark should be 'publicly outed'. 
The Mayor's attendance at the meeting to decide the future role itself is too worthy of further scrutiny. 

Meetings overseen by the Mayor and members of the various panels offering lucrative financial packages should take place - in public.
If payments to 'tax vehicles' owned by such fortunate individuals are available in Lewisham accounts and expenditure - why then the need for secret closed sessions to decide their merits?
The interim/consultant gravy train may yet get such "passengers” to make a contribution towards the Mayor’s Challenge - and help save Lewisham Hospital's A&E.
Failing that, readers should write to Sir Steve Brokebloke and demand that he halts such cosy contracts - and the secrecy surrounding them - so that he does not have to go cap-in-hand to a squeezed and increasingly vexed public.
Write to Mayor Bullock.

Enable Sir Steve.

Now, there's a challenge.