Monday 29 February 2016

Brexit – is it too late?

Leave or Remain the result's the same

As far as one can tell the EU referendum will be a close run thing, but does the result matter? A landslide victory for either side would have some impact of course, but what about a marginal victory for Leave? Unlikely in my view because we generally chicken out of meaningful political change, but what happens if Leave actually win? Apart from the delightful spectacle of Guardian fans crapping themselves that is.

Presumably there would be a protracted period of negotiation lasting for many years because no bureaucrat is going to miss such a golden opportunity for an orgy of nitpicking. During this slumbrous interlude, UK political fortunes would wax and wane and leaders would come and go. Would we have another referendum on the result of such negotiations? Then another?

It is possible that the UK would never actually leave the EU even after a narrow referendum victory for the Leave lot. Instead, the result may be lost in a maze of negotiations and technicalities none of which deliver genuine independence and none of which are ever pursued with enthusiasm or determination by UK bureaucrats. They are too busy enjoying the orgy. 

To my mind it was more important to deliver a large UKIP vote during last year’s general election. Whatever one thinks of UKIP it was the only option for those who think the UK would be better off outside the EU.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Labour and Conservative voters opted for the devils they knew, so even if we have a narrow victory for Leave it may turn out to be as hollow as everything else seems to be these days. The die was probably cast last year and possibly well before that. Voters just aren’t up for it and neither are the bureaucrats who actually run the show.

Sunday 28 February 2016

MPs' EU referendum stances


From the BBC is an interesting chart showing MPs' declared EU referendum stances. The Labour party appears to have the most extreme stance, but given their leader that may be no great surprise. Not much scope for internal debate is there?

Saturday 27 February 2016

Look at me


Arnold Schwarzenegger and his Bugatti Veyron last year. An absurd car which does about 10 mpg but here is what Arnie wrote on his Facebook page.

There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast.

I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask.

I'm guessing you chose the Door Number Two, with the electric car, right? Door number one is a fatal choice - who would ever want to breathe those fumes?

This is the choice the world is making right now.

It is easy enough to criticise double standards and Arnie has been criticised many times, along with numerous other celebrities who talk the talk but never walk the walk. 

Yet to my mind people such as Arnie know what they are doing. They know their supporters and detractors and they also know how little leakage there will be from one camp to the other when stories such as this inevitably reach the public arena.

It really doesn’t matter to Arnie. He can adopt the environmental mantle but doesn’t have to swap his ludicrous car because his supporters will overlook it and his detractors don’t matter. In their own way his supporters are probably just as dishonest as he is but Arnie has the money to add a touch more chutzpah.

By the way, to my eye that car looks like a little boy’s idea of the ideal sports car, not an adult’s. 

Thursday 25 February 2016

Drawing profit from circumstances


Indifferent and passionate, he gave himself rein and drew back constantly, impelled by conflicting instincts, yielding to all, and then obeying, in the end, his own shrewd man-about-town judgment, whose weather-vane logic consisted in following the wind and drawing profit from circumstances without taking the trouble to originate them.

Guy de Maupassant - Yvette (1884)

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Dodgy drivers

Tootling down the M1 and just in front of me a car is joining the motorway from a slip road. The driver appears to be dithering and isn’t matching her speed to the motorway traffic. Not sure what she’ll do so I’m not unduly surprised when she suddenly flips on her indicators and darts onto the motorway, apparently just hoping for the best.

It wasn’t a problem. I’d seen her, expected something erratic and although I had to brake there was no great danger. It seems to be common this. Poor drivers effectively hand over the job of avoiding an accident to other road users.

Round here cyclists do it all the time. They don’t so much take their life in their hands as put it in yours. I’d rather they didn’t because I know where the blame will fall in the event of an accident.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Difficult people

While driving back from a walk Mrs H and I began chatting about difficult people and how many we have encountered over the years. I don't know why - the subject just popped up as they do.

We were not discussing impossible people, but merely difficult people who in a social sense seem to take more than they give. People who tend to be somewhat oafish or unreliable, too needy or too prickly or liable to blow up over trivial difficulties.

What surprised us was the number of such people we had come across. Not so much people close to us or people we had to deal with in our own lives, but people we knew of who made life more difficult than it should be for those around them.

In our experience it is fairly rare for such people to be confronted with the difficulties they cause and even rarer for them to do something about it. Perhaps the problem has its roots in tolerance because tolerant people rarely embark on a contest they probably cannot win.

Maybe excessive tolerance is not necessarily a virtue. It is too easily exploited and the results of exploitation can be worse than a timely confrontation. Confrontation isn’t that easy though. Difficult people know how to be difficult and how to make other people seem difficult. Perhaps we need them for some reason, such as honing our social skills. Or perhaps we don't.

