Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Tories offer nothing for young and old people

Earlier this week, we were asking what do the Tories offer young people. This morning, & rather to my surprise: what do the Tories offer old people? The new manifesto is apparently about to lob a series of grenades at the older generation. A Great Christian Nation should unavoidably and indivisibly be founded on Christ's great instruction to care for those in need. The demands of old age are so variable that the only fair solution is the pooling of social care. It sounds as if we are about to fly from this and that everyone can expect in old age to have their assets reduced to £100,000. Only the filthy rich will ever hand on the wealth they have created for their children. For most people there were will be no incentive to save whatsoever. I was brought up on an utter (and I thought Tory) mantra of save and avoid debt. But of course ever since that 1983 election, it has been chip, chip chip. I said a while back that I anticipate dying in penury and some friends laughed. I am more confident than ever that if I pass the threshold of 80 this is how I will end my days; in poverty, with no wealth to give my child (whose university education I have not the faintest idea of how to pay for). All because I tried to save! If it was not for the generous social care package available in Scotland I have not the faintest idea how the last 10 years with a none too well mother in law would have been managed. The Scots do think differently. Ever since I married one, I have been told that. We are a society that cares, quizzical look at me from south of the Border, do you understand? I do. DO NOT VOTE TORY if you want a future, unless you carry half a million with you. The Brexit business has already stuffed our future for our children free in Europe and now (perhaps because she really has no idea how to pay for Brexit (hence Chancellor/PM tension yesterday)), the nation is being told, you're ordinary folk, don't try and save, just get used to reducing your expectations. Does any of this rings bells for you or am I on some strange island of my own?

Friday, 5 May 2017

Northumberland Local Election Result 2017

So what explains the Northumberland result? A nest of things, some external, some self induced created the perfect storm for Labour. I am sure the larger Brexit factor and the Corbyn leadership played a role. But they far from account for this. It must be said the Conservatives worked very hard. In Prudhoe their two candidates had been making a difference for months. In Tynedale in general the notices in the Courant affair will undoubtedly had an impact. Substantially the Valley has felt whether it comes to Roads, Planning, Schools, utterly neglected. Don't forget the Post 16 School Travel Row and that impacts beyond Tynedale. The Tories say they will re-instate the payments. A major matter through the county has been the County Hall removal. How could this make friends? Removed to a town without even a railway station or early prospect of one. Again the Tories promise to reverse this. At the end of the day the Tories cannot simply produce a majority administration and going forward it will be fascinating to see who they team with and then whether their programme retains their commitments and how they get paid for. But fair doos, I congratulate Northumberland's Tories on a great result and I look forward to hearing what Mr Corbyn has done by end of day.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Railfreight and the Explosion Musuem

Freight! This is rail freight. Each of these inert mines in the magazine at the Explosion museum in Gosport is on a narrow gauge wagon (not those floating sky high in the roof area of course). This was Monday 10th April 2017 during Aunt Anne's funeral wake. It was not my idea to hold this in the Explosion Museum but it was a dammed good idea. The Navy based catering was excellent. The views superb. Whoever has displayed this museum has had a keen sense of the surreal. The internal architecture and subject matter lend themselves to this. In these uncertain times, when we all urged to loyalty, and pulling together (as you do in a harbour), it is difficult to strike the balance between being a good team person, never wanting to disappoint, but somehow deep down in the heart feeling that the nation has taken corporate leave of its senses and not really being totally convinced that we will recover them on June 8th. I hope we do but I suspect my fading years will all be about enjoying Brexit, rediscovering how great it is to pour scorn on the neighbours and their plans. Portsmouth is a wonderful place to get a handle on this. The Mary Rose is a lasting testimony to the practice of Euroscepticism in action. Whilst the Victory shows the extent of the victory possible against wrong headed continental thought. Behind Portsmouth (and I had not seen any of this before) the Portsdown line of forts (and Fort Nelson) which is open to the public are simply breath-taking. Fort Nelson reminded me how the cult of the volunteer and the amateur (the Victorian Militias) underpin so much of British life. The true Brit cannot be confined by rule and process and that was the European mistake! (or so we imagine for the narrative). Anyway providence is remarkable, my short break to the heart of the British Navy is within the week followed up by the unexpected (to everyone but Drew Blane) call to election arms. The lady in Bristol (was'nt it?) sounded a bit put out. I don't know if I am put out or not. I do know, really know, we have to get beyond the last four years somehow, and I know who I blame for the last four years and it is not actually Mr Corbyn!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Abandoning the Hard Shoulder

