Monday, 25 September 2017


Fed up with paying an arm and a leg for Dolce Gusto covfefe pods (at current consumption levels I'm spending about £37 a month), I decided to take advantage of a Nescafe offer I was alerted to by, Roger, a regular reader. 

For the princely sum of £19 and 11 monthly payments of £18 (the lowest option), I can avail myself of a new Essenza Mini covfefe machine and 60 Nespresso pods a month. Now, given our consumption of covfefe pods is higher than 60 a month (we must average out at about 5 a day), we can top up with Lidl or Aldi pods, switching over to them exclusively once the year is out.

Having taken delivery of the machine and our first consignment of assorted Nespresso pods, I have to say that some of the flavours are divine - the vanilla one is particularly yummy.

Yes, I know it's more expensive than using a cafetiere, but the quality is consistent and it's so much less faffing about. I use far less water and power, for a start, plus there's less washing up afterwards, again saving on water, power and washing up liquid. Also, I simply refuse to drink reheated covfefe - it's not good for you.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

The English Party

Hard on the heels of a contemporary biography of the Duke of Marlborough, I'm currently reading a biography dating from 1896 by Viscount Wolseley, a distinguished general of the Victorian Age. The purpose is to see how time changes opinions.

I came across this passage in reference to William III, who was a Dutchman: "William III deeply resented the attacks on his countrymen. In his campaigns on the continent he had always been accustomed to dealing with armies made up of contingents from many countries, and commanded by officers of various nationalities. He could not therefore understand why English soldiers, more than others, should object to serve under foreigners; nor was it intelligible to him why Englishmen should entertain so strong a prejudice against all men born outside their own islands. It is curious that these sentiments should exist even today, seeing that few nations in the last thousand years have been longer ruled by foreign kings. As late as the last century we had two who did not even speak English."

As pertinent today as it was a hundred years ago, indeed 300 years ago. I guess a lot may have to do with the fact that continental borders have been very fluid over the ages and citizens were living cheek-by-jowl with other nationalities, whereas the UK's borders are fixed by the sea. There is, of course, the perennial question of Eire.

It's pertinent that since devolution there has been a programme to popularise and promote Welsh and Gaelic - languages the English overlords were intent on stamping out.

Another passage in the book caught my eye: "William returned to England on October 30, and opened Parliament eight days later with a speech in which he deplored the national failures by sea and land. Being a soldier, and not a party politician, he always told the people the whole truth about the army and navy, and stated plainly to Parliament what he believed to be essential for both services in the interests of the State. He kept back nothing, and Parliament was consequently able to judge whether his demands for men, money, stores, etc., were or were not necessary. It is to be regretted that this practice has not been continued to our day. But in 1693, the system of government by party had not as yet perverted the sense of public duty, and led men to put the exigencies of party before the great interests of the nation. William never disguised his contempt for the political divisions and animosities which prevented educated men from combining in support of measures calculated to strengthen the kingdom and to further the welfare of the people. He looked upon party government as fatal to our best national interests, and regarded both Whigs and Tories as placehunters who could always be bought at the price of employment."

Again, as pertinent today as then. Winston Churchill once said; "A good party man puts his party above himself and his country above his party." Unfortunately the bunch we have these days put party before country and self before party.

As an aside, I found this neat Android App called Text Fairy, which converts an image from a page into text. The only problem is that I think it's responsible for plastering full-page ads on my screen at intervals. I tend to download it when I need it and then delete it afterwards and that has seemed to cure the adverts..

Saturday, 23 September 2017


Hay's dad is an inveterate salt eater. He will put salt on everything before even tasting it. In fact, he makes a pile of salt on the side of his plate. How on earth he has survived to 82 is a miracle. I can just imagine chefs in restaurants he frequents contemplating suicide on being told that a customer asked for the salt cruet.

The only item of food I will add salt to is chips. Many years ago I stopped automatically putting salt on my food and my taste has adapted accordingly.

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Democratic Fetish

Democracy is, in its purest form, the philosophy that the mob knows better than 'experts'. However, modern society is a direct result of experts knowing more than the mob. Democracy depends on an educated electorate - sadly, much of the electorate the world over is lacking in political and economic education. I have read that evidence exists that as people become more educated their thinking aligns with that of most economists (the economic consensus) - but the mob vilifies the consensus of expert economists. That said, there's no denying that ideology affects some economists' predictions, as has been proven in the UK.

Should a democratic decision, even if morally wrong (due to the effects on people) or economically wrong (due to the detrimental effect on the economy), or factually wrong (most people at one time believed the earth to be flat) nevertheless be carried through simply because it's democratic? This is the government by numbers argument, in which quantity matters more over quality and sometimes prefers the worst over the best. It relies on the fallacy that one person's vote is as valid as another's - or that the vote of the uninformed person is as valid as that of the informed person, which is plainly ridiculous - especially in referendums affecting the constitution, the effects of which can be permanent. This is why, under normal circumstances, a referendum on constitutional matters requires a 2/3rds majority and not a simple majority.

Even if you believe all people are created equal, their environments can be vastly different, and thus their character. Also, people are tempted to vote for their team, as opposed to a dispassionate analysis of the issue in question - the 'my country, right or wrong' argument.

One huge problem with democracy is that the electorate is never held to account. If a candidate advocates curtailing the rights of a minority and, on finding him or herself elected, carries out that plan, those who voted for that politician are morally responsible, but not in law, especially if the law is changed in order to implement that plan.

In May 1945 the then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, suggested holding a referendum over the question of extending the life of his wartime Coalition until victory was won over Japan, and he should be allowed to continue in office. However, Clement Attlee refused citing ‘I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum, which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and Fascism.’ implying that referendums were a totally unknown and alien device to British politics.

In March 1975 Margaret Thatcher also quoted Clement Attlee that referendums are "a device of dictators and demagogues" as Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler had exploited their use in the past.

The Duke of Wellington harboured an intense distrusted the mob - he believed they could carry you in triumph one day and be throwing stones through your windows the next. He never courted the mob and went out of his way to avoid popular demonstrations, even if in support of him.

The mob is highly susceptible to passion, demagoguery and populism, while being relatively immune to reasoned argument. Decisions should be based on reason, not passion. Reason produced science and the enlightenment - the engine of modern society; passion produced religion, superstition and dogma, which has an unenviable record of opposition to advancement and reason. Religion has tried repeatedly to harness rationality to support its dogma, but has failed at every turn. Populist politicians focus on emotion before reason and 'common sense', which more often produces bad ideas that will be defended with the obstinacy of a mule (ref. Trump).

Despite democracy's shortcomings, we have nevertheless fetishised it to the extent that we have raised it to the apogee of political philosophy. Winston Churchill said; "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others," implying therein that it has its faults, which is why we have a representative democracy, where an informed, political elite decides (hopefully) what's in the best interests of the country, bearing in mind the much overrated 'will of the people'. Parliament, not the mob, is sovereign.

What has happened in recent decades is that we have become very bad at selecting our elites. To quote John le CarrĂ© in a recent interview; "It’s extraordinary to realise that Clement Attlee commanded a regiment in the war. Even Heath had experience of the war. 'It isn’t the war that’s the defining factor, it was having to work with men and women of all classes. They were blooded, those people. They knew whereof they spoke. What we now have is the wrong set. Surely the definition of a decent society is: one, how it chooses its elite; and, two, how it looks after its losers. Now we choose our elite horribly badly and, as long as private education commands the scene, don’t talk to me about levelling the playing field - the social contract is bust in this country." I tend to agree with him.

Plato favoured rule by the reluctant philosopher, but we all know the old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Romans instituted the concept of the dictator, who took control of government and the military during a period of crisis and was immune from prosecution, but for a limited term which could be renewed, depending on whether the crisis had been averted. A neat idea that worked for several centuries, but given the state and the military were led by the same individual, the opportunity for permanent dictatorship was ever present and finally realised in the shape of Gaius Julius Caesar.

Analyse and discuss.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Jehova's Lava

Had our quarterly visitation from our local Jehova's Witnesses yesterday - two very nice ladies, but they don't seem to live in the real world. We invite them in (we know them quite well - the son of one of them is our window cleaner) and end up having a chat about all manner of things for about an hour, but then there's always the 5 minutes of God Talk at the end, when they appear to be living in an alternate reality. 

They know we're both non-believers, but nevertheless we're still subjected to the 'lesson' and asked a few philosophical questions. Without fail, we answer these questions honestly, and sometimes I think I see one of the ladies wavering in her belief. The other, though, remains deadpan and her eyes seem to glaze over when we speak of science; she just doesn't want to know.

At the end of yesterday's 'lesson' I asked them to both comment on Leviticus 17-21:23, where God forbids anyone who is disabled or disfigured to enter the holy of holies to make food offerings and how this is interpreted in light of anti-discrimination law in a more enlightened society. They were a bit at a loss for words. There was a half hearted attempt to explain it away, but it failed miserably and still condoning discrimination on the part of God.

They then moved on to Creation and if we believed anything could come from nothing. I countered with the proven fact that particles wink into and out of existence all the time from the quantum foam. This was new to them. I also used the analogy of 1 + -1 = 0 and matter annihilating antimatter to produce nothing. If nothing can be produced from something, then why can't something be produced from the potential within that nothing? There ended the lesson, till the next time. We received our copy of The Watchtower, which Hay usually reads with incredulity when there are articles on science. I don't even bother.

Got the bulbs for the lava lamp in the post yesterday and got it working finally.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Ferdinand the Fighter

Rio Ferdinand taking up boxing at an age when most boxers are either retired or considering retiring must be manna from heaven for the betting industry.

Although, to be fair, it's more about reality TV.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Lava Zebras

Ever tried getting a replacement bulb for a lava lamp? These LED bulbs are energy-efficient, and that's achieved by them emitting less heat. What does a lava lamp need? Yes, you guessed it - heat!

You can get them, but it's not that easy. While they can be obtained for under £2 a pop, most outlets charge an arm and a leg.

Our local Tesco has a covered car park, where it's naturally dark. I detest looking for a car parking space in there due to the numerous zebra crossings for pedestrians. You have to simultaneously keep an eye out for a parking space and a zebra crossing, all in the gloom. Hideous! They'd be better getting rid of the zebra crossings and giving cars the right of way. Pedestrians, after all, have only one thing on their minds and not two.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Rubbish Flowers

For our wedding anniversary last week, Hay received a beautiful bunch flowers that included some lilies. While they look fantastic, the lilies make the house smell like a funeral parlour and I'll be glad when they've gone over.

We went for a walk yesterday and, as soon as we got out of our drive, I found these items, which had been casually thrown out of a car window.

A Tesco pasta salad (half eaten) and a couple of Tesco chicken sandwich packets. Why do people do this? It's antisocial and shows a lack of concern for the environment, regardless of whether it's in the countryside or in the middle of a town.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Defining Moment for Fees

Well, No.1.Son is ensconced in his en-suite room in the student halls at Royal Holloway and No.2. Son has moved from the caravan next to the house into the room vacated by No.1 Son. 

It didn't go completely smoothly - the electronic pass key to his halls didn't work - none of the students could get in. The powers that be used the PIN code to open the door, but neglected to tell us the code, so as soon as the door closed again they were locked out yet again on the next trip to decant possessions from their parents' cars.  Luckily, I'd remembered the code that was punched in the first time.

It's amazing what some students bring with them. No.1 Son just had a couple of holdalls of clothes and a box of essentials, like bedding and cooking utensils. One girl opposite No.1 Son's room  seemed to have brought the entire contents of her bedroom, and more.

A defining point in life - almost, but not quite, self sufficiency. Oh well, one down, one to go in another 2 years.

I see the Chancellor (of the UK) has realised how important the student vote is with a proposal to cut tuition fees. What the hell Boris is up to is anyone's guess, but he does seem to be defending the indefensible yet again. With friends like Boris, Mrs May needs no enemies...

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Fresher Hunting Solution

Well, seems I was wrong about the portrait. My friend George Spearing has discovered it's Frederick Francis I, Grand Duke of Mecklenberg-Schwerin, and the portrait is by Rudolph Suhrlandt, court painter to Fredrick Francis.

George says: "I'd like to say it was my vast historical/art knowledge but nothing so impressive. I used Googles 'reverse image' function to find him. Cropped and copied the main part of the image from your blog. Brought up Google search in my browser - selected the 'Images' function and then clicked on the icon of a camera that's to the right of the search panel. Uploaded the cropped image of Frederick, and Google then produced the mirror image. (and close variants)." Never knew Google had that function.

Hunting with dogs developed to hone the knight's skill while not engaged on campaign - it exercised his horse and ensured his riding skills were kept at peak performance in case he was called up to go to war. It was also a means of obtaining game for the pot. Doing it as a sport, with no thought to using the kill as food, is against my principles, as it is with a lot of people. However, when it comes to hunting with birds of prey, a lot of people are more accepting and see it as romantic. Prey is generally nothing larger than a hare, although an eagle can indeed take down a fox. Unless used as a means of obtaining essential food, I'm still against this, as a bird of prey should not be kept in captivity.

Any thoughts from the audience? Yes - the lady with the Aussie hat!

Taking No.1 Son to university this morning - a whole new adventure for him.