Sunday 21 February 2016

A new mode of ignorance

Why is it that when you twist things out of their natural order, when you become a little sophisticated and want more than you ever did before, the risk is relatively greater? So easy to become rotten. A tree never gets that way because it is a tree.
Sherwood Anderson – Dark Laughter (1925)

As age pulls back the social veils it becomes ever more difficult to admire - what? More difficult to admire anything.

I can’t tell if it is the internet or age-induced cynicism but I think much of it is the internet shining its pitiless light on people in the public arena who simply should not be there. People with nothing to offer but their vanity and a grim determination to claw their way up what is now a forest of greasy poles.

Ignorant pundits, political apologists, talentless celebrities, venal politicians, professional liars, grievance mongers, deranged activists, serial exaggerators, insane feminists, male feminists, social justice warriors, eco warriors, gender pundits, race baiters, celebrity celebrities, religious maniacs, atheist maniacs, sports pundits, poverty pundits, fashion gurus, doom mongers, economic fantasists, junk scientists, junk artists, pseuds of every description, bent councillors, sinecure seekers, dodgy charities, fake radicals and all the unlovely crew we would be far, far better off without.

So little to admire, so much to scorn. Was it always like this or has the digital revolution exposed just how bad it is?

Two trends seem to be emerging. Firstly the obvious one – the public arena is far bigger than it was only a few decades ago. More TV channels, more video on demand, more digital voices and many more ways to get a narrative across. As a result the public arena is more diverse with lower barriers to entry. Anyone may hit the right note and propel themselves into the digital arena, especially with professional assistance.

The second trend is paradoxical but it may be real and it is this. In an important sense people are becoming better informed and at the same time more ignorant. The public arena has become so vast and clamorous that many people seem to miss what might once have been called the narrow path of virtue. It may have been narrow but it imposed a kind of sanity we no longer have.

This second trend makes for a peculiar world where people are at the same time both less and more naive than their forebears. They are both less conservative and more conservative as they become less aware of what is worth conserving but more susceptible to wildly exaggerated risks spewed at them from the digital arena.

The digital revolution asks more of us. More time, more effort spent checking sources, a more circumspect and sceptical attitude to information and authorities. Unfortunately many of us do not do the spadework, including many members of the elite. Perhaps most of them.

The net result feels like an explosion of ignorance. Not the ignorance of the past where people were simply uninformed, but a new mode of ignorance where we fail to be adequately sceptical and selective as a brave new world busily wires up our minds.

Saturday 20 February 2016

Daddy Pig returns

"Hooray," says Daddy Pig, "they have promised not to turn us into sausages."

Friday 19 February 2016

Daddy Pig


Peppa Pig is one of Granddaughter’s favourite animations. Peppa’s family are Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig, little brother George and Peppa herself. I’m not an avid viewer, but for me the most noticeable aspect is that poor Daddy Pig is a buffoon. Kind, jolly and quick to laugh at himself, but essentially a buffoon. Mummy Pig is never a buffoon.

One assumes these things are harmless enough but I also wonder if Peppa's little fans notice, if it adjusts their view of their own fathers. Everything they see must adjust their view of something.

Just to muddy the waters, Daddy Pig is an architect as well as a buffoon, so draw your own conclusions.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Derbyshire words?

Derbyshire Times has this list of nine words allegedly not understood beyond Derbyshire. The comments suggest otherwise and as far as I know the comments are right. What is it with journalists and made up lists?

1. Duck: Greeting as in ‘ey up m’duck’.

2. Ay up: Greeting as in above.

3, ‘Int’ it’: Isn’t it’

4. Lug: A knot in your hair.

5. Cob: A round bread roll.

6. Jitty: An alleyway.

7. Me’sen: Myself.

8. Ta: Thank you.

9. Mardy: Sulking.

Wednesday 17 February 2016

A nice glass of water

Yesterday we were chatting with a chap who manufactures small caravans. For some reason we wandered onto the subject of regulations, perhaps because he has experienced a mounting pile of regulatory paperwork over the past few years. You know - that red tape the Tories are so keen to release us from. 

Risk assessments are a particular annoyance in his caravan building world. Not only the pettiness and general uselessness of them, but the assiduous jobsworths who administer the system, collect the paperwork, file it and make a huge issue of the tiniest omission.

The trouble is, when jobsworths look at risk assessment they are tempted to invent risks to keep their particular show on the road. Even the most unimaginative of their species find it easy enough to do this because obviously there are no limits to potential risks conjured up by the fertility of human imagination.

