Friday, 1 July 2016

Exit Johnson stage right

Never in the political history of the United Kingdom have comparisons with the ”Grand old Duke of York" been more appropriate. Boris Johnson, who leapt on the EU referendum as a bicycle booster to his hopes of leading the Tory party, has looked upon the EUrine stained wreckage he has wrought and decided to spend more time with his lucrative other interests.

His decision to run away, and he could have stayed, has left Home Secretary Teresa May as the favourite to take over from Posh Dave. Forget Gove, he hasn't a chance. As much as the perfidious Johnson is disliked, people dislike disloyalty even more. So back to Teresa May. I will say that she's not my favourite politician but some view her as a sort of 21st century Maggie Thatcher. Maybe so, but only without the warmth, humanity or sense of humour. She’s confident that she can give the country what it wants during this time of national crisis, mainly because she’s snooped on everyone’s mobile phone messages.

Let's not forget that she is no stranger to post-truth politics herself, some of us can recall when she once stood up before the Tory party conference and told them the entirely ficticious tale of a Bolivian who couldn’t be deported because he had a pet cat. She’s the Home Secretary responsible for the vans bearing the racist “Go Home” adverts that patrolled our streets. She’s made no secret of her antipathy towards the European Treaty on Human Rights. She's adept in the politics of right wing dog whistle racism. I, for one, would not look forward to having her as our PM.

Britain is continuing its not so stately descent into madness. The thing about collective madness is that when everyone else around you is behaving like a crazy, then that legitimises craziness. That’s how you end up with a situation where the Parliamentary Labour party thinks that it can ditch Jeremy Corbyn as a leader and expects the grass roots membership not to immediately vote him back into office again. Polls strongly point to ordinary Labour members doing just that, meaning Jeremy will lead a party where almost 80% of MPs and Labour’s entire cohort of MEPs have voted to get rid of him.

We’re now a week on from the UK pushing the big red Brexit button and we’re still no wiser about what’s happening to the country. With the exception of the Scottish Government, no one has a plan for Brexit, and there’s still no prospect of either of the two main UK parties having one any time soon. In times of uncertainty it’s vital to act decisively. Westminster seems totally incapable of doing so. And they have the gall to describe themselves as professional politicians.

But it does give me the opportunity to dig out some clips of great vintage music. 

Thursday, 30 June 2016

There's nothing like being prepared

Despite all of the noises offstage about another referendum and what have you, having voted to leave the EU, we should now be moving to the next stage: negotiating a new set of trade deals with the EU bloc and other relevant countries/organisations. 

Given that our political masters don't seem to have prepared for anything other than the next 5 minutes, how confident can we be that they are prepared for what is probably the most important set of negotiations since Yalta (look it up on Google)? Once upon a time, I used to get involved in 'negotiating' and, believe it or not, I had some formal training in the subject. Admittedly it was relatively low level stuff but I think the basic principles would still apply. So, what would I expect to be in place if we wanted to avoid getting screwed? Here are a few thoughts (thanks to the BBC for the background material): 
Strong and effective leadership
Getting a good deal requires strong leadership which coordinates the whole of the government's machinery, across the many ministries and non-governmental stakeholders who need to be consulted and involved. At the same time, aggressive political lobbying of national leaders and opinion formers needs to happen. Unity of purpose is important as any sign of disunity will be exploited by the 'opposition'.

Preparation and strategy
It is generally accepted that 80% of the effort of a formal negotiation is in the preparation and 20% in the execution. The government should start to prepare immediately and work towards defining its national interests and flesh out a strategy. Going into the negotiations, the UK should know exactly what it wants to get out of them and what it would take to get a good deal with the EU and with other trading partners.

An experienced and competent team
When it comes to making deals, the devil is in the detail. Trade deals are incredibly complex - the recently concluded deal between the EU and Canada runs to almost 1,600 pages and covers everything from fisheries to financial services. Successful negotiations require a skilled and large team. The EU has around 600 trade negotiators and the UK urgently needs a similarly sized team to craft new deals with major trade partners.

