Archive | September, 2014

Welcome, and first pictures

30 Sep

Here are the first pictures of baby grandson, as yet unnamed. More details to follow.Baby1 Baby2

So cute I want to hug him, but he is 8,000 miles away.


Family Values

29 Sep

The Conservative Party has, for as long as I can remember, promoted what it regards as ‘Family Values’. Quite what that represents is a bit of a movable feast, but generally it means settled heterosexual relationships with children and the woman taking the lion’s share of responsibility for child care.

In The Sunday Mirror a Conservative junior minister, a Mr Brooks Newman, who I had never heard of, was reported to have sent sexually explicit images of himself to a journalist posing as a female PR person for the Conservative Party. Mr Brooks Newman was, until yesterday, the Minister for Civil Society. He is also the father of several children, (one report said four, another five).

The operation to trap him was a sting, but sending a photo of your aroused member through the gap in your paisley pyjamas to a man posing as a young woman might be thought extremely foolish, as well as obscene. He has not only sinned, he has been exposed as a hypocrite and a fool.

Now the other parties have their fair share of sexual scandal, but they do not preach to me about what my behaviour should be. Frankly, I do not care if a minister has a mistress or lover. It is none of my business. It is positively expected of French politicians, and that seems more grown up to me than the prurient and gloating views of some of the British press.

It was not a good day for the Conservatives on the opening day of their conference. The other story that broke was that one of their MPs has defected to UKIP. This is a man with the perfect surname, Reckless. The Tory hierarchy were incandescent with rage. Reckless had insisted that he was loyal only the day before.

The Conservatives are a right of centre party, and the extreme right is, well, pretty extreme. There have always been raving homophobic racists in the party and they have to go somewhere. That Mr Reckless chooses UKIP goes to show just how far right that party is.

At the very least UKIP – United Kingdom Independence Party – is populated with delusional Little Englanders. They live in some kind of mythical past of English glory. A large number of the members subscribe to a different political philosophy, that of prejudice and racism. Some of the utterances of their version of Il Duce, Nigel Farage, can only be understood as racist.

Politicians from other parties have fallen over themselves to insist that UKIP supporters are not racist. Such an attitude plays into UKIP’s hands. Better to tell it like it is. Let me say this as gently as possible to UKIP supporters. If you believe that the policies espoused by UKIP are reasonable and correct then you should be honest enough to admit that you are a racist. It won’t make be respect your opinions any more than I do, but at least you won’t be a hypocrite as well.

Welcome to the world, No. 2

29 Sep

Yesterday at 1 pm China time, 5 am BST we welcomed into the world a new baby boy grandchild. I’m not sure of the name or weight. I was privy to a shortlist of names. There was a photo, but I was unable to open it. Being a newborn he is bound to look like Winston Churchill.

It was a difficult birth, the sort that might have been fatal before the advent of modern obstetrics. Veronique, having gone through the whole process, as is a mother’s lot, is now recovering. The babe is drinking healthily and seems fine, despite making a slightly early appearance.

James is being father and carer, and must surely be in need of a good sleep.

So, congratulations to James and V on the birth of their second son, and to Milan on the arrival of a baby brother. I can feel another visit to China coming on, (but not for a while).

Apes and fair play

23 Sep

It seems from recent reports in the newspapers that apes, and chimps in particular. have the same inate sense of fair play that was previously thought unique to humans.

This is, in fact, an old story, dating back to 2009, when an article appeared in Nature. It seems to be a good piece of research and worthy of comment. The tests used are commonly used to demonstrate this behavioural trait in children. When two individuals have to share a task to gain a reward the initiator still distributes the reward fairly.

Now for the elephant in the room.  If such behaviour is the normal state for humans, why do we allow a small number of individuals to exploit others, taking almost everything and paying starvation wages? More than that, such individuals are praised as examples of successful capitalism.

In hunter-gatherer societies there is little distinction in wealth between the members of the group. The real distinctions only come in with the start of permanent farming communities. It is only at this point that we get kings and wars.

Currently the gap between rich and poor is growing almost exponentially. Even in Britain, a wealthy country, the rich are getting richer and the working classes have wage increases below the rate of inflation and increasing living costs. In effect, they are getting poorer. Fewer and fewer people now have a larger share of the pie.

This is not a healthy state of affairs. The happiest societies are not the richest, they are those where the gap between the richest and poorest is closest. To continue on this course is to invite discontent, which could lead to social tensions and possibly violence.

Maybe we have something to learn from chimps and children.

That embarrassing tattoo

8 Sep

We are coming up to the vote on Scottish independence. This is a very simple question, Yes for independence, No to retain the current Union. As for the effects of a Yes vote, much of this is still unquantified, but it will be profound. It is always easier to campaign FOR something than against it, and it is easy enough to raise the ugly head of nationalism. If the vote does go for independence then I suspect it will be as much a misjudged romantic gesture as anything else. The sort of romantic gesture of getting an ill advised tattoo of the name of a lover you split up with a week later; embarrassing and difficult to reverse.

For many years I have been suggesting that Britain is too small to be significant in the world economy. To balkanise an already small country just seems too quixotic, too stupid, to be considered. The Union only came about because England had to bail Scotland out. I can understand the annoyance with the powers that be in London, the political and financial establishments which have starved everywhere else of investment. But what next, the People’s Republic of Cornwall? Or how about the return to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms? As for pulling out of the European Union, well, are you truly bonkers?

Promotion of the book

4 Sep

My book, Eating the Owl is out tomorrow, available on Kindle format now!

For the last two days I have been answering questions, sending out review copies and dealing with seemingly endless emails. At the weekend I am doing a book signing at Berrington Hall, a National Trust property near Leominster Herefordshire.

Meanwhile, the first interview has come out, online, of course. Here is the link:

Airport development in the UK

2 Sep

Mayor of London, ‘Bonking’ Boris Johnson, is apparently hopping mad that the commission created to decide where new airport capacity should be sited have rejected his preferred plan of a huge new airport in the Thames Estuary, known as ‘Boris Island’. Whilst I thoroughly applaud the commissions judgement on this issue, for all sorts of reasons, ecological, financial and in terms of infrastructure, the vision involved is blinkered. It relies on a completely circular argument for justification and has no idea, is completely clueless, about joined up thinking.

The Airports Commission have only three plans in mind, two involving expansion at Heathrow and the third at Gatwick. No plan outside of Greater London has been considered.  The ‘logic’ for this is that people in London fly more that others in the country. I ask the members of the Commission this question, why is that true?

The single major problem we have in this country is that London is unbalancing the economy. London overheats and the rest of the country stagnates or goes backwards. The reasons for this are historical, but I’m not here to lay blame. We are where we are. The major powerhouse of the economy is the Financial Services sector based almost entirely in London. When they sneeze we all catch cold. When they throw their weight around the government jumps. 

It appears that no major developments can be financed outside of London. This results in more people moving into the area, the price of property going through the roof and the snarling up of transport links, leading to more development. For the rest of the country London is the problem, not the solution, and the overheating of the economy there is a problem for everyone.

London is a crowded, overdeveloped area in the extreme south east corner of Britain. Any further development there is ludicrously expensive and ultimately self-defeating in economic terms. The reason London is expanding so fast is the amount of development going on there. There is plenty of room outside of London.

The other mooted major development is a high speed rail link, HS2, to connect London to Birmingham, and eventually Manchester. While this is still a London connection, it does at least involve some other parts of the country. The line will connect to Birmingham International station, which serves Birmingham Airport. Travel times are somewhat shorter from there than the link from Heathrow into London.

So why not develop Birmingham Airport instead? If travellers want to get to and from London they have a simple and quick way of doing so. The development would be much cheaper outside of London and would economically help a region with very slow growth and high unemployment rates. It would take some of the heat out of London and benefit the regions.

To me, and the large majority of people in this country who have no option but to fly from Heathrow, or, occasionally, Gatwick, It makes sense in terms of transport links. And yet the Airports Commission are unable to see the solution. It seems to be the sort of committee which is set up to give the ‘correct’ answer rather than truly look at needs and solutions.

Please, just for once in this country, let us have some genuine joined-up thinking, some proper vision of where we might go to instead of some short term fudge to suit a single pressure group. As for Boris Johnson, he is doing a disservice to London by pressing for more development there.