I was reminded of all this silliness during the evening meal Mrs H and I enjoyed later that same day. There we were seated at our restaurant table with a little candle casting a friendly glow and for some reason I carried out an imaginary risk assessment.

Suppose I were to treat myself to a brandy. I take a large mouthful and suddenly sneeze a fine spray of brandy just above that candle. Now imagine a chap seated opposite me with a huge bushy beard. That spray of sneezed brandy catches fire from the candle, ignites the chap’s beard and there we have it. A trip to the local hospital burns unit at the very least.

All because of the candle and the brandy. So to control the risk we eliminate spirits and candles from the restaurant. But hang on – alcohol carries its own risks quite apart from the threat of inadvertent ignition.

To control that risk we replace all alcoholic drinks in the restaurant with fruit juice. But hang on – fruit juice contains fruit sugars which may be bad for the teeth as well as being evil carbohydrates.

To control that risk we replace all the fruit juice drinks in the restaurant with a nice glass of water. But hang on – glass has obvious hazards because it is so easily broken and diners might not realise how dangerous broken glass can be.

To control that risk we replace the nice glasses of water with not so nice but much safer plastic beakers of water.

There – job done.

Monday 15 February 2016

Off to Mars for the weekend

According to the Telegraph 

Holidays on the Moon and Mars, travelling in drones and underwater cities could be possible in 100 years

Gosh, but in much less than 100 years it will be far cheaper for virtual reality to simulate exotic holidays to places we've never even heard of. Forget boring old Mars, the imaginary planet Gnorbis will have much more to offer once the reality engineers get going.

I think I'll stick with Norfolk for now though.

Sunday 14 February 2016


The young lady rubbing her eye at the beginning, how old is she? I find it difficult to tell with people from another and increasingly distant age. Dress, mannerisms, too many missing clues for me. Certainly not old is the best I can manage.

People were different, perhaps more so than we generally realise. Not so much the boys playing in the water, but the adults going about their daily lives.

Different. Easy enough to list the differences from nutrition to health to knowledge and expectations, but not so easy to get under the skin of cultural subtleties. Attitudes, some narrower, some wider. Freedoms, some narrower some wider.

As time goes by and one culture slowly morphs into another we seem to gain and lose. Perhaps this is why over many centuries older people have tended to see decline rather than change, the losses rather than the gains.

Decline may be real enough but may not be the most important aspect of cultural change. Or it may be by far the most important. We can’t easily tell until we arrive and then it’s too late.

Saturday 13 February 2016

Is Cameron a bungler?

From the Independent we hear news of Cameron's latest attempt at EU fear mongering.

The world would be a more dangerous place if Britain voted to leave the European Union, David Cameron has claimed, as he travelled to Germany in a final effort to enlist the backing of Angela Merkel for his renegotiation demands.

In a speech in Hamburg, Mr Cameron said it was “vital to keep Britain in a reformed EU” to face down “dangerous and murderous ideologies” and stand up for democracy and the rule of law.

I'm sure Cameron does not expect to convince any informed person with this. That is not the aim - he is merely trying to sow the seeds of nebulous fear among wavering voters. 

Feeble stuff which raises an obvious question. Why has Cameron apparently bungled the referendum issue by promising EU concessions he must have known he couldn’t deliver? To get anywhere he would have had to make it quite clear that he was in favour of the UK leaving the EU. Otherwise he would always be negotiating with the EU from a position of weakness and he must have known that.

In which case he either bungled his tactics or he chose to negotiate from a position of weakness. Whatever one thinks of Cameron, he is probably too smart to have bungled the tactics of his referendum promise. One has to assume he knew what was on the cards because it isn’t rocket science. So he chose to negotiate from a position of weakness. He did not expect or want significant concessions from the EU because he has adopted the political persona of a sound European.

The whole thing just keeps on looping back to this obvious explanation. Cameron is gambling on winning the referendum for staying in the EU, thereby landing himself a prominent EU job with his political star very much in the ascendant.

Alternatively he may have other career possibilities in mind and is more interested in the global stage. Either way his strategy seems sound. Better to take the referendum risk and brand himself as a shining political success than end up as a tired and ageing PM looking for something else to do.

His game is not even as duplicitous as it sounds if he believes we have no real choice but to stay in the EU. He is merely putting the issue to rest and moving on.

Thursday 11 February 2016

From wooden bats to...

I played my first game of table tennis with a school friend on his parents' dining room table. We had wooden bats and a row of books as our net. It was good fun and in time we graduated to a proper table, proper bats and took it a little more seriously. Not as seriously as these guys though.  

