Hello and Goodbye

US InaugurationSomething that has always bemused me is the vast contrast between the US and UK on the exchange of power following a national election..

The cost of the recent US election has been put at just short of $14 Billion while the last General Election in the UK cost £141 Million, and even that paltry sum by comparison caused some criticism. To be fair, the population of the US is about five times greater than the UK and their election also involves Congressional and many state official elections. Even so, the cost is still on a astronomic scale.

US Presidents serve for a fixed term which is not the case in UK Although the maxim term or a Parliament is five years, a General Election can be called at any time with Parliamentary approval. Not so long ago the Prime Minister had the power told call a General Election at any time.

There are also big differences in the amount of electioneering time with US political parties kicking off the process about two years following a election. The first year is taken with run-off internal party elections to decide who their candidate will be, and the next year campaigning for that candidate. The UK by contrast has a six week period on the hustings prior to the election.

Even following the US election, there is about a two month period before the actual transfer of power takes place with a lot of ceremonial razzmatazz,  while in the UK it’s overnight occurrence providing a clear result has emerged. In that case the leader of the winning political party goes to see the Queen the next day who tells them, that’s it, you are the next prime minister. I accept its a bit more formal that that, with the winning head of the political party being ‘invited’ to form a government, but that is the essence of what it boils down to.

The outgoing US President is usually seen flying off into the sunset, but it does seem to me that defeated Prime Ministers in the UK, often appear as they are doing a moonlight flit and sneak out the back door.

There is no way I am going to attempt to suggest that one system is better that another as a lot will depend on individual views tempered by which country one was raised in, and the different customary ways people have become used to.

While the UK may not have the same sort of ceremonial at the point where exchange of power actually takes place, we certainly do have a lot of ceremonial pomp and pageantry as the Queen formally opens the next session of Parliament where she reads out the programme of reforms the new government hope to achieve.

Somehow I prefer the way we do it in the UK. Quick, plain and simple.


2021This is the time of year I try to look forward to events likely to dominate the forthcoming year. That can be a bit tricky as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak its unexpected effects around the world. The past year of 2020 feels almost as if someone had taken a giant eraser to the calendar, and rubbed it out.

The two topics most likely to dominate the forthcoming year are the Coronavirus Pandemic and Brexit. In both cases strong rays of hope are now starting to shine. With now two vaccines now available and more likely to follow in the near future, the world can now start to come with grips with the pandemic. However due to the vast global scale of the problem, vaccinations will not be a overnight panacea, Hopefully if they prove as effective as believed, vaccination programmes should start to make significant inroads in controlling, if not eventually defeating the virus. I would not at all be surprised if annual vaccination jabs, similar to the annual flu jab become the order f the day.

January is traditionally a time in the UK when people start thinking of the summer months ahead and planning their future holidays. That is likely to prove problematic this year as much will depend on the current state of health of any given holiday country at the time. As that is completely unpredictable at the moment, prospective future holiday makers will carefully need to follow advice given by travel gurus and still have to expect last minute disappointments. The airline industry is in chaos at the moment due to  the huge loss of customers able to travel, and will take time to recover. It is likely that ‘Staycations’ as they have become known will see a huge boost, but again they are likely to be tempered by any travel restrictions that may be in force at the time.

By the time anyone reads this article, the UK will have finally left the EU. Even the one year transition deal will have elapsed. I for one personally welcome our departure from the EU. That is not to be confused with any form of xenophobia as I have nothing against any European nation at all. What the UK is finally free of is the stifling red tape bureaucracy that the EU has become. We have heard a lot about ‘level playing fields’ during negotiations for a post-Brexit deal with the EU. It’s a phrase that seems reasonable enough on the surface, but it does seem to me its a way of stifling competitiveness, by ensuring one section of industry does not forge ahead of its rivals.

Yes there will still be initial difficulties, mainly bureaucratic as companies on both sides of the channel find they have not fully prepared for Brexit, but despite the likely disaster headlines which can be expected from newspapers playing up to their readers, it is likely such bureaucratic difficulties will soon pass.

Other issues that are likely to effect the UK in the forthcoming year are calls for Scottish Independence and the coming to power of a new US President.

Hardly a day passes now without hearing renewed calls for Scottish Independence, something that is likely to be strongly opposed by a Tory dominated Westminster. Labour has indicated they may give some ground on this issue if they are elected in the future, but I cannot help but feel this will cost them dearly.

