Monday 31 December 2018

Happy New Year

That I was born a man is an accident. I might almost say a pity, for it's very nearly a crime to be a man now-a-days, but it isn't my fault. The devil take him who has stirred up the two halves of humanity, one against the other! He has much to answer for.

August Strindberg - Getting Married (1884)  

Maybe this suggests a mantra for 2019 - very little is really new.

Happy New Year to all those who happen to find their way here and linger, if only for a while.

Sunday 30 December 2018

Dork of the Year 2018

As in 2017, the number of possible DotY candidates leads one to wonder if we should blame individuals for wider failings. Almost all dorks take advantage of available trends and social mores, they don’t invent them. Certainly the genuine dork adds something personal and uniquely dorkworthy but without social vehicles to carry them, their dorkish nature would be much less visible.

For example - although Theresa May feels like the runaway winner, Sam Vega made this interesting comment in the recent DotY candidates post -

I would like to suggest a rather more obscure candidate; a Dork for the discerning connoisseur. Last week the Advertising Standards Authority surpassed themselves in idiotic meddling when they outlawed "sexist stereotypes" in advertising. I present the C.E.O. of this sinister clownish Quango:

Guy Parker. Just look at him!

In fact, I nominate the entire Senior Management Shower for a joint award.

This a very good suggestion but it also sets a few hares running because not only is the the ASA an obvious candidate for Dork of the Year, but it highlights the issue of numerous examples of Team Dork beavering away at the foundations of our collective competence. Perhaps that is a clue to where our attention should be - our collective competence.

Ultimately we voters help set the scene as we are led by the tribal nose to elect MPs who are obviously of the dork persuasion and obviously prepared to push the dork agenda. In which case the Dork of the Year award for 2018 goes to -

The British electorate.

Friday 28 December 2018

Where does the unsold Christmas tat go?

Christmas is a rum game isn't it? We visited a nearby garden centre this afternoon. There are times when we need to escape the festivities and on a dismal afternoon even the garden centre cafe will do. The coffee is pretty good so that helps.

All the Christmas tat was being sold off and as far as we could tell it was selling fairly well considering how horrible most of it is. Most of the stuff was being sold at half the pre-Christmas price so presumably there are a number of canny folk buying their supplies of Christmas tat for next year.

What happens to the tat which doesn't sell even at a 50% discount? I don't know but maybe there are dealers prepared to take it. It's a strange business because surely we all know the stuff is mostly tat.

Monday 24 December 2018

Christmas quote


All the things which catered to showy material living were beginning to flourish tremendously, art and curio shops, rug shops, decorative companies dealing with the old and the new in hangings, furniture, objects of art; dealers in paintings, jewelry stores, china and glassware houses—anything and everything which goes to make life comfortable and brilliant.

Theodore Dreiser - The Genius (1915)

We have moved on considerably from anything and everything which goes to make life comfortable and brilliant but maybe that was inevitable.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Sunday 23 December 2018

Brexit success equals EU collapse

An interesting video from an investment rather than a political or economic aspect. Particularly this observation from around 7:20 –

I’m just facing reality because a lot of people and economists don’t face reality because they don’t study history. If economists and elites studied history more than so-called economics which in its way is an undefined science then I think we’d have avoided most of these problems in the first place.

It leaves one with the impression, which isn’t new, that Brexit should be seen as an indicator of major EU problems and possibly even collapse, not a British anomaly which the EU may safely ignore for the longer term.

In which case it may be more realistic to see Brexit as the first lifeboat launched from a sinking ship, from a disaster which was going to happen anyway and the sooner it happens the better. Not only that, but the first to grab a lifeboat may be better off than those who hang on hoping for something to turn up. 

Saturday 22 December 2018

The Beast of Turin

If ever I saw a car ideally suited to commuting through Nottingham then this is it. 

Thursday 20 December 2018

Brexit boredom beater

As a brief antidote to Brexit boredom allow me to suggest this interesting booklet - Highlights in The History of Concrete by Christopher C. Stanley. I picked up a second hand copy on our travels today. Although it is only an introduction it does leave one with a thirst for more. For example there is this snippet.

It is possible that the Romans copied and developed the idea of making concrete from the Greeks.

Seems a little hard on the Greeks so to speak - but is the EU much better?

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Suggesting a mysterious intelligence

What Vance carried back to Paul's Landing was his bewildering adventure at the Tarrants', where everybody talked and nobody listened, or said anything particularly worth hearing, if you thought it over—but where the look of the rooms and the people had something harmonious and long-related, suggesting a mysterious intelligence between persons and things, an atmosphere as heavy with the Past as that of the library at the Willows.

Edith Wharton - Hudson River Bracketed (1929)

This is probably how elites manage to generate conspiracy theories without necessarily intending to. They thrive within elite gatherings where the look of the rooms and the people had something harmonious and long-related, suggesting a mysterious intelligence between persons and things. Further down the social hierarchy we all tend to thrive within similar gatherings - think of the regulars at a popular traditional pub.

Nipping back to the elites and in a wider and more critical arena their mysterious intelligence may not be intelligent at all and possibly not even mysterious, but from the inside that is how it seems. Perhaps within elite walls it would be common to find that everybody talked and nobody listened, or said anything particularly worth hearing, if you thought it over.

But that is the nub of the thing – if you though it over. If who thought it over? Thinking it over would have to be done within the social situation but from another perspective - an outsider’s for example. If there are no outsiders then thinking it over does not occur.

