It is not a word that springs readily to mind in the Britain of today. The newspaper headlines carry the government’s imprecation: ‘Buy fuel normally!’, and guess what? My local filling station has no fuel at all, and it is not one of the ones that was supposed to be in danger. We are reeling from the quadrupling of wholesale gas prices, and dreading what will happen in the winter—global warming notwithstanding. There is the on-going fallout from the Pandemic, and the thoughtless behaviour of many people regarding mask-wearing—around half of the people on the London Underground today were neither wearing masks nor practicing social distancing, despite constant announcements requesting them to do so.
And presiding over all of this is a cretinous, fornicating, charlatan, who seems to think that the whole thing is a jolly public-school jape, and who, among other things, finds it highly amusing to bait the leader of our closest neighbour. I wonder if he is aware that we purchased 10% of our electricity from France last month? A figure likely to increase since we are dependent on natural gas for close to 50% of our electricity production...
The point of all of this, in case anyone was wondering, is that I am in the member’s room of the British Library, an oasis of civilization in a crazy world. Am I hiding from reality? I don’t think so. It is possible to think here. And although I pay a small annual fee for use of the members’ room, the library itself is still completely free. Long may it be so.
There are nearly three billion Facebook accounts. This is unsurprising, given that an account, entirely free of charge, gives the holder a website for photographs and comments, together with the ability to establish groups of friends for the mutual exchange of news, pictures, videos, gossip, and to sell product.
But there is no such thing as a free lunch. The quid pro quo for this apparently ‘free’ resource, is that Facebook will advertise, targeting advertisements at individual accounts based on their response to previous advertising. Over time a profile is built up, significantly improving hit rate. Advertising is the source of Facebook’s revenue, and is what pays for the administration of the company as well as the acres of cloud storage that support the nearly three billion accounts. It is also why Mark Zuckerberg is currently worth around $131,800,000,000.
There is nothing wrong with advertising per se; it is one of the cornerstones of capitalist economics. But I think that we, the users, are entitled to some protection against the unscrupulous advertisers on Facebook who set out, quite deliberately, to sell the public a pig in a poke. Quite frequently, I get on my Facebook feed advertisements for products at absurdly low prices. Recent examples are a tool kit, a very sophisticated drone, a beautifully produced model of an eighteenth century sailing ship, a large wooden scissors jack, and a wonderfully detailed model of an internal combustion engine. The prices for these products are anything between one fifth and one twentieth of what they are clearly worth. A few weeks ago, ignoring the old adage that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is, I fell victim.
The product in question was a high-tech redesign of the classic shooting stick—a walking stick that converted into a three-legged chair. It was absolutely ideal for my needs. The advertisement was accompanied by an impressive video showing said walking stick in action. The price was £25... A click took me to the vendor’s website. It gave a London trading address, with an email address for customer service and a telephone number for complaints, and informed me that the product would be shipped from China. I placed my order, and some days later was informed by the Post Office that a package for me had been received from China.
The parcel arrived within two weeks of ordering. I thought it looked small, and on opening it found not my high-tech walking stick, but a small three-legged folding stool of a size appropriate for a child of five or six years old. I immediately sent an email to customer service, attaching a copy of the order acknowledgement clearly showing an illustration of what I had purchased as well as a photograph of what had been sent. After three days the email server informed me that the message was not delivered because the addressee did not exist. A telephone call to the complaints number gave me another email address via a recorded message; an email to that address resulted in the same non-existence of the addressee. On investigating the London trading address, I discovered it to be an empty building currently being refurbished. A google search of the product I had been trying to purchase—which I should have done first—showed it to be available from several reputable UK suppliers, at a cost of around £130... Realizing that I had been conned, I contacted the credit card company. They sent me a very simple form to fill in, and shortly thereafter refunded my money.
