Make Poverty History

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Essex is a beautiful place

We decided to take a walk around Danbury, it was only supposed to be about two and a half miles, but because I didn't pay attention to the instructions in the guide book we ended up here:
Almost a mile from the start of the walk. Still, the tea (one pot = 3 cups) was very welcome, and the location wery pleasant. Brody seemed to enjoy it too, even though he doesn't really like walking on the side of a busy road (A414).
When we finally did get on the walk proper we realised that our guide book is dated 1994, and is a few years out of date.  Some of the things it describes are no longer there. So it took a little while for us to find the path, once on it we were soon in Thrift Wood where there used to be wild boar, and out the other side. Then past the golf course and into some fields.

This is where the beauty of Essex can really be seen.  We appeared to be miles from anywhere, on a lovely summer's day.  Brody can walk freely here, there are no horses or cows to distract him, and no streams for him to get muddy in.  Shortly after that we were back at the starting point:
Once seated in the garden we had a very nice lunch (Fisherman's Ploughmans), and drove home.  Our total walking distance today was about 4.7 miles.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Enough is Enough

Britain, and the rest of the world,  have suffered some horrendous terrorist attacks.  Our prayers are with those who are injured, bereaved or traumatised as a result. It happens too often, and I am interested in what can be done to reduce further occurances.  I doubt it will ever be possible to completely eliminate all attacks.  Someone who has a 'cause' to fight for and is mis-guided enough to think that killing and maiming people might somehow further their cause is going to be very difficult to detect and stop.

The aim of this terrorism, we are told, is to make us change our way of life - to remove our freedoms, to wreck our democracy, to turn us into oppressed citizens.  We must not go down that path, or implement any measures that lead in that direction, down the slippery slope into authoritarianism.  That way lies the terrorists victory.

The UK government 'Prevent' strategy is hailed by some as the answer and critisised by others as alienating the very people it is trying to engage.  Clearly some strategy must be found that treads the fine line between gaining people's trust quickly and causing further alienation.  One good way to establish trust is to do what you say you are going to do.  A common thread in the recent attacks has been people reporting that they have notified the authorities of their concerns about someone and apparently nothing (not enough?) was done, because here they are involved in an attack.

The intelligence services, I heard the other night on the news, have 3,000 people that are 'of interest' - that they are actively tracking, and a further 20,000 that are known to them (quite what that means I'm not sure).  Keeping an eye on that number of people is a challenge, but it is better than the alternatives.

Three options seem to come up regularly:

Why can't we round them all up (the 3,000) and lock them in an old airfiled?
This was one suggestion.  It is a bad idea - primarily because it does exactly what we don't want to do, it changes our way of life.  If the option is there for Islamist terrorist it is there for any others who might come under some sort of suspicion.  It is a bad idea because the friends of those who are locked up will see a reason to fight our system, istead of support our system, and may resort to the same tactics.  My memories of the trouble in Northern Ireland suggest that more support occurred for the terrorists after internment was introduced.

Deport them
They are British born, so where would they go?  To whereever their parents, grandparents or great grandparents came from.  Do you think those countries want them?  I wouldn't.  There is another problem too, we would probably be making them stateless, which means they can only go into countries illegally.  What if they come back into Britain - now it is even harder to keep them under survailance.

Arm the police / New Powers
In the Lodon Bridge / Borough Market attack police arrived within 8 minutes (very impressive) and shot the three men dead.  That is a shame, I would have liked to deny them martydom and seen them locked up for many years - that is more aof a deterrent.  In the process police report that 50 bullets were shot.  I heard only one report of someone being injured by a stray bullet.  I don't know how serious it was, and it hasn't been repeated, but it is a significant danger.  One of the marks of a civilised country is that the population obey the law by consent (mostly), so that lethal force is not required to be permanently and instantly available.  We should try to remain civilised as long as possible.  Sadiq Khan says we shouldn't be alarmed by more armed police on the streets.  I strongly disagree - I still remember John Charles Menezes.

