Saturday, September 13, 2014

Battle of Britain commemoration

The annual remembrance of the contribution of Polish airmen in the RAF was held today at the Polish War Memorial, situated at a junction of the A40 at the edge of RAF Northolt, the wartime fighter station where many Poles were based. After a brief service there was the laying of wreaths, starting with the dignitaries including an Air Vice Marshal, the Polish Ambassador and the Mayor of  Hillingdon,  and representatives from other boroughs including Newark which has a very strong association with the Polish effort. Then one wreath for each of the fighter and bomber squadrons commemorated on the memorial, some laid by survivors and others by relatives. Finally, the highlight was the flypast of a Spitfire and Hurricane. The wonderfully evocative snarl of Merlin aero-engines filled the air, coming just before the planes themselves, tiny compared to the jets on the airstrip, hurtled overhead.

We were fortunate that they made several passes, permitting your correspondent time to get his camera into position and take at least one reasonable picture. 
Polish War Memorial
Bandits at 9, skipper

Friday, September 12, 2014

Herons over Ruislip

I was enjoying a coffee as a well-earned reward for the efforts expended in my earlier post today when I looked up across the back garden to see an unexpected visitor.

My neighbour's shed seems an unlikely haunt

A zoom shot as it admires itself in the glass roof panel
I would rather these birds kept well away. Fortunately, at this time of year, the goldfish in the little pond are well camouflaged under a thick layer of plants but they will be exposed later on. Now I know what sheep farmers must feel when the wolves are circling...

Scotch Mist - Occasional reflections on a referendum. No 7 – SNP and the destruction of the English language

I really was not intending to write any more about the referendum. But it is now the number one topic on current affairs programmes and inevitably one is drawn into the arguments. This morning I was idly listening to Today in bed, as one does when taking a day off. [He's been retired for a while but we don't want to shatter his pathetic illusions that the business world still needs him: Ed] I heard an SNP supporter using the phrase "this failed political union" and once again the blood rushed to my head, my eyes rolled and my writing fingers began to itch.

  • Direct control from Westminster over all matters of Scottish life including allocation of housing, education, the police, investment, control over candidates for Parliament - that might signify a failed union.
  • Scots unable to buy property in the rest of the UK, forbidden to travel, discriminated against when working south of the border, refused entry to pubs and hotels, singled out for stop-and-search by the police, kept waiting for many hours to cross the border - this would indicate a failed union.
  • No democratic elections for many years despite continuous mass demands for them - that would show a failed political union.
  • Arrests of anyone campaigning for independence, bloody suppression of demonstrations, secret police, disappearance of activists, English commissars with arbitrary powers including detention, torture and execution - that would indeed signify a failed political union.

And so on. Now you could say that some of these things did indeed take place following the battle of Culloden when the people of the Highlands were punished for support for the Jacobite cause. And you could counter-argue that even then the majority of Scots supported the union and were not Jacobites and that, within a generation, Scots were serving proudly in the British army, were represented in Government and were enjoying the full fruits of the economic boom accompanying the expansion of the British trading and political empire (as anyone who has wandered through the splendid Georgian streets of the "new town" in Edinburgh can witness).

All that was more than 200 years ago. To describe the current state of the British polity as failed is like a child who has not been picked to star in the class play (where there are only 6 main roles and 25 kids) screaming "It's not fair" and banging her head on the desk. Put it another way - the UK model is widely copied and respected around the world as an example of how to create a peaceful, representative, honest system of government. The very fact that the referendum is taking place and will be legally honoured if the result is for independence is testament to the strength of the system. Yet the SNP says it is failure, and sure the SNP are honourable men and women. [That's enough Shakespeare at this time of the morning, thanks: Ed]. Yugoslavia was a failed union. Pakistan was a failed union. When it all ends in militias, shelling of cities and slaughter of unarmed civilians, that's a failed union. The UK has been an outstanding success, despite the relative domination by the English over the rest, a domination that is acknowledged and is steadily being reduced as devolution increases, and the merits of the UK far outweigh its disadvantages. If this is failure, give me more of it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Scotch Mist - Occasional reflections on a referendum. No 6 – The psychology of Yes

The referendum is reaching its final days. Politicians are scrambling to put over their messages to the undecided, who may amount to 10% of the electorate. Business leaders have made warnings about the penalties should the result be yes, others affirm their faith in Scottish robustness. The opinion polls have shown a sharp narrowing of the gap and there seems to be a new sense of urgency in the No campaign that was not there before.

