Friday, 10 January 2020

Is Prince Harry a victim of Coercive Control?

Prince Harry, one of the world's most eligible bachelors, is introduced to a stunning charismatic American actress with a megawatt smile. He is beguiled. They have things in common. They are both the products of broken marriages, they are both used to being in the spotlight, he as a Royal, she as a successful actress. Perhaps she won't be fazed by dating him as many girls are when they realise what is involved. Moreover he notices elements of his late mother, Princess Diana, in Meghan Markle - her ever photo-ready star quality, her stated desire to do good in the world, her troubled family background, her independent spirit and her sense of fun. Then there is Meghan's need (and hunger) for the limelight, also just like his mother, and much as this turned out to be a double-edged sword for Princess Diana.

Prince Harry has had relationships before, often for several years at a time, usually with horse-loving blonde home counties types. But never has a girl changed his personality before.
He has always remained (and emerged afterwards) as the same happy go lucky bloke with the cheeky ready smile, universally liked and popular with everyone who encounters him. Caring too and committed to patronisng many worthy charities in the memory and footsteps of his late mother.

This time things are different.

Reader, he married her.

At first everyone is delighted and charmed. Here is a genuine 'breath of fresh air' joining the Royal Family, American and mixed race to boot.  Stylishly dressed and made up on every occasion in modest yet figure flattering designer outfits, Meghan's joining 'The Firm' will surely bring the Royals into the modern age, if Prince William marrying Kate Middleton, another commoner, several years previously had not.

Meghan has a brief 'starter marriage' behind her, but she loves dogs and children and alarm bells were slow to ring, unless of course you count her rather unorthodox wedding where she called many of the shots on everything from choice of preacher to flower arrangements with the royal band excluded, notwithstanding her side of the chapel was decidedly empty, except for her mother Doria.
Her estranged father gave some embarrassing media interviews begging her to reconcile with him, joined eventually by her equally embarrassing elder step-sister, but this provoked public sympathy rather than otherwise as her relations were clearly 'on the make' looking to cash in on Meghan's new Royal status, unlike her mother, who remained quietly dignified.

All in all though, this marriage looks like it will be a major and internationally unifying union, a reboot to any stuffy notions about the Royal Family and a clear sign that it has learned from the tragic saga that was Princess Diana's life and is embracing new and more progressive times.
Trolls and cynics abide in manageable numbers at this point.

Fast forward 19 months since the wedding and Prince Harry;
1. No longer sees his former friends
2. Is no longer close to his brother William, who had always been his closest ally
3. Following an unprecedented seven week hiatus away from his birth family over the festive season and holed up with Meghan in Canada, he has come home to be rude to his beloved Grandma, the Queen - a move to separate him from his country? Tellingly baby Archie has been left behind in Canada - collateral in the face of any obstacles against stepping down from Royal duties...?
4. The latest is that Prince Harry has voiced fears for his 'mental health', which suggests a man torn - perhaps between two ultimatums: ie; 'It's me and the baby or your family. Which are you going to choose' v 'It's your family or your wife and baby. Which are you going to choose?' It may not be a decision to step back for him so much as an agonising dilemma with unbearable pressure and conflicts of love and loyalty on both sides. And of course his family is no ordinary family. Not as easy to turn his back on as, say, Meghan's father was for her.

Too fantastical to believe?

Well I am not the first to comment on the personality change in Prince Harry from easy going bloke up for a laugh and a joke to worried looking 'Prince of Woke.' He has changed everything from his style, attitude and habits to his diet, and all since he met Meghan. This is a classic sign of being in a coercive relationship. Coercive relationships work a bit like a cult. A predator targets someone they wish to manipulate, charms and convinces them that they are what they need/all they need/their soulmate and it's them against the world, plays on their weaknesses and exploits them. Their target can be highly intelligent but still possess emotional vulnerabilities (Harry lost his mother at a young age for example and will always feel that void). A predator will then begin to convince their target that friends and family are bad for them or don't have their best interests at heart like they do, just by sowing seeds of doubt in their minds or playing on a perceived fault or failing in a friend or loved one until it becomes a full blown estrangement or feud.

This behaviour is more common than people think, hence there are now laws against coercive control in the UK and it is classified as a form of abuse in a relationship. Coercive control doesn't always involve physical or emotional violence (or taking charge of a target's bank account and keeping them short of money) either, just manipulation and the victim slowing losing control of their life and sense of self and sanity as divide and rule takes effect. It can be perpetuated by either gender and either gender can be a victim.



In Meghan's case she has gained a real Prince along with a title, a baby and a world stage for any woke charitable foundation she cares to found. She is known the world over (which she wasn't as an actress) and has also gained a bevy of powerful celebrity friends including Michelle Obama, the Clooneys and the Beckhams, people she probably wouldn't have been best buds with otherwise. Moreover she has gained money and a share of the Duchy of Cornwall pie, just as her career in Suits was probably nearing its final season and her acting career about to wane. There is now talk of book deals, Netflix films and a whole host of projects being lined up on the back of her brief career as a Royal. Harry, as the potential victim, also has a subconscious trigger for playing along - here is the independent woman he loves breaking free from the Royals but attempting to keep her status, just as his beloved mother tried to a generation ago, only she was not allowed to emigrate with him and William as the direct heirs to the throne.

So what evidence is there?

Apart from obediently pulling the plug on her lifestyle website and personal social media accounts for the sake of Royal protocol when she got engaged, how hard has Meghan actually tried to be a Royal, knowing it was a complete lifestyle change, incompatible with being the strong independent feminist she claimed to be, and doubtless well briefed by Harry and others as to what she would be letting herself in for?

Has she even realised there is a difference between being a celebrity and being a Royal and that the two are mutually exclusive? Is she trying to create some kind of hybrid in MeghanMania  world? Just as there is a difference between environmentalism and conspicuous consumerism including private jets and mashed avocado and the two are mutually exclusive.

1. She stage managed her own Royal wedding and refused to let her father attend, rather turning it into a celebrity-laden gathering to showcase herself and her marriage and substituting her own choice of preacher, music and decorations. No Royal bride has ever exercised this level of control over a Royal wedding.
2.She arrogantly turned down a plush apartment at Kensington Palace insisting that Frogmore Cottage be refurbished to her taste at huge public expense.
3. Meghan retained her Manhattan PR agency throughout her courtship and marriage. Why? What possible use could she have for them in her new permanently changed life as a member of the British Royal Family?
4. She had the Sussex Royal website created a full 9 months before the announcement they wanted to step back from Royal duties and move to Canada.
5. She had various friends leak her 'struggles' within her new role, akin to Princess Diana's 'cries for help'.
6. She upstaged Princess Eugenie's wedding by announcing her pregnancy on the same day.
7. She upstaged Harry by appearing at a presentation he was hosting and making a cringe-worthy speech of her own, even though not scheduled to do so.
8. There was the extravagant jet-set baby 'shower' in New York bankrolled by the Clooneys
9. There was the strange pregnancy without end where everyone waited for weeks for an announcement and even the date and venue of birth kept changing (to the point there were suspicions of a surrogate).
10. Then baby Archie was hidden for weeks, cameras not even allowed at the Christening.
11. There was the embarrassing 'Not many people have asked if I'm ok' interview in the midst of their African tour, which seemed to be more about them and their first world problems than the deprivation all around them.
12.There was a free holiday at Elton John's gaff by private jet, after which Sir Elton infamously claimed to have offset the carbon used via a donation to an environmental charity (a claim that backfired).
13. She guest-edited Vogue with a feature 'Forces of Change' featuring many of her inspirational women friends without seeking Royal approval.
14. There was the 7 week break from Royal duties and spending Christmas with the Royals as tradition expects.
15. There is now the extraordinary announcement that they intend to 'step back' from Royal duties and emigrate to North America without prior agreement or negotiation with the Queen and on their terms - ie keeping Frogmore cottage and other Royal perks, despite claiming to wish to become financially independent.
16. Finally there was the telling comment from Prince Harry's own lips; 'What Meghan wants Meghan gets...'

