It is interesting to see the fuss in some quarters this week following the decision of the government to approve a new nuclear power station using French technology and Chinese money. “How do we feel depending on domestic power controlled by a totalitarian state half way across the world?” the Today presenter asked anyone prepared to offer an opinion.
It is certainly an interesting question. The Industrial Revolution happened in this country not only because there were plenty of clever engineers with ideas and vision, but because capital was available from people who were not afraid to take risks. Many schemes failed and investors lost their money. When the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable was completed in 1866, it had been as a result of the fifth attempt at connecting the USA with Britain. After four unsuccessful attempts, investors had still been found to raise the capital needed for the enterprise.
Even after the banking crisis, (perhaps because of it), the City of London is awash with money looking for investment opportunities. The fact that none of it was forthcoming to invest in future electricity generation in this country can be for only two reasons: the risks were deemed to be too high, and the returns were not regarded as being adequate.
So there is a rather nice symmetry in the Chinese investing their hard-earned cash – much of it having been provided by UK citizens buying Chinese-made goods – back into the UK economy. If that allows the Chinese government to control our future electricity supply and export profits back to themselves, we can hardly complain. If any criticism is due to anyone, surely it should be aimed at the financiers in the City of London for their greed and lack of entrepreneurial spirit.
I have just completed the one hundred and first talk. The first one was given to Rayleigh Grange U3A in June 2010. That was on Henry John Hatch. The most recent, yesterday, was to the Chelmsford U3A in the splendid new MASC premises. The subject was Dr Thomas Smethurst.
I started the whole process at the suggestion of Mary Sharpe, a very nice lady I met at Madingley Hall - the Cambridge College of Continuing Education. I was attending one of the weekend courses there, and we got chatting. I had just published Henry's Trials and was fretting about how to publicize the book on a very modest budget. During the next break she presented me with a piece of paper absolutely crammed with ideas. One of the most fruitful was to give talks to the U3A.
The talks did generate book sales, but soon they acquired a momentum of their own. With all of our modern media, television and the internet, possibly the very oldest and still the most highly effective form of entertainment - practiced by Homer, no less - is the simple process of one person just telling a story to an audience, whether the audience be one, one hundred or one thousand.
I have received the very first formal order for the book via a book wholesaler on the south coast. From now on, the only way is up...
Yesterday I held a small party to launch Smethurst’s Luck. My friendly local pub, the Orange Tree in Chelmsford, provided the venue, and Mike Collins - ‘Silent Mike’ – the landlord, and his excellent staff, KT, Kathy, Trish, Carrie and Mick ensured that the event was most successful.
The press, however, failed to turn up, and I have the task of persuading the local newspaper to print a story.
I am also now contemplating a blitz on Richmond. Since the byline for Smethurst’s Luck is ‘The Richmond Poisoner’, it ought to be of interest to the numerous bookshops there.
Yesterday I gave the 100th talk since I started doing them around three years ago. The venue was the Wanstead and Woodford U3A, and the subject was Henry John Hatch. The talk was received very well.
I started doing talks following a suggestion from a friend, in an attempt to publicize Henry’s Trials. Now I also speak about Thomas Smethurst, as well as on the lesser known aspects of Brunel’s life and work.
It is certainly gratifying when the audience respond well, as they did yesterday, but the drive to South Woodford for the last mile or so, was a nightmare, with the traffic crawling at snail’s-pace in the rush-hour. I suppose people put up with extreme traffic congestion because they have no alternative. I do wonder though; do people really want to spend half an hour - 3% of their precious waking hours - travelling two miles in a car under the most frustrating conditions?
I spoke to the people at the U3A about it, and they said that it was the same every day. One person commented that it was the school-run that was responsible. It is certainly difficult to blame parents for transporting their children to school, given the volume of traffic on the roads today and endemic fears about child-molesters. It is a pity, because I remember at the age of eight or nine going on the 65 bus, on my own, to school. The bus journey took 15 minutes and involved crossing the main road. Of course people looked out for children then, and were able to give assistance to a distressed child with no danger of being accused of paedophilia.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs