January 2016

Happy New Year 02As we venture into the new year ahead of us, many of us will already be making plans for holidays escapes, family events and so on. It is also the time of the year when I try to look ahead at how forthcoming situations are likely to develop.



Well the last year certainly saw a major sea change in the face of British politics following the General Election. As I predicted, the Lib/Dem Party suffered badly at the hands of the electorate, even in some of their previous stronghold seats. Labour fared better but were completely routed in Scotland following the expected surge in support for the Scottish National Party (SNP). This now only leaves the three traditional parties with one seat each in Scotland. Despite showing strong backing in the ballot box, UKIP, failed to translate this into sufficient votes to gain seats except one they held due to the local popularity of the sitting MP. All of this, particularly the collapse of Labour seats in Scotland, enabled  the Tories to hold onto power but with only a slender majority. Due to the changed face of the House of Commons, it is likely the year ahead will contain much wrangling about Scotland which already has it’s own separate Parliament, also being able to vote on matters concerning England alone via its Scottish MP’s, while English MP’s are unable to vote on Scottish matters.

The thorny question of the much promised European Referendum will also take increasingly prominence as the year wears on. Proposed reform of the EU will be under discussion during the year particularly the question of benefit payments to migrants. This is likely to require a treaty change by all 28 member states of the EU, but already some of the more poorer member states have indicated they are unlikely to agree to this.Getting the required unanimous consent for such a change may well prove impossible. All of this means the Prime Minister will quickly run out of time for manoeuvring room on the referendum and if he does not call the referendum this year, then he will be forced to do so in 2017 when more favourable conditions for a Yes vote from his point of view may have substantially changed.


The past year has seen a groundswell of migrants both refugees and economic flooding into Europe. As refugees are supposed to be settled in the first non-war torn country they reach, it is debatable whether all refugees into Northern Europe are economic migrants or not. Whatever the nuances of classification may be, the impact of mass migration is a reality. Some countries have flung their doors wide open to migrants but after an estimated one million of more migrants have already entered Germany alone. there are signs of increasing polarization in some communities where internal tensions and friction have arisen. There are also signs that European politicians are now trying to limit even more migrant arrivals in the forthcoming year by persuading mainly more Eastern European countries to take a greater share of them, but is likely there will be resistance on this issue. If European countries do not succeed on the reallocation of migrants, it is possible even more internal tensions are unfortunately likely to arise.Whatever a individuals thoughts are on this matter, the reality is the floodgates to this human tide have now been well and truly opened and it may prove impossible to close them again.

Fishing for Bass is now illegal.

According to some newspaper reports, the 1st January was the day  when it became illegal for fishermen to fish for Bass, even when using one rod and line from the beach. These restrictions will last up until June after which time the rules will be relaxed to allow fishermen to catch one bass only.  Apparently this directive already branded by some as absurd, came unannounced from the EU and few in the UK Government seem to know anything about it. The questionability of this new non-Parliamentary law is further highlighted by those that claim there no shortage of bass and off-shore trawlers predominantly French and Spanish will still be allowed to catch up to 1.3 tonnes of bass per month. The logic behind what amounts to a diktat is as yet still unclear.Although this directive is but a small example of the EU law making process, assuming process is the right word,  it does highlight the dangers of the UK having relinquished it’s sovereign powers to a non-elected body that may not always appear to have the UK’s interests at heart. Roll on the referendum. My guess is I would be surprised if any beach angler were prosecuted over this issue.


The run up to Christmas and beyond saw the northwest of England continually pounded by exceedingly above average rainfall. Subsequent heavy storms have also been experienced in areas of the northeast like the historic city of York, and southwest Scotland causing severe flooding in all these areas .Although York does have good flood defences apparently the defences that protect the flood gates that oversees this flood catchment area are not as robust. Consequently it is claimed that Environmental Agency officials opened the flood gates to protect the flood gate mechanism but in so doing, allowed the city to flood. If true, many might find this sort of logic a bit hard to swallow.

I live close to the Somerset Levels which experienced similar problems two years ago and know what may look like statistics on a piece of paper, actually translates into many months of misery and hardship for both residents and businesses alike. Homes need to be vacated for remedial  repair work. while the residents live in temporary and often inconvenient accommodation.

I suspect when the dust settles, or perhaps a better euphemism would be when the floods recede, there will be some sort of enquiry into the whole issue of flooding. Perhaps a token head may roll here and there with promises made for the future. but until something is actually done, which usually costs money, chance flooding is likely to continue.

The Great Storm of 1703

Storm CloudsLiving in Somerset makes one acutely aware of not only how extensive the flooding in the county is, particularly around the Somerset Levels, but also of the extraordinary duration of the flooding. It was on Christmas Eve 2013 that the area experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall when the flooding commenced and now, six weeks later little has changed in this aquatic landscape, leaving one with a literal sinking feeling the Somerset Levels are becoming tiny semi-permanent atolls of habitation. It is little wonder that Alfred the Great chose this area as a safe and impenetrable retreat to initial flee from and then fight the Viking invaders.

