Bardiness

"..a bardy view!"

Alfred…A Great Guy!

Statue_d'Alfred_le_Grand_à_WinchesterIn 1899 the Victorians marked the 1000th anniversary of the death of Alfred the Great as the founder of England and saviour of its Christian faith.

In the BBC Millennium Poll of 2000, Alfred didn’t make it into the top ten list of greatest Britons.

Sometime during those one hundred years the British lost favour with her most revered son.

Alfred wasn’t called “great” for nothing. He is the only British king with the title.

So what happened between then and now to change our views, or if not change them, merely ignore his achievements? Perhaps it’s just too long ago?

Alfred did however make it into the top 100, along with such luminaries as David Beckham, Tony Blair, Robbie Williams and even Boy George.

I’ll pause at this point to allow you a gasp of astonishment…..

Some sense prevailed in the top ten. Winston Churchill came out at number one, followed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Princess Diana, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Elizabeth I, John Lennon, Horatio Nelson and, in 10th place, Oliver Cromwell.

Bearing in mind that the poll was conducted 16 years ago, it’s possible that the nation had an unhealthy dose of celebrity worship and collective amnesia.

It was only three years after the death of Diana; the country was still euphoric basking in the afterglow of a new labour victory, and the nation had yet to be embroiled in the war on terror.

Although Tony Blair didn’t make it into the top ten he did make it into the top 100. If the poll was taken today, it’s highly unlikely he (and many others) would get a look in. The highest ranked living person at the time was Margaret Thatcher, coming in at #16.

60 of the top 100 were alive during the 20th century. Hence the poll was severely flawed for it was indicative of contemporary individuals and populist history. Surely Alfred was greater than John Lennon? Indeed he was, but he died in the 9th century, and not the 20th; nor was he a famous singer/songwriter. Imagine that!

Twelve years after the poll, both Churchill and Brunel played prominent roles in the opening ceremony at the London 2012 Olympics, and both coincidently topped the millennium poll of 2000, so perhaps there is some justice attached to it.

Back to Alfred the Great (those of you who have lost interest may leave now). Herewith follows a compact history lesson from a Bardy view:

When the Roman’s left Britain in AD 410, over 300 years of relative peace, stability and prosperity left along with them.

Her empire was under attack, Rome was in trouble and the legions needed to consolidate and attempt to fend off the vandals and barbarian hoards. For Britain, what followed was a period of substantial unrest, and is known today as the Dark Ages. It lasted for several hundred years, and England as we know it today did not exist. It became a place divided and ruled by feudal chiefs with a hotchpotch of kingdoms, the most powerful being Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex.

Wessex was the most powerful, and during the rules of Egbert (802-839) and Aethelwulf (839-858) it expanded to include most of the land south of the River Thames, although not the Mercian controlled area of London. It was
during these periods that England was under constant raiding parties from the Vikings and Norsemen of Scandinavia.

In 865 the Vikings landed with force and within ten years subjugated the kingdoms of Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia. Wessex was the next in line.By this time Alfred’s elder brother Ethelred was King of Wessex, and together they confronted the invasion of Wessex in 871. But they failed to prevent the advance and during the battle Ethelred was killed. Wessex was the last surviving Anglo-Saxon domain, and if it fell, then the land would be completely ruled by the Vikings.

Alfred took the throne, and through bravery and intelligence, through methods of tactics and guerrilla warfare, eventually prevailed.

He became an honourable and wise king, uniting the kingdoms, constructing the country’s first navy, instigating law and order, and promoting education, with particular emphasis on the English language, art, culture, and successfully creating – out of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora – the nation of England.

That’s why he is known as Alfred the Great.

Perhaps if a new poll is taken, he can take his rightful place along with Churchill, Elizabeth I, and Nelson as one of the nation’s top ten greatest Britons.

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May 6, 2016 Posted by | Arts, Books, Education, Europe, History, London, Politics, Religion, United Kingdom | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

It’s so bad it’s good….

OstaraWhat’s “Good” about Good Friday?

After all, it signifies a man abused and tortured, made to carry his own cross to be crucified, had nails hammered into his hands, a crown of thorns embedded in his head, and given vinegar to drink when he asked for water. It was clearly a very bad day.

“Good Friday”, possibly the most sacred day in the Christian calendar, appears to have been diminished by our secular and consumer led society. It’s certainly a good Friday for the new deities of consumerism – for the shopping malls and superstores, whose temples are open for worshippers. It’s a good day for atheists and agnostics, because they get a public holiday regardless of their beliefs.

Nobody really knows why the day of Christ’s crucifixion is called Good Friday. Indeed, there is no evidence that it actually happened on a Friday. It was a convenient date which married the early Christians to Pagan beliefs back in the post-Romano era.