Wednesday 10 February 2016



From BT and others comes this story of a restored E-Type Jaguar.

A classic British car left to rust on a French farm has been restored to its former glory is now worth £300,000 and will return to the spotlight at next week’s London Classic Car Show.

But this particular example, E-Type fixed head coupe Chassis No. 15, was discovered in a barn in Cernay, east France, in late 2013. It was more chicken coop than racing coupe, rusted, missing many vital components and covered in farmyard muck.

From the photo it had quite a few vital components missing, such as the engine. Apparently that had to be completely recreated according to the Mail.

Lovely car and all that, but if I rummaged around an old barn, found a couple of legs from an Elizabethan table and rebuilt it, folk would not be so impressed. It most certainly wouldn't be worth anywhere near the price of a genuine Elizabethan table. I'd have to sell it as repro. Different people, different outlook I suppose.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Emily in La La Land

From the Telegraph we hear :-

Trident renewal: Labour MPs tear into Jeremy Corbyn's defence tsar Emily Thornberry as being in 'La La Land'
Emily Thornberry, shadow defence secretary, openly heckled by Labour MPs following suggestion that nuclear deterrent could be updated, not replaced.

La La Land indeed. It's a bit rich coming from Labour MPs, but I wonder what Emily has in mind for the update? A lick of paint or something more substantial? 

I have dark and unworthy suspicion that Emily has no idea what she means, particularly if it involves missile technology, nuclear physics, submarine technology, military strategy or anything else beyond fluffy words. Although she may have been referring to Jeremy's idea about a nuclear free nuclear deterrent

Monday 8 February 2016

Changing course

Conventions and traditions, I suppose, work blindly but surely for the preservation of the normal type; for the extinction of proud, resolute and unusual individuals.
Ford Madox Ford - The Good Soldier (1915)

In the medium to long term, does it matter who is elected to lead the world’s major democracies? Is it the case that certain leaders are able to change the course of events in a way which favours the led? Or have we run out of suitably proud, resolute and unusual individuals? Or perhaps they have merely given up on us.

Political enthusiasts seem to believe not only in the rightness of their allegiances, but in the ability of some remarkably limited leaders to justify those allegiances. A degree of political confidence which seems to be sharply at odds with the flow of global integration. It does not fit with the reality, with the ever tightening webs of law, treaty and common standards. Instead, modern political life is like trying to change the course of a river. The flow may be slowed but cannot be turned back on itself.

Does it really matter who US voters elect as their next president? Does it matter if the UK Conservative party manages to take advantage of Jeremy Corbyn’s obvious lack of political nous? To a degree it does because riding the flow of events can be made more painful than it need be by political incompetence and that seems to be the key.

Without those proud, resolute and unusual individuals we may need a change in outlook, a shift in our expectations. It is not so much the ability to manipulate events which we require because that is no longer open to us, if indeed it ever was. Instead we need leaders who allow us to adapt to the flow of inevitable events having first identified what they are and how inevitable they may be. 

Continued membership of the EU may not be inevitable, but tighter and tighter global integration may be. In which case the EU referendum may speed up or slow down the course of events, but that is all. In the medium to long term it may make little difference either way. Admitting it politically is a different matter, but it need not be. Political dishonesty is not compulsory. 

Or perhaps it is.

Sunday 7 February 2016



Decided to try a folk remedy this morning. Woke up with a very mild sniffle so I tried nipping it in the bud with a raw garlic sandwich before breakfast. One slice of buttered bread sprinkled with a a large garlic clove finely sliced then folded over to make a sandwich.

Quite tasty it was too and milder than I expected. Of course I realise there may be people out there who eat loads of raw garlic but I've never tried it before even though we use lots of it in our cooking. 

My mistake was to munch it up before breakfast because toast, marmalade and coffee all tasted strongly of garlic. By mid afternoon the sniffle seems to be fading, but was it the garlic wot dunnit? Somehow I doubt it. If garlic was all we needed to ward off colds we'd know for sure by now. Makes a tasty sandwich though. 

Saturday 6 February 2016

Mr Smith

Imagine someone who voluntarily cut themselves off from the modern world. No TV, no computer, no phone, newspapers or magazines, no cinema and no interest in the modern world. Could be male or female but I’ll assume our modern hermit is male and his name is Mr Smith.

Mr Smith doesn’t live in a cave, tent or any other form of traditional hermit habitation. He lives in a house, holds down a job and doesn’t shun personal human contact. What he does shun is the clamour of modern life, the celebrities, fads, fashions, memes and narratives. He relies on what he already knows and what he sees and hears in daily life – little else apart from a personal philosophy gleaned from old books and a sceptical nature. 

