Social Comment – 2014

Social Comment for Year 2014.

January 2014

Here’s to another year. Today, the 2nd. January, there is a clear sky and weak sunshine. Yesterday, New Years Day, was horrible with rain nearly all day and a strong wind. It can only get better from here on although I would not place any bets.

House prices continue to rise and more mortgages are taken out. The average price rise is around 8% for the last year.

Rain and gales with over 100 weather warnings issued, 3rd January, several of them in the severe category yesterday. Mainly the South West and North West have borne the brunt with widespread flooding and torrential rain falling on already saturated ground. The winds have also produced tidal surges to add to the woes of the seasiders. In Watford we have had mainly rain but a brief interlude saw hail storms and thunder and lightning.

England cricketers have suffered a Whitewash in Australia. Their bowling was not bad but batting was very poor, scoring 155 and 166 respectively in their two innings they were no match for the jubilant Aussies.

After talk of raising the speed limit to 80mph on Motorways there is now a proposal to reduce it to 60mph on some northern parts of the M1 in an attempt to reduce emissions. 7th January.

More gales, more rain, more high tides, more floods more transport delays, more fences down and all the things that come as a package with a little bad weather in the UK. In the States they have temperatures; with wind chill, of minus 40 degrees centigrade. All down to the very strong jet stream drawing cold air down from the Polar Vortex. Will we get some of it, it’s anyone’s guess.

There are still over one hundred flood warnings in operation, 8th January. covering all of England and Wales and parts of central and Northern Scotland, and there are severe weather warnings in the South and South West for the next two days. How much longer can this deluge last?

There are still 29 flood warnings in operation on the 14th January and parts of the Thames Valley are under water. With no heavy rain over the last few days it is to be hoped that things will continue to improve.

Fracking is again in the news with the government offering awards to councils that agree to drill for gas. The rate would appear to be around £1.7m per site. This has incensed the protestors who are already trying to block sites identified in the North West. A study by the British Geological Survey suggested there is enough gas in the North of England to supply Great Britain for 40 years with 1,300 trillion cubic feet at a site in Lancashire alone. The Energy Ministry expects up to 40 wells will be drilled in the next couple of years. With much of our gas coming from volatile areas we have currently little control over either supply, delivery, or price. Our own supply would certainly strengthen the security and may even reduce the cost to us, say the supporters.

Inflation is down to the target figure of 2% for the first time since 2009 with food prices rising at the slowest rate since 2006. This news put more pressure on the Monetary Policy Committee to raise the bank rate as the unemployment figures near the 7% determined by the new Bank of England boss as a maximum before a raise would be considered.

The Royal Bank of Scotland, of whom we own 80% following the massive government bailout is likely to pay bonuses of more than 100% of annual salaries to some executives. There is already a cap placed by the government but the EU will allow up to 200% next year without the shareholders agreement. As usual there are feathers flying in all directions. Who runs this country? 15th January.

Most of the preceding weeks news 20th January. has been taken up by the appearances in courts of several of our ageing entertainment stars from the 60’s and 70’s on charges ranging from rape, indecent assault, sexual assaults on young women and molestation of girls as young as 14 years. These accusations have lain dormant until the Jimmy Saville revelations came into prominence and must put a strain on the judicial process to be tried safely. The lawyers involved will no doubt be delighted with the work load.

The weather is still big news with this winter shaping up to be the wettest ever with no sign of an end to the often torrential rain fall. Floods still persist in many areas and the potential for more likely with the ground saturated to its maximum.

UN Peace talks over Syrian in Switzerland are threatened as the Syrian opposition object to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon inviting the Iranian President, who is the main backer for government’s President Basher al-Assad.

The Hornets continue to struggle. On Saturday, a disputed penalty resulted in a Watford player not even involved in the incident being sent off. The Watford keeper saved the resulting kick but it still only gave them one point as a previous penalty was converted to level the scores. It never rains…… Now we all know that is true!

The latest figures on 22nd January for unemployment showed another fall of 167,000 to give a total of 7.1% say the Office for National Statistics. This still means 2.3m people out of work whilst 30.15 have registered employment.

The Syrian peace talks were saved after the UN withdrew the invitation to the Iranian president to attend. After the first days bitter confrontations the UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi is holding talks separately with the two factions in the hope they will agree to meet face to face in Montreux when full talks resume today. 23rd January. It is reported that although the talks got off to a rocky start at least neither of factions has at this stage actually walked out.

The big clock on the tower of what was Odhams at the Dome roundabout showed two very different times today. Neither one of which was anywhere near correct . When Robert Maxwell was saving the site by closing it, he would pass by in his car and if the clock was a minute out he would send a message via Sun Printers which would be passed to me. PUT IT RIGHT! he would bellow. I doubt I could climb to the clock room anymore so it would have to stay wrong. I don’t think I ever got it to display two such vastly different times!

We are promised more rain and gale force winds over the weekend so we are still in target for the wettest winter ever.

The Hornets are out of the FA Cup. 25th January. After a spirited first half which saw them go 2 up against almost invincible Manchester City they eventually went down 4-2. By no means disgraced.

Back with the gales and torrential rain. Several football matches were stopped as rain, hail and lightning swept across the South East. The forecast is for not a lot of change.

The Syrian peace talks have made limited progress. 26th January, with both sides sitting round a U shaped table with UN man Lakhdar Brahimi in the chair; which in its self is quite an achievement. The talks, or statements were quite short. It is to be hoped that some relief can be found for the million plus refugees.

Unrest and bombing continue in the Ukraine with the President’s offer of appointing the opposition leader as prime Minister. This move has been seen as a sign of weakness on the Presidents part and has been rejected. He must go say the opposition and several key issues settled together with new elections. This situation is just as difficult to read as most of the others worldwide and must be sending cold shivers down the Winter Olympics committee. The Games are due to open early next month in the area.

At least 49 people have been killed in the latest clashes in Egypt where they are marking the anniversary of the uprising in 2011. Several hundred of people have died in shootings and bombings since the army deposed the new President elected after the earlier uprising.

Amalgam Mercury teeth fillings are in the news again. I had only asked my dentist to justify the use of the dangerous heavy metal the other day when I read a newspaper correspondent on the same subject. Various reports blame the metal for all kinds of inflammation and general muscle pain. Although the filler has been used for many many years, could it be a contributory cause of a lot of illnesses that seem to be more prevalent these days? It is difficult to argue against, as it is cheap!

Last week’s papers reported a riot in a 99p shop! It would appear that a half price sale was cancelled whilst there were long queues at the check out with baskets loaded to the point of being dangerous. People were acting like vultures it was reported with shelves cleared of cleaning products, toilet rolls and crisps. One couple had 560 items valued at £280. We must assume they got to the check out before the shutter came down. The riot was finally quelled when the manager offered a BOGOF deal instead. A rose by any other name?

Another item of interest was the opening of a Pub at a Motorway service Station. With calls for 20 mph local speed limits and dangerous road humps on local roads it seems only logical that we provide the means of buying a pint of “better driving fluid” in an establishment that only has one exit, and that onto a 70 mph motorway. Did I miss something somewhere?

Deadlock in the Geneva Syrian peace talks. 27th.January. The stumbling block is on the issue of transferring power to a transitional regime. Carefully avoiding this point the Government presented a “declaration of principles” that skated round the issue. The opposition rejected it. The future of current President Bashar al-Assad is most contentious but a government advisor said talks would continue. There seems to have been no real moves to allow aid convoys into the besieged city of Homs say the International Committee of the Red Cross.

January has been declared the wettest for a hundred year since records began. 29th January. The South has had twice the average rainfall and has still areas of flooding. The West, with parts of the Somerset levels worst hit, has been under water in some cases for the month. With another fierce storm forecast for the weekend it does not look as though the levels are due to drop anytime soon. The West coast will also receive the brunt of the high seas.

Problems continue in Egypt with little signs that progress is being made in any direction at all.

The first round of the Geneva talks with the Syrian factions has made little progress. 31st January. They are still stuck on the question of how to proceed after a week of talks. The UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi hopes for progress next week. The people in the Old City of Homs are still starving with no aid allowed access by the rebels. The UK has agreed to take a number of Syrian torture victims, elderly disabled into the UK.

This is the last entry for a little while. I wonder what new items I will have to report on when I return. Or will they be still the old ones. At least I hope it has stopped raining every day and the floods have receded. Perhaps the first hose pipe ban will be in place?

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April 2014

Here we are again. It has been over two months since I saw television or read a UK newspaper so I am in a little difficulty in commenting on the happenings in the big wide world during that period so I must stay nearer to my own experiences.

We travelled by a new airline after a horrendous experience last year in Mumbai. Qatar Airlines provided a much more civilised journey via Doha and although we arrived at 4 am we were a little less like rung out dish clothes. We thought the grand new terminal at our destination would be in use at last but it seems it was officially opened last Autumn, but closed again as the Minister left the premises! We had to use the old terminal that was past it’s sell by date when we first saw it 20 odd years ago.

We were on the beach by 11 am and met our brown cousins at the shack and some of the many couples; and singles, that we knew over the years. I use my own names for many of these visitors as I can’t remember their given ones. There is “Beep Beep” Roger, as he was a road runner, “Alien”, as that is what Elaine told us to call her, and “Tetley”, Mick was “Yorkshire born, and proud of it.”

The beach has improved in size considerably since most of the huge bulk carrier that had been beached for ten years or so has been removed. Several large floating cranes and divers using vacuum cleaners were taking out the last of the buried hull in great rusty lumps.

We were delighted when we found the exchange rate had gone up nearly 20% from its last year’s level. We were not able to find out exactly why but it helped to hedge against the price rises of most things.

Taxi’s were a case in point. Rises of up to 50% were noticed and in one case 300%. The latter was of course refused, the driver would rather sit in his vehicle all evening than take a reasonable profit from a short run. There were two strikes by the drivers. We were told that the Russians were bringing “out of state” drivers and providing them with vehicles to mainly transport their own countrymen. This did not go down well with the locals who met the Minister and got “promises”. With elections coming up later this month that was the least; and possibly the most they could get. I hope it wasn’t the same guy who opened the terminal at the airport and immediately scarpered! The main differences we saw was a lot less traffic and friendly offers of a “Taxi” and regaining the use of pavements that were normally covered in taxis where they had not been destroyed by these same vehicles parking on them.

Another thing that has not changed is the shambolic performance of the Electricity Authority. We counted 15 outages during one 24 hour period, not taking account of those we did not see in the day time and during the night. This situation is a nightmare for restaurant and Shack owners with their fridges seriously affected. It must have been much more appreciated by the E-Coli population.

We heard of several road accidents, one of which provided a fatality. A mixture of booze and hired scooter riders who had apparently never seen one in their life before can be lethal. With the rules of the road a little hazy there was bound to be some comings together! There are rules, but no one has so far been able to write them down.

I was to celebrate my birthday at an open air shack just off the beach when we heard there had been an occurrence “at the well”! The shack owners son challenged his neighbour on who should dip the bucket into the 40 ft well first. Fisticuffs resulted, which soon escalated into bamboo batons and several other persons; including family members, giving the neighbour a good beating. He ended up in hospital with a severe concussion whilst the shack owner, his son, his wife  and another were all taken away and locked up. We had to find another restaurant! Disagreements tend to get a little personal and as in this case quite violent.

The ancient festival of Holi was celebrated by the Hindu population whilst we were there. It is the festival of colours and love and starts with a Holica bonfire, drums, singing and dancing on the first evening but the fun starts on the following day. Our first encounter was the hoards of small children with copious supplies of dry powders of many colours. These they will throw over you or wipe their hands on skin and clothing. They can sometimes be bought off with cash and then only give you a dot of colour on the forehead. At other times they will take the money then throw the powder anyway. It’s a bit like Trick or Treat in Technicolor. There is supposed to be celebrations on various days in various towns, but for a week it is tourist beware.

A carefully timed visit the state capitol to avoid Holi day worked, but there our luck ran out. Arriving at a tiny bar named Pit Stop for the coldest beer ever, we were thwarted by no Power, light or Air conditioning, and no beer cooler. A long walk, and back in high thirties temperatures found the bar with power, AC, and no beer. Some days it not worth getting up! We travelled back by three wheeled Tuk Tuk. Designed; perhaps not the word to use, as a two and at most three seater, we were made an offer we could not refuse to take four of us for a good price. Pete shared the front with the driver and had to put his arm round him as there was nowhere else to put it.  An arid and fun day.

It was towards the end of our holiday we heard the partially opened new terminal was closed again as long length of new wall had collapsed on the main road, blocking it!

A question. Why are Russian cigarettes so thin, and why do they take a drag with every other breath?

Our departure was via the flash new terminal. It had all the things we would have expected in an international airport including the statuary incomprehensible public address system. We can put a man on the moon, but…..

Another year of good weather, good food and most of all, Good Company. We have put down a deposit on next year.

On the 1st April another warning was given on the worsening effects of Global Warming. Climate change will produce more extreme weather events, rising sea levels and make crops yields more fragile. All caused by human interference with the climate system. The Americans are saying they will manage rather than reverse the changes. With a still rising population demanding ever more food, water and power it would appear to me that this may well be the only option.

The last three days 3rd April have seen extra heavy air pollution over parts of the UK. Older people and those suffering with breathing difficulties have been advised to stay indoors. Children have been told to not chase around as they will breath in more of the harmful atmosphere. Added to the man made noxious substances has been sand from the Sahara seen as deposits on cars but in fact everywhere.

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 carrying 239 persons; which went off the radar on March 8th whilst on route to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing continues. The present target area is the Indian Ocean. With the flight recorder soon to stop transmitting its location signal this is truly a needle in a haystack scenario. Having recently flown in one these huge planes it would seem difficult to lose its location, but with practically the whole world to hide it in the chances must be small of ever locating it.

Bruce Forsyth has announced he will no longer host Strictly Come Dancing. April 5th. At the age of 83 with 70 years of show business behind him he will be a hard act to follow. “It was nice to see you” Brucie.

House prices continue to rise. With an average of 8.7% over the year and an awful lot more, in the region of 18%, in London and the home counties, it is making a lot of owners paper rich and the lot of first time buying even more difficult.

The West Coast rail line at Dawlish which was left hanging in mid air following the winter storms has reopened with the use of tons of steel and concrete and a workforce of 300.

A signal of the correct frequency has been picked up by a Chinese vessel searching for the black box and hopefully the Malaysian Boeing that disappeared in early March. Later two other separate reports claimed a similar find by other vessels. Communication between all the searching agencies seems to be a little strained.

It is with a little difficulty that I am trying to sort out in my mind the problems involving Russia and the Crimea region that they apparently annexed last month. The build up of Russian troops on the Ukraine border with Poland has prompted Warsaw to ask for a hefty deployment of NATO troops. It was these problems that threatened the winter Olympics earlier. With free elections taking place in Afghanistan this could be the new area were an attempt at peace keeping is expensively made. If we upset the Russians, what happens to our Oil and specially our Gas?

More news on housing. 9th April. South London boroughs mortgagees have debts of £29 billion, more than the whole of Wales. This is mainly down to a rise in property values in the area of 30% in the last year. It is to be hoped that this is not the pointer to yet another Bubble burst and that the purchasers have done their sums. Negative equity is not pleasant.

Painkillers put you at increased risk of heart attacks and strokes says Dutch research. Drugs taken for headaches and muscle pain such as Ibuprofen and Diclofenac are identified; amongst others. On the other hand a Swiss Professor claims that Glucosamine extends the life of mice by up to 10%. It also works on worms! “Humans are not the same as worms or rodents and studies need careful replication before getting over excited”, he observes I trust these studies do not give them too many headaches and bad backs requiring medicinal intervention!

The missing Malaysian Boeing is thought to have been located 12th April. but the area is still large, about 500 square miles, and the sea nearly three miles deep. The pings last received from what is thought to be the flight recorder on the 8th April have now ceased with the battery having been exhausted. A submersible is to be used and the search will be much slower taking up to two months to cover the area, unless they strike lucky early on.

News from the Ukraine today, 14th April, tells us the deadline set by the their government for the Russian militants occupying government buildings in the Eastern part of the country to retreat does not seem to have been acted on, despite a threat of an all out attack to remove them. The UN Security Council met yesterday to discuss what is becoming a very serious problem. Satellite images show around 40,000 well armed Russian troops with aircraft, tanks, artillery and support units waiting at the border. Despite their annexing of the Crimea earlier this year the Russian Ambassador claims Moscow is not behind the attacks as the US and others claim. It is to be hoped this is not yet another civil war in the making.

House prices are forecast to rise by around 40% 15th April. by the end of next year. The same agency claims there is unlikely to be “bubble burst” in the next 12 months. Other forecasters are expecting a rise in the bank rate into next year. How do these two possibilities compute?

The robot submarine Bluefin-21 has been used again to try to locate the lost Malaysian Boeing. Although it is thought the approximate position has been identified, with no signal now coming from the aircrafts Black Box the task of finding it is now taken over by the subs sonar and cameras. The area of search is now 230 Square miles and it will take months to scan it. Air Chief Marshal Houston who is leading the search has said, “I would say to everybody, don’t be over optimistic, be realistic……”

US President Obama spoke to Russian President Putin on the phone and urged him to influence the militant separatists occupying government buildings in the Eastern Ukraine to retreat. President Putin said claim of Russian interference were not reliable. World oil prices rose by $108 per barrel then fell back, and the Stock Market reacted to the fears of reduced Russian gas supplies to Europe. The need for alternative energy sources is becoming ever more important.

Wage rises have exceeded the rate of inflation, 16th April. although not many people seem to have noticed it. Inflation is down to 16% and wage rises up to 17%, not a lot, but a move in the right direction after three or four years.

The Ukrainian forces have attempted to oust the Russian militants holding government buildings, 17th April. and in the process have managed to lose half a dozen Troop Carriers and a Tank, some reports say the troops abandoned their vehicles but these reports are not confirmed. NATO say’s that it is immediately boosting its military presence in the area in response to Russian aggression. RAF fighter jets are part of a force that also includes warships and ground forces at the ready. It is to be hoped this will not drag us into another period of conflict that we can’t win. A lot of thought should be given to taking on the Russians who are not known for their restraint when threatened. The Crimea was an example.

We seem to have lost the social skill of queuing. “Queue jumping” or “Pushing in” used to be crime on a par with murder and treason and was not accepted under any circumstances. Now bus queues are just a melee with being fast or dead the order of the day. What is the civilised world coming to. We won’t be opening doors for ladies soon!

The jobless rate is down to 6.9%. 7% was the level at which the Governor of The Bank of England would consider a rate rise. I wonder if it will happen?

Emergency talks in Geneva have reached an agreement to ease the crisis in the Eastern Ukraine. 18th April. Western leaders have been cautious in their reactions and Obama downright skeptical. Be ready to impose more sanctions if no progress is made in the handing back of occupied buildings and disbanding of the armed groups who took them he said. Amnesty is to be given to these individuals and international observers will witness the whole process.

As was suspected 19th April. the armed protesters have continued to hold the government buildings in the Eastern Ukraine that they have effectively barricaded. Russia, whilst party to the Geneva agreement that provided for a withdrawal have not intervened in a positive manner.

Another twist in the tail 21st April. of the Geneva accord on the withdrawal of the Russian separatists’ occupying the government building. They have not moved and were attacked at a check point in Eastern Ukraine by Government troops; whom Russia calls Right Wing terrorists. The agreement is broken because these latter have not been disbanded they say. This appears to the onlooker as real Russian Roulette.

Meanwhile Syria seems to be put on the backburner. Reports tell us that in the country’s Northern areas large parts are under the control of Jihadists. This is a lot nearer home than the Ukraine! New Presidential elections are due in June but it is thought they will not change the situation very much; if at all. This conflict has lasted 3 years and left vast parts of the country in ruins with an estimated 100,000 killed. The Lebanon alone has a million refugees with Turkey and other countries making the total up to 2.5 million. This catastrophe continues with bombs containing nails and other pieces of metal frequently used. This one won’t go away!.

I feel bound to lighten the mood. We took a bus to Hertford the other sunny day and walked along the River Lea to Ware. In addition to enjoying some of the sights of our County town we saw loads of water birds from Coots through Ducks, Moor-Hens, Swans and the ever present Canada Geese. The May blossom scented the air and we came across a bit of social history.         Between Hertford and Ware is a building on the river bank called The New Gauge House. All things are relative and it was actually built in 1856. It meters water from the River Lea to feed down The New River, which is neither a river or new, as it was first proposed in 1602 and with a Royal Charter by King James 1st in 1604 was completed in 1613. It was an aqueduct 25 miles long which terminated in Islington and was designed to provide London with clean drinking water as the Thames was so polluted and even then the various wells could not cope with the growing population and contamination was rife in those too. The King paid half the £18,500 cost of construction for a 50% share holding and this paid the wages of the 200 labourers at 4p per day. Carpenters half as much again! The New River currently terminates at Islington and parts of it have been diverted into underground culverts It supplies 8% of London’s water.(200 mega litres) in an enlarged channel of 2.5m deep and 6m wide. With a fall of only 10cm every 1Km it was a masterpiece of surveying and planning in days before modern equipment was even thought of. It is reported that this water from North Hertfordshire was used to help fight The Great Fire of London in 1666. The water course currently boasts a footpath 26 miles long starting at the Gauge House. The Lea River walk is to be recommended; and with the promise of a pint of McMullens ale at the end, a great little outing.

Threats from Russia’s premier say’s that it is now “Gas for cash” for the Ukraine. Failure to pay in full and on time could cut off half of Russia’s gas supply to Europe as it flows through a massive Ukrainian pipe line. It would seem prudent for the EU to reduce its dependency on Russian gas pretty smartly. With fracking a possible part answer and a more vigorous approach to safe nuclear energy seeming essential. Both these sources are opposed by several pressure groups on safety issues. It is to be hoped things get sorted before it gets very cold in the UK!

With more government building being occupied by the Russian armed separatist’s in Eastern Ukraine the EU and US have increased their sanctions. Seven prominent Russians have been added to their blacklist, subjecting them to Visa bans, trading licenses have been denied and asset frozen. One of thesemen is the head of Russia’s largest oil company.

A Deadline set on Peace Talks between Israel and Palestine has passed without an agreement. 29th April. Mr Perry for the US has been reported as saying; “A two state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative”. The breakdown occurred when two Palestinian factions; Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation pact last week!

News from Syria today reports 37 killed in explosions in the city of Hom. Car bombs and mortar shells were involved. In addition many people were injured in the attacks. It is confirmed that the current President, Bashar al Assad has registered to stand for re election despite pleas that he stand down to give a chance to end the deadly conflict. TV pictures last night showed the barrel bombs being dropped on Aleppo from helicopters that are leaving much of the city in ruins and killing and injuring hundreds.

The UK GDP rose by 0.9% and continues the trend over the last five periods. 30th April. The International Monetary Fund expect the UK to be one of the best performing of the world’s largest economies in 2014. They suggest a rise of 2.9% for the year is possible. This, together with the level of unemployment down below 7% leaves the Bank of England with a little wiggle room to possibly raise the bank base rate from its very low 0.5%, but pundits say it is not very likely this year.

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May 2014

War looks ever more likely in Ukraine 3rd May. following the deaths of a number of pro-Moscow separatist’s during a military attack on rebel held buildings. President Putin said this operation had destroyed any hopes of peace. He called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations security Council. The problems may all stem from the earlier ousting of the elected Ukrainian leader by armed protestors which was supported by the US and European leaders denouncing the legal government for its crackdowns. These same powers are now backing the unelected government against the militant protestors with a Russian agenda. With military forces from several western nations now in the area and massed Russian forces on the Ukraine borders it is going to take more than rhetoric and sanctions to sort this one out without further blood loss.

The Hornets finished their season with a disappointing 1-4 beating by Huddersfield. This capped their losing run of 4 consecutive games before which an unlikely; but possible, 6th place finish had been on the cards. Their final position in the Championship was 13th, with 60 points. Leicester city and Burnley gained automatic promotion with 102 and 93 points respectively. Perhaps more worrying for many Watford fans than the Hornets lowly final position in the Championship is Luton Town gaining promotion from the Blue Square League to Division One.

A two day national fireman’s strike is set to start today 4th May. at 6 pm after the rejection by the union leaders at ACAS of the 11% offer which was to be paid in two stages over two years. The action has prompted the opposition to declare the action as “dangerous and wrong”. We are back to cover provided by the military using less than 800 ancient “Green Goddess” fire appliances. The offer say the FU leaders falls far short of the 40% demand and has ropes, not stings, attached.

The RMT will strike on Monday. on the 5th. May. for 3 days, the third time in just over a week, reducing the services on the London Underground by at least 50% and making getting to work for millions difficult, if not impossible. The bone of contention is LU’s plan to close all the ticket offices on the underground with a claimed loss of 900 jobs. More talks will take place on Monday night.

The leaders in Ukraine claim they are now in full scale war with the Moscow backed pro-Russian rebels.6th May. A lot of government troops have been killed and wounded and have lost a helicopter allegedly shot down by the rebels. The rebels are accused of using residents as shields and firing from  apartment blocks around a city names as Stavyansk. How often have we heard these claims from some of the worlds hotspots?

The hunt for the missing Malaysian jet is to continue say China, Malaysia and Australia. The new search is estimated to cost in the region of £30million. So far more than 5.5million square yards of ocean have been searched in the 3,137 hours of flying time. 29 aircraft have been involved, both civilian and military, plus 14 ships. This really is a needle in a haystack operation and there is doubt they are actually searching in the right field.

Roger Bannister was the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes and he did it sixty years ago today. After breakfasting on porridge at his Earls Court home he sharpened his spikes on a lab grindstone, lunched on a ham and cheese salad and travelled to Oxford where he finally decided to race half an hour before the start. Behind schedule at the end of the third lap he pulled everything out to finish in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. Although the first ever 4 minute mile his record was taken from him just six weeks later by Australian John Landy. He later beat Landy when they met at the Empire games in Vancouver. This last race went down in athletics history as the “Miracle Mile” following a recovery by Bannister in the last lap that did not seem possible.

Today marks another anniversary of a very different kind. 20 years ago. Our Queen Elizabeth and France’s President Mitterrand officially opened the tunnel in Calais, then traveled via it to Folkestone where they opened it again! 31.4 miles long (if you travel from this end) and 50km, (if starting across the channel) it has been voted as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It uses the longest car trains in Europe and the most powerful locomotives in the world.

In an unexpected turn of events 7th May. President Putin has said the Ukraine presidential elections on 25th May are a step in the right direction. He did qualify his comments with the claim that the vote would decide nothing unless the rights of “all citizens” were protected. He has urged the activist’s in the south-east to postpone a series of referendums due to take place this weekend. Putin is not known for his U-turns and the western powers are likely to view his move with caution, although; like his comment, it must be seen as a move in the right direction. The situation has become very near civil war and must be defused by diplomatic moves.

The tube strike due today has been called off with the latest ACAS talks finding at least some common ground. The RMT Union has an assurance that those members displaced from whatever job will retain their current wage but London Underground will not move on their planned closure of all ticket offices on the system. This move is seen as just the beginning of significant changes on the Underground to save £4.2bn by 2020-21 following cuts in it’s government grant. If more strikes are to be made is a matter of wait and see!

The pro-Russian activists in eastern Ukraine will consider President Putin proposal to delay their prepared referendum planned for this weekend. The matter will be put to the “people’s council”. Where have we heard this sort of designation before? Reminiscent of the “Cold War” speak?

The Eurovision Song contest was won by an Austrian drag artist with a see through top and a full beard. 10th May. He called himself Conchita Wurst. The UK entry by Molly Smitten-Downs certainly was at 17th. And she didn’t have a beard!

Despite President Putin’s request for a delay, the Pro-Russian separatist’s in the two eastern regions of Ukraine are holding their referendum on self rule for the areas. Reports say the organisation is haphazard, with apparently no Electoral Register. It’s possible the result will make little difference to the areas peace prospects. Warnings are again being made reference Ukraine’s enormous gas debts to Russian companies and the threat this poses for supplies of energy to Western Europe. And the UK! The call for Fracking to be pushed forward to make us less reliant on volatile sources of gas have reappeared. Apathy reigns. OK.

The British troops have been withdrawn from their final outpost in Helmond Province in Afghanistan; just a few remain in Camp Bastion and they will leave later in the year. With the exercise at its height there were 137 bases. The operation has cost the lives of 453 British service personnel since it began in early 2006. It is to be hoped that these lives were not lost in vain and the local authorities will build on the progress made.

Disturbing reports continue to come out of Nigeria where 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school; allegedly by armed Islamic militants. Police report that another eight girls were taken last week. The militants leader has claimed by video that he will sell the girls into slavery but in all truth their fate is really unknown. Recriminations on warnings received and not acted upon are rife which does little for the girls plight. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has received criticism from all sides for not telling his people about the abduction for three weeks after the event.  Both the US and UK have sent advisers to aid the search and stage rescue missions if they do locate their hide out. It would seem that along with other reasons, the abductors object to Western Education; which they see as a sin and translates to their name. A recently seen video claims the girls should not be in school, “Women must go and marry”. The task of finding the abductees and freeing them unharmed is a daunting one for everyone concerned.

The unofficial referendum last weekend in the eastern part of Ukraine has produced an equally unofficial result which resulted in a proclamation of “The Donetsk Peoples republic” following what is claimed to be a 90% vote in favour of state sovereignty. President Putin now say’s the peoples wishes must be honoured following his earlier request that the ballot be postponed. During the week more attacks, counter attacks and death have occurred but now the Ukrainian government have agreed to talks brokered by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe; backed by Moscow but less so by the Kiev government. 15th May.

The World Cup team that Roy Hodgson will take to Brazil was announced earlier this week with many new faces. The Home Office has rated England’s chances of progressing beyond the group stages as only 54% and of reaching beyond this point as only an 11% possibility. These odds will be taken into account when calculating the “expected benefits” of late night openings for Pubs during the tournament. This projection would be less convincing if it was not based on the odd’s Betfair have placed. There aren’t too many bankrupt bookies. Hodgson say’s that “of course we can win”, what would be the point of taking a team into the tournament unless this was thought a possibility. He also said that every other manager thought the same. Here’s hoping!

The Nigerian kidnappers have shown a group of girls sitting in front of the camera looking very sad. The Islamic Militant boss has said a deal could be done involving the release of terrorist held by the government. The whole situation is still very much in the air.

Another threat by Islamic Militants has led to hundreds of British tourists being repatriated from Kenya after a Foreign Office warning of intended terrorist activities in the area by al Shabaab who have been linked to terrorist activities in Kenya in the past in response to their military intervention in Somalia. The two main British tour operators have; on FCO advice, cancelled all outbound flights to Mombasa and Kenya up to 31st October. On the 16th May 10 people were killed when bombs hit a bus and busy second hand clothes market wounding 70 others. Despite the attacks Kenya complained to Britain, the United States, Australia and France for issuing warnings. They say the alerts were “unfriendly”, saying it would increase panic and play into the hands of those behind the attacks. What would you do? I would get out!

The Governor of the Bank of England has again warned of the dangers of the booming house market and say’s it represents the biggest risk to the UK economic recovery. With approvals being made for big mortgages increasing in numbers the governor expressed concern over a new “big debt overhang”  arising. Although the ‘bank is monitoring the situation closely there was little they could do about the “deep, deep structural problems” in the market with demand outstripping supply. The governor had not been upbeat on the possibility of an early rise in the bank rate despite these fears.

AstraZeneca, the enormous British drug company has rejected an improved final takeover bid valuing Astra at £69billion from equally gigantic US company Pfizer. 19th May. They say the new proposal under values the company and its prospects. The fear is that a takeover would hinder drug research and loose UK jobs.

Some Banks are limiting mortgages for higher value homes. 21st May. With mortgage lending 36% higher than last year and the big rises in property values, it is at last getting through that the situation that gave rise to the cash crisis that we are still recovering from, could happen again.

The Islamist group Boko Haram have been accused of killing 27 more people in two Nigerian village attacks close to where the two hundred girls were abducted from last month. These are in addition to the 118 people who died in a double bombing last week in the city of Hom.

A visit to the Outpatients Clinic at Watford General provided the news that 20,000 people had failed to show up for their appointments last year. Should a fine not be imposed on those who take up an appointment and fail to either appear or cancel? This costs money and deprives those who need attention of the opportunity.

It is Polling Day today. 22nd May. The elections are for the EU Parliament, our elected mayor and local council seats. It will be interesting to see if all the fuss in the media makes a scrap of difference.

The local and Mayoral election results are nearly complete. 24th May. Nationwide Ukip has taken 150+ seats from Labour and Conservative. The Liberal Democrats lost 280 seats the Conservatives lost 200+ and Labour gained 300. In Watford the Conservatives lost 3 seats and Labour gained three, otherwise no change and the Liberal Democrats retained control. Mayor Dorothy was re-elected for a fourth term. Then came the reasons from all parties why this was a significant change in public thinking, or not, depending on who was doing the reporting.

UKIP has performed well in the European Parliamentary elections. 26th May. It is the first time neither Labour or Conservatives have not won a British election in recent history. They are heading for a 28% share of the national votes. This result should make for some interesting debates in Brussels.

News on recent medicinal breakthroughs have informed us of a combination pill to treat high Cholesterol, Hypertension and reduce the likelihood of type 2 Diabetes, which has been shown in mice to lengthen their little furry life spans. Experiments; again on mice, has shown that old mice, given an injection of young mice blood, regain their youthful vigor and sexual appetite. Yet another likely breakthrough is the development of a Malaria vaccine. Guess how the tests were carried out. From another source we hear that rodents are becoming more and more immune to the normal chemicals used to rid us of their nasty presence. It appears we are about to be overrun by a plague of long lived sexually aggressive geriatric mice, who don’t give a dam and take their holidays in darkest Africa with complete immunity.

Following the majority of results for European Parliamentary elections 27th May. the general consensus is that the parties hostile to the EU on several levels, including immigration are well represented in the new administration. The sceptics and far rightists have gained a lot of ground to the extent that France’s Prime Minister has described it as a political earthquake following the success of both Ukip and French National Front. David Cameron has said the public was disillusioned with the EU and the message was “received and understood. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the far right victories as “remarkable and regrettable”. In Greece it is the far left in the ascendancy and to a lesser extent Spain and Portugal. An interesting time ahead?

England played their last friendly game at Wembley 28th May. before flying to across the Atlantic to play two more matches next week in the heat in an effort to partially acclimatise them for their hot and humid first World Cup game in the jungle city of Manaus in Brazil. The 3-0 win against Peru was not a polished performance and they would not have got away with a result playing against a stronger team. A pundit said it is the way they perform in the completion, not the friendly’s that count. We shall see!

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June 2014

As the England Party boarded their plane at Luton on Sunday.1st June a comedian, (Lee Nelson) who was dressed as his fictional Premiership football star character Jason Bent and had on an identical suit and carrying his passport attempted to board the plane with the players. The police took him away! Someone commented; (not me), that there were already enough jokers in the party!

The same competition but a different aspect. David Cameron has implied that Britain could bid to host the 2022 World Cup as Qatar is under scrutiny by FIFA after emails; apparently showing many millions of pounds were paid by the Gulf States football officials to their African counterparts to achieve their award. He said we must await the results of the investigation before acting. “Who knows what the chances are?”  He recalls the “unhappy” experiences of the England bid for the 2018 completion during which he campaigned with David Beckham and the Duke of Cambridge. All the FIFA officials told him they would vote for England, only to vote completely the other way. He recalls David Beckham saying, “I can cope with being lied to but not with the Prime Minister and the future King being lied to”. A US lawyer is heading a FIFA ethics committee investigation into both the results and practices for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. His report should be available before this year’s competition starts. Perhaps he should look at the European Song Contest as well!

The Queen’s speech in Parliament today, 4th June. has proposed a change in trespass laws to give Fracking firms access to land beneath residential properties. The affected communities will in return be given rights to take a stake in the commercial aspect of the renewable energy projects locally in their area. With the date for the decommissioning of some of our of nuclear plants only a few years away secure alternatives must be found and they will not please everybody, that is for sure!. A charge of 5 pence will be levied on all plastic bags at the supermarket, additional flexibility to how pension pots are used is likely, a pledge to keep Scotland in the Union, free school meals for infants, £2,000 childcare vouchers for working parents, fines for employers who do not pay the minimum wage and several other moves. The Queen and Prince Philip arrived at The House in a new State Coach and comments were made that Prince Charles also attended the ceremony.

The England soccer team played their second warm up game in Miami and drew 2-2 with Ecuador. It was not a particularly impressive display; with the exception of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who looked a cut above his team mates. Unfortunately he suffered a knee ligament injury and was substituted. It is not known yet if he will be fit to start the tournament.

Today, the 6th June is the 70th anniversary of D.Day. It marks the beginning of the Allied Normandy landing operations in Operation Overload and the largest seaborne invasion in history. It also marked the start of the invasion of German occupied Western Europe and contributed to a very large extent to the Allied victory in Europe. The start of the operation; before the sea borne landing, was a naval bombardment and massive airborne landing of 24,000 British, Canadian and US troops aimed at the capture of key objectives inland. The force consisted of paratroopers, and gliders containing more men and heavier equipment. Some of the targets were not initially found and many lives were lost. Benouville Bridge; or Pegasus Bridge as it was later renamed; after the shoulder flashes worn by the British airborne forces,  is perhaps one of the best known of these targets and was successfully captured. The beach landing followed on five sectors; two US and three British and Allied, along a stretch of Normandy coast line more the 80 miles long. More than 150,000 men and 50,000 vehicles were involved, landed by 4,100 landing craft and supported by 9,500 aircraft. This brave assault took the lives of 4,400 men and 5,600 were reported injured or missing.

By the second day the beaches were completely in the Allies hands and troops and supplies were rolling in to support the army advancing street by street inland.

A lot of brave men fought and died in this history changing operation and they have been honoured and remembered by dignitaries and old comrades with ceremonies on the actual sites. This will be the last major visit to the site by many of the survivors, all of whom are now well past their late eighties.

The preparation for the operation had been long and thorough with many red herrings thrown out to the German defence forces. The fact that the Luftwaffe did not put in a significant appearance was one indication that they had been fooled to a considerable extent and contributed in no small manner to the success of the operation. Many more live would have been lost if air supremacy had not been accomplished. To those that fought, and those that died, we owe a great debt of gratitude.

Following the election of the new Ukrainian President Petro Poreshenko, he and Vladimir Putin met at the D-Day celebrations and held brief talks about ending the violence in Eastern Ukraine that continues to turn the area into a war zone. It is to be hoped that some common ground can be found, but with their two apparently entirely opposite agenda’s it is difficult to see where it will come from.

England’s final warm up game against Costa Rica in Miami 8th June. was mainly memorable for the 45 minute delay during the first half because of a thunder storm. Although not as bad as the first two it looked as though avoiding injury came pretty high on the list of priorities. There was some fairly serious body contact with several yellow and one red card issued. The nil-nil result reflected England’s failure to take three good chances, an omission that could be very serious in the competition proper when chances will not grow on trees.

The tide seems to have turned June 11th. in some medical opinions regarding the universal benefits of a mass prescription to all older people of Statins to reduce Cholesterol levels. “A step to far” say some leading medics. Such throw away comments as, “hidden data” and “a catalogue of crippling side effects” have been thrown into the debating arena following the British Medical Association vote to reject the earlier guidance by NICE. They say that the best way to prevent the onset of heart disease is to avoid being overweight, stop smoking and take regular exercise. A trial job for the elderly mice perhaps?

The energy regulator Ofgem say’s the Big Six companies supplying energy should explain why the much reduced wholesale prices of both gas and electricity, (they are both at their lowest since 2010) have not been reflected in the cost to the consumer. With an average rise of around 10% last year there is still the possibility that some businesses will be paid to reduce their power demand at peak periods to avoid mass blackouts. Having your cake and eating it?

Learn it or lose it is the message to pensioners who are not on line. A Government minister has said that everyone will have to go on line or face losing access to Government services. “People not familiar with the internet could be given one-off lessons to learn basic skills” say the Cabinet office. Patronising say the National Pensioners Convention. It poses a massive problem for older people, 5 million of whom have never been on line. Those objecting should log on to www.dontknowwhatyou’ Or Text, Tweet or Facebook your pertinent comment! With appropriate video content. If you know how to!!!

With the other civil war hotspots still on the rampage there is another one to report. Again it seems to be an Islamic Militant insurgency, this time in Iraq. The Sunni Al Qaeda radical move to over run the country seems to be doing quite well. “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” has released prisoners from jails with civilians fleeing north to Kurdistan. With the fall of Mosul, and Bagdad under threat, our Foreign Office condemned the attacks. “We fully support the Iraqi government in its fight against terrorism”. This sounds like bad news and coincides with the latest government bulletin that a further 1,000 British troop are to be made redundant. The US has urged the Shia government to defend themselves and their country against the jihadists. They will not “put boots” into Iraq but may provide military backup; unspecified. Iran is also showing an interest in the situation. It is difficult to keep up with who is on who’s side in this weird world. The Kurds in the north of the country see this latest conflict as a golden opportunity to move into oil rich Kirkuk province which has been an area of interest to them for some time. “Part of the motivation is to avert a humanitarian disaster” says a Kurdish spokesman.

England opened their World Cup efforts with a 2-1 loss to Italy on 12th June. They did not play badly and scored a good equaliser but went to sleep when a “training ground” goal came from a corner and Balotelli escaped his marker to head in the winner. Several players did not get into the game and things will have to improve if any chance of getting beyond the first round is to be taken. The Brazilians continue to riot and demonstrate against the cost of staging the Cup competition. They say the money would have been much better spent on relieving the poverty rampant in much of the country. The tempo dropped a little when their team won their first match but all hell will break out if they don’t win the completion. And even if they do win it?

In Ukraine a military transport plane has been shot down with the loss of 49 lives 13th June. Further reports of Russia supplying tanks and multiple rocket launchers to the rebels is denied by President Putin.

The Islamic militants continue to gain ground along with claims they have massacred captured Sunni fighters protecting their cities. This last claim is allegedly substantiated by the pictures posted on the rebels web site. Obama has sent in troops and continues to have talks with the Iranians; a move last seen more than ten years ago. The British Government suggest they may reopen our Embassy in Tehran following its closure due to previous military attacks. Foreign Secretary Hague claims a significant thawing of relations in recent months.

The Governor of the Bank of England has said in a speech that the base interest rate may rise this year. It “could happen sooner than markets currently expect”. With house prices continuing to rise; although the rate has reduced latterly, it should give more concern that those with massive mortgages who will find things somewhat more difficult, whilst those with income dependent on interest may see returns on savings in excess of the rate of inflation for a change. The increase would be gradual so neither side of fence will be broke or rich overnight.

Russia has cut gas supplies to the Ukraine citing an unpaid debt of 4.5bn. 17th June. This will eventually effect the supply to the west, including the UK. We are so dependent on others for our energy supplies that our destiny is not under our control.

The whole country is under a black cloud. 20th June. England lost 2-1 to Uruguay last evening and unless Italy win their next game there is nothing they can do to prevent themselves from coming home empty handed. Again! They did not play with any great flair although they had 62% of the possession and were undone by two goals by Louis Suarez. The first was well taken and excusable, whilst the second was a school boy error by a defender. Rooney scored to level the scores before a long clearance was headed on to put a previously offside Suarez in a goal scoring position he does not miss. See you again in four years time?

The black mood was finally cemented when a poor Italy were beaten by Costa-Rica 1-0. With their last hope of further progress gone they will not qualify for the next round for the first time for 56 years. Speculation on the continuing future of Roy Hodgson as chief coach was immediate. He will not be sacked says the FA, and will not resign, says Roy.

It is believed that up to 500 British nationals are involved with the Islamic jihad group Isis in Syria and Iraq. Several agencies have warned of the threat of attacks when these men come home. The progress of these well armed and trained forces in Iraq suggests that the national defence forces are not able to halt the advance and with giant oil refineries under threat this again bodes ill for the West. In addition to the threat of violent attacks it is surely about time some serious effort was put towards securing a fuel supply that is not under the control; both financially and security wise, of a few ruthless nations and insurgents. The lack of urgency is frightening.

The insurgents in Iraq claim to have the largest oil refinery under their control.24th June. They continue to gain territory with seemingly not a lot of effective opposition.

David Cameron has said he will force a vote on the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg) as the new president of the European Council to succeed Herman Van Rumpoy (Belgium). In a meeting with Van Rumpoy he told him that the appointment of Juncker would “ignore the clear pro-change and pro-reform message” that came from the European voters in last month’s European elections. Senior government members have said that other EU countries have privately voiced doubts regarding the new appointment reference the needs to discuss reform. Ian Duncan Smith has claimed that failure to consider reform would not bode well for Britain’s continued membership. He has also described as “a rather odd phenomenon” the difference between the private and public views of some EU leaders on the appointment of Juncker. It would seem that Van Rumpoy has agreed with our PM that a vote will be taken on the appointment although the issue would now seem to me to be anti Cameron rather than pro Junckter. Perhaps FIFA could be asked to oversee the process!

England have played their last part in the 2014 Football World Cup getting a fairly boring nil-nil draw against Costa Rica. 24th June. Even with a number of new faces in the team they certainly worked up little in the way of apparent enthusiasm. Despite this fact the many travelling supporters; who had spent an awful lot of money for the embarrassment, gave them a rousing send off. If there is a bright side to the saga then the fact that Spain and Italy, with Portugal odds on, also failed to make it into the last 16 is it. The real news of the evening came from the Italy v Uruguay match where Luis Suarez; England’s nemesis, took a bite; for the third time in his career, at an Italian defender. The referee did not see the incident but fortunately the rest of the world did. There are threats that he may be banned for the rest of the World Cup, or made to make a forced transfer to Transylvania?

Another sporting disaster was the loss at Leeds by 100 runs of the England test team to Sri Lanka with the penultimate ball on the last day. The England performance was not great and the Sri Lankans were both better and a whole lot noisier on the pitch. They almost rivalled the women’s tennis player at Wimbledon. Football is the noisy game, not tennis and cricket! This said the game at Headingly was for the most part riveting. Jeffery Boycott quoted “We should play Costa Rica at Cricket and Sri Lanka at football. That would give us an outside chance of winning one of the games”.

The verdict is in on the Luis Suarez biting incident. 26th June. He will be is suspended from all football related activity for four months and banned from 9 international matches ruling him out of Uruguay’s remaining World Cup games. He has also been fined circa £65,700. He will miss the first nine games of Liverpool’s new season. The Uruguayan FA will appeal against the ban. Another snippet of unacceptable behaviour is the fairly obvious video evidence of a green laser pen being directed into the face and eyes of the Russian Goalkeeper seconds before Algeria scored the goal that knocked the Russians out of the cup. One can only marvel at the misuse of technology.

On Sunday 28th June 1914 Gavrilo Princip shot Franz Ferdinand the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo. Although not an extremely important man, the assassination set in action the train of events that precipitated World War I. that was to last for 4 years and cost the lives of a generation.

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July 2014

Statins have been declared safe today 2nd July. say leading heart specialists. The “misleading claims” made in the British Medical Journal were overestimated 20 fold and have been retracted. Is it NICE or Mice that rule the world? There still seems to be some advantage in developing a few healthy habits, even when you aren’t in the first flush of youth; says a US study. Things like eating properly, not being obese, not smoking or drinking to access. Oh and a little heart quickening exercise. Trust me I’m a Doctor?

With Isis, the Sunni al Qaeda off-shoot declaring their intention to form an Islamic state complete with Sharia law in parts of Syria and Iraq it provides a whole new aspect to the Syria/Assad argument. I believe it was a close thing that we nearly supplied military aid to the “rebels” in their fight for “freedom” against the government of President Assad. With many British subjects travelling to join the Jihad it puts an altogether new view to the conflict. No doubt some reason will be found to attempt to forgive and rehabilitate some of those British born and raised men who will return from the conflict trained in the dark arts, that’s the way we do it in the UK! Claims have been made that undue pressure has been put on some school pupils, particularly in the Midlands. Ofstead found “a culture of fear and intimidation” in some schools which has has given an updated meaning to the term “Trojan Horse” and does not bode well for the future.

Ken took a coach load of us residents to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on Saturday 5th July. We awoke to a rainy day in Watford but by the time the coach reached Guildford the windows were dry and the sun coming out.

The exhibition of most interest to us was HMS Victory. We had seen the site last year of the dry dock No.2 where she had been laid down at Chatham in 1759 to be launched in 1765. Constructed with the use of over 6,000 trees; 90% being oak and weighing 3,566 tons, she was designated a First Rate ship and armed with 100 smooth bore cannons ranging from 6 to 42 pounds positioned along her 4 decks on both sides. We walked along the lower decks and marvelled at the lack of space and head height which was the whole world to the gun crews. They lived, ate, slept, amused themselves and fought to the death on and around the cast iron cannons mounted on heavy, wheeled trolley’s, to facilitate the recoil and reload.

She was in the main a very successful ship and her achievements were in no small part down to the efforts and privations of these men below decks. The engagement most likely recalled is her part in the victorious Battle of Waterloo in 1805 and with the gun shot death of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Horatio Nelson on her quarter deck with the victory almost secured.

The battle took place off Cape Trafalgar after the British navy had chased its French and Spanish quarry across to the West Indies and back. As the enemy left the Port of Cadiz Nelson put his plans to “annihilate” them into action and signalled his fleet with the message, “England expects that every man to do his duty”. Despite being outnumbered 33 to 27 and losing or having wounded 1,700 British crewmen, his fleet caused 6,000 enemy casualties and took 20,000 prisoners. The threat of an trade blockade and invasion of England by Napoleon Bonaparte was removed.

It was easy to imagine the horrors of the gun crews during that day as we carefully picked our way between the guns and other equipment littering the deck. They did not have Health and safety Rules to work to in those days.

Victory had been badly damaged in the battle and was not able to move under her own power. She was towed to Gibraltar for running repairs then took Lord Nelson’s body back to lay in state at Greenwich before a trip along the Thames and his burial in St Paul’s Cathedral on January the ninth 1806.

She flew many Admiral’s flags on numerous campaigns following the battle and ended her active service moored in Portsmouth Harbour off Gosport as a depot ship.

The second visit was to see what was left of the Mary Rose following an extremely expensive and complex salvage of part of her hull and many artefacts invaluable to students of the Tudor era.

Built in 1510 for King Henry VIII at Portsmouth, the 600 ton ship had a deal of success as a state of the art man of war. She had extensive refits and the last one may have contributed to her sinking in 1545. New Bronze long range cannons, some of which were new to the upper deck, required considerable additions and alterations to the ships actual structure. It is thought that these changes may have reduced her stability and following a broadside she turned to fire a similar salvo from the other side and with the aid of a gust of wind healed over to starboard where water rushed into the open gun ports. Everything on board not firmly fixed moved to the starboard and the ship rapidly began to sink. The King was watching his fleet engage the French invasion force in the Solent when his pride and joy went down taking with it 400 of the crew, most could not swim and the anti boarding nets deployed effectively prevented those that could from getting into the sea away from the fast sinking vessel.

She sank with a 60 degree lean to the starboard side and was soon imbedded in deep clay. Early attempts to raise the hulk were unsuccessful as cables could not be passed under her. Several further attempts were made to recover the wreck but only managed to recover some cannons and other artefacts.

The scouring action of the tide driven sand together with fungi, Bacteria and wood boring shipworms soon caused the exposed part of the hull to disintegrate and collapse. The site levelled and was covered in a layer of hard clay and it was not until 1836 that signs of some timbers was noted leading to its rediscovery in 1971. It was determined that only 40% of the original ship had survived.

A charitable trust was opened to recover the ship which first saw the light of day in October 1982 supported on a cushioned cradle. What we saw at Portsmouth was the result of many years of painstaking work and new technology, and millions of pounds.

The hull is viewed through glass panels at three levels and an enormous display of recovered artefacts from weapons to surgeons tools are on display.

Whilst applauding the technical skills involved in the recovery and preservation of the hull it must be said the artefacts, information boards and associations were of more tangible interest to us.

Others in the party took what we were told was a windy but enjoyable trip around the harbour and most of us visited the various museum exhibits; we found these presentations very interesting.

We were more than ready for the coach home at 16.30 and declared it a day well spent, and well organised. Thank you Ken. What comes next?

Israel continues to make air strikes on the Gaza Strip with many casualties. 8th.July. The Israeli military spokesman says they are preparing all options to stop the rocket fire emanating from the strip, 131 rockets have been used since last night. The call up of 40,000 military reservists has been authorised. It does not look as if this latest flair up is going to disappear overnight!

Brazil played Germany in the semi finals of the World Cup yesterday. 8th July. and were humiliated by the 7-1 score line. The local supporters were shocked, as indeed were the Brazilian team players. The Germans were good but made to look even better by the very poor display of the home side. It is to be grateful that England did not suffer the same fate. There may have been method in their ploy of getting eliminated early in the competition!

The second World Cup semi final 9th July. saw Argentina beat Holland in a very tight game 1-0. This result has further incensed the Brazilians who are never happy with their neighbour’s football success.

Public Service workers are striking today. 10th July. over disputes with the government regarding pay, pensions and various cuts. It is estimated that over a million teachers, Council Staff, fire-fighters and civil servants will withdraw their labour. A union general secretary claims some workers are £4,000 worse off than they were 4 years ago. Tell me about it!

The conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip continues to escalate. 13th July. Israeli ground troops have launched what they called a brief raid into northern Gaza to destroy rocket sites which continue to send missiles onto Egyptian cities. This is in contravention of a UN demand for a ceasefire. Israel and Hamas have shown no willingness to stop the attacks. 1,200 air strikes were made on rocket sites and of course some caused collateral damage and 156 deaths, these in response to the reported 700 rockets and mortars fired into Israeli territory. Leaflets have warned Hamas to evacuate northern Gaza pending a possible heavy attack on missile sites. Where will it end? If history is anything to go by it will not be soon or for too long.

Germany won the World Cup beating Argentina 1-0 in the last minutes of extra time with a superb goal thus avoiding the dreaded penalties; which with Germany involved are a virtual forgone conclusion.13th July. This was the only consolation for the host nation was Brazil who could not have lived if Argentina, their Bête noire, had won

Israel accepted an Egyptian proposal for a truce 14th July. in order to halt the Gaza hostilities. Hamas then launched more rockets and that little initiative was history!

Israel continue to make air strikes 15th July. and further warns residents of an impending ground attack. The rockets continue to fly from the strip into Israel.

Emergency plans were unveiled yesterday to strengthen the government’s facility to access e-mails, and other electronic messaging metadata when suspicion exists, in an effort to counteract terrorist activities. It had been announced last week that mobile phones and laptops would have to be demonstrated as “bootable” at airport security to prove that their batteries had not been replaced by explosives. If it does not switch on then it does not travel with its owner! The US had originally demanded these checks on transatlantic flights but the precaution was extended to other flights and will cause extra delays.

The 2014 Farnborough Air Show was meant to be dominated by the British debut of the F-35 US manufactured jet fighter. But due to a fire in its Pratt and Witney engine two weeks ago the stealthy new combat aircraft remained in the United States. Lockheed in the US have now been given the OK to fly the plane but presumably don’t want to risk it crossing the Atlantic. The enormously expensive plane; currently over £50 million, will be the fighter plane of choice for the RAF. Unless it rains?

Israel has launched ground attacks on the Gaza strip 17th July. following two cease fires that were not observed. Casualties mount as tanks and other armour attack what the Israelis claim are military and supply targets. The casualties mount. Hamas rockets continue to be fired into Israel.

Thunder storms and extensive lightning early morning on 18th July. This coincided with angry beeps from the bedroom phone and loss of ceiling fan operation. A rare loss of power! No cordless phone, PC, lights or fans. Cooker had to be lit with a lighter. House alarms with batteries passed their sell by date started to sound. A call by old fashioned phone determined the fault had been recorded and 11am was the estimated time for a back feed to be provided to by-pass a fault in a street junction box. Received a call from the supply authorities 5 minutes after supply was resumed. The freezer contents were safe!!

A Malaysia Airlines passenger Jet MH-17 carrying near to three hundred passengers and crew has been brought down in rebel held territory of eastern Ukraine today, Thursday 17th July. The Boeing 777 was overflying the area at 33,000 ft on what had been declared a safe route. The majority of the passengers were Dutch but several other countries including Malaysia, Australia and the UK also lost lives. Two days after the event there are no independent aid and investigation workers on the site although reports of the “black Boxes” having been found, one of which has been taken to Russia. Recriminations and strenuous denials have been issued from both sides and claims rumour the report on social media that the rebels had shot down what they thought was a government military aircraft. World leaders have condemned the act and said the perpetrators must be bought to book. President Putin put the responsibility on Ukraine, “This tragedy would not have happened if there had been peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southwest Ukraine”, said the Kremlin statement. He did not claim the Ukraine actually shot the plane down! No doubt more news will be made available in the future but for those that died and their loved ones it will be of little use and a lot too late.

 The English cricket team have performed badly 21st July. to lose the Lords Test against India after throwing away several wickets and a last day chance of a result with some unbelievably poor strokes. A little good news would have been very welcome!

The land fighting continues in Gaza 22nd July. 500 Palestinians have been killed and a much smaller number of Israeli’s in the ground fighting and air raids to close the tunnels used by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and also to destroy their arms caches. Two Egyptian arranged cease fires were either not observed at all by both parties or soon broke down. The UN Security Council has issued a call for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” and in Egypt the US Secretary of State has also been involved with an attempt to arrange a cease fire. More than 100 rockets continue to be fired into Israel every day.

The saga of the downed Malaysian Airways flight over the occupied area of Ukraine continues. It is hoped that Russian President Putin will honour his promise to allow a full and fair investigation of the tragedy. The Australian Prime Minister claims the site has been subjected to “industrial” level tampering. It has been trampled; with individuals roaming around the site. It looks more like a building demolition than a forensic investigation, he said. The bodies have been removed to refrigerated rail cars by the rebels, and news today suggests they will begin their journey to identification and return to their loved ones anytime soon. Reports that the aircraft’s Black Boxes have been returned to the Airline by the rebels is welcomed following an earlier refusal for investigators to have access to them or the site. Further sanctions are threatened on Russia by the US and EU which makes for a very dangerous international state of affairs. Several parallels have been drawn with the current situation and earlier historic incidents that have led to massive conflicts. It is to be hoped that a degree of discretion amongst the feelings of grief and anger can be exercised.

The window cleaner came today, 25th July. after a ten week gap due to Bob, our long term regular man’s retirement due to health problems. The last window to be cleaned coincided with a crash of thunder and a torrential downpour. Sods or Murphy’s, take your pick!

The death toll continues to rise in the Gaza Strip as Israeli forces continue their offensive and Hamas rockets and mortars still rain across the border. Despite efforts by the UN and others there seems to be no end in sight for this troubled and tragic area.

Another cease fire is in operation in the Gaza Strip today 26th July. for 12 hours, “for humanitarian reasons” is the claim. Humanity does not seem generally to be too high on either parties agenda with the death toll now reading 935 Palestinians and 38 Israeli. The latter still aim to find and destroy the numerous terrorist tunnels and Hamas apparently have an endless supply of rockets to launch.

Many of the bodies of those killed by the shooting down of the Malaysian Airliner have arrived back in Holland to due ceremony. There are still many unaccounted for. It seems that observers and examiners are getting some access to the crash site but with the time passed and the many interventions by anybody at all it will be difficult to come to sound conclusions. Unconfirmed reports of items removed and re-located can’t help the outcome.

The Commonwealth Games are up and running 26th July. in Scotland and the TV services are doing their best to cover everything. With the World Cup, Test Matches and Grand Prix cover there has not a lot of space for anything else over the last couple of months.

Further financial restrictions and sales embargoes have been placed on Russia by the EU and USA 29th July. which include the sale of sensitive technologies including energy recovery technology, the banning of Russian state owned banks from selling certain bonds and equities and eight names have been added to the list of people subject to an EU wide asset freeze and travel ban. These actions are all as a result of the dissatisfaction shown by Russian support of the Ukraine rebels and of the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines plane in an occupied area where little cooperation has been shown with the investigators or humanitarian workers. It remains to be seen what effect these sanctions will have on President Putin’s reactions and how they will affect the economy; or indeed security of the West, and in particular the EU.

An outbreak of deadly Ebola has struck in West Africa and over 700 have died since earlier in the year. No cases have been so far noted outside the affected area but with modern transport this can quickly change without stringent precautions at airports and other entry points. At least one athlete at the commonwealth games has gone absent claiming he does not want to go back to the source of the infection. Other athletes have been tested and shown clear.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the events that precipitated the start of World War I. On 28th July. the assassination of a European Archduke led on to 4 years of unbelievably bloody conflict and the loss of a generation of young men. Those that lived to tell the tales of the hell suffered have long since gone to join their comrades. As a claimed “War to end all Wars” it was not a success. In fact only 21 years later saw Imperialism spawn another human disaster with even greater geographical effect. I doubt we have learned yet how avoid these pointless and costly actions. Previous diary entries would suggest we are nowhere near to “getting there!”

After losing the last ten games England have managed to win a Test Match 29th July. They beat India comprehensively and there were no “dummies” this time round. They all played well. The fact that India rested their most successful fast bowler for the game is a little worrying!

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August 2014

Yet another cease fire between Israel and Hamas, 1st August., scheduled for 72, hours has broken down after only a couple of hours. Both side blame the other and the death toll continues to rise. An Israeli soldier has allegedly been captured which fact Hamas claim will be used as a bargaining tool for the release of many of their men held in Israel. No stone will be left unturned; and similar comments have been made by Israel. Past history suggests that it can be years before recovery is made.

The ceasefire in Gaza has ended like all the others, in a very short time. 2nd August. The Israeli soldier captured is reported killed in action and more and more people die!

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games end today, 3rd August. It is generally acknowledged that they have been entirely successful with very little positive drug testing and only a few completely inappropriate words allegedly issued by someone who should have known better. All denied of course! Some of the memorable occasions have been provided by very young athletes. A 14 year old lad threw himself off the ten metre diving board with an admirable degree of skill and daring plus a sixteen year old girl Gymnast who took home a bucket full of medals, Gold amongst them. It rained a bit, but no one seemed too put out. England came top of the medal table with Australia second, Canada third and Scotland in fourth place.

The UK Foreign Office has closed its Embassy in Tripoli following increasing violence between rival militias. A Navy ship has evacuated the staff and other Brits to Malta. The situation in Libya has worsened steadily since the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi during the Arab Spring operations of 2011 for which the French and British provided the rebels with air support. The rebels have been accused of carrying out massacres themselves since then, with a number of deaths last November. It feels very much like we have been in this situation before. Choosing sides does not seem to be one of our strong points!

100 years ago today 4th August. The United Kingdom declared war on Germany. Following a UK protest to the German Chancellor reference his violation of Belgium neutrality; which was guaranteed by treaty, in order to outflank the French via previously invaded Luxemburg, he replied to the effect that the treaty was just a “scrap of paper”. At this point the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The date was commemorated in many places in the UK and at 11pm people were asked to extinguish their lights and light a candle. A service at Westminster Abbey provided some sad and poignant readings from a century ago and the lights in the Abbey were put out progressively till finally at 11 pm the last one; at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, was extinguished. A fitting site as the tomb contains the remains of an unknown soldier who died on the bloody battle fields during the horrendous war, along with one million others from the UK and the Commonwealth.

Yet another ceasefire has been arranged in the Gaza strip 4th August. The Egyptians have again mediated and have provided the facility for both Hamas and Israeli representatives to meet round the table. Israel has said it will withdraw its troops from Gaza this time. Breath is being held and fingers crossed that this time humanity wins!

The subject of Scottish devolution is heating up leading to the September 18th referendum. Alex Salmond the Scottish First Minister held a televised debate 5th August. with Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign. The subject of which currency would be retained was debated and many others left over from the days of Robert the Bruce. The words on the ballot form will ask simply, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The European spacecraft Rosetta has caught up with a comet it has been chasing for 10 years, 5 months and four days. 6th August. In a few weeks time the craft will manoeuvre to within 62 miles and then even closer; whilst maintaining its triangular orbit around it. Once its terrain has been mapped a suite of instruments will analyse the comet’s nucleus. Believed to be made of ice and dust and 4×3.3 km in size it is traveling at 34,175 mph in an orbit round the sun that takes 6.45 years. It is thought that our earth’s water may have been partly provided by the crash of many such bodies and also possibly the amino acids that triggered off life on our planet. The Comets name is 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The 72 hour ceasefire is over in Gaza without agreement between them and Israel in talks held in Egypt. 8th August. Hamas recommenced their rocket attacks and Israel responded with air attacks. With the death toll reaching 2,000, including 1,900 Palestinians; mostly civilians, it is imperative that a lasting ceasefire and talks take place.

The US has launched further air strikes against militant Islamic State troops in northern Iraq. The aircraft attacked artillery in use against Kurdish forces defending Irbil. The Sunni Muslim group ISIS is known as IS and has control of large areas of Iraq and Syria. Thousands from minority groups have fled from their homelands into the mountains and the militants have also seized control of Iraq’s largest dam which holds the key water supply and electricity for much of Iraq. The UK has promised logistical support to the US forces and humanitarian aid to the refugees but will not put troops on the ground.

The Hornets start their campaign in the Football League Championship this afternoon. 9th August. With a large staff and a chief coach who last season spoke little if any English we seem to have the makings of an interesting nine months. The new Main Stand is well on the way to completion and will hopefully witness some exiting and productive games. (A good win resulted, 3-0 versus Bolton)

England beat India by an innings and 54 runs at Old Trafford. They bowled them out for 166 in their second innings without the aid of fast bowler Chris Broad who; at the end of England’s innings had hit two sixes before getting a ball that went through his face guard and broke his nose. We are 2-1 up with one to go.

The US continue their air attacks 10th August. on IS military units firing on the refuges in the mountains in Iraq.

In Gaza the exchange of Hamas rockets and Israeli air attacks continue with no apparent signs of a further ceasefire. many Palestinians are homeless and without power and water.

The lovely weather of the last few weeks has been hijacked by the tail end of a tropical storm “Bertha” that has been tracking across the Atlantic for the last week or so. There is a fear that the jet stream may be forced southwards which will leave us with much less favourable weather in the coming weeks.

House prices continue to soar. They have risen more than 10% in the last year. Again the reason is given as demand exceeding supply. With the continuing population increase this must surely always be the case. With the threat that a Bank Rate increase is likely before long and stricter rules regarding mortgage lending the demand has not eased. It is interesting to read that the average price of a home nationally is now £186,322. This suggests that the Watford area must be fairly popular!

The latest from Iraq/Syria 15th August. is that supplies have been provided for the refugees in the mountains by both the UK and the US and the later have determined that the state of emergency no longer demands evacuation. The US and France are preparing to arm the Kurds in their fight against IS and the UK will provide what logistical support is required. These operations have a nasty habit of blowing back in the wind. With a new Iraqi Prime minister it remains to be seen if he can prevent the various Muslim factions from attempting to annihilate one another; and any other sect that does not see it their way.

Ebola continues to frighten a lot of people. Some of the sufferers brought out of the area for treatment have died despite the agreement to use unproven drugs as a last resort. We are told not to worry as it is a bodily contact disease and no special checks have been put in place to monitor the general health of people at immigration such as were used for the Chicken Flu outbreak. Whether checks would help to identify possible sufferers/carriers is I suppose very doubtful.

We are in the throes of yet another Gaza ceasefire. I have lost count of the numbers so far arranged and subsequently violated. Egypt deserve some respect for their mediation; no one else seems to have been of much use.

The European Games in Zurich have thrown up some good results in the last couple of days by the GB&I athletes despite; the at times bad weather. It is pleasing to see another generation of competitors making their marks. We appear to have mainly good attitudes with this latest bunch. Some of our earlier athletes had a rather higher opinion of themselves than was actually justified on the results sheets.

Despite US reports there have been further alleged massacres, 16th August. atrocities and abuses on religious minorities in Iraq. It is claimed that the IS forces have shot the men and carried of the women and children of those who will not convert. Indecision rains on the part of many of the EU countries as to what action to take. The US continue to make air strikes on IS vehicles seen to be targeting local and often refugees driven from their homes.

The UK economy continues to grow steadily. This is in contrast to the rest of Europe where “ground to a halt” is a better description. Germany’s GDP has fallen and the French and Italian economy are at standstill. As trading partners this does not bode well for the UK ability to sell to them.

David Cameron has warned that Islamic State militants may be a threat on British streets unless we take action. “Humanitarian response” is insufficient. a “firm security response” is what is needed. This is in the light of Church leaders expressed concern that no coherent response is being forwarded to tackle Islamic extremism. Meanwhile the US continues it air strikes on IS target in northern Iraq.

The Hornets came severely unstuck at Norwich losing 3-0.16th August. With a player lost to a red card after only two minute it was not an unlikely result.

The European Games ended in Zurich on Sunday with Great Britain & Northern Island in top place in the medal tables with 12 Gold’s.17th August Mo Farah came first in the 5,000 metres to add to his 10,000 metres win and when asked about his future aims replied “Yea. No. Definitely!” So that’s alright then. He does not look strong enough to win anything, but is a real machine on the track and seemingly a nice family guy too. Jo Pavey went into the history books as the eldest winner; at nearly 41, of a European medal with Gold in the Woman’s 10,000metres, and we won three gold’s and a bronze in the four Men’s / Women’s relay races. A tremendous effort crowned by the men’s long jump title.

England won the final test and the series against India 3-1 in 3 days. 17th August. India played very poorly and lost by an innings and 244 runs at the Oval. I have rarely heard less complementary comments from commentators as were made about the Indian performance.

European Space probe Rosetta is still orbiting Comet 67P whilst selecting a landing site for its Philae robot to land on it sometime in November. This follows a 6.4 billion Km. chase from earth with Rosetta in sleep mode for much of it. Amazing!

Eight hours before the Gaza truce was due to end 19th August. rocket were fired into Israel say their military. This immediately prompted return air attacks on Gaza and a senior army man and his family were killed. And so it goes on!

An American journalist kidnapped earlier in Syria 20th August was executed by beheading, with his persecutor speaking in what seemed to be a British accent. It appears this man was the subject of a failed rescue attempt by US ground forces sometime previous. Prime Minister Cameron returned from holiday to London to chair security meetings and many of the world leaders have condemned this barbaric act. Some see it as the possible epiphany of the current conflict. The US continues its aerial attacks and local ground forces claim they have repossessed the Mosul Dam. Every silver lining has a cloud. The Kurds and Iraqi forces whose combined efforts pushed back the insurgents are both claiming the victory. It makes Sudoku look easy!!

Could Syria’s President Assad be a partner in the struggle with Islamic State is being asked in the US. 22 August. This would seem to be on the basis of; “your enemies enemy is your friend”. Surely not. But more peculiar alliances have been struck.

18 alleged Collaborators were killed by Hamas in Gaza City. This follows the continued exchange of rocket and airstrikes in the aftermath of the breakdown of truce talks. And so it goes on, and on.

Match of the Day is 50 years old today. It has been a must for football fans all this time and has seen many memorable games. Originally only one game was shown and the venue was kept a secret in order to maintain attendance. Now all the Premiership clashes are on view and those played on a Sunday are seen on Match of the Day 2. Long may it continue. Actually going to a game is now so very expensive.

A convoy of a 260 or so trucks has passed through the Ukrainian border at a post controlled by pro Russian activists and is being described as an act of Direct invasion. 23rd August. The convoy has been held at the border for more than a week and the Russian foreign ministry has said it can wait no longer. It has a rebel escort and no observers from the ICRC (Red Cross). The convoy contains humanitarian aid say the Russians.

A ceasefire deal between Israel and the Palestinians: the ninth in the current series, has been agreed. 26th August. It came into effect at 7pm. Israel has agreed to open its borders with Gaza to allow in and reconstruction materials. The ceasefire is described by Hamas as “open ended”.

The second TV debate between Alex Salmond the Scottish First Minister and Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign was held tonight. A bad tempered rant was the result with both attempting to talk down the other. Listening and replying was nor on the agenda.

Another tail end of a US Hurricane named Cristobel, is expected to reach us as a storm and further wreck our late summer. It has rained for two days, with the bank holiday producing a non-stop deluge; it was also had the lowest recorded temperatures for this time of year.

British Ebola victim faces a critical few days whilst the effect of the experimental drug ZMapp are determined. He has been transported to the Royal Free Hospital in North London following his contraction of the disease whilst working as a volunteer Nurse in Sierra Leone. The drug has not been tested for safety but with no other drug in existence the choice is not hard to make.

EU officials in Brussels have told the UK that they could be denied key posts on the European Commission unless a woman is proposed to improve Gender Balance! Downing Street say their nomination of Lord Hill will stay. Only four women have been proposed for the 28 posts to date. President Juncker requires national leaders to change their minds and nominees. Not enough women is “neither legitimate or credible”. He has said that women will get key roles. Cries of “Dictator” have resulted from several directions. Perhaps Mrs Juncker could be given a chance?

The latest figures on immigration are worrying, or at least they are to me. Figures released yesterday 26th August. tell us that 560,000 immigrants arrived last year and the net figure, taking into account of those that left leaves us with a 234,000 increase in population. 40% more than the previous year. It would seem that many of the immigrants are here illegally and some researchers say that 1 in 30 of the UK population fall into this category. It would seem that there is no way of controlling the influx or sending them away once they are here. They must all be fed and housed and provided with medical care. Many prisoners of Her Majesty should also have not been here but on completion of their sentence will be released back to the community. There appears to be no answer forth coming to reducing or stabilising the 63 million current residents.

It is reported today that 1,400 young girls were sexually abused by gangs of Asian men in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. over the last 11 years. 27thAugust. It would appear that knowledge of these incidents was hidden by both the police and local Child protection authorities. It is alleged that most were ignored because officials were worried that action would be interpreted as “Racist”. Other staff were ordered to ignore complaints to “protect community cohesion”. The documentation shows how girls from 11 years old were gang raped, threatened with guns, doused with petrol and beaten. It’s a situation of “nothing to do with me” from those who were supposedly employed to deal with for such problems. Resignations have been demanded by the Prime Minister but have mainly fallen on deaf ears. The Chief Care Officer has said “A culture of willful denial” may hide the horrifying extent of sexual exploitation of children.

Russia is accused of sending 1,000 fully armed troops 28th August. into Ukraine to fight alongside the rebels. The US, UK and EU have all objected strongly and threatened more sanctions. President Putin says it is the Ukrainians’ who are the aggressors despite his troops fighting their way into the Ukraine territory through armed border posts. With NATO involved and Ukraine showing interest in the EU this situation can only add to the parlous state the world finds itself in.

The government has raised the terrorist threat to the second highest possible. 29th August. The Prime Minister say’s the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq pose the country’s greatest security risk ever. No attack is identified as imminent but one is highly likely. The level now stand at “Severe”.

Much discussion and indeed disagreement has been heard on how to control the radicalised British citizens who have been to fight alongside their Jihadist comrades in IS in Iraq and Syria. This would appear to be the reason for the heightened threat level. Removal of Passports and even citizenship has been muted. Not allowing them to re enter the country has been another. As no one appears to know who and how many have actually gone; there is only an estimate that 500 have traveled and 250 have returned, then doing something about them when they do deem to come back is not really an option. The civil rights and human relations lobbies are having a field day. For every action proposed there are just as many; or more, legal reasons why civil liberties and human rights cannot be infringed, no matter what action the Jihadist has taken part in.

The ceasefire in Gaza seems to be holding. 30th August after 50 days of death and destruction and eight other violated ceasefires. Egypt deserve some credit for their efforts.

The Hornets go into the International break with a 4-2 win against Huddersfield. which leaves them second in the table with 12 points having lost 1 and won 4, scoring 13 goals and conceding 6. 30th August. Troy Deeny who looked likely to leave for greener fields has signed for another 4 years. There has been some aggravation at the club amongst the players and staff over the last couple of weeks. Needs sorting!

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September 2014

Beppe Sannino has resigned as Manager of the Hornets after only 9 months. 1st September. He claims he has “gone as far as I can go, taking over boys and leaving men”. Who knows the true facts?

Childhood obesity is again in the news andHealth experts are asking for emergency measures to tackle the problem. The Chief Medical Officer for England claims “an entire generation is being destroyed by a diet of junk food and sugary drinks”. One in three children under 15 are overweight or obese. A GP in Sheffield and a member of the RCGP, said there was a culture of denial among many of his patients. “Many parents don’t recognise their children are obese because many of them are obese themselves. Obesity is the new normal and we need a unified approach to manage it.” GP’s say they are dealing with a generation of patients who may die before their parents.

The fighting continues in Ukraine with mercenaries from Europe fighting on both sides. More sanctions are to be placed on Russia by the EU. Putin still says that if the Ukrainians had not resisted the invasion then there would not have been all this trouble and the Malaysian airliner would not have been shot down, by whoever shot it down! American senators have asked for the US to send weapons to help Ukraine fight what they say is “a Russian invasion”. and earlier, Russian leader Putin called for talks to discuss the issue of “statehood” for eastern Ukraine. Do you ever get that feeling you have been there before?

Today is the day of the slimmed down vacuum cleaner. 2nd September. The EU have decreed that this domestic devise must no longer be made; or imported, with a motor larger than 1,600 watts; and soon this will reduce to 900 watts. They don’t seem to be too hot on illegal immigrants or monetary policies but they have certainly come down hard on dirty carpets. How much longer will the reduced size cleaners have to be pushed back and forth to achieve the required degree of dustlessness. (I don’t know if it’s a word either. Soon to follow is legislation on the power of hair dryers. What about a little education on the standby devices and PC’s and routers left turned on ad infinitum. Many living rooms look like Christmas illuminations when the lights are turned off.

Talking of which, the advertisers on the TV sales channels are persuading us that we should start our Christmas gift shopping as of now. Get your “pressies” now, before the Easter bunnies appear on line?

The Hornets have a new manager. He is 41 year old Spaniard, Oscar Garcia. He had been short listed by Leeds but as their last Chief Coach only lasted six games in charge, thought better of the offer. He got Brighton to the play-offs last year and has left Maccabi, Tel Aviv due to his concerns over security. I wonder if it is a frying pan/fire situation? Straight into the Hornet’s nest. Slightly mixed metaphors I suppose!

England cricketers again performed embarrassingly to lose the 4th one day match against India and any chance of tying the series. 2nd September. After struggling to 206 all out the Indians scored 212 with the loss of one wicket. At a stroll!

The Prime Minister expressed disgust 3rd September at the extremist’s barbaric act following their release of video purported to show another American journalist; Steven Sotloff, being beheaded. The masked killer bears a resemblance to the jihadist with a London accent who slaughtered the first US reporter James Foley . The video includes a threat reference another British hostage.

England had a crowd of only 40,000 fans turned up at Wembley to see them win 1-0 against lowly Norway in a friendly match. As it turned out, the ones that stayed away were the real winners. This supposed warm up for their Euro 2016 match versus Switzerland next week was poor entertainment and followed on from their lacklustre display in Brazil. They have a long way to go to win back the fans and actually look as though they might win anything at all.

England cricketers came good in their last One Day match against India. 6th September. They won by 41 runs. Small comfort, their only win; and the only time they looked as though they had a chance.

The British volunteer Nurse working in Sierra Leone who contracted Ebola has been released from his London Hospital cured. A grain of good news for a change.

A cease fire has been agreed in the Ukraine following peace talks. 5th September. Accusations from both sides that it has already been broken indicate how fragile any consensus will be in the area. With masses of Russian troops and amour reported to have been fighting alongside the separatists; although denied by Putin, it must be a situation still fraught with danger. At a NATO conference in Wales further sanctions on Russia trade wise, and on individuals financially were agreed, and an announcement is to be made on the formation of a 4,000 strong rapid reaction force to be deployed in the Balkans to counter the Russian threat. The aim is to ease the fear felt by member states that Russia may even further attempt to repeat its aggression somewhere in the region. 25% of this force will be British. Some thought is being given to the winding down of defensive spending. NATO is reluctant to break an agreement with Russia that forbids the placing of permanent bases in the Baltic area but will circumvent this clause by holding permanent exercises. The Baltic states are part of NATO so any attack or incursion would have to be met and repulsed. These are certainly some very dangerous time!

The ceasefire in Ukraine seems to be close to an end with Russian separatists and troops attacking Mariupol which is seen by the rebels as a key city on the route to Crimea. 7th September. The two leaders still seem to be talking but it looks likely that they are not listening to one another.

Islamic State have murdered another aid worker 14th September. The beheading was released on video. The victim is identified as David Haines an aid worker missing since last year whilst working in Syria. This is the third murder in the last month and the Jihadists had warned that these would be the consequences of US air strikes. The killer, hooded and dressed in black again seemed to be speaking with a British accent. David Cameron called the act “a despicable and appalling murder of an innocent aid worker” and “an act of pure evil”. “We will do everything in our power to hunt down these murderers and ensure they face Justice, however long it takes”.

The Scottish referendum on devolution has taken up most of the news space recently and the protagonist have got ever more devious as the days leading up to next Thursday drag along. Polls claiming for and against results proliferate to the point of boredom. Roll on Thursday!.

The IS are threatening to behead another British hostage. The poor devil was seized on Boxing day just 30 minutes after arriving at a Syrian hospital in an aid convoy. It is alleged that Al Qaeda have asked IS to release him as their actions were wrong under Islamic law. IS now claim he is a spy!

The Scots vote on their independence tomorrow and the rest of the UK is up in arms regarding the concessions offered by the British main party leaders for them to stay. Apparently the offer gives a much higher level of state spending per head than is current in England. With free social care for the elderly and other benefits’ that England cannot afford it seems a good deal for North of the border whatever happens. With funding proposed to carry on indefinitely it is going to be a costly exercise whatever the result of the referendum.

A site has been selected for European Space probe Rosetta to land its Philae robot on Comet 67P. It has already sent back pictures of the comet and it does not look as though there is a flat bit of ground to settle on. All these manoeuvres are taking place millions of miles away with everything involved moving at tremendous speeds. Astounding!

A trial of an experimental vaccine against the Ebola virus is to begin in Oxford. 60 healthy volunteers will be injected with the vaccine. It would normally take many years of trials before it was approved but with President Obama calling the West African outbreak “a threat to global security” shortcuts have been approved both sides of the Atlantic. The vaccine developments and trials are being carried out by GlaxoSmithKline in the UK and the National Institute of Health in the US.

Scotland has decided it does not want to go it alone. 19th September. But with the vote showing that 45% of the votes were cast for devolution there was not a lot of room for manoeuvre; it was hardly a land slide. Many correspondents are saying that England should have the same opportunities to govern purely English policy that Scotland has, and that their vote at Westminster can determine the outcome of many decisions not in anyway concerning Scotland. The changes promised by the three main parties pre referendum in a an effort to sway the vote, must have considerable consequences in the way our current government sees the share out of power and taxes. Or at least I hope it does. The result has pleased the money markets following a fall in the value of the Pound leading up to the ballot. Alex Salmond has stood down as Leader of the Scottish National Party. What will the TV channels and newspapers fill their spaces with now. Still in for a bit more analysis and a few more recriminations but it’s all over bar the (not too loud) shouting.

France has carried out air strikes against IS militants in Iraq. IS depots in North eastern Iraq and more raids could follow. The US has operated 170 attacks since mid-August.

Today there is further talk about devolution, for both Scotland and England. 22 September. At last it seem to be sinking in that Scottish MPs have considerable sway on decisions only affecting England. Possibly due to which party many of these honorable gentlemen represent, Ed Miliband has not shown favour to limiting their voting power to England only divisions. It is the Party Conference season so a lot of promises/proposals are being muted.

NASA announce they have successfully put another exploratory satellite around Mars after a 442 million mile trip. The project cost $US700 million which equates to roughly $US1M per kilometer. It is believed that Mars went from being hot and wet billions millions of years ago to its current cold and dry. The earlier conditions may have supported some form of life and the new probe is searching the atmosphere for clues. It seem peculiar that the Rover operating on the surface is not a better tool for this purpose. The craft joins three others in orbit and an Indian device is nearly there too.

The US and five Arab countries continue their air attacks on IS strongholds in both Iraq and Syria. David Cameron in New York has said these forces threaten the UK and action must be taken. Much emphasis has been on the general Muslim rejection of the violence and brutality inflicted on it seems anyone at all. The beheading of aid workers as spies has particularly stirred up attitudes. It is likely that Parliament will be recalled on Friday and an UK air offensive start soon afterwards. The timing seems to be more concerned with party conferences than with the threat to us in the UK. If party politics’ was ever superfluous it is now!

