Tuesday 30 April 2019

Back To The Peninsular

It was over forty years ago, shortly after the Franco regime had ended that I drove through the centre of Spain heading for the Lines of Torres Vedras in Portugal, also then going through political upheaval. I was visiting places and battlefields of the time of Wellington's campaign during the Napoleonic Wars.

One feature seen on some buildings was stick pictures of a gallows with someone hanging from them with a names or names.  There was always a degree of tension in the air.  There were monetary problems and it was vital to be carrying pounds and dollars.

On a later visit a number of years after it had changed and for a while when the money was flushing in there was a surge of apparent prosperity. Many British moved there confident that the good times would continue to roll.

The question is how bad might it get and what tensions might erupt or re-erupt in a country that has known too much bitterness in the past. But this is Spain which has existed as a nation since the 15th Century and Portugal for longer, until the call of Europe pulled them into the Brussels based Empire of the Meritocrats and Bureaucrats.

If there is to be a major contraction in world trade and all economies are to be affected one way or another then what political entities will last in their present form and which ones could begin to disintegrate? As they do in time when the stresses of size begin to be too much.

We are fixated on Europe, supposing that the EU and Euro can somehow remain intact although damaged.  What is not considered is that not only could the Europe project fall apart but states within it could face separatist movements and others outside could experience severe stresses leading to some form of disintegration.

In Spain the elections have installed a new government with ideas that are new in theory, but little in practice. The divisions from the past still exist but their problems compounded by major inflows of migration from peoples with different histories and beliefs.

Is The Great Game is about to begin again? And whose side will we be on?

Wednesday 24 April 2019

A Voice Once Heard

There are times when things come together which otherwise might have no connection to each other. Heather Harper has left us at the age of 88 having retired twenty five years ago and whose voice and reputation have slipped into history.

One of her major, if not the major, performances was the soprano lead in The War Requiem by Benjamin Britten given on 30 May 1962 at the Consecration of the new Cathedral of St. Michael in Coventry.

It had been built to replace the remains of the former medieval cathedral which had been destroyed during the German blitz on Coventry during World War 2 when this city along with others were targeted because of their extensive engineering and other industry essential to the war effort. There are few people around now with any memory of this, but I am one.

When Coventry was blitzed I was under the flight path of the German bomber squadrons, mercifully far enough up the road to avoid it. Apart one night when the German losses were such that they unloaded their bombs on us. My father, up on the roof of his factory on air raid duty was not pleased.

In the ordinary way of things during and after the war we were often in or around Coventry until the 1980's and knew about the bitter debate as to whether to rebuild the old Cathedral as far as possible. In the 1950's those who saw us in a new age won and a new modern architectural wonder was built.

But the money did not run to much wonder and the architects thought more about the visual effect of the structure as opposed to its religious significance, also seen as out of date. Now, half a century on for many it is a curious relic of a bygone 20th Century age. Also, the Britten Requiem was not well received except by those who understood its severity and his particular style of music, he did not write to order but to his ideals.

Today, Coventry City FC is broke, once in the Premier League, victim of hedge fund trading gone wrong, and might be lost. Coventry RFC once England's best rugby club has slipped down the tables. The town centre is now a grubby suburb of London, less than a hour down the railway line, its major industries etc. gone to The East, and many of the The East have come to Coventry.

We saw Heather perform a number of times and she never failed to put across the meaning, sense and beauty of the music she sang and loved which meant her audiences were taken with her into the understanding of them.

Thursday 18 April 2019

Election Fever A Dose Of History

It will be several days or so before the next post as an Easter break is being taken. In the meantime the media are doing their "will she; won't she" routine as to whether the Prime Minister will call a General Election. We have been here before, in 1959 the downside of a long memory. Could a no hope unelected Prime Minister who ran a government in real trouble come back to win?

In January 1957 after the disastrous venture into Suez, Eden had resigned and Harold Macmillan took over. For the media and the general public it had been assumed that Rab Butler would be PM, but insiders and party placemen ensured that it was Macmillan as the “safe” option, and even he wondered if he might last only six weeks given the mess he had inherited.

Despite the turmoil, Macmillan hung on, and began to establish himself in the media as a bluff, cool headed expert man of the world, who knew his way around; a veteran of The Battle of the Somme with The Grenadier Guards and badly injured. He was quite unlike the busy, worrying modern technocrat determined to change everything that Hugh Gaitskell appeared to be.

Having seen them both at close quarters before gatherings that were knowledgeable and critical, my view was that Hugh was more honest than most in many ways but dogmatic and flawed in his simplicities. Harold was a neurotic shyster.

The economy turned down sharply after the post Suez oil shock.  The nuclear protesters were gaining strength and others were anxious. Some progress had been made since 1945 to increase secondary education, but now it was demanded for all.

Race riots had occurred. Local elections were going Labour’s way, and the media was unsure and uncomfortable with a Tory  government with thirty five Old Etonians, unelected peers, and others who seemed to be appointed for money and not merit. There were suggestions of cronyism and too great a closeness of financial interests.

In the Autumn of 1957 there was a serious flu epidemic, Asian Flu, related to our modern swine flu, or so I am told. Then at the beginning of 1958 three key finance ministers resigned as a consequence of Macmillan’s plans to push money into the economy, which they believed could increase inflation.

Macmillan’s view was that a small annual dose of inflation could not do much harm.  Nor could tobacco smoking, which gave the Treasury a lot of its tax income, despite suggestions otherwise, which Macmillan stamped on good and hard, to the applause of his tobacco baron friends.

During 1958 and 1959 Macmillan flew about, devolving power to colonies, with a few economic strings attached, getting close to President Eisenhower and later President Kennedy and signing nuclear agreements committing the UK long term, for which he was called, satirically, “Supermac” by Vicky the cartoonist.

He was saving the world and restoring our Great Power status, at the same time as running down the conventional forces. There were problems with Iceland, and over in Europe there was a Treaty of Rome, creating a Common Market, which he assured us, would not have implications or consequences for the UK.

The media did not know what to make of it all, and it left Gaitskell and his team scratching for attention. The BBC gave us a relentless diet of Lord Boothby as an ikon of culture and custodian of national identity.

They did not mention his friends, the Kray brothers or any other inconvenient truths, nor the close encounters he had with Mrs. Macmillan. Not a hint of critical comment passed any of their lips. ITV, on the other hand, were anxious to convince us that the Esso sign meant happy leaded motoring, and that consumerism was good.

Macmillan’s government continued to spend their way out of trouble, rock and rolling their way, they said, to a rich future for us all, we would never have it so good. The miseries who looked at the figures and the way the world worked knew it could not and would not last.  But that did not matter.

Because in October 1959, against all the odds of barely a year before; Harold Macmillan romped home in the election, and then the real crisis of Britain’s future began.

Tuesday 16 April 2019

A Matter Of Faith

The disaster in Paris of the scale of damage to the Cathedral is the major story of the present. Around thirty years ago on a brief visit to Paris strictly for basic tourism we were able to go up a tower there and see Paris around us and beyond that the fields of France in a nation where Paris was supreme and so were its institutions. It is not just another Cathedral or big church it is at the heart of France.

In December of 2018 the new Duchess of Sussex said that St. George's Chapel at Windsor needed air fresheners because of its age and the condition of the air. Recently our Westminster Abbey made the press in discussions on the cost of its fire prevention systems. In 1984 we had the York Minster fire and from where I lived could see the smoke trails.

On Sunday 24 March 2013 I had a post titled "The Bells, The Bells" about the Cathedral of Notre Dame and it's new bells asking the question of who and what were they for. The information at present is that the fire began in the extensive renovation works under way. 200 trees is a lot of timber and when fire caught the whole burned.

The French government has been quick to promise a rebuild and the offers to contribute are many and various among the institutions of France and its commercial and financial sectors. But the old Cathedral has gone, like so many ancient building the rebuild will be a new one, 21st Century, attempting to retain a major link to the past.

The Catholic faith of France has long been in retreat and in the last two centuries has declined into a number of small congregations in a Republic that did not include religion as an essential element of life. The Cathedral was built for the old faith and just as the new building will not be the old so the old faith is lost.

France now can never be the France of the past in its economy, social structures and belief systems. Notre Dame has gone and so has the France of the past.

If it needed a symbol of the end of France the loss of the Cathedral of Notre Dame would be the one to mark its end.

Sunday 14 April 2019

Making Capital

The problem with the UK is London. Although London has now lost most of its industrial base, it has remained the central location (black hole?) for Government, Parliament, Finance both national and international, Media and Press, Sport, Arts, Culture, and a good many other things.

Commentators have warned about the creation of a class of professional politicians and associates too closely enmeshed with the web of greed and deceit so easily created and sustained in a small geographical area that is also the centre of communications. The vultures have not just come home to roost, they have been based in London for a very long time.

We have a system of government where the legislative powers have been largely given to their remittance men in Brussels, the money has been off shored to tax havens, the executive does its strategic planning day by day with its eye on the headlines and the civil service is in a state of collapse.

The quickest and best way to administer a radical cure would be to move Parliament and Government out as soon as possible. In the 1960’s a journal, was it “The Economist”, did a think piece about moving it up to a new town to be built on the North York Moors called Elizabetha. Perhaps, but it would be a pity to disturb the insect life there with a lesser form of species.

Before London, there were other capitals in England. One was Winchester, where King Alfred the Great held court, probably the option that would most appeal to the inhabitants of the Westminster Village. To the north there might be York, the old Viking City, which has excellent communications, or Pontefract, seat of the Dukes of Lancaster. Further north, there is Bamburgh, now a small village, once the seat of the Kings of Northumbria.

My favourite would be Tamworth however, the seat of the Kings of Mercia, now a modest late industrial Midlands town. It is famous for its two stations one on top of the other, Low Level on the old LNWR West Coast Main Line, the High Level on the old Midland Railway main line from Bristol to York through Birmingham, Sheffield, and Pontefract.

Also, it was one of the seats of the Stanley family whose decision to ride for King Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth helped to put the Tudors on the throne. There is a better reason for choosing Tamworth however. It is the name of an endangered species, the Tamworth Pig, one of the ancient breeds of England.

So our new government could dispense with the lions etc. that are so part of the imperial past now ended as symbols of authority.  It could install the Tamworth Pig as the symbol of the new age of government.

So when a new Speaker is led to his Chair, the House will rise and cry Oink, Oink, as a mark of respect.

Tuesday 9 April 2019

Beating The Retreat

Brexit, Europe and all that. It could be worse.

Long ago in the '40's I knew a couple of men who had taken part in The Retreat From Mons in August 1914, picture above. The German Army had attacked on the Western Front and the British and French were forced into a sudden and hasty retreat from what they thought were strongholds.

What is intriguing to those who like to look at the detail of the military decisions at the time is how and why the British, French and for that matter the Germans made so many wrong ones given all the great planning and training of the period before 1914.

The consequence was four years of bitter war fought from trenches together with incessant artillery fire. The casualties were immense and these powerful Empires were put at risk of collapse as happened with the Russians.

The world was never the same again and Europe suffered many years of slump and poverty in the coming decades leading to yet another major war.

On the other hand given the quality of the politicians and governments at present as well as those of the European and World institutions, it might just get worse.

Sunday 7 April 2019

What Are We Looking At

Looking around the media, the web and the rest it is quite clear that whilst there are a lot of able, highly intelligent, well informed and well connected people the pace of events and the complexity means that nobody can claim to have a full understanding of what is happening financially and politically.

By definition the politicians who are supposed to be making key decisions now work on a lot less information, data and analysis and need to be advised by people who do know more and have the ability to understand more fully.

The difficulty then is that if what the people who voted in or critically support those politicians do not like the advice and the implications then almost inevitably there is a desire to delay, attempt compromise where none is to be had or to evade making decisions at all.

Worse, is that if the channels to those politicians are controlled or policed by people with particular interests to serve then the distortions could be serious and damaging in the process of determining policy.  We have been here a few times in history, think of your own examples.

At present around the world it seems that all of them have not simply “lost the picture” they do not know what they are looking at.  They want the picture to be a Renoir when at best it is a Jackson Pollock.  Not only that but it is one which Pollock created intuitively or according to whim.

Even then that picture is replaced by another one apparently quite different perhaps shifting more towards one fractal shape before morphing suddenly into another.  In short not just the politicians, or their advisers, but all the experts and commentators are behind the game.

Those who may be closer to any understanding in the present world crisis seem to be now reaching the point where they feel no understanding is to be had because by the time you have got the message out and circulated it has all moved on and fast.

But the public and people as a whole want simple answers and clear policies and most some sort of security and protection from economic storms and dangers. Inevitably, the come to feel they are being lied to or the victims of conspiracies by “the other”.

This is how in the past dictatorships and authoritarian governments have arisen in states and polities where serious upheavals have occurred.  It seems to be happening around the world one way or another, including the UK and the USA.

As the House of Commons disintegrates politically, who might be the Great Leader to come in the elections expected soon?

Wednesday 3 April 2019

Extreme Allergic Shock From 2013

What do a Rock Star and a Government Minister for Equalities have in common, other than an interest in their particular public images etc.? In the last couple of days it is anaphylactic shock, the potential terminal allergic shock from something that has become a permanent threat.

In both cases the apparent cause was peanuts, Liam Gallagher, the rocker, when hungry went for a package of M&M’s, a popular sweet that turned very sour. Jo Winsor the Lib Dem Member of Parliament doing her constituency duty had a bite of lovely home cooked cake and then bit the dust, almost.

They were among the lucky ones who had treatment in time.  With this problem it is possible that among the many sudden deaths are some that are anaphylaxis never either identified or suspected. Also, there are many potential causes and a big one can come out of the blue.

One major problem is “words”. Allergy might be a medical condition but the word is used colloquially in other ways.  Similarly, “reactions”, “attack”, etc. are also not precise. What is missing is some sort of structure to define the levels as clearly as possible to allow better understanding and description.

Here is one below, based on a common framework a 1 to 5 Scale with the 1 being the least and the 5 being the most dangerous. 

In the case of the two cases that made the headlines they were both at Scale 5 and they were lucky to survive.



The Reaction to Allergy and Toxicity Scale (RATS) is a scale of one to five of the severity and impact of a physical and neural reaction to any substance or combination of substances.  The scale is a broad indicative measure of relative effect.  It is not diagnostic and at the margins of the central three parts of the scale the distinctions may be variable or not clear cut.

The intention of the scale is to enable both those affected and those involved in any treatment to have a common perception of the degree and extent of the problem.  Also where an individual has reactions to more than one substance either separately or concurrently it will help to estimate a simple differentiation of effect between one substance or another.

The RATS Scale is:


Extreme (RATS 5)

This is a reaction that is potentially terminal within a short period of time or induces a collapse with loss of consciousness or brain or muscular control.  It includes anaphylactic shock or coma or toxic shock. It will require immediate emergency treatment and probably hospital admission. 

A person vulnerable to this level of reaction will have restrictions, safeguards and monitoring at a constant and high level.

It will be critical to determine both the cause of shock and the extent of other issues and vulnerabilities.

Severe (RATS 4)

This may begin in many cases with a lesser form of shock but may arise from either persistent or cumulative reactions. It is when the condition is debilitating with some loss of bodily or neurological function that may be recurrent or chronic. 

The impact on function and management of life will be extensive and will require continuing monitoring and safeguards to prevent the risk of a RATS 5 attack. 

It will require testing of a number of substances and possibilities to determine any immediate cause of shock and to ascertain whether more than one substance may be involved in the nature of the vulnerability.

Serious (RATS 3)

The impact and extent of the reactions will require continuing medical intervention, treatment and monitoring.  The nature of the reactions will have adverse effects on the individual’s ability to control their environment and in the making of life choices.  Commonly, at this level it will be necessary to impose restrictions, safegards and active avoidance procedures and measures. Impairment of mental and physical functions will be evident and disruption of life management.

Moderate (RATS 2)

The reactions will cause marked effects and have more than nuisance value.  They will be more evident and medical advice should be sought on the actual and potential causes to try to avoid the risks of increasing severity of reaction. They will require treatment and may be continuing in effect.

Mild (RATS 1)

The reactions will be noticeable and a source of either discomfort or minor medical issues.  They will not be such as to disrupt or to badly impact on life choices or activities but need an awareness of their risks.  In many cases minor medical treatments will be needed or helpful together with an awareness of possible causes.


There is a great deal of information about allergy and the many reactions that can occur.  This can be helpful and confusing at the same time.  An issue is that the word “allergy” is used extensively for many types and levels of reaction and as a colloquial descriptive word for any effect and sometimes opinion. 

Attempts are made to distinguish reactions by the use of words such as “intolerance” and “sensitivity”, which can be useful to assist recognition in terms of the Mild Level 1 RATS effect but are too broad in their meaning to deal with severity.

The issue of “toxic” effects is less recognised and may be difficult to define without immunological analysis but the word can be used in broad terms especially at RATS Levels 4 and 5, Severe and Extreme. Possibly “toxic” is more applicable to effects that are immediate and powerful.

There are two matters that interconnect.  The first is that allergy, medically, is one set of reactions and toxicity is another.  However there may be areas of uncertainty and overlap.  The other is the difficulty of assessing cause and effect. 

One real and major problem is that most ordinary science is concerned only with a linear approach to research or investigation; that is the search for a single cause with an identifiable single effect. 

This dominates the handling of cases and treatment.  But allergy and toxicity issues are likely to be far more complicated.  Reactions may have complex causes and in turn particular causes might have complex effects. Medical services at present cannot cope with complexity and are reluctant to admit them. 

Dealing with any complexity requires rigorous monitoring, assessment and analysis normally over a period of time.  What appears to be a cause may only be a means for another cause to take effect.


The picture above is of the safeguard that people at risk need to carry to buy time in the event of going into shock. They are hypodermic auto-injectors of a set amount of the medication needed to try to control the reaction and buy time until treatment.

There is a delicate irony in a rock star being obliged to carry a couple of needles to keep him going when things go wrong, never mind a politician.

Monday 1 April 2019

Today Is Not The Day

I did think of saying that HM had dismissed Prime Minister May and had asked John Bercow to form a government.

But really there is nothing to joke about.