Tandem Tour 2014

Flander2Having previously done the Rhine and Elbe, sort of, this year the tandem takes another ferry, this time from Dover, England to Dunkerque, France, in to Belgium taking in the cities of Brugges and Ghent. Then onward to Maastricht and Aachen. From there, who knows? We have limited time.

Blacks_tent2We are armed with a new tent (Octane 3 person tent, pictured left). It weighs in at 3.5kg, but it is generous in terms of space and has two layers. It is worth the extra weight so we discovered on our first tour with a very light single-skinned tent. Last year’s tent was a bit old and did not make it back from Holland.

The tandem has been serviced. The two tours so far (both are recorded in the cycling tab, right) had taken their toll on the chain wheel and the chain. Both have been replaced. We look forward to trouble-free cycling.

Wasted time

I regret the time that I have wasted in my life. Time that I could have used productively. But did not. Sitting on the train yesterday, as I often do, heading to my workplace (one hour), I glanced around and saw maybe two-thirds of the people on the train engaged in no activity other than looking around or out of the window. Immediately opposite me was a boy about 12 years’ old, I presumed with his mother. Both were, how I would describe, under-stimulated. I remember being that boy.

Class171Each Class 171 train has 124 seats. The train was full for the whole journey. For sections of the journey, there were people standing. So let us say there were 150 people on the train. If two-thirds were under-stimulated, that means 100 people. That is 6000 minutes going spare, 100 hours.

What could I do with 100 hours? I know that they are not mine to claim. I also realise that it is not for me to tell people what is good for them. However, I wonder whether this issue is not what is good for the individual, but rather society. Not using time productively, arguably, is anti-social?

The obvious activity for this sort of available time is reading. The boy in front of me had no visible reading material with him. He sat there patiently, commenting periodically to his mother about something that he had seen out of the window. I remember being that boy.

When I talk about society benefitting from those lost hours, I do so against the backdrop of what seems to be an almost  global breakdown in2014-07-31 14.02.02 human reason. The situation in Gaza, for example. It troubles me not least because the mis-information is so completely assimilated by our news organisations. It takes a bit of decoding when one is aware of it, let alone when reporting seems ‘balanced’. We are many of us under-informed (I include myself very much in this). Rectifying that would strike me as a good use for those 100 hours.

Picture of Class171: Mackensen

Gaza situation

Gaza_devastationToday there is a 12 hour ceasefire in Gaza. It is safe, briefly, to enter outside, survey the damage to the infrastructure, reclaim a few possessions, whilst the Israel Offence Force watches over.

The scene on the left is the devastation meted out to the Gazan neighbourhood of Shijaiyah (picture sourced from Media Lens) in the name of ‘right of self-defence’. Proportionate? By contrast, the image, right (from the Israel Defence Force). This was the damage to an apartment block in the Israeli town of Ashkelon from a Palestinian rocket. Proportionate? Proportionality is a bit of a red herring. The issue is the siege of Gaza and Israeli settlements.Ashkelon_damage

It is time for Obama to get on his plane and tell Netanyahu that he is on his way to the to the ICC in the Hague.

It is also time that the media get their reporting proportionate. Too much sourcing from Gaza_babyofficial Israeli authorities. Too many platforms given to the likes of Mark Regev (http://t.co/mNkP57gpKf). Too easy. Lazy. If you do have the mis-fortune to sit through Israeli propaganda, decode with this guide: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/israelgaza-conflict-the-secret-report-that-helps-israelis-to-hide-facts-9630765.html

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP)

DRIPThis piece of legislation, pushed through the UK Parliament in 3 days, is wrong in so many respects. Enacted to protect innocent people against terrorists and paedophiles (nice juxtaposition) and supported unconditionally by all three main parties in the Parliament, including the Labour Party, unforgivably.

In this country the police can now demand from suppliers of internet services and mobile phone network operators details of all of my transactions. The police will legally be able to access details of my searches, sites visited and my emails – and all those with whom I engage. They have access to the duration of my visits, conversations, times of those conversations and my location.

So often, one is confronted by the trite response from politicians that if one has nothing to hide, one has nothing to fear. One has everything to fear. I am no libertarian, but the state has no right to enter my private space, and that includes my email inbox. I know now that if I, or any others, seek to become a whistleblower against corrupt public or private organisations, including the police, they will be able to find us.

