Friday, 26 May 2017


Yesterday evening, at about 9.30, I managed to take a couple of poor quality, low-light snaps of our local fox snaffling the bones from No.1 Son's dinner of pork spare ribs.

It looks to be a youngster and is very sleek and healthy, unlike the one we've had visiting us for several years in the past, which was somewhat mangy and had a slight limp. This could be the older fox's offspring.

He, or she, has been a regular visitor at dusk since about a month ago, sometimes sat just the other side of the retaining wall in the photos, staring into our living room and observing us quizzically and a bit miffed if we haven't left the kitchen scraps out for it.

It was nearly dark, although the photos don't show that fact. A few minutes later Blackie, one of the neighbour's cats, crept into the scene this side of the wall, each animal being totally oblivious of the other until the fox crept past the house. Had a fight ensued, I'm uncertain which would have come off best, but I believe both seemed as scared as the other.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Pining for the Fijords

I really don't know what they're putting in potting compost these days. Last year we holidayed at Lee Bay in North Devon and I collected some cones from some pine trees I particularly admired in the photo below, which was taken from our holiday rental.

I kept them in the fridge over the winter to scarify and sowed them a couple of weeks ago - some in potting compost and some in plain, garden soil. The ones in the garden soil have sprouted and are well on their way, whereas the ones in the potting compost just aren't doing anything yet and I'm fearing for their survival. I wonder if they've rotted.

We also have a Christmas tree in our garden which was planted perhaps some 20 years ago - it was one of those Christmas trees with a root ball. when that kind of thing was all the rage, and Hay's dad decided to plant it out after Christmas. It's now well over 40 feet tall.

I planted some seeds from it last year and they are progressing nicely.

A couple of years ago, on a business trip to Rome, I also collected some cones from an Italian Stone Pine tree - pineus pinea - the ones that are typical of Italian country scenes with the bare trunks and massive, spreading canopies. One seed sprouted, survived and is thriving.

Hay's dad has had a Monkey Puzzle tree for years. It was confined in a rather small pot and not thriving at all. We planted it out last autumn and that seems to be doing quite well now.

I started on mowing simple paths through the lawn last weekend and the result looks good, although not yet sufficiently visible on photos. It will certainly cut down on the mowing, as well as providing cover for birds and small mammals and wind flowers for insects. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017


Terrorist is a word that's increasingly on people's lips these days, especially after Monday's attack in Manchester, but what exactly is terrorism? People believe it's incredibly difficult to define - like beauty, or quality. There's the old adage that says one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, so the conclusion is that it all depends on your perspective.

The dictionary definition is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. Were the French Resistance terrorists? By that definition, yes - they targeted the Vichy as much as the Germans. To quote another well-worn phrase, history is invariably written by the victors and victors never portray themselves as terrorists. However, the French Resistance were actually freedom fighters using the weapons of terrorism - they were objectively both and it's not actually a matter of perspective. Any use of terror tactics makes one a terrorist, irrespective of motive. Regular armies can and have used terrorist tactics.

As always, there are differences between dictionary definitions and legal definitions - here are various legal definitions of terrorism which eliminate states from the equation:

  1. It can only be conducted by non-state actors operating undercover,
  2. It reaches more than the target victims (indiscriminate),
  3. It is legally illegal.
The following conditions fall outside some legal, definitions of terrorism:
  1. In war (and sometimes peacetime) when committed by a nation state,
  2. In self-defence,
  3. Against enemy materiel in times of war,
  4. Collateral damage.

That, bizarrely, gives a state carte blanche to commit terrorist acts against minorities.

Is terrorism ever successful - again, yes - there are many examples from the Yugoslavian Partizans through Israeli Irgun against the British in Palestine to Vietnam. You could even say that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a success in its intent, as it brought about the liberation of Balkans and the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, albeit at massive cost.

Terrorism's aim is to inspire terror - to terrify - and every candlelight vigil, every public tear, every emotional speech in response to a terrorist act is a win in the terrorist's book. They hurt us and hope to have scared us. What they don't like is popular indifference.

