Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Where hubris and hypocrisy meet?

Because of the dirty little deal with the DUP, the Westminster government is now going to give an extra over £1 billion in funding to Northern Ireland. There is a magic money tree after all but it only comes into fruit when the political careers of Theresa May and her cabinet are at stake. All it takes is fertilisation with a whole load of bull and a whole barrel full of hypocrisy.  The extra money being thrown at Northern Ireland would work out, proportionately, at around £3 billion more for Scotland and about £2 billion for Wales. But neither Scotland or Wales, or anywhere in England for that matter, is getting an extra penny. The Tories lost the election in Scotland. They lost in Wales. Across England millions voted for change. Theresa May stood on a platform of trust in the most presidential election campaign the UK has ever seen, and she lost her majority and with it the trust of the voters. Yet it’s only Northern Ireland which will see the end of austerity, and that only as a result of an underhand deal in order to keep Mrs May in her job and to keep on imposing austerity on everyone else. Meanwhile the Irish Peace process runs the very real risk of being shattered and battered and the fate of the UK is put in the hands of the heirs to Ian Paisley. 
An Ulster Resistance rally in Ballymena being addressed by Ian Paisley in 1986. Behind him is standing Peter Robinson.
Trust in Theresa plummets even lower with this underhand deal. What makes it even worse is that it’s a deal that never needed to be made in the first place. It’s not like the DUP were ever going to vote to bring down the government and allow Jeremy Corbyn, friendly as he is to Irish Republicans, into power. This deal proves Mrs May’s lack of political sense and negotiating stupidity. She’s given away a large chunk of money. She’s put the Peace Process at risk. She's p***ed off the Welsh. She’s undermined the Union even more. She’s angered the English regions. And all for nothing. And this is the person who’s supposed to get Britain a good deal from the EU?

And whilst on the subject of incompetence, let's take a look at how the Tories casually throw our money at unnecessary projects.
* What about the cost of the unnecessary EU Referendum? £150 million. Kerching!
* What about the cost of the unnecessary General Election? Another £150 million. Kerching!
* What about the cost of the unnecessary deal with the DUP? Around £1.5 billion. Kerching! Kerching! Kerching!

And don't forget what they said about some of the costings Labour mentioned in their recent manifesto. This is where hypocrisy and hubris meet. I know I'm not alone in thinking that we deserve better from our government.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The St Dominica Heritage Trail