The Open Rights Group is challenging the legislation. They say: “The European Convention of Human Rights, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and our own Human Rights Act – all exist to defend are rights and are where we will be able to challenge DRIP.” They intend to challenge the legality of the legislation in the European Court of Justice. The UK remains a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights for the time being. The Conservative Government is currently composing legislation to undermine its authority over UK legislation – a move that is thought to precipitate the UK’s withdrawal. In Europe, the only non-members are Ukraine and Russia.

Even God…

I’ve decided, after considerable thought, to follow God. On Twitter. One of the reasons for this, is that there are times when the world is incomprehensible, and some explanation is needed from afar. God is as far afar as is inconceivable.

A few days ago, after one particularly incomprehensible event, he tweeted the following:

It made me feel marginally better after 300 people were blown out of the sky by a rocket over Ukraine and a plane load of people murdered in Gaza, with more literally promised this evening by the Israeli Government.

If God has lost control, essentially he is saying, if I read him correctly, that humanity has to do something about this. What do I hear? The BBC doing its lazy ‘balanced’ reporting and my Government sticking to the tired and wrong ‘right of self-defence’ argument. This is obscene.

 

 

 

 

Extraordinary moment

2014-07-12 12.54.57There I was, minding my own business, when a bird flew into the house. They quickly panic and the concept of the window does not compute in the small songbird world. Thus this tiny creature – a Great Tit – at the very least concussed itself enabling me to catch it with my hands without too much struggle.

Holding such a creature is amazing. I think it had resigned itself to some grim end, only to be surprised that it was being granted liberty. It took a while to recover sufficiently to fly off.

Marlboro ‘relaunch'; Lucky Strike in a tin

download_20140710_111039[1]These are heady times in cigarette advertising campaigns in Germany. I assume this has something to do with the World Cup with its healthy lifestyle promotion of beer, fast food and lethal nicotine dispensers. Clearly, Marlboro has been conceding ground to Lucky Strike on the ‘all American-ness front (see posts under this tag). So, the advertising agencies suggest a relaunch. And here it is, ‘Red’.

It is true that cigarette boxes have always been wonderfully designed, fit-for-purpose, artefacts. Beautifully engineered. I have always found smoking to be pretty repulsive, but the boxes have consistently fascinated me. Largely unchanged for decades. The clean design here is seductive. That I can see. The pinnacle, as I understand it, is when the actual brand does not need to be spelled out.download_20140703_193114[1]

As reported earlier, Lucky Strike has been promoting previous times before technology when people met and talked over a cigarette. I have reported elsewhere how Lucky Strike’s characters are now into books rather than social networks. Here is another one (right). Pure unadulterated manhood.

download_20140710_111048[1]But to add a certain confusion, here is the latest. “Luckies kann man nicht selber machen” [one cannot make Luckies by oneself]. When applying the strike-through magic, it becomes “Luckies selber machen” [make your own Luckies]. At first, it looked like a tin of tobacco soup. I realised that was stupid. Actually, it is Lucky Strike going into roll-ups. In a tin. Collectable and beautifully engineered, but let us see how a Lucky Strike roll-up goes down. Watch this space.

 

L&M – opposite of Lucky Strike?

DSCF0513L&M has waded into the advertising space that is Germany. And the approach is the opposite of Lucky Strike. Lucky Strike has been dispensing with technology in favour of books and unmediated human interaction (see post 29 June, 2014). L&M celebrates technology. Bloke on his mobile, big smile, lit cigarette. The strap line, “far away and very close”. Hence the technology. He’s probably checking that his health insurance covers extreme sports such as smoking.

Hop Farm Music Festival, 2014

Hop farm is close to Tunbridge Wells in Kent, England. The festival comes one week after Glastonbury, but its scale is modest in comparison. What a festival it was this year. Normally when I am at festivals, I stand there just a shade underwhelmed. That said, Kraftwerk 3D last year at Latitude (see post July 24, 2013) were extraordinary. And not underwhelming. Quite the contrary. Now, since last year’s Latitude Festival, either I have changed, or this festival was particularly good. Maybe a bit of both.

