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Stuart Lennon

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English Humour. Drier than gin.

Many will be delighted to see the back of 2016.

We might be better to look forward to what exciting things are coming in 2017.

Watching “The Dambusters” on television today, I was reminded how dry the English sense of humour can be.

It’s a brilliant movie; if you haven’t seen it, look it out.

Throughout the film, humour is used by the airmen as a coping strategy for the very real peril that they faced. (Of the 133 that took off, 53 were killed that night.)

Early in the piece there is a wonderful example of dry english wit at its withering best, as designer Barnes Wallis attempts to get resources to develop his bouncing bomb.

Official, Ministry of Aircraft Production: You say you need a Wellington Bomber for test drops. They’re worth their weight in gold. Do you really think the authorities will lend you one? What possible argument could I put forward to get you a Wellington?

Doctor B. N. Wallis, C.B.E., F.R.S.: Well, if you told them I designed it, do you think that might help?”

(From “The Dambusters”, a movie based on Chastise, a real operation carried out by the RAF in 1943.)

I don’t know whether the line was genuine, or a bit of artistic licence. Either way it’s genius.

 

 

 

Review

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Ducks on the Pill Brook at the end of my street.

This morning, I was watching a very brave journalist broadcasting from Aleppo in Syria.

I do not claim to have any real handle on the rights and wrongs of that terrible conflict. I watched in horror and shame. Will we ever stop being a cruel and murderous, species I wonder?

I am fairly certain that the involvement of this joker hasn’t helped.

It is difficult to maintain any sort of perspective in relation to the events that I mention above, but I thought I might provide a review on a variety of things.

IT. I posted here about moving away from Apple, and here about moving to Google. My Pixel XL phone is great. Reliable, efficient and fast-charging. I can say the same for the Chromebook. The biggest change though works regardless of hardware. Turn notifications off. All except phone. This one simple step puts you in charge of your apps, rather than they in charge of you.

Politics. A lot of nonsense continues to be talked about Brexit. A favourite is the clamour for the government to publish a plan. A plan for a negotiation. A chocolate teapot. Eventually, the PM realised that all she had to do was agree. She will soon publish a plan saying – “We want free trade, and control of our borders.” Remainers will cry foul and demand to know what is going to happen. The government will respond – “Don’t know. It’s a negotiation.” Still. It keeps them busy.

US Politics. From a field of two, one candidate won. He is certainly a departure from the usual. There is a lot of noise about the inherent unfairness of the electoral system, and at the moment, outrage that a foreign power is alleged to have attempted to influence the outcome of the election. Apparently such claims made with no trace of irony. How will ‘The Donald’ work out? I really don’t know. I suspect he will continue to delight in upsetting any apple-cart that he can find.

The CaminoThe word alone brings a smile to my face. Somehow we managed to ensure that the pilgrim with the photos is the one least able to share them, so I have not written or posted as much about that week as I had planned. Walking twenty miles or more each day certainly simplifies life and I can’t wait for the second instalment next year.

Journals, organisers and stationery. I have chopped and changed through a myriad of schemes to organise myself. Both digital and analogue. My preference is analogue, yet digital is far better for sharing. Thus, I use a hybrid. My calendar, shared with Mrs L, is kept on Google; accessible from multiple electronic devices. Many events, I also transfer to my Economist desk diary. Here, I get some perspective on how my week looks. I find this more attractive than an electronic output and better for my weekly review. On the move though, the diary has too much heft. I now carry a simple paper A6 notebook with a Fischer space pen. I would rather use a fountain pen, but I often dress casual – and ink and jeans can be uncomfortable companions. Here, I employ parts of the #BuJo system to run my daily tasks. Of late, I have even developed a double page system to prioritise. I also have a reflective journal – which I would like to keep daily, but often is neglected. Joyfully, the journal has no notifications function, and therefore does not berate me for missing a day.

Corporate. I have a couple of clients for whom I provide support in anti-money laundering systems. I have also been reviewing a multitude of potential acquisitions. Both of those things are, by their very nature, confidential, but hopefully the work done this year will lead to good outcomes.