I continue to receive scam advertising on Facebook and apparently I am very much not alone, as a simple Google search will confirm. What I cannot understand, is why Facebook allow this. The one thing this experience has taught me is that I will NEVER purchase anything ever again via Facebook—potential advertisers take note. Why should I trust it? I have lost count of the number of times that I have reported these adverts as scams to Facebook, but they keep coming. Just like spam emails, the company names keep changing, and Facebook does nothing; it even has the gall in one of the so-called help messages to warn of scams from its advertising! A tweet to Nick Clegg on this subject, unsurprisingly, has gone unanswered. Caveat emptor!
Don Everly and Charlie Watts are dead; time for some music nostalgia. My band were always looking for places to rehearse. Suitable venues were hard to come by because of the noise we made – the ‘sound’ was not authentic unless performed at volumes suitable for a hall capable of holding several hundred people. On one occasion, it was sometime in 1964 when the ‘Fab Four’ were very much in the ascendant, we were given permission to use a school classroom, probably during the holidays. I was curious to know what the pupils kept inside their desks, and lifted up some lids; lid after lid was inscribed not with John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but with the names of the Rolling Stones. The Stones were the ‘bad boys’ of rock ‘n’ roll, with their raw, heavy blues music; undoubtedly they pioneered the new exciting sound. Along with the Beatles and many other British bands, they were responsible for bringing the centre of gravity of ‘pop’ music to this side of the Atlantic.
Personally though I always preferred the Beatles, with their melody lines and harmonisation alternating with occasional hard rock, but I greatly regretted never seeing the Stones performing live. My wife who did see them once said it was impossible to hear any of the music because of the screaming of the fans...
But for me, pretty much the end of an era was the passing of Don Everly – his brother Phil died some years ago. I slowly became aware of so-called popular music in the mid ‘fifties; but it was 1957 when I was thirteen or thereabouts, that it really started to get under my fingernails. Brits like Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan had the occasional hit, but the greats were the Americans – Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, Elvis of course (although I was never a great fan), and the unique sound of the Everly Brothers. Lennon and McCartney claimed that they based their harmonising singing style on Don and Phil. Of all music of the period, the Everly Brothers’ is to me the most evocative. In 1959 we were devastated when Budd Holly died, and again the following year when Eddie Cochran was killed in a road accident in Chippenham during a UK tour. Jerry Lee Lewis is still alive, and his rendering of What’d I Say remains one of my all-time favourites.
It is difficult for music lovers now to appreciate how difficult it was to listen to our favourite music in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Today there are dozens of radio stations pumping out music via FM and digital, as well as thousands more available via the internet. Then, pretty much our only free resource was Radio Luxembourg (broadcasting from Luxembourg). Hit records could be heard on jukeboxes in coffee bars or by buying the disc, but that all involved spending money...
Radio Luxembourg transmitted on AM and was all but impossible to receive during daylight hours due to issues with the ionosphere. Even at night the quality was awful and atmospherics would cause it to fade out for tens of seconds at a time. Since it was aimed at Britain and Ireland, it used English-speaking disc jockeys, and played Anglophone pop music. As a commercial station listeners were compelled to endure advertising. One of the most excruciating was voiced by its principle, Horace Batchelor, who was selling his ‘Infra-Draw’ method for winning at the football pools; one had to send for particulars to Keynsham near Bristol – K E Y N S H A M – he spelled the name out every single time ...
We continued listening to Radio Luxembourg into the 1960s, and when transistor radios arrived I would wander around the streets of Ealing, ‘trannie’ glued to my ear, listening to it. Things improved greatly with the pirate radio ships – Caroline and London – and then the Beeb got the message, Radio 1 came along, FM radio receivers became affordable, and everything changed.
The latest IPCC report predicting apocalyptic changes in the Earth’s climate within just a few decades was not even a three-day-wonder. It prompted headlines, the odd editorial, and a few letters to the newspapers, but virtually nothing on the main news channels by the following day. I start to wonder whether the world is not just sticking its head in the sand, either too frightened to contemplate the inevitable reality, or selfishly wanting to protect the status-quo, on the basis that the real changes will not happen for several decades, after those in charge now will have gone the way of all flesh.
