Friday, 27 July 2012

You Can Bank On Dave!

'You can't open a Bank!' they told him and that was probably the most important single factor in ensuring that Dave Fishwick did just that. You see, never tell this man he can't do something because he will fight with every last breath to prove you wrong and he'll do it in spectacular style.

In a week when the NatWest and the Nationwide have managed to create yet more grief and mayhem for their customers, I thought I'd turn my attention to a larger than life personality who decided to take on the cosy cartel of the big banks and their obscenely self-serving bonus culture.
41 year old Dave Fishwick hails from Burnley in Lancashire - a former mill town - whose inhabitants, in common with so many in the UK, have been hit by recession and the banking crisis. Dave is a self-made millionnaire who left school with 3 CSEs and big dreams. Through hard work, Northern grit and sheer ballsiness, he started with nothing and created a business that is now the UK's largest supplier of new and used minibuses and minicoaches. He is passionately committed to high standards of customer service and he could see that no such standards were reflected in the banking system. In fact, their outright refusal to invest in small and medium sized enterprises was (and is) stunting economic growth and even starting to affect his own business.

His concept was to establish a tiny independent bank, lending money to small local businesses that were being refused by the High Street banks and paying 5% interest to people who saved with him. There would be no fat cats. No bonuses. Just straightforward, simple, old fashioned banking.

Everywhere he turned, they told him he couldn't do it. He couldn't call himself a bank because he didn't meet the criteria, so he couldn't have a license. The Financial Services Authority refused to even meet with him. So Dave set out to prove them all wrong - and succeeded.
He lobbied MPs, got his solicitors and accountants working on finding ways around the red tape. When they told him he couldn't call himself a Bank (as in 'Bank of Dave'), he called himself officially Burnley Savings and Loan - but the signage screamed 'Bank On Dave'. Do I see any vertically raised digits there?

Dave has written a book and Channel 4 recently aired a two part documentary about him which makes fascinating viewing. You can see from this that his forceful personality significantly helped his cause and this, combined with his determination and refusal to take 'no' for an answer, meant he was earning himself a lot of publicity. 

Eventually certain politicians decided they had better listen to him as his entrepreneurial spirit was supposed to be something they espoused. Cue Vince Cable, Ken Clarke and others.
To cut a long story short, Dave managed to find a perfectly legal, if slightly uncoventional, method of achieving his objectives. Now hundreds of Burnley people are banking on Dave and small local businesses he has invested in are thriving. Not that he throws money away. Dave carefully vets each applicant, but it is his personal involvement which makes all the difference.

 One of his customers, Garlands, a florist, had had their loan application turned down by one of the fat cat banks even though the business was in profit and the owner, Rachel McClure, had a good credit record. She needed just £7500 to revamp the shop front. Dave looked carefully at the business, saw her as a good risk and lent her the money. Her business has now increased and she has never missed a repayment. 

In fact, 98% of his customers pay on time, equalling the best the major banks can boast. Rachel's High Street Bank meanwhile have informed her that any future enquiries about loans should be directed to their Head Office. Presumably they don't intend to send their Manager to talk to her personally. Their Head Office is in Glasgow.
Dave's mission continues. He wants to see his unique model of 'peer-to-peer lending' rolled out in every town and city in the country. He has proved it can be done and he will continue to lobby politicians and be a constant thorn in the side of anyone who stands in his way. He intends to take his 'Battle Bus' to Strasbourg to the heart of the European parliament and he won't give up until they listen to him and take action. He has proved there is ' another way' - an alternative to the big, greedy banks - and I, for one, wish him well.

For a limited time, you can watch Channel 4's 'Bank of Dave' here: Bank of Dave
 and here's the link to Burnley Savings and Loans

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Golden Fleece - York's Most Haunted Pub?

