Bardiness

"..a bardy view!"

Chewing the Cud over GMT and BST…..

CowVery soon I will give the hour back which I received 5 months ago. In seven months time I shall reclaim it.

I don’t know who is the beneficiary of my sixty minutes, nor do I know who returns it.

I do know that every year since the day I was born I have, with great philanthropy, parted with an essential essence of my life – my time – but comforted in the knowledge that I only permitted it’s borrowing on a short term loan.

I gave it free, without interest, yet if time was indeed money, I could have become very wealthy over the years had I charged for it.

After all, if I asked my bank manager for a loan he wouldn’t give it to me for free just because I promised to return it promptly after seven months. The difference of course is that my time is priceless, and although it is unique it has no monetary value.

I can invest it, I can spend it, I can save it and I can waste it. I cannot hold it. I cannot keep it. I cannot preserve it. It is gone in a moment – and lost in a memory.

I can think of nothing more valuable, more essential than time, yet it is not oil, not gold, not silver, not platinum. My time is more precious than metals and minerals, but it is all mine – every single second of it. It’s value is incalculable.

At 02.00 on the last Sunday of  March (as is always the case) I will say hello to British Summer Time, or on the last Sunday of October, return to the dark days of Greenwich Mean Time.

It’s an economic decision that I have no choice over. A few years ago the UK government considered the Daylight Savings Private Members Bill to abolish GMT and align the British Isles with CET (Central European Time), which would have meant more light at night and less light at morning. Longer summer evenings, and maybe an hour more light in winter resulting in longer darker mornings. It would have suited the more southern English, but not the northern Brits. In any event, the bill was rejected, and it’s not likely to reappear again for some time.

Any change in daylight saving policy won’t change the orbit of the earth, no more than it will stop the sun from rising and setting at inconvenient times for commerce and industry.

The cows in the fields will chew the cud regardless. The sheep will be fairly laid back and the pigs are unlikely to grunt in dissent. The cocks will continue to crow at dawn, and the chickens will lay their eggs without cracking up at the stupidity of it all.

The EU will be happy because everything will be standardised. But they tried that with the Euro and look what happened.

They can mess around with money. Surely we can’t allow them to mess around with the clocks as well?

I just don’t have the time for it.

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, General, History, Humour, London, Politics, United Kingdom | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Baby Boomers…….

 

beatles

If you were born between 1946 and 1964 then you are officially a “baby boomer”.

You’re as old as 70 and as young as 52 – assuming you’re reading this in 2016.

Baby Boomer is the term used for the generation born during the 18 years after WWII, which by all accounts changed the world and has become responsible for all the ills of society.

The first batch of boomers heralded the age of the teenager and the swinging sixties. A sixteen year old born in 1946 would have sailed through the austere 1950’s, would have abandoned Bill Hailey and the Comets, Frank Sinatra and the balladeer crooners, rejected their parents hand-me-downs, and embraced 1962 with pop music and liberation. Cliff Richard and the Shadows were the face of the young and around the corner loomed the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Even Elvis was getting old hat.

Their parents by contrast were the generation which suffered in the depressing thirties, and then went off to war.

Indeed their parents before them would have gone through the First World War, and they certainly would have had no concept of being a teenager – they would have left school at 12 or 14 and then went to work – there was no room for anything else.

By 1966 our hero or heroine – the subject of this post and first born boomer – would be 20 years old, fashion conscious, sexually liberated, rocking to Mick Jagger or rebelling along with Bob Dylan. Later he or she would have a good job, money in the pocket, and an access to university long denied from the forebears.

Their peers would have their minds and horizons broadened and take to the streets to protest about the Vietnam war, join CND and march to “Ban the Bomb”. They were the “have it all” generation. If they didn’t get great jobs, they would still get good jobs – jobs which they could secure for 35 years and retire comfortably.

Such was their opportunity; they bought houses, raised families, and became more affluent than any generation gone before. They went through a period of relative peace (in the UK at least), did not fight any wars, and were not conscripted for national service, and even the threat of nuclear Armageddon and cold war politics fazed them not.

Our twenty-year old pot-smoking hippy (who danced at Woodstock), became either a bog-standard pillar of the establishment or found his way into the echelons of society –  and if he didn’t become a captain of industry he took a seat in Parliament responsible for the very society he had fun to reject.

The mantra of Roger Daltry and the Who – Hope I die before I get old – was just a juvenile distraction.

