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on freedom of speech part two


I dashed off a rant the other day on this topic. Naughty because I try not to do that sort of thing, but I was incensed and that is an especially bad time to launch into print. I will try to be a bit more considered here.

The issue with Piers Morgan worries me considerably in terms of our society because it seems that there is a view that one person can give a TV interview and say what they like, but another person commenting on that issue gets shouted down. Why is one allowed to speak freely and another not? That has to be wrong.

Over the last few days there has been a move by the Left to persuade advertisers to shun the new UK TV news channel because it styles itself as right of centre. Personally I had not intended to watch it of a regular basis, but I am temped to watch it daily now and to shun any company that pulls its advertising. Censorship is not acceptable to me.

I have moved around to political spectrum over the years. I leaned a bit left in my younger days before drifting into the centre. Yes, I have some views that will seem extreme and used to joke about being turned down by a South American Junta for being too right wing, but, for example, I did not support the abolition of capital punishment back in the 1960s and am still opposed to those that support its exclusion from the options available to our courts. If that makes me a right wing extremist in your eyes then so be it. I am entitled to a view.

One of the things that we did not have in my youth was social media and so to express a view you needed an audience in person. One of my delights was Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park where there were all sorts that you could listen to. Not all were good orators, but some, like Donald Soper, were very good and, even if I did not agree with the views that they were expressing, there was a joy in listening and an opportunity to consider what they said. To think critically about what was said, weigh up the various points and form my own opinion was a big part of my teenage education.

Heckling was part of public speaking and a good heckler versus a good speaker was another part of the free entertainment as was the ability of a good speaker to deal with a moronic heckler. Indeed many of the crowds would turn on the latter, something that you rarely see in the social media echo chambers of today. In any case heckling is a dead art now as political events and conferences eject anyone not espousing the common view. Another loss of the freedom to speak.

We are in danger of becoming intellectually sterile and that is not good for society. There should be open debate and an acceptance that, through constructive argument, alternative views can be weighed. Freedom of speech is also about the freedom to think, but it is also about freedom itself. Let us not lose it.

the lockdown log 63


The lunch outing was a success, despite driving for over an hour to get there, but after some good food we had a slow meander back via Waitrose and Abingdon and Aldi at Farringdon. Around Reading and the village where we ate it was wet and horrible, but within about ten miles coming home we were into sunshine and a very pleasant drive.

I am slowly getting some focus back into the garden projects and because that progress is visible it is generating some motivation. Much of what I am doing are things that I dislike such as painting (and the preparation for painting), but I am moving again and that is good.

There have been a lot of distractions; silly things going wrong prominent amongst them and new jobs coming into the schedule that I had no expectations of having to do. Life is like that though and you just have to get on with it.

Paid work plods on regardless and I seem to have no issues with that. I can turn up, do my stuff and come home and I am grateful for that. I have no recollection of a time where I had a problem with a job and although there have been times when I have not especially enjoyed a piece of work or a time at work, I have not lacked motivation to do it. The fact that I am still working getting on for aged 70 perhaps bears that out.

Technology has been one of the distractions for me and I am still using an old desktop for these blogs as my laptop will not display the blog properly at the moment and I am too reluctant to invest time working out why. This is a Windows 10 machine and works slightly differently to the MacBook. It is also an American device and I realised the other day that it was using American English not UK English. I have changed the settings, but it is still trying to Americanise my spelling, so apologies if you have found some strange words recently. This PC uses a grey fond on a white background and, in certain lights, I can’t be relied on to spot when it has corrected me.

That’s it for this week. Sorry it is a short one, but time is pressing and I need to go and cook a couple of Brill fillets, along with some veg, for dinner.

Stay safe wherever you are.

on taking a knee


I do not care whether the England football team take a knee before their games or not and nor do I care whether people applaud them or boo. I understood that I grew up in a country in which freedom of speech was a given and so my feeling is that if they want to do it then it is up to them.

Having read the logic behind their action and heard their manager explain it I think that they are being incredibly naïve to say that it has nothing to do with the BLM movement. The swastika is a symbol of good fortune in many parts of Asia, but it was appropriated by the Nazis and is still vilified in most of the countries that fought that regime and so if I were to plaster my car with that symbol how far do you think that I would get with the argument that I was not promoting Nazism?

Perhaps their stand (no pun intended) will at least keep some debate going on the subject of racism, but I fear that all it will do is to create further polarisation. Sadly that is a cause and consequence of the Woke generation. The whole concept is to polarise; you are with us or against us with no middle ground, no attempt at informed debate, just “We’re right and if you don’t agree, you’re wrong.”