At long last following tremendous pressure  from the triple verbal onslaught of local Members of Parliament, farmers and residents, the Government has agreed that finally local rivers will be dredged to alleviate future flooding, the very point that locals have been campaigning to achieve for years. The problem is that dredging operations cannot take place until the riverbanks are dry and firm enough to safely support the weight of dredging equipment. With a seemingly constant bombardment of storms rolling off the Atlantic Ocean, one cannot help but wonder if that may be some time away and will the Levels remain under water for months to come?

The prolonged flooding and storms triggered a distant historical memory of a natural disaster now known as the Great Storm of 1703 which befell the UK. The storm produced a exceptionally low atmospheric centre with observers noting readings of only 973 millibars but it is thought that atmospheric pressure may have fallen as low as 950 millibars over the centre of the country.

Thanks the inspiration of the author Daniel Defoe, he advertised nationally for people to write to him with their personal accounts of the storm. It was the first time such a national reckoning of a disaster event and it’s aftermath had been accurately recorded. The thousands of letters he received led Defoe to write his renown book “The Storm”. It was calculated that between 8,000 and 15,000 lives were lost overall. The West Country of England was badly effected particularly around Bristol. Hundreds of people died on the Somerset Levels, the very area which is flooded today, along with thousands of sheep and cattle. The ferocity of the storm was so great that one ship was found 15 miles inland. Across the country storm damage was extensive with over 2,000 massive chimney stacks blown down and over 400 windmills destroyed. Many vessels were lost at sea.

Clearly natural disasters are nothing new, some like volcanic eruptions or earthquakes are difficult to take advance preventative measures against, but effective advance planning can help reduce the loss of life, damage to property, livelihoods and transport.. One hopes that the preventative measures promised for the Somerset Levels are not a one-off operation but part of a sustained effort for the future. Perhaps Somerset’s global mini-disaster will prove to be something of a wake-up call that maintenance in all its forms is something that cannot be neglected in the future.

January 2013

I suppose as a new year dawns upon us, many may wonder what the next twelve months hold in store. It will come as no surprise to most sane people, particularly as we are still here, that the end of the world did not occur on 21st December despite predictions of doom mongers about the Mayan calendar. I have lost count of how many such false predictions I have heard during my lifetime. I sometimes feel sorry for those who follow such false prophets and have sold everything only to learn the obvious truth the following day.

The weather is likely to be a common theme having started the previous year with dire predictions of drought only to exit the year with one of the wettest on record. Scenes of flooding once a random event have now become a daily news event. I do feel sorry for those whose homes are affected, some on more than one occasion. The personal trauma of such events can be long lasting. I have read of one public house landlord who was flooded twelve time in twelve weeks and has now reached the point where he can no longer continue business.

Some people seem to think insurance is the answer but I can also understand the alternate point of view of the insurance companies. The companies are private businesses and no business is going to accept what is in effect, a guaranteed loss making bet. Certainly a drastic rethink on where to build new homes needs to take place. Seeing pictures of some of the newer properties that have flooded, it does make one wonder what flood prevention planning goes into these developments. If there is a unforeseen natural route for water to take, Mother Nature will certainly find it.

The Government is on the verge of breaking the long held policy of not building new homes on farmland and open countryside. Some cite the logic that it is the only way to meet the housing shortage. Apart from the terrible effect of forever destroying more of our scarce countryside, I believe the logic is flawed. It has long been established that building new roads quickly attracts even more traffic. Likewise ever building more and more new homes is likely to attract more and more people who in turn will require even more homes.

Being born immediately after the war, I was one of that initial surge of post-war baby boomers. It also means I am now edging towards mankind’s proverbial three score years and ten. I think for all that time, I have heard politicians from all political parties promising jam tomorrow in return for hard work today. I am still waiting for tomorrow to arrive. I was not born a cynic, but a combination of life’s hard knocks and eternal vacuous political promises makes me look any politician hard in the eye and seriously question them.

Personally I cannot help but feel there is now no political party that is fit for purpose although I do believe there are good people in the main political parties being held back by what has now become the old guard. A sort of dead-man’s shoes barrier. There is no doubt in my mind that many professional politicians not only in the UK but throughout the world are so cosseted and isolated from the realities of life, they quickly forget about real people and their very real problems as they play their political games. For many it is a reassuring comfortable well paid job for life regardless of whether they are in power or in opposition.

