Saturday, June 25, 2016

Fog in Channel

At the European Summit in The Hague in 1969, the Heads of State and Government of the European Community agreed to prepare a plan for economic and monetary unionThe three stage plan proposed gradual, institutional reform leading to the irrevocable fixing of exchange rates and the adoption of a single currency within a decade. There are several references to "the transfer of responsibility from the national authorities to Community authorities".

To me this made a lot of sense. As excitingly progressive and even revolutionary as the sixties in Great Britain had been, it was my conviction that the nation needed a broader perspective if complacent insularity was to be avoided.

On the 1st of April 1971, April Fools' Day, I said goodbye to London and have never since then made my home on the island menaced by fogs which could cut off the European mainland.

I think that during the forty-five years that have since elapsed, it was always my hope that the supra-national and even federalist vision firmly rooted in the concept of regional (not national) subsidiarity might result in long overdue reforms in the United Kingdom as the EU evolved and matured.

And now? Scotland has a unicameral parliament with 129 members and the Holyrood debating chamber of the has seating arranged in a hemicycle, which reflects the desire to encourage consensus amongs the elected members. The franchise north of the border has been extended to 16 and 17-year-olds and is widely considered a success in terms of engaging young people in politics. The voting system comes close to the democratic ideal of proportional representation. All of the political parties have leaders (all women!) who command respect.

By contrast Westminster lumbers on with an unwieldy and undemocratic House of Lords. Younger voters on Thursday expressed the wish to stay in the EU by a large majority. 75 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted Remain, compared to around 40 per cent of voters over the ageof sixty-five. Members of Parliament are still elected according to the antiquated 'first past the post' system. The 650 members of parliament must vie for one of the 427 places on the green leather benches, arrayed in an adversarial rectangular pattern. Some maintain that this layout helps to keep debates lively and robust but also intimate. It also remains the case that in the United Kingdom MPs can only transfer their allegiance from government to opposition, or vice versa, by crossing the floor in plain view. During debates, members speaking on opposing sides are also not meant to step over the red lines on the carpet, which are said to equal two sword lengths.

Modernizing and harmonizing inputs from Europe will now not inform the parliamentarians in Westminster, not that the influence from across the Channel was ever truly welcome. And we must not forget those 'two sword lengths'! Now that both the Conservative and Labour parties are riven by bitter internal squabbling and both sidesof the House are embroiled in leadership crises there could be memorable skirmishes to come!   

Friday, June 24, 2016

"The past just voted against the future."

The Tweet cited as title for this post is admirably succinct. But the deluge has begun; there is today no shortage of well-written analysis of what has transpired. However I do not feel compelled to link to even the very best of the articles I have come across... there is simply too much out there.

But not all I have stumbled upon counts as eloquent, well-reasoned writing. We have Donald Trump on a visit to Caledonia and typically ignoring anything as inconvenient as facts.

"Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. 
They took their country back, just like we will take America back."

Were it not so incredibly sad, it would be hilarious. And can we be quite sure that we shall not have a President Trump to deal with in November? Is there another disagreeable surprise in store for us in this amazing year?

Oh shit!

from Quartz...
The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, a shock result that is roiling financial markets and will leave many in Europe waking up to a radically changed state of the world. For starters, the election’s results will strengthen the position of political parties looking to redraw the map of the United Kingdom.Within minutes of the Brexit vote decision, the Scottish National Party issued a statementsaying it “sees its future in Europe,” suggesting the likelihood of another referendum on leaving the UK. Similarly, Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein party called for a referendum on Irish reunification.

In the Sandlands they speak of 'panic'...

from Gulf News...
"Britain has voted to break out of the European Union, national media declared Friday, striking a thunderous blow against the bloc and spreading panic through world markets."

from The Scotsman...
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Scotland has delivered a strong, unequivocal vote to remain in the EU, and I welcome that endorsement of our European status. And while the overall result remains to be declared, the vote here makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union." Every Scottish area voted in favour of Remain last night, with 62% of people in favour staying in the EU.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Decision time again

The appeal illustrated above dates from the early 1940s. It is salutory to recall that only a few years earlier there had been even within England voices striking a discordant note. In1938 the Daily Mail had quoted a London magistrate worried about immigration as saying: 

“The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in 
from every port in this country is becoming an outrage.”

Almost eight decades have passed since then, and seven since just after the end of the war Clement Attlee, the Leader of the Labour Party, said “I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum, which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and Fascism. 

