Bardiness

"..a bardy view!"

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!

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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

The bowlers holding the batsman’s willy…..

cricket picExplaining cricket and it’s terminology is akin to lecturing about quantum mechanics or the string theory in particle physics.

Cricket is a sport synonymous with England. Just like Rugby it has influenced the world. General terms like “It’s not cricket” means that it is not sporting behaviour. To “bowl a maiden over” does not mean you have scored in a nightclub, assuming a maiden still exists in such establishments. Yet a “maiden” is a virgin. It means that out of six balls bowled, no runs (points) were conceded.

Unless an individual has ever played cricket it is unlikely that they will understand it. Unlike football or tennis where the rules of the game are reasonably simple – cricket will baffle the greatest armchair enthusiast. Cricket is a legacy of British influence around the world. In India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Africa, Afghanistan, France, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and even the USA, to name a few, and all regard it’s rules and phrases as a common language.

For the uninitiated here is an overview. A failure to understand is not a reflection on an individuals intelligence. A cricket match is contested between two sides each of eleven players. When one side is “in” the other side is “out”, and it is the job of the “out” side to get the “in” side out. This is achieved by dismissing the batsmen on the “in” side by several methods.

When a side is batting it is called an “innings”, and will last as long as each batsman can hold his wicket. the wicket is what the batsman must protect at all costs – if someone says “you’re on a sticky wicket” it means your position is precarious. Unless that is, if they hold their innings for quite a long period and score an extremely high number of runs, in which case the captain will “declare” or “forfeit” the remainder of his innings. It’s a tactical decision, and he is hoping the opposition will not be able to match his side’s number of runs in the available number of overs. Failure to declare can result in the match drawn, even though one side has more runs than another. In business, If your boss says he’s “holding his wicket”, it means he has control of the situation and hanging on.

When a batsman is bowled out, a new batsman goes in. When both sides have been in and out, they do it all over again, and this is called the second innings. If your boss suggests you have more than one innings, there is hope for you yet.

Eventually, if all goes to the wire, only one batsman will remain, who will not be allowed to bat on his own – he’s the last man standing. This last man, however, may not necessarily be the eleventh or last man who went in to bat. Indeed, the last man standing could have been one of the first men in, if he was never out. If your boss says you are the last man in, the chances are you are doomed.

Still with it? Right. Time for some explanations. Two innings per side will occur in international test matches. A test lasts for five days. Up to five tests can be played over several weeks, called the First to the Fifth Test respectively, when the event is hosted by one country, whose opponent is another (the tourists). Whilst many matches may result in a grand trophy, England and Australia play each other every two years for a small urn of cremated wooden bails from 1882 -The Ashes – which is a prize more sought than any silver or gold cup.

The length of a cricket match is dependent on the number of overs per side. That is the number of balls the bowlers are permitted to bowl. There are six balls to an over. Therefore if a match is limited to ten overs per innings, (in “one-day” cricket, for example and county games) then after sixty balls have been bowled, the innings’ end, regardless of how many wickets are left (if any).

Wickets in this case are the number of batsmen who have not come to the crease (still in the pavilion), which is the demarcation line from the stumps where the batsman is allowed to hit the ball or defend his wicket, and also the last point for the bowler to execute his delivery. If the bowler steps over the crease after his approach run, then it’s a “no ball”, and a score (or run) is given to the opposing side. If a bowler successfully bowls his over without any runs being scored by the batsman, then he would have bowled a “maiden over”.

The stumps are three 28inch high pieces of wood which comprise the wicket, with a total width of 9 inches, and balance two small wooden objects known as the bails. There are two wickets, one at each end of the pitch, which is 22 yards long from stump to stump with each wicket defended by a batsman. The bails must dislodge from the stumps for the batsman to be out.

In the surrounding oval shaped playing field, with a diameter of roughly 160 yards, stand the fielders of the side which is “out”. With the exception of the wicket-keeper (who crouches behind the batsman’s wicket being bowled at) and the bowler, there are nine fielders who can take up positions from Silly Point to Square Short Leg (very close to the batsman), Silly Mid Off and Silly Mid On (midway between the length of the pitch), and Long Off to Deep Fine Leg (boundary cover), as well as another possible 25 positions, and all with equally silly names.

It is their job to prevent the batsmen from hitting the ball sufficiently for them to run between wickets, or hit the ball to, or over, the boundary thereby scoring an automatic four or a six. The fielding side can either prevent this by catching the ball whilst in flight (caught out), or retrieving the ball from the ground and returning it by aiming it at the wicket, in the hope that it will reach its target before the batsman returns to his crease (“run out” or “stumped”).

The batsman can also be bowled out by the bowler if his ball hits the wicket, or even be given out if the ball hits his leg, which is called LBW (leg before wicket). The wicket-keeper is the batsman’s nemesis, and is ever keen to knock off the bails at any opportunity after catching the ball when it flies past the wicket – always in the hope that the ball clipped the bat or the batsman strayed outside his crease.

Over the course of a match, the ball (which is red, extremely hard, made of layers of core cork and leather, and must strictly weigh between 5.5 – 6oz) cannot be changed unless under the strictest rules of the game. A ball should last the complete innings and at least 80 overs in test matches.

This prolonged use can affect the properties of the ball and influence its flight. Consequently a bowler will polish his ball on one side by rubbing it around his groin area, or on the sleeve, which results in the characteristic red stains on his whites (trousers). Polishing it in this fashion can determine the “swing”, and some bowlers will spit on the ball prior to polishing. Ball tampering is a serious offence in cricket, and any form of physical interference, other than spit and polish, is forbidden.

The match is won by the side which scores the highest number of runs over the two innings in the set number of overs, and on the aggregate over the five tests, regardless of whether all players have had their day at the crease.

And now the big question. What is a googly? It’s a ball bowled by a right-arm spin bowler, designed to confuse a right-handed batsman by appearing to spin from leg to off, but actually spins in the opposite direction. Hence the term “to throw a googly”, meaning to confuse or upset an opponent, either in sport or business.

Finally, a batsman is only called out if the umpire says so. And he won’t say so, unless he’s asked. How’s that? That’s right! “Howzat” is the challenge to the umpire in order to get his reaction, and he will raise his index finger if it’s a good call. If anyone sticks up a middle digit in response to his decision then he’ll likely be dismissed, because that is, along with all other forms of ungentlemanly conduct, certainly not cricket!

Note: The title of this post refers to a commentary by Brian Johnston during a test match at the Oval in 1976, when Michael Holding of the West Indies was bowling to England batsman Peter Willey. 

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Cricket, Culture, Education, Humour, Sport, USA | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Prospero’s Island ?

When the world thinks of Jamestown, Virginia it should also think of Bermuda. At first glance they would both appear as historically unconnected as Tuvalu is from Trieste, yet both are interlinked, and neither may have survived without the other.

Bermuda was settled by accident rather than desire, unlike Jamestown which had a settlement plan based on economics, English enterprise, and sailing expertise.

The ship Sea Venture, in the van of an English fleet of seven, carrying settlers and supplies on route to the fledgling and failing colony of Jamestown, Virginia, became separated by a hurricane just a week from destination in July 1609.

Suffering extensive damage, and with almost all hope lost, salvation hove into view. Unbeknown to the forlorn crew and passengers, they were to find refuge on an uninhabited island, a mere 22 miles long and one mile wide, which would eventually become Great Britain’s oldest colony.

2015 celebrates Bermuda’s 406th anniversary.

The story of the survivors is fodder for a Hollywood movie and equally enthralling. One of them was non other than the future husband of Pocahontas.

John Rolfe, later to become Jamestown’s original cultivator of tobacco as an export crop, left a wife and child buried in Bermuda, but along with many other survivors managed to reach Virginia a year after the shipwreck.

Bermuda, also known by early seaman as the “Isle of Devils” due to the dangerous reefs around it, and “Somers Isle” after the commander of the original fleet, Sir George Somers – was originally named after the Spanish navigator Juan de Bermudez, after a passing visit in 1503.

It was subsequently to be visited several times over the next 100 years by the Spanish and Portuguese, but superstitious legends prevented them from making a settlement. This has been accredited in part to a bird, the Bermuda petrel, whose diabolical callings invoked images of spirits and devils. It was factors like these, however strange or unlikely, which would allow the English to plant their flag without conflict and have far reaching impact.

Another survivor of the ill-fated venture was William Strachey, an English writer noted as a primary source of the early history of English colonisation in North America.

Along with Rolfe, he too succeeded in eventually reaching Virginia 10 months after the shipwreck, and it is his account of the expedition’s plight, which is accredited to influencing William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest“.

Together with Admiral Somers and Sir Thomas Gates (who was on route to become governor of Virginia and whose skills at salvaging the desperate remnants of the floundering, were to create the first Bermuda settlement), they oversaw the building of two ships, the Deliverance and the Patience, built from remnants of the Sea Venture and the local timber of the Cedar Tree.

When they finally managed to escape the island in May 1610, they carried with them 142 castaways, leaving just a handful behind to hold claim. They had a mission to fulfil – to save Jamestown, whatever the cost.

They arrived at the Virginia colony in May 1610 finding it all but decimated through famine, disease and hostile natives who had all but blockaded them. Only 60 settlers remained alive of the original 500 sent three years earlier. This period is known as the Starving Time.

Nevertheless, through the courage and endeavours of the hardy and convicted survivors of the Atlantic storm ten months earlier, the Jamestown colony survived. Those Jamestown settlers still alive, watching the two ships slowly appear up the sound, must have thought salvation had come. It was the original thanksgiving.

This crucial episode in Jamestown’s history tends to be overlooked. Had the storm of July 1609 succeeded in wiping out the supply fleet, by the time Lord De La Ware’s relief ships arrived in Jamestown in May, 1610 (3 months after Somers’) nothing would have remained.

It was only through the brave endeavours and sense of purpose of Sir George Somers and his committed followers, which held and reinvigorated life into the dying colony, keeping  it sustained just long enough for De Le Ware’s mission to succeed. Somers, returning to Bermuda to collect more food, died soon after through illness.

So enamoured with the island, he had asked for his heart to be buried there. Legend has it that his wish was honoured. His body meanwhile was pickled in a barrel and returned to Dorset, England where it was buried in his home village of Whitechurch Canonicorum.

 

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Education, History, Travel, USA | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Don’t forget your hat…………..

“Are you English?” asks the charming stranger who has suddenly appeared. “I love England. And the girls! Belissimo!” he bellows, whilst kissing his palm and throwing the residue into the breeze. “What size are you sir?” he continues “I have some leather jackets here. I’ve just been to a fashion show and I don’t want to return to Naples with any stock left over, so I’m going to give you one for free!”

So here you are walking around Rome somewhere near the Fountain of Trevi, minding your own business, a snout buried in a street map and suddenly a car pulls up. The driver asks for directions and then discovers you’re new around here too. (Hello? He sounds suspiciously Italian!)

“I’m sorry but I’m only a visitor here myself” you reply with a friendly and concerned gesture. You’ve just given him his cue!

“My goodness, what a nice man” you think. He offers the garment through the window, hoping you’ll caress it like a kitten. Are you smitten? Who cares? It’s free! Just as you’re about to thank him for his generosity and walk away, out drops the metaphorical bombshell.

He’s got an empty tank, and worse, he’s lost his wallet with the credit cards and cash in them! Well do you say to yourself “dear oh dear, the poor man. How is he going to get home? I must give him 50 Euros at once to help him reach his destination? After all, he’s been kind enough to give me a free leather jacket!” Or do you return it to him with a poverty stricken look upon your face, perhaps with a few choice words to suit the moment?

That little scenario happened to me on three occasions in one day. There’s a small platoon of these peddlers around this beautiful city. I was prepared the last time however. Before my lost friend could utter a word I was primed. “Keep your jacket” I said proud and bold, “I’ve got no money!” That sorted him out alright. He happily drove off looking for someone else. He didn’t drive too far either as less than 200 yards further he was accosting some other poor mug (I mean tourist). The nerve of the man!

It struck me then that perhaps I was standing out like a sore thumb. Well, of course I was! It couldn’t have been clearer than if I had “tourist” stamped across my forehead with a flashing neon arrow pointing at it. So I looked around and noticed that the locals all dressed rather stylishly. Italian men in Rome like their hats. I don’t mean any old hat, no no, I’m talking about fedoras together with a tasty flowing scarf worn with aplomb. That was the solution my wife suggested. So off we trotted and bought a trilby from a charming little milliner a stones throw from the fountain. I already had a scarf, it was January. I was made! After that, I happily roamed around Rome free from harassment. Yes, nobody messed with me, it was clear that I was a local lad!

What then, is the moral of my little tale? It is this. Just because you are a tourist in Rome (or anywhere else for that matter) doesn’t mean you have to look like one! So if you’re wearing a baseball cap, carrying a back-pack, have photographic gizmos slung around various appendages, and a bum-bag around your hips, be prepared for the worst. You’ve flagged yourself up good and proper, and you can happily explain to the custom officials how you acquired all that leather wear.

Provided you don’t do this you should pass with flying colours. Reconnoitre the places you are keen to see by climbing on board a hop on/hop off tour bus. They’re one of the few good values for money. Get up on the top deck, plug in the commentary, then plan your route. Most of the great sites are within reasonable walking distance, but remember…. if you want to get ahead, get a hat!

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Culture, Education, Europe, Humour, Italy, Travel | , , , , , | 7 Comments

Pendragon

Stonehenge

Druids. We don’t know the real truth about Stonehenge, their sacred place of worship, other than it was built several thousand years ago and long before the Pyramids.

Before the Romans arrived Druids were the all powerful religious rulers, with evidence of prolific human and animal sacrifice; the Romans seemed genuinely horrified by their behaviour and subsequently set about destroying them during the first century AD.

Of course the Romans were no angels, and clearly the British Druids presented a threat to their rule – long before they adopted Christianity.

There isn’t all that much known about the Druids because they never wrote anything down. When the Romans left Britain in the 5th Century they attempted a revival, but by then the force of Christianity was truly set against them, and as the invading Angles and Saxons slowly took over, conquering the remaining few British pagan kingdoms, it was truly the end of the road.

They had a revival in the Victorian age, and now they are perceived as a bunch of throwback 60’s hippies lost in a time warp. Twice a year they descend in their thousands to Stonehenge to watch the summer and winter solstice, and although they visit peacefully they always complain – mainly about their lack of access within the hallowed circle.

So what do Druids believe in? It’s an apt question because the title of this post is “Pendragon” – synonymous with the Arthurian legend, and when it is stripped of the Victorian romanticism, we are left with possibly a local warlord hailing from the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia (Cornwall) during the early dark ages after the Romans left Britain, fighting against the Saxons who were Germanic tribes seeking more land.

The country was beset with conflict, where individual kings were fighting against each other as well as the invaders. It was truly a dark period in British history, with the Picts invading from the north, now free of a Roman held Hadrian’s Wall, with Celtic and Irish warlords invading from the west, and the Saxons invading from the east. It’s a fascinating period of history, made all the more mysterious due to the lack of knowledge available.

Those British kingdoms did not embrace Christianity, but held to their pagan beliefs, and the Druid priests flourished in the vacuum left by Rome. If Luther Pendragon (King of the Britons) was the father of Arthur there isn’t much evidence of it. So why then would we assume to know of the Druids, who never committed themselves to the written word, and most of the information comes from Julius Caesar (who had a particular propagandist agenda) and the documented writings of the then contemporary Roman historians such as Tacitus, who wasn’t very impressed by them at all?

Druidry today regards itself as both a philosophical viewpoint and a religious world view, in tune with the earth and sky, mysticism, ritual and the sacred worship of the Sun.

Throw in the moon and the stars, and one could argue it is the perfect repository for anyone who rejects the principle tenets of a resurrected Christ who through love for us took on our sins and died on the cross to save our souls.

Pagans struggle with that concept because in ancient times, the Gods were powerful, warlike, and unforgiving. They demanded sacrifice to appease them.

Christianity to those pagans and druids was a weak religion – yet, in that weakness, so was strength, and it’s success today is testament to the power of it.

There’s nothing wrong with Druidy of course – and they have their temples in the shape of Stonehenge and the thousands of other ancient stone circles dotted around Europe to congregate within.

They are also generally peaceful and no longer indulge in the practice of human sacrifice – for obvious reasons.

In short, they have moved on – to a degree – because the Chief Druid calls himself King Arthur Pendragon, and if there is one thing the modern Druid believes in, it is the legend of King Arthur.

Sadly, for the romanticists it is just that, romancing the legend. When the Romans left Britain, they took away their knowledge and their skills.

In those dark ages, the roads they left slowly became ruined, and their walls and villas deteriorated, their central heating systems, stone buildings, tiled floors and roofs, irrigation systems, baths and aqueducts became mere ruins. Within two hundred years, the Britons were living in thatched houses with wattle and daub, and they had regressed. The Roman infrastructure had disappeared.

Such was the glory of Rome, no other place clearly demonstrates her rise and fall than Britannia.

So Arthur could not have lived in a grand castle called Camelot – such structures did not appear for another 600 years. The Round Table, Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake, Guinevere, the Knights, Gawain, Galahad, Lancelot, Tristan; the chivalry, the tragedy, were all deliberately manufactured perfect ideals by the Victorians to enforce the principles of Englishness and the British Empire – and who could blame them?

It’s an amazing story – but that’s all it really is, and along with the Druids, it’s filled with romantic mythology.

November 13, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Pagan Christmas

How was Christmas celebrated in Romano and post-Romano-Britain? The simple answer is that it wasn’t.

Christianity didn’t arrive sufficiently to create an influence until the late 6th century AD long after the Romans had left and Paganism had revived.

Christians existed in Britain long before then but in the early quarter of the Millennium there was no organised attempt to convert the pagan British and it was regarded as just one cult among many.

The Romans persecuted those early Christians because unlike other cults which they were familiar with, Christianity demanded exclusive allegiance to one God from it’s followers, and the Romans were angered by what they perceived as an intolerance of other gods. That’s an interesting perspective, because it implies that the Romans were content to allow anyone to worship anything, so long as they didn’t force it down other peoples throats nor interfere with their general order. Something we could learn from today.

It wasn’t until 313 AD when Christian worship was tolerated within the Roman Empire – thanks to Constantine who realised that a single religion with a single God i.e. Christianity, could be embraced to unite his empire and subsequently achieve military success.

Meanwhile back in Britain Paganism was the overwhelming religion and Christianity was firmly in the minority. Indeed, after the Romans left it was a wonder it survived at all – but it did, and how it did is a story for another post.

The most important date for Pagans then and now is the Winter Solstice which always occurs around December 21st marking the return of the light after the longest night of the year. They call it Yule.

Of course, those Pagans would not have known it was December 21st because the calendar as we know it was centuries away – but they would have known it as the Midwinter Festival, and their calendar was dictated by the solstices and equinoxes and the phases of the sun and the moon, and given more accuracy by structures such as Stonehenge (if it’s believed that it’s some kind of observatory).

That’s pretty close to Christmas Day, and the Pagans believe that the early Christians hijacked the date to celebrate the birth of Jesus because they saw that everyone else was having a festive time already. A remarkable coincidence nevertheless and debate rages over the exact birth-date of Christ, with it ranging from anywhere between September and February. But we all accept that it’s December 25th now and it will never change. What matters is that he was born and died and was resurrected (at Easter – which is another pre-Christian Pagan festival and the subject of another post nearer the time).

So back to those annoying Pagans who blame the Christians for hijacking their festivities. They don’t hate the Christians, but they are obviously peeved with them for superimposing their great year end festivals which were very popular in the Graeco-Roman world.

Take the custom of giving presents and over-indulging – it was those Romans who started that with their festival of Saturnalia around December 17th. Saturn was the Roman God of agriculture and the giving of gifts symbolised the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor during the season of greatest hardship. Then the next one was the solstice feast of Mithras, the Roman God of Light on December 25th, a festival to mark the renewal of hope. This is the one most likely adopted by Christians in the 4th century as the birthday of Jesus.

The Pagan Yuletide has it’s origins from Scandinavia, and also known as “Mother-Night” from Anglo-Saxon traditions. New Years Eve was celebrated by the Romans who dedicated it to Janus, their two-faced god who looked both forward and back. Part of the celebration was to gather fir trees and holly – which is what we now do at the beginning of the Christmas season.

Finally, at this time, whatever your faith, whatever you believe in, the whole season is about birth, light, giving, and celebration. Peace on Earth may be a distant dream of hope, but it’s a worthy cause and the key message is tolerance, understanding, compassion and care for your fellow man.

That’s the Christmas message, and who could argue with that? Merry Christmas! Merry Yuletide!

November 13, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | 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

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