Europe is a good case in point. Starting out as a promise of a golden economic market place for all its members, which I and most people supported. It quickly degenerated into a power struggle as European politicians strive to create in effect, a United States of Europe despite denials. Something which people in most countries in Europe have not been allowed to vote on by fearful politicians waving their magic wands, to ensure this massive populace never gets the chance to decide their own futures on the way the EU is developing.

Instead of the short lived economic miracle, all that can be heard is various European governments preaching a daily diatribe of real austerity. I can only translate this once again as the eternal jam tomorrow promise. It should be clear to everyone except blinkered politicians, that situations like this cannot continue without real social damage and there is a real danger just like the Arab Spring, people will collectively say enough is enough with pursuant social unrest. Something I would not like to see but the potential of which I can see in the making.

This year will also see the mid-term point for what I believe is an exceptionally weak coalition government. In some ways, the halfway point of  a governments life is not dissimilar to the mid-life crisis some people experience. It is the point where realisation sets in that not only is the clock still ticking, but also that each swing of the pendulum is bringing the end of its life ever closer. That realisation is usually followed by greater awareness of how unpopular a government may be, often followed by an ever growing panic they may not get elected next time. I suspect there are those in the government who will become ever more fearful they will not get re-elected at all, forever losing all trappings of power and influence they may have once held. It is at such times cracks in the thin veneer of unity can no longer be papered over. I would not at all be surprised to see such divisions in the Government during the forthcoming year.

Immigration also has the potential to become something of a powder keg in the next twelve months.  2013 sees the lifting of settlement restrictions placed on some of  Europe’s newer and poorer member states come to an end. This means there will be millions of more people free to travel and settle wherever they like within Europe. No doubt with its generous welfare provisions, many people will be attracted to the UK. The question is whether the UK can absorb the influx of even greater numbers?

I abhor those those try to make race, religion or ethnicity an issue, but I think there is a case for questioning the affordability of large numbers of potential immigrants. A sudden influx of large numbers undoubtedly causes problems for housing, schooling, health care and so on. It could be like having someone knock on your front door asking for help and no matter how charitable you are, it’s seeing the queue stretching down your garden path and out of sight down the road makes one realise the potential enormity of the problem. This problem may not materialise but on the other hand it may. What then? I certainly do not have the answer but then I did not create the problem. The only people with answers are the politicians who created the problem in the first place. As we know, the only answer they ever have is jam tomorrow.

I for one would never pretend to forecast what the next twelve months will hold but I think some of what I have mentioned will be issues we will be hearing a lot more about.

May 2012

Traditionally the first of May is considered the first day of early summer. It is also considered the ‘”workers day” when many trade unions and other labour organisations around the world hold rallies and the like. Although a beautiful sunny day at the moment, my own particular world has drastically shrunken on a temporary basis due to lashing rain and howling winds lasting for two days. The consequence of this wet and windy display of natures tempest is the roads to my village are now under water from the adjacent River Yeo overflowing, thereby effectively cutting us off from civilisation. If I followed the same stance of a now famous and arrogant newspaper headline in the 1950’s which reported thick fog closed of cross channel ferries, leaving Europe cut off from Britain. I should have perhaps said the world is cut off from my village.

The local river overflowing is not however an unusual occurrence, it is something that frequently happens after prolonged rainfall causes the river to swell. The lane leading to my village is narrow with several sharp and blind bends. There is also a long dip in the lane on one of the bends where the flooding occurs. The local council once erected a depth gauge on the grass verge to assist motorists in judging the depth of the water, unfortunately the depth indicator is barely visible due to overgrown foliage and due to the bend in the lane, motorist needs to be in the deepest part of the flooded roadway before they can see it. It always reminds me of the cartoon of the sign saying danger quicksand that cannot be read until a person is already sinking in a quicksand pit.

A friend of mine long since gone told me when she was a small girl many years ago, her father who lived in a different unnamed village, would allegedly send one of her small brothers with a wooden box to a similar flooded roadway, who would then stand on the submerged box at the roadside waiting for an uninformed driver to come along. The driver on trying to decide the depth of the water would see a small boy in wellington boots with water lapping round his ankles. Having made a judgement it was safe to proceed the driver would soon find themself stranded at which time the boy would run home to inform his father of the stranded vehicle. His father would then tow the car out of the flood using his tractor for a five pound fee. I have no idea if this was a tall yarn or not but I did find it amusing at the time.

Since Roman times, local farmers relied on the river flooding as a method of fertilising their fields from deposited silt enriching their fields. Somerset is well known for the Somerset Levels, an area of land that flooded in the winter months leaving locations like Glastonbury magically arising from the waters. Hence the name “Isle” in the Isle of Avalon where Glastonbury stands. Somerset also takes its name from the lands governed from Somerton, the local ancient town which lays claim to be the one time capitol of Wessex. Somerton in turn takes it name from the Summer Lands which is how Somerset was once described.

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