Our first baby boomer has retired now. He has even escaped the austerity cuts and his pension is secure. His life was one of incredible social change and privilege which saw a National Health Service, a welfare state, security, peace and financial wealth.

But is he happy? He has seen the erosion of values, the erosion of community, the destruction of the nuclear family – all factors which held his parents and grandparents together.

Our sixties teenage angry young man now complains about the lack of values, waxes lyrically with nostalgia and regrets sentimentally about his parents generation – moans about the state of the nation, deplores the loss of standards, and castigates the young with their disrespect and irreverence for authority.

He wants to bring back hanging and flogging, he wants to incarcerate them, he wants to punish them with the full force of the law.

In 1966 he didn’t want to know about 1945 – he didn’t want to know about the hardships his parents suffered. What he wanted was a comfortable life.

Well he got it – so the best thing he can do now is stop being a hypocrite, and stop bloody moaning.

March 21, 2016 Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, General, History, United Kingdom | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Beatles, the Philippines and President Marcos….

the-beatles

Fifty years ago in 1966 the Philippines fell out of love with the Fab Four. It was also the year that John Lennon made two comments, one which was to be his eventual downfall.

In July 1966 the Beatles toured the Philippines. Little did they know that the dictator President Marcos and his wife Imelda were accustomed to (and expected) absolute attention; and they certainly didn’t take kindly to the fact that the Beatles refused an invitation to attend a breakfast reception at the Presidential Palace.

Their manager Brian Epstein politely declined the invitation on the grounds that it was the group’s policy not to accept official invitations. Marcos took this as a personal snub to his family, and consequently revealed this perceived insult to the media, who ran with it, implying that it was also a snub to the Filipino people.

Subsequently all police protection was removed from them. The group and their entourage had to reach Manila airport unguarded. Their road manager Mal Evans was assaulted, and the band encountered a hostile crowd.

Although they managed to board the plane, Evans was removed, and Epstein was forced to hand over all the group’s Philippines earnings before they were all permitted to leave the country.

It led to John Lennon remarking that should he ever return to the country, he “would fly over it with an H-Bomb”. Biographies have suggested that they were all lucky to escape with their lives. 

Of course we can argue now that perhaps the Beatles were not familiar with international diplomacy, but they relied on their manager to manage, and the manager made a decision. Yet the times were different. Marcos was all powerful, and this unwitting act of disrespect was a personal insult which he successfully manipulated his people to generate sympathy for him. It’s a classic example of one man exercising power for his own ends. Indeed, this event is not so much about the Beatles, but about pride and power. It’s about a despot who assumed that his power was omnipotent. 

It would be another eighteen years before the Filipino people finally realised that this was power absolute and had the courage to rebel in 1984.

Of course, John Lennon did not make that remark directed at the Filipino people. At the time he was only 25 years old. Marcos in contrast was nearly 50 years old – so who do you think should have been the wiser? His wife was 37 at the time, and many would argue that she’s still none the wiser. 

Yet this was to be the catalyst of John Lennon’s demise. Three months earlier, in March 1966,he was reported in the London Evening Standard, during a fairly innocuous interview as stating that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. This was picked up by right-wing religious conservatives in the US, and exploited. It further fuelled the anger in the Catholic dominated Philippines, which even today they wrongly regard as the blue touch paper which set the firework off.

Through clever propaganda, instigated by Marcos, the Filipino people, half a century later, believe that their antagonism to the Beatles was because of Lennon’s Jesus statement. It could not be further from the truth.

The story had no merit until a US teen magazine naively ran with it on their front cover, resulting in an evangelic radio station WAQY in Birmingham, Alabama announcing that it wouldn’t play anymore Beatles music and that they were going to burn their records. This led to a domino effect, and other radio stations followed suit.

The English brushed off his comments in the newspaper at the time – they were considered of no relevance, and merely the ranting’s of a young man. Not a single word of complaint came from the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church.

In August when the situation had reached a rolling-stone momentum which threatened the existence of the group, John Lennon was forced to apologise twice – stating that he was not boasting about the fame of the Beatles, and he never intended to cause offence to people of religious faith. It happened in Chicago and proved to be the last Beatles tour.

So let’s put the record straight – here and now! The Filipino people didn’t get angry with the Beatles because of what John Lennon said. They were manipulated and encouraged by a state-run media, controlled by a demigod dictator, who was snubbed by the most popular band of the age. He felt insulted, and it struck at his pride. Such was his bitterness that he ensured that his countrymen would feel the same pain and humiliation.