For professional footballers I think that they are missing a very fundamental point. Football, like most sport, is about tribalism. You support your tribe (team) and hurl abuse at the other lot. It wasn’t always like that; there was a time when it was all a lot more relaxed, but money has swept through the game and there are fortunes to be made from tribalism; selling apparel, kit and memorabilia well to the fore. Hurling insults at the opposition is part and parcel of the game and if you can get under the skin of a player on the opposing side and put them off then so much the better.

We are talking about human nature here, even if it is a side that we would rather suppress. I remember my first encounters with professional wrestling back in the 1960s when middle aged women, including my mother, a God-fearing Christian, would be whipped into partisan frenzy. Civilisation is a thin veneer at times and yes, latching on to a physical characteristic; heigh, weight, hair or skin colour included, is a way of targeting your abuse. Yes, that is bullying, or one form of it, but it is encouraged in sports because there are some who are making shedloads of cash from it and that includes the players.

I don’t doubt that the players are sincere, but if racial abuse is a form of bullying so is the premise that everyone else should back them. It is very unlikely that I will be at any of the England games in the foreseeable future, but if I was I would neither boo nor applaud them taking a knee. I don’t agree with them, but it is their choice and they are entitled to make it. I will make mine too and I hope that they are man enough to respect that too.

Just because I don’t support their way of going about it does not mean that I do not agree with their aim, so do not alienate my support simply because I choose a different path to the same end.

the lockdown log 62


It has been another week that has just flown by and it hardly seems possible that it is Thursday again, but the date at the top of the newspaper is about the only thing left in the media that I believe at face value so it must be true.

Life with my fox family continues and every time that I think that I have built a decent defence they find a way around it. We seem to have lost one of the quartet, but I still see the other three youngsters on a regular basis and mum occasionally. The latter’s continuing presence comes more in the regular stashes of dead pigeon that she leaves for the kids and now that I have so many of the old locations covered up she just leaves them on the lawn.

My daily regime with these visitors is to go around with a black bag and my picker-upper and clear food debris and rubbish that they have left around (they love toys and steal dog’s balls, squeaky toys and such from other gardens) and the go around and hose off the mess that comes from the other end of the animals. They have no sense of potty training and barely break stride to leave ley another deposit, often right outside the back door. This takes me about 30 minutes and is getting boring.

All of my neighbours have turned their front and back gardens over to patios, astroturf, gravel or similar and ours is the only one with flower beds and tubs so the foxes, whilst living under sheds in neighbouring gardens, get to dig in ours.

aAnt over and on to other topics. My garden labours have slowed a little because I am waiting for one of my neighbour to replace the shared fence. He said that this would be done by the end of May, but as yet there is no sign of action and I can’t do some of the things that I want to do until he sorts it out. I have managed to cut away the rotten sections of my old deck and replace them so that is another job crossed off the list.

I have, to some degree, lost my motivation for getting the garden done and I think that the fox problem may be at the heart of that, but I’ll not go back to them right now. I do need to find something that will get me going again though.

Tomorrow might be a good point in that we are going out to lunch for the first time since way before lockdown. In fact the last time that we ate out was probably in Florida in October 2018, so hopefully it will be a treat. We are going to a restaurant in the hinterland north of Reading which we have been to a few times before, The Berkshire Belle is doing her usual “I don’t want to go” thing, but that is just her and I am used to it now.

It will not be a lunch that is in any way slimming and I have been trying to cut down this week to allow a bit of a blow out. My greenhouse activities have provided various lettuce and cress to bulk out my wraps and sandwiches and I have, this week, had my first salad for lunch. The end of June will be one year since I started my diet and whilst I have slipped somewhat over the last 6 months I am going to have a weigh in at the end of the month just to see what the damage is and maybe that will help to re-focus me.

Stay safe out there wherever you are.

the lockdown log 61


I have had a week off and, most days, have been working on various projects. Some of that seems to have told on me physically as I have a lot of muscular pain around the right side of my rib cage that may be due to lots of sawing amongst other things.

The weather has still not been too kind and that has curtailed things a little, but I have invested in a cordless circular saw and so that means that I do not have to run a power cable around from the garage to the back garden for many of the jobs I have on the list. On days with random showers it is a nightmare having to keep reeling it in.

The foxes are starting to roam and seem to spend the odd night on the loose, but were back the other nights and had their most destructive session yet. It is heartbreaking to see so much laid to waste. This morning I found a dead fox, probably from last year, when lifting a couple of rotting deck boards so had to dispose of that and one, or more, of the current crop is a bit loose in the bowel regions and I also had a lot of hosing down to do. All good fun (not).