Taking the initiative
Successful negotiation involves clearly identifying your own interests and not simply reacting to the other side's. Our Government must know what it wants from any deal, what it wishes to keep off the negotiating table and the concessions it is willing to make. This is not easy. In an ideal world, the Government would already have consulted extensively with businesses, small and large, as well as consumer groups and trade unions. The ball would already have started rolling.

Here's your checklist:
  • Strong and effective leadership? Unity of purpose?
  • Preparation and strategy?
  • An experienced and competent team?
  • Taking the initiative?
How do we stack up? How ready are we? Who is right? Private Fraser or Corporal Jones?

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

What else? The Eu Referendum aftermath

Does anyone have any idea yet of what’s going to happen to the country over the coming weeks, even the coming days? Because the British government and the official opposition sure as hell don’t. They’re more concerned about their own parties and their own careers than they are about Britain’s impending flouncing off from the EU, Scotland becoming independent, the Northern Irish peace process being sacrificed or an economy that’s on the skids. It’s easier for them that way: when you’re facing a catastrophe of unthinkable proportions, it’s a lot easier to argue about the colour of the wallpaper in the Cabinet meeting room than to try and wrap your head around the enormity of the mess that you’re responsible for. Let's face it, the entire political establishment is in meltdown,

Vote Leave seem to have wiped out the hopes of a generation, wiped out the United Kingdom as a union, wiped out any chance of an open tolerant and inclusive country and now they’ve doctored their website too. They don’t want anyone reminding them of all the lies they told and the dubious promises that they made in order to win the EU referendum. Uncomfortable promises like the one they made to invest £350 million a week in the NHS, promises that they’re now frantically trying to deny that they ever made in the first place.

We are all discovering that Boris Johnson, that famous scholar of the Classics, failed to explain before the referendum that Brexit was actually Ancient Greek for “OMG, I don’t have a clue what to do now”. What degree of selfish entitlement does it take to lead an entire campaign to take the UK out of the EU, and not to have a clue about what to do once you get the result you campaigned for? I’m not entirely sure but that’s because I never went to Eton. Boris doesn’t bother his tousled head about little details like what comes after a vote, about ensuring that policies are in place, because that would be work, and he has always had flunkies for that sort of thing.

The Labour party seems to be totally incapable of taking advantage of the Tory disarray by putting forward a positive vision for the future because they are far too busy with yet another of their interminable civil wars. This time the Shadow Cabinet hasn’t bothered merely to stab Jeremy Corbyn in the back, they’ve stabbed him in the back, in the front and sideways. Jezza has been forced to appoint a whole slew of non-entities to the shadow cabinet to replace the non-entities who have just left. In fact, I was surprised I didn't get a call from him today. How will it all end?
Posh Dave and George didn’t have any contingency plans for what to do if the vote went against them, because they believed that their own arrogance was all that they needed to carry the day. The last few days have shown up the elite of the British establishment to be culpable of the most tragic display of ineptitude since British generals sent men 'over the top' at the Battle of the Somme (the 100th 'anniversary' of which is coincidentally round about now) There are orang utangs swinging through the trees in Borneo who demonstrate a higher level of forward planning than Posh Dave and George. Orang utangs at least ensure that they have a branch to cling onto. Posh Dave and George don’t even have a withered fig leaf. 

The only politician in the entire country who has any plan, who has the remotest idea of how to get out of this sorry and entirely unnecessary mess is Nicola Sturgeon. Go, girl, go. Show them all darn sarf how to do it.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Something else to beef about

What's this lurking in the murk and under the brick in a plastic bag?
It's a joint of brisket that's been soaking in a curing solution for a week.
Actually a spiced curing solution with bay leaves, cloves, garlic, brown sugar, juniper berries, black peppercorns and nutmeg.
Out of the curing brine, a quick rinse in cold water and then into a slow cooker with onions, more garlic, carrots, bay leaves, sage and rosemary. Top up with more water and then cook on low for 8 hours until nice and tender.