He controlled the media, the military and the government and therefore he controlled the minds of the people. It is he and his cronies that the Filipino people should be angry with – not the Beatles.

Today, the Beatles are revered in the Philippines and there isn’t one karaoke bar which is not playing a Beatles song and not one Filipino crooner who doesn’t attempt to sing one.

As Paul acknowledged – it wasn’t the people, but the regime that caused the problems, and he’s actually proud in hindsight that it was the Beatles which snubbed the Marcos family and dented their pedestal.

March 20, 2016 Posted by | Arts, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Events, History, Religion, The Beatles, The Philippines | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Crimea…Half a League Onward…….

 

crimeapic

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Just over a hundred years ago the world went to war, and the stage for it was set by another smaller but no more less significant conflict almost 60 years earlier. It’s a timely reminder – because it was called the Crimean War.

It was a war which altered the balance of power in Europe, and which subsequently led to the assassination in 1914 of Archduke Ferdinand – heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His killer was Gavrilo Princip a Serbian nationalist who wanted the South Serb provinces to break away and be combined into Greater Serbia – or a Yugoslavia – a union of South Slavic countries.

This ultimately led to other European states being dragged in, all vying for their position and alliances, and so it was that the Great War began. This brief introduction, deliberately short on studious analysis is merely to put the Crimean War into context. And we must go even further back from it’s origins to understand how and why the Crimean War began – as far back as the Napoleonic Wars 200 years ago.

2014 commemorated the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, but last year 2015 also commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and the end of Bonaparte’s dream of a European empire, with he as her emperor.

At the end of the Napoleonic war the great powers  Britain, Russia, Prussia, Austria and France got together in Vienna to try and restore European stability by suppressing revolutionary republics and supporting sensible monarchies. Known as the Treaty of Vienna, it led to 30 years of peace in Europe. By 1845 this peace was showing signs of cracks, principally because of the weakness of the Ottoman-Turkish empire.

Then as now Turkey had one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, or more to the point one foot in European Christian orthodoxy and the other in Islamic Middle East. At this point enters the protagonist, then as now – Russia.

Tsar Nicholas  was keen to take advantage of the weakness of the Ottoman Empire with a view to carve up the European part of Turkey and gain some valuable strategic areas. This effectively would give Russia control of the Dardanelles, the strait which connects the Black Sea to the Aegean, and more famously known today for the disastrous tragic WWI campaign of Gallipoli.

Due to increased Russian aggression, Turkey declared war against Russia in October 1853. A month later the Russian Black Sea fleet destroyed a Turkish squadron at Sinope, a Turkish city on the Black Sea, which galvanised British concerns because it threatened her trade links with Turkey and India.

The French, who had no particular interest in Turkey, chose to ally themselves to Britain because they were still smarting from their defeat by Russia in 1812 (later immortalised in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture) and thought that this was their chance to return the bloodied nose.

An ultimatum was issued to Russia to evacuate from the area by March 1854. That month was significant because by then the Baltic ice fields would break up allowing the British to annihilate the Russian fleet should the demand be ignored, which it was. By August the combined Anglo-French fleet took control of the Baltic. Austria subsequently joined the alliance and together contributed to an army of 60,000 to defend Istanbul.

The Russian Tsar ignored the threats (shades of Putin here) and called the bluff. A British plan was formulated to land in the Crimea, and attack Sevastopol with the view of destroying the Russian fleet and the dockyard. What followed was a catalogue of indecision, chess board manoeuvring and glorified Victorian valour which resulted in the Battle of Balaclava and the Charge of the Light Brigade. This astonishing display of bravery, courage (madness some will say) into the “valley of death” as Tennyson penned it, so shocked and frightened the Russians that they never again dared to face the British in the field.

Eventually there was a victory of sorts, and the Russians accepted defeat, the demilitarisation of the Black Sea, and for a time the European settlement of the “Turkish Question”. With the 1856 Treaty of Paris, (as with all face-saving treaties of this kind) Russia went home to lick her wounds with a modicum of compensation.

That’s what it’s all about and that’s why the defeated always walk away with a prize of sorts. Political expediency, diplomacy and conciliation make the world go around, regardless of the pain and suffering to get there in the first place. It’s easy to start something, but damned difficult to end something. A lesson we never seem to learn.

Today Russia is on the aggressive ascendancy, and Turkey seeks a political route to European Union membership through clever compromise and negotiation regarding the current mass refugees crisis. History may be the past, but it is also the present and the future, and we ignore it at our peril.

