Blog Archive

Monday, July 1, 2024

Comment te dire adieu? Two General Elections & a Quote from The Economist

Françoise Hardy: Comment te dire adieu?

Paco Rabanne, Françoise Hardy, and Salvador Dali in May 1968

Françoise Hardy born in 1944, died in Paris at the age of 80. A French singer, fashion icon & muse to designer Paco Rabanne. The famed gold Rabanne dress she wore in 1968 weighed 9 kilos, contained 1,000 gold plaques & 300 carats of diamonds. It was the most expensive dress in the world at the time and required four bodyguards.

Here is her 1962 hit Tous les Garçons et Les Filles. The year I was born!

Two General Elections for the price of one!

I don't remember ever having a General Election in the UK and France at the same time. And this time I should be able to vote in both of them!

The UK general Election is boring and is almost certainly a foregone conclusion: after 14 years of Conservative government, the people feel poorer, public services feel worse than ever and trust in politicians is at an all time low. The opposition Labour Party will win with a decent or very large majority. My wish is that during their tenure they bring some trust and respectability back to politics. I think Sir Keir Starmer may be able to do that.

In France things are nastier. President Macron called a very unexpected election after a poor showing in the the European elections for his party and a swing to the far right. It looks as if the far right under the leadership of Marine Le Pen and her protege Prime-Minister-In-Waiting Jordan Bardella, may get the most votes due to voter disappointment and immigration. There is speculation as to why exactly Macron called an election. Does he want to let them win so the country can see what a mess they will make?

FLASH UPDATE: French Far Right at Gates of Power following the first round of voting yesterday

In both countries there is the usual rich-bashing coming from the left. This graph shows that in the UK at least they already pay the lion's share of income taxes. In both countries taxes have been raised by the left to very high percentages for those lucky enough to earn a lot of money. The policy is never successful; the rich either emigrate or find legal ways to avoid it. But it can still make for a popular election campaign.

The richest 10% pay 60% of all income tax in the UK. Let's not frighten them away!

I listened to a speech by Paul Johnson, Director of the IFS, about their independent analysis of the party manifestos. What I found most interesting was his explanation for why, when taxes are higher than ever and spending on public services are at an all time high, do things appear to be so bad? The explanation is a £50bn increase in debt repayments and a growing welfare budget. We simply can't afford our debt at current interest levels and our anaemic growth rates and demographic changes (not to mention the energy price crisis) can't support the quality in services we would all expect to see.

Lower interest rates soon please.

In my view the single biggest issue facing both countries (and most richer countries around the world) is not even being mentioned. It is the demographic time-bomb we face: fast ageing populations and fewer young people in a society that is not geared up for this. It is already having a huge impact on healthcare and social services (as most people can tell) and fewer working people to pay for it all. And it will get much worse. More next time!

Quote for the Month

"If we had a vote on July 4th, we, too, would pick Labour, because it has the greatest chance of tackling the biggest problem that Britain faces: a chronic and debilitating lack of economic growth."

The Economist 

Saturday, June 1, 2024

General Election Called, Fake Tory Tax Cuts, Trump is officially a Criminal

General Election Called 

"When Britain last held a general election, the country was still a member of the European Union, there had been no pandemic and the Conservatives had already been in power for nearly a decade."
The Guardian May 23rd 2024

That sounds like so long ago!! This was the newspaper's comment the morning after Rishi Sunak called a General Election. 

There was general relief across the country (apart from in the Conservative party) when the election was called. We now have to endure 5 weeks of electioneering and campaigning, with each party telling us how awful the other is and how much better they are. I am sure the vast majority already know who they are going to vote for. Most people are either lifelong supportes of one party, or have been so disillusioned by the last decade of government that they will switch this time. The result is pretty certain unless there is a last minute upset: on July 5th, we will probably have a new Labour government under Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer.

It's his to lose

"Our prediction model currently gives them (The Conservatives) a less than 1% chance of winning the election."

The Economist May 23rd 2024

Fake Tory Tax Cuts

Jeremy Hunt has made a big deal of the "tax cuts for working people" he has introduced.  Perhaps there will be more in the run up to the General Election. But in actual fact, the cuts to National Insurance tax don't make up for the stealth taxes Sunak's government has introduced recently. The threshold at which taxes start to be paid have been frozen or reduced and in an era of high inflation this can have a dramatic effect. 

