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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Don’t Give Up, Rolls Royce, The Palace of Westminster, Winter Time arriving, I cried on my way to work listening to BBC Radio 4

My advice for the month is ‘Don’t Give Up’ as if you really believe in something, keep trying and you will probably eventually get what you seek.  My youngest son is in his final year at University and decided a little while ago that he wanted to train to become a lawyer after thoroughly evaluating a number of options.  He has now been attending interviews and vacation schemes with a variety of law firms for the last year or two.  Very early on he had an offer from one firm of a training contract followed by a job but he turned it down as he has set his sights on one of the top five or ‘Magic Circle’ law firms.  Although he was determined, he did get despondent occasionally as the time he was dedicating to this along with a couple of rejections was making it hard and he started to question whether it was the right thing for him.  Well, despite all of his Uni work, and giving up most of his holidays to this cause, he kept going and I am pleased to say that he has just had an offer from one of the Big Five.  A huge relief for us all and proof that if you put in masses of energy and you don’t give up – you will get there in the end.  This is also a good lesson for me in the rollercoaster ride I am on in determining how I am going to spend my time post Grass Roots.  More on that in my next blog.  At least I hope so.  Must keep going....

I was fortunate to have been invited with my eldest son to spend 24 hours at Goodwood with Rolls Royce.  The event was designed to impress prospective customers with the quality of the cars, making it more likely they would buy one.  Well while we are not in the market for a Roller, I can tell you that we were very very impressed.  We started off with a dinner with the Sales and Marketing Director, followed by a presentation and tasting of Louis 13 Cognac which costs £5,400 a bottle.  Very fitting for Rolls Royce.  If I had realised that the booze I was drinking costs £500 a glass I am quite sure I would have choked on it.  Anyway they sold a couple of bottles so I am sure they were happy.  The real fun started after breakfast when we were taken on a factory tour.  The factory was built by the owners of the brand BMW 10 years ago and is stunning it its architectural beauty and simplicity.  From the middle of the production line you can see across the countryside as all of the walls are made of glass.  Oh and the cars are pretty impressive too.  We then spent the rest of the day driving the full range of cars.  Phantoms down beautiful autumnal country lanes; Ghosts and Wraiths around the famous Goodwood racing circuit.  The cars are truly beautiful and exquisitely and lovingly hand assembled to the owner's every whim.  Whether it be the choice of 11 bull hides (not cows because of the stretch-marks) or the layering of the finest woods with matching knots on each side of the car, the quality and attention to detail is second to none and explains the extravagant price tag of over £250,000 each.  Apparently the leather and wood off-cuts get sent over to Bentley (their joke of course).  The event was amazing at every point; my only mis-hap was when I took the 625bhp Wraith round the circuit and hit a pheasant at 100mph.  At that speed the air current and velocity were such that it just disintegrated in front of the windscreen in a cloud of puff and feathers and didn’t leave a mark on the car.  Back at the factory, they weren’t bothered and just said I was lucky it wasn’t a deer!

Phantom Drophead

We were invited by a great friend of ours on a tour of the Palace of Westminster to give it its correct name.  We started off in Westminster Hall which is the only original surviving part of our Parliament; it is 1,000 years old, the largest building with a wooden roof in Europe, and a building with more history I would guess than anywhere else in the world; from its creation in 1077 by William 2nd (Rufus), from its use by Henry 8th and his court through to the lying in state (funeral) of Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother, it has seem more than any of us!  We visited the House of Commons, The House of Lords and all of the very impressive rooms that surround them (too many to mention here).  The palace was burned down and rebuilt by the Victorians in 1850 and now represents the very best of Victorian architecture and design (thanks to Sir Charles Barry and his team).  During the blitz, the House of Commons was destroyed by a bomb so the Lords chamber was used and it is there that Churchill made his famous war speeches; and you can see and touch the scars on the table where he beat his fist and scratched the wood with his ring during those speeches.  When you think of the laws that have been passed in these rooms by great men and women mostly making our lives better (from the abolition of slavery to votes for women) you feel insignificant and ephemeral in this place that is so Big.  In the House of Commons lobby, there are four full size statues, one at each corner; they are of Thatcher, Attlee, Churchill and Lloyd George, amongst the four greatest Premiers the House has seen?  There is an overwhelming feeling of ceremony, history, democracy, fair-play, splendour, britishness, accessibility, awe and pride that pervades.  After the tour, we attended a session of Prime Minister’s Questions which was particularly lively.  The main topics were the rising cost of household energy bills, Scottish Independence (please no) and the cost of living.  Both Ed Milliband and David Cameron spoke eloquently and I found myself laughing quite a lot to many of the responses.  Finally we had a fine lunch in the Strangers’ Restaurant, ending a great day and re-enforcing my belief not only in democracy, but in our democracy which is the oldest and certainly still one of the best.  It was a privilege to see at first hand where our laws are debated and passed and anyone who can’t be bothered to vote should be ashamed of themselves.  Whilst few of us will agree 100% with any one politician or party, they make the laws, most of them work exceptionally hard and passionately and most of them are trying to make their constituencies and our country a better place.

The Palace of Westminster

Our first frost this winter was on November 13th.  I stepped outside at 7am and had to scrape the ice off my windscreen before I could leave for work as the temperatures fell to close to zero for the first time since last winter.  However, although the cold is always a shock when you step out of the house, it was a crisp sunny autumn day, with beautiful colours and the cityscapes and landscapes always look more attractive with the sun and the colours at this time of year.  We have had quite a few of these days and as we now approach the end of autumn, most of the leaves have now fallen making for some colourful footpaths and the few remaining trees and bushes with colourful leaves stand out even more.  This is one of my favourite times of year.  And next we move into my least favourite....
Autumn Colour by my front door

I cried on my way to work listening to BBC Radio 4: The bodies of 87 people, thought to be migrants, were discovered in the Sahara desert in the north of Niger at the end of October. They died of thirst when their vehicles broke down en route to Algeria. Shafa, a 14-year-old girl from Niger, survived and told BBC Radio 4’s Newsday programme her story.  I listened to her speaking through a translator and here is the transcript:
We were on our way to Algeria to visit family members. There were more than 100 of us in a convoy of two vehicles. Our truck broke down and it took a whole day to fix. In that time we ran out of water.  We managed to find a well but there was very little water - one of us climbed down into the well and managed to draw out a tiny amount, but the rest of us went thirsty.  The drivers told us to wait while others went to fetch water, but a night and a day later they had not returned.  That was when people started dying. Some 15 of us died on that second day without water.  We moved on with the dead bodies in the truck. By this time the second vehicle had returned with some water, Alhamdulillah (thanks to God). We came across some Algerian security forces - but the drivers turned around because they didn't want to be caught carrying us since this was illegal. They asked us to hide inside a trench, we spent another night there - so that is three nights in a row without any water. One woman started complaining and one of the drivers used a hose to beat us.  Many women and children died. The drivers had some water in jerrycans but kept it for themselves.  From there they took us back into Niger. Our water ran out again. There we were, hungry and sitting amidst corpses in the truck.  Once we were in Niger, the drivers removed the bodies from the truck for burial. They laid them out on the ground - mothers first, then their children on top of them.  Those of us who were still able to move were told we would be taken back to our village. On the way, we ran out of petrol and they asked us to give them money to buy more.  They told us to get out of the car while they went to get the fuel. They never came back.  We waited for two days in the desert - no food, no water - before we decided to start walking.  Some vehicles passed by, we tried to stop them but no-one would stop. One of the passing cars even knocked down three of our group and killed them.  There were eight of us by now, including my mum and my younger sisters. When we got tired, we sat under a tree, and that was where one of my sisters died. We buried her there.  Then we continued walking and after a day, my second sister died. Then on the third day my mother died. I buried all of them myself.  None of the vehicles that passed by agreed to stop and pick me up.  After a while I found a tree and sat under its shade, almost giving up at that point... then a car came by.  I took off my blouse and started waving it wildly. He stopped and asked me what happened and I told him. They gave me some milk, then water and rice cake.  I ate a little bit but I couldn't continue, then they made me some tea.  It was only then that we carried on travelling towards Arlit, where I was reunited with my grandfather.  So here I am - my father died long ago, now my mother is dead, I have no sisters, no brothers.  I am living with my aunt. I heard that only myself and a little girl and 18 men survived the journey out of more than 100 of us.

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Winston Churchill
Statue of Churchill in Commons Lobby next to Lloyd George

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