See also Bardiness: Florence Nightingale

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March 7, 2016 Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Europe, Events, History, Politics, Religion, The Flashman Papers, Travel, United Kingdom, World War I | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Not Boxing…Box Office…..

maypacAt 04.00 BST Sunday 3rd May, 2015 the Pacman will finally meet the Bagman in Las Vegas. A fight long overdue, which over the past six years has been continually put off because of childish and petulant behaviour (mainly from Mayweather) and unsporting gamesmanship.

My views have been well known about this money-making debacle over the years, indeed I have made several blog posts about it. Of course this is a welterweight fight, and it is indicative of the sport that the “greatest fight of the century” does not involve a heavyweight.

Indeed, I doubt anyone reading this, or anyone not seriously following the sport, could name the current heavyweight champion of the world. There may even be two, depending on which federation claims the title. Such is the dirge of great boxers and great personalities, it is the welterweights (higher than lightweight but less than middleweight) who have captured the public’s imagination. Mayweather is 5ft 8in, and Pacquiao two inches shorter, but between them they have demonstrated that physical stature is meaningless in Vegas – its hype not height that counts.

It is the richest fight in history, and both will walk away (win or lose) with a purse to fund a third world country for a year. The venue, the promoters, the agents, the marketeers, and the cable companies have all contrived to milk it, and and all have contrived to ensure a massive pay day.

Neither boxer ever fights outside Vegas. The days of the “Thriller in Manila” are over. Today boxing means box office.

I’d like to see Manny win, not because I am biased, but I want him to win because fundamentally he is a Filipino made good – he represents the street fighter from a poor background, is humble, doesn’t flaunt his wealth, has a strong faith, and has a passionate belief that he can make a difference for his fellow countrymen be it in politics or philanthropy.

He is in essence a symbol, and an aspiration to a generation of young people who believe that success can be rewarded, and the reward can be passed on to the less fortunate. He also holds the hopes and dreams of a nation that needs him, and he in turn has not abandoned them through his fame and fortune. Contrast that with Mayweather.

Mayweather hasn’t a single moral bone in his body, and he has demonstrated it in numerous occasions. He flaunts his wealth, is a bling king, and represents unadulterated excess. So what? Why should we expect sportsmen to be role models? Why should we expect Mayweather to be anything more than he is – a successful boxer? How he spends his money, or flaunts it, is really none of our business. Surely it’s not up to us to judge him?

Yet this fight tonight is not just a fight – as financially reprehensible and exploitative as it may be – it is a contest between two very different people who represent two different cultures, two different idealisms, and two different attitudes.

It’s not a battle of the heavyweights, but it’s a battle nonetheless. Both will win financially, yet only one will win the crown. Lets hope that he who wears the crown, wears it with dignity. The only man with dignity in the ring tonight will be Manny Pacquiao – so win or lose – that cannot be taken away from him!

Good luck Manny! Floor Floyd!

May 2, 2015 Posted by | Boxing, Culture, Current Affairs, The Philippines, USA | , , | 1 Comment

The New Queen of Scots………

SNP Party annual conference 2014Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish Nationalists, launched her party’s manifesto today. She says that another referendum of Scottish Independence is not on the agenda (yet) and she is committed to the abolition of Trident – the UK’s nuclear submarine defence system (or at the very least getting it out of her country). She’s also committed to the total impotence of the Conservative Party. Their march to power is real.

The population of Scotland is less than 5.5million with 4.2 million eligible voters. 100,000 of which are recent due to the voting age being lowered to 16. It wasn’t enough to get them success last year in the referendum, but it’s still a significant number.

No one in England and Wales are allowed to vote for the SNP, yet they could well hold the balance of power in a hung Parliament after May 7th. There are 42 million eligible voters in England and Wales, so how is it that this small country, with a small party, can influence the affairs of everyone else – all of whom cannot vote SNP even if they wanted to!

The Scots think big, and they are passionatly proud of their identity, but what right do they have to have a say over the rest of us? This is not democracy in action. But it is a perfect storm whereby the established parties have failed the public miserably, and people just don’t trust them anymore, and will cast their vote for others – such as UKIP, or the Green Party, and of course the LibDems.

The nation is in flux. Cameron and Miliband are failing to engage, and neither Conservative or Labour can barely be separated with a blade of grass.

Indeed neither of them have the qualities of statesmanship which deep down is what the British public seek.