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Dork of the year candidates

As you may know, previous winners of the Dork of the Year (DotY) award have been Michael Heseltine in 2017Mark Carney in 2016, Ed Miliband in 2015 and Naomi Klein in 2014.

All worthy winners, but what about 2018? It may be worth repeating an observation originally from 2015, repeated in 2016 and 2017 and still distressingly relevant today.

The sheer number of candidates has made choosing Dork of the Year (DotY) particularly difficult for 2015. Not that the problem is new because each year there seem to be even more Qualifying Dorks than the year before.

However we have a preliminary list of Qualifying Dorks from which to choose.

1. Theresa May

A comprehensive list I'm sure you will agree, but any suggestions for suitable additions are certainly welcome.

Saturday 15 December 2018

What fun - or maybe not

When I first saw this I thought what fun.

Amazon has teamed up with police in the US in an effort to stop thieves who steal parcels left outside homes.

Officers in New Jersey are planting dummy boxes fitted with GPS trackers, coupled with hidden doorbell cameras, at homes around the city of Jersey.

The homes selected for the experiment were chosen using the city's own crime statistics combined with mapping data of theft locations supplied by Amazon.

One box was stolen three minutes after it was "delivered".

On coming across again a couple of days later I'm more inclined to think how depressing it must be - having to deal with the scrotes who do this kind of thing.

Thursday 13 December 2018

A bungling we will go

A good reason for paying attention to the news is that it can be so entertaining. Close to home we have the May/EU attempts to bungle Brexit without appearing to be bunglers. That one was never going to work and it hasn't, but still the show goes on. As it would, being government funded.

Now for something completely different. Or maybe not so different because this one appears to have been let down by ham acting too.

A robot on show at a Russian state-sponsored event has turned out to be a man dressed in a costume.

Robot Boris featured on Russian TV and was apparently able to walk, talk and dance.

But soon after its appearance journalists began to question the bot's authenticity.

In a picture published afterwards on social media, the neck of a person was clearly visible.

The robot is in fact a 250,000 rouble (£2,975) costume called Alyosha the Robot, made by a company called Show Robots.

Whoever came up with that act may not have much of a future.

Next we have China and what appears to be clumsy hostage taking in response to the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

A second Canadian has been detained in China on accusations of harming national security, as tension continues between the two countries.

It was confirmed on Thursday that Michael Spavor, a businessman, had been detained in addition to former diplomat Michael Kovrig.

Canada drew Chinese protests after it arrested an executive at telecoms giant Huawei at the request of the US.

Meng Wanzhou has been bailed but may face extradition for fraud.

She denies violating US sanctions on Iran through Huawei's business dealings. China has threatened unspecified consequences if she is not released

It's all too obvious - makes the Chinese government look guilty and casts yet another cloud over wider perceptions of Chinese integrity and the political independence of Chinese business.

Before that we had some extraordinary bungling such as the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and the Novichok screw-up. It all serves to undermine the idea of sinister competence within the secret machinations of shadowy branches of government.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

The hypothetical great act

Our self-esteem is apt to be based on the hypothetical great act we have never had occasion to perform; and even the most self-scrutinizing modesty credits itself negatively with a high standard of conduct.

Edith Wharton - The Touchstone (1905)

Sometimes one comes across an observation which slides like a scalpel under the skin of self-esteem. We do indeed base our self-esteem on hypothetical great acts. These are not acts which fall into the realm of pure fantasy such as scoring the winning goal in the World Cup, nor the realm of impure fantasy but we won't go into that.

Wharton’s hypothetical great acts are such things as acts of formidable honesty which we never quite attain. Or acts of assertiveness, eloquence, physical endurance, magnanimity or even the hypothetical composition of a supremely penetrating blog post. They all serve to credit ourselves with a high standard of hypothetical conduct. It underpins virtue-signalling for example.

We can’t easily escape it altogether either, not if we wish to keep hold of a few ideals and some degree of motivation to make our way through life without descending into the pits of lassitude.

It is a profound problem with modern politics - laying political claim to hypothetical great acts such as sustainable energy or the elimination of poverty. Virtually everyone knows they are hypothetical but activists don’t want to know. Unfortunately the political class listens to activists because they peddle the hypothetical great acts while the people who peddle reality are so infernally dull.

Sunday 9 December 2018

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’ cautionary tale about the emotional blackmail behind Christmas is often misinterpreted.

December is here and yet again Christmas makes its horribly garish intrusions onto our winter horizon. The nightmarish swindle now infests every nook and cranny of daily life so perhaps we should take a little time to remind ourselves of the real warning behind Dickens’ obliquely crafted tale.

It is the night before Christmas and at the end of a working day Ebenezer Scrooge, a thrifty and conscientious businessman has a few words with his clerk Bob Cratchit who timidly but firmly insists on having Christmas off with full pay.

"You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?" said Scrooge.

"If quite convenient, sir."

"It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd
think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?"

The clerk smiled faintly.

Later that evening Scrooge encounters the ghost of his erstwhile partner Marley. As any good friend would do, Marley’s ghost warns Scrooge that three more spectres will try to entice his old friend away from the paths of sober competence and do their supernatural best to persuade him to initiate the welfare state single-handedly. Lots of dismal wailing and rattling of spectral chains hammer home the message. Understandably Scrooge is somewhat uneasy as he takes to his bed that night.

