Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Harder, faster

So, yesterday, the PM made a speech about her Government's aims for Britain leaving the EU. The speech itself was heavily leaked the day before to most of the print press, so there were few surprises. However, this that this was not presented to both Houses of Parliament first, and neither was this just a policy speech, this was the policy. There will be no white papers or bills. Just this, it means that any claims about restoring Parliamentary Sovereignty are as hollow as her stated aims.

A bad deal is worse than no deal, she said in trying out out-baloney Noel Edmonds. In reality, the best deal for Britain is the status quo, and the further you move away from that the worse the deal will get. Probably the truth in why the hardest of Brexits is the aim, is that is the easiest to deliver, in that it will be the one the EU will be less likely to block. Some of the things Britain says it wants, and if it doesn't get, then Britain will be turned into an offshore tax haven. Threatening your current trading partners with a trade war if you don't get your way is not the best position to start. But then, this position is going to do a whole lot of damage to the British economy, estimates vary from losing 4% of GDP per year then going upwards.

As ever, it will be reality that will decide what the substance of any Brexit deal will be; from what Britain wants, and what Johnny Foreigner wants too. Because it seems to have escaped the notice of the brave Brexiteers that there will be demands from the other side of the table. We are told that this being the case, Britain will just walk away. Walk away to, hopefully, WTO rules and tariffs. It is only an assumption that britain can carry over the tariffs currently enjoyed by Britain and the other 27 EU States; if we have to negotiate these from scratch with the other 161 members and the EU, then prepare that to take years and years. In the meantime, huge tariffs and expert rules that will have to be applied. And any deals that can be struck will have to abide by existing WTO rules, including deals with car manufacturers with sweeteners. Even those will have to be discloses to show that no rules have been broken.

See, international commerce is no longer for the Privateers of antiquity, there are rules, agreements, quota, no tariff arrangements, free trade agreements and so on that will all have to be abided by, or negotiated from scratch. That Britain is already in the world's largest free trade union, with access to many of the world's most wealthy consumers is ignored by the Brexiteers and the fearless members of the printed press.

In order to even get to negotiating the framework for Brexit with the EU, the Government will have to abide by the ruling of the Appeal Court on the following matters

1. Royal Prerogative in triggering Article 50
2. If not, and Parliamentary approval is needed, what kind of bill is needed
3. Approval of the Welsh Assembly
4. Approval of the NI Assembly
5. Approval of the Scottish Parliament
6. Approval of the UK Parliament

After this, there will be an 18 month initial negotiating period as to what the position of Britain and the EU will be after the 2 year Article 50 notification. No trade deals can be struck with any EU country, no any other country until this two year period has elapsed and Britain is out of the EU. The 18 months is to allow time for the deal to be ratified by all of the 27 National Parliaments of the EU states, and the other regional courts, all of which can veto the deal. Finally, it has to be ratified by the EU itself. The EU has never concluded trade deals within 2 years. Even when it wanted to.

Rhetoric is fine, looks good in papers and sounds good on the TV news, but then reality will come into the scene, and it will all fail. At no point has any of this been costed or presented to the country, other than some kind of cack handed attempt to stop EU nationals coming here, working, paying taxes, working in hospitals, looking after our elderly and picking fruit. All of which has a net benefit to the economy and country as a whole. How this will be plugged, other than with more bureaucracy in allowing low-skilled workers to still come and work here, if they want to. There is evidence that since June there was a drop in seasonal workers coming here to work on farms, this will probably accelerate.

Of course, the one way in which immigration will slow down is if there is a recession, and probably, leaving the EU on bad terms, or no terms, will bring about such an event. Few were saying that leaving the EU meant leaving the single market, and yet, as Brexit means Brexit, it also now means leaving the single market, customs union, and a multitude of other EU institutions that keep the country running, funds projects, funds science, help charities, and so on.

Even the PM herself stated during the run up to the non-binding referendum that leaving the EU was crazy, leaving the single market was too. But here we are , ead by idiots, dancing to Murdoch's tune. Again.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Monday 16th January 2017

Reading yesterday's post, I think we can agree I was in the final stages of terminal man-flu. And as ever, you really only know how crappy you felt, because how much better you feel the next day. And although I am coughing like Tony, I do feel better.

So, that's good news.

However, it does mean I have to write about yesterday, today, which means me trying to describe how shitty I felt whilst feeling better.

I woke up at just before one on Monday morning, not being able to breathe, and with Scully happy sleeping beside me, quietly purring. Sleep is not going to come for hours, so I get up, make a hot lemon drink and take to the sofa to watch some recorded football, quietly like so Jools won't hear.

At three I go back to bed to try to sleep, I toss and turn for at least an hour, probably more. Next thing I know is that Jools is up and it is twenty past six. I feel like, like shit. There is no other word. Jools brings me a coffee so I sit in bed to drink it.

She has to leave, so I have the house to myself and the flu. I have a meeting to attend to at eight, so I decide to attend that and sort through mails, and then take things easy.

I make a pot of paprikash through the morning. Its a recipe from another time, relationship I had, and I really fancied the taste of paprika. Anyway, deciding it needed more gravy/sauce, I add some red wine and beer to the mix and allow to boil down as the meat and onions cook.

Sixteen Instead of being dark red, the sauce/gravy is nearly black, and over time the flavour fades, leaving just blackness.

In the afternoon I take to bed, and am joined by Scully who nestles up to me and is very happy indeed. I don't sleep as the blocked nose comes back making sleep impossible. Bah.

At four I get up, still feeling crap.

I boil some pasta at half five, so to be ready for when Jools comes back along with the warmed-through paprikash. It was a disappointment for me, but nearly there. Next step is to get some proper Hungarian pepper, nothing else is the same. Anyway, with a hot meal inside me, I feel better, and so we sit down to watch the last episode of Sherlock, which is a bit of a mess if I'm honest, but it fills 90 minutes and stops me thinking about how crappy I feel.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Sunday 15th January 2017

I woke up with that itchy feeling in the back of my throat which hinted at a cold, or worse, was coming. I hoped I was wrong, so trying best to ignore it, I followed Jools onto the cross trainer for a session before watching the football and making bacon butties.

It is at least lighter in the mornings now, the be noticeable. Which is nice. We are up and about at ten past seven, and it seems already daylight, even with sunrise still 40 minutes away. But there is a clear sky for nowm, but the BBC says it won't last.

After a shower, the coughing and running nose begins. Of course, the observant among you might point ask how did I know it was a cold not an allergy attack? Good question, and at times I wondered myself; maybe it was both. But allergies render my nose and sinuses blocked by something akin to quick setting cement, whilst what I had yesterday was clearly a snot tap that had been left on to drip.

Outside dark clouds rolled in from the west, and rain began to fall steadily, making activities outside unattractive.

Fifteen I filled the morning with some filing. I have over 5500 images on Flickr of just Kent churches. For anyone wanting to look at shots of a particular church, they would have to go through 52 pages of images if the Kent Church album. So, a few weeks ago I began to create sub-folders, each named with the church, little did I know how long this task would take. Now, I am sure there is probably a short cut to do it, but I am trying to ensure that each shot goes into the correct folder.

So it goes.

I was OK, a little under the weather, and as I had not slept well, during the afternoon I took to bed with the digital radio so I could listen to the football. Everton thrashed Citeh. I mean, really hammered Pep and Co, 4-0. Who saw that one coming?

We eat dinner whilst the Man Utd v Liverpool played out to a 1-1 draw, and was very entertaining, from what I heard on the radio anyway.

As the evening wore on, my cold got worse, and is typical male behaviour, I got more despondent, more full of self pity. At half nine, we went to bed, with me in the spare room as I suspected I would be tossing and turning.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Hard, Harder and Hardest

Brexit is a religion. And in such, there is the fundamental wing, in which only those who believe in the hardest are seen as the true believer. And anyone who questions the Brexit is by default an unbeliever, and must be punished or sacked.

I say this as it seems that civil service guidelines seem to require that all who work on the good ship Brexit have a positive attitude, and must not question Brexit. As that was lies failure and being burned in a wicker man.

On Tuesday, it is reported, our glorious leader will spell out HM Government's Brexit objectives, and filling in the gaps inbetween what she has said in various interviews, the Part Conference, we can assume that Brixit will be hard. Hard and painful. Although I see in one of the Tory papers today, it is described as Clean Brexit.

No matter how you dress it up, attracting business to a post-Brexit Britain will involve lower taxes, lower worker's rights and lower pay. Only this week, Conservative MPs talked down a private members' bill in guaranteeing workers rights after the split with the EU. Clearly, we're not in this together.

And as the brexit phoney war has continued, and will do so until someone invokes Article 50, this has emboldened the Brexiteers in demanding harder and harder Brexits, forcing the "three pillars of Brexit" definition onto a non-binding referendum question whether to leave the EU or not. One of the things that was expressly said the referendum wasn't about was leaving the Single Market. Only now they say it did. Brexit is a magic pill, all things to all Brexiteers, and anything can be defined as the people's will.

If the PM does firm out the Government's plan on Tuesday, and the pound and markets plunge, and the papers will spin how both are good for Britain in some way or the other.

Then there is immigration. Whether unlimited numbers of EU nationals, coming over here, working, paying taxes and doing jobs that others will not do is a good or bad thing. But Fleet Street's labeling them as EU migrants instead of EU Expats shows what they want you to think. Anyone who has had a relative in a care or nursing home in the past decade will confirm that most workers if not being EU expats are expats of some other nature, and if they are no longer allowed to work here, who will do their job? Already the Government is planning for exemptions for agriculture workers who will still be able to come over here to pick our fruit so we can have strawberries at Wimbledon.

With nurses no longer getting bursaries, and the PM blaming and threatening GPs for the crisis in the NHS rather than the massive underfunding, what hope do any of us have in the post-Brexit world? Well, if you are moneied now, you will be monied then, and so will be fine. But those who were told Brexit was about taking back control have learned this week, that such control over us is now on "tiny" islands like Malta who in the EU have as much say in the settlement of the Brexit deal as Germany of France. And certainly more than Britain.

But hey, it will be our control, control taking back control of our borders so the economy can tank and there will be mass unemployment, price rises in all including basic foodstuffs. But the Brexiteers will not admit their mistakes, but instead blame those who have raised the most basic question of the religion and beliefs of Brexit. It is they who talked Britain down, they who will be blamed for the failure to implement an impossible and stupid idea.

Saturday 14th January 2017

I wish I could say that I used the day off in a useful and fruitful manner. But that would be a lie.

However, doing nothing other than letting time slip through our fingers is exactly how we would want to spend the day. We could have gone out, it was a still and bright, sunny day. But it was cold, and it turned out that we were downright lazy. Or tired Take your pick.

After getting up and having a coffee, I went to Tesco to stock up on fruit and vegetables. The car park is an ice rink, and it was interesting to avoid those arriving in their onesies and slippers as they slithered about the place. Fruit, vegetables and curry powder bought. I make a quick escape for more people are about.

Fourteen Back home I pack the shopping away, make another coffee and warm through four croissants. And that was about as exciting as it got.

We did assemble two new water butts for the shed, joining them together so we get double the amount of water saved. Jools installs it, while I listen to the radio, I mean its a hard job, but someone has to do it.

After cheese and wine for lunch, I snoozed on the sofa while the football played out. Or the early game anyway. And from three City fans at home and at the game went through the oh too familiar pain losing 2-1 to Rotherham; a team who were rock bottom of the league, until along came Norwich.

Sigh.

I make boiled chicken, bacon and rice for dinner, which as I have said before, is much better than it sounds. Right after, we went to the sofa to watch last week's episode of Sherlock, which was quite good if I'm honest. It bollocks, but good bollocks.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Friday 13th January 2017

I am angry.

No, I am beyond angry, I am incandescent with rage. And for reasons I cannot say. But I have been like this since Thursday, and my mood had not improved by Friday, maybe except to say it had evolved into an icy anger. Getting angry about it might help things, it probably won't. Still, getting angry, and venting does help release the pressure valve.