For example, the 'Personal Allowance' - the amount of money you can earn before you start to pay income tax has been virtually frozen since 2019, haven risen from £12,500 to just £12,570 in the last 5 years. Inflation over those 5 years has been about 20%. So for no tax increase, the amount at which you start to pay tax would have needed to rise by 20% to £15,000. So most people will be worse off, despite the so called 'tax cuts' announced with great fanfare by the government. Other allowances have been similarly frozen or in the case of Capital Gains and Dividends, slashed dramatically. For Capital Gains, the tax free annual allowance, has been slashed from £12,300 in 2020 to just £3,000 this year!

Total public sector current receipts expressed as a percentage of GDP in the United Kingdom from 1900/01 to 2028/29(in million GBP)

Why do our politicians have to be so dishonest? Why can't they say we need more money for X and Y, so we have to raise more tax?

I wonder how many people actually think they are paying less tax?

The total tax take has been increasing since 1992 as the chart above demonstrates.

Government revenue, percent of GDP (Source: IMF)

It's interesting to see in the world tax take map above (courtesy of the International Monetary Fund) the better places to live are the darker colours - where the tax take is highest!

It's time for the British public to wake up to the fact that if we want decent public services, we need to pay for them and stop trying to do it on the cheap. Just look at the darkest countries on the map - they have the best health services and public services generally.

Trump is officially a Criminal

The first of Trump's court cases has finally found him guilty on all 34 accounts of fiddling his business receipts to hide his payment to his Escort, Stormy Daniels.

Who would have thought that Trump was a liar, a fraudster, a criminal? Will it make any difference to his chances of being re-elected?  Probably not.

"This crime wave ends when Donald Trump becomes president. Believe me."
Donald Trump

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Europe is killing its own automotive industry, How I am starting to use AI, Gone are our White Male Middle Class Political Leaders

How Europe is killing its own automotive industry

The UK and the EU announced last year that the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid car sales would be banned from 2035. Any new car that produces CO2 is to be banned.

So that means most people buying a new car will be forced to buy an electric vehicle (EV). 

Just one problem there: the West makes good premium priced EVs. China is in the process of flooding the market with cheap EVs.

The Financial Times 10/04/2024

Many early adopters have bought Teslas and other expensive EVs including VWs, Porsches, BMWs etc. These cars typically cost over £50,000 which is substantially more than the majority of people pay for a new car. There are some lower priced small EVs from European manufacturers such as the Renault Zoe (which gets good reviews) and the Peugeot e208 (£30,000+). But the Chinese ones are better value, in part thanks to Chinese subsidies.

Recently I hired an EV in France. I booked an e208 or 'similar category' car - it was the cheapest rental vehicle available. I could have had a much smaller petrol powered car for slightly more money. Unfortunately when I went to inspect the Renault Zoe I had been allocated (12km on the clock) there was no domestic charging cable available. So Europcar 'upgraded me' to a MG4 EV Made in China. It had 400km on the clock and the two charging cables in the boot were both new and unwrapped.

My MG4 EV rental car

The list price of this car starts at £27,000 which is actually about the same as the Zoe but it's a larger car and probably has a better range. There are very attractive leasing deals available on these cars starting at £99 per month plus no doubt some stupidly high deposit. But given that demand is so much lower than forecasts, I am sure there are some very good deals out there.

So what did I think of the car? Well if you are looking for a solid feeling machine to get you from A to B in relative comfort, rarely need to go more than 200 miles and are happy to plug it in to your domestic electricity socket overnight, it will probably meet your requirements. To me the car felt structurally sound and operationally effective. The interior trim and finishes seemed a bit boring, certainly not premium, and the central console is very basic and buggy. So if you get excited by cars, this one probably won't excite you. It will most likely bore the pants off you.

Of course, until people feel confident that they can charge their car with a minimum of fuss (not like my stay in Majorca last year) few will want to buy an EV. This is what I said about our EV in Majorca:

A Fiat 500e was our rental car. It proved very stressful finding an available charger that worked. And considerably more expensive than petrol. Won't do that again! Instead of driving peacefully to the places we had highlighted to visit, we ended up planning our day trips around public chargers, many of which didn't work, were being used or were too slow to serve any real purpose. I have learned my lesson! Now I know why it was the cheapest car available at Avis.