Abandoning the Hard Shoulder: nowadays we certainly do not travel Britain as we used to. It either tends to be very expensive or else by car moderately to rather terrifying. Throughout my life there has been a Hampshire connection. As it turns out both myself and Fiona come with this. Her mother's only brother married and spent much of his life until death in Gosport. My father's sister married a notable submarine commander (that's Gosport too, although they lived in Bishops Waltham, Petersfield and East Meon). So from our young years Fiona and I travelled across Britain. It looks like we had both been on HMS Victory by the time we were seven.

And then a niece married and moved into West Hampshire. Somewhat bizarrely the Aunt died on 21st March (too many of my relatives have died in March), the day Lisa gave birth to Tallula Kitty. In the recent past the Hampshire connection has brought visits in 1997, 2001 (the weekend foot and mouth hit, we were in Portchester Crematorium), 2011 for a wedding and aunt visit and now last week 2017 for another visit to the Crem. (which is very well maintained and a fine piece of municipal architecture). We were driving three of us and we had to go from Prudhoe to Keswick to find our daughter at a church weekend before returning to the M6.

Four nights therefore in the Holiday Inn Express at Farlington, the end of the M27. I can recommend that. Reasonable, does the job, good breakfast, quiet rooms, LARGE family rooms. Clean but not over fussy. Three very full and very pleasant days, museumed out in Portsmouth, seeing many things I had not seen before like Mary Rose, Jutland Exhibition (a bit depressing), the superb wooden boat section of the Dockyard, Explosion and Fort Nelson (Iraqui super gun and the railway gun). All full on octane experiences with the obligatory harbour tour producing the head photo of HMS Duncan. Evenings got us to the new baby and beautiful pub dinner in Rockbourne and what was more or less a private charter in April sunlight of the Hayling Island railway.

A great time had by all and I think since we left home, only today is it really raining. But back to my heading? You may recollect that Duncan in Thomas the Tank was a troublesome engine, too short a wheelbase. The photo is HMS Duncan under a lot of covers. This class of new destroyers is the Type 45. They have a problem, they don't like hot water, I rather imagine Duncan complained about this too. From Wikipedia "First Sea Lord Admiral Philip Jones clarified that the "WR-21 gas turbines were designed in extreme hot weather conditions to what we call “gracefully degrade” in their performance, until you get to the point where it goes beyond the temperature at which they would operate... we found that the resilience of the diesel generators and the WR-21 in the ship at the moment was not degrading gracefully; it was degrading catastrophically, so that is what we have had to address." So Duncan and sisters are having a lot of modifications.

The Dockyard is also gearing up to receive imminently the new aircraft carriers. These are so large that an enormous dredging operation is going on (finding World War Two ordnance). All fascinating for the ship spotter. Portsmouth Harbour thereby remains very busy. According to the museum for the carriers 40 computer systems are being spiralled into 4. I hope it all works and they have plenty of built in redundancy. Unlike our motorways where for the first time we encountered Smart Motorways. They did not seem any less crowded than the others, but they were much more mentally demanding and worrisome.

In all we drove 978 miles and not much in the three full days in Hampshire. And the queues, the accidents, the terrible driving, the cars weaving back and forth lanes. Each way the Oxford bypass had shunts. We saw very few police but rather more ambulances. Sometimes it was so bad I resorted to my renowned improvisation, so we saw the A50 and the Stoke D road. Coming back we had close acquaintance with Hathern and Long Eaton.

You may tell I don't like Smart motorways. I think they are anything but. But they fit the long term Westminster mentality: don't spend money, fend off the problem. They are in a line with Type 45, and aircraft carriers too big for their harbours and without planes to fly. We have at times been renowned for redundancy. The wooden walls, the Dreadnoughts were designed with it in view. Excess strength, in numbers and design.

But after the war in 1945 we felt we could not keep up. Schemes which we led with like Blue Streak, TSR2, APT were all marked by a failure to persevere. Meantime other areas of public life faced the same mentality. Beeching hatcheted railways we are now having to rebuild. In fact the network carries more passengers than in 1947 but there is no redundancy. There are no spare trains. It cannot be afforded they say. The Health System is the same and people suffer and die because of our unwillingness to embrace redundancy.

Recently the biggest single example of the lack of caution that denying redundancy breeds, has been the referendum. All the checks and balances you would normally expect forgotten about. No safe margin in the vote for the answer, no requirement for a majority across each of the four nations.

Britain is a great country and I am a patriot, brought up by patriots. But it is unwise and my parents would have agreed to run a country without plenty of redundancy and they would never have understood a smart motorway!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Eve of Article 50?

R4 in the last 40 minutes: state of the Roads, Social Care crisis (not enough workers who can't be paid for anyway) and the fearsome process of Brexit. Surprise news to the fanatics you cannot simply "leave the EU". It is will be an intricate and very time consuming process. Not on R4 but our secondary school has written to us soliciting voluntary contributions to running costs (not some nice appeal for a new rowing boat or the like), part of the debate about how many schools are losing out in funding. Meanwhile there is a local scandal for one secondary which had until days ago a boarding wing. This has abruptly closed and some pupils who already lived 35 miles away have had it suggested by the County that they might consider Peterlee!!!! Crass, crass. As for the roads, my trip to Shildon has enough to say about that, especially the road to Scales Cross from Branch End. So what is this ramble about? Yes, I think signing Article 50 ought to be delayed. Perhaps we do need another election, although I can see many challenges in that. But the big truth, one May's predecessors have been trying to set out: Brexit now would be a folly. I have no doubts it imperils the British union (and those who say Brexit would be worth that are fools: better if they campaigned for England to leave the UK). But what we really need now as a nation is politicians of most colours willing to face down the idiots, fess up to the terrible process Brexit has been, and say that was a big mistake. Let us not dig the hole any deeper. Steady the ship and deal with real challenges rather than largely imagined ones. I am sure the shock of Brexit is such that some effective renewal of EU membership on terms that do accommodate real and valid concerns would be possible and in EVERYONE's interest here and on the Continent. Representatives of democracy do YOUR JOB and do not let popularism rule for that is not British Democracy.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Remembrance Sunday 2016

Today I watched the Cenotaph service (who would want my germs?). As the years pass, I feel more and not less compelled by it all. Thanks to daughter I am watching Netflix's The Crown. Claire Foy and Matt Smith carry their character's off so convincingly. To see on the real screen today so many stories. I am glad Corbyn seems to have GOT IT. Dressed in a black suit and with his lips moving to the National Anthem. Service is about putting self aside, the essence of Christ's preaching and of remembrance. What a world gathering. Being British is not about being "white", that is not what the British Empire and its Commonwealth taught. And to those who would disagree whether of the left or the right, the Cenotaph service denies you. Men and women of all creeds and colours from around the world united in Whitehall. A person watcher's dream. The Queen as inscrutable and professional as ever. Some of the other Royals revealing a mite more? Did Charles look baffled? Did the Duke see the past generations of naval men he had known including Mountbatten? Sadiq Khan and Boris Johnson a couple of bodies apart. Prime Minister's past and present, party leaders, but no Nigel Farage to represent God knows how many million, because he is meeting Trump. Now is'nt that weird? That the interim leader of most of our MEPs and with the allegiance of many millions of our nation was not there. And this moves my thinking. What an extra-ordinary year! The Tories lose London, the Brits vote for Brexit and Trump is US President Elect. Would you have bet on all three a year ago? This is a time of momentous change and none of us can really feel safe about where it is going. But for my money one of the most pressing questions posed by today is what is the meaning of Farage meeting Trump and omitting the Cenotaph? In what sense are you a serious person to do this? Is that about stealing nations? Or is it just the accidental froth of the pace of the moment? (It would seem that this year, as last, Farage was not invited. Own goal I think.)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


If you follow my facebook roundabout this upload in time, you will see Fiona and I spent a short break in the Netherlands (number 8 visit for me) in late October 2016. I revisited places like Arnhem and Zutphen I had only been to once before in July 1971. On another level we have through 2016 been referring to Devolution in the UK and how the North East having been on the verge of a seven authority deal spat the dummy out. Currently in October the news is that Newcastle probably with the support of North Tyneside and Northumberland will go it alone. They will have a brand the Great North City (playing on the Great North Run and the Great North Exhibition (to come for 2018)). Now I must tweak this. The North East is not going to be able to do better than Manchester or even Yorkshire. We should go for what is uniquely us and is a good a brand as any. The epithet should be The Great Northumbrian City. Northumbria has various interpretations as a good place but the Tourist Board for years stretched from the Cleveland Hills to the Tees and across to the Pennine Watershed. I am good with that. However that means not only the dissenting factions around the Wear but the Tees Valley needs to be the whole entity. And it does, to compete the whole natural geographical region of Tees, Wear and Tyne, we need to unite.