The Scots did hold a supposedly once in a lifetime referendum on Scottish Independence in 2016, but a lifetime can be very short, even minute in the eyes of some politicians as they incessantly keep pushing for yet another. One cannot help but feel that even if another negative result was to emerge in the unlikely event of another referendum taking place, the same politicians would be immediately calling for further referendums ad-infinitum until they achieved the result they want.

When I look as a lay-man at part of the UK breaking itself off from the rest of the country, I am more than bemused at what is expected to be achieved. It’s a question that only economists can really answer, but I cannot help but wonder if the Scottish economy can actually sustain independence. Much of its heavy industry including ship building has greatly dwindled over the years. Consequently the revenue base will have shrunk with it. I accept that things always change and I understand there is now a flourishing electronics industry in Scotland. But as to whether industries like that and tourism on their own will be enough I have my doubts. I also wonder what the Scottish politicians crave to be independent from?

Various exploratory talks have taken place to see if a independent Scotland can become a member state of the EU. In a way that seems to me a way of asking if they can become subservient to the EU, a very strange request indeed. So far the EU have said no except as part of the UK. Once again it does bring into question if the EU are concerned Scotland may become a financial liability they need to continually support, especially at a time when their budgetary income from the UK as a whole has ceased.

One thing politicians seem to overlook is how ordinary people in the UK, not just Scotland, feel about independence. For nearly 300 years since the Act of Union in 1707 Scotland has been part of Great Britain. To the vast majority of British people the UK is one country and has been all their lives and that of their grandfathers and forefathers as well. Then they see politicians suddenly wanting to break the country back up into induvial fiefdoms. In other words taking parts of what they have always considered their country away from them. It does seem the only benefit of all this is to try to keeping a political party in power.

Assuming that the present incumbent US President leaves power, albeit begrudgingly on 20th January, a new President in the form of Joe Biden and his policies will come into office. There can be little doubt that whatever policies a US President and his Administration have, greatly influences world events.

UK politicians always make great play of the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US, but while it is true such a relationship does exist, it has always seemed to me to be more import to the UK than the other way around. President Trump promised a quick US trade deal once the UK was finally free of the UK. But with only a few weeks of his Presidency left, that is highly unlikely to happen now. A lot will depend on how a US President views the UK. Many are suspicious the UK still has colonialist leanings as it once had a great colonial empire including part of the US.

I think it likely that the special relationship will continue as it is in both countries interests to do so, but I cannot help but feel the relationship will cool a little.

Only time will tell.

Coronavirus–The big flaw in self-isolation policy

CoronavirusAll of us should by now aware of the Government’s sound advice for social distancing and voluntary self-isolation, particularly for the elderly who appear to be more vulnerable and susceptible to the possible fatal consequences  of exposure to the coronavirus.

At the moment the Government is advising the elderly to self-isolate for 12 weeks, but seem to be ignoring the realities of how this particular group of the population are going to feed themselves. I understand the Government is going to write to the most vulnerable 1.5 million people in our society asking them to self-isolate, but unless that advice contains practicable and realistic advice on how to feed themselves, then at some stage many self-isolators are going to be forced to ignore it.

Supermarket home deliveries seems to be the stock answer from those passing on advice to self-isolators, but the reality for many of this group is that home delivery services have  already effectively ceased.

I am possibly more acutely aware of this problem because I happen to fall within this group. Up until now I like many others, have never needed supermarket home delivery services, and thought I would register online with the three main supermarket chains that cover my area of the West Country. What I found due to supermarkets being inundated with people trying to register for home delivery services, is one supermarket chain has completely suspended registering any new applicants to their home delivery system. The other two have no delivery dates at all for at least three weeks and neither of them give any delivery dates beyond that point. One of the supermarket chains has no Click and Collect outlets in the West Country at all, and the only one that does, requires a considerably long drive to reach. Even then they cannot fulfil any orders for at least three weeks. It may well be other areas of the country find themselves in similar positions.

Some of the elderly have no internet access at all, and although volunteer groups are springing up all over the place, it is placing a great burden and reliance on them to do other peoples shopping for them.One should not forget that many of the war and post war Baby-Boomer generation do not always have family at hand to help them, and due to the self-reliance generation they grew up in, may even find it something of an embarrassment to ask someone else for help.

So far most people have sufficient food stocks at home to last them for several weeks, but as it starts to run out, will be when this easily foreseeable problem will spring into prominence. As their food stocks dwindle, many of the most vulnerable who have no way of replenish food supplies, will be forced to break their self-isolation, even if it were to be mandatory, and risk coronavirus exposure, as they are forced to hunt around shops and supermarkets for groceries and essential sanitary products.