However, anger has to be controlled in a business setting, and in meetings. But sheer frustration was always in danger of boiling over. Anyway, apart from this, there is so much to celebrate; the first power produced by the windfarm, resolution of many of the issues I have been dealing with for weeks, and being in a general good mood all week. Let us hope this latest challenge will turn into another triumph!

Anyway, due to general anger I am awake at half four, Belgian time, grinding my teeth, as my brain won't let me sleep. Outside it is blowing a hooly. I have to close the sliding door as the wind is making it bang, and huge fakes of wet snow is falling, and settling for the moment. But it won't lay I say to myself. I put the radio on the listen to the rest of the Radcliffe and Maconie show, go back to bed and try to close my eyes to snooze, but sleep does not come.

I check the clock on my phone after what I think has been an hour, and am surprised to find it ten to seven. Better get going, then. Outside the snow has turned to rain, and what had settled some hour before, was now melted and gone.

My anger had cooled a little, but I had to pack, get ready for work and the usual end of trip stuff. I have breakfast, check out and go to load the car. Outside the wind is still howling, but there is no trace of snow at all. The offices have just another couple of the people already working, so I take a seat at a desk, and begin sending mails and preparing notes for the meeting. Away to the west, the full moon was just setting, hanging in the sky, golden but fading as the rising sun illuminated it.

Now, I had been checking the weather for Friday afternoon most of the week, and as the forecast hardened, it became clear that with gales and blizzards forecast, it could be a difficult trip. And so once the meeting ended at half nine, I write up the minutes, send them out and with there being no mails to deal with, I decide to leave for Calais.

I take the same route that Manu had taken on Thursday, down on the by road along the canal, joining the motorway just after the big bridge over the canal, and just a couple of miles before the intersection with the A45 south.

THe skies are black, full of something, and not sunshine probably. I press on hoping to get to Calais as soon as possible. THe roads are quiet, with no queues at the border with France, on through Dunkirk to Calais, where the snow begins to fall, in huge wet flakes again. It looks and feels like winter.

I was expecting queues at the terminal, but not much to report. I get my ticket, go through immigration and go to the lounge to collect lunch. I had just missed a train, so had 50 minutes before the next one, enough time to eat the roll I picked up from behind the counter, sit down to read the Financial Times.

it is time to board, and once again I am the first car allowed to drive to the loading ramp, having to wait while the train is emptied of those who just arrived. I drive on, stoppin with the front bumper against the sliding exit doors. Nothing left to do now other than to wait for departure and then the arrival in Folkestone. here is more than enough good stuff in the FT, including an interesting long read about Chinese investment in ports round the globe, ports that are then changed into military basis, allowing China to project economic and military power globally.

We are now arriving at Folkestone, I get back in the car and ready with my fingers on the engine key, for when the doors open and the guard can say we can go.

Off we go, up and round the ramp, round onto the slip road, past the filling station, with me the only one taking the exit to Folkestone and Dover rather than the main road joining the motorway to London.

Thirteen I take the road along the Alkham Valley, all bedecked in snow and looking deep and crisp and even. I say deep, about half an inch really, but very wintery. I drop off the beer and tabs at Whitfield, before taking the backroad way back to Guston then up to the main road at The Swingate. Nearly home now.

I unpack the car, am ignored by the cats, but hey. I make a brew, and see if the car hire people will come to collect the car. They won't. So I call Jools to see when she was leaving work, she will meet me at the docks at quarter to three, giving me an hour to check on mails. I have had enough, and decide with the poor weather over the weekend, I will switch the phone off once back home after dropping the car off. Might do something for my sanity too.

Snowmaggedon 2017 We have a huge slice of the second Christmas Cake when we get home, while outside the snow has failed to melt on the ground, the sun sets and everything freezes.

I have two items to listen to when I get back home: first of all, a CD by Pale Fountains. I found a place online rather like e bay. A tenner for the CD was too good to turn down.

And then there was a New Order twelve inch. Run 2 was deleted after legal action by John Denver, true fact there, and so I did not get a chance to own a copy when it came out in 1989. But for £15, it too was mine.

I played both and they sound great.

Jools goes out for fish and chips, what with it being Friday and all. The fish is perfect, fresh and coated with crispy batter.