Giving the polices new powers is another one of those doubtful steps.  We have had terrorism for years, surely by now enough powewrs have been given to the police.  There may be some (quite a lot) opportunity to improve the way existing powers are used.  That should certainly be investigated.

What can we do?
The Archbishop of  Canterbury is right, we cannot divorce Islamist terror entirely from Islam.  Just as we could not separate Catholicism and Protestantism entirely from the trouble in Northern Ireland.  To do so risks us being completly unable to undrerstand the context. Without the context no solution is possible.

Saying that it is our actions in declaring war on Iraq or other 'middle eastern adventures' is also unhelpful.  Sure there is some influence from what we do, but it isn't the whole story.  This approach should mean that the terrorists only hit 'western' targets, but the Philipines among other countries proves this to be false.

So a good understanding of history seems to be the first thing that we need before we can start to solve this problem.  Secondly, we should carefully review the intelligence and law enforcement approaches to determine whether there are better strategies - there almost certainly are.  Thirdly, review their resources to ensure they have adequate man power and computer power (what can some of this clever AI bring that would help?).  Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, we must engage with the communities that the terrorists come from.  It was good to see the Imams refuse to pray for the terrorists. Finally, we must ensure that the justice system works effectively to remove terrorists and their supporters from their communities and ensure they are out of action for a long time.

Friday, May 19, 2017

My Dog is not dead

While in the process of a long repeat treatment claim we received this:
My dog is not dead, there are a lot of questions they have to answer.  So far their answers have only been to say that the policy is re-instated, the hows aand why's are for another day.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Billericay's very own henge?

Is this Billericay's very own henge?  On Laindon common on the other side of the path near Woodcock Pond there is a ring of old logs, with an 'entrance'  clearly marked by the double height ones.  I wonder what it's purpose is?  I have not checked the alignment so I can't tell if its aligned for a solstice.  May be it's a meeting place of some sort?  Perhaps the Town Council would like to try it out during the summer?  Perhaps we could hold PCC meetings there?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Saturday Easter Pick 'n' Mix #EasterPnM

Five short sketches in Billericay town centre, repeated on the hour and half hour from 10am until 5pm make up Easter Pick 'n' Mix telling the story of Easter.

We started with 'Dice Cubes', where Mr Waddiungtons world of games is being taken over by his characters, how will he sort that out? Well, if you know the Easter story, you can guess that his son ends up being nailed to a cross.

Then in to Waitrose for some supplies and a coffee before moving to the graveyard, where Holmes and Watson are investigating a missing body -  problem solved: it got up and walked away!

 In the Mayflower hall Peter is drowning his sorrows and chatting to Mary Magdeline.  This is a serious and moving piece of drama.  There is also free tea and coffee, but as I had just finished a Waitrose coffee, we just sat and watched.
Off to Greggs for a sandwich, and into St. Mary's to eat it and listen to three girls inviting another member into their gang.  The new member is not what she seems, and we soon atrat to see how nasty girls can be.  This sketch has a clever twist and portrays the gospel message of forgiveness.
The final sketch took place in the coldest part of town, in the yard between the High Steet and the Waitrose loading bay, off Alma Link, Here a Roman soldier gives us his wisdom on the day he has had, with an extra crucifixion thrown in at the last minute.  A very long, interesting monologue.

Well done to all who took any part in the day, the sketches were very good, entertaining, informative and thought provoking.  I don't know  how long this link will be active, but right now it has some videos of the day:

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Meeting Madelyn

The plan was to be in Alabama in plenty of time for the birth. Madelyn had other ideas, after I booked the flights she was born 3 weeks earlier than expected. So she is a 2016 baby, not a 2017 baby.
The journey to Alabama is never quick. From the taxi to the airport at 9:45 to leaving Hartsfield Jackson airport sometime around 2am the following mornig, it is a tiring trip.  The 'returning ESTA' automated entry certainly cuts the queues, and got us through without too much delay.   After more than a 100 mile drive,  with a break at a Wendy's for refreshments, we arrived in Auburn and finally met Madelyn.  A while later,  around 5am we checked in to our hotel.  After about an hour of sleep, I began to wake up.
In the American morning we had a good breakfast and were picked up by Karen and taken to their house. That set the pattern for the next few days, until Robert's mum left for a while and we moved into her room.
Our time has mainly been spent playing with Robbie, in the house or in the play area (where there are swings  and a sand pit) and feeding and comforting Mady. I have a reputation for being good at getting her to sleep. Our presence has allowed Karen to get some much needed rest too.
Studying the information board
in the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve
We have had a walk in the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve where there are climbing frames in the playground and at the top of one of them a 'bring and swap library' that I was very impressed with. We saw a turtle in the lake which moved too fast for me to get a picture and a lizard of some sort running between the planks that make up the back of the seat.
An unknown lizard.
We have also visited a park called Hickory Dickory,  where there are larger climbing frames.  Robbie enjoyed running around and climbing up the steps, but the park is really built for older children, many of the activities require longer legs.
We watched Finding Dory on the TV,  I'm not sure whether this was for Robbie or us, as a sequel it is a good film.  We also watched Jurassic World, which was much better than I expected - and definitely not for Robbie.
We did have occasional breaks from the children.  We visited the Red Clay Brewing Company to try their beers.  They are a small craft beer brewery,  the site is tiny and the tour is hardly a walk.  We tried five beers each, all were good, but one was not to my taste - that's why I try things - to find out what I like. The beers are on a chalk board because they change regularly. Their distribution is very local, but they have plans to increase production by 500%. I wish them well,  it is good to see craft beer flourishing outside the UK.  
We visited a new local cinema to see 'Rogue One',  a Star Wars film.  It was surprisingly good, so was the cinema.
We had a day out at the Georgia Aquarium -  all of us, an amazing experience.  The sea lion show and the dolphin show were both great, but the 4D experience, a shortened version of 'Happy Feet', was really a waste of time - the movements, the wind and snow were poor and there was way too much waiting around for things to get started and then to get going. The food at the aquarium was ridiculously expensive - but as Karen said they have to support the aquarium some how. Nevertheless, it was a really good day and Robbie talked of the 'quarium every day after our visit.
When in America do as the Americans do - eat out. We have been to lots of restaurants and had some really good food.  Perhaps my favourite was Ted's where I once again had Bison (listed as an American super food as it is red meat and low in cholesterol). Karen has also fed us well with some American breakfasts - biscuits and sausage gravy,  for example and many dinners - she is a good cook. 
The other American experience we had was less special.  A tornado alert put us in the bathroom, in the middle of breakfast. The bathroom is the most 'inner' room in the apartment, so provides the most protection.  The tornado touched down about 2.5 miles from us and moved away, this one did not cause much damage - just a few trees uprooted and it did not last long, but in other places people died as tornados in the same weather system caused serious deverstation.
The flight back should have been via Detroit, but when I tried to check-in there were two flights both ending in London.  A long call later we found that we were transferred to the direct flight for ATL to LHR, which left 2 hours later.  That made for a much easier departure day as there was no need to get up early and leave for the airport by 9am.  It took only 10 minutes to get through security at ATL and that included time to go from one desk to the other and back again because the printed boarding card and the computer system it had just been printed from disagreed on our status.  The flight was OK, and comparing Virgin (back) to Delta (out) both Jo and I thought Virgin was slightly better.
Can't wait to see them again, unfortunately that will be at least months away.