And voila, Salt beef. Which went down a treat as a sandwich on dark rye bread with sauerkraut.

Coincidentally today we visited Buckland Abbey today, once owned by Sir Francis Drake. This is a list of the weekly rations for a sailor on one of his ships. They got 8lbs of salt beef a week. I wonder if they had it on rye with sauerkraut?

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Some thoughts after the EU Referendum

I've already posted 'Some thoughts on the eve of the EU Referendum' and my closing sentiments were: "Let's hope it's a good turnout and a decisive result to stay in. Surely it can't go the other way? Can it?". Obviously it could and, unfortunately did. The past couple of days have been fascinating and it's clear that, in the aftermath of the referendum, it is going to be impossible to reseal Pandora’s box. Dark forces and furies have been unleashed into the body politic and we shall be living with the consequences for years to come. I can't be the only person to think of this quote from Julius Caesar: 

Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war.
Well, dogs from every direction are certainly barking and, if it's possible to put the cause of it all to one side, political nerds like me are going to have the time of our lives. OK, it may be in the same category as cracking jokes at a funeral but, in these troubled times, let's take whatever crumbs of enjoyment we can.

What is going to keep us entertained? Here's just a few off the top of my head:

1.  The contest for the leadership of the Tory party? BJ or not BJ that is the question. A second rate politician with a first rate ambition. Or someone else? But who? Is there anyone in their ranks who can say, with authority, "this is where we are and this is where we need to go"? Who has the credibility to promote a strategy for the mess they have created for themselves?

2.  The contest for the leadership of the Labour party. JC has manifestly shown that he is not someone who leads from the front and that is what is going to be required in the days/weeks/months ahead as the Brexit strategy is debated. Who will replace him? Mmm, difficult but Hilary Benn has got to be a front-runner. And all at the time the Labour Party is discovering just how disaffected many of its traditional voters are.

3.  Whither Nigel Farrage? One certainty amongst the sea of uncertainty is that he is not going to go quietly. What malign influence will he have on the negotiations?

4. The status of Scotland and Northern Ireland. There are already rumblings to the north and west of us as the natives show their unrest. Will we see an independent Scotland and a united Ireland eventually? The Great British Public have single-handedly given new life to Irish Unification and reinvigorated the Scottish Independence movement.

5. Following on from the above point, what are the long term implications for the British constitution? Are we seeing the first moves towards a more federal arrangement? Is now the time to press for a written British constitution? Is now the time to start questioning the place of a constitutional monarchy? After all, the Brexiteers made much capital of wanting to take back control and returning to democracy. It's a logical step to add all this into the melting pot. 

6. The actual strategy of disentangling us from the myriads of threads that connects us with the EU. Our European partners have been watching the unfolding events in Britain with bewilderment. Why should they make it easy for our negotiators? We can't expect to be treated in the same way as before last Thursday's vote.

7. There's also our relationship with the world outside of the EU to consider as well. Some talk about resurrecting our links with the Commonwealth. How will they respond to our begging bowl?

8. It's clear that exit negotiations will take up a lot of parliamentary time: how will the governance of the country be handled throughout this process?

9. What platform will our exit negotiators be working from? The Brexiteers ensured that immigration became the central issue of a dispiriting campaign. Their gambit was calculated and born of desperation, because they knew that the economic case for Brexit was feeble and had been discredited by any number of independent bodies, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Bank of England to the International Monetary Fund. Now is the time for them to declare their strategy. But I'm not holding my breath for anything soon.