Writing. The last few months I have done no work at all on Sean. I have been perpetually busy on everything above. Now, given that I am largely (when Mrs L lets me) master of my own time, I have to ask myself why it is that I can find time for anything, anything at all, except writing.

That’s probably another post all on its own.

 

 

Hold the front page! Candidate wins election.

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Oh, I’m sorry. But really. Can we not just get over ourselves?

What has actually happened?

The USA has chosen its 45th President (The 20th Republican).

There is some debate over the exact allegiance of some of the Presidents, but one reasonably popular set of numbers is 15 Democrats, 20 Republicans (including the Donald), 4 Whigs, 4 Democratic-Republicans (really), 1 Federalist and 1 George Washington.

I am far from a fan of the winning candidate. I find many of his utterances utterly repulsive. In their intention, their content and frequently their grammar. I am not alone in those feelings.

Yet 60 million (give or take) Americans voted for him in the election.

Depending on whom you listen to, this is because those voters are stupid or sexist. Racist or angry. Scared or scary. Some will tell you that he only won because the opposition was so poor.

As I write, disappointed citizens are demonstrating against the President-elect. Social media contains images of people likening Mr Trump to Adolf Hitler. The pollsters, the same ones that got the election completely wrong, are telling us that the redneck, misogynist, racist dumb-asses have won the day.

A detached observer might note that hip, liberal, political elite are throwing around unfounded hyperbole and nonsense about all those who voted for hyperbole and nonsense.

Many in the media are drawing parallels with Brexit. Not least the Donald himself. Once can see why. In both campaigns there was a degree of complacency. The British public wouldn’t vote Leave, surely. The Americans wouldn’t elect Donald Trump, obviously.

In both cases, there is a rush to explain how the redneck/mysogynist/racist/sexist/scared/scary dumb-asses have thrown the world to the dogs with scant consideration for themselves or their children. My God, think of the children!

Look, I am prepared to accept that I might be wrong. The UK may be about to plunge into depression and need to beg the Greeks for a bailout. Donald may be the front-man for the four horses of the apocalypse.

Is it too much of a stretch to believe that people voted for what they believed was best, quite probably for a whole range of reasons?

The British people have voted to leave the European Union.

The American people have voted for a Republican candidate in the election.

Those that disagree with those choices have every right to continue to make their case, voice their opinions and even demonstrate. These are rights in a democracy. However, I’m not sure that patronising and insulting those who disagree is a very effective way of winning them over.

This xenophobic cockwomble, for example, would still vote for Brexit.

 

 

Keep Calm!

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Every time I think things are calming down…

Sterling is down, the FTSE is up, consumer confidence is up, no down, no it’s…

“HARD BREXIT!”

“Boo! Soft Brexit!”

“Wait! No Brexit.”

I do wish that everybody would take a moment and calm down.

The UK voted to leave the European Union. To do so, it must trigger a process. It must say, “We are leaving.” There then follows a period of negotiation, on how the UK and the EU will interact.

That’s it folks. No Armageddon. No plagues of locusts; essentially, a lot of chat.

As the Prime Minister has indicated that she is going to trigger the process, the negotiations have, in effect, started. The ones that we get to hear about are the pointless ones – where politicians posture and spout nonsense, all the time checking polling indicators after each comment.

Again, the nonsense is not from one side or the other – everyone is talking rubbish.

Negotiations can be daunting things. Actually though – they are straightforward.

Right now – there are no tariffs between the UK and the EU. Post exit, they could be left as they are, revert to World Trade Organisation defaults or be somewhere in between.

On the UK side – pretty much everyone is happy for there to be no tariffs. Where there is difference is on what other things might need to be accepted. Free movement of labour being the current hot topic.

The EU side is a little more interesting. There is an open secret that many EU leaders fear that should the UK prosper outside of the EU, then the Union itself is under threat. They want the UK to struggle. “There must be a price.” This is a political imperative.

For the majority of member states, free trade with the UK is profitable and contributes to economic prosperity. There is a clear economic argument for free trade to continue, unfettered.

Were I a cynic, I might believe that some EU leaders will only offer access to the single market at a price that they know the UK won’t pay. I might believe that they are prepared to put their own political agendas before the interests of their citizens welfare and prosperity.

The negotiations around Brexit may become about the reshaping of the EU, they may not. The UK may have unfettered access to the internal market, it may not.

The British civil service rates itself as the best of the best. With some justification, it considers itself as the body that gets “the real work done.” The diplomats and technocrats are doubtless already working away. We should keep calm and let them get on with it.

Let me leave you with a quote from Sir Humphrey Appleby, in “Yes Minister” 1980.

“Diplomacy is about surviving until the next century – politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon.”

Is Summer coming?

UK Summer

Andy Murray just won his semi-final at Wimbledon, so it must be summer. The weather doesn’t appear to have caught on.

Ah well. Maybe the sun is on its way.

Terrible events unfolded in the US – lots of shooting. Horrible.

The UK remains devastated by Brexit. Those who wanted to Remain – continue to voice their fears and concerns, as is their right.

An unfortunate side-effect of this is what the markets call sentiment. A large portion of the population and a majority of the media are constantly warning everyone how the Leave vote will lead to a huge financial downturn. Sentiment is, well, negative. The markets therefore are, well, negative. The doom and gloom becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are many brighter people than I talking about each individual element and what it means – but frankly, I’m bored of it. I urge any and all thinking people to be measured and sensible – and question every ‘fact’ you hear.

I was in Dublin for a weekend with friends. As a consequence, I switched back to my iPhone, to give me internet access while away. This was a change from my ‘logged off’ state that I wrote about here.

I was soon checking my e-mail every hour, posting photos onto social media and was never more than six inches from the phone. Upon my return, I found myself in the midst of many social media debates on Brexit.

I found myself feeling anxious – not specific, just a general malaise. It took me longer to go to sleep at night. I didn’t sleep too well. My productivity plummeted.

Yesterday, I moved my sim back to the Punkt ‘dumb’ phone. I’m now ‘in withdrawal’ – wanting to check my phone all the time, but not being able to: However, I’m already more relaxed and productive and I know that I will reap increasing benefits over the next couple of weeks. I even managed to get some writing done today.

This technology stuff; be careful folks. It’s as addictive as heroin.

One thing that I won’t miss from social media is the vitriol. I have had friends message me that they voted ‘Leave’ but are frightened to admit it on social media because of the trolling. I have tried to be sensible and reasonable in all of my posts – sometimes in the face of very strident, righteous proclamations.

I have also learned that I am a ‘xenophobic cockwomble’.

So there.

 

 

Tears and Tantrums

Brexit

Honestly. What did we think would happen?

The United Kingdom is not terribly united today. A voting turnout of 72% has voted 52/48 in favour of leaving the European Union.

So, 48% of the voting public is feeling pretty miserable.

That’s the thing about a referendum. Unless there is a landslide, then a significant proportion of the electorate is going to be ticked off when the results are announced. Judging by my telephone and social media feeds this is what has occurred. Emotions are running high.

I have been open about my preference for ‘Leave’. I posted here.

Like everyone else, I know lots of people on both sides of the argument. Most are passionate about their views. Some, on the ‘Remain’ side, are now feeling very angry, upset and concerned. They see the vote as a catastrophic error. These are the people posting increasingly strident views on social media. It would be unreasonable to expect those friends ‘not bothered’ or those on the winning side to be furiously posting, I suppose.

The geography of the voting makes things even more vexing. In a nutshell, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London wanted to remain, and everyone else wanted to Leave. This has led to calls for another referendum on Scottish Independence and even on Northern Ireland uniting with the Republic of Ireland.

Oh dear. Lots of tears and tantrums.

Financial markets have reacted badly. I don’t want to belittle this – but the markets betted heavily on a remain vote. In fact the only exit polls were conducted by Hedge Funds. When the vote started going the other way – ‘panic’ ensued. Panic, in this case, means that traders holding positions that supposed a remain vote, unwound those positions to mitigate losses. Large UK companies have not suddenly become worthless.

What happens now? Put simply, nobody knows. They are working it out as I write, and probably still will be while you read.

I have been struck by the continued arrogance of the media, the pollsters and the politicians. A simple question was asked and a simple answer given. Yet, the talking heads are still explaining that people voted because they are racist, or because they are old, or because they don’t understand.

This combination of outraged friends and ‘establishment’ arrogance leaves me feeling the need to justify myself.

So, for the record.

I am not racist. I’m no teenager, but I’m not a pensioner either. I feel that I have a reasonable understanding of business, politics and logic. I am not a wide-eyed little Englander. I still voted leave.

I respect everyone’s right to a view. I admire the passion and commitment. I am refreshed that the continent is actively engaged in looking at how best to move forward.

Brexit – The end of days?

Bullingdon Club

I wrote a post about Brexit not long ago. You can read it here.

This blog is not really intended to be political, but sometimes I can’t resist.

The terribly dashing chaps highlighted in the photo are the poster boys of the Leave and Remain campaigns. Increasingly, both campaigns are spouting sensationalist rubbish.

They would have us believe that the day after the referendum, businesses will collapse, or instantly prosper. Our borders will become impenetrable, and fortress UK will sink like a stone, or soar like an eagle. Other European countries will heave a huge sigh of relief, either glad to see the back of us, or delighted that we have stayed in.

I hate to disappoint. Actually, absolutely nothing will happen. The vast majority of ordinary people in mainland Europe will barely register that we had a referendum, let alone know the result. Should we choose to exit, it will take at least two years to negotiate the terms.

Mr Cameron has hinted that Brexit will prompt war, pestilence and plague and Mr Johnson suggests that having defeated Napoleon and Hitler, mighty Britain will finally be subdued and made vassal by bureaucrats in grey suits.

If we are talking war – I would look a little further East to Mr Putin.

Should we stay or leave, business will get on with it. That’s what business does. The world will continue to turn.

In my never humble opinion, the EU is finished anyway. While our Eton boys biff away, the Italian banks are once again on the point of collapse and when they go down, they will take the state with it. The European Central Bank will come up with a plan, as it did for Cyprus, Greece and Ireland. Given that the Italian economy is an awful lot bigger, the plan will need to be an awful lot bigger too. Ferocious austerity will be imposed on Italy. (Good luck with that.) There will need to be gargantuan write-offs of debt, and German citizens will need to accept another kick in the living standards to keep Italy afloat: At least until Spain collapses anyway.

In the past, countries could use interest rates and quantitive easing (printing money) to influence their economies. That option is no longer there, meaning that countries in real trouble are saddled with the exact opposite monetary policy that they need.

Let me add a disclaimer here. This is just my opinion. I do not work for the IMF, ECB, BOE or even The Economist. But I’m right.

Grexit, Brexit, Anyexit. None of these will fatally the EU. The EU was fatally wounded in 1999 when the Euro was introduced. It’s just taking a bloody long time to die.

X is for Xenophobia

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(Image taken from The Daily Telegraph.)

Xenophobia. ‘Fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.’ Wikipedia.

More recently Xenophobia is understood to mean specifically a fear of foreigners.

In the best debut novel ever written by me, the hero Sean finds himself in a new country, facing new people and challenges.

He is Xenophobic. Of course he is. We all are. We would be stupid not to be. I am no evolutionary scientist, but I suspect that fear of the foreign or strange was essential. It is what made our ancestors look at a sabre-tooth tiger and think ‘Hmmm… Not sure that I’m going to go give that thing a hug’

When I hear or read the word xenophobia now, people are using it to lament that prejudice remains. Prejudice about gender, race, disability and sexuality. I believe that it is in our nature to fear that which is strange or foreign. We overcome these fears through learning and education. At the root of learning is reading.

Read more.

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To eradicate prejudice, we need to read more, to learn more, to become familiar with more and more different people and situations. This will help us overcome Xenophobia.

In short, sign up for my e-mail newsletter and I’ll let you know when the best debut novel ever written by me is available – and you can join the fight.

By buying it.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

BREXIT. Yes Please.

Brexit

I love Europe. I have lived in several countries on the continent and visited pretty much all of the rest. I speak a few of the languages. My wife has an Italian ID card.

Whether it be for business or pleasure, I am forever travelling around Europe.

Then why do I want Britain out of the European Union? (BREXIT)

I live in a village in England. I vote for my parish council, my borough council, my independent Police Commissioner and my Member of Parliament. Lest I be worried about under-representation, there is also the House of the Lords; for whom I don’t vote. To support all of these folk, the UK has constructed enormous bureaucracies, that support the democratic structures of the UK and implement the policies agreed.

As a member of the EU, the UK also has to elect members to the European Parliament, as does every member state. To ensure that these people are able to effectively discharge their duty, the EU has also built an enormous bureaucracy to support it, in many languages across a wide area.

Who are these structures paid by?

Well, by the tax-payer, of course.

As I am sure every European has experienced – each element of these mammoth structures is desperate to constantly prove its importance; by fixing something. Should there be an absence of things needing to be fixed, there is no let up – they simply fix things that aren’t broken, or even break things, so that they can fix them.

In my business life, I have spent some time inside the ‘Brussels Bubble’. The term is surprisingly accurate. There is a bubble. Life within the bubble involves quite a lot of lunch, long and voluminous meetings about not very much at all and the occasional migration, when the whole bubble packs up and becomes the Strasbourg bubble for a while. (On a positive note, I should point out that the lunches were excellent, and always involved good wine.)

Everyone in the bubble is very well paid.

By the tax-payer, of course. 

For me, BREXIT is about paying for less idle and needless government.

Politicians and the bureaucrats are in the business of shaping our perceptions. (Bullshitting in other words.) I will give one more recent example.

Mr Obama, President of the United States has recently popped over to the UK to share his wisdom. He seems like a friendly enough sort of guy and he is President of the United States of America – so I, for one, was interested to hear what he had to say.

Mr O thinks that the UK should stay in Europe – apparently to save the US the bother of having to negotiate individually with the UK. It’s just so much easier to do everyone in one go.

Not the most persuasive argument.

There was even a mild tone of threat – as he explained that it might take ten years for a UK outside of the EU, to negotiate a trade deal with the USA. The sub-text (sorry, bullshit) for this line of argument is that trade deals are BIG. Difficult. Tough. Require LOTS of highly skilled (and paid) negotiating teams.

Here is my effort to help the world move forward.

Mr O. Take the trade agreement that you have with the EU and save it in a word document. Do a ‘search and replace’ or two. Replace EU with UK for example. Proof-read it, make a couple of manual changes where necessary and sign it. I think we could start on Monday morning, and be on the first tee by lunch-time.

You’re very welcome.

I am led to understand that the Brussels bubble is very similar to the Westminster bubble. It may well be. I will tell you one key difference:

On June 23rd, I have a chance to vote myself out of the Brussels bubble and the enormous cost of it.

 

Q is for Quixotic

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Quixotic – Extravagantly chivalrous. (Dictionary.com)

Acting with the desire to do noble things without realism. (Wiktionary)

In the best debut novel ever written by me, the protagonist, Sean has a bit of the quixotic about him. In many ways, it is an attractive trait. Nobility is appealing, I think.

In Sean, I am never sure whether he is quixotic by compulsion or convenience. After all, an overblown desire to do noble things can also be a cover for other, less lofty, motivations. Perhaps I am unfair to the lad. you will have to read the novel to find out.

I have noticed how all the major political parties in the UK are getting quixotic about pensions now. To look after our senior citizens is indeed a noble cause. Given that I am heading in that direction myself, I’m all for it. However, at some point, somebody needs to inject a bit of realism.

As a society, we now spend enormous sums of money on life-enhancing and prolonging medicine and treatment. In the UK, much of this is funded by the public purse through the NHS. As a result of this amazing work, people live longer. Drawing a pension – again funded by the public purse.

Either the public purse needs to get bigger or we are going to need to have a rethink about pensions and health.

Still – quixotic. Great word.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge