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Tuesday, 31 December 2013


For those who don't know, I have been in hospital since mid-September suffering with a bleed on my brain, in  effect a stroke. I hope to be home by Jan 6th. I continue to improve and may be  back to near normal later in 2014.

Never take "normality" for granted. I finally made it home, hopefully for good, on Friday Jan 3rd, although swallow, walking, speech and writing all still have a long way to go. I have to keep doing my exercises.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The UK and chemical weapons

OK, it was over 70 years ago, but in WW2 we were, it seems, quite happy to consider the use of chemical weapons against the enemy then, the people of Nazi Germany. See  In the event, these were not used, but clearly we had thought hard enough about using them to test them on a (not that) remote Scottish island.

It annoys me when the UK and USA behave so "high and mighty" against the use of chemical warfare when, even very recently, both nations actually used them in Iraq, Afghanistan and of course by the USA in Vietnam (Agent Orange).  Perhaps we learned that their use was a bad thing?

Friday, 6 September 2013

Carpets and stain protection

We recently bought a lot of new carpets for our new home from a major East Anglian supplier, Glasswells in Bury-St-Edmunds. All of these carpets had manufacturers stain protection or StainGard protection added before fitting.

Shortly after we moved in, we noticed a small mark on the lounge carpet so contacted the supplier to ask the best way to remove it: StainGard protection is supposed to allow easy removal of stains such as wine spills, coffee spills etc. Rather than advise how to treat the mark ourselves Glasswells arranged for the StainGard people to come out to take a look. This they did, and took several photos, but no action to remove the mark. A week or so later, Glasswells sent someone to look. Again, no attempt was made to clear the mark.

So, nearly a month after having the carpets fitted we have still to be told how to remove stains from our protected carpets. We have not even been given a leaflet telling us how to go about it!  Wouldn't you think that having spent many thousands of pounds on new carpets Glasswells would give us a leaflet on how to remove spills and stains and throw in a little carpet care kit too?  Instead, we have had 2 visits, no action, and no instructions after nearly a month. Unbelievable.

Further to this, I went to the shop recently to try to buy some material to make a bed throw that would match a couple of garden room chairs. On the phone, when checking with the supplier on the wholesale cost, I overheard "£8.60 a metre".  A moment later the salesman turned to me and said the price would be £17.99 a metre!

So, if you ask for discounts when buying a lot of carpets, furniture etc from a major supplier like Glasswells don't be embarrassed to ask for a LARGE discount. Oh, and don't forget to ask how to remove stains :-)

Overall, I am less than impressed.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

UK parliament votes AGAINST military action in Syria

Last night, the UK parliament voted AGAINST military action in Syria. This is excellent news.
This does not mean the UK should take no action. What it signals is that the UK people don't want to meet violence with yet more violence. Instead let us encourage effective diplomacy. Jaw jaw, not war war is, ultimately, the ONLY way. Can anyone really say that our past military action in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere in the Middle East has ever done any long term good? No, what it has left is a trail of bitterness.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Syria and chemical warfare

So the UK and USA are considering a response to the use of chemical warfare in Syria. The likely response will be yet more violence in  the form of a clinical attack on something/someone.  Will we NEVER ever learn? What sort of message will that send?

The ONLY solutions to the problems in the Middle East depend on building trust and understanding on all sides. As we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the use of violence to counter violence destroys trust and creates yet more issues.

Jaw jaw, not war war, please.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Cricketing success

So England won the Ashes series after a thrilling day yesterday which saw the Australians thrashed.

The last 12 months have been good ones for UK sport for all the right reasons: a successful and happy Olympic Games last summer, success at Wimbledon for Andy Murray in the tennis and for England in the Tour de France cycling. 

Sport is good when it inspires people to strive for the impossible and succeed, although good sportsmanship is about trying to win and not winning at all costs including cheating, which serves no good.  It is sad that sports are so commercialised these days and that money matters so much.

Moving home - mixed emotions

We have lived in our family home, a modest semi-detached house on the edge of our village, for 37.5 happy years. Tomorrow we move to a bungalow next to our local windmill currently undergoing a large restoration. The new home is lovely: homely and spacious, and with a nice garden and at the end of  a quiet close.

As you can imagine, this evening we are feeling rather mixed emotions: our children grew up in this current home and it has been "our" place, with our stamp on it, for all those years. They have been, almost without exception, very happy years. Tonight the old house is devoid of personality with pictures off the walls and trappings of our life in boxes.

However, the new home is already taking on the feel of our current home with familiar photos and trappings already in place that make a home "our" home. No doubt it will take a few weeks to adjust, but overall we feel it is a good move: a bungalow is easier when one is getting on in years and mobility is likely to become more difficult. Nonetheless we will miss our old home so much.

Thank you home, you have been our friend for a long time and we'll miss you.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

National Debt in the UK (and USA)

Sometimes I feel like we are living in the 1930s: we can see a crisis looming but carry on hoping it isn't going to happen, yet in my gut I feel that it is imminent.

What is bothering me? Well it is the indebtedness of the UK (and the USA) and the almost inevitable deep crisis that will result if it continues to mount. The true level of the UK's debt (around £900 billion) is VERY close to that in Wiemar Germany in the early 1920s when inflation went mad (money became worthless) and social unrest and national socialism took hold.  If interest rates rise by just a few percent, the UK will be unable to repay its debts, banks will fail and there will be no government money to bail them out. In summary we would be in totally uncharted territory where no savings, salaries or pensions would be safe. It is quite possible that social order would break down and a revolution and far left or right politics would be the order of the day. This is just in the UK. The same story is likely in the USA and across the Eurozone. The stability we have enjoyed since WW2 would be well and truly over.

I hope and pray that I am wrong.

The ONLY answer to this is for the nation to live within its means both nationally and on an individual level. We CANNOT continue to borrow money to support services and lifestyles we cannot afford.  

Read to get the background on this. I also recommend the book "How did we get into this mess?" by the BBC financial commentator Robert Peston.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Well done Andy Murray - Wimbledon tennis champ

For the first time since the 1930s we have a British male Wimbledon champion. The standard of tennis has been exceptional this year and Andy Murray has been first class. He deserves his impressive win.

Well done Sir (he surely will be soon) Andy.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Justice at last

The BBC website reports that the radical cleric Abu Qatada is expected to be deported to Jordan overnight to stand trial on terrorism charges. It has taken over 10 years to get this menace of a man out of this country.  It beggars believe that a man with such radical and downright NASTY views has been allowed to stay this long. Something is seriously wrong with our legal framework within the EU for this to take SO long to resolve.

The UK is no place for people with extremist, violent views and we should be able to deport such nutcases with the minimum of fuss and delay, working within UK legal framework.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Who judges? Sharia Law

The BBC website has reported that Sharia law, and its rough justice, is spreading through rebel held parts of Syria. They report on the killing of a 14 year old boy because he made an off-the-cuff joke about "the Prophet".  See .

The ruling regime in Syria has a lot wrong with it, but we have to be careful that what replaces it, possibly with the help of western nations, is not just as bad, or even worse. Sharia law has no place in the 21st century. Do we never learn that the religions of the world have brought much hatred, wars, civil unrest and unhappiness. Whatever you belief, surely the common threads of all world religions are meant to be care for others, empathy, understanding and love in its most profound sense. Why is it then that the enduring image of almost (all?) major religions is just the opposite?

If you disagree, please let me know the reasons why.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Edward Snowden and the Russian/USA discussions?

This evening, I read that Edward Snowden, the US contractor who has leaked details of US spying activities, has (reportedly) asked for political asylum in Russia and that President Putin has said,

"If [Snowden] wants to go somewhere and there are those who would take him, he is welcome to do so," and  "If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his activities aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners, no matter how strange it may sound coming from my lips."

Now, to my suspicious mind this sounds a very strange comment from a Russian head of state. One can only imagine the behind-the-scenes contacts between the US and Russian governments that prompted this utterance. We all know that the USA spies on Russia and that Russia spies on the USA, so why this apparent support for the USA? 


Wednesday, 5 June 2013


Waitrose, part of the John Lewis partnership, is one of my favourite shops. Their food quality is excellent, their no-quibble response to customer returns is first class and now they offer a free cup of coffee or tea plus a free Daily Telegraph or Daily Mail for Waitrose card holding customers. In my view, the Daily Mail is best avoided unless you like rubbish journalism on the far right or need paper to wipe up your mess. Every time I read a copy I fume with rage! The Daily Telegraph is more central politically, although slightly on the right of centre.

The John Lewis partnership is a model for future business: employees share a bonus based on real results (unlike the rip-us-off bankers) and thereby want their business to succeed. They treat their customers well.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

The sickness of banks

Having just read an excellent book by the BBC financial correspondent Robert Peston called "How Do We Fix This Mess?: The Economic Price of Having it All, and the Route to Lasting Prosperity" I am appalled by the action of banks and bankers over the last 10-20 years. Rotten to the core does not describe them accurately enough.

Reading this book it is clear that, from the very top, many in the banking business were corrupt, greedy, arrogant and deceitful people who greatly contributed to the crisis that has left many nations, including the UK, greatly in debt and living beyond their means. Not all the blame is on the banks: there was a total absence of control from governments of all flavours too and, as individuals, we were guilty of believing that something for nothing was possible. But, overall, we were being run rings around by greedy individuals who should be strung up and made to repay every penny of their ill-gotten bonuses.

Fixing the problem will be a long slog with a need for a cultural shift: we have again to live within our means at all levels. We need to earn our way in the world and not live on cheap finance (debt) provided by nations like China. The sooner the UK becomes a manufacturing nation again the better.

Globalisation cannot be stopped, but we need to make some major readjustments.

A final lesson from the book: the crisis is far from over and NEVER trust banks or governments with your money. Burying some of what you have saved in a box at the bottom of the garden may not be such a bad thing.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Dam busters raid anniversary
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the raid on the dams in the Ruhr valley by RAF Lancaster bombers of 617 squadron. Whether the raids had the effect intended or not remains contentious but the dam reconstruction work set back the Nazi war effort for several months.

My father was a flight engineer in Lancasters in the 482 Pathfinder squadron in WW2. He flew many night raids over Germany and crash landed on the return to England on one occasion narrowly cheating death. We rarely talked about his time in the RAF: he didn't want to relive the sheer terror he must have felt nightly setting out in the dark knowing his chances of seeing out the night alive were slim. I am sure the fact he dropped flares for the bombers following to kill innocent men, women and children deeply troubled him in later years. He was a very brave man and I wish I had acknowledged this in his lifetime.

"Honest to God" book is 50 years old

Back in spring 1963, a book on theology by John A. T. Robinson , the then Bishop of Woolwich, called "Honest to God" became an instant best seller selling millions and millions of copies around the world.  It was reprinted many times within just a few months.  At the time, everyone, it seemed,  was talking about it. It was endlessly discussed on the TV and in the newspapers. Many within the Church of England were deeply troubled by it.

In the book, Robinson challenged the conventional understanding of God "up there or out there" and instead looked for a demythologised understanding of God as the "ground of being" as Tillich termed it.

Today, few young people will be aware of this book, but if you can find a copy then I can recommend reading it. Unless you are a convinced and total atheist, you are likely to find the book thought provoking. This was no evangelical religious book: in fact it was quite the opposite.  For the first time it seemed a man in the Church of England was vocalising what many had felt: the old portrayal of God as a kindly old man on a cloud was dead, irrelevant. And yet, deep within us there is that sense of something transcendent with a deeper meaning than the atoms and genes from which we are formed.

I see that Amazon is selling a 50th anniversary edition.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The South Hams

I was born and brought up in the beautiful South Hams of Devon, UK.  This is a gentle land of rolling hills, estuaries and farmland surrounded on 3 sides by rugged coastal scenery and on the other side by the southern slopes of Dartmoor. This last week I was back there on holiday in the best weather possible: wall-to-wall sunshine and blue skies. Outside of school holidays the area is not busy with tourists and May is an ideal time to visit.

This video is of Salcombe at the very tip of South Devon, taken yesterday from Snapes Point.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Consciousness and the mind

Consciousness is surely the greatest mystery of all. How can it be that a large collection of interlinked cells can contemplate themselves and the world around them?  What exactly is it?  Can it exist outside of the body or does our conscious mind die with our brain cells?  One would think so.

What is the nature of consciousness in other creatures?  Can inanimate super-computers ever be truly conscious, that is have a distinct ability to be self-aware and contemplate themselves and the world around them?  How would we know? Is the conscious mind able to be understood and scientifically examined? Is the universe unique to each individual human being? Can we be sure that we are not ourselves just a computer program in a cosmic super-computer?

Not being a philosopher, I have no answers, just questions.  

Choral concert in Cambridge April 27th

Concert Poster
My wife sings with the Cambridgeshire Choral Society (guess who does their website!) and next weekend (Sat April 27th 8pm) her choir performs in St John's College Chapel in Cambridge. Both the Vivaldi Gloria and the Faure Requiem are great pieces. If you live in the area, may I suggest you come along? Tickets are available on the door as well as in advance (see poster).  I shall be on the door acting as a steward.

A breakthrough in battery technology?

The ExtremeTech website has reported a possible major major (i.e. game changing) breakthrough in Li-Ion battery technology with the headlines:  New lithium-ion battery design that’s 2,000 times more powerful, recharges 1,000 times faster
If this turns out to be technology that can indeed be commercialised, then just imagine the possibilities: (1) electric cars with far lighter batteries, or electric car batteries with much greater range, (2) mobile phones with tiny batteries that can be charged in a minute or so, (3) portable HF transceivers that last for days between charges.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Efficient power conversion of solar energy?
Nanotechnology may allow highly efficient power conversion from sunlight. Current solar panel designs are not that efficient (well below 20%) whereas nantennas could in theory have efficiencies of over 70%. Basically a nantenna combines an antenna for optical frequencies with a detector in one tiny structure.

Such a leap in efficiency would totally transform solar energy use: roof panels on a house would be able to produce plenty of surplus energy in addition to that required by the home owner. It really could be a game changer.

You can imagine the large petrochemical lobby doing all in its power to discourage research and development into such technologies.  Far too little is invested in such new technologies because of lobbies with money, power and influence buying political decisions.

I cannot help thinking how such ground breaking, game changing, technology could be developed to commercial scale with just a fraction of the US or UK defence budgets that has been (arguably) totally wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These wars have thrown away around $700-800 billion already: that would have paid for a HUGE amount of research and development and ultimately do far more for world peace and harmony.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The NHS admin needs sorting out big time

My ham radio friend Julian Moss has a brain tumour which he has been successfully battling for over a year now. Recently he had a hospital appointment to review treatment but reading his blog I see yet again he has, like many I know, been given the "run around" by the totally inept NHS service here in the UK. This organisation needs radical surgery to get itself operating efficiently. Time and again it wastes money by messing up appointments, not having people where they should be, not having the data communicated between staff etc. It MADDENS me that sick people should be additionally stressed as a result of idiots who cannot run a business properly. They would save BILLIONS if patient records were shared electronically between doctors, nurses, hospital staff, consultants and ambulance crews. In the 21st century any organisation as bad as the National Health Service would be in administration by now and its bosses sacked.

NHS sort yourselves out!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The east wind doth blow

Near Sutton-on-Sea, Lincolnshire
This winter and early spring the weather here in the UK has been exceptionally cold for a long time. This last few days we were up in Lincolnshire where the biting east wind blowing in from Siberia cut one to the core. The picture is on the very cold east coast on Tuesday.
Snow drifts on the Lincolnshire Wolds

The real cost of war

Today I read that the audited costs of the Iraq war for the USA are an estimated $767bn. With ongoing healthcare and support costs the final figure will be well over $1trillion. All nations make mistakes and enter wars they later deeply regret, including the UK. What saddens me is the total WASTE this represents: Saddam was no saint, neither are the Talibhan in Afghanistan, but there has to be a better way to change nations. The phrase "swords into ploughshares" comes to mind. Jaw jaw is better than war, war. Just think how $1 trillion could have been better used.  See also William Rivers Pitt | The United States of Aftermath.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Israel and Palestine

Isn't it sad that people can't live peacefully together? In Northern Ireland (Ulster) an attempt is at last being made to forge a new beginning with people who were once sworn enemies trying to get along with each other for a greater good. Attempts by a marginalised few to derail the process have not succeeded and I hope they never will.  Even the Rev Ian Paisley seems a changed man. This is the stuff of true statesmanship. Incidentally, I note that a lot of the ground work leading up to the settlement was done by the Quakers, always a quiet, unsung force for non-violence and peace in the world.

In the Middle East the long drawn out conflict between Israel and the Palestinians continues with periodic eruptions of hatred and violence on both sides. My knowledge of the post WW2 settlement in the region is weak but I cannot, for the life of me, understand why, two generations later, they cannot arrive at a peaceful agreement on statehood that is good for everyone. I read on the BBC website that a one state solution, with both Palestinian and Israeli people sharing equal rights in one state, is on the table again. It should be possible to make this work with trust and good will on all sides.  It takes an act of great faith to make geo-political solutions work, so I wish them luck and good judgement.

See .

UK weather - appalling!

We seem to have no end to winter here in the UK: it has been hovering around 2-5 degrees daytime temperatures, sometimes even lower, for months and months now. This weekend we have yet more snow forecast! A few years ago we were bemoaning the lack of cold winters and lack of snow. Not any more.  In about 9 days the clocks go to British Summer Time - but where is spring>

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Bulgarian and Romanian immigration into the UK

If you are concerned about the unrestricted access into the UK of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals in 2014, you may want to sign this ePetition. We are a small island already overcrowded with resources at breaking point. We really cannot cope with up to 600000 additional incomers many of whom will come simply to make use of our benefits system. No problem with people coming in with skills we need, but please not a free for all.
The EU has a lot to answer for.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

If you see no other film in a cinema this year, see this documentary film. It beggars believe how complicit the Catholic Church has been in suppressing and hiding child abuse cases by priests world-wide. The complicity goes right to the pope. No wonder he has decided to resign. Shame on the lot of them!

Thursday, 31 January 2013

N-back test in neuro-science

For several years now I've taken part, as a guinea pig, in some Cambridge University research in the Department of Speech, Language and the Brain. It involves doing occasional audio and visual tests on a PC and the occasional MRI scan of my brain.

Today I did a 2.5 hour long test that included a fiendish test called an N-back test where you have to say if the letter on the screen is the same as the one before, or in further tests the one before the one before, or the one before the one before.

Now, whereas I could do almost every other test they gave me without difficulty, this one I found almost impossibly hard.

"Meta-analysis of 24 n-back neuroimaging studies have shown that during this exercise the following brain regions are consistently activated: lateral premotor cortex; dorsal cingulate and medial premotor cortex; dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex; frontal poles; and medial and lateral posterior parietal cortex." ...according to Wikipedia.

Now I am unsure what a poor performance in this test tells the researchers, but I hope my contribution helped.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Buying everything British - not easy

On BBC TV this morning they featured the Bradshaw family who are trying to buy everything British during 2013 i.e. food, clothes, electrical goods, fuel etc. As most of our manufacturing base has disappeared overseas, mainly to China, to reduce manufacturing costs, it is increasingly difficult to succeed in this challenge. The PC I am writing this on is made in China for a start. I see they have just run out of black pepper and are now stuck for a replacement as most pepper comes from exotic places. Buying BP petrol is a bit of a cheat as this company is really a large multi-national, but short of running a car on chip fat oil made from British grown sunflowers it is quite hard to find British petrol.

In my own small way I'd like to try to emulate them, in shopping if in nothing else, by buying British meats and British vegetables and fruit far more than hitherto.

Can someone explain to me how our economy works if nearly everything we eat, drink and use is imported from abroad? What we export surely does not balance the costs of these goods, so doesn't it mean we are just stoking up our debt still further?

The Bradshaws website is at

In the limit world trade would collapse if we traded nothing outside our country, but they are trying to make a point that virtually nothing is made in the UK these days. Surely there has to come a time when more of what we need will be made in the UK again?

Monday, 14 January 2013

The bonus season fiasco

The BBC News website mentioned that Goldman-Sachs may be postponing their UK bonus pay-outs this year so that employees who qualify will only have to pay tax at 45% rather than 50%. I do not know if this is factually correct but I have strong views on this:
  • No company should be paying its employees average bonuses over £200k as I understand G-S did last year. Is this a correct figure? If correct, such payments look OBSCENE. Who needs this sort of money?
  • No company should be manipulating bonus payments for tax avoidance reasons.
See .

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Spareone mobile phone

Spareone emergency phone available from
Amazon and others are selling the Spareone emergency mobile phone. This interesting product uses a single AA battery (all types) and will hold its charge for 15 years (they claim) if the phone is not used. It is therefore ideal to have in the car or in a handbag in case of emergencies. It retails at just under £40. Neat idea that has won several awards.

Why is weather forecasting in the UK so bad?

The Met Office weather app screen
On my iPod Touch 4g I have the Met Office weather forecasting app. It is great with forecasts every 3 hours for the current day and for the following few days. There is a lot of detail there. The problem is it is frequently wrong, even at the current time!

I know all the excuses about butterfly wings flapping, but with huge mega-computers now in use is it really so impossible to get a decent weather forecast just a few hours in the future?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

RFID chip security risk to credit and debit cards

Did you realise that your credit card and debit card may have an RFID chip embedded inside it that can be used to hack into the card details? Neither did I. Watch this video and see. Clearly it needs someone with the right software and skills to do this, but as this demo shows it cannot be that difficult.