Over the past couple of years or so, the neighbouring parish of St Dominick has been working on developing a network of footpaths throughout the parish. Collectively they've been called the St Dominica Heritage Trail and we recently walked the longest one of these - the Cotehele Mill, Bohetherick and Halton Quay Circular. Ideal conditions for a walk and another opportunity to become familiar with places more or less on our doorstep.
Our route began and ended in the church car park in St Dominick and took us down to Cotehele Mill, up to Bohetherick, down to Halton Quay on the Tamar and then back up to return to St Dominick. An up and downy 7 miles and, for me at least, unexpectedly tiring.
The medieval church in St Dominick was dedicated to St Dominica in 1259. She was a Celtic saint who, with her brother St. Indract, sailed up the river Tamar from Ireland and landed near what is now Halton Quay to found a religious settlement nearby. For many years the name of the Patron Saint was confused with St. Dominic the Founder of the Dominican Friars. By a Special Decree, in 1963, his name was added as a second Patron.
Can you spot what is a little odd about this church tower? No? The top part is slightly wider than the bottom part and rests on the line of corbels. Why? It was added to the original 13th century shorter tower in the 15th or 16th century and was made wide to accommodate the newly acquired bells. Those with keen eyes will see that the 'windows' are, in fact, pierced pieces of slate.
A shady wood on the path down towards Cotehele Mill.
Peace and Kindness. Not a bad sentiment to have on display, particularly in these troubled times. It's sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that there are more good people in the world than bad.
Looking up (and it's steeper than it looks) the green lane that connects Cotehele Mill/Quay/House with the hamlet of Bohetherick, once very important as a centre for market gardens. There's still some horticultural activity evident in the area but not as much as there used to be. 
Nothing unusual about seeing a Red Admiral, one of our strongest flying butterflies. It took a lot of stalking in the undergrowth before this one deigned to settle long enough for me to take its photograph.
The Red Admiral is an immigrant to the UK and comes over here in the Spring from the Mediterranean region. A generation later and they fly back to whence they came. I find it pretty amazing that this little thing could have been sunning itself in the South of France just a few months ago.
The present tranquillity of the River Tamar down at Halton Quay is a total contrast to how busy it would have been up until the early 20th century. For centuries it was a major transport route for all manner of industrial, agricultural and social activities. Would you believe that, at one time, it was probably possible to buy a ticket here that would get you the USA or the Antipodes? All that and a house near the quay that has associations with Sir Francis Drake.
This combination of banks and hedgerows is probably the highest I've seen in Cornwall. The figures at the bottom give an idea of scale and I'd estimate that the sides of the lane must be close on 20 foot high. It's like driving in a tunnel.
Quite a lot of Common Valerian in the hedgerows. The flower heads are a magnet for insects and, if you look closely at this one, you might be able to make out at least five different species.
Looking back towards Kit Hill, the wrong side to see our house.
I think this plaque in the church reads "Here lyes the right worsp (worthshipful?) Ambrose Rous, sonne and heyre of Sir Anthony Rous, who maryed with Maudlin, the daughtar of the right wors Peter Osborne Esq by whom he fifteene children". Poor Maudlin.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Theresa May: The gift that keeps on giving

Theresa May is supposed to be conducting what are widely agreed to be some of the most difficult and important negotiations that the UK has faced in recent history and she can’t even negotiate a deal with the DUP to keep her own government in office. Mind you, it’s not like we should have had high expectations of success. After all, this is the Prime Minister who put David Davis in charge of getting a good Brexit deal, even though he thinks that BOGOF is the lead EU negotiator from Bulgaria.  According to recent reports the DUP are saying that they were surprised at the low level of negotiating experience in May’s government. That bodes well, doesn’t it? The DUP are reportedly angry at being taken for granted, a perception which wasn’t helped by Theresa May’s office prematurely announcing that a deal had been reached and then having to hurriedly withdraw. You’d have thought that the DUP would have approved of early withdrawal, seeing as how they oppose contraceptive rights, but apparently not in this instance.

The government of the UK, which is going to take on the entire might of the European Union in order to get Britain a good deal for Brexit, seems to have been outwitted by a bunch of creationists and climate change deniers whose idea of negotiating is to march with a big drum and some guys with orange sashes singing about killing Catholics. Although to be honest that’s an unfair characterisation, certain supporters of the DUP have many years of experience, having been involved in negotiations for decades. There’s the hostage negotiations, protection racket negotiations, and negotiating a truce with the paramilitary crime gang in the next estate.

The talks to arrange a deal, according to the DUP, have not been progressing as expected, by which they meant that they had expected the Conservatives to have some sort of a clue about what they wanted, how to achieve it, and how to put it into effect. In other words, one of those pesky things that the rest of us call a “plan”. The Tories don’t do plans, at least not in the sense that anyone else would recognise it. What Tories do is short term self interest, bluster, and bullying. When faced across the negotiating table with people who do have a plan, the Tories are left with nothing except confusion and Daily Mail headlines blaming the Germans. Instead of the smooth and easy progression that the DUP had expected, they discovered that the talks were progressing as trouble-free as an Orange March in Drumcree. We've just had the cut-price version of The Queen’s Speech and there’s no deal agreed with the DUP. The fate of the UK government is more uncertain and more chaotic than it was last week, and it was pretty messed up then.