Perhaps this time they've picked the wrong target, as we have a history of dealing with IRA violence to the extent that we have a generation who are bit more stoic about it than most. However, the problem is that IRA violence never really impinged on those born after say 1987, who now range into their late 20s and early 30s, form a sizeable proportion of the population and are very prone to emotional outbursts, especially on social media - millenials, as they are termed. That emotional proclivity has, in many cases, spread into the older generation through the same vehicle - or, perhaps, it was always there, but social media has given it a platform.

The usual response from politicians is to call suicide bombers cowardly, but this is no more than a knee-jerk, political reaction to vilify for political reasons, and thus not really grounded in reality. Barbaric, definitely, but cowardly?. Someone who commits an attack using terror tactics and then runs away can feasibly be called a coward, but someone who is willing to die in the execution of an attack can in no way be called a coward when they pay the ultimate price. Would you have the courage to be killed for your belief,` whether that belief is warped or high-minded?

Can a suicide bomber be called deranged? If they are, then it must be a form of selective derangement, as they can lead normal lives and are indistinguishable from fellow citizens in every other area of life, which is what makes them so dangerous. Admittedly, some are indeed deranged and suffering from mental health problems, but certainly not all, unless you call all religious belief a derangement (there are arguments in favour of that - a suspension of disbelief).

The response can only be the rejection of the terrorist's narrative of a pending clash of civilizations and, while it can be counterintuitive, particularly in the emotional wake of tragedy, psychologists generally agree that the most effective antidote to jihadist terrorism is to police them as criminals, rally round to provide useful help in the aftermath of an attack, assimilate minorities to defuse the problem at source and get back to business as soon as possible.

Marches by the EDL and the like play to the jihadist narrative by tarring all with the same brush, thus increasing tensions and ramping up considerably the sense of oppression such that it actually increases attacks that can be viewed as justified by the newly converted perpetrators. The EDL is just as much a tool of the jihadist as the suicide bomber - they are the recruiters to the cause and certainly no solution.

The news media don't exactly help with their interminable analyses and endless human interest stories that play on the emotions of the viewers and makes them feel more scared than they ought to be - even with the latest attack you're still far more likely to die in a road accident and fewer are being killed by terrorism now than in the 1980s, although you wouldn't think it.

There is one crucial difference between the IRA and ISIS - not that ISIS has been identified as being responsible in this case. The political aim of a united Ireland is something that can be the subject of negotiation and compromise, whereas a caliphate isn't exactly negotiable.

Just carry on!

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The End of the Pier Show

Following my redundancy I've decided to join forces as an associate with an old friend (we were at the same school, but I was 2 years senior), something I've dallied with previously but, at age 62, I think the time is right. People don't like employing anyone over 60.

I went to the UK head office yesterday in Hythe - it was a pleasant surprise. It's located on the end of a pier belonging to Solent Refit, a yacht refitting business. The photos below are the initial approach, a couple of shots of the office itself and the view in each direction. Given it's a marine focused business, the office is rather apt.

I won't actually be based there, as I'll be working from home, but what a great view. Here's a short video that shows the locale:

Monday, 22 May 2017

Planning Ahead

Overheard in the car while passing a funeral director's:

Chairman: "Have you spoken to your dad about funeral arrangements - he's in his 80s after all."

Hay: "He's going in the same grave as my mum."

Chairman: "I know that, but I mean preferences for funeral director - there's that new place on the High Street."

Hay: "No, it'll be the Co-Op again - I got 80 loyalty points for mum and I'll get the same again for dad."

Sunday, 21 May 2017

£350m a Week Wedding Posy

I find it strange that not one single political party is mentioning the legendary £350m a week (£18.2bn a year) saving from the EU to fund their 'unfunded' manifesto. You'd think the Conservatives, at least, would use it - it was mainly one of their Brexit planks for The Great Leap Backwards. It's also strange no party has said how they will pay the EU divorce bill.