The first spectre to appear as foretold by Marley is the ghost of Christmas past which appears at Scrooge’s modest bedside during the night. This first spectre takes Scrooge into his own past, showing him how he first set foot on the rungs of the business ladder, wisely ditching a clingy and potentially expensive fiancée at an early stage.

Unfortunately these pleasant scenes of his early years only serve to upset Scrooge’s moral equilibrium to such a degree that he almost regrets his outstanding success as a businessman. In particular, a former tightwad employer named Fezziwig is shown in a highly favourable light as he entertains his staff on Christmas Eve with minimal expenditure and no lost production.

"A small matter," said the Ghost, "to make these silly folks so full of gratitude."

"Small!" echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said, "Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?"

A small matter indeed. Crafty old Fezziwig - although by now Scrooge is so stunned that he does not see that it is indeed a small matter.

The second ghost of Christmas present is initially more promising in that he is introduced as being surrounded by a vast heap of Christmas goodies of the edible variety. It is worth mentioning at this point that Scrooge’s diet is possibly a little narrow so the abundant if ghostly Christmas fare may contain a reasonable dietary message.

Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

"Come in!" exclaimed the Ghost. "Come in! and know me better, man!"

However the initial promise is not maintained as the ghost of Christmas present manages to insinuate the suggestion that such goodies and much, much more might be given away to feckless folk who have not paid for them. Still stunned by the whole experience Scrooge seems inclined to agree with such reckless extravagance.

The third ghost of Christmas future in more of a realist who by dramatic devices manages to suggest that Scrooge is surrounded by thieves who after his death would strip his dead body, steal his bed hangings and sell everything they could lay their hands on. So far so good but there is a sting in the tail. The ghost of Christmas future somehow manages to leave Scrooge with the impression that he may as well give things away now because after his death they will be stolen anyway.

For some unaccountable reason all this ghostly propaganda leaves Scrooge in a state of manic elation when he finally wakes up on Christmas morning. Neither narcotics nor alcohol are involved because Dickens clearly intended to highlight the perils of the most intense and unrelenting propaganda on an otherwise sober mind.

By Christmas morning Scrooge is so out of it that he even sends a large turkey to that financially feckless employee Bob Cratchit. Small income but a large family – that’s Bob Cratchit. If only we had imbibed this key message from the master story teller, but we never did.

And so began the first stirrings of emotional incontinence. One might almost suggest that Dickens invented it as a warning to us all, but somehow we turned it into soppy sentimentalism and have suffered for our mistake ever since.

Saturday 8 December 2018

Creeping uniformity

This is a trivial example of creeping uniformity, but trivial examples slip under the radar and maybe they are mounting up under the radar too.

The other morning was dull and grey, so dull that the car decided to switch on its headlights, which it often does at this time of year because I leave the lights on automatic. Had the lights been set to manual I may not have bothered as it wasn’t that gloomy even to my old eyes. But they were set to automatic as usual so on they went.

As we drove towards Matlock I noticed that cars with their headlights switched on tended to be newer models while those with them switched off tended to be older. Presumably newer cars with automatic lights switch them on in response to similar light conditions.

It’s a trivial example of creeping uniformity. Wholly unimportant in itself and generally advantageous to road users, but to end on a light-hearted note perhaps the following applies even to such trivial uniformities as automatic headlights –

10 trivial = 1 significant
10 significant = 1 important
10 important = ?

Thursday 6 December 2018

More moor

Beeley Moor
To my eye there is something deliciously compelling about an expanse of moorland under grey winter skies. A chill breeze, a hint of drizzle in the air, a touch of mist - none of it detracts from the bleak attractions of winter moorland.

Maybe it has something to do with being safe inside layers of modern clothing. Part of the scene yet apart from it, inside yet outside and relatively impervious to the cold and damp. A kestrel hunting for its next meal is a bonus. Our next meal is in the rucksack.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Politics – it’s just too easy

Many of my friends are under the impression that I write these humorous nothings in idle moments when the wearied brain is unable to perform the serious labours of the economist. My own experience is exactly the other way.

The writing of solid, instructive stuff fortified by facts and figures is easy enough. There is no trouble in writing a scientific treatise on the folk-lore of Central China, or a statistical enquiry into the declining population of Prince Edward Island. But to write something out of one’s own mind, worth reading for its own sake, is an arduous contrivance only to be achieved in fortunate moments, few and far between.

Personally, I would sooner have written “Alice in Wonderland” than the whole Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Stephen Leacock. McGill University, June, 1912.

Stephen Leacock wrote this in his preface to Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, his comic novel which became very popular a century ago. Although we still recognise the labour and intelligence required to write solid, instructive stuff fortified by facts and figures Leacock’s quote encapsulates something we recognise less readily. 

We recognise the value of creativity and its relative scarcity, but are less inclined to recognise the wider value of creativity beyond the arts. The creativity of scientific and technical discovery or analysis, the creativity of scholarly research which breaks new ground, the creativity of building new insights into old problems, creativity which applies in almost any field. Creativity may be nothing more than the creation of a new phrase which is apt that it immediately spins off into general circulation. Yes, creativity can be found anywhere –

anywhere but politics.

Political discourse is almost never creative because political narratives are essentially clichés strung together to make a narrative which above all things must be familiar. Turgid clichés are the lazy heart of political discourse. A major consequence is that political narratives are too easy.

Anyone can talk politics and whip up a political argument from stale ingredients because we have no use for political creativity. What would it look like without the clichés? Rational discourse, analysis and investigation? No, because that wouldn’t be politics although behind the political facade it just might even if the scheming usually seems banal when exposed.

We know all this because of the people foisted on us as political leaders. We look at them and we look at them again and we listen to them and try to find some faint hint of creative political discourse, something new, some fresh analysis of old problems, something creative, something to break the mould. But no - we get clichés and we get more clichés and if we question the clichés we get even more clichés and if we question those...

This seems to be a key driver constantly nudging political life in a totalitarian direction. The essential aspect of totalitarian ideas is that they are clichés. They offer the easy direction to steer a lazy mind. The woodentop direction where creativity is a disadvantage because it exposes the clichés as empty clichés and nothing more.

This is why the EU lumbers towards ultimate failure. Its driving ethos is too simple, too beholden to old clichés lacking even the slightest hint of political creativity. This is why Theresa May struggles politically, why a Corbyn-led Labour government would fail.

Yet easy often won’t do and we have to tackle difficult. Or rather we ought to tackle it but don’t. The political approach is to leave difficult to others and so we are embraced by bureaucracy because bureaucracies are prepared to tackle difficult issues by laboriously folding them into existing processes. Why? Because they grow fat on them and in growing fat they steadily throttle the life out of democracy, freedom and creativity.

Monday 3 December 2018

Trump triggers

I like the way this guy uses common sense and avoids overblown analysis. If you haven’t encountered him before he is a self-employed tradesman who started off as as house painter. His take on Obama and his acolytes is particularly apt.

...he is the very embodiment of the cool college professor... That professor was worldly and hip with an offhand grasp of culture and that whip-smart sense of humour that Jon Stewart later turned into a goldmine.

Not sure about the sense of humour but his point is interesting. Obama acolytes seemed curiously inclined to sit at his feet.

Sunday 2 December 2018

Isn't Macron doing well?


The French "yellow vest" troubles will be analysed to death but it isn't easy to avoid the conclusion that ordinary people want more of a voice in what the elites hand down to them. 

It isn't easy to avoid such a conclusion when here in Brexit land many are acutely aware that this is how the EU and global bureaucracies operate - the elites merely hand down their decisions and that is that. We have little enough feedback available to us now, but little enough is better than none.

Saturday 1 December 2018

The stupid club

Stupidity is a rum business isn't it? There is such a lot of it about yet in general stupid people are not stupid. That’s the paradox.

Yet how is it that intelligent people can be so remarkably, jaw-droppingly stupid? Not stupid in the low IQ sense and not stupid in the ad hominem sense where we merely fire the word at those who don’t agree with us. No there is a third type of stupidity which intelligent people clearly adopt for a long term purpose and from which they clearly derive some social advantage.

Often the only real advantage is the paltry satisfaction of virtue signalling but even that strengthens the social bonds. This is part of the weirdness – stupidity can and does forge powerful and advantageous social bonds as long as one stays in the stupid club. Which isn’t difficult when outfits such as the Guardian and the BBC hold the door wide open. They certainly do their tireless best for the stupid club – as do the mass media generally.

However, this third type of stupidity is weird because personal advantage and social bonding do not really explain what it is, nor how it arises, nor how it is so impervious to reality.

When someone adopts an ideology then the ideology becomes an aspect of their personality to such an extent that it is not possible to communicate meaningfully with what we usually assume is a functioning personality. That is the problem. Within the domain of their ideology, ideologues do not have a functioning personality. To communicate at all we have to communicate with their ideology.

This gives stupidity a huge advantage in the debating game because members of the stupid club do not have to debate at all. People who differ in their opinions must find common ground if they hope to reach some kind of mutual understanding. Members of the stupid club have no need to bother with any of that malarkey. Their debating effort is a scorched earth policy where the headaches and complexities of common ground are hoofed out of play from the off.

We know all this yet still tend to see ideology as somehow sitting on top of the basic personality like a layer. If only we could argue away that layer of ideology then the person’s real personality would shine through so the assumption goes. Ideologues might even see their error and shrug off the ideology.

Fat chance.

Experience after experience tells us that within its domain, ideology supplants personality. There is no ideological layer sitting on top of the personality – the ideology is as much an aspect of personality as a leg is part of the body. It is not an add-on. Within its domain, which may be very wide, the ideology is a prosthetic personality. People with a powerful and wide-ranging ideology may not have much of a personality at all.

Intelligent political actors seem to be aware of this and are willing to use the power of ideology for their own advantage. They frequently act the part of an ideologue without that degree of commitment seen in more genuine cases.

The prosthetic nature of ideology offers political actors a ready-made audience with predictable reactions. This seems to be a fourth type of stupidity. For intelligent political actors stupidity seems to be little more than a useful fashion statement. What they like about it is the scorched earth effect on common ground – it makes the adversarial nature of party politics so much easier.

Thursday 29 November 2018

An alarming increase


The Institute of Experts has produced a new report about the alarming increase in the number of alarming increases.

“Many key problems in social and economic life are increasing at an alarming rate,” says the report. The report goes on to suggest that there is an alarming increase in the rate of alarming increases on top of an already alarming number of alarming increases.

“In addition to the alarming increase in alarming increases, there is an alarming increase in the number of alarming numbers.” The report adds. It goes into some detail about the rate of increase in the number of alarming numbers which it says represents a truly alarming increase in the number of alarming numbers.