The vote in the recalled parliament 26th September. was an overwhelming 481 yes votes to a proposal to back Britain’s provision of an aerial strike force to join the US, several Arab States and France in attacking IS forces on the ground in Iraq. The limitation was that the attack by UK planes would only take place in Iraq and not in Syria as has been the case with other forces. The Iraq government has asked for this aid so the general consensus was that the action will be legal. Attacks on IS bases in Syria would require UN backing. Although they did not require a lot of convincing the Prime Minister said, “This is about psychopathic terrorists trying to kill us. Whether we like it or not they have already declared war on us. There isn’t a walk-on-by option.” The force involved will be six RAF Tornado fighter bombers presently stationed on Cyprus and their targets are expected to be IS vehicle convoys and mobile target. There is generally concern over what has been described as “mission creep”, or in other terms, escalation. There is also doubt that air strikes alone will stem the mass killings and other atrocities. It is little wonder that there are many doubts, in the main due to our past involvements, both in the area and others around the world, which in many cases have made the situation worse, not better. Some claim that the current situation is the result of earlier intervention in Iraq. The subject of returning jihadists has also caused great concern. It is estimated that 3,000 have been to, or are still with IS. How will they be handled when returning to their homes? This must be of great concern.

Waiting times to see a GP have been criticised. Apparently 1 in 6 having to wait a week is by no means unusual. Not enough GP’s are available to meet patient demand and this increases by the day. With the possibility that many serious illnesses may not be diagnosed in time to effectively treat them is one of the fears. It must be said that we have not experienced these delays when a really urgent request is made. On the occasions we have visited we have noted how many “no shows” have been listed. Perhaps a fine for not informing the surgery would help, and by the number of offenders, contribute to the finances.

A Chinese city has designated a walking lane for cell phone users in order save themselves; or others, from injury due to colliding whilst in a zombie state. The “lane” is marked, but nobody has worked out how heads will be lifted long enough to actually read the directions. Perhaps the local council could consider the same arrangement in the High Street; even standing still is not a safe option there. Why not designate a lane for pedestrians and leave the rest, such as the phone zombies, cyclists and other aggressively driven vehicles to share and care for themselves? The glares received and abusive language resulting from not making way; without a seconds thought, coming from some of the media users has to be observed to be believed. And I walk with the aid of a stick and am not very agile so perhaps I should get some wheels and a phone, then I am sure my attitude would change?

The RAF has flown armed missions over Iraq but so far has not identified a target. 24th September. The Tornado’s are mean looking machines, and to be selected as a recipient of a “smart” weapon would not make it the best place in the world to be!

Europe once again won and retained Golf’s Ryder Cup. At Gleneagles in Scotland there was some thrilling golf but a bad taste was left afterwards with one of the US players criticising their Captain; Legend Tom Watson, for his handling of the tournament. Not the way Mr Ryder saw the tournaments aims!

The RAF has engaged two targets in Iraq for the first time today. 30th September. destroying a heavy weapons position and an armed truck.

The Hornets have completed 10 games and have 20 points and thus tie three way for the top position. This despite playing under their third coach in 30 days. The first to go was very much a player power thing, the second had a heart problem and the third is Billy McKinlay. There can’t be too many left!

September has been determined the driest since records began more than 100 years ago. It is also very close to the warmest too

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October 2014.

Two incidents today, within minutes, 1st October, make me wonder why we don’t have more bad events on the estate roads. The first was from a car leaving the A405 to cut between a lady cyclist and another car coming along North Approach. There cannot have been very much in it; either cyclist or car. The second incident, a toddler leaving the pavement from behind a parked car and walking unattended across Greenwood Drive in front of my car, which was fortunately being driven at a slow speed. This is the way of heart attacks.

The first report of a case of Ebola being brought out of Africa by a traveller has occurred in America. The man came from Liberia and had been in contact with many people before being diagnosed.

Another British captive has been beheaded by IS Jihadist’s in Iraq. 4th October. It is thought that the same “southern English” man carried out the despicable deed. Disgust and abhorrence has been expressed all over the world at this latest slaughter of a man who had travelled to Syria with an aid convoy and apparently had no religious or political motives whatsoever. British Muslims have expressed fury and anguish in the wake of the brutal killing of Alan Henning the Salford Taxi driver and declare they are ” numb with grief”. The Muslim Council of Britain says militants are ‘hijacking Islam’.

A Spanish nurse has contracted Ebola in Madrid. 8th October. This is first such case to be actually transmitted out of Africa. She was part of a team treating two Spanish Priests who both died of the virus. Some 3,400 people; mostly in West Africa, have died from the current outbreak.

The Hornets have yet another new manager. Billy McKinlay was sacked after only 8 days in charge. The ex Chelsea mid fielder Slavisa Jokanovic is the new job holder. One wonders for how long? This exercise is becoming an embarrassment. We will soon need a rhyme like the one for Henry VIII’s wives. With a name such as his I look forward to his match summaries on the radio. The Hornet’s supporters are very loyal but how much longer will they put up with this farcical indecision?

Whilst other areas of conflict and massacre have overshadowed the apparently Russian assisted fighting in the Ukraine; where a ceasefire is supposedly in operation, the fighting and killing persist. One of the areas of fiercest activity is Donetsk Airport where massive damage has been inflicted on building with the Control Tower and Terminal Buildings in ruins. Hostilities continue in other adjacent areas and it is estimated that 331 people have been killed since the start of the ceasefire.

UKIP have a first member of parliament. 9th October. Douglas Carswell who defected from the Conservative party was elected as the member for Clacton with a majority over his Tory opponent of 12,404 votes. Labour polled 3,959 and the Lib Dem’s managed 483. What this suggests for the General Election next year can only be imagined, and perhaps worried about?

Ebola continues to give great cause for concern. Despite the precautions taken in handling infected people in the West it would appear that a minor deviation from the set protocol can have disastrous consequences. The US has instigated immigration health checks for air passengers arriving from West Africa; although many say they are by no means foolproof for detecting the disease whilst in its incubation period.

Our Defence Secretary has agreed the deployment 12th October. of a specialist team of non-combat trainers to instruct the Kurdish fighters (Peshmerga) in the use of the heavy machine guns gifted by us last month to assist in their fighting against IS.

England won their two matches in Euro 2016 qualifying this last week. Both matches were against countries near the bottom of the league table. Current performances would suggest that there is unlikely to be much silverware at the end of this trail. Despite being down to ten men for a long period last night, Estonia were only beaten 1-0 by a good Rooney free kick and a goalkeeping fumble. With virtually no penetration down the flanks and the apparent need to take an extra touch; before passing across, or more likely backwards, it made for two fairly uninteresting games.

A report today 16th October. by The Scientific Alliance emphasises and backs Ofgem’s opinion regarding our ability to provide sufficient electrical power against claims that the policy of successive governments to produce only “green” electricity is not only going to raise energy bills but has not proved to be particularly effective in reducing greenhouse gases and other emissions. The trend towards renewable energy sources and particularly wind farms has puts our ability to produce enough power; during high need periods, severely at risk. The only EU approved new Nuclear plant in the UK will not be on line for many many years and with a claimed likelihood that an awful lot of gas is available from Fracking, little urgency is being placed on A. recovering it, and B. building plants to utilise it. There at last seems to be a lobby for more nuclear power and with the ever increasing demand it should be given considerable consideration. With hundreds of thousands of new homes demanded, where will they get their power?

On another aspect of power availability and usage are the figures published today reference the “Standby” habit. We pay £1.7billion a year for leaving our PCs, Phones, TVs and other appliances on standby. It is estimated that many households lose £80 per year, whilst leaving games consoles on can cost another £30. 25% of the power we generate goes on entertainment equipments. Come the winter this standby usage could become significant.

The US response to handling a confirmed Ebola sufferer who had arrived from Africa leaves much to be desired. Two nurses have been infected and one of them; who was showing early signs at that stage, has traveled on an internal flight. 132 passengers on the plane are now being sought. A group of British Health Workers have volunteered to go to the seat of the epidemic to provide aid to the sufferers. I hope they are trained and have adequate protection for what is a very brave and praiseworthy venture. In addition, various UK forces and medical equipments are either on site or on their way.

With the UK now carrying out Ebola screening at Heathrow it is to be hoped the British efforts will be a little more effective. Currently reports suggest this may not yet be the case! Some passengers from areas affected were told the screening was voluntary. “Anyone could walk through “without checks” if they wanted”. The world, and this includes the UK has to realise that Ebola does not have Human Rights. Give it an inch……

Unemployment is down to less than 2 million and inflation continues to drop. The bank rate remains at 0.5%. The UK economic growth rate is set to reach 3.2%. This is considerably better than all of the EU countries but makes trading less than easy. The UK is top of the table with both Germany and Italy in a minus position. Our debt mountain continues to grow!

Strikes have been the order of the week. Ambulance men started off the week and they have been followed by teachers, civil servants, coastguards, civilian police staff and prison workers. They have all had various approaches to lack of salary increases. Perhaps the figures above are some of the indications as to why.

The devolved powers offered as a bribe to the Scottish voters has set the fox among the chickens. Why should MP’s for Scottish constituencies have any say on purely English decisions is the cry, when English members have no say on purely Scottish decisions. Gordon Brown thinks that his Labour colleagues will be at a disadvantage if they are restricted in their voting rights to subjects that really concern them. Now there’s a thought!

Today 21st October. we are being battered by the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo which has travelled across the Atlantic to disrupt Heathrow flights and cause a lot of chaos in the North and West. With gusts reported of more than 70 mph there will be a lot of work for roofers, fence erectors and aerial riggers. I can see the large array across the road trying hard to escape.

The Clocks go back tonight October 25th. which means we are into the dark evenings with colder weather on the way following a good all round summer.

Brussels has threatened a £42.5 million a month penalty levy on the UK after David Cameron refused to pay the “completely unacceptable” £1.7 billion extra contribution to the EU by December 1st. as we had done better financially than any of the other members. Germany and France will receive some of their contributions back as they had dropped below the level of an actual rise in profitability. Heads you win, tails we lose!

The Hornets drew again. Last year they did not manage to win between now and Christmas; not a repeat this year, I hope. They are still sharing first place in the Championship with two others after three days at the top on their own.

British troops are currently leaving Afghanistan October 26th. after 14 years, leaving behind 453 dead comrades. We will soon see if their lives were lost were in vain.

Virgin continue to offer places on their experimental space orbiter despite the crash October 31st. in the Mojave Dessert which killed the pilot and injured his co-pilot. Richard Branson says he will continue with the project when the aviation authorities determine the cause of the crash. It is thought currently that one of the pilots operated a movable control surface at an inappropriate time thus causing the disintegration.

Russian troops and armoured vehicles have been reported entering the Eastern Ukraine 7th November. following the illegal elections of last Sunday which were backed by Moscow. It can only be a matter of time before the fighting resumes following a unconvincing and unsuccessful cease fire between the government and the Russian annexing supporters with President Putin’s aid and backing.

The US is sending another 1,500 troops to Iraq to allegedly train the local forces. This number doubles the current force and makes the promise that the US “will not put boots on the ground” a little less believable.

Much discussion and political handbags at the news that we do not have to pay the full £1.7 billion by December 1st. Two instalments with a total of approximately half this amount will be paid next year due to a discount arrangement that was not supposed to come into operation until 2016, with no interest attached. Why this arrangement was not mentioned as a possibility before is a mystery. Much like most everything in politics!

Today sees the Armistice Day parade and wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. 9th November. This is a particularly poignant event as it takes place in the year that marks the centenary of the start of World War 1 which led to the death of millions of service persons from Great Britain, the Commonwealth, and her allies.

Air strikes continue on ISIS targets in Iraq. The latest near Mosul destroyed a military convoy and may have critically injured Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile raids and arrests continue in London of men accused of terrorist connected offences.

Another historic anniversary today sees the 25th year since the Berlin Wall was brought down. The wall marked the line through Germany’s capital that formed part of the Russian constructed barricade that separated their sector of the city from those of the other allies. Built in 1961 it kept families and friends alike apart, and resulted in thousands attempting to cross it; around 170 were killed in their efforts over the 25 years before the wall crumbled. An air lift convoy was set up to provide food and other supplies between 1948 and 1949 to the virtually besieged West Berlin residents. The breaching event was soon to herald the breakup of the Soviet Union into 15 separate countries in 1991. A situation that has since; in itself, led to many deaths. The Crimea and Ukraine are two areas where the separation is disputed by military action. The most obvious advantage to come from the end of the Cold War was fear that had cast a threatening nuclear cloud over much of the world since the end of the World War11. This was the period of MAD. (Mutually Assured Destruction) and possibly the most apposite acronym ever posed!

The Hornets, after being 2 points clear at the top of the league have fallen out of the top contenders with 2 straight defeats. They have however managed to keep their Chief Coach for more than a couple of weeks. So far!

Armistice Day 11th November. is marked today with a nationwide two minutes silence and the placing of the last ceramic poppy at the moat of the Tower of London to commemorate each of the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died for their country in the First world War. All of the league and cup football matches played during and following the last weekend have observed a one minutes silence.

The Rosetta mission to land the European Space Agency’s probe on comet 67P as it circles the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter; 36 million miles from earth, was achieved today. 12th November. The device was designed to fire harpoons into the surface of its landing site in order to overcome the very very low gravitational force, but they failed to deploy and the probe bounced. Weighing 220 lbs on earth it only weighs one third of an ounce on the comet, the device; the size of a washing machine, may have bounced several kilometre away from the comet surface and the new site is not ideal as it may not have enough sun light to keep its batteries charged. Costing more than a £1 billion the device took 10 years and covered 4 billion miles to reach its target meandering through space at 40,000 mph. It is hoped to discover some indication of the possibility that Comets may have contributed to bring water to the earth in its formative years 4.5 billion years ago and thus providing for the development of life on Earth. And us!

The Philae probe has possible sent its last batch of pictures and data 16th November as the shadow it is in does not allow enough sunlight to reach its solar cells to recharge its batteries. The European scientists in Germany claim to have much useful data including a sample analysis of the composition of the comet. We must wait and see what happens; if anything, over the next month or so.

The G8 conference 15th/16th November in Australia again raised the subject of the Russian involvement in the Ukraine. Some quite strong words were used with the threat of further sanctions against Russia if they did not withdraw their troops and armaments and allow the legitimate government to run its own affairs. No nastiness was actually shown on the TV but President Putin found a pressing reason for leaving the conference early.

IS has carried out another mass beheading in Iraq. 14 Syrian soldiers and an American aid hostage were the subject of the latest video. World leaders have condemned this action.

House prices are estimated to rise by 7.4% this year, and 7.2% next year. 17th November. This would add more than £40,000 to the asking price for an average Kingswood semi. With the bank rate expected to remain at 0.5% for some time one can only hope that the massive mortgages taken out in the interim have a percentage or two built into the ability to pay them back when the rate eventually rises. Despite these projections the Economists feel it is unlikely we will suffer another price bubble burst in the next year. Where have I heard that before?

The Hornets are repeating their last years pattern; reaching the top of the league then feeling guilty! They have lost their last three matches and find themselves in 7th position, 6 points behind the leaders Derby County; who beat them 1-2 at home today. 22 November.

The negotiations with Iran surrounding their Uranium enrichment programme are at a critical point; with only one day remaining to the deadline for an agreement. 23rd November. The reports range between no chance, and a suggestion the deadline may be extended by a month or two. Another threat for an ever more threatened world.

The Home Secretary Theresa May has spelt out the scale of threats from terrorism to the UK. 24th November. She said that 40 planned attacks had been foiled since the July 7th 2005 London bombings. The proposed new legislation includes:-

  •           Counter-radicalisation measures – requirements that schools, colleges and probation providers help prevent   people being radicalised
  •           Changes to TPIMs – Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures – to allow the authorities to force suspects to move to another part of the country
  •           Raising the burden of proof for imposing TPIMs from “reasonable belief” to “balance of probabilities”
  •           Greater powers to disrupt people heading abroad to fight – including cancelling passports at the border for up to 30 days
  •           Statutory temporary exclusion orders to control return to the UK of British citizens suspected of terrorist activity
  •           Tighter aviation security – requiring airlines to provide passenger data more quickly and effectively
  •           Banning insurance companies from covering ransoms
  •           Forcing firms to hand details to police identifying who was using a computer or mobile phone at a given time.

The Home secretary warned that even the new powers in the bill would not fully address what she called a “capability gap” in the authorities’ ability to monitor online communications. “Unfortunately, there is no agreement in the coalition – or for that matter with the opposition – about the need for the Communications Data Bill”.

We are going to have to wait until after the general election to address fully this increasingly urgent problem. “

 She added that she remained “passionately convinced” police need access to more information about who is saying what online, in order to combat organised crime and networks of child abusers and terrorism.

It is all very well to see good in everybody and every action but human rights and civil liberties must surely be a two way affair?

The protracted 9 month negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme have reached their deadline without an agreement. They have been extended until June 2015 but with the hope that broad outlines of agreement can be reached within three months. The US secretary of state said at the end of a one week meeting in Vienna, “we are closer to a deal that would make the entire world safer and more secure”. He said it was possible that they will not arrive at a workable agreement and we are not going to sit at a negotiating table for ever; but this is certainly not the time to get up and walk away. The various sanctions on Iraq will remain in place. Yet another area of confusion with links to Syria and Iraq and indeed Turkey. It seems virtually impossible to sort your friends from your enemies in the Middle East.

Had you heard of Black Friday? I hadn’t! It would appear that in the US. it is the day following Thanksgiving Day; which falls on the fourth Thursday in November. The US idea of making it the beginning of Christmas shopping has spread here and many retailers are making special offers and alleged reductions in the price of some items tomorrow, 27th November. It’s all a bit late in Watford considering the supermarkets have been pushing all sorts of things with tinsel, mistletoe, Robins and Father Christmas’es on the packaging for weeks. Why it is named Black Friday I could not determine!

The aftermath of Black Friday 29th November. is reported as mayhem, with scuffles and fights breaking out around the country in stores and supermarkets. Arrests, broken bones, and even an injury caused by the disputed ownership of a TV which fell on one of the prospective and very keen purchasers. The police say that the problem could have been predicted and not enough heavies were available to spread oil on troubled waters. It’s a good job no one has any money to spend or it could have turned quite ugly. On-line sales of £518m was added to “plastic” accounts on Friday alone.

Yet another lost home game for the Hornets. They have now lost four games on the trot and although still six points from the top are fast losing any chance of a play off place, let alone a top two finish. Following last week’s loss the new Coach was blamed for selecting the wrong team. This week he selected the right one and they still seemed completely unable to get a decent shot on goal despite virtually over running the opposition. There are voices raised regarding the suitability of this latest coach and by recent past experience the Italian owners do not suffer real or imagined poor performance in this position for very long.

December 2014

Chancellor George Osborne has updated MPs on the state of the economy in his Autumn Statement. This will be the last statement before the general election. 3rd December , so it was very much an electioneering exercise. These are some of the points he put forward.

         The UK has the fastest growing economy in the EU. 2014 should show a growth 500,000 new jobs created in 2014, the majority are full time.

        Unemployment will fall to 5.4% next year.

        Inflation currently at 1.4% will fall further in 2015

        3% growth forecast in 2014, up from 2.7% predicted in March.

        2.4% growth forecast in 2015, followed by 2.2%, 2.4%, 2.3% and 2.3% in the following four years.

        500,000 new jobs created this year. 85% of new jobs full-time.

        Inflation predicted to be 1.5% in 2014, falling to 1.2% in 2015.

        Changes to house purchase stamp duty will provide payment bands.The standard house sale on the Estate will attract a 5% premium.

        The deficit has been cut to half since 2010 and borrowing set to fall by £6bn in 2016/7, aiming for a surplus of £23bn by 2020.

         Chancellor George Osborne is to pay off the UK government’s remaining debt from World War One, the Treasury has announced.

        The government will repay the outstanding £1.9bn of debt from a 3.5% War Loan on 9 March 2015.

        The move goes further than October’s announcement that the government would pay off £218m of debts from World War One.

         More than 120,000 investors hold War Loan bonds.

       Issued by the then Chancellor Neville Chamberlain in 1932, the War Loan was used to refinance government debt accumulated during World War One. It replaced an earlier bond which paid 5% to investors.

Isn’t war expensive?

        It is the first time the government has paid off a bond of this kind in 67 years. The Debt Management Office estimates the government has paid about £5.5bn in total interest on the 5% and 3.5% war loans respectively since 1917. George Osborne said: “This is a moment for Britain to be proud of. We can, at last, pay off the debts Britain incurred to fight the First World War.

        Tax receipts up to 2018 will be £23bn lower than forecast.

      The tax free sum will be raised to £10,600 in April for basic rate payers and £42,385 will mark the point where the higher rate of 40% is triggered.

        The ISA limit will be raised to £15,240 pa.

        Fuel duty has been frozen again.

Many more changes were listed including a massive road building programme; a suggestion that a road tunnel might be dug to bypass Stonehenge was particularly intriguing, but austerity and further cuts to benefits was strongly voiced in the speech.

The Hornets have confused their supporters by winning 0-5 at Fulham 5th December, following four previous consecutive defeats. There was only one team in it and this time they made use of their superiority and did not give silly goals away. This win puts them back in the play off positions but they have played one more game than all the others!

NASA launched their latest spacecraft from Cape Canaveral today. It was unmanned and did two laps of the Earth before splashing down on target, having heated up to 20,000C degrees on its re-entry. It is intended to use the vehicle to eventually take men round the moon in the 2020’s and to Mars in the 2030’s.

United States commandos stormed a village in Southern Yemen in an attempt to free an American journalist held hostage by Al Qaeda threatened with execution. In a bloody exercise the hostage was killed together with another from South Africa who was the subject of release talks with a South African relief organisation. Several Terrorists were killed during the operation together with a number of locals.

More gales and snowstorms 9th December. in Scotland and Northern England have caused havoc with many people without power. The waves along the East coast have been frightening high. The forecast promises worse to come.

The various political party’s continue to tell us how badly the country is being managed and how they would put things right at almost one stroke. It seems we have heard it all before, and will no doubt hear it all again.

A large lorry crashed across the central barrier near Waltham Cross causing a catastrophic pile up at 01.50 that shut the M25 for 13 hours. One person has been confirmed as dead and others injured. The congestion effected local traffic and caused severe delays around Junctions 25 to 27. Two men have been arrested charged with suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving.

A computer failure 12th.December at the Air Traffic Control Centre at Swanwick in Hampshire, which is the main centre for southern UK airspace caused chaos at Heathrow and Gatwick. Luton and Stanstead also suffered knock-on effects. Many flights; both in and out were cancelled and severe delays resulted. Investigations continue following the resolution of the fault. Many planes and crews are out of position and the ongoing disruption will continue over into the weekend. The Transport Secretary calls the problem “unacceptable”. Many delayed passengers were more descriptive of the event!

The new East Stand at Vicarage Road was opened and named “The Elton John Stand” in his presence on Saturday. 13th December. The previous weekend the Sir Stanley Rous stand was renamed “The Graham Taylor Stand”. These two share the title of Honorary Life presidents. During the period 1977-1987 they shared considerable success at Vicarage Road and achieved promotions and a second place finish in the old Division 1. Elton John owned the club during 2006-2007 and saved them from bankruptcy. The current Italian owners have spent over £4m on the new Main Stand. The Hornets won 2-1 but did not impress!

Petrol is down to £1.12p following a drop in oil prices and over supply in general. It has not been this low for several years.

Scottish politicians appear to be as much concerned with holding the balance of power in Westminster and determining England’s policies as they do in gaining yet more self government. Alex Salmond will run for a Scottish seat in next year’s General Election. Meanwhile proposals made to limit Scottish influence over purely English legislation suffer with disagreements in the cabinet. Again!

Inflation is down to 1% due to fuel and food price falls. Another fall in those claiming unemployment benefit reflects a figure of 1.96% without a job which equates to 6% and the lowest for 6 years. Wages rose above Inflation by 0.3% in October.

Russia is suffering severe financial problems 16th.December. due to falling world oil prices and the sanctions placed by the West due to its continued involvement in Ukraine. They have raised their interest rate to 17% in an effort to fend off the possible collapse of the Rouble. A severe recession is a possibility if the drop in value of the Rouble cannot be arrested. The exchange rate has dropped by 50% in the last year and the current trend is in the same direction.

Today is the Winter Solstice 21st December. Although the daylight hours will increase from now on, so will winters chill. Most other weather records seem to have been broken this year, let us hope “coldest” or “snowiest” does not figure in the record books come spring.

Petrol continues to fall in price. £1.11p is now common. With a freeze on Fuel tax the downside of this trend is a considerable loss of tax revenue. What seems a good sign has deeper implications.

North Korea has threatened to blow up the White House following the hacking of the film makers Sony, which they deny. 22nd December. They claim that a film due for release is a propaganda attack as its plot involves the assassination of the North Korean leader. Sony have cancelled the release.

Christmas Day was without snow again this year, but very cold first thing. 25th December. We were treated to the by now usual noisy fireworks during most of the evening. Silent night it was not!

Most of the news appears to involve shopping. 26th December. We have spent more on line and over the counter than ever before. Plastic purchases are also at record levels. With Black Fridays, pre Christmas offers and Boxing Day sales and on line discounts, the dustmen are going to have tough time with the Bins next time round. The first snow has fallen, fortunately not around here, but the midlands and north have suffered the usual road closures with three airports out of service for some time.

The Hornets have won away 2-4 to Cardiff 28th December. and look to finish the year in 5th place in the Championship, 7 points below the leader. All is not right with the team and the way they play, despite a wealth of talent.

The first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the UK 29th December. is a Scottish nurse. She had travelled back from Sierra Leone via a BA flight and had changed planes for Glasgow at Heathrow after having spent the last month as a volunteer working for Save the Children in a heavily infected area. She has been transferred to specialist facilities in a London hospital. Much is being made of the lack of effective screening for passengers from affected areas whilst others claim it would be a waste of time; quarantine before leaving West Africa has been suggested.

We have reached the end of yet another year and it would be far from true to claim it had been a good one for mankind, or for man come to that.

Several unbelievably cruel and sadistic terrorist occurrences including the beheading of so called hostages, various shootings; including over one hundred & forty children in their school classrooms, and millions of people throughout the Middle East and other parts of the world displaced and homeless due to sectarian terrorism and warmongering. The shooting down of a passenger airline by militants is also a first in peacetime and another civil airliner was lost without trace in suspicious circumstances. It is unusual to read a paper or listen to the news without some atrocity being reported or disaster recorded.

Ebola, a disease that takes few prisoners is still raging in West Africa; and likely to continue for some time say those that should know.

More trials and claims of sexual harassment have been levelled against previously loved show business personalities from the 1960/70 eras. Almost unbelievable in some cases, in others, very believable. The new Millennium does not have all the bad people.

Partly due to communications; so fast that every incident is in the public domain almost before the smoke clears, the world is generally an unhappy place.

A few items of uplifting news such as the landing of a probe on a comet against all the odds; even if it did bounce and land in a shadow it was still pretty sensational. The summer was one of the better ones, although it preceded the wettest spring ever. The centenary of the start of WW1 was celebrated with some very moving ceremonies and uplifting stories of courage and humanity in a far from humane war.

The British troops have nearly all left Afghanistan after a 13 years and costly attempts to bring al Qaeda to its knees. The first indications are that the terrorists are far from a spent force.

Many British aid workers have gone to West Africa to help to slow down the raging Ebola virus with medical and practical skills and an attempt to educate populations’ with little previous thought for hygiene and raging epidemic control. Much financial aid and equipment has been provided by the government.

With a General Election on the near horizon we are bombarded with remedies for all our worldly woes from all political colours and shades. In many cases they suggest hypocrisy as an art form?

My attempts to record events as they occur has not been a very pleasant experience this year but must believe that we can all do better. Our financial position as a country is certainly better than this time last year and home owners are still seeing large monthly profits on their investment, and cheap mortgages. I hope I am able to record continued improvements in all areas at the end of 2015.

Have a Good New Year.


Alan Orchard.                                                                                                                                                        31/12/2014

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