2014-07-06 00.38.49I anticipated Brian Wilson (left) to be alone at his piano for an hour or so. Indeed he was, but not only did he have some friends (including Al Jardine) with him, but those friends were handpicked to recreate that 60s Beach Boys sound. It was pure sublime celebration. And an object lesson for younger musicians.

Brian Wilson was not quite my generation, but Squeeze – or at least Difford and Tilbrook – were (right). 2014-07-05 18.02.50The sense of rapprochement after years of estrangement between the two was palpable.

I did not expect to get too much from 10cc. But Graham Gouldman assembled a band capable of doing justice to a repertoire that owes much to the original band members not there.

2014-07-04 19.48.23Marc Almond was a crowd pleaser. Paul Heaton – my one time next door neighbour in Hull – has the best banter of any musician. Always has. With Jacqui Abbot, he served up some of pop’s most feel-good songs, many tinged with melancholy. If one digs deep enough.

The Lightening Seeds, ‘Pure and Simple’. So much for dangerous nostalgia.

Maximo Park – never heard any of their stuff previously, despite being around for 10 years. They were spellbinding (right). They2014-07-06 00.39.05 made a link for me to the Damned, without the Gothness. And serendipity always has a function at these events. Three of the most wonderful discoveries were made. First, Jukebox the Ghost – a three piece from New York (below left). The keyboardist, Ben Thornewill, has a bit bit of Billy Joel about him. Their set was intelligent.

Then Baba Jack, a four piece blues/rock outfit from somewhere in the midlands. The ‘powerhouse’ of the band, Trevor Steger, makes his own guitars out of wooden wine boxes (below right). They are square, but the noise he generates from them is delightful. And loud. The lead singer, Becky Tate, writes love songs. But not as we know them.

2014-07-06 20.05.07The standout performance, however, goes to the Daptone Soul Revue (an indie record label out of New York). I’ve never seen so many musicians not in an orchestra making so much music. And utterly enjoying it. Charles Bradley’s tortured vocals envelope anyone who cares to be so enveloped (and maybe this time I did). Sharon Jones, who gave the finale (the set was over 2 hours), was just sensational. One just wanted either to take her home or bottle her.DSCF0531

Headline Sunday night was Grace Jones. I would have really liked to enjoy her set, but the bass was too high. Shame really. Not needed.

2014-07-05 19.31.27

Cameron the (un)consummate politician

Cameron_officialWhat does David Cameron not get about politics, particularly the politics of Europe? The messy battle over the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission against his agreement leaves the UK further isolated in the continent.

Politics – as I studied it at university – is about power, influence and networks. Cameron lacks all three in Europe. They are of his own making:

First, in 2009 he left the main conservative grouping in the European Parliament (the European Peoples Party, EPP) when he was elected Prime Minister in the UK, much to the chagrin of German Kanzlerin, Angela Merkel. It was inside the EPP where the mechanism for taking the decision away from heads of government in favour of the European Parliament was conceived. There is a causal link between being outside this grouping and influence in the appointment of the Commission President;

Second, when the Euro was in trouble, he walked away with a ‘not my problem’ approach (see my own reflections on the German media’s reporting of this here: http://weiterzugehen.net/2011/12/10/26-to-1/). It was here where the 2-tier Europe occurred with the UK in the second tier. Cameron even tried to prevent the Euro countries from using the EU infrastructure for meetings. That was ally-forming for sure;

Third, whilst he is well aware of his own domestic pressures, not least with his own backbenchers and UKIP, he seems not to understand that other European leaders have similar issues, Merkel included. For Merkel, the Juncker appointment was more of a stop Martin Schulz campaign, her ‘socialist’ nemesis. Schulz became the Parliament’s candidate until the EPP woke up and used its majority in the Parliament to elevate Juncker. Merkel’s hands were tied by her own MEPs. Hence marginalising Cameron.

We are where we are now. Cameron is not going to be able to renegotiate the terms of UK membership before the referendum in 2017, should he be re-elected in 2015 as UK Prime Minister. British membership is not that important to the other members. Being marginalised inside the Union is not that great, being outside and trying to negotiate access to European markets is likely to be difficult. I hope that we do not get anywhere near that referendum.

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