Not only that but alarming projections suggest we are headed for an alarming future at an unprecedentedly alarming rate. Even the number of projections shows an alarming increase when extrapolated over the next thirty years.

Meanwhile the Institute of Experts seeks an alarming increase in funding in order to expand its research.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Not much to relish

From the BBC

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have agreed to take part in a live TV debate on Brexit before MPs vote on the deal.
The prime minister said she was the only one with a plan for the UK's future - Labour said Mr Corbyn would "relish" the chance to challenge that.

I don't suppose Mr Corbyn's minders relish it. Maybe Mrs May is assuming that Mr Corbyn hasn't read the Brexit document and wouldn't understand much of it anyway. Maybe she's right and he'll flounder, but she isn't a star performer either. Meanwhile Boris calls it a false choice.

But former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said Mrs May should be holding a debate with "someone who believes in Brexit", saying there was "no point" in the head-to-head with the Labour leader and that it offered a "false choice".

Of course it isn't really a false choice - Boris knows that. A Corbyn government brought about by Conservative disarray may well be worse than anything Mrs May can bungle. She may as well push that angle as hard as she can because she doesn't have many others

Monday 26 November 2018

Call the puddle squad

The other day we encountered some resurfacing work on the High Peak Trail, apparently intended to reduce puddles. Puddles in the countryside eh? Whatever next. 

Sunday 25 November 2018

The ritual apology

Political correctness has its entertaining aspects. For example Quillette has a piece on the ritual apology phenomenon when absurdly sensitive political cages have supposedly been rattled.

For instance, on Oct. 8 at Scripps College, there was an anti-Kavanaugh protest scheduled for noon. But then the organizers realized that the same day was Indigenous People’s Day at Scripps. They promptly rescheduled the protest and apologized: “We want to deeply apologize for scheduling this event on the same day as the 2nd annual Indigenous People’s Day. Monday is a day for indigenous and non-indigenous allies to stand in solidarity and acknowledge the genocidal mission system that enslaved and killed 80% of Natives living on this land.”

The first comment might raise a wry smile. Too often ridicule is the most constructive response.

A New Radical Centrism (@a_centrism)
November 19, 2018

I’m sorry that I read this article.

I also regret that I laughed out loud when I read in the article that some college students had apologized for scheduling an event on the same day as Indigenous People’s Day, one of the holiest days on the calendar.

Allow me to also apologize for not knowing there was such a thing as Indigenous People’s Day, and for not particularly caring that a virtue-signaling festival such as Indigenous People’s Day actually exists.

I must be a terrible person. So, I apologize for that, as well.

Thursday 22 November 2018

Cycling awareness plan

The BBC, home of Top Gear, shoves out a typically sanctimonious piece on road accidents involving cyclists.

Motorists should be offered cheaper insurance if they take a course to make them more aware of cyclists on the roads, the government says.

The Department for Transport also wants to give councils more powers to tackle parking in cycling lanes.

It is proposing a series of 50 measures in a bid to reduce the number of cyclists and pedestrians killed.

According to ROSPA

In collisions involving a bicycle and another vehicle, the most common key contributory factor recorded by the police is ‘failed to look properly’ by either the driver or rider, especially at junctions. ‘Failed to look properly’ was attributed to the car driver in 57% of serious collisions and to the cyclist in 43% of serious collisions at junctions.

In which case cyclists should attend such courses too - make them vehicle awareness courses. But that isn't the political point being made here.

Naturally enough we would like to see far fewer deaths on our roads but it is obvious enough that motorists are well aware of cyclists. A queue of traffic behind one or more cyclists is a common enough sight. Motorists clearly do understand the possible consequences of reckless overtaking.

Unfortunately roads are crowded and momentary inattention by cyclist or motorist is bound to happen. Sometimes that momentary inattention has tragic consequences. Modern roads are dangerous and all adult cyclists are personally responsible for their decision to travel on them by bicycle. They know the dangers.

Yet we are building a social ethos where cyclists have a right to use busy and dangerous roads and are officially encouraged to exercise that right. Yes they do have a right, but awareness courses for motorists will probably do little to mitigate the risks of cycling. As things stand, "don't cycle" is good advice but officially we try to pretend it isn't. We do a lot of official pretending.

Cycling and Walking Minister Jesse Norman said: "Greater road safety - and especially the protection of vulnerable road users such as cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders - is essential.

Strewth - we have a Cycling and Walking Minister. In a wider sense that's the problem. Sooner or later personal responsibility has to make a comeback.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Death to the soul

The historical background of life is a part of its substance and the ideal can never grow independently of its spreading roots. A sanctity hangs about the sources of our being, whether physical, social, or imaginative. The ancients who kissed the earth on returning to their native country expressed nobly and passionately what every man feels for those regions and those traditions whence the sap of his own life has been sucked in.

There is a profound friendliness in whatever revives primordial habits, however they may have been overlaid with later sophistications. For this reason the homelier words of a mother tongue, the more familiar assurances of an ancestral religion, and the very savour of childhood’s dishes, remain always a potent means to awaken emotion. Such ingrained influences, in their vague totality, make a man’s true nationality.