The Fiat 500 EV would have been a great little car if there had been somewhere to charge it

How I am starting to use AI

Like many of us, I have had a play with Chat GPT, Gemini, Perplexity and others with mixed results. When I asked to calculate the cost of driving to France, it forgot that there was a stretch of water en route. When I asked where the HQ of Chanel is, it got it wrong (it's in London not Paris if you are interested).

To be fair, when I pointed out their mistakes, the AI was very gracious in admitting them and thanking me for pointing it out, explaining that it is learning. But it has been helpful for some things - although still not hugely better than a good search engine. I expect it will improve rapidly.

However, I have used AI built into a couple of applications with great success. I wanted to build a website and asked Hostinger's AI to do that for me. It asked me few questions and built me a very good site that I could go on to edit to my satisfaction. That saved me a few hours.

Use Food Mood to create your perfect recipe!!

I also used Google's Food Mood to create a great recipe! Instead of browsing cook books to find something that looks attractive, you choose two countries (I chose Greece and Italy), specify how many people, meal type (dinner) and any dietary preferences (gluten free, veggie) and it created a great recipe for me. It was a pasta feta based dish even better that TikTok pasta! I will be using it more!

What next I wonder?

Gone are our White Male Middle Class Political Leaders

Rishi Sunak is the UK's first British Asian Prime Minister. His parents are both of Indian descent and immigrated to the UK in the 1960s from East Africa.

Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething was born in Zambia in 1974.

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf who has just announced his resignation, was born in Glasgow to Pakistani immigrant parents. According to The Economist, the length of his tenure was 8.1 Liz Trusses.

Michelle O'Neill - the First Minister of Northern Ireland

Sadiq Kahn - Mayor of London was born in Tooting, London, to Pakistani immigrant parents.

Quote for the Month

Scoop on Netflix relives the infamous Prince Andrew/ Emily Maitlis interview and how it came to be. My favourite moment was when Maitlis was trying to establish why Andrew had invited a convicted sex offender, Epstein, to stay at Sandringham:

EM: Am I right in thinking you threw a birthday party for Epstein's girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell at Sandringham?

PA: No, it was a shooting weekend.

EM: A shooting weekend?

PA: Just a straightforward, a straightforward shooting weekend.

Prince Andrew is so privileged and out of touch with ordinary people, that it doesn't even occur to him that most people don't do 'shooting weekends' and have little idea how they work. For me, this brief extract from his notorious interview with Maitlis sums up the huge gulf between Andrew and the real world and this is what led to his downfall - a complete inability to comprehend how real people think and feel.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Singapore Success Story

Singapore - A Success Story

I have made two quick visits to Singapore (Lion City) in my business career and my interest in this remarkable tiny city state has been revived after watching a documentary presented by former MP, Michael Portillo. It makes a change to talk about something positive - and Singapore most certainly is - a remarkable transformation from a swampland to one of the wealthiest countries in the world in a relatively short period of time.

The facts go like this:

Sir Stamford Raffles established Singapore as a trading post of the British Empire
Singapore falls to Japanese occupation - Winston Churchill called the defeat "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history". Tens of thousands were slaughtered.
Japanese surrender and the rebuilding of Singapore commences
Singapore becomes independent under Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew following a brief spell as part of Malaysia
Population almost 6 million
GDP per capita $87,884 - 5th highest in the world
HDI value of 0.935 - 9th in the world (Human Development Index - UK is 15, USA 20, France 28)
Largely democratic

Portillo visited the Port of Singapore, currently the second busiest port in the world. Work is underway to double it's size. The new fully automated Tuas Mega Port will be extended onto reclaimed land and will free up other land to be used for other purposes.

Raffles Hotel in Singapore

The famous Singapore Sling cocktail in the Long Bar

Today many people associate the name Raffles with the luxurious Raffles hotel. I popped in there on one of my visits and of course ordered a Singapore Sling cocktail at the Long Bar! My daily commute to school in Mill Hill as a child took me past Highwood House where Raffles and his wife lived in their later years.

Highwood House today - divided into flats and with a Raffles blue plaque 

Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), was the first Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990. He is widely recognised as the founding father of the modern Singaporean state, and for his leadership in turning it into a highly developed country.

LKY in 2005

Quote for the Month

"It's not who votes that counts, it's who counts the votes" 
Vladimir Putin wins another term on March 18th 2024 with '87%' of the votes.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Trip to Seville, UK going to the Dogs, Dogs going to the Dogs, Amazon Returns

Trip to Seville

We went to Seville for a long weekend. It's the third most visited city in the second most visited country in the world. That means lots of tourists! We loved it and would like to return. Volver a Sevilla.

Plaza de España - so busy that the authorities are planning an entrance fee

I like:
  • 400 churches and 4,000 bars means there is a church on every street. And somewhere to have a drink every few metres!
  • The architecture is over the top but the more modest creations are often beautiful.
  • Food quality: tapas, ham, ham, ham.
  • Le dépaysement: fans, religion, ham, meal times, tapas, OTT architecture, bull ring, flamenco.
  • Deep blue skies
  • Cultural mix - Mediterranean / European / Arabic / dark
  • The people are friendly and have time to talk
  • Cleanliness (for big city)
  • The river Guadalquivir
  • The Neo Victoria, first ship to circumnavigate the world in 1509-12
  • My 18,000 steps a day!

I dislike:
  • Meal times! Many restaurants don't open until 20.30. Lunch is often not served until 14.00.
  • Too many tourists (like me)

Las Setas - world's largest wooden structure

La Basilica de la Macarena

La Basilica de la Mercadona

The Cathedral and the Giralda

Lifesize replica of the Neo Victoria on the Guadalquivir

The UK is going to the Dogs

You may be forgiven for thinking that after 14 years of Conservative government, the country might be going okay - at least economically. Well you would be wrong. Growth is almost non existent as the graph below demonstrates:

Source: House of Commons Library

And compared to similar countries, only Germany has done worse than the UK since 2019:

That means we are poorer than we should be, if we had say an average growth rate, and that there is less to invest in our public services as is amply demonstrated by daily media stories such as:

Queues for the third day when a new NHS dentist opens their doors in Bristol

The King gets seen immediately after been diagnosed with cancer while ordinary people have to wait months: in November 2023, 65.2% of people treated began first definitive treatment of cancer within 62 days of an urgent suspected cancer referral, breast symptomatic referral, urgent screening referral or a consultant upgrade. NHS Data

Nearly 35,000 patients a month waited for 12 hours or more for a hospital bed in 2023, new FactCheck analysis of NHS England data reveals. That’s more than 3,000 times higher than in 2011.

Cancer waiting times for 2023 in England were the worst on record, a BBC News analysis has revealed. The waits have worsened every year for the past 11. BBC News 08/02/2024

And my personal experiences:

When I drive into town people must think I'm drunk as I swerve to avoid the potholes, reminiscent of a third world country.

I have had to cancel several trips to London as the trains have been on strike. The NHS doctors and nurses are regularly on strike, making the the health service even more unreliable.

Even the Dogs have gone to the Dogs

Facing a surge in dog attacks, the most violent breed - XL Bullies - has just been banned 

The hideous and violent XL Bully dog breed

Amazon Returns

I recently ordered the wrong digibox for my French satellite TV. So I ordered the correct one and returned the first one. Amazon provided me with a label and I took it to the post office, paid the postage and off it went to a European Amazon Returns centre in Slovakia.

Except it didn't. A couple of weeks later, the same package was returned by my postman having been refused entry in Slovakia. There was a small red sticker on my parcel marked 'Return' in French and in Slovak (I presume).

So I decided to use the Amazon Chat service to try to get it resolved. Here is a summary of my chat:

I spent 60 minutes on the chat
The bot transferred me to a real person (agent) when it was clear it could not help
I was transferred to each of the following people who reviewed my case
Maddela was unable to help me so transferred me to
Zineb was unable to help me so transferred me to
Ialla was unable to help me so transferred me to
Audrey was unable to help me so transferred me to
Maria was unable to help me so transferred me to
Inass was unable to help me so transferred me to
Nesrine was unable to help me so transferred me to
Saida was unable to help me so transferred me to
Mohamed was unable to help me so transferred me to
Saida was unable to help me so transferred me to
Awatef who said he would organise a refund. I said okay, what should I do with the digibox I am trying to return. He said whatever you wish.

Next I contacted the Royal Mail to get a postage refund as it was guaranteed delivery. After a 30 minute wait, I was told no problem and that they would send me a cheque for the GBP7.10. Remember what a cheque is?
I asked why it had not been delivered and he said that electrical appliances going into Europe (since Brexit I imagine) require a test and that it's not worth it for low value items. This of course leads to a lot of waste.

I have sent my digibox for recycling. What a waste.

Quotes for the Month

Mr Navalny would not want Mr Putin’s message to prevail. “[If I get killed] the obvious thing is: don’t give up,” he once told American film-makers. 
“All it takes for evil to triumph is the inaction of good people. There’s no need for inaction.”
Alexy Navalny 1976 - 2024 Murdered by Vladimir Putin

"Evil thrives on apathy and cannot survive without it"

Hannah Arendt 1906 - 1975 German Philosopher, whose passage to America was secured in 1940 by Varian Fry and his team.

“For evil to happen, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing.” 
Edmund Burke 1729 - 1797 MP for Wendover and Democracy Campaigner

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Iran is the Enemy, My Energy Prices, Government's Absurd Rwanda Asylum Policy

Iran is the World's Enemy No 1

 Iran is often called "The Head of the Snake"

In January, Iran launched airstrikes on Pakistan, who then retaliated a few days later. In both cases people were killed. 

Following that, "Iran fired missiles into northern Syria saying it was targeting IS bases, and into Iraq, aiming at what it claimed was an “Israeli espionage headquarters” and “terrorist groups” near the US consulate compound in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.''  The Guardian January 15th 2024

On Sunday January 28th, an Iranian drone killed three US soldiers in Jordan, near the border with Syria. The US has vowed to retaliate and Iran denies any involvement. This is a potential massive escalation point.

We already know that Iran is largely responsible for the Israel Hamas war as it encourages, trains and arms Hamas. Additionally, the current war in the Red Sea in which the Yemen Houtis are attacking and disrupting international shipping has drawn a powerful response from the US and the UK. The Houtis are also armed and trained by Iran.

This undeniable Iranian aggression is creating considerable unease across the Middle East. And whilst public opinion in much of the world is uniting against Israel, in part because they don't really get the full picture, there is a big shift in country leadership against Iran. Let's not forget that in 2014-15, the Saudis were engaged in a war against the Houtis in Yemen. The US refused to help them so they more or less gave up. Look where we are now! And, yes, the Saudis have refused to join the US in the current Red Sea conflict.

Remember that Israel has been warning the world for many years that Iran is the real enemy. That warning has largely fallen on deaf ears.

“Iran must be identified as enemy number one,” Mr. Alpher, then an adviser to Yitzhak Rabin, told the New York Times. From then on, Israel and its allies in America continued to accuse Tehran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Mr. Shimon Peres warns the “international community” that Iran would possess the atomic bomb in 1999."

Le Monde February 2009

My Energy Prices

They are no longer in the news, perhaps because we have accepted that the prices we pay for our gas and our electricity are going to remain high. It's one way of reducing our carbon emissions, perhaps the most effective.

Here is how it has impacted on my household over the last 5 years:

Total usage and cost of gas and electricity combined in kilowatt hours (excludes standing charges) 

2019    31,310 kWh    £1,611

2020    30,370 kWh    £1,382

2021    31,195 kWh    £1,352

2022    20,893 kWh    £1,901

2023    17,021 kWh    £2,021

So over the 5 year period, we have reduced consumption by 45% and despite this, our costs have risen by 25%.  Wow! But you can see that the huge rise in costs has really made us reduce our consumption. I think this is the only way that the world is going to de-carbonise fast.

What a waste of electricity!

The data we get from our energy provider via app and website is so good that the smart meter is pretty redundant now. In fact I have unplugged it to save the electricity it wastes!

Government's Absurd Rwanda Asylum Policy

The government's policy of outsourcing UK asylum applications to Rwanda took another step into the land of the absurd when the i revealed that over the last two years the UK has accepted 6 applications for asylum from Rwandan citizens! 

How can the UK government's flagship bill to outsource asylum processing to 'safe country' Rwanda be legal when we have been accepting Rwandans here because we recognise that Rwanda is not safe???

The i Front Page 15th January 2024

The i goes on to say:

'Accepting Rwandan asylum seekers in the UK threatens to deal a fatal blow for elements of the Government’s Rwanda bill, experts have claimed.

i has revealed that six people from Rwanda have been granted asylum since ministers signed a deportation deal with the country in April 2022.

The Home Office did not disclose the reasons for granting asylum to each individual, however Government data show at least one decision was based on sexual orientation.'

The government's insistance on proceeding with this absurd bill shows we are in the final throws of a bunch of mutinous selfish cretins who care so much more about themselves than their country. Bring on that election!

Quote for the Month

I was a human rights lawyer for 20 years. I believed those values of dignity, equality and non-discrimination were a given. I believed the only question in my lifetime would be - how much further do we extend those values? I did not think in my lifetime we'd actually be having an argument about those values.

Sir Kier Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party

Monday, January 1, 2024

Happy 2024! Love Thy Neighbour.

Happy 2024!

Love Thy Neighbour

That's not really a theme that the world seems to be embracing these days.

A more peaceful year would be very welcome. In 2023, we saw the Russian invasion of Ukraine move into its second year with some particularly heavy shelling over the Christmas and New Year period. Meanwhile Putin's crackdown on his people just gets worse and he declares he will stand for re-election with no real opposition left alive.  

Putin seeks new friends as his war on Ukraine alienates him from much of the world

We saw the obnoxious and brutal terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7th, followed by the heavy handed bombardment of Gaza by Israel that continues to kill thousands more innocent people as the days go by. Israel says it won't stop until the hostages taken on October 7th are released.

There is currently no end in sight for either war so my New Year's wish is for peace in those two regions. The ordinary people deserve that so badly. The rest of the world would also benefit hugely.

Israel loses the support of most countries as the world is flooded with pictures
of innocent victims of the war in Gaza

In my Blog of November 2014, I spoke of Sir Nicholas Winton, the quiet and reserved hero who organised the Kindertransport in 1938-9 to evacuate mostly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia before they could be deported by the Nazis to be murdered in their concentration camps. He saved the lives of 669 children. Most of their parents were murdered. He died a few months after I wrote about him, aged 106.

Today, January 1st 2024, a new film on Winton's life comes out with Anthony Hopkins acting his part. Sir Anthony says that he agrees with Sir Nicholas Winton's view on averting conflict, which was that "the only way through is compromise".

I also agree. Compromise is under-rated. I look forward to seeing the film. 

Sir Nicholas remains one of those few special people who undertook such remarkable acts for others for no personal gain.

Statue in honour of Nicholas Winton at Prague railway station, July 2025

Quote for the New Year

"The only way through is compromise"

Sir Nicholas Winton on how to avoid conflict.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Government Debt, Sainsbury's Security, From AS400 to Chromebook, UK Immigration again, NL Votes Far Right, Has Rishi Lost His Marbles?

Government Debt and Reducing Inflation

In this financial year, the government is planning to spend £116bn on debt interest - almost as much as will be spent on education and more than we spend on Defence, Public Order, Housing and many other things. Why so much? Because they / the Bank of England have increased interest rates and because we owe so much money.

I still believe in my comments in an earlier blog about the Bank of England's policy to raise interest rates to reduce inflation being flawed. At last we have seen in November, inflation falling to 4.6%, less than half where it was in October 2022 at 11.2%. The reason for the fall is a reduction in global gas, electricity and oil prices;  Nothing that the UK government has done or influenced. 

Higher interest rates have led to wage prices increases above the rate of inflation, driven in part by higher mortgage rates and higher property rental prices. So instead of reducing inflation, our Bank and our Government have actually been helping to increase it! And then you have the huge increase in lending costs of government debt meaning taxes will have to go up even higher! Incompetence? 

Or perhaps I have just got it all wrong.

Sainsbury's Security

We recently bought a bottle of Martini at Sainsbury's and when we got home found that their security device was still attached making it impossible to open the bottle. 

I rang the store (took forever to get through) and was told that it required a special magnetic device to open it and that I would need to go back to a store to have it removed. This seemed like a good challenge and I certainly didn't want to waste 30 minutes and some fuel to return to the store.

I searched online and couldn't find any answers for such a device (there was plenty for other device types). I tried to prize out the tabs that prevented it from being removed but each time I pulled one out another one appeared below it! Time for my little hacksaw and 3 minutes later it was off and time to drink Martini!


Security device on Martini bottle finally removed

From AS400 to Chromebook via Windows - a 35 year journey

My schooling started in the early age of computers. I remember programming with punch cards. For one of my projects I got our school computer to compose a piece of music using random notes. Then I got together with two friends to play the music as a triple quartet (Piano, Violin, Trombone). It was no worse than Stockhausen! Arriving at Grass Roots in the mid 1980's the company  used an AS400. For all programming and also for secretarial work using these green dumb terminals:

AS400 Green Display Screen

I used to get extremely frustrated trying to type letters to my clients (yes, we sent letters!) as it was almost impossible to get any columns to align for quotations.I remember one letter with a column of figures that I sent back to the secretary about 4 times until she was about to cry as it wouldn't align. I gave up and sent it poorly presented.