We are tired, what with me having been up since before four in the morning, so it came as no surprise to learn that we both went to bed soon after nine.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Thursday 12th January 2017

Another beautiful day in Oostende forecast, but with wind and clouds sweeping in later, with the threat of heavy rain.

And we have to travel to Leuven for the weekly meeting with the customer, which again involves sitting in the manumobile as his phone plays great tunes as we drive.

We meet in the breakfast room at half seven, then wait for Chris to arrive outside the hotel at eight before driving to the office. Manu takes his short cut, which seems to take twice as long as using the bypass. But in doing so we get to see lots of lovely brutalist housing from the 1960s. Which was nice.

Before we leave, there is more than enough time for a meeting or two, or the weekly moan as it has been described by more than one person. And there are many moans, but then it helps to share the pain I think.

Eleven, and it is time to leave. Manu programs his phone, and we are treated to the Album version of Uncertain Smile, the one with Jools bloody Holland going plinky plonky all over the ending. I hates it, and Manu and Chris laugh at my pain as the ending goes on. And on. And on.

Twelve Much better is E=EM squared, of which I know pretty much every line, and so entertain them both inbetween snapping scenes outside the car, so I can illustrate this post. We sing along to songs by Spandau Ballet, The Cure among others. Hard to believe this is work and not some jolly boy's outing. Even the traffic is kind, with the Brussels ring road only having one small hold up, so we go round to the west and north before taking the road to Leuven, then down past the castle, over the canal into the city centre the the underground car park, which for some reason has birdsong broadcast into its concrete depths. Not sure quite why, but they do get louder as we near the exits.

Up the steps and over the street to the faceless office block, and headfirst into the meeting.

Once that is done, we do the usual walk to the main square, past the cathedral, which I will go in one day to take shots. but not today, as we have an appointment with Dr. Post-meeting pint.

Now, I suppose I should explain what happened next. See, we all like a beer, and Belgian beer is better than most. And there is a great variety and choice. But there is one beer, supposedly the best beer in the world, that if anywhere was going to sell it, it would be at The Capital.

Westvleteren 12 Westvleteren 12 is brewed by trappist monks to support their monastery, and in 2005 the beer was voted the best beer in the world, they have resisted to produce more to keep up with demand. In fact they have made it harder, rationing supplies and the rules by which people can buy crates. So, with all this history and expectation, could the beer live up to it?

Westvleteren 12 With bottles of 330ml selling for €14 in the bar, we have two to share between 5 of us, so we can all get a taste and enjoy the beer. It is dark ruby in colour, and strong. Sweet nose with a long fine, sweet aftertaste making it very pleasant indeed. As to whether the beer was worth it, is up to the drinker, but I suppose it is a tick in the box, and one we were all happy to mark off. We each moved onto something lighter and hoppy afterwards.

Westvleteren 12 I have to meet with another colleague back in Oostende, so the usual burger mid-afternoon meal is cancelled this month, so Chris and I walk back to the station to catch the 17:34 direct train. The heavens had opened, and rain was hammering down, meaning the usual dawdling shoppers were thin on the ground. We buy our tickets, then go down the subway to wait for the train to arrive, giving me time to make calls and shout at a few people. As you do.

We pour ourselves into the first class seats, and relax as the train makes its way to Brussels, then rattled through the points and tunnels which mark the railway centre of the city. After leaving Midi, the train is full, of commuters who seem to be smiling, as they all seem to have seats. Rain rattles on the windows, and the train empties as we call at Gent and Brugge.

We crawl into Ostende at twenty past seven, and the rain is falling harder. And with a ten minute walk to Den Artiest, we decide to be sensible and get a taxi. Only we pick the only taxi driver in town who has not heard of it, even after showing him the address. We direct him to near it, then scramble out and get to the restaurant as soon as possible.

Rune arrives, so we can order food and drinks: ribs and a La Chouffe for me. And again the ribs are dry and not good. Should have had the steak! Inbetween mouthfuls, we talk about life, music and the pursuit of happiness.

Only trouble, of course, was the ten minute walk in the pouring rain back to our accommodation, by which time we were three drowned rats, soaked to the skin.