There are two modes of thought: Good Friday was originally God’s Friday. This would make sense, because as time went by words change and develop. The Catholic Church is fairly open to this suggestion. Unlike Evangelical Bible-Thumpers who argue that it was “Good” because Christ gave his life on the Cross to save our souls. For all his suffering, it was filled with goodness they proclaim. Pre and post Romano Britain, Anglo Saxon, and medieval man would not have considered that, and certainly not the Benedictine monks who ruled with ecclesiastical hammers. Suffering and penitence was the order of the day – there was nothing to be happy about! “Christ suffered and so should you” they said. What’s good about that?

Meanwhile in Spanish Dominions, the Dominican monks ruled, and they would have dictated, absolutely, their expectations and rules, and were directly linked to the seat of the Spanish throne. The Dominicans (the religious quasi political branch of the Spanish Empire) were ruthless in their endeavours.

So what’s all this got to do with Good Friday? The simple answer is politics. Jesus didn’t choose Friday to die, nor did he choose Sunday to resurrect. Why? Because 2000 years ago the calender as we know it didn’t exist! Time revolved around the equinox. Rome and future Popes created the calendar – from the Julian to the Gregorian, and it was expedient for a Pope to embrace pagan celebrations aligned with  Eostra – the pagan god of rebirth.

Emperor Constantine (the first Pope of Power) was a very clever chap. In order to unite his empire he knew he had to embrace all and alienate none. The dates of Easter has no more credence than the 25th December – the date of Christ’s birth. Christian’s do not question the date – it’s the event that matters.

Constantine needed a reference point: that which was before, and that which came after – Before Christ, and After Christ. BC and AD.

My analysis isn’t an academic study, it’s merely an observation. Yet there is little doubt that significant Christian dates were aligned with Pagan celebrations – it was expedient and convenient. Which brings us to Ostara, or Ēostre the pagan Goddess of Dawn and Rebirth. Note the word Goddess. Christianity gave us one god – God – yet here was a goddess worshipped in pre-Christian times, and she became associated with “Easter”. How is that? Easter is the association and celebration of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, yet, prudently Constantine combined the two. It was Constantine who brought the papacy to power, and effectively established the Catholic Church.

Does all this matter? Do dates matter? Does it matter that we have Easter eggs (another pre-Christian symbol of fertility and rebirth and don’t forget rabbits – we all know their proliferate skills). How many people actually think about that?

All that matters really is what Easter signifies – the persecution, betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection of one man who changed the world. We celebrate His birth at Christmas, lament his Death, and take joy in his Resurrection at Easter.

You may not believe it – but that doesn’t mean you can disprove it! Maybe that’s why it’s a “Good” Friday.

March 25, 2016 Posted by | Culture, Education, History, Politics, Religion | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Bardiness 400- Speakers’ Corner……

Speakers-Corner-006This is my 400th Bardiness post.

In a democracy where the ballot box is the measure of freedom, sometimes the common man needs to voice his concerns beyond the electorate system. The internet has given a voice to the silent, and blogs have given a platform to the unheard. Those voices are all shouting now, and the noise is deafening.

Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park is a place where those with a point of view can stand up and express themselves. Some will get an audience, some will not, and some will get heckled. It has been designated a space for freedom of speech for over 165 years.

Anyone can turn up unannounced, and talk on any subject. As recently as 1999 a ruling by Lord Justice Sedley in his decision with a case involving the UK Director of Public Prosecutions, described Speakers’ Corner as demonstrating “the tolerance which is both extended by the law to  opinion of every kind and expected by the law in the conduct of those who disagree, even strongly, with what they hear,”

This ruling famously established in English case law that freedom of speech could not be limited to the inoffensive but extended also to “the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome, and the provocative, as long as such speech did not tend to provoke violence” .

That Right, accorded by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, also accorded the right to be offensive.

What is a blog then…if not a virtual Speakers Corner? A place where we can be “irritating, contentious, eccentric, heretical, unwelcome and provocative”, providing we don’t provoke violence or hatred? There may be many blogs inciting the latter two, but Bardiness stands by English Law, and the European Convention of Human Rights.

This post is an expression of the fundamental principles of freedom of speech. Bardiness may not be everyone’s cup of tea – but there are countries in the world which won’t even allow the leaves in the pot, never mind allow them to brew and be poured.

Perhaps in the future “Englishness” will become synonymous with “freedom”.  Archaic words along with lost Latin meaning  tolerance, courage, dignity and self-respect.

They say that every Englishman is born free. Living free however is a constant battle and something we must fight for everyday……

Freedom in death is freedom too late.

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

(Shakespeare HenryV scene III)

March 3, 2016 Posted by | Arts, Culture, Education, History, Politics, United Kingdom | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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

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

Philippine Land Grab – disguised as eco-tourism

 

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Jacques Cousteau the famous explorer and conservationist once described Palawan as the last frontier. For good reason. Here was an archipelago of outstanding natural beauty, and he, more than most, understood that protection was the legacy for future generations.

So how does big businesses, and big property developers, justify their mercenary exploitation of the unspoilt?

To them, natural beauty is a golf course waiting to happen, a resort complex, and an emporium squatted by retail multi-nationals selling designer goods.

They do it by dressing it up as sustainable eco-tourism. The catch all phrase. The tart with a heart. Conservationist capitalism. Mercenary magnanimity. Philippine Profitable Philanthropy.

Ayela Land Inc (ALI) intend to build (purely for altruistic motives of course) a “100-hectare development that shall feature hotels and resorts, tourism and commercial establishments and residential communities with world-class amenities that blend with the natural landscape.”

These are not Cinderella’s, but the ugly sisters which squeeze their feet into jewelled slippers. Convinced that any fit is better than none, and an ounce of blood is worth shedding – even if a scar is the result. After all surely any commercial enterprise which aids the economy is better than none? Right? Wrong!

100 hectares is a substantial chunk of real estate, the first 25 hectares is to become the Lio Beach Village “featuring bed and breakfasts, resorts, shops and dining establishments amid civic spaces” which will be developed by Ten Knots Development Corp, which just happens to be a subsidiary of Ayala Land Inc. (The parent. Keep it in the family!)

This has naturally been lauded and applauded by the Philippines Department of Tourism, whose secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. describes it as “a new jewel of sustainable tourism in the Philippines.” Note the word sustainable – synonymous with ecology and conservation. These are the key words which mask the reality. Cousteau will be turning in his grave.

The problem with the Philippines however is that in a land with over 7000 islands it’s surprisingly difficult to find a free beach. Most pieces of beach, be it white sand, black sand, or volcanic sand is owned by someone, who charge money just for the privilege of sitting on one. A resort takes away the freedom, and more importantly removes the locals. Especially the fisherman, who will no doubt be expected to pay a premium just to sail out and sail in – with a catch or not!

That’s not progress, that is exploitation, and it is ruthless because it has the support of the government, whose raison d’etre is not sustainability or culture, but greed and the fast buck.

You see, resorts are victims of the global economy i.e. how many bangs for the buck! It’s a volatile and precarious business, and when a downturn happens the infrastructure suffers, people lose jobs (non jobs associated with service: rooms, restaurants, etc totally dependant on the number of visitors) and invariably when the bottom falls out, the land is sold on. It’s a downward spiral, which cuts into the very ecology which was promoted in the first place. The land has been raped and the agriculture such as coconut trees, bananas, and most indigenous farming and fishing are lost.

What the Philippines government should be doing, and is always decidedly incapable of, is investment in the people. Ensuring that they have proper sustainable employment, encouraging and maintaining the skills that have been garnered over a thousand years, and if necessary subsidising them, because investing in the people and caring for their greatest asset – the land and the seas around it – will ensure worth, value and ultimately self sufficiency with profits all round. Technology may be the future, but a reputation of being the call-centre capital of South East Asia doesn’t really cut the mustard. Like India it will only exist for cheap labour and the service industry.

UNESCO have been threatening for the past five years that the famed rice terraces of the Cordilleras are losing their integrity and will inevitably lose their status as a world heritage site. The terraces which are unique, have been farmed and maintained by skilled tribal people for over two thousand years. They argue that “the terraced landscape is highly vulnerable because the social equilibrium that existed in the rice terraces for the past two millennia has become profoundly threatened by technological and evolutionary changes. Rural-to-urban migration processes limit the necessary agricultural workforce to maintain the extensive area of terraces.”

In simple English this means that the young generation are not following in their fathers and forebears footprints and heading to Manila to seek their fortune. Between the lines it also says that this “migration” makes the land redundant, cannot be sustained, not fit for purpose and therefore prime targets for commercial land grabbers. If you want to know what that is and the horrors it produces, just go to the city in the sky: Baguio – where concrete is king.

A responsible government should be sustaining it’s heritage, not destroying it systematically for short term financial profit, nor pandering to wealthy developers whose hearts are purely mercenary, and leave a legacy of shame, exploitation and avarice.

It will get worse before it gets better – but time is running out, and it will have probably ran out before the people of the Philippines wake up – perpetually somnambulist – perpetually sleepwalking – and whilst they sleep, the politicians, the investment bankers, the fund managers and the speculators are wide awake – singing, celebrating and dancing obscenely on the land!

April 14, 2014 Posted by | Coconut Trees, Conservation, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Politics, The Philippines, Travel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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