 Theresa May can, and probably will, press ahead with a minority government even without the support of the DUP, but that’s making a weak position so much weaker. The British government descends into a confused disaster zone, just at the very time that the country is crying out for leadership, and they’ve created this mess all by themselves. It’s all so needless, and all a result of their greed for power and their determination to put short term party interest before all other considerations. What a shower. And none of it is in my name as I didn't vote for them. If you did, shame on you for putting us through all this.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Some thoughts on present events

Image result for grenfell tower fire victims
All our thoughts and sympathies go out to those affected by the horrific fire in Grenfell Tower in London. In the aftermath of such a horrifying disaster, the priority must be the welfare of the living and the support of the bereaved while survivors are still traumatised and families are raw in grief and bodies remain uncollected amidst the ashes of a skyscraping tomb that sears the skyline of London. While it’s important not to prejudge the inquiry into what caused a densely inhabited tower block to go up in flames like a tinder dry forest, it is appropriate to talk about the responses of our political masters to the tragedy. It is appropriate to discuss some of the broader factors which might have led to the appalling events that have distressed the entire country. To those who say such incidents are above politics, I say 'b*l*o*k*'. These incidents are caused by politics and caused by political decisions taken at various levels. Don't let anyone persuade you otherwise. I'm angry: allow me a rant.

This is a tragedy, an appalling accident, but it wouldn’t have happened if poor people weren’t crowded into a poorly maintained and underfunded tinderbox. Residents of the Grenfell Tower made complaint after complaint about conditions in the block, complaints that were ignored and dismissed. No fire sprinklers, reports that the cladding was chosen for its looks and not for its fire-retardant properties, only a single stairway, works that impeded exits. Residents had a litany of issues, and yet were consistently ignored. The expectation of the Conservative run council seemed to be that poor people should be grateful for whatever hovel they receive in social housing. There was no place for compassion or understanding in their spreadsheets. Let's not lose sight of the fact that attitudes formed at the top trickle down to the minor functionaries and officials who have to implement the political decisions.

This is a tragedy that was compounded because the low paid and people dependent on social security are neglected and sidelined by an authoritarian system which expects them to do as they’re told and to be grateful for the crumbs they’re tossed. Don’t complain, don’t demand improvements. You’ll get what you’re given and be grateful. Struggle in substandard housing? Lucky to have any housing at all. Struggle to put food on the table? Lucky to have any food at all. The demonisation of the poor started at the top a long time back (remember the attack dogs of Cameron and Osbourne?) and sadly it ends with the tears of the powerless.

In her immediate response to the disaster, Theresa May has shown why she’s unfit to be Prime Minister. All during the election campaign she refused to meet the people, appearing at Tory party events where cameras held a tight focus on the little group of activists behind her. After this terrible tragedy she visited the site, but descended on the area like an occupier with squads of police. She talked to senior police officers. She talked to senior fire brigade officers. And then she was gone. Her displays of humanity, compassion, and empathy were empty and soulless. If she can’t demonstrate humanity and compassion after families have been destroyed, she’s never going to. If she can’t demonstrate understanding of suffering caused by something as raw and visceral as a horrific fire, she’s incapable of doing so for something more abstract like social security policy or the consequences of Brexit. She had to be told to visit the victims of the fire in hospital the next day: she had to be told to invite representatives of the community to Downing Street. A person with a functioning sense of empathy wouldn’t need to be told.

Theresa May heads a party whose MPs scoffed when proposals came before parliament in 2016 to ensure that privately rented properties are fit for human habitation. The local government minister at the time said that the proposals would result in “unnecessary regulation and costs to landlords”. That’s where Conservative priorities lie, not in providing homes that allow human beings to live in a basic level of dignity that those MPs would insist on for themselves. Theresa May heads a party which wants to leave the EU in order to rip up regulations and the red tape that ensures that those with money and property have to abide by certain basic standards.

During the General Election campaign Tory politicians crowed that the Conservatives would make Britain great again. Most of us would settle for making Britain decent, for making it fit to live in, for making homes safe. But it will never be decent as long as politicians govern in the interests of the haves. It will never be fit to live in as long as job insecurity and low wages mean that it’s harder and harder to work your way out of poverty while you’re increasingly mired in debt. Homes will never be safe as long as housing is regarded primarily as an investment and not as a place to live in. We’ll continue to see luxury apartments that stand empty, bought up by shell companies as investment opportunities, while the poor and the low paid struggle with substandard housing, with housing benefit caps, with limited access to social housing and time limits on tenancies, and a burgeoning private rental sector that’s poorly regulated and poorly controlled.

The black and smoking ruins of Grenfell Tower are a monument to decades of neglect. It wouldn’t have happened in other countries where regulations are stricter and are understood as means to keep people safe, to preserve their dignity, to ensure a basic standard of decency. Here in the UK regulations are regarded by the Conservatives as an impedence. Let’s weep and grieve for those lost. Cry and mourn for the dead. Then the time of reckoning beckons: those who lost their lives cannot be allowed to have died in vain. This disaster was caused by greed and arrogance and people must be held accountable for their decisions and actions.

And if you need to be reminded of how to get political emoting spot on, here's a clip of Tony Blair showing Mother Theresa how to do it.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Croatia June 2017: Part 6 - the last

My final post on Croatia and I thought I'd share my impressions on the country. On the basis of what we saw and experienced in Istria, the most northerly and westerly province, we'd give it 10/10. Friendly people, very pleasant countryside, interesting coastal and inland towns and quiet roads. The cuisine can be described in one word 'Italian', which is not surprising given the history of the country. Definitely a place to revisit.

For our last afternoon at our rental villa, I occupied myself by wandering around and about the immediate vicinity with my camera. I'll close with some of the shots I took.
A view across fields to our nearest town, Visnjan. It had a good bakery, an excellent restaurant, a cafe and a supermarket. What else could we need?
Here and there poppies added a splash of vivid colour to the verges. Quite eye-catching.
I'm not sure what thus plant is but it looks too big to be an ordinary dandelion. Is it an allium of some sort? I'll confess that a little post-editing on the camera has brought out the colours sharply.
One of my favourite insects - the Hummingbird Hawk Moth. I never tire of seeing them and never tire of trying to get the 'definitive' shot. I've not yet achieved that but I'll keep trying. They love lavender and in warmer climes that's the place to head for if you want to see one. I've only seen it once back home but it does appear to be seen regularly around and about our area.
In an earlier post (here) I showed the insect above and questioned what it was. Obviously not a Hummingbird Hawk Moth and it's actually a Bee Fly, a member of the insect family Bombyliidae. Their mimicry of bees gives them a measure of protection against predators that have learnt to avoid the sting of true bees. Things to look out for if you see one: typically large fly eyes, large straight proboscis for getting at nectar, odd angle to the legs and the transparent wings. They are parasitic on solitary bees and their larvae feed on the larvae and pupae of their prey.
Here's a day flying moth not often seen in the UK - the nine-spotted moth, although the exact number of the spots is variable. It doesn't breed in the UK and is a rare immigrant but it's quite common in Southern Europe and that's where I saw it. This one was about 3 cm long. Look closely and you can see the white tips to the antennae.
A Marbled White Butterfly. Common across Europe but restricted to the southern counties of England. Despite its appearance, the Marbled White is more closely related to the subfamily known as the 'browns' rather than the 'whites'.
The Spotted Fritillary is absent from Northern Europe but quite common in Southern regions. A very striking butterfly with very intricate patterning on its upper wings.
And that on the lower surface is just as intricate, with orange/yellow bands with spots.

Oooh, I thought, a little black insect. Nothing much to look at.
That is until it started flying and revealed its large striped abdomen. Thus far I have failed to identify what it is. Can anyone help?
A sight-seeing boat catching the light of the setting sun. What setting sun?
This setting sun. The gull was enjoying looking at it as well.
A metaphor for us saying 'goodbye' to Croatia and sailing off into the sunset to return home.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Oh, what a tangled web we weave...when first we practice to deceive.

It’s official. We’re in a mess. An official mess, as opposed to the unofficial mess that has characterised the UK ever since a slight majority of the people of England and Wales decided that curvy bananas were more important to them than job security and the ability to travel freely throughout Europe. Yesterday Theresa May apologised to Conservative MPs for the mess she created with her single minded pursuit of what was good for her career, but she hasn’t apologised to anyone else for what she's put them through. She hasn’t apologised to the public and she certainly hasn’t apologised to the goats who’ll die in order to produce the goatskin(*) for a Queen’s Speech that will be a tissue of wishful thinking.
But then to be honest, she did stand on a manifesto commitment to animal cruelty, so the goat sacrifice might be the only one of her promises that she’s going to keep. If ever there was a time when Westminster politics was getting on the public’s goat, this is it. It’s perversely totally appropriate that the process of forming a government is being held up by a goat, seeing as how Mother Theresa is looking to do a deal with King Billy's friends.
Possibly the most concerning thing about the proposal that the British government is seeking to be propped up by the climate change denying, misogynist, homophobic, sectarian, fundamentalist, bigots of the DUP is that the London-centric media has only now realised just how horrific that the party is. Equally concerning is the damage that’s being done to the Irish Peace Process. The terms of the Good Friday Agreement require the British government to remain neutral as far as the communities of Northern Ireland are concerned. Just how neutral can Westminster be when it’s reliant on the main party of one of those communities to prop it up? How neutral can they be when they’re making deals behind closed doors with people whose idea of Peace is indistinguishable from victory and who want the right to hold parades in Catholic areas. How neutral is it if one of the terms of the deal is for the British government to block an Irish reunification referendum? Brexit always threatened the Peace Process, this deal puts a bomb under it.
Theresa May went to the country to seek a mandate for a hard line Brexit which she was going to define all by herself. She went to the country to seek a mandate for secret plans that she wasn’t disposed to reveal to anyone. But mainly she went to the country in order to further her own career and secure her position as the unchallenged boss of the Tory party and the country. And then she got humiliated because, having based the entire campaign on her personal character, we've discovered that Maybot seems an apt description of her charisma. So now the country is in a mess, and so is Theresa’s career. That much at least serves her right. But the rest of us don't deserve it.
Several days on from the election, and still no one has any idea what’s going on, where the country is going, or what the government is hoping to achieve in the Brexit negotiations that are due to begin in a few days’ time. We don’t even know what the government is going to be. We still don’t even know if Theresa May will be able to negotiate an agreement with the DUP or whether by this time next week cabinet meetings will conclude with a rousing rendition of The Billy Boys.
The British state used to boast that it was one of the world’s leading powers. Now it can only vie with the Trump administration to see who’s the most ridiculous. Is it the orange skinned Trump, or the orange hued government of Theresa May? You really couldn't make it up, could you? How I wish I was back in Croatia sitting in the sun.
(*): I know that no goats are actually used in the production of goatskin vellum but allow me a little poetic licence.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Croatia June 2017: Part 5