I did write to one age related help organisation about this asking if they had any advice on this potential problem, but so far they have not replied.

Another problem this vulnerable group may have to face is increasing their virus exposure risk, hunting around different supermarkets in the hope of finding their requirements. I am aware that the supermarket chains say there is no supply problem, but I than have to ask why on a daily basis does one still see pictures of row upon row of empty shelves? Panic buyers who descended on supermarkets like a hoard of locusts were the initial problem, but if shelves are being restocked and the amounts than can be purchased controlled, it is not unreasonable to ask why are the shelves still empty?

I must admit it is difficult to judge if the same problem exists in more urban areas, but for many in rural areas it does.

It does seem that there are now a plethora of different policies being adopted by supermarkets, and I think the Government could eventually be forced to step in to ensure they are all singing from the same hymn sheet, particularly in ensuring deliveries to those self-isolating.

It would not be unreasonable for the Government to coordinate with all supermarket chains to;

  • Ensure home deliveries as a priority to vulnerable self-isolators and essential workers.
  • Ensure that all supermarkets impose safe and sane limits on purchases.

I would think the one thing the Government would not like to see, is people in self-isolation being forced to break their isolation in a attempt to stop themselves starving to death.

January 2020

Crystal Ball 02This New Years Day not only heralds the start of another year, but the start of a new decade as well. To myself the start on the new decade engenders a strange feeling, that the 20th century, momentous as it was, no longer seems as it was just around the corner, but has now firmly  become part of history.

  Predicting developments in the forthcoming year is not like trying to gaze into a crystal ball for answers as my article picture would suggest. It is more a case of keeping in touch with events, particularly the more recent ones, and then using common-sense nous, tempered by sensing the public mood on given issues to forecast how things are likely to pan-out.

There can be no doubt recent political events culminating in a General Election will continue to have a major impact in the forthcoming year.

It’s now three and a half years since the UK held the referendum, popularly known as the Brexit Referendum, to decide whether it should leave the EU or not. Our exit date supposedly being by the end of March 2019. During that time, the public mood became increasing frustrated by the political antics of MP’s opposed to the referendum result, irrespective of how their constituencies had voted, used their dominance with a minority government, to try and frustrate, delay, or even abolish Brexit altogether.

Leadership, Anti-Semitism and proposed fiscal issues also were causing Labour a lot of concern. It was only when a General Election was finally called with many anti-Brexit MP’s firmly convinced the public was completely behind them, that they finally awakened the real truth of public opinion, as the electorate swept them aside. In the end voters elected with an overwhelming majority, the only major political party to have put honouring the Brexit Referendum at the centre stage of their manifesto. Now it looks like the Conservative Party are firmly in control for the next five years, although it may be a little shorter than that depending on circumstances at the time, as most political parties are loathe to hold elections in the winter

Now the losing political parties will carry-out a lot of soul-searching as to why they lost, and some electing new leaders. But irrelevant of how many enquires they hold, the real question is whether they can accept what to many is the blindingly obvious reasons for their defeat, or for reasons of  political expediency become self-deniers?

In Labour’s case, I think there is a possibility of strong differences of opinion over future policy issues, which could lead to something of a internal struggle. There is a strong feeling running through the country that no political party really supports working people any longer, and the traditional support Labour relied on from working people is no longer there. Given this left in the wilderness feeling and general distrust of all political parties, many voters now vote tacitly in each election be it local or national, dependent on the issues at the time. One aspect many working people are also suspicious of is the rise of the professional politician. Labour is now at something of a crossroad and depending on the path they take, they can either eventually start travelling on the long road to recovery by rebuilding working peoples trust, or begin the long decline into insignificance. If they choose the latter, it is inevitable that another workers party will eventually emerge to take their place. Even the most wonderful of election manifestos is worthless if the party proposing it does not take power. The forthcoming year is likely to see the future fate of the Labour Party decided for a long time to come.

The SNP did extremely well in Scotland and once more cries for Scottish Independence have started to ring loud. However there are many Scots who will say although they voted for the SNP, that does not mean they would vote for Independence. Recent polls indicate only about 45% of the Scottish electorate support the idea. That is about the same amount as the Scottish Independence Referendum held five years ago and which was supposed to be a once in a lifetime vote. The new Conservative Government have already indicated the last referendum on independence should be honoured, which is the polite way of saying no. If as looks likely the UK does leave the EU at the end of January, and with the EU having previously indicated they would only accept Scotland as part of the UK, apart from the noisy sabre-rattling sounds of displeasure, it is not clear to me what real cards the SNP have left to play.

As for myself, I am English by birth but I have always considered myself to be British. Historically, the United Kingdom may well have been at one time three separate nations plus Northern Ireland, but to most people including myself, all of it has been my country throughout my lifetime, and I have never considered the Untied Kingdom as anything other than one country. There are many people, possibly the majority throughout the whole of the UK who feel the same. I am sure that any politician who tries destroying our country, the United Kingdom, for short term political gain, is likely to get short shrift from the public as a whole.

Even with the UK. leaving the EU, until the end of 2020 there should be little difference to individuals travel and holiday arrangements in the within EU. What happens beyond that will largely depend on how negotiations on trade and conditions with the EU develop.

One thing that clearly has to be resolved is the question of the Irish border. In the past year with a minority government, both the EU and the Irish Republic were able to take a tough stance on the issue, but now the political football field has radically changed, one would hope they will now adopt a more reasonable stance, particularly as a hard border will be very damaging to Ireland. In the world of politics, there is no such thing as the impossible. All is possible providing the will, and possibly the financial necessity is there.

The 1st February will be a historic day in itself as it will be the first time in 47 years since 1973,  that the UK once again becomes a truly sovereign nation, able to determine its own way in the world. That may be something of a strange feeling to those born after that date, but those old enough to have experienced it before, know how it feels to be able to stand on your own two feet. In some ways it is like the time in life, when a young person is considered to be legally mature enough to make their own decisions in life, independent of their parents.

This year will also see major decisions made on the High-Speed rail link to the north of England. During the past year there have been suggestions questioning it’s economic viability. I am certainly no economist although I have a gut feeling that a lot of money must have be unnecessarily wasted and escalating costs need to be firmly brought under control. It does seem to me though, a question of how can one expect the Northern Powerhouse to properly flourish, if it is not adequately connected by rail to the rest of the country? There are some projects that need to placed well beyond the dampening influence of bean-counters, and this is one of them.

Three Score years and Ten

70Two years ago was my 70th birthday, a notable date in anyone’s life in reaching the biblical three scores years and ten. . In some ways it is a day to reflect on ones life and to take stock of where one is now and perhaps how one arrived at this point in time. In many ways it does represent a lot of proverbial water that has flowed under the equally proverbial bridge. I was a professional firefighter most of my working life and I do belong to a closed group on Facebook which the majority of my retired colleagues also subscribe to. It is a good way of keeping in touch with numerous old friends.

I did write an article for that group of my 70th birthday reflecting on a potted history of my life. I had forgotten all about the article until I recently came across it and I though I would republish it here.


LFB Pump








Well folks, for me, today is the big 70.

It is that day which throughout my life has always been vaguely somewhere in my distant future and now it has finally arrived. It’s strange how only yesterday while still in my sixties it seemed my fifties and all the memories they evoked were still just around the corner, and today that era has become remote and distant. An era that was cherished but can never be touched again.

Even now as I reflect on my past life, it is difficult to comprehend where all those years have gone or how the changes I have seen came about. Born just after the end of WW2, I was one of the original baby boomers. One of those that grew up in the era that was supposed to be ‘in a land fit for heroes’, and I as a baby, like everyone else born at the same time, was expected to be part of that vanguard that would lead our country into a bright and prosperous new world that was the future.

Although I was born in Dulwich Village, an area that is now considered quite salubrious, I certainly did not come from a moneyed family, quite the opposite. Although I lived in what was a large house, it was still never-the-less a case of coal-fired cooking ranges, gas lighting, tin bath hung on the wall and outside toilets.

It was also an era of extreme elitism where people were supposed to know their place, an unhealthy period which many of the older generation had been conditioned to accept. I first encountered this preconditioning through the education system. It was a system that was supposed to allow the brightest to succeed, and to train the remaining masses for work in the factories as plebiscites. It was not until much later in life I realised that even if everyone was equally bright, the goal posts consisting of grammar and secondary modern schools determined by an iniquitous 11+ exam system would have been moved to achieve the same effect. At that time I did not understand how people went to university. My only experience to that highest of all education systems is what I had seen in films. That always portrayed a life of the rich and privileged and certainly not for the common plebs like myself.

So at the age of 15 I went to work, initially as a telegram boy on a push bike, and a year later on a motorbike. It was a fun time for someone who did not yet really know what they wanted to do in life, other than there was no way I was going to work in a factory. It was also the post school period when one knew that in a way, the future was still irrelevant. At that time, one still had to do three years national service when the age of 18 was achieved. Real working life did not begin for males until they reached the age of 21.