It has seemed strange not going into work, but I am still getting up at 5 am as normal and have been out in the garden working on the quiet jobs most days by 7. Two door down are having an extension built and so as soon as their crew start work I get my power tools out and join in with the cacophony. I am into some of the more complex jobs at the moment and so there is the mental challenge of working out how best to do things and, sometimes, getting it right first go. There is the usual problem of nothing being the same level, length or square, but it all keeps me amused.

I have finally taken the plunge and planted out my hanging baskets, That has given me some space in the greenhouse which is welcome and I am trying to pot up some of the seedling that I first put in there a couple of months ago. I have been a bit lax in keeping notes on what I have done and when so I may have to rely on memory if I do it again next year.

For over a week now I have avoided the scales. Naughty, but mentally I have not been too good and have not wanted to know in case the news is not good. As I have said here throughout these scribblings I like the ostrich principle and work on the basis that what I don’t know will not bother me. I apply this to much of the news too, but the Berkshire Belle is an avid reader and only has me to share with so I get it all pored over me on a daily basis. I act like a sponge and soak it up because she needs to vent her feelings, but often knowing things that I have been avoiding drags my mental state down. One day this week I just had to tell her that I didn’t want to talk about a certain subject and I left the room; I could not take it.

Today we were going to go to a craft fair and have a rare day out, but we bottled it and stayed at home. It is odd, but our reasons were slightly different; she loathes all of the Covid regulation, even though she knows that it is sensible. Things like one way systems, mask wearing, having your temperature taken and so on take all of her pleasure away whereas I accept all of that stoically. My reason for backing out of today was that there had been more overnight rain locally and the thought of trekking through wet grass plus the risk of getting stuck where other idiots who cannot drive on such surfaces without chewing them up would make life difficult for us all.

Little things tend to become big things and this week I ended up with so many things that required a trip into town that I finally took the plunge and did it. It took up an afternoon, but, despite my fears, all of my errands were completed. I find that there are so many things that, these days, I tend to put off whereas a few years back I took on all comers with little bother. I have flown into countries like Columbia, Libya and China to work without batting an eyelid and let a trip into town to run some errands took more out of me. It must be age creeping up on me. Perhaps it is just that I am out of practice.

I made lamb burgers for lunch today, but elected not to fire up the BBQ and cooked them in the pan on the hob as the sky was looking very black. When I have finished this I am off to do a few outside jobs and then back into the kitchen to make a chicken and leek pie for dinner tonight. Anything to keep busy and stop my mind wandering off into areas that I don’t want it going off to.

If you have plans for this weekend, a Bank Holiday here in the UK and Memorial Day weekend in the US then I hope all goes well for you. I shall be looking out for the Indy 500 on whatever medium I can find to follow it from afar, but I hope that things hold up for you and you have a great time.

Stay safe wherever you are.

on discrimination


Discrimination is a word appearing a lot at the moment, not least in reference to the, for some, dreaded Vaccination Passport. Much has been done in the last thirty or forty years to try and eliminate discrimination, but I will argue here that it is another example of trying to suppress a basic human emotion.

We all discriminate: If there is something that you choose not to like you are discriminating about it. It could be a food (hands up all who hate Marmite), a sporting team, a TV programme, a band or singer, anything at all. Discrimination is simply a choice and to be discriminating is, still, a compliment for it implies a level off sophistication.

The argument against discrimination is about how we apply it and I have no argument with the principle of equality here. However, there are inconsistencies. For example my doctor’s surgery will offer ladies the opportunity to see a lady doctor or, if seeing a male doctor, to have a chaperone. The Berkshire Belle takes the latter option and takes me with her. Not because of any caution, she is an ex-nurse, but because she knows that I will listen carefully and be a better sounding board on what was actually said.The option is there though and I have no problem with it, but when I make an appointment I have, son far, not been offered the choice to see a make doctor. A clear case of discrimination, but not one that I am making a fuss about, simply making the observation.

The safety of females is another issue that has been high lately and it seems ironic to me that, in the general sweeping away of things to level the male:female playing field, one thing that we have lost is the Ladies Waiting Room at stations and Ladies Only compartments on trains. Whilst we still have separate changing rooms and toilets the distinction there is becoming a little blurred though. I have become used to having females coming into the male toilet at venues where there are queues for there own facilities and their need is too great for them to wait in line. It does not especially bother me, but the Berkshire Belle is very unhappy about the prospects of males coming into the female facilities whilst she is using them; it makes her feel unsafe.

Protecting minorities is all very well, but what about majorities? Democracy is about the will of the latter and as a society we have to have a sense of proportion. There is so much noise being made around the edges where, by definition things are extreme, that the moderate voice cannot be heard. Indeed, the minority tactic is to shout down any voice of reason.

I do not see any reason why a group of like minded people cannot decide who they want in their number. If I go to a bar and there is a large group in one corner enjoying their mutual company can I just gate crash and join in? In all probability I will unwelcome. Try looking in on social media at any of the echo chambers that exist for a particular point of view. When you find one try chucking in something of a contrary viewpoint and see what happens. Inclusive? I don’t think so. I can remember the days when football crowds were not segregated and it was possible to mingle with opposition fans and not go home via the local ER facility, but I would not try it now. In any case I would not be allowed to; dissemination? Yes, but there is no outcry.

There is a lot of hypocrisy around discrimination. It is something that is as much a part of human existence as is breathing and we need to accept that, even embrace it. What we do not want is unreasonable discrimination. There is a difference.

the lockdown log 60


A very hectic week and one that has passed in a flash. The fishbone problem went away and the resultant sore throat only lasted a few days thankfully. It was the first time that I had had a problem like that and I hope that it will be the last.

As the weather is getting in the way of my labouring projects around the garden I have spent what time I have been able to use out there on general maintenance; pruning, tidying and a little re-potting of some of the greenhouse contents. I am taking a week off work next week and would like to be able to get at least one garden centre trip in to be able to plant up our hanging baskets.

Being able to get out into the garden has done wonders for my general feeling of wellbeing and, after a couple of days where I didn’t get out at all (other than to go to work) a decent afternoon’s work outside made a big difference.

Any thought of diet has largely been forgotten for now, I am about 6 kg up on my best weight from last year and am showing almost no sign of willpower when it comes to food. At some point I will get back into the groove (I did have a salad for lunch yesterday, the first of the year), but for now I am trying to just not get stupid about eating. It is, as always, a mind game and I need to want to lose weight more than I want to eat.

We have pretty much given up on a holiday this year. They do not, as yet, want us where we would like to go and, to be frank, we are not sure that we want to go given the state that they are in. Europe does not appeal much either, certainly not the parts that seem to be trying to tempt us and our other possible destination is also, for now, off limits. As for a few days somewhere in the UK, well that is unlikely because the Berkshire Belle is not up to a lot of walking these days and, in any case, we have seen pretty much all of the UK between us through our respective jobs.

We know that we do not have that many years left and I think that that little fact is becoming the elephant in the room. Our overseas trips have been a big factor in our lives together over the last 31 and a bit years. going two years without one is hard to take and whilst we appreciate that we are fortunate to have been able to do all that we have done, we worked hard to get earn those privileges.

For now, though, my immediate problems are whether this blog will upload OK and I will have to come back to check on that later because the other problem is that I need to work out what I am going to do with the chicken leftovers from yesterday in terms of what we eat tonight.

And so I will bid you farewell for this week and hope that you are safe and well wherever you are.

on a new normal


Change is constant, at least in that things change all of the time. We all get older for one thing, speeding towards death at sixty minutes in every hour. The only thing that changes about change, if you see what I mean, is the pace of change.

The last eighteen months have seen an accelerated change that the world in general has probably not seen since World War 2, although localised areas have had conflicts that have had severe impact. It is that impact, rather than the pace, that we probably notice more and beneficial changes probably sneak through with less notice.

Take the mobile device revolution. The speed at which mobile communications took hold was stupendous, changing business and personal lives at a stroke. It has had a huge effect on society and mostly good, but it has also opened doors for criminals and terrorists that we could have done without. Einstein’s cause and effect principles apply here.

A pandemic on the scale of Covid-19 and its variants has been able to spread so rapidly because of advances in travel and the way that the world works these days. Forty years ago it would have been different, but the changes that have happened over that time made such a devastating spread more possible. Perhaps Bubonic plague is the nearest equivalent in human history and that, too, spread mainly through commerce and isolation principles helped defeat it, or at least to slow the spread.

Terrorism changed global travel in the early 2000s and Covid will change it further. The freedoms that we enjoyed at one time in jetting off around the world allowed those with nefarious intent the opportunity to exploit them and so we had them curtailed. There are those who have allowed selfish interests to spread Covid and their actions have seen freedoms removed, if temporarily, but to what extent will we get them back?

Working patterns have changed too and the future is again unclear. Much office work depended on workforces that commuted and on jam packed public transport. Will such circumstances come back? As always, business, the capitalist system, has risen to the challenge and found new ways to sell to us as we have embraced new ways of buying.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, as they say, and whilst sometimes we yearn for simpler times of the past, we would not really want to go back. This time may be different, but the past is gone and the future is up to us. Will mask wearing become a common sight as it is in many Asian cities? I know that I am going to find it strange not wearing a mask in public places and credit having worn one, along with a greater hand hygiene regime, with the fact that I have not had so much as a common cold through the last two Winters. Fringe benefits maybe, but it will be interesting to see how things are this time twelve months hence.

I hope that you and I are still here to see the new normal.

the lockdown log 59


This is a bit late this week, but for some reason WordPress on my go to device is not allowing me to add a new blog entry, instead it just gives me a blank screen and so I have had to revert to some older technology here to keep up my weekly utterings.

The weather has been so variable that any planning has been a waste of time and I have just gone with the flow and done what I can where and when I can. Odd bits of progress have been made and I am starting to get a shopping list, what we used to call a bill of materials when I wore a suit, for the next main jobs on my agenda. I just need to order stuff or go out and buy it, but therein lies another familiar problem; where do I put it while I am waiting to use it? I have 5 bags of compost in the car at the moment…

Our foxes continue to wreak havoc and their destructive power is beyond anything that I have previously experienced. I am gradually blocking up access to the space below my deck where a couple of the youngsters like to spend their days, but can do nothing about what the perishers get up to after dark.

it has been a bit of a mad ending to the week as on Friday I swallowed a fish bone that got stuck in my throat. A look at the NHS111 web site got me into an on-line chat that suggested that I go to the hospital in Cirencester about 20 miles away, There they were unable to reach the bone and, being Friday evening, said that I should try and eat some soft food to push the bone down. If that did not work I should go to my local A&E department. It did work and, apart from a very sore throat, I am fine. Added to my neck problem and the Sore Nuts Syndrome living up to its name it was a miserable end to the week and I had a quiet day yesterday.

Despite all of that I am fairly perky and certainly my head is in a better place than it has been for a while. Hopefully that will continue.

On the exercise front I am past 1500 km for the year. I am on track for the 4084 km target for the year, so I am looking at tryi8ng to squeeze in a little bit extra each week now wo that I can do 5000 km over the 12 months.

Nothing much else to report at this stage, so stay safe wherever you are and, one way or another, I will be back next week.

on diminishing returns


I should start by saying that I have often been assessed over my management career and have rarely, if ever, been classed as a Completer Finisher. That fact may colour what follows, but stay with me.

Regular readers of these musings will know that I am a fan of the Pareto principle in the sense that you can get 80% of the results with 20% of the effort and it is something that I have employed often over the years, especially in planning where you can get to a point that you have so much information that the answer is obvious, so give up and go with what you have.

This is the principle of Diminishing Returns; you have done well, but to continue will not yield the same productivity so stop there and move on.

It is not something that you should do every time. Take, for example, installing some plant where you will still get 80% there with 20% of the effort, but you do need to spend the other 80% effort to finish the job. I think that surgeons apply the same principle. or at east I hope that you will should they ever operate on me.

The point is knowing when to give up. Planning is a problem partly because people like planning. It is comfortable and you are not actually doing anything. The desire to get everything perfect is understandable, but there comes a point where you have to say go or you risk being late in delivering that which you are planning and too many times I have been lumbered with leading a project where the planning has not only gone past the necessary start date, but has also been so far out that the end date is hopelessly wrong. No plan survives first contact, so do your best and get cracking.

Another area of procrastination is in the bid process. There will be a deadline for submission of tenders and that will almost always be too optimistic anyway. You do your due diligence and costing and get the proposal written, but there will always be an element in the team who want to keep tweaking and adding. I remember once being drafted in on the last day before a tender submission for a French company. The bid had to be in French and the commercial translator had been booked to put our English into French, but their engagement ended 48 hours before the tender was due because it was to be printed in multiple copies and sent by courier across the Chanel.

Our team decided that they wanted last minute changes and would send the documents over with one of our team on the morning of the due date. Eurostar would have them in Paris in time they said and duly wrote their revisions, but overlooked that the translator had moved on to another job for another client. That was why I was there, although people’s faith in my technical French was touching to say the least, but I finished the changes late that evening, printed off the pages and rebound the bid documents before starting the drive to Ashford where I was due to meet our man who was taking the documents over.

About ten minutes after midnight the ‘phone in my car rang; “John? I’ve got some more changes…”

Despite it all we won that bid and were very pleased to do so, but there was no need; the client was only looking at price and delivery. They had already made their minds up that it did not matter which of their short list got the job as we were all capable. All of that stress and last minute polishing was just a waste of time and effort.

These things are a judgement call, but there needs to be strong leadership to sense when the moment has come to stop and move on, then to make that call and change tack.