Wrong; the changes are happening now. It seems staggering to me that the clear and present danger to the British Isles from a sea-level rise which is predicted--whatever we do—to continue rising, possibly for a hundred years or more, appears not to have prompted a crash programme of coastal defences. Currently, the sea-level is increasing at 3.2 mm per year, which is 1 mm per year more than it was just ten years ago...
I was prompted to write the following letter to The Times which, needless to say, they did not print:
The IPCC report makes terrifying reading; as a relatively low-lying island, we have much cause for concern. However, a grave risk could be turned into a real benefit by taking a leaf out of Holland's book, and building a series of dykes along the coast. These should start in the east of England, where the sinking land makes the sea level rise more acute. The resulting lagoons could be used for the tidal generation of electricity. Such power would be entirely predictable and renewable, and the technology involved could hardly be more basic.
Such a scheme would protect the land for many decades to come, and provide more than sufficient green power to meet the nation’s needs. If great shellfish farms were to be established in the lagoons, these would absorb CO2 from the sea. The protein could be used for food, and the ground up shells—containing locked up carbon—would find use in the building industry.
OK, perhaps the idea of shellfish farms was a bridge too far, but the fact remains that the shells of shellfish grown in seawater will absorb carbon from the water where it will remain locked up, effectively forever.
I recognize that there are more immediately pressing concerns at the moment vying for news coverage, but climate change affects everyone on the planet. If people think that there is a refugee problem at the moment, the consequences of tens of millions of people displaced from inundated low-lying countries seeking a life elsewhere will make the current situation look like a walk in the park.
The Thirty Years War, 1618 to 1648, fought largely in the Holy Roman Empire (modern Germany and surrounding states), is estimated to have killed between eight and twelve million people. The English Civil War was responsible for the death of around 4% of the population, approximately 200,000 people, equivalent to more than two and a half million people today. A substantial factor in both wars was the irreconcilable conflict, touched off in 1517 by Martin Luther, between Catholicism and Protestantism.
Anyone unwise enough to allow themselves to be drawn into an argument about religion—from the very existence of God, to the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin—knows that such arguments are an exercise in futility. Religion is an act of faith; adherents come to Believe because of family, culture, intellectual enquiry, or just gut feeling. It is impossible to prove either that God exists, or that he/she does not exist; likewise, it is not possible to prove that one religion is more correct—or incorrect—than another.
And so to what amounts to a religious war raging in the United Kingdom regarding the rightness or wrongness of the decision to depart from the EU. Adherents of Remain can argue ‘till they’re blue in the mouth’ about the legion drawbacks of the decision (many of which are just coming to light): the clear financial cost, the danger to the high tax-paying financial sector, the intractable problem of the Irish border, travel, work, study, and residence in the EU, import duty on goods purchased from the EU, the slump in sales of shellfish to the EU, and so on. Leavers will say, ‘yes, that may all be so, but it is a small price to pay now that we are free from the unelected bureaucrats of the EU and the European Court of Justice!’ etc, etc. The UK is free at last to control its borders, free to make its laws, and free to levy taxes; the government is answerable only to its electorate and parliament.
There is no right or wrong here. You believe either that the price was too high, or you are convinced that given the freedoms now enjoyed, it was worth it.
What prompted these speculations has been my reading of the on-going civil war on Twitter between the pro- and anti-EU factions, with vicious and entirely uncompromising invective on both sides. There seems to be no common ground, and in what is/was a binary decision, this is hardly surprising.