This is my first picture of Mady awake, she was about to have a bath, an experience that she really did not like.
During our stay her eyes changed from black to dark blue, and I expect they will get lighter in the next few weeks.  The other noticable change was in her face.  Her cheeks filled out quite noticabley, a good sign that she is growing.
She is a lovely wriggley baby, but don't argue with her - she will always get her own way.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Referendum Result - Leave - First Thoughts

Thursday night I went to bad, as did anyone who was following the coverage, expecting the status quo to prevail.  52% for remain.  So I was surprised when I heard the result when the radio started this morning.  52% for leave.  I should have taken my predictions from Twitter - where the feeling was that leave were in the ascendancy.
Today on twitter and in other places there have been cries of agony (that is not too strong).  My future is destroyed!  We won't be able to ...  (insert anything, or everything here that we might lose).  I understand the reaction, its what a sudden, unexpected dose of the unknown does to people - especially younger people.
It was no surprise then, when the stock market and currency markets took a hit - especially as the traders had all gone to bed having 'bet' on remain. Suddenly there were losses to try to recover, which leads, inevitably to more losses.
Right now we pray for those who really are suffering as a result of the shocks - those who can't change sterling into the currency they need, those who are having to pay inflated prices from suppliers in other countries (not just EU countries).
However bad it looks now, it won't be that bad in reality, because we see the worst very easily.  There will be a period of instability, that will hurt some more than others.  For now, we are still IN the EU - none of our laws that we have as a result of treaties can change.  Over the next few months we will get a new government and exit negotiations will begin.  That process should be complete in a couple of years.  Much will change, the country will look very different and changes will continue once we have left.  The exit process gives us the opportunity to get things right, but it also gives us the equal opportunity to make things worse.  Hopefully our politicians will have a more intelligent dialogue with their people than has occurred so far.
Now, whether you are celebrating, or in shock and denial, or sad, or mildly disappointed, the thing to do is to "Keep calm and carry on".

Some particular reactions bear further comment.
Somehow trying to invalidate the result (the majority is not big enough, people didn't understand what they were voting for ...), is about as unhelpful as it gets.  A referendum result is valid if there is only a 1 vote difference.  If people understood so little that they thought a protest vote was a valid thing to do, then I hope they heave learned a lesson.  That's OK in a by-election, not in a referendum.

Blaming your grandparents (and parents) by saying things like 'you have stolen my future', 'don't you ever listen to your kids', 'you don't have to live with this', just shows a certain level of immaturity.  Perhaps, if I am kinder, lack of experience.  Those with the experience, especially those who were old enough to be politically aware in 1972 (the year before Britain joined the EEC), have some idea what it is like to live independently, and may also remember the recession that was caused when we joined.  Many of them will have been thinking of their children and grandchildren and asking what's best for them, as well as what's best for us, before they decided how to vote.

The reaction that a vote to leave is down to poverty as part of a Guardian article I saw on facebook suggested is also unhelpful.  There are many reasons to vote leave, and some of the people I know who voted that way cannot be described as being in poverty.

The future
I cannot tell what will happen any more  than anyone else.  Short term predictions are likely to be quite accurate, long term ones are rarely any good.  We know only this for certain: the way our country is run is going to change.  That gives us an enormous opportunity to do good, so here's my vision:
  • to set up government systems that are fair and open.
  • to be compassionate and lead the world in helping others to develop (we do a pretty good job now) and taking them in when we need to (we used to do a pretty good job of that too)
  • to care for the dispossessed, disadvantaged and those who fall into need
  • to invest in research and development and grow our already impressive science base 
  • to lead the world in environmental responsibility
  • to create a British bill of responsibilities (not rights)
much of this was already being done, and will continue, lets hope and pray that we can make more of it happen.

If you like my vision, please don't elect me a prime minister, but please do push your MPs towards those goals.

If you read 'Should I stay or Should I go' that I wrote on Tuesday, you may be wondering how I voted. Well after much deliberation I decided I was about 55% in favour of remain and voted accordingly.