A government, in order to represent the general interests of its subjects, must move in sympathy with their habits and memories; it must respect their idiosyncrasy for the same reason that it protects their lives. If parting from a single object of love be, as it is, true dying, how much more would a shifting of all the affections be death to the soul.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason  (1905-1906)

Santayana’s view seems old-fashioned in a modern world of mass transport, shifting global populations and cosmopolitan assurance. In our world a sanctity cannot hang about the sources of our being because those sources are being melted down and politically recast. In part this profound change is deliberate, in part a matter of sheer carelessness.

We need anchors, reference points without which we cannot think clearly because nothing tells us what clarity might look like. To acquire that clarity we need some extremely basic reference points such as good and bad, harmful and benign, weird and wonderful but most important and most basic are familiar and unfamiliar.

Familiar - Noun
Middle English (in the sense ‘intimate’, ‘on a family footing’): from Old French familier, from Latin familiaris, from familia ‘household servants, family’, from famulus ‘servant’.

This is what we are losing. The familiar is not as intimate as it was, not part of the family, not as easily known, not as thoroughly known, not as easily trusted. The familiar is no longer well rooted in the practical realities of daily life. This matters but ironically we have become less familiar with what matters as opposed to what doesn’t.

We have unwittingly become familiar with Facebook, the EU, feminism, multiculturalism, Amazon, celebrities, human rights, hate speech, racism, islamophobia, homophobia, sustainability, recycling, multiculturalism, social justice and so on and so on.

Unfortunately these things tend to nudge aside closer and more intimate realities such as important and unimportant, honest and dishonest, good and bad, harmful and benign, weird and wonderful. They do not supplant these older realities but they shout much more loudly and their shrill familiarity gives them a secure place in our personal reality. Perhaps unwelcome in many cases but still secure. There is no practical way to become unfamiliar with them.

Political and commercial manipulation of what is familiar and what is unfamiliar has created a strange world which still seems familiar but in a different, more political and more remote and much less personal sense than before.

As we grew up and learned the ways of the world it was once possible to be familiar with our own limitations and even our own ignorance. Now we are becoming less familiar with our ignorance in a world of sassy pseudo-certainties. Unfortunately so are our leaders.

Monday 19 November 2018

One pinnacle of credulity to another

All her life she had always been persuaded that she saw what people meant; and the conviction had borne her triumphantly from one pinnacle of credulity to another.

Edith Wharton - Hudson River Bracketed (1929)

May or may not apply, but I sometimes wonder if those inside the political bubble understand those outside. So often bubble dwellers behave as if they have become far too familiar with imposing their own meaning on everything, as if they have mislaid the ability to see what people mean beyond the bubble. 

Sunday 18 November 2018

Is it worth it?

Every man has somewhere in the back of his head the wreck of a thing which he calls his education.

Stephen Leacock - Literary Lapses (1910)

Saturday 17 November 2018


I’ve had a busy few days, so no time for Brexit posts. However, from an early stage in the game it has been obvious that Mrs May and her advisers never wished to make a political success of it.

Had they aimed to do so the project would have a less ambiguous and politically problematic name than Brexit. The Norway Approach or the EFTA Option for example.

If we focus on the politics rather than the technicalities of leaving the EU, then it is easy enough to see that a name such as the Norway Approach would be much more difficult to attack that the name Brexit. Whatever the technical difficulties and complexities it would have added an aura of political solidity and achievability. In addition to that it would have provided criteria for success or failure.

Unfortunately the media debate immediately degenerated into numerous stories around supposed difficulties in preventing bureaucrats from fouling up international trade. Apparently Brexit will make it difficult for them to do today what they did yesterday.

Yet getting the narrative right was so simple. It is easy enough to understand why the EU would foul up the narrative but Mrs May and co could have corrected that had she chosen to. But she didn’t and we may as well assume it was deliberate.

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Scruton on the beauty of belonging

Last month EPPC published a fascinating essay by Roger Scruton. In a typically insightful manner, Scruton outlines the deep and intimate role of aesthetic understanding in daily life. Certainly not as dry as perhaps it sounds, the whole essay is well worth reading as an antidote the the carelessly functional ugliness we see around us.

Artists in the Christian tradition have been inspired by the New Testament stories, and one story in particular has prompted them to reflect on the nature of beauty and its place in our lives: the story of the Annunciation. In this story we encounter a moment of interaction between the human and the divine, when an angel appears in the most private and protected part of a woman’s home. The light that radiates from the angel falls not only on Mary but on all the objects that surround her, showing the fitness of the woman for her holy task in the order and beauty of her room. The Annunciation by the Dutch master Joos van Cleve (1485–1540) illustrates the point. None of the objects among which Mary sits is purely functional: everything has an edge, an embellishment, a kind of gentle excess. The furnishings are not just accidentally there: they are there because they are also owned, shaped, and cherished. Mary has arranged the room with beauty in mind, so as to be a fit welcome for an angel.

We find the same cherishing of objects in later Dutch interiors, when the secular vision had begun to replace the religious. In an interior by Vermeer we see people set among objects that shine with the light of ownership. They have been brought into the house, so to speak, polished like mirrors, so as to reflect the lives and loves surrounding them. A kind of tenderness radiates from the objects in such paintings, to embrace the viewers and to tell them that they, too, are at home, among these things rubbed smooth by human affection.

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Blue jeans

A mother holding her baby and an older woman walk into a cafe. Clearly they are grandmother, mother and baby – three generations taking a coffee break although baby has a bottle of milk from Grandma’s shopping bag. This much is obvious.

Baby’s mother wears blue jeans with fashionable knee rips. Not quite the thing for a young mother but she just about carries it off. Grandma wears blue jeans too, also with fashionable knee rips. A somewhat bony knee peeps out when she sits down. On Grandma they don’t work. Someone gave Grandma a dubious fashion tip - maybe the culprit was Daughter.

To my jaundiced eye it isn’t easy to wear blue jeans unless one is young and tolerably shapely. Convenient and cheap they may be, and that’s why I wore them for years, but on older folk even brand new faded jeans soon look like gardening trousers. Unfaded blue jeans look cheap even if they aren’t. After a certain age they rarely work.

Monday 12 November 2018

Good old-fashioned ingredients

From the box

Our Classic Recipes are made using traditionally authentic recipes and good old-fashioned ingredients.

From the list of ingredients printed on the box

Palm oil
Palm Kernel
Rapeseed oil
Soya Lecithin
Citric Acid
Glucose Syrup
Rice Flour
Sulphur Dioxide
Ammonium Bicarbonate
Disodium Diphosphate

Blimey - was my mother cutting corners when she made her traditionally authentic ginger biscuits? They were really good and were soon gobbled up, but I'm pretty sure she missed out the soya lecithin and sulphur dioxide at least. Was it because we were poor and couldn't afford these good old-fashioned ingredients?

Macron is a tripehound

Only the other day I suddenly realised that I had never used the word tripehound in this blog, an omission I instantly resolved to rectify. My father often referred to prominent people as tripehounds and luckily French President Emmanuel Macron has offered up an opportunity to give the word a long-delayed airing.

This BBC piece about a recent Macron emission seems to fit the tripehound bill rather well.

French President Emmanuel Macron has urged world leaders marking the centenary of the World War One Armistice to reject nationalism.

Addressing leaders in Paris - including US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin - he described it as a "betrayal of patriotism".

"By saying 'our interests first and never mind the others' you stamp out the most precious thing a nation has - its moral values," he said.

Of course M Macron had prepared the tripehound ground a little earlier with his speculation about the EU having to defend itself against the US.

The Trump-Macron show of unity came despite earlier tensions, triggered when the French leader said the EU needed a joint army now that the US was pulling out of a key disarmament treaty with Russia.

"I want to build a real security dialogue with Russia, which is a country I respect, a European country - but we must have a Europe that can defend itself on its own without relying only on the United States."

In the interview with French radio station Europe 1 on Tuesday, Mr Macron mentioned "re-emerging authoritarian powers" that were well-armed on Europe's borders, "attempted attacks in cyberspace and interference in our democratic lives", concluding: "We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America."

Sunday 11 November 2018

One hundred years ago

A World War One National Kitchen

This is a copy of an earlier post from my aunt's memoirs where she describes Armistice Day as she saw it from the back streets of Derby in 1918 when she was ten years old.

November 11th 1918
It was a raw November morning, just like any other day. Little did we think as we scrambled out of bed, hurtled downstairs to wash and dress in front of the kitchen fire, that it was going to be one of the most important days of our lives.

Dressed, we sat down to a dish of porridge followed by dry toast. The porridge was sweetened with treacle which we held above the bowl on a spoon, and dribbling it made patterns on the creamy surface.

The treacle was different from both the Golden Syrup we buy today and the tinned thick black stuff. It was, being neither one nor the other, an in-between of the two. Golden brown, runny, certainly not sickly. We’d take an empty jam jar to our corner grocer’s shop and a pound jar was filled from a barrel for fourpence halfpenny.

I loved to watch the treacle sluggishly flow when the tap was turned on. Mr Scott the grocer always caught the last little drop on his finger as he turned off the tap, and licking it would smack his lips. How lucky he was, I wished I were a shop lady!

Off to school and at mid-morning out as usual into the playground. We were puzzled as to why the teacher hadn’t come outside to ring the bell signalling the end of our break when a girl said to me,

‘Look, Sir Thomas Roe’s flag is flying.’

I looked up and there on the big house across the way, the Union Jack fluttered high on its pole. There wasn’t much breeze but enough to move it gently.

We became aware just then that all the teachers had trooped outside, headed by the headmistress. We all stood and stared and though there was hardly any need, she put her hand up for silence. In a voice which trembled slightly she announced,

‘Children, I have to tell you the good, the wonderful news. The war is over. An armistice has been signed. You can all go home and tell your mothers and you need not come back to school this afternoon.’

An excited buzz started. She raised her hand again, telling us that we must first say the Lord’s Prayer and then sing the National Anthem. So we stood, first humbly with heads bent, then poured our hearts out in ‘God Save the King’.

We scampered into school for hats and coats and our feet barely touched the ground on our way home. Mam was in the scullery stirring a large pan of soup when my sisters and I burst in.

‘Well,’ she said after the news had sunk in, ‘as it’s a special day I will treat you to a dinner at the National Kitchen.’

We could hardly believe our ears! Lizzie, one of the girls from next door joined us and we set off, feeling as if we were on our way to Buckingham Palace. The National Kitchen was attached to a factory not far away and I should imagine served also as a canteen for the workers, though I didn’t know that then. It was a big, bare place and we must have been early as very few people were inside.

We had to go to a counter to collect our dinner, the cost of the meal with pudding to follow being sixpence each. There was beef, potatoes and peas, spotted dick and thin custard. The beef was eatable but it was a good thing we had strong teeth. The potatoes, plain boiled, were a bit watery, the gravy thin and anaemic, the peas like bullets, practically uneatable. There was a sudden burst of laughter from my elder sister and Lizzie.

‘What are they laughing at?’ I whispered to my younger sister. I was overawed at eating in a public place.

‘I don’t know,’ she whispered back, ‘but I heard Lizzie say something about the peas and a good blow-off would almost certainly shoot the cat.’

It took a few minutes to sink in and when it did, my face went scarlet. Furtively I looked over my shoulder. Was anyone near enough to have heard?

The spotted dick was nowhere near as good as Mam’s and after getting a jug of celery soup for her (we’d taken a large jug as Mam suffered with her stomach, but they only half filled it for sixpence) we walked back home. It was the first time I had ever eaten ‘out’ and I have never forgotten such a momentous occasion but I certainly didn’t think much of it at the time.

As the days passed, the lamplighter came back – the biggest joy of all. One night in bed my sister suddenly burst out laughing and when I asked her to tell the joke, she spluttered,

‘I was just remembering Lizzie and those peas.’

‘Oh yes,’ I answered innocently, ‘how did the poor cat get on?’ With that we both guffawed and Mam put her head round the bedroom door with a stern warning about being fit for school in the morning.

Saturday 10 November 2018

Suck it up

In Brexitcentral Matt Ridley has an interesting piece about Dyson vacuum cleaners. 

My biggest beef with the European Union has always been the way it stifles consumer-friendly innovation in the interests of incumbent businesses and organisations. Today’s victory for Sir James Dyson at the European General Court lays bare an especially shocking example.

Dyson’s case, which has taken five years in the courts, reveals just how corrupt and crony-capitalist the European Union has become. It is no surprise that Sir James was and is a big supporter of Britain leaving the EU. Essentially, the rules have been bent to allow German manufacturers to deceive customers about the performance of their vacuum cleaners, in a manner uncannily similar to – but even worse than — the way mostly German car manufacturers deceived customers about the emissions from diesel vehicles.

Worth reading if only as another example of how technical regulations can be bypassed by lobbying and by technical subterfuge. 

However it may be worth adding that we moved away from Dyson vacuum cleaners in favour of a Miele machine which uses bags. We've owned a number of Dysons but whatever Dyson may claim, we have found that in actual use the Miele machine deals with dust more effectively and more cleanly especially when it comes to dust disposal and keeping the machine clean. 

Although we still have a lightweight battery-powered Dyson for quick jobs, compared to the Miele the Dysons have been messy. We have to keep buying bags for the Miele but the dust stays in the bag.  

Thursday 8 November 2018

The slow demise of Marks and Spencer

We were chatting about M&S today, remarking on how M&S food seems to be going the way of its clothing - increasingly uninteresting and not much better than cheap and cheerful because cheap and cheerful keep catching up. 

Marks & Spencer has reported falling clothing and food sales and warned that it sees little improvement in sales this year.

Like-for-like sales, which strip out the impact of new stores, were down 2.2% for the six months to the end of September.

Food sales were down 2.9% and clothing and home sales slid 1.1%.

M&S warned trading conditions for the remainder of the financial year will remain "challenging".

"We are expecting little improvement in sales trajectory," the firm said.

It's years since I bought clothes from M&S because even supermarkets do clothing just as well. 

M&S food seems to have had a good start but times change rapidly. Now it lacks imagination and is not as well presented as many of the larger farm shops. I'm surprised M&S has lasted so long, it seems perennially unable to find a way of staying ahead of the game. Tough game though.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

And so we watch

A curlew probes the Wells mud in search of something tasty

Like peasant children, we passed our days and nights in the fields and the woods, looked after horses, stripped the bark off the trees, fished, and so on.... And, you know, whoever has once in his life caught perch or has seen the migrating of the thrushes in autumn, watched how they float in flocks over the village on bright, cool days, he will never be a real townsman, and will have a yearning for freedom to the day of his death.

Anton Chekhov – Gooseberries (1898)

While on holiday in Norfolk we took the opportunity for a spot of bird watching. We are definitely not bird-watchers in anything resembling a knowledgeable sense but these days it is something we enjoy. However –

There is a however. A faint shadow lurks in a corner of my mind as I sit there in the hide contentedly gazing through my binoculars while listening to the conversation of other bird watchers. I listen to what they say in case a little of their expertise permeates in my direction. It’s a pleasant way to pass an hour or so but that shadow doesn’t go away, so what is it?

It is something to do with the way we isolate ourselves from the natural world even when taking an interest in it, even when sitting in a cold hide surrounded by marsh peering through binoculars. Somehow modern interest in the natural world as endlessly presented by the BBC misses the point. Of course it would miss the point because it’s the BBC but to acknowledge that isn’t the point either. However assiduously pursued, an interest in the natural world is not a particularly deep involvement. It can’t be – we have isolated ourselves too well.

As Chekhov wrote, the natural world induces a yearning for freedoms we cannot possibly attain in the modern world. If ever we did it would not be the modern world. We can’t live as the birds live – we just can’t. We can’t even want to live as the birds live because we’d hate life away from our comforts, our health, our multifarious protections, our cup of coffee afterwards. And a cake.

Modern life is vastly better than having to stick your beak in the mud all day, but there is a price. Fortunately we are so far removed from the natural world that we don’t often see the price. But sometimes, in the peripheral vision of life, sometimes we catch the shadow of what cannot be.