But it seems to me that if a spirit of real constructive cooperation existed between the governments of the United Kingdom and those of the EU, many of the current difficulties could be overcome. For example, consider the intractable problem of the Irish border. The issue seems to be that the UK standards relating to chilled meat do not conform to those of the EU. Why? We have had conformity for more than forty years—has it changed? Is the freedom to impose our own standards really worth the consequences of not retaining the EU ones? And if the EU don’t trust us to impose their regulations, why not allow inspections. Has there been a change to ease a trade deal with America? Biden has said that that will not happen if there is any threat to the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
I suspect, as Cummings said, that policy is made on the hoof after Johnson looks at the leaders and letter pages of the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that is consistently and virulently anti-Europe. But this is not a game being played by the good old chaps on the Eton playing fields; problems on the Irish border have real consequences for real people. We need to stop rattling sabres and get down to some real jaw-jaw. The people of this country will not forgive the government and its ministers if Northern Ireland blows up again over this.
One of the more sickening pieces of news this week, was a report that crewmen of the RNLI were heckled by members of the public when bringing ashore asylum-seekers that they had picked up in the channel. Nigel “I-tell-it-how-it-is” Farage commented that the RNLI is acting as a taxi service for people traffickers. One can always rely on Nigel for a thoughtful contribution ...
There has been much comment on the story, but I thought I would add my own two penn’orth since I have had first hand experience of being rescued in the channel.
The RNLI is a charity entirely supported by public donations. Its crewmen are volunteers; they put their lives on the line to save anyone and everyone in trouble at sea. They do this regardless of who the persons are, or whether they have recklessly put themselves at risk, like the yachtsman a few years ago, who was rescued three times in as many days trying to sail to Ireland using an AA road atlas for navigation. In any case, there is an unwritten rule at sea that anyone aware of someone afloat who is in trouble, for whatever reason, is duty bound to provide assistance.
The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. Large ships travel in two approximately five-mile-wide shipping lanes, north-eastern going traffic close to the English coast, south-western traffic near the French coast. These ships are generally travelling at 20 – 25 knots (25-30 mph). Because of their size and speed, changing course to avoid obstacles seen at the last minute is well-nigh impossible. Their radar and AIS (an electronic system by which a ship’s position, speed, and course is visible to any other ship) allow them to avoid collisions and this is, in any case, minimised by the strict one-way system operating. Small boats are very difficult to see visually except in perfect conditions, they are usually capable of only a few knots of speed, and do not show up on radar; migrant boats do not have AIS.
There is, therefore, a very significant risk of these small refugee boats being run down by large freighters that not only cannot see them, but even if they could see them, would have great difficulty in avoiding a collision. This is quite apart from the danger of overloaded boats full of untrained people being swamped or running out of fuel.
Some years ago I was crossing the channel to France with two friends in a 33 foot sailing yacht equipped with both radar and AIS. As navigator, I was constantly traumatised by seeing ships on the AIS display a few miles away, travelling at 25 knots in our direction but not yet visible over the horizon; in a small boat, the horizon is only around three miles for someone standing up (in any case a hazardous activity in an inflatable dinghy). We were motoring, there being very little wind, and had just crossed into the big ship lane on the French side, when we snagged 100 feet of heavy-duty mooring line floating in the water that someone had helpfully discarded. The line wrapped itself around the propeller, and the engine stopped. We were wallowing, helpless, in the big ship lane.
We contacted the English coastguard and they called out the Dover Lifeboat—no matter that we were in French territorial waters; the RNLI were with us within half an hour. Fortunately, we were able to deploy sail, and made our way very slowly back into the separation zone between the shipping lanes where it was relatively safe. It was a very frightening incident, but the RNLI towed us safely into Dover harbour. They were and are heroes. You can read more details of this incident here: https://www.mirlibooks.com/blog/archives/06-2015
The very good news later in the week, was that donations to the RNLI since the report of heckling had rocketed.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of politics in Britain today is not that our prime minister is a serial liar and philanderer, or that he U-turns at a moment’s notice according to the headlines in the newspapers, or that most restrictions on masks/gatherings etc have been removed on the very day that the number of new Covid infections in the UK is within 20% of the peak in early January of this year (54,486 yesterday), or that the current rate of increase of infections is faster than we have yet seen, or that in an island nation that has 'taken back control', he allowed—with plenty of notice of the event—the Delta variant to enter the UK when the easiest thing in the world would have been to close the borders, or that in spite of the lifting of restrictions, the public is advised to continue to wear masks/social distance, an advice which can only lead to confusion, dispute, and conflict within shops, pubs, restaurants etc.