So I didn't vote for this, but I'm going to try to make it work well.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Algarve Family Holiday part 2 - Arrival

The cab arrived at an o'clock in the morning I had forgotten existed.  The drive to Southend Airport was pleasant enough - hardly a car on the road.  We and the other members of our party arrived in the car park about the same time, and we all trundled through the Airport together.  Bag drop, security, air side restaurant, gate plane, take-off, flight, landing - all pretty straight forward, all as pleasant as possible.  A great start, but this isn't about the journey, this is about the first few hours on Portuguese soil.
Initially getting through Faro airport wasn't a problem, once we had our bags we had to pick up the cars.  I had booked then on One with Avis, one with DriveOnHoliday.  Avis are easy to find, so with a mixture of drivers we got in the queue.  At the desk the excesses were different (less) than Rental Cars had said.  They also offered us extra insurance to completely remove any excess in the event of a claim.  They provided us with documentation in English and Portuguese. - A slow, if satisfactory experience, although the car we got was not what we booked, and could have been booked cheaper on the RentalCars website, it was a good car.  We loaded it up, and after fiddling about with giving the driver the location of the villa sent them on their way.
The remainder of us, with almost no bags, but with a two year old, went to try to find DriveOnHolidays.  Eventually we found their representative who directed us to a queue in the car park.  It was a hot day and the queue was in the open.  Some of us found shade, while one held the place in the queue.  We started to try to work out how long it would be - we guessed at about 90 minutes, we weren't that far wrong. The car hire garage is off site.  There we joined another queue.  So of those ahead of us had a row with the representative.  I'm not surprised - the excess here is higher than on the RentalCars website, and the additional insurance only brought it down to €1000.00 - that's a lot of money.  Still we eventually got the car, and tried to set the satnav to English.  Finally one of the staff set it for us, but it couldn't make sense of the google co-ordinates I had, so we ended up using the phone.
We found the villa, the other half of the party had been there for ages.

Lessons Learned
1) If you have to rent two cars get them from the SAME supplier.
2) Never ever book cars through  Really - NEVER.
3) Use a recognised company that you can deal with here if you need to.
4) Make sure the Rental Cars are available at or very near the Airport

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Should I stay or should I go?

Or, more properly Should I vote stay or should I vote go?  Just some notes to help me think through the decision.

I am still undecided and the information I'm getting is well propaganda or just plain insults really.  Neither side has said anything really convincing.  Each of us will have our own issues.  Mine is primarily around our Identity.  Are we first British, or are we first European?

But I'm not voting for me only, I have 4 grandchildren (perhaps more) to think about. So there are other aspects to consider - it is a decision for the long term, or is it?  If we vote 'leave', I expect there to be another referendum once the exit terms are negotiated, say in 2 to 5 years..

Before we get to that what about:

The economy?
"Its the economy, stupid" - that's what wins elections, but here there is so much doubt.  The markets will react, in the short term there will be some pain, but in the longer term when we can trade with the whole world who knows.  Our trade with other EU countries is currently in decline, but that will not always be so.  We have a strong economy, theirs is weaker, but I can remember being the 'sick man' of Europe.
My conclusion is that we British have been traders for hundreds of years and we're mainly good at it.
The cost of being in the EU is about £8.5billion a year according to FullFact, not a great deal of money in the grand scheme of things.

We need immigration.  We have too many immigrants.  Both can be true, in some places where there are many immigrants the locals feel swamped. In other places there are people desperate to employ people with particular skills that don't exist in this country.
The answer to high numbers is not about controlling immigration, but making adequate provision - houses, school places,  doctors surgeries - INFRASTRUCTURE.  Probably the single thing we are worst at.
The answer to lack of skills is training and planning for it long term.  Probably the thing we are next worse at.
Neither of these things really relates that much to the EU, although when large migrations occur they could provide some financial help.

Who makes our laws? Who can tell us what to do?  The EU is undemocratic in as much as the agenda is set by an appointed commission.  These people are largely sponsored by businesses, and have their own agenda.  The EU courts can tell the UK government what to do, and can override British court judgements.  The first principle is that the law should apply to everyone, individuals, corporations and governments.  I believe the European courts system, largely set up by the British is generally a good thing.  All courts make (seemingly) wacky judgements from time to time.
Majority voting can mean that we get some rules we don't like, but that is true for all the countries.