This does all tie back to the Dutch visit. The Randstad. There was a time not many generations ago when the Northumbria I speak of would have outshone the Randstad. There are many comparisons. The actual area involved is not much different, both are maritime facing regions, both contain numerous competing cities. However broadly since the 1950s, one has been in continual decline, the other has gone onto steroids. I might suggest each extreme is unpleasant. I can see why for many Dutch the ferry from Ijmuiden is to the promised land, we experienced the opposite a week ago. Our open Pennine landscapes fringing the cities, our rocky environment is magical to the outsider. As I did on Saturday to come into the Tyne, take the coach connection into the heart of Newcastle and then the train to Prudhoe is an inspirational ride and the Dutch can understand that.

A lot of the Netherlands is not in The Randstad. Our short break went well beyond it, only Monday and Friday crossed the Randstad and when we did we saw very impressive modern building, yes, but also a  nightmare vision of what development on steroids means. The mass motorways, the railway and metro building, you have to see it to believe it. It is awe inspiring.

I may not want the Randstad for Northumbria and I doubt Northumbrians would but where is there scope to pitch in the middle? I am convinced as plans currently afoot for a Great North Institute in Newcastle suggest, that part of the solution is to understand how the North East exercised genius in the past. A genius which with both the steam and the electric locomotive we exported to the Netherlands. But there is something we can and must learn from the Dutch and which currently the North East with its warring factions is hopeless about. It is understanding that design, detail and integration all matter.

The header photo from Zutphen was of a delicious example of public art on a quayside of a tributary of the Rhine. A simple hydraulic structure to be played with which captures the essence of Dutch genius, hydraulic engineering. Set in an appropriate context, the old quays of a Hanseatic town with a busy railway and barge carrying river behind. The Dutch still try to use all modes of transport appropriately. Who would imagine now that goods should be shipped from Blaydon? Even shipped from Blaydon to Tees-side. We have got right out the habit, even though it is good to say the new North Yorkshire Moors Potash mega mine will ship from the Tees. But we were as good at the transport habit as the Dutch remain, we have to recover it.

Time and again in my blog and on my Facebook, for years now, I have berated the lack of progress with North East public transport. So utterly different to the Randstad. I accept that the devolution plan has itemised many of the items I speak up for but until the devolution is delivered nothing happens. What has been done lately? The A1 Western Bypass upgrade. What a lash up! Destroy the hard shoulders, lanes that vary in width. Ignore every piece of common sense in fast road design when there was a hill through which a tunnel could be driven and through traffic sent through. Lobley Hill. Not difficult. Name the road tunnels of the North East? Three I think: Cradlewell and Tyne 1+2. The Dutch in their flat landscape build tunnels without blinking (TBH they spend vast amounts of money doing it and create much employment).

But leave the infrastructure. For years we have talked about an Oyster card for the North East. The Dutch have had one for years, the OV Chipkaart. We used it for all our travel. And at the smallest detail, in Arnhem, the litter bins wear welly boots. And a city of 70,000 people boasts a two year old library which leaves Newcastle standing. Newcastle's new library is nice, but go to Arnhem's and you will be awestruck. Now much of this difference is because between the Dutch and the Brits for 30 years there has been a pretty large gulph over public society. Our local authorities have been hammered. There have been business successes, Nissan and Port of Tyne prove this.

However unless public authorities can be trusted and given resource, unless the bus companies can be told when and where buses will run, how they will connect with trains (for which Prudhoe is the most laughable example (and so is a new councillor endorsed walking leaflet from Stocksfield station which makes no mention of the train service)), until we can get the North East connected up and given clout to argue its case, the divide and rule which the sceptic will assume is government policy or at least Mandarin think, will remain.