He shops at supermarkets, travels by bus or train and listens to conversations, visits the pub once in a while, meets up with friends, goes walking in the countryside and spends much of his spare time reading. Mr Smith is far from being socially isolated but he never reads anything about modern life. No analyses of the contemporary human condition, nothing about modern politics, economics, art, music or fashion. No pundits, no contemporary biographies, no kiss and tell.

Given all this, would Mr Smith be ignorant? I’d say yes - in a sense he’d be desperately ignorant. He may not even know the name of the Prime Minister. Although he would have an unclouded perspective untainted by modern narratives and propaganda, he could not apply that perspective to current political situations because he knows nothing about them and doesn’t want to know. To avoid this social limitation he would have to absorb modern social and political contexts, but he shuns them and sticks to his own contexts.

Not a satisfactory situation for most of us, but to my mind there is something attractive about it too. Mr Smith’s judgement is based on his personal philosophy and what he actually sees of daily life. Prices, consumer habits, housing, social conditions, globalisation, immigration, feminism, racism are not issues in the way they are presented to most of us as issues. Mr Smith sees social change through his memory of the way things were compared to the way things are now.

In the past, many ordinary people must have been versions of Mr Smith and even today there may be people who share some of his isolation. A degree of isolation seems to be necessary to achieve some semblance of a non-attached standpoint. The trouble is, one also has to be exposed to the clamour of modern life in order to make a stab at understanding it.

Older people seem to achieve an increasing degree of non-attachment as they are left behind by fashions which do not interest them. This development can begin surprisingly early too, as one becomes conscious that youth and ambition are receding into the past. Perhaps we need to age more quickly.

Thursday 4 February 2016

Modern journalism

A bit silly but it reminded me of modern journalism even though the train enthusiast is supposed to be talking to a minister - I like to see the woman as a journalist.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Future World Populations (2050)

Demographic projections tend to be worth making because to a significant degree, future populations have already been determined by today's births and birth rates tend not to be subject to sudden change. Immigration may be a complex and divisive issue, but at some point small developed countries such the UK may need to adopt much more selective immigration policies as a defence against population pressures.

It is easy enough to be sanguine about global population growth because the Earth probably is able to support the numbers whatever Malthusians may say. However, the risks are political rather than technical. Extreme situations tend to engender extreme reactions and global population growth is an extreme situation. Humans did not evolve within such massively dense populations.

However, on a lighter note it may not matter anyway because prominent climate expert Vivienne Westwood expects a population crash by the end of this century.

"[Fashion] just gives me an excuse to open my mouth. I have credibility from it, and I do use it," she added. "I don’t even talk about the fashion. Mass extinction, only one billion people left by the end of this century — how can you talk about fashion? You’ve got to talk about what we’re going to do."

Not helpful, but that's the perverse standard of debate we have to contend with. Back in the real world it may already be too late to be constructive about global population growth anyway. Unfortunately, the public domain is dominated by a highly active cult of cultural guilt. The cultural ideals and achievements of our collective past have become difficult to defend in a way which isn't isolating.

One is left with the view that too many prominent people in the UK either do not understand or do not care about the harsh realities of life, the need to value and defend what one has against those who would take or undermine it. It is a crude way to look at things, but stripped to its fundamentals life is crude.

In the long run wimps and incompetents do what they always do - they lose.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Men and women

We visited our local branch of M&S recently. I’m sure the floor area devoted to men’s clothing has shrunk while women’s wear has expanded. Not an enormous change, but my visual estimate suggests the floor area ratio is at least two to one and possibly more.

I don't know if there's a connection but I've also noticed a pronounced difference in the way young parents dress in situations where casual is okay. At Granddaughter’s soft play area, fathers usually dress in what to me is casual verging on scruffy. It is a play area so casual is to be expected but mothers manage to dress casually without ever looking scruffy. 

The last time we were there a couple sat nearby and dad looked as if he'd salvaged his clothes from a skip. Mum seemed to be wearing brand new everything. It’s much the same in Grandson’s school playground. Scruffy dads, smarter mums.

Monday 1 February 2016

Cameron's EU breakthrough

Our Prime Minister continues to crawl around the corridors of power in search of a bone. To the surprise of nobody he claims to have found one.

David Cameron wins breakthrough EU offer on migrant benefits
June referendum on cards as PM forces concession from Donald Tusk for Britain to apply brakes immediately after poll.

The whole business is too tedious. A genuine Prime Minister of a genuine democracy would tell Tusk and the EU to piss off and devise immigration rules to suit the national interest. Maybe he'd do it by fax too, just to rub it in.