I don't doubt the newspaper scrutiny has been an irritant and bane to the Sussexes, but they have not helped themselves with their strange self-entitled behaviour and refusal to play ball and throw some bones to the press in terms of the standard event pictures and interviews they would expect to participate in as Royals. And let's face it they have also failed to play ball and work with the Royal Family itself, despite being members of it! It is a bit like actors accepting roles for a long-running play but then refusing to follow the script. Harry knew the drill when it came to how to play the media, but has clearly been overruled by his wife. As for Meghan, she is no shrinking violet when she wants media attention. And she clearly does want to play a centre stage role in the world.  It just has to be on her terms.

One thing is for sure. Harry has not been wearing the pants in this relationship. Meghan has been the driver from day one and she definitely has an agenda, even if she has made some ill-judged moves and gaffes along the way, and Meghan is definitely at the heart of her own agenda.

It will be interesting to see how the Sussex story plays out from now on. I suspect the plans to break free from the Royal Family but still enjoy Royal perks will backfire for this couple somehow.  I thought Meghan would wait until at least baby no. 2 before making such a dramatic move, though I assumed it would be in the form of a marriage split rather than trying to disrupt the actual core structure of the Royal Family.
I also suspect she won't hold onto her current level of power and influence, over either Harry or the world. When all is said and done Meghan is no match for the Queen, whatever she tells herself.

Laura King © 2020

Megxit! Who needs The Crown?

Amazing how news that Harry and Meghan are 'stepping down' from Royal duties and decamping to Canada can wipe Brexit, the Australian bush fires, Prince Andrew and the Iran jet strike and potential war situation off the face of the news.

It's almost a welcome relief.

Interestingly opinion seems sharply divided on the Royal couple.

Is he a loving husband protecting his innocent wife and son from constant scrutiny and media attack, particularly after what happened to his mother?

Is she a scheming manipulator who married him for wealth and influence and, having (allegedly) separated him from his friends and family, is now seeking to separate him from his country...?

Younger friends in particular seem aghast that anyone would marry for anything other than love, but people continue to marry for all sorts of reasons and always have. Wealth and influence is definitely up there in the top three reasons people choose to marry.

Others cite 'racism' as the real reason Meghan has been given such a rough ride by the press since marrying into the Royal family.

I disagree. I think most people liked her to start with and considered her a welcome 'breath of fresh air' entering the Royal Family rather than the one woman tornado she turned out to be.

I think it is Meghan's behaviour which has led to her unpopularity. Her refusal to accept that marrying into the Royal Family involved sacrifice and accepting a new life of tradition and conformity (albeit not preventing her doing charity work and expressing herself in other ways.). She has singularly failed to grasp what Kate Middleton learned early on, and despite Kate's willingness to be a mentor.

Following some unconventional celebrity Royal wedding decisions (not agreed with the Palace) Meghan refused to accept the plush Royal apartment offered to them at Kensington Palace, instead insisting that Frogmore cottage was refurbished to her personal specification at huge public expense. Then there was her love of expensive designers and jet planes, her proselytising on the environment while continuing to consume like there is no tomorrow. The weird drama of the pregnancy, the lavish jetset baby shower in New York, the long wait where no one was allowed to know when the baby was born, see it for several weeks or even photograph the christening, but were fed the odd Instagram clue and finally, body part photo of baby in black and white! Then the happy interlude of the Africa visit involving the strange self-obsessed interview followed by the long 6 week break from the Royals over Christmas. And now this announcement, apparently without consultation with the Queen. Or indeed negotiations as to how their future life apart from the Royals, but still Royal, would work.

Meantime Prince Harry has turned from a popular happy go lucky sort of bloke with a cheeky grin and lots of friends into, as one newspaper called it, a rather strained looking 'Prince of Woke' who doesn't get to do blokish things any more. He has changed in every way from his personal style to his diet. Moreover he wouldn't have dreamed of being so disrespectful to his beloved grandmother or dismissive towards his brother before Meghan came along. Meghan is clearly the driver and pants wearer of this relationship.

I am sure the newspaper scrutiny has not helped the Sussexes, but they have not helped themselves by their refusal to play ball and throw some bones to the press in terms of the standard event pictures and interviews they would expect to participate in as Royals. It is a bit like actors accepting roles for a long-running play but then refusing to follow the script. Harry knew the drill when it came to how to play the media, but has clearly been overruled by his wife. As for Meghan, she is no shrinking violet when she wants media attention. And she clearly does want to play a centre stage role in the world.  It just has to be on her terms.

What has Meghan got out of the marriage so far?  A world stage on which to express her 'wokeness', and launch her charity foundation ambitions from, money and prestige (except perhaps in UK), a Prince, a baby, and a whole new set of celebrity friends (apparently she scarcely knew the Clooneys before inviting them to her wedding). She has also got close to Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, the Beckhams and assorted other celebrities through her short career as a Royal.

Now, like an unwise defendant, they are representing themselves in the media via their social media, often with corny or badly-put together press releases, riddled with inaccuracies. This is not doing them any favours either, along with eschewing all sensible advice and counsel from third parties, including the Queen herself.

They also claim to seek 'financial independence' despite the fact they will need to rely on Royal protection from the public purse for the rest of their lives, wherever they live. True, Harry had some inheritance from his mother and Meghan earned good money in Suits, but apparently the majority of their current income comes from Charles's Duchy of Cornwall estate coffers.

It also appears they want to remain on the same income despite no longer performing even the few Royal duties they were performing.

Meghan having gained so much from this marriage, and been the driver of so many decisions, I refuse to believe she is any kind of victim. Moreover she has been rude and disrespectful to the Queen and displayed more than one instance of breathtaking arrogance and lack of manners for which there is no excuse. Doesn't she think her poor mother-in-law has been through enough and given her age? Does Meghan really imagine that the whole world revolves around her and she has no responsibilities to anyone or anything herself?

Meghan or (Me-gain as some have unkindly put it) is no victim. Arguably she knew exactly what she was doing when she married Prince Harry, and will gain an awful lot more before this saga is over.

Or as another friend put it; 'Either she didn't read the JD (job description) or she has been a deliberate disruptor and social climber all along.'

Thursday, 2 January 2020

The Politics of Homelessness

In late Summer, flowers and a couple of photographs appeared sellotaped to the wall tiles outside my local supermarket, along with chalked messages on the pavement 'RIP' and 'Always loved'.

The photographs showed a pretty young woman with red hair, in one dressed up as if going to a fancy dress party, in the other, donned in hospital gown, identity bracelet on wrist, bending over a cot holding a baby's finger, but looking into the camera.She had apparently lived outside the supermarket, homeless.

A gofundme page was duly set up to raise money for the funeral.

While haunted by this story, I was also puzzled as I walk past the supermarket at least once a day, sometimes more, and never once had I seen this girl, even sitting outside, let alone living. And she was certainly striking enough to make an impression if I had. Nor could I imagine such a girl would have been short of offers of help.

Moreover it had been more than a year since anyone had attempted to sleep outside the supermarket on a regular basis, a young man who had a habit of stuffing the local phone box full of his belongings overnight.

I asked the staff about her. She had sometimes begged outside the supermarket they said, but had never lived on the street outside, and to the best of their knowledge, had not died there either. One was quite distressed that anyone should think they had allowed a helpless young woman to die on the streets outside their shop and was at pains to point out that outreach workers visited the area daily.

Fast forward four months and the coroner's report has just appeared in the local paper.

The young woman *Yvonne turned out to be a 24 year old with a flat in Hove and a young son, although she had apparently known instances of homelessness in her life. She and her partner had taken drugs together one night and he had woken up to find her dead in bed the following morning.

My sympathy immediately evaporated.

Who decided to set up a tribute to her outside my local supermarket and claim she was street homeless, rather than an addict with a home begging for drugs money?

Was her death politicised by putting tributes outside the supermarket, despite the fact that her death had had nothing to do with the supermarket? Apparently cardboard gravestones are now appearing in street locations around Bristol, as if every death is attributable to society's failings, rather than poor life choices (and according to Shelter, two thirds of homeless are homeless owing to addiction issues).

Did those who gave *Yvonne money realise they actually financed her to commit passive suicide?

She had died by her own hand, albeit presumably accidentally, in her own flat leaving a motherless baby behind. And nowadays we are apparently supposed to feel sympathy for 'victims' like this.
Granted, some individuals have difficult and even terrible starts in life (and I speak as one of the former).  But surely, if they then bring a baby into the world, they either give it up for adoption to someone who can look after it or vow the child will have a completely different childhood and life to themselves? What happened to a child as a wake up call and motivator to turn one's life around? What happened to a child as a serious responsibility?

I began to mull on the curious modern cult of victimhood we are seemingly supposed to accept and subscribe to, and in many cases treat as lifelong, rather than a temporary state.

Why too are we supposed to accept this hideous drug culture sprouting up all around us without question as the new normal? How can drugs ever be regarded as 'recreational' when they can just as easily kill or maim as offer a few hours escapism?

Recently I read the autobiography of a forensic pathologist. Tellingly, when he embarked on his career in the early 1980s, he came across his first cocaine overdose death in 1985, some four years after he had qualified and he was very surprised by it. Nowadays it is not unusual for him to come across more than one in a day's work, just from cocaine. And not just young people either, He is increasingly finding middle aged cases on his slab. According to him there has been a seismic shift in the number of unnatural deaths owing to substance abuse over the last few years.

I wonder what Charles Dickens would make of street life today. What novels would he pen? Where would his sympathies lie? Somehow I don't think he would disagree that even poor people are capable of self respect and taking some degree of responsibility for their life choices. Moreover, local hostel places often go unused by those who seem to prefer the streets and are allowed to remain on the streets, despite the law.

Notwithstanding, I regularly support homeless charities, particularly Emmaus, who do an amazing job of full support and rehabilitation (for those who commit to their programme) but I question the efficacy of many other approaches and ideologies. For example every time a local premises doorway or public area is secured from rough sleepers overnight, there are some who deem this 'unacceptable' or 'an attack on the homeless' as if it is perfectly acceptable to sleep in shop doorways or on beaches, open to attack and the elements, rather than in hostels. We also had a local MP who thought 'shooting galleries' were a good idea to facilitate the illegal activity of drug taking! The only people that might help would be park users who don't want to keep finding syringes everywhere, not the homeless.

*Note: I have chosen not to use a photo of the real life street tribute, but this image seemed just as apt,

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Truth Leaks

We live in strange times. There is an almost tangible feeling of something in the air, something afoot, but we know not what and it's an unsettling feeling.

Not that any era ever enjoyed complete stability and security as those who know their history will attest. Like it or not, the world is continually changing, and not always for the better - ie the benefit of humanity. At the moment it sometimes appears to be spinning so fast on its axis as to be in danger of leaving its place in the solar system altogether and even the young are complaining of headaches and mental illness as the sheer pace of life becomes a strain to keep up with.

On a pragmatic level I consider that if my grandparents can survive WWII, most of us will probably survive Brexit, the most off-cited source of present national fear and blame  Yes, it will involve new ways of thinking and seeking new opportunities, but even within living memory we have all been similarly scared within the last generation, ie the 'Year 2000' Problem', when it was believed that computers would not cope with the dates changing to the new Millennium and planes would fall from the skies, there would be food shortages and life as we knew it could well end. Does anyone remember what happened in the event nearly twenty years ago?  No? Well perhaps that says something about the event, not to mention the nature of fear.

And as the millionaire next door has sagely remarked more than once. 'I set up both my businesses in the midst of a recession.'

Of course during WWII we had a government telling us all to 'Keep Calm and Carry On', despite the air raids and the bombs dropping. Rather irresponsibly I see no current government encouraging national calm, but rather stoking national fears and making things worse than they need be. In fact politics have become more Carry On film than 'Keep Calm and Carry On'.

However one chord struck recently when a friend said that the great benefit of living in these unsettling times was that everything which had previously been hidden is now coming out into the open.

Just as the Kennedy Assassination is credited (or blamed for, depending on your point of view) with heralding the dawn of conspiracy theory, the death of a British TV personality Jimmy Savile has unleashed revelation upon revelation and unintended consequence upon unintended consequence beyond anything we could have imagined to reach across the globe. Indeed the unbelievable truth behind his public facade can even been seen in the fall of Jeffery Epstein and all the unintended consequences which continue to emerge from that. Hands up everyone who thinks he committed suicide?  Quite. We have never been less likely to believe the 'official' version of a story than we are now.  Akin to that famous saying; 'Never believe anything in politics until it's officially denied.'

Yes there is plenty of fake news to wade through, but plenty of truth is also leaking out and it has become the age of the leak and the whistleblower.

As for 'fake news' let's say 60% of all news is fake - and that includes sponsored news and advertorials - which indeed makes up a surprising portion of the news in its own right.

Who decides what is real and what is fake anymore?  Those with the money to manipulate the media or a few lone conspiracy theorists? How are people supposed to tell or trust the difference? I think the bottom line is often to ask the question; 'Who is making the most money out of their opinion on this topic?' or 'Where do the vested interests lie?'

Perhaps that's why Prince Andrew's interview at the weekend was such a welcome interlude. For once we were watching something that was so stage-managed and coached, it unraveled before our very eyes. We all knew what we were really watching was a desperate man ignoring all good PR advice (and it turned out that his PR chief had resigned only two weeks prior) and digging a bigger and bigger hole for himself. Yes, it wasn't pleasant viewing and it's not as if most of us previously disliked the guy (or often even gave him a second thought in my case) but there was something refreshingly real in that level of truth leak.

It's interesting to ponder that people only ever search for the truth. No one ever talks about searching for lies.

But to get back to the idea of everything coming out that has previously been hidden, this can only be a good thing for humanity surely, despite the discomfort? And ultimately no one will have any reason left to lie as there will be no human tolerance, appetite or market left for dishonesty. But why do we need lies anyway? Why can't we have a successful, functioning and fair society with jobs and homes for all employing the principle of complete honesty? A much better society no less. It is only the game players who need to lie. Those who seek to subjugate their fellow man for their own advantage.

All counter-arguments and devil's advocates to this theory welcome.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Pillow Fight - a poem

Pillow Fight

When night terrors come knocking
At three in the morning
Don’t lie there and take
What you wouldn’t day awake
As they press all your buttons
Mock all your failings
Find you out as an imposter
Alone in the universe, smaller and lost-er
Pray, pray, pray
To be delivered to next day
To shrug off the shroud
Of dark thoughts aloud
Scare the mares of night
Into flight
Cloven hooves departing as curtains open
Daylight banishes darkness once more
To the other side of the moon
Or so they say
Either way.
The pillow is not your friend
©  LS King 2019

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

The War on the Elderly

Free TV licences are set to end.
Free bus passes are regularly threatened.
Most final salary pension schemes have already been phased out and peers now plan to end the triple-lock on pensions.

Any senior citizen unlucky enough to contract dementia has it treated as a separate illness to all other illnesses (under the NHS umbrella) and is expected to pay, even if that means selling the family home they have worked hard for all their lives. They even face a surcharge to subsidise all their fellow sufferers who were not so careful or hardworking.

My generation will potentially be expected to work until 75, irrespective of whether we do a job of manual labour. Working until 75 will also have a cataclysmic effect on all those with elderly parents, spouses, neighbours or grandchildren to care for and result in massive bills to society if they can no longer fulfill all the unpaid roles that retirement facilitates and that society relies on, if it did but realise it. Never mind all the charities and good causes reliant on volunteers.

Moreover if older workers are supposed to retire to make way for the young, how can they?

Few people work for fun. Most people work because they have to.

Meantime those facing retirement are encouraged to 'unlock the equity in your home', having witnessed absolute nose dives in savings interest rates over the years. Notwithstanding the more their resources dwindle the less able they are to take financial risks (ie shares) which might ultimately benefit them.

Even on the leisure side of life there will be unintended consequences. Cruise lines will go out of business as no one will have the time or money to go on long holidays any more. 3rd Generation universities and other institutions and businesses  will become surplus to requirements.

Then there is the NHS being privatised by stealth. That 'freedom from fear' that we all valued for so long. The Victorian Poor Law which took a world war to finally transform into the NHS in 1948. Private health insurance will swipe yet another sizeable chunk from every citizen's budget.
Anyone born pre-1948 inception of NHS was promised care 'from the cradle to the grave.' Class action against the government called for breach of promise?

Finally every financial penalty to the elderly has a trickle down effect in that it renders them less able to support the younger members of their families or leave legacies to them. Already we are seeing a current generation of pensioners who are not as financially 'comfortable' as their parents were. The knock on effect can only get worse, generation on generation.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Wisdom Of J Paul Getty

I have just been reading J Paul Getty's autobiography, 'How To Be Rich', which I picked up in an antique shop.
Despite its enticing title, you don't really learn that much about how to be rich, alas.
Basically J Paul lucked out in the early 20th century oilfields of Oklahoma, though he drilled plenty of holes which didn't strike black gold as well.
Yes he had a good education and got sent to Oxford for two years of it, but his self-made father still made him earn his own money and he spent his early years living out of a battered jalopy, the front passenger seat his office, prospecting (ie drilling) on various leases, some of which paid out, but many of which turned out to be dry holes, spending the bulk of his time with roustabouts and other working men, learning the business from the ground up, literally, getting down and dirty in his overalls.
A few surprises - Mr Getty turns out to be very pro-worker and pro-union. Like Henry Ford he recognised that a workforce needs to be sufficiently well paid for the fruit of their labours to contribute to the economy in their own right. The consumers must be equipped to consume and be customers too. He boasts how he solved a pay dispute with a union within an afternoon, much to the shock of his fellow directors, and even the union itself, who had all mentally prepared for a long siege. His solution to a pay rise demand was simple. He took the balance sheet to the meeting, showed all present that the current profits allowed the pay demands to be met by 50% that year, but the second 50% of the demand would be dependent on how the company prospered in the forthcoming year. This was accepted, and in due course honoured, with the workforce incentivised to the necessary level of productivity.
J Paul was also a firm believer in CEOs donning their overalls several times a year to visit their factories or oil wells, not just for the cameras, but to work alongside their men, making it their business to know their company inside out and the view/views from the factory floor. He personally invented a new drill head retriever tool, which alone made him an enormous amount of money in solving a problem prospectors had had for decades when the screw head became detached at great depth and could not be retrieved, blocking the new hole it was trying to drill. He railed against process assuming more importance than productivity and saw this as the sure route to future business doom or takeover, and witnessed many examples of his theory in action during his long life.
He adored art and felt that the world means very little without the artefacts and writings which outlived most of their civilisations to become their only surviving legacy. He despaired in particular of the American male's rejection of high culture as being 'unmasculine' (a big fear in those days, apparently). He even goes as far as to state:  'The cultural man is invariably a self-assured, urbane and completely confident male. He recognises, appreciates and enjoys the subtler shadings and nuances to be found in the intellectual, emotional and even physical spheres of human existence - and in the relationships between human beings. Be it in a boardroom or a bedroom, he is much better equipped to play his masculine role than is the heavy-handed and maladroit educated barbarian.'
Quite a statement!
No small proportion of J Paul's wealth came from his eye for good art, but it was never an investment for him - he genuinely loved art and collected it for its own sake and the pleasure it gave him. Accordingly the J Paul Getty Trust was created after his death, the world's largest cultural and philanthropic organisation dedicated to the visual arts.
His biggest hobbyhorse however is his fear for humanity - ie the homogenisation of the individual to become as pasteurized (and bland) as milk. He sees this as a disaster not only for the economy but for the future. Human progress depends on the world's free thinkers and eccentrics according to J Paul Getty. They may sometimes be a thorn in society's side, but they are also the innovators and the stimulus every society needs to carry on thinking, debating and evolving. And he himself had been a part of the pioneering world which achieved so much - a maverick. And remained a proud 'individualist' his entire life, who neither wanted nor expected to be approved of for his every opinion.
He accepts the need for sensible structures in society but rejects the push towards regimentation, akin to fascism.
How appalled he would be then that western society is now on the brink of mandatory organ donation, mandatory vehicle tracking, mandatory smart meters, mandatory vaccination and other questionable mandatories, with the prospect of human microchipping just around the corner. As for diversity of politics and viewpoints, that is also heavily discouraged in apparent Western democracies. We also see anomalies like street drugs freely available while Western governments do more to try and drive vitamins and homeopathy underground as alleged dangers to humanity!
His worst fears appear to be coming true, though friends assure me that we will soon be replaced by cyborgs, so that's all good then! Except that no one seems to have twigged that cyborgs won't be consumers yet as they start to replace all our blue collar jobs with more mundane self-service machines.
So patriarchal is this book that J Paul scarcely mentions women at all. It is all about a man's destiny and greatness and a man's obligations to humanity. As a female I could see this as insulting, but with my comedy hat on I choose to think; 'Hooray - he's let us girlies completely off the hook!' Notwithstanding, he was writing this in the days (1976) when women could still afford to be housewives and were strongly encouraged by society to be so and he himself was in the final year of his life at eighty four, a product of his times, as we all are.
On the other hand J Paul was clearly a very progressive and individualist thinker on every other level so, on that basis, I would have loved to have met him. I am sure he would forgive a fellow arts lover for being masculinely-challenged.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

The Dumb of Smart

There is a legal obligation on all energy companies to complete their smart meter roll out by 2020. This will be pushed back to 2025 at which point county court bailiffs can apparently come round to your property and insist on replacing meters.

After the deadline customers will be openly charged £405 to ‘upgrade’ their meter to  a smart meter, even though we are all paying for them through stealth via our bills anyway.
It is no longer possible to request an analogue meter from an energy company. They do not provide them.

Currently the policy of many energy companies seems to be to deny the best tariffs to customers who refuse smart meters (the legality of which is being explored).

All of which begs the question:

Why does our government care what type of meters citizens have, never mind make it compulsory in a democracy???

1.       They know smart meters don’t save money
2.       They know smart meters are not free – they are added to people’s bills.
3.       They know they are not greener – people who can’t afford to use energy (or who are genuinely environmentally woke) will carry on switching things off and being frugal. The careless or those who can afford unlimited energy will carry on using vast or unlimited energy including to heat up their swimming pools, pool rooms and outdoor jacuzzis and to run their banks of automatic gadgets and lights.

    The following is also well known.

  • .       Smart meters use more energy than analogue meters
  • .       Smart meters can be interrupted or inaccurate if there is not a constant signal.
  • .       Smart meters make it harder to switch energy suppliers
  • .       Smart meters can be monitored to find out if householders are out (data which can easily be sold to criminals by energy insiders)
  •       Meters have to be disposed of at regular intervals as do not readily transfer between suppliers.

There are health concerns about EMF waves and their potential to detrimentally affect plants, pets and people, especially when operating 24/7. At least your microwave is not in use 24/7.
As for the cartoon above, many a true word is said in jest! Our comings and goings will be known to our energy company and who could blame a call centre worker on minimum wage for selling this information on to those who might take advantage while we are on holiday? You can bet the energy company itself will be using this information to take commercial advantage.

I have just heard an advert on the radio for an insidious new 'campaign to help create a smarter Britain', hiring the naive voice of Jane Horrocks to convince us of its planet-saving innocence, albeit with the questionable claim that UK electricity needs are predicted to DOUBLE by 2050.
IS the UK population predicted to DOUBLE in only 30 years?
How can that be, and if we are all going greener/using less?
I think we should be told.

Interesting too how this push towards 'smart technology' is ironically pushing us to use more and more energy whereas analogue and even manual use far less or none - anyone else remember when they used to have to open their own garage door manually, wind down their windows manually, put the sunroof up if it was hot, etc etc and there were far fewer devices of every hue in our homes. Indeed most rooms could get away with one plug socket! This point is also highlighted in my previous post 'The Internet of Things We Might Not Want'

As for Sir Elton John, he appears to think you can make private jet miles disappear simply by making a financial donation to a carbon offset charity!!!!!!!!!

I manage a number of properties in my daily life and those which have smart meters installed are already showing demonstrably higher bills so they are doing the consumer no favours.

According to Fiona Parker's excellent article in yesterday's Money Mail, they are also leaving a lot of customers very angry.... 

Not just me then.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Do We Get the Politicians We Deserve?

Today we got our very own Prime Minister Trump! Brothers by other mothers. Both confirmed liars and sociopaths (that's a psychopath without the axe), they yomp through life believing that everything is there for the taking. And they take it.

And we let them.

Serving the public and being a public servant couldn't be further from their minds. It is all about THEM, not what is best for their country.

But wait. Are we complicit in ending up with them?

Are we so negative and critical and cynical of all politics and politicians that no sane person in their nice mind would now consider putting themselves forward for a lifetime of public scrutiny, criticism, abuse and blame for everything down to the weather?

Has it become a chicken and egg conundrum? What came first the self-serving politician or the cynical voter?

While this particular battle was an internal one inside the Tory party. abstaining from voting seems to be the alarming means of general protest for a growing number of British subjects. But the irony is abstaining is NEVER seen as a protest against whatever array of undazzling potential leaders happen to be on offer. Abstaining from voting is seen as a BIG FAT assumption that you do not care who rules you. Silence should never be mistaken for agreement, but of course it invariably is. And 'don't care got nowhere' as our grandmothers were so fond of telling us.

If we can be exulted to be 'passionate' about a brand of ice cream or a variety of coffee, why so luke warm about the things which should matter most and have the potential to have the biggest effect on our lives? Like our leaders?

Bad things happen when good people do nothing. Whinging about who rules us or Brexit does not count as doing something.

Meanwhile we have open access to all the drugs, booze, porn, gambling, food and online addiction, ie bread and circuses, we could wish for to ensure we remain in our own little bubbles anaesthetised to reality and unlikely to rise up in any meaningful way.

The French Government live in fear of their electorate. We need to follow suit and aim for a bloodless coup or two. When we've all decided what we actually want, that is.

Meanwhile Trump couldn't be happier to have his Little Brit bro' ruling Britain.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Consumerism Will Kill the Earth

Even Extinction Rebellion is conveniently neglecting an inconvenient truth.

We cannot have rampant consumerism driven by limitless economic growth AND save the earth.

They can stop as much traffic as they like, causing as many additional fumes as they like in the gridlock. Here is what ER are NOT campaigning against:

  • The betrayal of the Green Belt
  • All new buildings (predicted only to last 50 years which doesn't even outlive their carbon construction footprint)
  • The demolition of heritage buildings rather than their refurbishment and retro-greening.
  • The failure to tackle empty buildings, brownfield sites and non-dom home ownership.
  • Air conditioning
  • Unnecessary travel, particularly flights
  • Multiple holidays per year
  • Single season fashions
  • Moulded shoes which cannot be repaired
  • Food miles
  • Food waste
  • Computers, tablets and phones having to be regularly disposed of and replaced when their software is 'no longer supported' by manufacturer.
  • Smart meters NOT saving either money or the environment and costing energy to run
  • The scrapping of all old but reliable energy meters in 'smart meter' favour. Plus the scrapping of smart meters when switching suppliers.
  • The 'smarting' of all analogue systems, which then require disposal of analogue systems and have a lot more to go wrong with them thus contributing to their short lives.
  • Hot tubs
  • Jacuzzi's
  • Personal swimming pools
  • Banks of lights in every property and premises.
  • Built-in obsolescence in manufacturing
  • Vehicles written off which are perfectly repairable after accidents but deemed 'economically unrepairable' by insurers who do not wish to pay out for repairs
  • Cars which require front moulded units to be replaced every time a headlight needs to be replaced
  • Non recyclable 'energy saving' bulbs
  • Single use plastics, among other single-use items
  • Unnecessary fireworks (ie when it isn't New Year or Bonfire Night)
  • Chinese lanterns
  • The fall of the school bus and rise of individual journeys to drop children to/from their schools
  • Unnecessary commuting to work
  • Multiple vehicle ownership per household
  • Building new estates where there is no existing infrastructure
  • Charges on rubbish dumps, encouraging fly tipping
  • Barbecues
  • Unnecessary gadgets and other goods.
  • Overpopulation
  • Lack of cheap, reliable and plentiful public transport.
  • 'The Internet of Things' which will encourage unprecedented consumption in getting people to link their every gadget to the internet!

Finally, while there is much each consumer, sorry, individual, can do, it is OUR governments who permit all of the above to be produced and sold and do nothing to discourage overpopulation.

We also need to remember that most people only modify their behaviour when they have to.

Poor people are generally automatically careful in their consumption. Wealthy people have no fear of the bills and will probably carry on wasting as many resources as they can without a second thought.

Limitless economic growth is not sustainable. On any level. Fairer wealth distribution and sensible reproductive levels are what is needed. Along with economic stability worldwide. We give ourselves the right to control animal populations when we deem them to be overbreeding (and by and large animals are far more sensible than we are and will only breed according to what the land can support) but fail to control our own numbers, and at the morally appropriate juncture, creation.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Dr Mary's Monkey by Edward T Haslam

I have just read one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read, if not the most extraordinary.

It all starts when a young boy, a native of New Orleans, becomes fascinated by the unsolved murder of one of his doctor father's colleagues, a high ranking cancer specialist called Dr Mary Sherman, a woman who once bounced him on her knee.

She is discovered one morning in July 1964 after reports of smoke emanating from her apartment. Naked, a pile of smouldering underwear has been placed upon her and set alight. She has stab wounds to her heart and genitals suggestive of a sexual motive.

But strangest and most horrifying of all, her right arm is missing and part of her ribcage is burned through where she is lying. How could a minor fire cause this level of damage? Moreover her neighbours had heard nothing overnight through the thin walls of the apartment block. His father is sent to identify the body and is clearly traumatised by what he sees, but won't go into detail with young Ed.