Well things happened during that period particularly the scrapping of conscription. That suddenly opened up all sorts of new vistas and the immediate one I was facing was not particularly enamouring to me. 18 was also the age in the Post Office when I would cease to be a telegram boy with all the juvenile fun that went with it. I would have to become a postman and the prospect of trudging the streets of London with a heavy sack of mail slung over my back was the least appealing thing I could imagine. It was a future I could see that had no real prospects and also one of relatively low pay. It was a possible future I held in dread as inwardly I knew I was capable of so much more.

London TLThe question was what future until one of the lads where I worked suddenly came into the office to announce he was joining West Ham Fire Brigade, which covered part of the area where I was based. His tales of what the fire service would be like flooded my imagination and within weeks Dave Clarke who worked with me and myself had both independently joined West Ham Fire Brigade too.

In my own case, the entire enrolment process from walking through the front door of the fire station in Stratford Broadway, to completing my exams and successfully undertaking a medical process and also being offered a job took a total of 90 minutes. Something that is incomprehensible in today’s lengthy recruitment process. Little did I know as I walked through those fire station doors for the first time, it would be another 42 before I walked out of them for the last time. Those 42 years are as they say now history, but what a history that was.

Apart from the fire service side of my career it was also the beginning of the trade union side of my career too. That was only because I did not run fast enough when at a branch meeting the previous branch secretary suddenly resigned and before I knew it, I was his involuntary replacement. It was however a position that was to eventually see me rise to a high official status within the union in London and the main contact between politicians both in Parliament and County Hall. Now that I have retired, others quite rightly quickly replaced me and have since taken over the reins. All that I am now left with is mellowing thoughts of those times.

Now as I look around my largish home with equally large gardens set in the pleasant rural countryside of Somerset, the rooms bedecked with furniture and the like, I cannot but help wonder where on earth it all did come from and how did I achieve all this? Coming from quite poor and humble conditions when I was born until now, something must have happened in-between, but I cannot quite remember what except for perhaps making some wise choices at the right time. Joining the fire service was perhaps the wisest of the all.

With 42 years of service I cannot help but think of the generations of fire service people I have known. There was the generation in already in-situ when I joined, many who had seen war service. The generation that came and went when I first started, and the generation that had completed about two thirds of their career when I left. That is an awful lot of people most of whom I have fond memories of.

It does seem when I take a euphemistic view of life that when we are born, it is as if a small sandcastle representing myself had been built on a beach far away from the sea. Not a sandcastle in isolation though but one that is surrounded by the other sandcastles of people born about the same time and destined to become my future friends and colleagues. Far in the distance is a thin shimmering silver band which is the sea, but too far away to ever worry about. Many other sandcastles lay between mine and the sea representing my parents, aunts, uncles and forefathers. As the years have passed the incoming tide of time has sadly claimed all these other sandcastles, as well as those of a few friends and colleagues who passed on well before their time. Now the incoming tide of time is nearly lapping around the base of my castle. I suppose I can achieve a degree of immortality by surrounding my little castle with a layer of concrete, but then I know the time will quickly come when my little castle is on its own in total isolation, and in a alien environment too, as everything around me changes against my wishes and beyond my control. All my friends and colleagues would have disappeared. Given the choice, I think I prefer allowing nature to take its natural course.

I suppose I like the rest of us have dwelt with thoughts from time to time, if we had out time all over again, would we choose to take different career paths and so on? For most it is probably circumstance that initially determines the paths we tread. Although I now like to think I have the confidence to succeed in anything I might have chosen to do, the truth is I neither had that confidence that comes with experience, or the money needed to follow many careers. If we could go back it time, would that also mean the hindsight we now have would also come with us to be our foresight for the future? Probably not. I would hate to have lived a life where my future was mapped out in advance, knowing what was to happen each day.

That is what I loved so much about the fire service. Like most of us, it trained us to give us the confidence we needed in ourselves to handle whatever scenario we were likely to face. It even gave us the confidence to deal with situations that no one could plan in advance for. We learnt to work and live with each other and with few exceptions, have respect for each other too. It was also the thought that each day we came to work, we could be dragged away from the more mundane routines at an instance notice to deal with the unexpected in a professional manner, and all in the public eye.

So would I have chosen a different path if circumstances allowed? Well that really is a impossible question to answer. What I do know is after all these years; I am more than well content and satisfied to have chosen the path I did. I am also more than pleased to have met all of you.

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