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Bill and George? Who?

Today should, by rights, be a good day for me to write an article.

Maybe words to titillate the senses; maybe to educate, entertain or inform? Or maybe an opportunity for me to be self-indulgent.

Why does today augur such good omens?

Well, for a start, it just happens to be the birthday of William Shakespeare, or so the historians think. The actual date of the bard’s birth is not recorded or documented, but his baptism was, and he was christened on 26th April 1564. It was normal to have baptisms three days after the birth, so I guess its a reasonable assumption.

Weirdly, William Shakespeare died on the 23rd April 1616. This is documented, so either way you look at it, this should be a good day for a struggling penman to bash out a few words.

Now, flashback to the early 1970s.

Confounding my father’s prediction that I would be an imbecile for the rest of my life, I did pass my eleven-plus exam, and made the cut to get into Grammar School.

A typical 11+ exam from 1968… Could a ten year old do these now?

English lessons with Mr Dobbins were dreary and dull, but at least he taught me the fundamentals of grammar, and spelling.

Even at that age, I was a voracious reader. My bedroom bookshelves housed the complete works of Issac Asimov (all read, I add), but I recall that I also dabbled with H G Wells, Jules Verne, E E “Doc” Smith and Arthur C Clarke.

Just one of the reasons why I love Science Fiction

However, nothing prepared me for the sheer, unadulterated hell of classes in English Literature.

Miss Briggs, my English Mistress, was a true hippie, complete with an Alice headband, long dresses and mauve tights. I think she knitted her own shoes.

But she was a nice soul, generous with her praise, and gentle with her frustrations at dealing with a totally disengaged class.

The english literature syllabus back then required that students were able to understand the context of the books studied, and could explain the use of metaphores, and allegories.

This meant that the works of the great writers were dismantled, sentence by sentence, line by line, chapter by chapter.

And then the probing questions and tests to establish our understanding…

“Mark, what did Shakespeare mean by his obscure use of the word and in this sentence.

After two years of dissecting Macbeth and Richard the Second, I was put off Shakespeare’s works completely,. So whilst I could (and still can) recite several speeches and soliluquies, I ended up leaving school with a deep seated loathing for Shakespeare, and a not much better opinion of the mediaeval writer Geoffrey Chaucer. Maybe this was a reaction against learning The Millers Tale and the Nun’s Priest’s Tale in Middle English.

What the hell were our educators thinking???? My old school friends, with whom I still meet regularly, all left school with the same feelings.

It was many years before I came into contact with the Bard again; I was in my mid twenties, and had joined my local drama group. After gaining confidence and appearing on stage in a lot of very minor bit parts, I was finally being offered more principle or leading roles.

One winter evening, I went to a meeting of the players, to discover that the next play we were producing would be A Midsummer Night Dream.

Would you like to see my Bottom?

My heart sank. Not Shakespeare…

Please…

However, I soon discovered that when read and performed as the great man intended it to be, it was truly joyous, and is a great piece of literature.

I have never managed to read any of his works as a book. I have watched and genuinely enjoyed some excellent performances of his work, so the cultural damage inflicted upon me as a kid have been repaired, but it has taken over four decades!

If they had required that I study Science Fiction, I would have probably passed my English Lit exam with an A+ rather than a C-.

The other thing of note about today’s date, is that it is Saint George’s Day.

Saint George on his charger…

For those that aren’t familiar with Saint George, let me briefly explain. St. George is the patron Saint of England. Not Britain. England.

The true history of St. George is lost in the mists of time, but he did exist. It appears from several accounts that he was a serving officer in the Roman army around 300AD. Legend has it that he killed a dragon that was slaughtering the residents of a local town. He was offered a monetary reward from the King, but refused to accept it, and donated it to the poor of the town.

This made him worthy of Sainthood.

There are accounts from 12th Century Genovese books that refer to Saint George’s colours being a red cross on a white background.

Other accounts tell of him fighting alongside the English Knights Templar during the crusades of the 12th Century.

In 1348 King Edward III of England incorporated the Cross of St. George into the English Royal Standard, and by the end of the 14th Century, St George was adopted as the Patron Saint of England, and the Protector of the Royal Family.

The English Royal Standard, circa 1348

It has been this way for centuries.

Now, the English seem to have a reputation as a self effacing race. We don’t normally go in for self agrandisement, prefering understatement to get by. That and the much publicised “Stiff Upper Lip”.

So, it’s our Patron Saint’s day today. We are in lockdown. So none of our pubs will be open for the discounted English Ale, cheap Cider, roast beef sandwiches and pork pies . There will be no give-away straw hats, or plastic flags. No Public Holiday.

But then, we don’t do that anyway.

Go Well…

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COVID 19 – Lockdown and Walking with Nature

I’m sitting here in the early evening enjoying my back garden, listening to the birds as I mull over this article. My terrace is bathed in warm, golden sunlight, as Sol starts to dip majestically behind the trees lining the nature reserve.

I am so very fortunate. I have managed to make the right decisions – either by luck, intuititon, or skill, that have resulted in me living in a beautiful part of the UK. Or it could be SWMBO’s excellent judgement.

I don’t question SWMBO’s judgement – she is, after all, with me, so her decision making and judgement skills are refined.

I live in Hampshire which, like most of the UK, has a timeline of civilisation that extends 14,000 years into the past.

Roman Emperor Claudius invaded Britain in AD 43 and shortly thereafter (in the larger scale of things), Winchester became the County Town of Hampshire.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the British concept of county towns – a county town was the ancient equivalent of of a capital city, but at county level. Traditionally, a county town is the most important or significant town in a county.

Winchester is not only the county town of Hampshire, but also a city in the truest sense of the definition.

In the UK, most people use the term “city” to describe any large town, but the status of a city was traditionally only given to towns that had a Cathedral – King Henry the Eighth establishing the first ones during his reign. To this day, the UK’s monarch has to grant city status to any town.

Winchester cathedral was consecrated in 1093, and is a wonderful old building, which seems to have history seeping out of its walls and emanating from its very fabric.

The opulence of Winchester Cathedral

Winchester is about 24 miles west of where I live. It is a beautiful old city. It is where the ancient English King, Alfred had his royal seat.

King Alfred the Great – Still watching for marauding Vikings…

The old part of the city, in which the ancient cathedral sits, is a maze of tiny cobbled streets and lanes.

Winchester City centre. Disney or Universal take note…

I digress.

The area in which I live is also historic. There has been a human settlement here at least since the 14th Century; the Roman army crossed the River Wey at Lindford, about 1 mile away, whilst en-route to battle in the west of the county in the early part of the the last millenium. The crossing over the local stream has been here since 1350, but the current bridge was refurbished in 2008.

So, we are in Lockdown.

According to Her Majesty’s Government (HMG), we are allowed to exercise once a day. So, this last Sunday, SWMBO and I decided that we would partake of some gentle exercise in the form a walk through the Deadwater Valley Nature Reserve.

It was a beautiful afternoon, with a light zephyr tousling the crowns of the trees as we left the house. A six minute walk up the hill took us to the entrance of the nature trail.

The trail is cool, the smell of damp sphagnum moss mixed with that wonderful, rich, loamy, peaty aroma. The sunlight pierced the canopy with spears of golden light, impaling the shy bluebells and forget-me-nots hiding on the floor of the woods.

Quiet – and with no risk of bears or vampires…

We continue wandering, sowly, drinking in the scents of the woodland. The information board informs me that this is a home to Stag Beetles, Slow Worms, Sparrowhawks, Red Admiral butterflies, Nuthatches and Goldfinches – together with the occassional Roe or Muncjac deer.

We plod on, hand in hand, humbled by the sheer abundance of plants, insects and wildlife.

The Deadwater Sream, slowly meandering its way towards the River Wey…

We see few people on the trail; those that we do are keen to ensure that we all comply with the two metre separation. Sometimes, we yield to walkers coming towards us, standing in the undergrowth so tha they may pass. Natural selection seems to ensure that next time we meet fellow walkers, they hold back for us to pass.

However, the social niceties are maintained, with many “good afternoons”. “please”, “thank you” and “have a good one” as we contine our walk.

The trail isn’t crowded by any means; we are in solitude for most of it – just us, walking, talking, laughing. Soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying nature.

Bluebells carpet the walk – just about everywhere. I love Spring – my favorite season

We continued on, walking generally north until we reached the exit point, where the new housing estate starts.

Not wanting to just return on the same route, we decide to wander through the small town suburbia and re-enter the reserve a little further down.

It’s a relief to leave the road once more, lined as it is, with high density housing, and populated with bus stops, garage blocks and parking bays.

We re-enter the reserve, skirting the sticky muddy morass near the stile, and test the waterproof capabilities of our footwear as we stride on through the silty puddles that surround the more glutinous mud.

Looking at the tracks in the earth, I immediately deduce that the trail is used by mountain bikers, hikers, walkers, children and dogs.

Eat your heart out Sherlock Holmes. Go back to your flat Hercule Poirot.

Whilst the nature reserve isn’t large, we have never visited before, so I was happy that I had a fully paid up account with the Ordnance Survey, and had access to excellent charts.

Using the app, we quickly planned how we would return to the end of the park nearest our home.

Our route back took us past a picturesque pond, which, according to the information board, was home to Toads, Frogs, Herons and Dragonflies.

The pond, basking in the sunshine, as it has done for over 100 years.

Sadly, we didn’t see any of them, but it has given me an excuse to come back again to check it out more regularly.

I would not necessarily have discovered this wonderful place if I hadn’t been on lockdown – so something good has come about as a result of COVID19.

My day today has been filled with catching up on various tasks around the house, so maybe tomorrow I will dig my bike out, and go and explore in a bit more detail.

A great way to do an hours exercise without having to go to the gym, which I find abhorrent at the best of times.

Go Well…

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Coronavirus – The Catalyst for Global Change?

Unless you have been living on the Cook Islands for the last few months, you will have heard of Corona Virus, now known as COVID 19.

The virus is officially a global pandemic, and is now rampaging across every continent, leaving a trail of dead.

Here in the United Kingdom, we are in a state of national emergency, and state-sanctioned lockdown is in effect, with only absolutley essential journeys authorised. All retail shops except those selling essential supplies such as food, maedicines and perhaps bizzarely, alcohol are closed.

The London Underground has shut stations across its network, and passengers figures are plummeting.

Stations shut as a result of Coronavirus

Working at home has been the norm for many workers. As a result, the economy is in freefall, with the retail and hospitality sectors being worst hit. Clubs, pubs, cinemas, churches, sports centres, museums and public buildings are now all closed for the immediate future.

The aviation and maritime sectors have been quick to feel the impact of travel restrictions, and many airports are struggling as flights have become virtually non-existent, passenger traffic stagnated, and many airlines now trying to mitigate their losses by flying freight.

Flight Radar 24 – Screenshot showing flights in South East England. This was taken mid morning on the 13th April 2020. This airspace would normally be teeming with traffic, given that this is a Public Holiday in the UK.

Whilst the global shutdown is severely damaging both our manufacturing and financial economies, we are reaping some form of benefit; pollution levels have dropped across the planet, and air quality is improving.

Imagery from the Copernicus Programme’s Sentinel 5P satellite. The left hand image shows Nitrous Oxide pollution over France and Italy. Darker Red is higher levels of pollution. The right hand image shows how the levels and extent have reduced throughout the month of March 2020

It’s not just transport that contributes to atmospheric pollution – industrial and manufacturing activities have fallen across the UK and Europe as countries shutdown their economies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

This shows that it is possible to stop climate change, but the societal costs are far too high to make this acceptable.

I do believe that when the virus is contained or burnt out, we will emerge from lockdown and social distancing as a changed society.

So, what may happen?

Many firms that up until recently were resistant to their employees working remotely will have seen that some of their “trust issues” have been proved to be unfounded and that staff have been as productive, if not more productive that when working at the office.

Bearing in mind the cost of office space, many companies may find the savings realised by using smaller premises make remote working desirable.

After a major pandemic such as this one, people may be far more cautious about personal hygeine, and become much more concerned to see that public areas are properly sanitised. This could have an effect on the practice of hot desking at work.

The travelling public will probably also need to see evidence that public transport is cleaned and sanitised far more regulalrly and effectively than currently.

The lack of public trust in the health security of public transport could trigger more car use, as people seek to protect themselves with more regularised self isolating. Even car sharing could become less popular as people choose not ot sit in close proximity with another individual on their commute.

Who can really say?

If thousands more people take up remote working, there may well be more economic pain ahead for public transport operators.

Railway and air journeys that used to be undertaken for business meetings may well now be conducted using video conferencing using internet platforms such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

Will our current level of communications network provision be sufficient to accommodate this?

Individuals that were reluctant to order shopping on-line, or use home delivery services prior to COVID 19 have now been using them out of necessity, and many of these people will now be sold on the advantages, leading to further decline of England’s high streets.

Individuals that were previously regular patrons of theatre and cinema will have become adept at streaming movies and watching “live” performances from the comfort of their own homes, using YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The question is – will they return to the cinemas and thatres with quite the same degree of regularity as they did before?

It seems that the mainstream media have been focusing on the leisure and retail industries and whilst they do report on the struggle for our manufacturing industries, they do not highlight the underlying problems.

In the UK there is evidence that our contingency planning for a “Hard Brexit” triggered our government to closely examine our logisitcal supply chains with the involvement of the retail and distirbution industries, and this has surely helped ensure that truly essential items remained on the supermarket shelves, despite the media-induced panic buying.

The other aspect to this is the lack of resilience that our manufacturers have against supply chain failures.

Whilst numerous products are proudly made here in the UK, few are totally built here. Huge numbers of manufacturers import sub-assemblies, parts and components from overseas which are used to build their product.

The world’s biggest exporter, China, is, to all intents and purposes, the birthplace of COVID19, and also its primary exporter. The subsequent lockdown of the Chinese economy led to an abundance of British manufacturers struggling to obtain the raw materials, parts, components and sub-components needed to build and sell their own products..

This may result in a baseline realignment of our logisitical networks, and maybe re-initiate inward investment.

Who knows, we may see a slow transformation back into a manufacturing economy again.

This is a bit of a mixed bag then; at more localised levels the possible resulting drop in bus and train usage could lead to more cars on the road, each contributing to climate change. On the other hand, more people at home reduces traffic of any kind on the roads.

There are so many possible futures that could result from the aftermath of CV19, which only action at government level can establish.

This could be a great opportunity for each state to re-evaluate its’s strategies for handling pandemics, and may trigger new systems to increase the robustness of manufacturing bases.

Who knows, it may even give us the required impetus to design an improved model for society that will offer progress on controlling our nemesis of irreversible climate change.

Go Well…

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Abandoned – and on the Verge of Falling Apart…

On December the second last year, I left home to endure my pre dawn commute. Driving down the lane, I noticed a black Mini car parked on the grass verge outside my neighbours’ house. As I passed it, I could see that it wasn’t in bad condition, and assumed that it belonged to a visitor.

Thinking about this later, I realised that if it were one of Jim’s visitors, then they would have parked in his large forecourt, off the road, rather than untidily parked on the grass.

I continued to wonder what the true situation was, and made a mental note to chat with Jim at the weekend.

Happily, and by coincidence, my Brother and Sister in law (of Tread the Globe fame) visited during the week, and Chris wanted to test fly his new drone, in preparation of it being used on their epic Round the World journey. During his test flights, he captured a nice image of the car parked in the lane, and that photo, shown below, was dated 5th December 2019.

The Mini Car parked on the grass – Drone photo courtesy of Chris Fisher of Tread the Globe

On Saturday morning, I spotted Jim, my neighbour, so wandered down to have a chat to him.

I asked him about the Mini car, and he told me that it was abandoned, and that he had checked with DVLA and the vehicle was untaxed, and he therefore assumed that it had been either abandoned or stolen. He had called the local council, and had reported this so that they could organise for it to be collected and disposed of.

To date the vehicle is still sitting there on the grass, and as each week passes it is subjected to further vandalism and damage; both door mirrors smashed off, and the rear wiper ripped away. It now looks very sad, and is slowly decomposing in the wind and rain.

Abandoned and un-loved. Wing Mirrors smashed, and under threat of further vandalism

Abandoned vehicles are a much bigger problem than I had imagined.

It appears that UK Councils spent almost a million pounds to remove the 32,000 abandoned vehicles from Britain’s highways and byways in the 2016/2017 fiscal year.

It’s alarming to find that there has been a 577% increase in the dumping of cars and vans in a four year period (2012-201).

A Freedom of Information request lodged with Britain’s 436 local authorities revealed that across the nation, 31,812 vehicles were removed and disposed of.

It is a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Refuse Disposal (Amenities) Act of 1978 to abandon a vehicle, and carries a maximum penalty of £2,500 and/or three months imprisonment.

This doesn’t seem to deter people from dumping, and the revenues raised from fines levied (when the owners may be traced) amount to £115,610 – which comes nowhere near the costs.

The authorities costs may be even higher if the abandoned car needs to be scrapped, and the shortfall in funds have to be recovered from local residents from taxation.

It seems that the highest number of reported and removed vehicles are in the South East, probably because this region is densely populated with both people and cars.

Motor insurance comparison website, Confused.com conducted some research, and this seems to suggest that the high costs associated with recovering and repairing a car have become unaffordable for some, with 23% of respondents claiming that this is the reason for dumping a vehicle. 30% of respondents dumped their car because it had broken down, and they could not afford to have it towed to a garage for repair.

7% said that they could no longer afford to run a vehicle at all.

The statistics also seem to suggest that 16% of drives who abandoned their cars did so for an average of three weeks, which suggests that these drivers are basically honest, and returned to recover the car when they could afford to do so.

Naturally there are a percentage of drivers who dump their cars because they can’t afford to pay the VED, or the insurance, and a small percentage who have stolen a car to get somewhere, and dump it when they have finished using it.

Some abandoned cars may have been used to commit crimes, and these too will be dumped at tax payers expense.

But back to my situation

It is now 28th February. 88 days since Jim reported the Mini outside his house.

I wonder how long it will take the local authority come out and move it?

Answers on a postcard…

UPDATED 02 MARCH 2020

I spotted this sign during a trip to some of the local shops…

I dont know whether to laugh or cry… Or maybe cry with laughter!

A bit of an empty threat really. They havent been able to remove an untaxed, probably uninsured vandalised vehicle from the lane in which I live after more than ninety days, so signs threatening removal after 48 hours seem somewhat ambitious.

Go Well…