A psychologist has pointed out the associations of the words Yes and No, one being positive and uplifiting, the other with negative associations. People like to say yes, to be part of something bigger and to feel they are making a contribution. Saying no is akin to isolating oneself and to go against the crowd, and humans are instinctively herd animals always uneasy about being out of the group. So to allow the referendum to be based on Yes or No was a clever tactic by the SNP. A better balance would have been to have two questions, viz:
  • Should Scotland become independent?; or
  • Should Scotland stay within the United Kingdom?
     Select one answer only.
     Write your answer on one side of the paper only.
     Do not use green crayon. Candidates expressing opinions
     about the parentage of the English,or
     the importance of loch-fulls of whisky
     or anyone threatening to play the pipes for non-payment
     of a gratuity will be the subject
     of tut-tutting and averted eyes.

Anyway, too late to change anything now. This column believes in the union. Small may be beautiful but the UK is in many ways fairly small anyway on the world stage. Let's not diminish it any more.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The glorious summers of yore

Unremitting, steady, heavy rain. Thick grey cloud. The cool air of a late autumn day. Welcome to another washout of an August bank holiday. 

Radar map courtesy
The rain is heading north so there is plenty more heading for beautiful Ruislip

It wasn't always like this. The late summer holiday used to mean scorching sunshine. Vivid blue skies with just a few fluffy white clouds to cast the occasional shadow. Long queues simply to join a motorway from an access junction. Endless tailbacks on the approaches to a seaside town. That soul-destroying cruise in back streets looking for a parking place. The long boring trudge in the heat to reach the crowded beach. Sand in the sandwiches. That first angry flush down the leg that spells sunburn (and the agony to come of getting into a hot bath). The queue for an ice-cream and the sticky drips down the cornet onto your arms that taste of sunoil when you lick them off. The queue to get back onto the motorway and the endless stop-starting with red brake lights winking up the road as far as one could see. The headaches. The bickering and the arguments.

Ah well, I suppose we always remember only the good times.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It knocked 'em dead in Brussels

I am indebted to The Guardian for drawing my attention to a theatrical work performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe a while back which I unaccountably seem to have missed, and which from the title alone I am jolly glad so to have done, let alone from the description. It seems that a Belgian group put on, and I am not making this up, really and truly, "Once and for All We're Going to Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen".  Still with me? The subject of this offensive title was "a blistering, no-holds-barred account of what it was like to be a teenager".

Um. Excuse me. If I may just for one moment not be forced to shut up I'd like to make a comment. Thanks. Erm, it seems to me that pretty well everyone likely to be going to the theatre to see this has actually been, or was at the time, a teenager. Even I, venerable now in years and sitting quietly in the big armchair in the corner, can recall the frustrations, irritations, boredom, yearnings and joys of being a teenager.

Anyway, my point is, if it's no-holds-barred blistering drama you're after, you've come to the right place, chum. How about "Oh God, No, No, I Can't Take any More, Please Let it Stop" my scorching, anything-goes assault-on-the-senses about what was like to follow QPR in 2012. Or, for art lovers, there's "I wouldn't Put that Crap in my Compost Heap so Take it Down and Shove it", a full-blooded kick-em-where-hurts rampage about Miss T. Emin and her laundry. Next year I am hoping to take to the Fringe "I Won't Tell You again, You Put the Bloody Milk in First, now Shut your Face and Drink it", the definitive veruka-forming in-your-face piece-de-resistance about how to make tea. If I can just secure that vital Arts Council grant first.

Stringing along the spam callers

I still get several phone calls a week from these desperate people trying to get leads for dodgy law firms or whatever it is they do.  You know the way it goes, the tell-tale pause after you pick up, the background buzz of a call centre and then a foreign voice asking your name, and how you are, and to confirm the telephone number and address and no, this is not a sales call but would you answer some questions....

I have begun to reply to every question by saying, very courteously, "I'm sorry I am unable to give you any personal information for security reasons".  Today my caller insisted I tell him whether I was employed or not. He got the same reply about four times.  He almost broke down, pleading with me that it was not personal and would I just answer. I stifled my own laughter and kept my voice steady and intoned my magic formula once again.  He became so indistinct that I invited him to phone back on a better line but for some inexplicable reason he declined to do so.

I was really hoping he would ask what the security reasons were; my reply would be that he has to pass my security check and I would then ask him his age, passport number, credit card number and PIN and anything else I could think of. Even better if he had queried why this was needed. My answer would be "It is required by my security officer" and had he asked to speak to that self-same official, (surely even these people cannot be so stupid but you never know), he would have got me again, holding my nose and doing a silly accent. North Yorkshire perhaps.
"Nay lad, sitthee, we canna go giving out to strangers, think on and look sharp".

Any further objections and it will be down to a strict email from my old friend and advisor P.R. Crush and nobody messes with him.