No, the most depressing aspect of all of this, is that Johnson’s supporters in the country don’t apparently care.
Why is this? Is there a sort of psychological ostrich pandemic along with the physical one, in that these people genuinely do not want to know? Do they just want good news regardless?
I know that one or two supporters of the prime minister read this blog—or rather are confronted with links to it via Facebook. I challenge them to respond. Why do you continue to support this mountebank? His policies have already done incalculable harm to the interests of the UK. We are a laughing-stock abroad, and face bankruptcy at home.
Perhaps the most galling thing of all, is that when Johnson decides he’s had enough (or perhaps his colleagues do, or even the country does), he’ll be able to go on the talk circuit at £50,000 a pop, and the rest of us will have to live with the consequences of his actions.
Very sad to see that Andrew Mitchell, that rarest of a critically endangered species—a Tory MP with a conscience—has failed in his attempt to get the UK government to reverse its cuts to foreign aid. No doubt many will applaud this failure, but it marks another shameful step in the relentless withdrawal of this country from its duties and responsibilities to the world at large.
We are constantly being told by many of those who voted yesterday against restoring the aid back to 0.7% of GDP, that we are the ‘fifth largest economy in the world’. Yet we begrudge this minuscule amount of charity to the poorest and neediest in the world, the exploitation of many of whose riches enabled us to be where we are today.
Shame on you Johnson. Under your ‘leadership’, to paraphrase John Major, a previous Tory prime minister, Great Britain is transformed into Little England.
Anyone looking at the various posts I have made over the years, cannot fail to see that I am a music-lover. I might have moaned about Benjamin Britten or execrated Harrison Birtwistle, but I have certainly waxed lyrical—ecstatic even—over Wagner, Beethoven, Berlioz, Richard Strauss, and Gustav Mahler; and also Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and Chuck Berry. I even made my living by playing music for a year or so. But music, be it classical, folk, or rock ‘n’ roll, is for listening to; possibly, in the case of the latter, danced to (although my wife and I have also danced to Beethoven’s third symphony, to the great amusement of my post-graduate examiner at Essex University...)
What I absolutely cannot abide though, because I think it is an insult to the musicians, and a misery to the unwitting listener, is muzak. I once spent the weekend at a friend of a friend’s house in Phoenix, Arizona. Around 7:30 am, when the lady of the house was dressed and about, the muzak started—in all the rooms of the house excepting the bedrooms—and continued all day. It is a measure of the outlook of this particular household, that in April, average temperature in Phoenix, 24ºC, (it’s effectively in the desert) the outside swimming pool was deemed too cold for swimming ... But I digress.
I have now visited a number of eating establishments in my local area, at least three of which have recently been refurbished for six figure sums. The service is always excellent and the food is first class, but ... there is, in every place, piped music. Worse than that, the volume is at a level that it interrupts conversation. Even worse still, those establishments with gardens or outside areas, pipe the music there too. There is no escape from it.
Why is this? Do the customers want it? I find it difficult to believe so. Is it done to please otherwise bored staff? Is the public deemed to be so illiterate these days on a diet of Strictly Come Dancing, Love Island, interminable sport, or endless films about how we ‘won the war’, that we are incapable of conversing with each other? Well I am sick of it. Tomorrow is a special day for me, and I have elected to have a nice meal at home rather than in a restaurant—yes, I know, most restaurants are closed on a Monday but ...
I give warning to local restaurateurs; in future, without exception, I will ask them to turn their music right down. If they refuse, I will report them to the Health and Safety Executive as being responsible for a clear and present danger to our mental health and physical wellbeing.
I have updated the extended obituary of my mother and added some pictures; it can be read here: https://www.mirlibooks.com/mirli.html. It includes a rather amusing story which she related regarding my own provenance.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs