• 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.

     

     

     

  • Christmas Time

    Merry Christmas!

    I’m looking forward to some tasty food, some classy grape based beverages and the company of friends and family – including the little fellow above, Nero the dog.

    The world’s media and thousands of talented bloggers will produce long, detailed and weighty reviews of 2016. I daresay there will be much talk of war, terrorism, politics and death. It really has been quite some year.

    Nero’s year has been altogether simpler.

    Food has been plentiful. Walks too. He has been particularly pleased with the variety of armchairs, couches and beds provided for his comfort. Most satisfactory.

    Every time Margaret and I return, Nero jumps up and down at the back door, waiting to hear the key in the lock. When he does, he speeds across the room to his toys, selecting one as a welcome home present. Whether we have been gone five minutes or a few hours, his enthusiasm is entire and unlimited.

    He loves curling up on a couch in front of the fire, even more if he can share the couch with us.

    Each morning, I awake to Nero tip-tapping across the wooden floor in the bedroom. In between long yoga-like stretches, he has taken to ‘huffing’, ensuring that I’m awake.

    Together we head out in the early light for a walk around the village. We take the same route each morning, yet every day is a brand new adventure, full of exciting scents, animals to chase and people to deafen with barks.

    We make the world very complicated.

    Be more Nero.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  • 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.

    tantrum

    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.”

  • Four do Rugby

    Ireland-v-England

    Assuming that I can work out this scheduling posts malarkey, then as this post comes out, I will be at Twickenham watching England take on Ireland in the Six Nations. The photo above comes from the Daily Mirror report on last year’s game.

    I’ll be watching the game with three friends.

    There is Conchita, a bearded Englishman living in Dublin, CLD, a Welshman who splits his time between South West England and Warsaw and Tone – an Englishman abroad. Vilnius, last time I checked.

    Add in me, a Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Cornish mix-up in Southern England and we are quite the motley crew. We all knew each other in Prague – we played rugby together, we drank together, and to a certain extent we grew up together. In fairness, Conchita and I may have a way to go on that front.

    Conchita is flying over on Friday and staying here with us, while CLD and Tone arrive on Saturday morning. They have booked a hotel for Saturday.

    I daresay Conchita and I may have managed a couple of glasses of wine on Friday night. The long-suffering Mrs L almost certainly had an evening shaking her head as we talked nonsense and drank wine, lots of wine. Within about an hour of being each other’s company Conchita and I will have speech patterns will so similar as to be indistinguishable one from the other. It’s quite spooky.

    The Four are gathering for a spot of lunch up near Twickenham, five or so hours before kick-off. What could possibly go wrong? (That is very much a rhetorical question.)

    Once we have been fed and settled into some hop-based beverages, we will exchange some banter on the France Wales match of the previous evening. Then we will watch Scotland take on Italy in Rome. A few years ago Conchita and I took the precaution of learning the words of the Italian anthem. The thought of being caught short in a singsong was just too much for two front-row forwards to bear. I daresay that we will not be the only ones singing all of the anthems.

    Before the main event begins, we will have made one hundred new friends. Any supporting England will be known as Rupert, and all supporting Ireland, as Mick. Tradition is Tradition. Our voices will be hoarse from singing (and the odd hop-based beverage) and we will be ready for the big match.

    I have mentioned this before here. Rugby is a pretty special game.

    Of course – I may be completely wrong. We may have had a terrible time. Writing this post in advance may have been a stupid thing to do.

    But I doubt it.

    On Sunday morning, the four of us will be saying, “I’m too old for this.”

     

  • Ugly Social Media

    Click on this if….

    No. Stop it.

    Gradually, I am overcoming the dramatic gastric impact of Spinning, which is a great relief to the dog and many local residents.

    However, I am increasingly annoyed by the tactics some organisations are using to garner positive social media statistics. You know the posts that I mean;

    “Like this page if you believe that a soldier who saved his platoon, sacrificing his life should be honoured while this malicious paedophile should not!”

    Seems a bit of a no-brainer.

    Then you look to see that the post originates from a page called “Lovely fluffy British folk”. Curious fellow that I am, I look at this page.

    It turns out that the page should more accurately be called;

    “Racist, xenophobic dimwits? You have found your online home.”

    Many of these ‘like-farm’ posts are using images of the military to lure people to anti-immigration or anti-muslim organisations. The implication being a polar relationship. “Military Good, Military fight Bad. Immigration Bad. Muslim Bad.”

    I thought I might take a moment to relate to you an anecdote.

    4-British-Army-Getty

    (Getty Image taken from the Independent website)

    I live adjacent to Salisbury Plain, home to Stonehenge and essentially an adventure playground for the British Army. I play golf (badly) at Tidworth Garrison Golf Club, which as the name might suggest, has strong military connections.

    Tidworth is a garrison town.

    On Tidworth high street, I went for a haircut in a busy barbers. Three barbers were working and four more customers were waiting. I’m fairly certain I was the only non-serving military man there. I was the only one not in camoflauge for a start.

    The standard cut seemed to be, “number 2 back and sides and short tidy on top please Kemal.”

    You see the barbers were all Muslim Turks. Really.

    Immigrants too. Good heavens.

    Please don’t associate images of the British military with stupidity, ignorance or prejudice. They’re way too good for that.

    Incidentally – best haircut I’ve had in ages.

  • Cyprus – English Fatigue?

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    I spend a fair amount of time in Cyprus.

    My parents retired here and I lived here for a while.

    I have a holiday home not far from Limassol.

    It’s beautiful. It’s hot and sunny.

    Cyprus, island of Aphrodite, sits in the eastern Mediterranean, not far from the coast of Lebanon. As islands go, it has seen more than its fair share of turbulence and invasion.

    For many years it was a part of the Ottoman empire and laterly was a Crown colony of the United Kingdom. In 1960 it became an independent republic.

    Recent history is complicated – Greek Cypriots in the 1950s were fighting for ‘Enosis’ –  union with Greece.

    Instead, they got an independent republic, where ethnic Turkish Cypriots had protected rights.

    The Republic never really worked and in 1974, the Greek Cypriots staged a military coup (egged on by the Junta in control of Greece) with an eye to achieving Enosis.

    Turkey resisted this with an old fashioned, but effective counter.

    Paratroopers.

    The island was partitioned and remains so to this day.

    The above is a gross over-simplification, I am no historian.

    There is a fascinating book called the Cyprus Conspiracy by Brendan O’Malley that does a good job of shedding some light on a dark corner of geo-politics. Well worth a read.

    The United Kingdom, throughout all of this upheaval, has largely managed to maintain a strong relationship with the part of the island that was not occupied by Turkey.

    The Royal Air Force has an airfield here and there are several other UK military installations on the island.

    Cyprus is reliant on tourism and the lion’s share of visitors have always been British.

    Certainly, one would never struggle to find an English Breakfast on the coast.

    While I would not necessarily see the ubiquitous availability of an English breakfast as a positive, there can be no denying that the universal use of English and affinity with the British does make Cyprus ‘easy’ to work for the Brits.

    This affinity, together with the tourist industry and turnover of military personnel means that thousands of UK citizens make Cyprus their home in retirement.

    Greek is a tough language, and the British are notoriously bad at learning languages anyway.

    In Cyprus, this never mattered. Cypriots speak excellent English and many have attended university in the UK or the USA.

    Over the last couple of years though, I have noticed a trend.

    A sort of militant “Greek only” trend.

    In equipping the holiday home, I have visited that famous Swedish furniture giant – Ikea. As Cyprus is a small island, rather than invest directly, multinational firms tend to grant franchises. Ikea is no exception.

    Everything in Ikea – from the labels on the goods, to the leaflets, to the signs on the door is in Greek and only Greek.

    I have never seen that in Cyprus before.

    Adjoining the Ikea store is a shopping mall. The mall has a food court where can be found the usual fast food suspects.

    There is also a fast food version of more traditional Cypriot food.

    Again – all of the signage was in Greek only.

    A reasonable percentage of consumers in Cyprus will speak little or no Greek. Tourists generally don’t, and many expats don’t either.

    Therefore this policy has a cost to the business.

    Perhaps I am reading too much into it – but there seems a sort of militance to it – an intentional statement.

    I am not sure why it should be happening and whether it might have a broader connotation.

     

  • Immigration. Stop it. Now

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    Stop spouting uninformed nonsense about immigration and immigrants.

    I posted about this before.

    I am prompted to do so again by the horrific images currently all over the media.

    A school of thought is emerging that we have an obligation towards refugees but that economic migrants are a major problem.

    I don’t want to pontificate, so I will limit myself to a story or two.

    I married the daughter of two immigrants. Economic migrants in fact. In post-war Sicily, there simply was no work.

    My father-in-law packed a bag and worked in Germany, Switzerland and Glasgow before settling in London and becoming a postman. Hardly the Cosa Nostra is it?

    Once he had saved enough money to buy a house, he brought his wife and three daughters over. His wife and ultimately daughters got work in the local hospital.

    My wife came along in London as a little surprise. Testament to the poor quality of British television in the sixties perhaps.

    Margaret got a university degree and has never been without work.

    Britain has done well out of these particular economic migrants.

    I even got a wife out of the deal, which I’m very pleased about.

    This year, my wife’s cousin has made the move from Sicily. In post-crisis Sicily, there is simply no work.

    My cousin-in-law packed his bag, come to London and become a bus driver. He is hoping to soon have enough money to bring his wife and child over.

    The parallels are obvious.

    On the phone the other day, my cousin asked my wife why no English people drove buses in London.

    All of his colleagues are immigrants. All of them.

    I daresay that some would say that all the bus driver jobs are taken by immigrants.

    For this to be true, I would need to believe that the major bus companies are intentionally filtering out indigenous English people at interview stage.

    I really can’t see why this would be.

    We might speculate why immigrants are that much more successful in becoming bus drivers than the indigenous population.

    We might wish to look at motivations of employers and applicants.

    Anecdotally, an employer might tell you that an immigrant is more likely to be flexible, and to find a way to work.

    There are good people of all colours, creeds and nationalities. There are bad ones too.

    That a man (or woman) wants to build a good life for his family is to be admired, not feared.

    We must stop demonising immigration and immigrants.

  • Edinburgh

     

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    Last week, I spent a couple of days in the magnificent city of Edinburgh.

    The picture above of Edinburgh castle was taken from the breakfast room of the hotel that we stayed in.

    I may be a little biased in that my Dad comes from that neck of the woods, but Edinburgh is a fantastic place to visit.

    Every August the city and its environs host the Edinburgh International Festival and its unruly, less high brow, younger brother, the Fringe.

    The Fringe has comedy, pop art, kids shows – pretty much anything goes.

    Every theatre, gallery, library, book shop, pub, cafe and broom cupboard becomes a venue.

    The Fringe is now the biggest festival of its kind in the world.

    Also during August, Edinburgh is host to the Military Tattoo, which is what I go to see.

    I will post about the tattoo separately, but it is an event that should be on every bucket list, in my opinion. Simply awesome.

    The city itself positively throbs with visitors from near and far.

    Bars, restaurants and cafes are full to overflowing from mid morning until long after dark.

    For my trip, the sun was out, the winds were down and Edinburgh could have been a southern European city.  The party spilled out from the hostelries onto outdoor terraces and decks. It was gorgeous.

    With one exception, the businesses of Edinburgh welcomed us with open arms.

    August is, I’m sure a bonanza for the hospitality industry.

    Everybody is excited, having fun and looking to have a good time. We ate, we drank and most of all we laughed.

    Stuart LennonI was travelling with my wife, her cousin and her husband. (We are in the picture right) We met up with my cousin and her man. (That’s them below on their trusty steed)

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    We laughed until our sides ached.

    Where is your favourite city?