I really do fear that our parliamentary democracy, the oldest in the world – the Mother of Parliaments – is under serious threat. For indeed, a Government must be formed within thirteen days of an election – appointed by the Queen, and she certainly doesn’t know what to expect, or who she will be dealing with, and no doubt this is focusing her mind.

She surely never had to deal with anything like this throughout her long reign, especially potentially dealing with a party (SNP) whose fundamental goal is to break the very union she represents!

We must be very grateful that we have a constitutional monarchy, with a woman of substance as it’s head, because if the shit hits the fan, we can at least rally around the Crown – and thank God that she – Elizabeth – is the one wearing it!

Furthermore, what’s the difference between UKIP and the SNP? UKIP wants to maintain the United Kingdom, keep Trident, but leave the European Union. The SNP wants to break up the United Kingdom, abolish Trident, and join a greater European Union. Do the Scots really want that? It’s a potentially disastrous scenario, and the crazy thing is the English, Welsh and Northern Irish haven’t got a single solitary say in the matter. Maybe it’s time they did!

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Current Affairs, Education, London, Politics, United Kingdom | , , , , , | 2 Comments

In God We Trust

usdollarAll American Presidents and candidates believe that God is on their side. The latest being Rand Paul, who says “with God’s help” he will win. That’s in sharp contrast with the UK candidates for Prime Minister. The Labour leader Ed Milliband has gone on record as being an atheist, although he does have faith (whatever that means).

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is also an atheist (but raises his son in his wife’s Catholic faith).

The Conservative leader David Cameron admits that he is a lapsed Christian, as indeed is the UKIP leader Nigel Farage (yet both proclaim that they have not lost their faith – deep down they have Christian values etc. blah blah).

This is a quandary.

I’m a Christian in so far that I believe in Jesus Christ. Any man who suffered as much as He, through persecution, betrayal and crucifixion, yet still decided to return within 48 hours to save those who treated Him so badly surely gets my vote. That’s dedication! Jews of course don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah – he didn’t meet the conditions laid down in the Messianic Hebrew Chronicles – but they accept he may have been a prophet. The Messiah has yet to come – apparently.

Still, we have reached a tolerable medium, and Judeo-Christianity are the scales which balance precariously on the fulcrum of faith.

So how does that leave us in this secular western world? Well, the United Kingdom is a Christian country. Not my words – but the Queen’s. She is officially “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England”. She appoints Archbishops and bishops on the advice of the Prime Minister – the “Head of Her Majesty’s Government”.

This puts me, and Her Majesty in a pickle, although it’s more of a pickle for her (I’m just pickled). It beggars the question – how can an atheist Prime Minister advise “The Supreme Governor of the Church of England” on who should be appointed as the Archbishop of Canterbury – the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion? How can a Prime Minister of a Christian country in which the laws since Magna Carta were founded on Christian theology, if not exegesis, espouse from his or her political pulpit the importance of Christian values and Christian morals? How can a Prime Minister be a PM without practising what he preaches?

Love it or loath it, the United Kingdom is predominantly a Christian country. Other religions and faiths function very well within it. They are welcome.  Britain is traditionally the home for all – and it’s a worthy commendation. Yet, with a constitutional monarchy, with a Queen as the Head of State, not only in the UK but in other Commonwealth countries around the world, one would expect her Prime Minister to have a Christian faith. It is the bedrock of over 1500 years of British history, and one way or another it has stood the test of time, at home or abroad.

In the USA candidates who declare themselves as atheists wouldn’t stand a chance. “In God we Trust” is written on every dollar bill, and if God was never mentioned in the Constitution He was certainly present between the lines.

So here is my problem. Who do I vote for? An atheist or a Christian? Should it matter? After all, the future of the nation isn’t at stake, what’s at stake is our humanity to our fellow man and how we care for each other.

What’s God got to do with that? I think you know my answer!

April 7, 2015 Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, History, Politics, Religion, United Kingdom, USA | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Pragmatic View on the UK Election 2015

UK-Union-FlagPragmatism is the key to this UK General Election, yet by very nature of the word it can stifle change and continue the status quo. All of us like to think we are pragmatic. It implies we are sensible, realistic, grounded and practical. That’s why most of us who will vote on May 7th will favour the established political parties – Conservative or Labour. It’s the comfort factor – idealism is all very well, and whilst many of us will have high ideals, and may even strive for them – the fear of instability will override them. Such loyalty, although commendable, invariably reduces risk, and risk is a factor for those who want to live stable lives – regardless.

Families require security – they know that the Socialists will tax more to pay for essential services. By contrast they know that the Conservatives will reduce tax, but the spending power of the individual will be increased and therefore essential services will be paid through a a growing healthy economy. Both are in essence ideals – they just differ on the method of delivery.

A sensible electorate will vote for one or the other. Not because they are the only choices, but because they are the established safe choices. Yet, for the second time in five years, a majority government seems unlikely. It is the age of coalition, and until 2010 this had never happened before except during a time of war – World War II. Then it was the right thing to do – when political differences were set aside to fight a common enemy. Today we don’t have a common enemy, we just have common differences and in the mix are small parties with specific agendas, and anyone of them could play politics and hold the balance of power.

A minority Labour or Conservative government could function, but they would have difficulty implementing policy without doing deals with undesirable bedfellows. The Scottish Nationalist Party, who seek an independent Scotland within the EU (a party which recently forced a referendum to leave the UK and lost) could have influence in the very Parliament they wanted to leave. The United Kingdom Independence Party which wants to leave the European Union and have strict immigration policies could have influence likewise. The Liberal Democrats – the party which formed a coalition with the Tories in 2010 have achieved little, but believe they are the party to keep a balance on an all powerful government. The Green Party which may catch votes, are unlikely to have any significance. Then there is the Democratic Union Party who power-share the Northern Ireland Assembly with the Irish Republican party Sinn Féin. Then there is Plaid Cymru the Welsh Nationalist Party who seek an independent Wales within the EU. All will attract votes, yet all in their own way will render impotent a UK Government holding a minority.

So when Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP declares that “all bets are off” – he is quite right.

That’s why this election is probably the most significant in modern times. A minority Labour or Conservative victory will result in deals being done with the aforementioned. Labour will not contemplate leaving the EU unless it can change it from within. The Conservatives are committed to a referendum on EU membership in 2017. UKIP want categorical and unconditional removal from the EU. The SNP want Scottish Independence. The DUP wants greater control in Northern Ireland, and Plaid Cymru wants Welsh independence within the EU without influence from a UK parliament. Neither Labour or Conservative want a coalition with any, and for the next 38 days they will surely attempt to distance themselves from any potential scenario.

Meanwhile our country is being shoved and pulled in the world of international affairs. Our military is diminished, our economic power is questionable, our values are clouded, and our status in the world is opaque.

We are the repository of wealth from the global rich, yet our own people cannot afford to live in their own Capital. Our treasured jewel the National Health Service is under attack, our fundamental values which we imparted to the world of care for the elderly, sick, disabled and less fortunate have now – in a dramatic turnaround – become ideals, and our prided pragmatism is now seriously questionable.

March 30, 2015 Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Europe, Events, General, History, London, Politics, United Kingdom | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Air Travel – a necessary inconvenience….

checkin2The best tip for airport security check-in is to ensure knowledge of procedure. You would be as unlikely to leave your passport behind than you would your common sense. Both are essential for travel. Oddly, many people appear to lose at least one of these prerequisites.

Delays at airport security are invariably a consequence of the unscrupulous methods employed by terrorists to cause disaster. The strict impositions imposed at airports today have been common for several years ever since 911, and other attempts by some individuals to detonate devices utilising seemingly innocent and innocuous articles regarded as essential travel requirements. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber was fortunately prevented from attempting to ignite an incendiary device in one of his shoes on a transatlantic plane, thanks to the vigilance of a fellow passenger.

Other attempts have been combated when it was discovered that liquids could be diabolically used as combustion when linked to a remote electronic signal hidden in something as mundane as a cell phone or belt buckle. Over Christmas 2009  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab smuggled a bomb in his underwear. He successfully boarded a plane because his nefarious device was hidden in a place where officials feared to tread. This brought in full body scanners, which are an extremely contentious issue.

If we assume that terrorists are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to bring disaster at worst or gross inconvenience at best to international air travel, then delays at airports will be an ongoing and probably never ending imposition which all travellers must endure. Therefore sensible preparation to encourage smooth passage should be common sense.

We all need to wear shoes, most of us need to wear a belt, and underwear is essential. So wear shoes that are simple to remove, and if you must wear a belt then take it off in advance. The implementation of full body scanners may not spare your dignity of having to expose your psychedelic boxer shorts or thongs (depending on taste), and as your face will not be associated with the rest of your torso, there really is no need to feel violated (officially). Besides, any objection, be they on moral or religious grounds will only result in preventing you from going any further. I’m speaking as a man, but female readers can easily equate to my point.

Well that’s the personal matters dealt with, so lets consider the rest. Liquids are permitted provided that they do not exceed 100ml in volume, and no more than ten items. They should be placed in a clear plastic bag and kept easily accessible for examination. Liquids will include toiletries such as perfume, after-shave, toothpaste, creams and mouthwash. Medicines and baby requirements should be allowed, but always check before you travel.

Next – consider sharp implements. Penknives will be confiscated along with anything else considered sharp or dangerous. Keys will be scrutinized – even nail clippers. Expect to lose anything which could fall into these categories (house and car keys will pass as long as they aren’t ringed on a knuckleduster). All metal must be placed in the tray that goes through scanners. Money, cellphones, laptop computers, Ipads/androids tablets, watches, jewellery and even hearing aids will be subject to inspection. Keep the devices in standby and easily accessible – some security staff ask for it to be switched on to demonstrate that it’s genuine. Imagine having to start up a laptop and the time it takes. And whilst I remember – don’t carry spare lithium batteries for computers or phones in check-in luggage – carry them in your hand luggage. If you must open your check-in luggage, then keep the padlock keys handy (and if using a combination lock – write the code down as by then you’ll be too flustered to remember it).

Jackets, overcoats and gillets all go in the tray. You need to pass through the security scanner without a bleep. If one goes off, then back you go. Succeed and you will feel accomplished. Fail and your stress levels will rise. Once through you will have to reconnect with everything previously parted from you. This can be equally exhausting, especially when you are fighting for space, or inadvertently mistaking the wrong tray (it’s a jungle in there!).  I’ve often wondered, having removed all my metals, that I pass through the detectors still wearing my wedding ring. How does that happen? I know it’s gold!

This is not fool-proof advice – airport security varies from country to country. For example your nail-clippers may get unrestricted passage through Heathrow, but definitely not in Hong Kong. You may have to remove shoes and belts in some places, but not in others.

Preparation is the key, but you cannot account for the person in front who may delay you. So if all else fails, be thankful that you don’t have holes in your socks. Now, that could be very embarrassing.

Above all swallow your pride and travel confidently. Wear your best comfortable clothes and invest in the best luggage. Don’t check in cardboard boxes as an alternative – it will be frowned upon – especially if you’ve wrapped them up with so much tape that will have to be removed if you have to open them. Smile, be friendly, be agreeable. Don’t complain, don’t criticise, don’t be officious or arrogant. Remember, you need to get on the plane as comfortably as possible – inconvenience is the price we pay in order to get to our destination. And if you think it is a big hassle – it is. All air passengers are victims of international terrorism and even lone, unstable individuals and dare I say, ignorant and idiotic families.

If you don’t need to fly, don’t – however the alternatives are very limited! If time isn’t money, then seek other methods wherever possible.

This is my baker’s dozen of do’s and don’ts:

1. Don’t tip the security guards

2. Wear slip on shoes. Velcro style is good. Easy to remove and put back on.

3. Don’t wear a belt. If you must, take it off in advance in the queue. Along with your shoes (see #2)

4. Don’t buy water until you enter the Duty Free Area. You will lose it. Unless you are prepared to drink it quickly. If you do then keep your empty bottle. You can fill it up (possibly) at the public drinking fountains. Most airports provide them near the toilets. Bottled water is expensive to buy, so this may be an important consideration.

5. Keep all liquids in a small transparent plastic bag. No more than ten items and each must not be more than 100ml. Ditch the toiletries. Prioritise. Put medicine first if they are important. Many major airlines provide the requisite bags for purpose, but don’t count on it. You could put all these in your hand-carry – but don’t bother. Carry them separately until you have got through, and then put them where you like!

6: Ditch unnecessary metal. Get ready to deposit the essentials in a plastic tray. Think coins, phone, keys, laptops, iPads and tablets, spectacles, hearing aids with metal fittings etc etc….

7: Keep your passport, tickets and boarding pass handy. That should be #1. Are you thinking straight?

8: Be patient. Be respectful and charming. If you can’t do that then just keep your mouth shut.

9: Remove jackets and overcoats. Check the pockets. Just find a nice big tray and throw caution to the wind.

10: Don’t put valuables in the check-in luggage, and make sure you stick to the weight allowance. Three reasons: 1. You may have to open them. 2. You may have to pay a surcharge. 3. You may lose your suitcase altogether.

Lost luggage is a common problem.

11: Don’t be a smart arse. And don’t make jokes about bombs or terrorism. Airport security officials have absolutely no sense of humour wherever in the world they are, and a silly misguided witticism will result in a missed flight and possibly interrogation and examination.

12. Check-in online whenever possible. It’s the sensible thing to do – with luck you can choose your own seat, print your boarding pass, and possibly avoid the queues.

13. And finally… If you are travelling to the USA – read all this again (and again), and don’t be surprised if your luggage (inbound or outbound) has been opened for inspection without notice.

Disclaimer: Always check on airline and specific country regulations before you travel. 

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Air Travel, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Europe, Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

Oyster Card rakes in the money for Transport for London

Earlier in the year I wrote a post complaining about the unjust, underhand and surreptitious methods employed by the London Mayor and Transport for London to extract money in advance from all public transport users with a view to creating a cashless transport system through their Oyster Card.

The spin then was that cash paying passengers cost TfL £28m per year, and this money could be better spent on the transport system. It was a con then, and a con now. I stated that there must be a great deal of unused fares in the coffers of TfL earning interest. Little did I know the magnitude of that statement. One month today on Sunday 6th July, all buses in London will become cashless, yet it is now known that TfL are sitting on £60million of Oyster balances, paid for by occasional travellers and tourists.

It’s very simple: I cannot catch a bus from then and pay a cash fare. I must buy an Oyster Card in advance. This involves paying a £5 deposit and loading it with enough money to clear at least a return journey. Most people will load it with another £5. A single fare on a London bus by Oyster is £1.40, as opposed to a cash fare costing a quid more. Many who are not commuters will not use their card again for months – even years, but hardly anyone writes to TfL to reclaim their balance, and even fewer attempt to reclaim their deposit. This is especially the case for the millions of tourists visiting London who either don’t know how – or care about getting their money back.

Indeed, the visitor to London is presented with a very complicated series of hoops and roundabouts to manoeuvre, with a myriad of different fares, ranging from one day travelcards, to weekly and monthly peak and off-peak passes. How many will be bothered to go through even more complications just to recover their surplus unused funds? I live in London, and even I can’t be bothered to get mine back – besides, I may need it again in the future. That’s TfL’s trump selling point – once purchased never expired.

However it’s the buyer who will expire before the card – especially if he or she is a one-off visitor to London, and never likely to return. London may be a tourist magnate, but many of the millions who visit and pay for their Oyster Cards may never return. Just because I’ve seen the Valley of the Kings and the Tomb of Tutankhamen doesn’t mean I want to see them again! Even if I do, it could be years hence – and the same applies to visitors to London. So all that unused Oyster fare will sit in the coffers of TfL, earning interest, year on year.

Lets suppose that our imaginary tourist to London returns home to Oklahoma or Okinawa, and realises that he has a £5 deposit outstanding on his Oyster Card (and maybe more of unused advanced fares) – is he likely to contact TfL for a refund? Not likely! How many thousands, tens of thousands – nay – hundreds of thousands over several years will not bother? How many millions of pounds will be in the coffers of TfL? the figure of £60m mentioned earlier was just for one year alone – 2013.

Yet, here we have a Mayor of London, and a profiteering business masquerading as a local government body called Transport for London, which uses spin and technology to remove basic freedoms from the individual. The freedom to just hop on a bus, pay cash, and get to the next stop. That’s not too much freedom to ask for is it? But it gets worse. The alternative to the Oyster is a contacless payment – an embedded chip in a debit or credit card, a key fob, or in a smart phone – one flash and you’re there – designed for small one off payments upto £10 or £15 – direct from you’re bank account. Again, all designed to eliminate the need for cash. It’s the future – a future under constant attack from hackers.

Is it really too much to expect that a bus driver cannot carry a small float, just to give the facility of a cash fare? Should we really enforce tourists to this amazing city to pay in advance for a system they barely understand? Cannot they use the pound in their pocket to just go somewhere? Is this not the nation above all others which embraces simplicity, freedom and choice? A nation which abhors bureaucracy and which is the flagship of individualism. A nation which fought for such freedoms, and which draws people to it like a magnet?

Bit by bit, the invasive nature of technology is slowly but surely controlling us. It may be just a simple bus journey today, but tomorrow it may be the journey of life itself.

Related articles

Oyster – the World of Transport for London
£60m lying unused on prepay Oyster cards
Cash payments to halt on London’s buses

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Politics, Travel, United Kingdom | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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