It is only as he grows up that Ed learns these details and starts to be party to various clues and rumours in the community, making sporadic notes. His father dies of cancer when Ed is scarcely out of his teens, but his last words are to warn him to be careful, knowing of his curiosity.

Decades pass and Ed lives a normal life, but every so often a new clue or new piece of the story presents itself and Ed duly writes it down. A pivotal moment comes when he gets a job at a local newspaper office and is sent to meet some men who wish to know if the newspaper might be interested in their files. He feigns innocence and disinterest, but what he sees is dynamite, including pro-Cuban tape recordings featuring Lee Harvey Oswald, the prime suspect in JFK's assassination.

Bit by bit Ed uncovers the fact that New Orleans has been a secret centre for monkey research since the 1950s involving the mutation of viruses, possibly with the aim of causing a quick-acting cancer to assassinate President Castro during the Kennedy era.  Simultaneously these viruses play a part in the development of the polio vaccine, in the early batch, with disastrous results, and latterly in a sense that could have given rise to the modern cancer epidemic, and even AIDS, as they manipulated viruses creating retroviruses far beyond their understanding, or ability to fully contain, using the new secret particle accelerator machine, a machine Ed comes to suspect of having electrocuted Dr Sherman, either accidentally or deliberately, leaving her colleagues with the horrifying task of having to finish her off and deposit her body at her apartment, making it look like a random murder to hide their top secret medical experiments.

The CIA, the FBI and the Mafia all play a part in this story and all turn out to have nationally-significant roots in New Orleans, including Lee Harvey Oswald, who was also a resident. However the central character appearing to bind everything together is the shadowy Alton Ochsner, founder of the biggest medical clinic in Louisiana, former president of the American Cancer Society and able to boast friends in the highest political spheres, and not just statewide.  He has also been granted special national security clearance for a project of national importance, but what?

There are times in Ed's life when he tries to turn his back on the story, which has now grown to gargantuan proportions from the unsolved murder of a scientist, to secret government laboratories, monkey viruses, a unique plot to kill Castro, a worldwide cancer epidemic, AIDS, the CIA, the FBI and the Mafia and now Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of President John F Kennedy.

It all sounds far too incredible to be true and yet the more you read, the more monsters begin to emerge from the sultry Louisiana swamps.

The first version of the book came out in homespun form in 1995, but has grown ever since as new pieces of information come to light and new witnesses come forward. This is no slick production by a seasoned hack or a journalist out for a quick buck, but one man's reluctant life's work on a story he felt deserved to be shared with the world, and at no small risk to himself. Many of the central characters have died before their time after all. It is even suspected that nightclub owner Jack Ruby (who shot Lee Harvey Oswald before he could testify) was injected with quick acting cancer cells to ensure his own death (and thus silence) shortly after. Certainly the researchers who worked on the secret cancer project seemed to be as expendable as their lab animals.

Interestingly 60 Minutes made a documentary on Dr Mary's Monkey, but it was pulled at the last minute with no explanation.

Ed Haslam doesn't ask the reader to believe his book but to join him in asking the questions contained therein. Starting off with questioning the bizarre murder of a renowned scientist which was quickly shut down and never investigated, no suspects, no arrests, no credible explanations.

That said, he provides an impressive array of evidence for many of his suppositions and demonstrates that the official version of events can be just as unbelievable when held up to the light as any alternative version of events we might not wish to believe.

This book has been unputdownable - akin to several thrillers rolled into one. If just one part of it is true, it would still be an incredible story.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Farewell Avon

They say every girl loves a bad boy. Avon was mine. I was eight. He was thirty seven. It could never be. And I'm sure my fantasies growing up in small town Northern Ireland were suitably PG.

Almost sure.

But he left a lifelong and indelible impression on my young mind. It was Avon I tried to channel every time I wanted to take a risk in life, albeit not always successfully. He who showed me that life was not necessarily black and white. You couldn't always tell the goodies from the baddies.

I didn't notice or mind that the space guns bore more than a passing resemblance to hair dryers or that the sets occasionally wobbled. I couldn't wait for each week's episode. The only annoyance was how Avon the anti-hero would chase Servalan across the universe each week, dispatching numerous creatures and henchmen at no small cost to his own life as he foiled her evil Federation plans, only to end up close up and personal with the perfect chance at the end of the episode; 'Kill her!, kill her!' King the merciless, urged. But no, he would always kiss her instead. Yuck! And how dare he kiss a girl who wasn't me!

I thought Servalan was the most evil woman in the universe. Then along came Margaret Thatcher.

I was tremendously saddened to hear of Paul Darrow's sudden death last week. Another part of my childhood gone. I couldn't believe he was 78 and felt even sadder to read of the terrible health issues he had suffered in his final years. Yet he had kept working right to the end, enjoying a new career as the sardonic voice of Jack FM, later Union Jack FM radio, triumphantly. 'Playing what WE want!' to the next generation of fans.

I have just been reading Mr Darrow's autobiography 'You're him aren't you?' which is an absolute delight. Almost a performance, rather than a book, where he is aware of his reader and their intelligence at every step, with frequent asides, just for us. This gives the book a three dimensional aspect a bit like when the painter Lowry included figures looking into the picture as well or Turner added that unexpected red lifebuoy into the foreground. I can't believe this tome seems to have escaped rave reviews with its sharp but witty insights, its marvellous theatrical insider stories and its very honest observations of the double-edged (not to mention extremely fickle) sword of fame. On being introduced to Liberace as a young actor, Paul received the sage advice 'Never forget your fans.' And he never did, remaining grateful for them for the rest of his career.

Unfortunately once the era of the avuncular smurf-like BBC producer (often ex-WWII military) who was happy to take a risk on a sci-fi series they knew little about, because they knew enough to know the kids liked that sort of thing passed, it fell to the shiny-suited bean counters of the 90s who refused to take any risks to make commissioning decisions. This spelled the end for many exciting new series, or even the resurrection of the original in years to come, the notable exception being Dr Who.

Blake's 7 was a ground breaker in many ways. It was the first time the bad guys were allowed to win, the first time heroes were allowed to be killed off, not least Blake himself, the first time so many principal cast members were replaced and yet the series still enjoyed viewing figures of over 10m per episode, and even benefited from regular injection of new cast blood. It was also a very sexy series full of stunning space outfits, much though things never seemed to go beyond a passionate kiss.

Moreover it made the telling point that a humanitarian (Blake) can end up unintentionally killing a lot more people through being soft (ie letting the bad guys live) than Avon did through being a killer (when he wasn't kissing Servalan that is).

Blake's 7 was the brainchild of Terry Nation who had also played a pivotal part in Dr Who and wanted to experiment more with the Sci Fi genre. America had Star Trek and Star Wars after all. Why shouldn't Britain have Blake's 7? And not filled with goody two shoes either.

Paul goes into an entertaining commentary on each episode, later detailing his increasingly frustrated efforts to resurrect the series, hampered by Terry Nation's premature death, and subsequently the bean counters who refused to take risks. Meantime as everyone grew older and the chances of resurrection grew slimmer, he penned several Blake's 7 novels and created radio plays based on the series, aided by enlightened company, Big Finish Productions, who decided to capture the audio play market.

But let not the scores of real life plays and TV series he appeared in both pre and post Blake's 7 be forgotten, not least Dicken's Dombey and Son. Then there was the surprising career highlight for Paul of playing Elvis Presley onstage, including singing his hits, for which he received many and extraordinary reviews.