The lessons of history have... alas... not been learned.

from The Conversation...
"Recent polls have shown hints of trouble looming for the United Kingdom if Brexit happens, with its regions expressing disparate views on the referendum. In Scotland, which rejected independence from the UK in its own referendum less than two years ago, a majority of voters say they want to stay in the EU. These results suggest that a Brexit could be quickly followed by another Scottish referendum, this one on whether to leave the UK and perhaps join the EU."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The penguin story

Many animal tattoos have different meanings other than just a simple picture. The penguin has a few different meanings; above all it symbolizes strong bonds. Penguins are very caring and strong willed and will do anything for the family. They survive and even thrive in a thoroughly hostile environment.

In our own small family, in spite of separation and divorce, bonds of loyalty and affection remain firm. Mickey, too, wants a penguin tatt and had I flesh less feeble I’d probably go for one as well.

But our penguin story has its origins in pure whimsicality. Shortly after Mickey and I first met in Paris, an evening stroll took us through the Place de la Concorde where she remarked on the profusion of pigeons. Her English pronunciation in those days was less than perfect and it was the hard ‘g’ that triggered my silly flight of fancy, my suggestion that we should imagine not the urban scavengers, winged vermin, but instead a huge flock of proud penguins. It so happened that a while later in a shopping arcade on the Champs-Elysées we spotted a big plush toy in the form of a King Penguin which, of course, had to be purchased. [It stands today, not too much the worse for wear after well over thirty years, inside the door to my flat!]

That was the start. Friends came to accept that we had a penguin fixation, and guests when we entertained often arrived with gifts which accumulated to comprise a significant penguin collection. For her thirtieth birthday in 1986 Mickey was delighted to be surprised with a stuffed Emperor Penguin, the taxidermist’s creation ensconced in an old refrigerator tied with a huge red bow. 

So that’s the back-story, I guess. There’s a penguin pin in the lapel of the jacket I wore yesterday, and now Jessi has an inking on her ankle to perpetuate the tradition of a family which is not as dysfunctional as it might be… a tradition which is, I find, not without a certain charm.  

An explainer...

On the HBO television network Jon Oliver  refutes each argument for Britain leaving the EU, and he bolsters his point by offering several examples of blatantly racist comments by members of the UK Independence Party, which has pushed for a Brexit.  "To recap, immigration policy may not change, hysteria over regulation is a red herring, the costs of membership are reasonable, and the economic benefits of staying appear to outweigh the costs,” Oliver says. “And yet, polls suggest, my homeland is on the edge of doing something absolutely insane.”

Monday, June 20, 2016


The portents could be better. In the three weeks of the month only about three days have been sunny and dry. The blaze of 'Flaming June' has been drenched by persistent drizzle, leaving only damp and malodorous embers. And this in the month which used to be my absolute favourite of the entire year. But 2016 is subtly diffferent.

Weather permitting I may take a glass of wine at an outside table on this longest evening of the year. But I shall not wait for the dark. It will come whether I want it or not.

It is not the darkness that the science of astronomy mandates that I fear, but rather the nocturnal gloom which could result from Thursday's referendum vote if the absurdity of the Brexiteers should carry the day.
Are you sure that we are awake?
It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, four-hundred years ago.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Welcome whimsy, perhaps

Yesterday I had reason to be glad that I had a smartphone in my pocket. Not a hundred metres from my flat, just around the corner, this photo opportunity presented itself for my camera. For many a month I have seen this Morris Minor 1000 parked in my neighbourhood, admired it an noted that it is a left-hand drive export version, making it something quite special, built between 1956 and 1970.

On the way back from my Saturday shopping outing I took a closer look at the car and enjoyed an espresso at the Bodeguita tapas café in front of which it was parked. I found it delightful that it had been strategically positioned so that the window of the front passenger seat could accomodate a television screen showing the games of the Euro 2016 tournament.

But then... as so often in these turbulent times... my thoughts returned to more sombre matters. I wondered about the English football fans on the loose in France. Were they not... with their flags and rambunctious nationalistic fervour... most likely individuals who would vote to leave the European Union? Or would they value the freedom to travel unhindered across the Continent and hence be inclined to vote remain?

And who are the really dangerous hooligans out there fomenting discord? Surely they are the politicians smoothly prevaricating with their own specious arguments on both sides of the issue!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Storytelling and Virtual Reality

A week ago I wanted to post some thoughts about the subject of VR as it may develop to become a storytelling medium. Things got out of hand and the end result is around 5,500 words! Anyone interested can read my slightly disjointed essay as a PDF  here.