Could it be that the £350m a week was not only legendary, but mythical too? Surely not....

I frequently dip into Leave campaign sites on Facebook to see the comments Ultra Brexiteers make. The constant refrain is; "This isn't what our father and grandfathers fought for." The delicious irony is that my father and his generation fought against the very kind of people who vent their spiteful hatred on these Facebook groups. It's a funny old world.

I do resent being told to F-off back to my own country by bumpkins who can't even speak the Queen's English and have surnames with Danish, Norwegian, German, Norman or Huguenot roots - but I guess that's the fault of the EU and immigrants. The irony is that before the vote for The Great Leap Backwards I could have migrated to any country in the EU I wanted to - can't now. I'm here for good to plague them - and I enjoy it, as their arguments are facile, not that being shouty and offensive is an argument.

There's talk of weddings all over the news. What with 42% of marriages now ending in divorce, I can't see many fathers of the brides wanting to shell out £30k for a wedding anymore. With marriage becoming less popular, I'd say that a wedding planner or wedding caterer was not a good career choice these days either.

I sold something on eBay last week and was horrified to see I'd signed up to giving eBay 10% of my earnings. Not only that, but they charge 10% of the postage fee too. Bloody iniquitous. Think I'll use Gumtree in future.

Is that a posy of broccoli - or lettuce - being clutched in Trump's paw?


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Non-Food Students

Apparently the Tories are insisting on foreign students being included in the immigration figures, despite the fact less than 1% of the 300,000 here at any one time remain after they finish their studies.

Now, following Brexit student numbers are set to decline dramatically as a consequence of the UK no longer being in many internationally funded research programmes, meaning student numbers - aka immigrants - will plummet without the Tory government having to do a single thing. It strikes me the Tories want to claim an immigration success through artifice.

That said, foreign students aren't exactly a drain on the economy - their student fees are eye-watering compared to native students. I suppose universities could feasibly drop entry standards even further to attract more natives to make up for the lack of revenue.

It was Pudding Night for the Friends of Old Sodbury Church last night - they're focused on maintaining the fabric of the church (not all are religious) - and I was asked do make 24 portions of a pudding of my choice. I chose a brioche and butter pudding with a caramel sauce.

I purchased 8 packs of Lidl brioche (brioches?) on Thursday and was horrified when I saw the sell-by date - some 3 weeks hence! God knows what they do to ensure they don't spoil for that long - they can't be real food with that shelf-life.

Hay particularly liked the gin and tonic jelly...

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Island of Parts

Hay ordered a humongous kitchen island from Gary, our tame furniture maker. Unfortunately she ordered it a couple of months ago, before my recent redundancy notice, and it's too late to cancel it now. When it's installed we're going to have a Grand Opening, along with a neighbour's newly built pizza oven. We're thinking of calling the island Necker.

I'm about half way through re-acquainting myself with 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'. The book concerns itself with different attitudes to modern technology and how we are split into the romantics and the classicists (or analysts, as I prefer to call them).

The romantics use technology but don't bother to understand it, and as a consequence get intensely frustrated with it when it fails and they can't fix it themselves. They have a love-hate relationship with technology - they love to use it, but hate the fact they're enslaved by repair men when it goes wrong. They feel emasculated.

Analysts, on the other hand, take the trouble to understand how technology works and get a buzz out of keeping things working by doing their own preventative maintenance to stop technical objects failing in the first place.

Romantics see a single entity, whereas the analysts see many discrete, but interlocking systems, each system being comprised of individual parts that all need attention to ensure the whole operates efficiently.

The Zen part of the book deals with the romantic view, where it's the whole that counts, rather than an analysis of the parts. That said, perversely, it's the analyst who is, in Zen parlance, more 'in the moment', being in tune with all the parts and performing maintenance like a ritual. Basically, it all boils down to attitude as to whether the maintenance aspect is seen as drudgery or joy.

I think I'm more inclined to the analytical side - I want to investigate things and understand them, which sometimes bring me into conflict with Hay, who is more into gestalts, especially when I spend hours at the computer researching an issue that's bugging me. Again, that's a paradox, as she's the scientist.

I can't help but feel an analogy here on the Brexit issue - the romantics favour Brexit (although not in Hay's case) and all the Blimpishness that entails, whereas the analysts favour remaining, having taken the trouble to sift the wheat from the political chaff. However, even here there's a paradox, in that the EU is a gestalt in itself - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, whereas the leavers are more attached to the parts, or subsystems - if a particular subsystem; their own country.

I sometimes wonder whether Brexit will eventually be the annex in someone's future book, 'The Decline and Fall of the British Empire'. Having lit the fuse of nationalism through an unshakable faith in a mythical, Arthurian past that can't be recreated, Brexit will have a job to stamp out the flames as they spread throughout the United Kingdom and bits drop off - just like the Western Roman Empire left nothing but a charred cinder in the shape of the solitary and economically ruined city of Rome, while the centre of culture and trade moved east to Constantinople to last another thousand years.

Generally speaking, and paradoxically, Leavers want the UK to stay as a Union, but what they can't seem to engage with is the fact that the Scottish Nationalist, the Welsh Nationalist and the Irish Republican is just like them. Their usual rejoinder is that the Union works - but then so too does the EU; the problems that plague the Union are exactly the same as those that plague the EU - small-minded nationalism. A slim majority of the British have gone from being Romans in control of Rome to barbarians at the gates of Brussels. Cognitive dissonance on a breathtaking scale and tantamount to saying Empire is OK, so long as we're running it.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Cat Flap Conundrum

Trump maintains no President has ever been treated as unfairly as him. What about the ones who were assassinated? Methinks the Orange One doth protest too much - it's all self-inflicted. Make a complete tit of yourself in public and that's the result.

For some reason, the electronic cat flap is requiring new batteries every couple of weeks - the normal interval should be about 4 to 6 months. No amount of cleaning of terminals seems to cure the problem.

The reason we have an electronic one is because our neighbour's two cats, Blackberry and Orange (names have been changed to protect the innocent) keep coming into the house and eating Kitty's food, added to which, Kitty is a rather grumpy female and doesn't appreciate the intrusion by two rather mischievous and dopey male cats. That said, they often dart in whenever we have occasion to open the door, and we're cool with that - Kitty, obviously, is not.

Blackberry (or Blackie for short) often stays overnight - unbeknownst to us, until we feel him jumping on the bed in the small hours. He's such a lovely animal that we don't have the heart to chuck him out - and the neigbours are cool with that too. Both Blackie and Orange are ex farm cats, and as such, consider any open house part of their territory.

Blackie is conversant with the purpose of the cat flap, doesn't even bother to attempt getting through it anymore and is content to sneak in whenever we open the backdoor. Orange, on the other hand, is a bit thick and constantly paws at it and meows loudly to be admitted, despite access being barred. Orange has obviously never heard of Pavlov.

We're considering just leaving the cat flap permanently unlocked. Blackie has been suitably trained and won't even attempt to get in (well, not for a while), but Orange will barge in anyway.

It's all a bit pointless, as during the summer we have both sets of French doors open all day anyway and it's open house.

Stop-press - came down this morning to find Orange sitting at the bottom of the stairs.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A Boomerang Man Cave

When we visited Barrington Court on Sunday, we bought some tomes at the 2nd hand book depository they have there. I got a few cookery books and Hay found one written in the '80s on stately homes called 'The Last Country Houses'. Leafing through Hay's book I came across this wonderful, ready-made plan for a garage:

Yes, it comes complete with an annex for the chauffeur. We're going to have to start saving again...

This story about Chanel, the expensive boomerang and the 'appropriation of indigenous culture'. How the hell do people think culture spread in the fist place, if not by appropriation? There's a good side to this though - might see all these daft dream-catcher things disappear. I wonder what the implications will be for the Devon Cream Tea served outside Devon, the high fashion Roman sandal or all those Regency buildings based on Greek designs...