Many would certainly say so.Indeed I have taken some photographs there myself and one of them (shown here) contained a rather interesting phenomenon known as an orb. Have a look at the white sphere on the right hand side of the photo.
No, it's not a reflection, a fault on the camera, a mark on the lens, a little Photoshop magic or a dab of Tippex. I don't know what it is but it IS curious.

Of course, one little orb is small fry to regulars of The Golden Fleece, who sup with a bony character called Mr Skellington and report phenomena ranging from the odd footstep to full blown manifestations.
Your round - or his?

Immediately you enter, you know it's the sort of place that just has to be haunted. Dating from 1503, it is said to be built on stilts, rather than solid foundations, and there are indeed some strange angles and undulations! The building has remained largely unchanged, except for the removal of an archway from the front.

Lord John Peckett, Mayor of York in 1702, once owned the premises, and his wife, Lady Alice, is said to haunt the building to this day. Another famous ghost is that of a Canadian airman, Geoff Monroe, who died while staying in Room 4 of the Inn in 1945. People sleeping in that room have since been frightened by his icy fingers waking them and terrified to see him standing there dressed in full uniform. The poor man threw himself - or maybe fell - from the window.

In 2002, a group on a ghost tour were scared by the appearance of a man, dressed in 17th century clothes, who walked through a wall, across a corridor and towards the Shambles Bar. What terrified them most was that he paused and stared straight at them before resuming his phantom walk.

One of their number was a sceptic.

He isn't any longer. 

In 2005, the Most Haunted team led by Yvette Fielding, staged an all night vigil. As you'll see here, they did not have a peaceful night.Most Haunted, Golden Fleece 

The Golden Fleece is a must-visit for all fans of the paranormal and, as you'll see on their website, they're not shy when it comes to introducing you to their spirits of a different kind...

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Cult of the Cat

Those of  you who are cat fanatics (like me) will already know that, in ancient Egypt, cats were worshipped. Not that they have ever allowed us to forget it. So, today, I thought I'd explore this whole cult of the cat in a little more depth.

It all seems to have started during the Egyptian New Kingdom (1540-1070 BC) when their status was elevated from that of useful, and rather charming, hunter's assistant, to a religious cult. This was, however, only the start.

The great cat goddess Bast (aka Bastis or Pasht) had, by the time of Shoshenq I (945-924 BC approx.) officially achieved mainstream religious status and it was this Pharaoh who established the town of Bubastis (near Cairo) as a centre of worship for followers of this rather charming deity.

An enormous red granite temple complex attracted pilgrims in their thousands who feasted, wined and danced in her honour. What a cat!
Ruins of Bubastis
The domestic cat in Egypt didn't fare too badly either. They were treated with as much reverence and consideration as any member of the family. If they could afford it, people would adorn their cats with golden and jewelled collars, and when one died, they were mummified and buried with due ceremony and a supply of dead mice to feed them on their journey into the afterlife. Their owners would shave their own eyebrows as a mark of respect and enter a period of mourning. A massive cat  graveyard existed at Bubastis (some 720 cu. feet) but excavations are still revealing evidence of more in other parts of Egypt.

Cat worship continued long after the Pharaohs and as late as 200BC, there is still evidence that Bast was being worshipped.

So why did Egyptians elevate the cat to such ranks of devotion? The foundations of their road to divinity were laid many centuries before they took their lofty, elevated place.
They were seen as good mothers and their prowess as hunters, ability to keep mice away from crops and even their willingness to attack snakes secured them their positions as helpmates. Without their intervention and good housekeeping, rodents could easily have destroyed the crops and left the people to starve, so they were seen as protectors of the household. From there, it was just one step up to full religious status, initially as companion to Isis, wife of the great god Osiris (lord of the underworld). Bast, as daughter of the sun god Ra, protected homes, pregrnant women and families but the fun loving, hedonistic side of the cat's nature also secured her a place as goddess of pleasure, music, dance and plenty.

In the many centuries since those heady days, cats have enjoyed mixed fortunes, until we reach the pet and companion status of today. 

But next time you bend down to stroke your purring tabby, just remember the old saying:

Cats look down on you,
Dogs look up to you,
Pigs is equal

And to this day, female cats are still known as Queens.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Mother Shipton - Yorkshire's Prophesying Witch

Ursula Sontheil, Mother Shipton
 In 1488, some say in a cave near the Petrifying Well, a young girl gave birth to an illegitimate daughter: one who would be called Ursula Sontheil but whom history would remember as Mother Shipton.
Mother Shipton's Cave
Mother Shipton was not exactly Yorkshire's answer to Nostradamus but she developed a reputation for her prophecies which involved not just the local  people around and about Knaresborough in North Yorkshire, where she lived, but also the great and good of her time.

One of the most famous of these was the then Archbishop of York, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who had never actually visited that city and Mother Shipton predicted he never would. In an attempt to dissuade her from repeating these assertions, the somewhat rattled Wolsey sent three lords to Knaresborough to see her. They told her in no uncertain terms that one of Wolsey's first acts on reaching York would be to see her burn for witchcraft. She laughed in their faces. After all, why should she be scared? He would never get there in order to carry out his threat.
The Archbishop was furious and made haste to travel up from London and prove her wrong. But, just ten miles south of the city, he was arrested for treason and Mother Shipton's prophecy was fulfilled.

Many of her other predictions are legendary - and, shall  we say, subject to a certain amount of embellishment and creative interpetation. Did she really predict the advent of ships, submarines, motor transport and airplanes?: 

 In water, iron then shall float
as easy as a wooden boat...
Through towering hills proud men shall ride,
no horse or ass move by his side.
Beneath the water, men shall walk,
shall ride, shall sleep, shall even talk.
And in the air men shall be seen,
In white and black and even green. 

Or telecommunications?:

Around the world men's thoughts will fly,
quick as the twinkling of an eye 

Indeed, if all the interpretations are to be believed, she predicted the French Revolution, the rise of Nazism, Benjamin Disraeli and just about every disaster - man made or otherwise - since the year of her birth. She may have even predicted the European Union (although I don't see any reference to the Euro crisis!)
The Petrifying Well
 Whether true or not, you can today visit the famous Petrifying Well and the cave where she was reputedly born. Click here for details Mother Shipton

The Petrifying Well is said to be unique and, if you take along a teddy bear, leave it there and return five months later, it will have turned to stone. Although, if you can't wait that long you can always buy one in the shop ( 'here's one I prepared earlier'!) 
Mother Shipton's house
You can find her prophecies in detail on this site Mother Shipton's prophecies 
although, somewhat bizarrely, they give her birthplace as Norfolk! 

She may have got some things wrong though - including the date of the end of the world which she allegedly gave as 'eighteen hundred and eighty one', (however,it is entirely possible that the inclusion of any such date was added by someone else,after her death. One of a number of examples of embellishment.)

As that year passed and the world carried on, some versions then amended the date, while others dropped it, although I do have a recollection of it being in the little book of her prophecies given to me when I was about eight or nine. That would have been in the early Sixties and I vaguely remember something about 'nineteen hundred and ninety one', but my memory could be faulty on this.

Mother Shipton was said to have married a man called Toby Shipton at the age of 24 and lived on to be 72 - needless to say this was a date she predicted. Her prophecies and legend live on. Was she really able to see hundreds of years into the future? Or was she just an eccentric, ugly, old poetic witch, mentally a bit flaky, but excellent with herbal cures and potions?

 We will probably never know...

...unless we live to see the fulfillment of her prediction of the future after the apocalyptic end of the world:

... the land that rises from the sea will be dry and clean and soft and free
of mankind’s dirt and therefore be, 
the source of man’s new dynasty. 
And those that live will ever fear 
the dragon’s tail for many year 
but time erases memory 
You think it strange? But it will be!