Paul comes across as a dream dinner companion. Entertaining, honest, empathetic, wickedly funny, innovative, flirty, self-deprecating, but nobody's fool. From his first days at school we see the beginnings of an individual who thinks outside the box and who is not afraid to break the rules. However he is gentlemanly enough to do no more than subtly allude to the many conquests he must have enjoyed, almost inevitable in his line of work, even if he did manage to politely dodge the young fans at stage doors begging to have Avon's babies! Fellow actress Janet Lees Price was his wife and rock of 48 years, until her death in 2012.

Interestingly Paul's agent retained him 'just in case Jeremy Brett turned down a part.' Sadly Jeremy Brett never did. Much as I also love Jeremy Brett, and consider him the definitive screen Holmes, I would have been fascinated to see Paul Darrow as Sherlock Holmes. I think he would have brought his own brand of enigmatic menace to the role. Then again, he would also have made a sublime Dr Who, had he not been too well known as Avon. Starring roles can rule out so much and that is their tragedy. Every actor yearns for one, but conversely not to be typecast, even though like true love, it seldom happens twice in a lifetime. Very few actors can jump from one starring role to the next (or have the good fortune to) without getting snagged and then pigeonholed. The likes of John Thaw and Judi Dench somehow managing to be the exception to the rule.

So to sum up, all actors really want is to be loved and remembered according to Paul, and he goes on various witty flights of fancy musing how he might be remembered after his death. Well Paul, with this fan you got both. Thanks for making my childhood that bit more tolerable.

Monday, 6 May 2019

International Tin Foil Hat Day!

In an increasingly crazy world where reality and conspiracy theory are blurring, and even seemingly interchangeable at times and fake news also abounds, sometimes the only sane response is to don a tin foil hat!

I'll be joining the Worried Woke for a civilised but light-hearted silent protest march to mark International Tin Foil Hat Day on Monday 13 May.

It starts at noon from cafe at Hove Lagoon and ends up at Brighton Pier.

Dress code: Silver tin foil hat and top to toe black, white or silver. Dogs also welcome, preferably wearing tin foil hats!

Not all 'progress' is in the human interest. Let's question everything and stop sleepwalking into a world we don't necessarily want.

Facebook page here.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

A Week In An Almost-Perfect World

We have just returned from a week's European cruise to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday on the P&O Ventura. She had never been on a cruise ship before (unless you count a converted troop ship in her 20s) so it seemed the perfect landmark experience to mark the occasion.

Moreover it removed all the stresses and strains of having to think about food such as shopping, cooking and four different people consuming four different diets. Then there was the delight of only having to unpack once and the convenience of not having to walk too far for the member of our party with arthritic knees. Indeed we noticed a high number of passengers with disabilities, including children. It was the ideal holiday option for those with mobility issues with access to all public areas and abundant lifts throughout. It was also the ideal holiday option for parents who could leave their kids in the Kid's Club until 11.45pm at night. Every beaming child I met simply couldn't get enough of Kids Club!

Everyone looked happy from old to young and I didn't hear a single mention of Brexit for the entire week.

Two days in and I was seriously wondering why P&O were not running the country, so well organised was everything. The Captain's word was law and operated within Maritime Law (taken 100% seriously) and he ran a benign dictatorship. Attending the emergency drill upon boarding was not optional, but imposed with the lightest of touches. If you didn't have your cruise card swiped to prove you had attended, you would have to attend a special one just for you! Getting on and off at various ports was treated similarly seriously. You had to be swiped in and out with your bags checked upon re-boarding, passport at the ready.

Every night a print newspaper was hand delivered to the rack next to your cabin door which detailed the following day's activities/excursions and was avidly devoured cover to cover by all on board as encouraged by the Captain, to be carried around in bags and pockets and frequently consulted. We subsequently realised there must be an onboard printing press when they had to make last minute changes.

While an up-to-the-minute cruise ship on the exterior, it was touchingly old school in terms of the onboard activities, swimming, table tennis, shows, talks, cinema, casino, shopping, theatre, eating, drinking, pool parties, 4-channel TV (unless you count the Ventura channels, one of which was the front mast camera, for those without a window cabin). Everyone was literally forced to talk to each other and interact. In some cases, re-connect. If you were determined not to get away from it all, shipboard wifi chuntered along at dialup speed, if you could be bothered to pay £12.50 for a 24hr package.

Talking to fellow cruisers it became apparent that they adored this Britain as it should be on sea for a week, dipping a toe into other cultures, but basically eating their own food, and getting back onboard for dinner if they could. More seasoned cruisers had indeed often given up on destinations not reachable by cruise ship. Far too much trouble. Yet everyone we met was affable and in their element and they all had interesting tales to tell and cruise tips to share. We learned that the best tomatoes in the world grow in the volcanic soil of Iceland, but the Icelanders won't export them (or allow other tomatoes to be imported lest the strain be tainted), You have to visit Iceland to sample the best tomato soup in the world.

The afternoon tea was the killer. Luckily we only made it twice owing to shore excursions but we felt bloated for hours afterwards. Rather sweetly there was a daily afternoon tea for solo passengers to meet and socialise too. There were black tie or theme dinners on a number of evenings, which made an occasion of the evening - and obviously gave a good excuse to take portraits and sell photos!

The service was amazing, to the extent that sometimes plates and cups were whipped away a little too enthusiastically! Each day your cabin would be made up with fresh bedding and towels (including pool towels) and each night, your steward would turn down your bed covers and leave a chocolate on each pillow. Many of the crew were international and seasoned cruisers told us that cruise ship jobs were much prized by the Filipinos in particular who would work long days for 3-5 years on cruise ships and then be able to go home and buy a plot of land or build a house for themselves, which would otherwise remain an impossible dream in their homeland. The ship would also pay for them to fly home to their families and take shore leave fairly regularly in between times, though it was obviously tough for those with children to be away from them for so long. Tips were built into your daily cruise charges, which, when you counted up the cost for a week were amazing value compared to staying in a luxury hotel without everything included for the same amount of time.

Our excursions into Europe were revealing. Tour guides used such alien phrases as 'my country' and proceeded to reel off lists of achievements and products of their country, with undisguised pride. We drove through miles and miles of industrial landscapes where real people did real jobs before reaching the pearls of Bruges and Amsterdam (many Europeans have the good sense to build the ugly and workaday stuff outside of their historic centres with very little creeping into the hallowed tourist areas).

Health and Safety legislation has clearly passed the rest of Europe by as we observed a clog maker turn a pair of wooden clogs in four minutes, minus safety goggles or guards and without handing out any goggles to the audience, some of whom were hit by wood shavings. In Bruges, boatloads of tourists admired the vistas of unspoiled heritage from 14th-19th century without a single life jacket between them, including us, once we finally boarded a boat. Rather amusingly as we got up to disembark following our bi-lingual canal tour by a Peter Sellers lookalike, I saw some discreet stickers inside the boat indicating a figure wearing a life jacket. We were also driven to Amsterdam by a coach driver clearly slightly off his bonce on weed, making inappropriate jokes about the sex lives of dead nuns in broken English as he managed to forget where he was dropping us off. The real hazard in Amsterdam though were the cyclists who literally come at you from all directions at once. And then there's the trams and normal traffic jostling for position. Luckily few people in the city appear to have given in to mobile or headphone addiction, much as they might be prone to other temptations. Talking of which many of the locals came across as rude with a tendency to just barge into each other, or shove each other out of the way, no apologies. Whatever the arguments for and against, weed certainly turns people into a-holes on the manners front and stinks out whole streets and cafes in places. Graffiti too seems on the rise since my last visit to Amsterdam, though at least all the shops appear to be thriving and I didn't see a single homeless person, just a half-hearted beggar bin hoaking. There was a decided lack of public toilets in Amsterdam (unless you count the open air pissoirs (no handwashing facilities) for men and not a chemist to be found! The red light district appeared to have expanded into the most unlikely backwater streets. We even passed a middle-aged lady in her scanties sitting in the window of a deserted side-street at 3pm on a Monday afternoon. Was she offering an OAP discount at that time of the day? Were the users of the street pissoirs made to wash their hands, or indeed anything else, before procuring her services? The mind boggled.