Ever Close Union
The European Federation, or United States of Europe will eventually arrive, although now that there are so many countries it will take a lot longer to get here.  A well structured federation, with proper directly elected politicians could be a very good thing for Europe, but we are a long way from it, and Britain has (or is promised?) an opt-out, so we can stay on the side lines if we wish.

There have been way too many predictions of doom, especially by the remain campaign.  Third world war - I doubt it.  Economic collapse - I doubt it.  No-one can tell what the world will be like next year (what did you think in 2007?), so predictions for 2030 are spurious guess work and can be safely ignored.
Where though is the vision? Neither side have told us how good it will be, what we can gain.

The final and most important issue for me is our identity.  Are we, as a people, a good fit for a European Union.  We are certainly geographically part of Europe, but also geographically split from Europe. That means that in so many ways we are different.
  • We did not live under Napoleon, as much of Europe did, so our outlook and ways of doing things are different.  
  • We broke away from the Catholic Church and as a result establish protestantism here, it was a difficult time, and some other EU countries have a similar experience, but none so dramatic or 'final'.
  • We came first in the 'Age of Empires' game that ended around the beginning of the twentieth century, and that has left its mark on us - it gives us a certain expectation of leadership in the world.  That is a role we can still fulfil, but can we do it better out, or better in?  It is also a role that is diminishing, with the rise of China and India and ...
  • We have not been occupied by a foreign power for over 1000 years.  Someone will tell me if another EU country can also claim that, I can't think of one.  We have, of course, imported foreign kings when it suited us.
Very little of what has been said in the run up to the referendum so far has been helpful or edifying.  One sound bite I remember from William Hague saying that there is much wrong with the EU, but now is the time to be fixing it from within, not getting out.  That I have to agree with.

Or perhaps I should take this view:

Still a don't know, maybe I'll write again on Friday.

Comments: Please comment, but please be balanced, and no doom and no propaganda please.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Algarve family holiday Part 1 - Preparation

Arranging a family holiday when your children are all grown up and have children of their own can be difficult.  By now they all have commitments in their lives and may not be able to get away at a particular time.  I wanted the family to get together as a celebration of my 60th birthday.  We settled on the last week of May, the one leading up to the bank holiday.  So, a big thank you to my children, and their spouses for making it possible.  I know there were some difficulties and I appreciate the effort some of you made.
Then the question is "Where to go?"  As one of our party does not fly, the first choice - Florida - is not an option.  We agreed on the Algarve.  Then to find somewhere to stay. I found and offered a selection and the choice was unanimous, so the Villa was booked: Villa Ana. Next, Brody also needs his holiday, and we are wary of kennels.  We heard about PetStay, and decided to give them a try.  As the dog / dog sitter must meet prior to the holiday, we arranged a time to travel to see the sitter.  There was some sort of mix up, so we had to reschedule and the eventual meeting went very well.  Meanwhile we received a notice that the Villa is no longer with HomeAway and we have to deal direct with the owner. 
Now I'm starting to wonder if there even is a Villa Ana.  Fortunately in the internet age it is possible to find out and Liz managed to find it on Street View, even if the address we were given could not be found - it appeared to be 800 metres from the location we had found.
Finally we needed transport, arranging drivers and cars had to be done as well.  I used, because they offered a wide selection.  I was looking for space, seats and comfort.  Their site does not handle two rentals at all well, and it got very confused on the second booking, so much so that I had to close the browser and start again.
Flights had to be booked too.  We started by doing a few basic comparisons, we wanted to fly from Southend, but the cost was very high, however while I was waiting for various passports to arrive the costs at Stanstead rose significantly, so Southend became worth the premium.  Booked with EasyJet, and we were pleased with their treatment of families with children. 

All booked and ready to go two weeks before travel, but there's still the question of the Villa - have we really booked Villa Ana - the one on the website, or somewhere else, or not at all?