Shortly afterwards, a consultant who was working with us showed me his new computer that was running an early version of Windows. He showed me the print button icon that he clicked with his mouse to get the letter to print on his little printer on his desk. Perfectly aligned! This was a revelation and a game-changer for me. I campaigned to have Windows computers for staff and was hugely disappointed when dozens of new dumb terminals were delivered and given to us so we could write our own letters and more. It was only a matter of time until they were binned and we switched to Windows PCs.


Then we moved to the era when everyone knew which processor and how much RAM was in their computer. I even had a T shirt with a 32MB RAM! Now of course most people don't have a clue what powers their machine.

Next I moved to Digital Fibre in 2014 and everyone was a devoted Mac expert, except for me. I remember going in for work in April 2014 and a brand new MacBook had been setup and was waiting for me on my desk. I still use the same MacBook almost 10 years later. That's quality for you!

However, I am writing this on my brand new Chromebook.  I bought it for several reasons:
1. My Macbook battery no longer holds a long charge - replacement price £250 - the same cost as the new Acer Chromebook
2. I want to discipline myself to save everything in the cloud and I believe the Chromebook will force me to do that
3. It weighs a fraction of the MacBook and my back is already saying thank you. (From carrying the MacBook around in my rucksack).

So I have gone 360 degrees - from a dumb terminal with everything saved centrally to a 21st century internet device that saved everything centrally in the cloud!

Migration rises since Brexit

I believe that many people who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum did so as they believed the lying politicians who said immigration would reduce as Britain took back control. In fact, as the graph below from the BBC and the ONS shows, it is higher than ever. Only a severe pandemic and lockdown can temporarily reduce it.

Another European Country Moves Far Right

Following Viktor Orban's re-election in Hungary and Giorgia Meloni in Italy another EU country has voted in the Far Rights: Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. 

Ss Leonie de Jonge, professor of European Politics at Groningen University, points out, his party programme is anything but moderate.

"The PVV is an archetypical populist radical right party, characterised by nativism, authoritarianism and populism," she said.  Mr Wilders wants to cancel the overseas aid budget, cut EU funding and reduce the number of foreign students coming in.

Wilders, Orban, Meloni

He promises to have 14 year-olds treated the same as adults in criminal cases, cut taxes, provide 10,000 more police officers, show zero tolerance for "street scum" and bring back the controversial Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) character.

His manifesto ends with a promise of a government that will "put the Dutch back at number one!"

BBC News 25/11/2023

My previous article on migration into Europe is the main reason for the far lurch right. Until more moderate politicians and the EU do something more substantial about this, it will continue.  Along with the huge rise in antisemitism, things haven't looked this bad for many years.

Has Rishi Lost His Marbles?

One of the beautiful Parthanon Marbles, currently in the British Museuam

It seems surprising that the UK Prime Minister is prepared to snub the Greek Prime Minister, a close ally, over some old artefacts. If this causes a diplomatic incident, how on earth can he be expected to work with less friendly countries?

Statues and a stunning frieze

"Parthenon marbles row raises fresh fears over fraught UK-EU relations"

"War of words between Athens and London escalates after Rishi Sunak’s snub to Greek prime minister
William Hague, a former foreign secretary who is sometimes regarded as a mentor to Sunak, also weighed in, describing the affair as “not a great advert for diplomacy all round actually”.
He added that it “shouldn’t be impossible” to come to an agreement on the Parthenon marbles, but also told Times Radio that Mitsotakis could have “approached things a bit better” and that Sunak would not have cancelled without good reason."

The Guardian 28th November 2023

Quote for the Month 

"In Israel, Arabs can vote. In Gaza, Jews are either hostages or dead." 

Adam Sidbury, 1st December 2023

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

My Favourite Adverts, Hamas Massacre in Israel and Reprisals, Churchill War Quote

My Favourite Adverts

Each of these ads is in my opinion a masterpiece, and each holds a special meaning for me.

1. Virgin Atlantic, 1998, Agency Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

I remember this enormous poster on the Cromwell Road in London, at a spot where there was always terrible rush hour traffic. That gave everyone plenty of time to enjoy the advert! At the time there was intense rivalry between BA and Virgin Atlantic who never missed an opportunity to have a go at their rival. I particularly liked this one.

2. Peugeot 206, 1988, Agency Publicis

Not only was it a great car, but the music by the Bhangra Knights became a hit. I remember buying the 12 inch single and trying to digitise it! Peugeot's big global ad agency (Publicis) asked each of its country offices to compete for the best idea. The Italian branch came up with this hit ad. Unfortunately, Hindustan motors were unhappy with their vehicle being portrayed in this manner and sued for many millions. Ironically, Peugeot bought the brand in 2017! So iconic, that Top Gear produced their own version, years later:

The Smash Martians began promoting instant mashed potato in 1974. The cackling hi-tech robots spied on suburban kitchens and poured scorn on such primitive implements as the potato peeler. In 2006, BBC Good Food magazine voted the cheeky robots most iconic British food advert of all time. The Martian ads ran for 10 years, although client, Cadbury, had initially been sceptical, saying it trivialised the product.

Fly Fishing by J.R Hartley - Yellow Pages, 1983, Agency Abbott Mead Vickers (AMV)

One of David Abbott's, masterpieces, this advert is always rated highly by the British public in polls. Abbott was the UK's greatest advertising copywriter, responsible for some of the most memorable campaigns of his era, for clients including Volvo, Sainsbury’s, Ikea, Chivas Regal, The Economist (see below), Yellow Pages and the RSPCA. Abbott did not perhaps conform to the public perception of a typical advertising man. Soft-spoken, charming and always elegantly dressed, he also had a reputation in the industry for high principle. AMV declined to advertise toys or tobacco.

Created in his honour, following his death in 2014

Hamas Massacre in Israel and Reprisals


Hamas must be destroyed following their coldblooded attack and slaughter of 1,400 innocent people who happened to be close to Gaza on Saturday October 7th and the taking of 220 hostages, men, women and children of all ages. Israel has the right to self defence and to do what it takes to protect their country provided they adhere to international law. Hamas does not recognise the right of Israel to exist so they will continue to attack until they are wiped out.

Unfortunately the people of Gaza are stuck in the middle of this and are suffering hugely as a result. Several thousand have already been killed during Israel's predictable attacks on Gaza aimed at obliterating Hamas and their military installations. Hamas use their people as human shields, operating in densely populated areas, next to, and underneath hospitals, firing rockets at Israel from residential buildings.

Does this make it all right for Israel to continue their heavy handed attack on Hamas? If the only way to wipe them out and stop them from attacking Israel means innocent Gazan's will be killed?

These are very difficult questions relating to two persecuted sets of peoples who have been fighting over the same land for thousands of years. We see large protests across the democratic world, mostly in support of the Palestinians as Israel continues its nightly bombardments of Gaza and the 2.2 million people who live there struggle to find accommodation, water, food and fuel. Pro-Palestinian media are very competent at showing shocking images that they know will turn millions against Israel. Much of the information is hard to verify. For example, it seems likely that a strike on a hospital car park that Hamas claimed killed many hundreds, was in fact a failed rocket aimed at Israel that mis-fired and fell back next to the hospital. Despite that, the images (it was widely filmed) have intensified hatred towards Israel.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a massive increase in anti-semitism, with Police in the UK and France saying criminal acts have increased fourfold since October 7th.

What should be done? My view is that the governments of the USA, UK and France should lead an international coalition to find a lasting and peaceful two state solution. Wealthy Arab countries in the region should be part of it and help pay for re-construction as Israel releases its grip on the West Bank and Gaza and agrees a reasonable ending to continued West Bank settlements.

But this will be impossible so long as Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel (which they continue to do regularly including during our visit to Israel last May) and so long as Hamas' military operation continues to exist in any real form. 

Most of the reporting I have heard on this war has been biased to one side or the other. The only sensible words I have heard have been from Layla Moran MP on the Laura Kuenssberg show on BBC1 on October 29th. She explained that she has a Palestinian mother and British father with relatives currently stuck in a church in Gaza following the bombing of their home. She expressed absolute horror at the activities of Hamas, defended Israel's right to defend itself but asked for help for the people of Gaza. She suggested that a long term peace should be mediated following this terrible war. I met some Christian Arabs during my trip to the West Bank; they were hard-working, charming, realistic, knowledgable and peaceful. They too need to be protected.

Quote for the Month

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.

Winston Churchill