And there will be more as I've bound to left a few things out. Lots and lots to look out for and I'll sign off with another Shakespearean quote, this one from Edgar at the end of King Lear:

The weight of this sad time we must obey.
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
As far as I am concerned this photograph tells me all I need to know about Boris Johnson. Is he really PM material? Not in a million years.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

A postcard for Europe

 Following the referendum results, much as I feel inclined to take to my bed for a decade or so, I am trying my best to cut myself off from reality (if 52% of electors can do it, why shouldn't I?) and engage in some distraction activities. What better than to dip back into Mabel and Dolph's postcard collection? At least 100 years old, maybe, but it always seems to come up with something relevant to current events. Here's one for all those who seem inclined towards the building of walls: it reminds us that "walls are easy things to mount".
Taking up that verse on the postcard, maybe "Fond embraces, a la squeeze" is just the kind of thing we should be offering to the rest of Europe at the moment? It certainly looks as if they are not going to take on the role of a sleeping aunty whilst we fiddle around.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Linear walk from Gunnislake to Calstock

Due to an afternoon commitment we were not able to do a full walk today and had to content ourselves with a 5.5 mile linear walk from Gunnislake to good old Calstock. The route took us down to the River Tamar, along the bank for a while, then up to Calstock church, down to Okel Tor mine and along a lane into Calstock. The weather and the company were both great for walking. Guess what? No-one mentioned the EU Referendum which was very refreshing. What more could be said? All we could do is enjoy the moment and wait for the result later on.
Our route. Not too strenuous but it had its moments.
Quite a bit of lane walking on this one but they were quiet and enhanced by the dappled shade and....
..and wildflowers..
..lots of wildflowers.
In the not-too-distant past, every farm brewed its own cider from its own orchards. This was for domestic use and also an expected perk for the farm workers. Apparently it was not a potent brew and could be swigged without any adverse after effects.
On to the graveyard of St Andrew's church at Calstock. One interesting grave commemorated the deaths of two brothers in the sinking of the Titanic.
Harry and Shadrach Gale were local miners and were on their way to work in mines in the far west of the USA. Their passage was originally booked on another ship but, as that one had developed boiler problems, they had the misfortune of being 'upgraded' to the Titanic. In total, four men from our area lost their lives as the ship went down.
St Andrew's Church at Calstock. Situated on a high point above the Tamar, the present building dates from the 15th Century, although it was built on the site of much older churches. Across the road from the church are the remains of a Roman Fort, which was discovered in 2008. Why were the Romans here? For the metals (lead, tin. silver) found aplenty in the vicinity. There is good evidence to suggest that the church is built over part of the fort. Alas, no water tank, Roman or otherwise!
The interior of the church is imposing and it was built for much larger congregations than it gets nowadays. At one time it would have been packed with miners and their families.
An interesting memorial tablet. Van Diemans Land? The old name for Tasmania. A resident of nearby Launceston became a governor of the colony and exported several local names to that part of the Antipodes - Launceston and River Tamar to mention just two.
An interesting plaque to bellringers in the church tower. If I had the inclination I'd try to decipher the script - perhaps a task for another time.
The church gate with its coffin stone, both dating from the mid-Victorian period and dedicated to the memory of members of the local Honeycombe family, probably one of the oldest families in these parts.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Some thoughts on the eve of the EU Referendum

I have never made any pretense of being anything other than a convinced Europhile and will be casting my vote accordingly in the Referendum tomorrow. The polling booth opens at 7 am and I like to think that I'll be first in the queue (but probably won't be as, let's face it, that is a little early). We've been bombarded from all sides with all shades of opinion and, for the record, I thought I'd pull together some thoughts and impressions of the campaign.
  • The debates I've caught have generated more heat than light with each side countering the others arguments rather than concentrating on the substantive issues. I feel sorry for those who have only just thought about our place in Europe as the debates have probably not helped them to make up their mind.
  • David Cameron has had a competent campaign but I'll admit that I can't get over my antipathy towards him. Jeremy Corbyn? He's not someone who leads from the front and is obviously more used to the endless debates in smoke filled rooms that were so characteristic of Labour party meetings of yore. Sadiq Khan? Either him or Chukka will be Labour leader one day. Boris Johnson? Outright opportunist. Nigel Farage? Outright racist. Ian Duncan Smith? Outright pillock. Michael Gove? Outright nasty.
  • It was always my intention to vote in the way that gives my children and grandchildren the best possible future. To this end I was prepared to vote against my instincts if I felt their needs would be served better by the contrary position. I have to say that I've heard absolutely nothing to suggest that voting 'out' would be in their interests.
  • I've always been of the view that we, as a country, have never really engaged with the EU (name your MEP?) and have always kept it at arm's length. With all this hitherto unaired passion for Europe, maybe our politicians will really get stuck in from now on in?
  • The referendum process? I've found it fascinating and a real change from politicians arguing without party lines. We ought to do it again, perhaps to address the question "Monarchy? Yes or No?".
And now it's over to the Great British Public to have their say. Let's hope it's a good turnout and a decisive result to stay in. Surely it can't go the other way? Can it?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

For ecclesiopiscinoaquariophiles everywhere

All church water storage enthusiasts (or ecclesiopiscinoaquariophiles to give us our formal title) will know the excitement of happening upon a hitherto unvisited water tank. So it was one day when, in a location in West Cornwall, my IWC and I came across a beautiful riveted galvanised tank. 
Having run my trembling fingers over the smooth, yet sensual, button Jasper rivets, with a sense of rising excitement I noticed something special lurking under the water-line; something that all water storage tank enthusiasts dream of - oh it couldn't be... surely not! But it was! For what I saw was one of the rarest and most cherished of water storage features - a Cratchet bracing bar!
"It's a Cratchet bar!" I shouted with jubilation as I danced about. "A Cratchet bar, hurrah!"

My companion shook her head, rolled her eyes and slowly backed away.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Walk from Belstone

It's always good to be out on Dartmoor and it seems ages since we ventured onto the open moor. An area we had not walked in previously and one that we will definitely visit again.

Our route, starting and ending in the pretty village of Belstone, and walking up one side of the River Taw and down the other. About 6.5 miles of reasonably strenuous going.
The village stocks in Belstone. Their age is not known for sure but it is suggested that they were last used around the mid 1800’s and then for such simple crimes as infringing common rights or offences against the church. They are, in fact, a grade II listed monument. But they are not all they may seem. The wood is quite recent and, during some stabilisation work, evidence was uncovered that suggests that one of the granite posts might have been used as a pillory at some time.
A Series 2 Field-Marshall tractor, dating from the 1950s, with its characteristic green paint and ostentatious exhaust cleaner system. I knew what this was as soon as I saw it as I used to work on a farm that had one. I'm pretty certain that even in this condition it would fetch a good price as a restoration project.
The River Taw tumbling over granite rocks.
It's a good year for foxgloves. Lots and lots of them around, adding splashes of colour in the hedgerows and along our paths.
Belted Galloway cattle are becoming increasingly common on the moor due to their hardiness and ability to scratch sustenance from some pretty barren places. They put on weight slowly and the meat, or so I'm told, is very tasty. The view is almost due south looking across the Taw Marsh.
And this view is in the opposite direction, looking north towards Belstone Common.
As with many places on Dartmoor, the landscape we walked through has been shaped by man over many years through mining activities. Although not obvious, this view is taken looking down a fairly substantial leat taken off a nearby tributary of the River Taw. The large triangular stone marks the boundary of the Wheal Virgin mine.
Green Hairstreak butterfly. Not uncommon but unusual. It's the only green butterfly in the UK and is usually seen with its wings closed. The upper wing surfaces are a rather dull brown. There were a few of them around but they weren't easy to spot.
Small Heath butterfly. Not a rare species but very difficult to get a good photograph of. They are flighty little devils.
A female Wheatear. A corruption of White Rear, the accuracy of which becomes obvious when they fly away from you and you can see their white rumps.
Look closely and you can spot lots of spent gun cartridges. Hardly surprising as we were just inside the fringes of the Okehampton army training area. The worrying thing was that some of them appeared to be intact and undischarged.
A Ferguson TE20 tractor, again dating from the 1950s. A walking companion told me that this model was affectionately known as 'the little grey Fergie' and was the workhorse of many small farms for many years. Again, something valuable rusting away.
There's nothing like a refreshing drink after a long walk. And we didn't just walk away leaving someone else to clear up after us, we were just doing what the barmaid  told us to do.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Nice day to start a walk of 1105 miles

What an absolutely lousy start to the day. It lashed down overnight and it looks as if it's going to last well into the afternoon.
I wonder what it looks like in John O'Groats? Marginally better but still not wonderful. Why the interest in the far north of Scotland do I hear you ask?
Because today's the day that friend and colleague John Wilmut sets out from John O'Groats to walk to Land's End. He's calling it his JOGLE 2016. In 2012 he walked it in the reverse direction when he termed it LEJOG 2012. His intended route is in blue in the above map.
John will be walking between 12 and 20 miles a day, with the occasional rest day thrown in. If things go according to plan he should reach Lands End down here in sunny Cornwall at the end of August. Hopefully we'll be part of the welcoming party.
Why is John doing it? This is what he says on his website ( Laudable aims for a laudable endeavour and well worth supporting. Why not go to John's website and donate? Start your day with a good deed.
This is my second (and probably my last) attempt at a walk from end to end of mainland Britain.
In 2012 I walked from Lands End to John O'Groats in support of Christian Aid's work in education in Sierra Leone and elsewhere. But the problems and the need are huge so, after an interval of 4 years during which I dithered over whether I wanted to make another effort of this kind, I've decided to do another walk, but this time walking south instead of north. But, again, it's in support of education for poor children.
As a one-time specialist in educational development I had the good fortune to work in a number of developing countries over many years of my career. I saw some of the impact that poverty had on children's education - drop-out from school, poorly qualified and poorly paid teachers, the lack of books and the decrepit state of many schools. As part of its wider commitment to the improvement of the living standards and wellbeing of people in poor countries, Christian Aid and its partners are working to improve conditions for some of the children. The aim is to improve learning, to enrich their lives and to extend their opportunities. I think that's something worth walking for!
So this is my website in support of my new walk. Use the menu buttons above to find out about the route and timetable, to read my blog, to find out about the work of Christian Aid and to see what happened on the 2012 walk.
Above all, please support this walk in any way that you can: just click on the DONATE button above. There's a donation site or you can support us by sending something directly. And please do spread the news of this walk by telling or emailing your friends and colleagues..
Last time we raised over £10,000. I'm hoping that we can at least equal that this year. Please help if you can! 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Recipe time again: Minced Meat Loaf Cake

After a break whilst we were away, it's back to baking a cake for our local Pop-Up Café. This week I returned to one I'd made a while ago, a minced meat loaf cake, because I had a jar of minced meat left over from Xmas lurking at the back of a cupboard. Here's the line-up of ingredients in which the Tesco label features prominently - I should add that ingredients from other sources are perfectly acceptable, indeed are probably more acceptable to those who shop at Tesco holding their nose.
And the quantities a for 2lb tin?

150g softened unsalted butter
225g mincemeat
150g soft light brown sugar
225g self raising flour
2 eggs
100g currants
100g sultanas

100g dried cranberries
2 tsp cinnamon
Enough flaked almonds to give a good sprinkle on the top

It's easy-peasy to make. Simply mix all the ingredients, except for the flaked almonds, together until they are well incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the lined tin. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Bake for 1 hour (at 160C) or until well risen (but this is isn't a high rising mix) and golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

I use this oven but ovens from other sources would be perfectly acceptable.

And this is what they look like at the end (I always use double the quantities so that we've got one in freezer for future use). The taste test? Pretty good and one to add to the list to do again.