The main thing about Amsterdam is that everything is much further away than it seems with a confusing road layout so buying a Metro ticket is a must to explore the city by tram or you can easily see only a small part of the city and not get the most out of your visit. There are also many streets and canals that are inaccessible by Metro and taxi, though you can intersect them with these. My mother had always wanted to visit the Anne Frank house but found most of the tickets were sold online up to two months ahead of time with only a small proportion of tickets sold on the day, a ready made queue of several hundred for them, so sadly she did not get her wish. My partner wanted to visit the Van Gogh museum but extraordinarily found out all tickets had been pre-sold for the next three days! Digital exclusion is alive and well.

Ah well at least the Puss-in-Boats - the world's only floating cat sanctuary couldn't disappoint. Could it? Sadly it was only open for two hours a day and the queue was enormous! Though I did catch a glimpse of pussy from the other side of the canal where there was a glass side to the boat.

Bruges was gorgeous. And tasted as good as it looked. I spent most of my Euros on a selection of fruit-centred choccies from one of the leading chocolatiers whose cafe we had earlier sampled across the street. Ponies and traps were the best way to get around and there were proud shiny horses of every hue, including piebald, trotting smartly through the cobbled streets, some with trendy two-tone manes and all with a pooper scooper trailing behind, much like a lawnmower tray. Unlike Amsterdam, there were chemists everywhere, even in the picturesque main square and public toilets were also plentiful, quaintly marked male and female.

The odd thing about Bruges was that despite its picturesqueness, its cleanliness, its lack of graffiti, prosperous shops and lack of homeless and beggars, there was a frequent stench of drains to be found round many corners, though the reason for this remained a mystery.

The only charity shop we saw during our travels was a branch of Oxfam in Bruges, which sold fair trade products, not second hand products. It seems the continent does not really do charity shops (as I noticed in France, some time ago).

While I am not sure I could spend weeks or even months on a cruise ship (or one day aspire to become one those urban legend old ladies who apparently flee to one for the rest of their lives, in preference to an infinitely duller and more financially ruinous nursing home), I would certainly cruise again, if only for the separate vegan/vegetarian menus now available on board!. I think it would have to be the Fjords next time. It is also an interesting example of community living, with some people forming lifelong friendships aboard in addition to reconnecting with families they otherwise almost need to make appointments to see in our frenetic modern lives.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

A Climate of Climate Change

When I was a child I remember being scared rigid by children's encyclopedias warning me there would be no oil, coal or gas in 20 years time. Fossils were finite, apparently, and we greedy humans were to blame by using them all up.
But how will we live? I used to wonder.

Fast forward more than 30 years later - and guess what? We are still using oil, gas (and imported) coal. We have just sold our electricity off to the French, Spanish and Germans and closed our coal mines down in favour of cheaper (imported) coal.
So much for national energy and food security - once considered so vital to our country by 'the experts' - all of which now appears to have gone out the window.

Today's children are being similarly scared that the whole world is running out of everything and somehow they are to blame.

I consider this monstrously unfair, particularly when they have so many more pressures to contend with than my generation of children - bullying via social media for example, a 50% family split rate, the thought that they may never own their own home, among others.

Now children are being encouraged to skip school to take part in climate change protests.
Is anyone telling them the truth though?
Actually kids, yes, the world is in a mess, but it's not your fault.
What you can do to help though is lobby your government to ban cheap imports and anything which is not repairable or recyclable. You can take a stand against a throwaway society which encourages you to over-consume, unchecked and largely unregulated.

It is then just a matter of being sensible in your own homes.Switch it off if you're not using it, have 4-minute showers, wear a jumper before you put the heating up, boycott single-season fashions.  Think about the number of flights your family takes, walk and cycle as much as possible, etc etc. If you have a garden, cultivate it for the bees and butterflies, grow your own organic food and plant a tree or two if space permits. And don't upgrade your devices just because you can. Make them last as long as possible.

If every family embraced simple commonsense measures to consider the environment, what an instantly much better world it would be. None of us need to have a complicated understanding of environmental issues. We just need to do our bit and being sensible is about the best thing anyone can do. My grandparents didn't know the meaning of the world environmentalism but were greener than anyone I know - purely out of economic necessity and scarcity - see poem I wrote about them here. People can be green by simply not wasting stuff is a message I think is often lost these days.

And yes, we do need to be more responsible in terms of overpopulation - to prevent it in future - not to penalise those already here. Ensure the entire world has access to free contraception for starters. Ban free fertility treatment. Give people a tax break for remaining child-free or adopting a child who needs a good home. Economic incentives are a proven mass behavioural influencer.

We also need to beware of greenwash and unnecessary fear mongering. This doesn't help anyone, particularly if youngsters end up so paralysed by fear, they become medicated or turn to addictions rather than growing into fully functioning members of society ready to do something genuinely useful with their sense of social responsibility, their 'wokeness'.

Friday, 15 March 2019

The Oxymoron of Mandatory Organ Donation

From 2020 the NHS will assume we are happy to donate any or all of our organs unless we have 'opted out' and organ donation in UK will become mandatory.

How does that work? A donation is a voluntary gesture. A voluntary gesture is no longer a voluntary gesture if it is made mandatory.

From the number of online commentators supposedly unbothered by this change in their status from living human being (which you need to be in most cases in order to have your organs successfully harvested) to property of the state to use as it sees fit, one could easily assume there should be no shortage of genuine organ donors.

So why this mandatory move? What are the NHS doing wrong that so many altruists are not having their wishes respected with regard to organ donation? In other words, why the shortage of organ donors?

And what of those of us who wish not to be donors? How do we ensure our wishes are respected, whether for religious or ethical reasons? Or those who are perhaps happy for say, their kidneys, to be donated, but not their eyes, skin, bones, face etc?

And will our government adopt the DVLA approach to human beings like they do with vehicles in that we are designated the 'keepers' of our cars rather than the owners, so the state can theoretically seize our cars at any time. Will we simply become the 'keepers' rather than the owners of our own bodies?

I remember when we were simply asked to carry a kidney donor card. Now, rather like the taxman, they want the lot!

I foresee a time, possibly within a decade from now, when every human body will be routinely cannibalised, sorry, harvested, of all useable and saleable parts with a whole macabre international trade in body parts springing up in UK, the prime cuts of course, reserved for the super rich. We also live in a world which increasingly seeks to make money out of we human beings to the zenith - literally from the cradle to the grave. AND sell off our NHS to boot.

Yet another nail in the coffin of the sanctity of life and respect for individuals and their wishes.

Not surprisingly this change to the Organ Donor Act is linked to the emotive case of two blonde, blue eyed angels, one alive thanks to the death of the other, dubbed 'Max and Keira's Law'. A tragic case to be sure but also a success story in so far as organ donation worked in this case, so why the need for a law named after these children which compromises the human rights of the rest of us? It smacks of emotional blackmail.

To echo another rallying cry 'My body. My right to choose!' I for one have zero confidence in a so-called 'opt out' system when none of us have any idea of the manner or mode of our deaths and it will probably be a case of 'Act first. Ask questions later', particularly when donation decisions need to be made so quickly in order for most organs to be viable when they require a still-beating heart.

Oh, and by the way, in case you weren't bothered by your organs being harvested around a still-beating heart, there is no such thing as 'brain death' according to Dr Byrne (video here)