Another sunny day and off we went back to Rovinj. Nothing too strenuous, just a potter around the old streets, enjoying the sun and soaking up the ambience. With the weather the way it is back home at the moment, it's best to take the heat and dry when we can. We thought we might not experience it again for quite a while.
The church of St Euphemia dominates the view over the harbour/marina. A busy place and good for people watching. Was I the only person wearing long trousers and a shirt with 'proper' length sleeves? After all, there are sartorial standards to be maintained, even on holiday.
The clear blue Adriatic, shimmering in the sun.
I just liked the symmetry of this line of boats.
I had a double-take when I saw this. Donkey? A little probing shows that, whilst this is not a common dish, it is traditional and is usually a sort of ragu sauce of donkey mince. A dish with a kick? And, no, we didn't try it.
A good illustration of why pottering around the back streets of a town like Rovinj is so enjoyable. A treat for the eyes, and soul, at every turn. I feel sorry for those who can't take pleasure from doing the simple things in life and just live in the moment. 'Mindfulness' in modern parlance, I believe.
And at the next turn we come across this sunlight courtyard. A place to relax and practice mindfulness, perhaps? Or to just sit there enjoying 'being'. 
Yes, it's true, the statue of St Euphemia does move around with the wind. It was pointing in the opposite direction when we were here at the beginning of the week. Wouldn't it be fun to watch it whizz around in high winds? I wonder how fast it can go?
Perhaps he was wondering what to choose from the selection below?
Allsorts, just allsorts. Croatian allsorts look identical to British allsorts. Maybe they are from the UK and the manufacturer is panicking over losing sales when Brexit arrives? I bet Theresa May hasn't given this a thought.
Watersside buildings on the north side of Rovinj. Mr D and I pondered on the practicalities of having to paint the sides of one of these. I'm not sure we came up with a sensible suggestion. Very long ladders resting on the seabed probably wouldn't work.
A Pied Wagtail contemplating taking a dip in the sea. Or was it practising avian mindfulness?

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Croatia June 2017: Part 4

Another day in the sun and we headed south along the coast to Pula, reknowned for its Roman amphitheatre. And I finish up with a shot of a bee that I'm rather pleased- the shot not the bee, although it's a mighty fine Croatian bee.
Constructed between 27 and 64 AD, the amphitheatre (arena) in Pula is amongst the six largest surviving of its type. By all accounts, it is the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia. It is certainly impressive and, at this time of the year, had the added bonus of being busy but not oppressively so.
What you see now is the third amphitheatre to be built on the site. The first was made of timber, which was replaced by a small stone one, which was subsequently itself replaced by this one. It was built of local limestone, the original colour of which can be seen in the cleaned portion to the left - cleaned not renovated. When new, it must have been a dazzling sight and visible for miles around - a good way of telling the natives who was in command.
The sheer scale and intricacy of amphitheatres always amazes me. Plus the fact that they are built to a pretty standard design.. I routinely ponder on the logistics of building these structures. Someone must have estimated the required number of blocks, for example, and someone else would have ensured that they were supplied and delivered at the right time. I suppose the penalties for making a cock-up were pretty severe and were an incentive to get it right - first time. I wonder if there were Roman project managers who had the 'big' picture (picture maximus?) and controlled everything. There must have been.
There was little to see of what would have been the underground areas that housed the gladiators and animals. The amphitheatre remained in use until the 5th century, when emperor Honorius prohibited gladiatorial combats. It was not until 681 that all combats were forbidden and the amphitheatre ceased to be used. It then gradually fell into decline and stone plundered by the local population for their own pet building projects. One such was the bell tower of the local church shown above. The pilfering continued until an enlightened bishop in the thirteenth/fourteenth century put a stop to it. Hooray for him.
An abundance of amphorae. Why do they always have pointy bottoms? Actually, they don't as there were many different types and some of them are more conventionally shaped. Those with the pointy bottoms are 'transport amphorae'. Apparently this shape makes them easier to store in racks on boats and carts and the big handles are good for moving them. Also, the pointy end makes it easy to plonk them down in sand and earth.
The Temple of Augustus, probably built during the reign of the first Roman emperor, Augustus, which puts it between 2 BC and 14 AD. The best of its type outside of Rome, or so they say. And who am I to gainsay that?
The Triumphal Arch of the Sergii, built around 30BC, honouring the achievements of the Sergius family, a powerful dynasty of colonial officials. Once incorporated into the old city walls, it now lies sandwiched rather incongruously between two restaurants.
Apart from gulls, the bird we saw very commonly was the Jay. Of course we get them in the UK but, more often than not, I always seem to see them as they fly away from me. They really are more colourful than you might think from a rear view.
Let's go with the birds and bees theme and show this shot of a bee nectaring on some blossom on a tree in a courtyard in Pula. Sometimes, just sometimes, I'm rewarded for my patience (and persistence). I like the fact that the pollen sacs are really evident on this one.