Saturday, 30 April 2016

Brexit - The Truth

With both sides of the argument employing the same tactics of presenting opinion as fact and supporting this with spurious statistics, The Truth is difficult to locate. I do not claim to be impartial - in 1975 I read the Treaty of Rome and voted against remaining in what was then the Common Market because it is clear that the ultimate aim is a political union which I do not support. I think this must be the only point on which I have agreed with Jeremy Corbyn.  So I offer the following biased points for your consideration.

It is obvious that we cannot trust any statement made by
  • a politician
  • someone employed by or benefiting from the EU       
Parliament designated a ten week campaign period and allocated £7m to an approved campaign group on each side in the interest of equality. A week before this period commenced the government spent £9m on a leaflet supporting the campaign to remain in the EU. The government should be giving us the clear facts for both sides of the argument so we can cut through the campaign spin.
Let's take a brief look at the main points made by the government leaflet
  • An important decision for the UK - True
  • A stronger economy in the EU - Opinion not supported by trade statistics
  • Improving our lives - Very subjective and individual opinion
  • Uncertainty if we leave - True
  • Controlling our borders - Will not be made more difficult by leaving EU
  • Benefits of EU membership - Do we want to be a super-power?
  • Once in a generation decision - Probably true
In all it doesn't add up to a bag of beans so why was the government so keen to compromise its integrity by publishing such a partisan document?

Can we afford to leave?
We currently pay £350m per week into the EU but we receive benefits of £190m per week including Farm Payments and regional support. So our net contribution to the EU is £160m per week. Any claims that we could not afford to support agriculture or the steel industry or the NHS were we to leave the EU does not, therefore stand up. This net contribution equates to about £3/week for every adult in the country. The government's offer to support the steel industry may be scrutinized by the EU, and could be stopped as unfair competition. If we leave it would be solely our decision. (EDF the French power company is 85% owned by the French government: is that fair competition?)

No-one will trade with us
Consider these figures which I gleaned from the ONS:
  • Our largest export market is USA.
  • Export to USA increased 55% from June 2014 to June 2015, 
  • We have no special trade agreement with USA at present. Neither does the EU.
  • In the same period exports to China (No 3 export customer) rose 37%.  
  • About 44% of our exports currently go to the EU which means that 56% go to other countries.
  • Exports to EU fell 4.2% in this period whilst imports from EU rose 10%
  • Non-EU exports rose 12% and imports from these countries rose 2.8%. 
If we look at the trends it is clear that the EU is becoming less important to UK whilst UK is becoming more important to the EU. Is this influencing anyone's stance on our possible exit?
Forecast growth from now to 2020 made by OECD shows the EU as a group declining in GDP whilst USA, Russia, Brazil and many other non-EU are expected to grow. Should we tie ourselves to the slowest growing economies in the world or the most dynamic? 

What  about Obama?
If the Special Relationship puts us at the back of the queue then it's about time we relinquished it.
Let's consider the attitude of USA to EU.  The population of most countries in EU  can visit USA on their Visa Waiver Program (sic) . However citizens of Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania require a visa. The EU gave USA two years to rectify this which they have not done and so EU is now considering a retaliatory regulation requiring USA citizens to provide additional documentation.  And Mr. Obama wants us to believe that a trade agreement with EU as a whole is imminent? Pull the other one chappie. Of course he may be banking on the EU ability to fudge issues when they become problematic.  I worked in international trade all my life and one thing learned very early on is tat there is one law for USA and another for the rest of the world. They do not conform to international standards in documentation and they apply US laws to activities in other countries.

Difficulty and uncertainty of leaving
In the 1970s following our joining the Common Market there was considerable uncertainty about the future and considerably  more  work. Before then we imported sugar cane,meat and cheese amongst other things from our  former colonies under preferential trade terms.  Harmonisation of import duties took about ten years. During that time the business I was in had to accommodate not only ad valorem duties which increased  each year but also a levy based on the net weight of product which changed unpredictably every quarter. Try managing a business in that climate:  I think we are capable of managing anything the EU exit would involve.
There have been scare stories about what would happen when we leave. Under  Article 50 of the EU any country leaving the EU has a grace period of 2 years during which nothing changes.

Reduction of roaming charges in Europe
This has been all over the papers and radio news today hailed as a great  benefit  of EU. membership.
This applies to the EEA (European Economic Area) also, except Switzerland, so is not exclusive to EU members.

Make up your own mind about EU membership but do not take anything at face value: check the credentials of anyone giving advice  and bear in mind that the internet is probably the least reliable source of  independent information. The truth is out there somewhere but it may take some finding.

Good luck  

Monday, 18 April 2016

Blackburn Canal Festival Will Flourish

Four years ago we visited the Blackburn Canal Festival and wrote a short piece on this blog.
We have just received an invitation from the this year's organisers  to return to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Leeds - Liverpool Canal.  Any event with so much enthusiasm deserves to flourish and we will be revising our cruising plans to see if we can get to Blackburn for July 23-24.


A Visit to Braunston

Ask any driver you meet in UK and it is unlikely you will find many who know Braunston in Northants: ask any canal boater and it is unlikely you will find any who do not know Braunston.
It occupies the centre of a large letter X formed by the intersection of the Oxford and the Grand Union Canals. It is a great place for meeting other boaters as your paths cross. Last weekend we selected Braunston as the location for a non-canal meeting.
We drove down from Preston in Murvi and slept the night at The Boathouse pub. As it was closed for refurbishment and not due to reopen as a carvery until the Sunday we were not obliged to dine there. This was fine with us as we were lunching at the far superior establishment up the hill in the village - The Old Plough. From our experience it is not possible to get anything less than excellent food and service here.  The test I use for a first encounter with a restaurant is to order ham and eggs.  If the ham is plastic and the egg yolks the colour of primroses then you can expect freezer to microwave food. The menu at The Plough is standard pub grub but the standard they set for quality of these dishes is excellent. Before we ate we had to fill the water tank on Murvi and decided to do this at the BW water point next to Midland Chandlers on the A45. Here were two surprises for us. First we popped into the chandlery to browse and bumped into Darren who had been managing Severn Valley Boat Centre when Gecko was built.
After gossiping with him for a while we returned to Murvi to get on with the job in hand only to find the Stewarts & Lloyds tug Atlantic moored there, engine running. When we called through the open door for Derek a reply came from behind us. He was following us from the chandlery.
So more gossiping ensued.

After lunch we took a brief look at the old windmill before walking down to the marina across the phytle. On our way we met the Cleggs returning from provisioning  Balador for a journey to Anderton. Judy was the compiler of The Launderette List which was published by Aylesbury Canal Society until they took Balador to France  when IWA assumed that role.

Gossip, gossip

So Braunston is apparently a good place to meet people whether traveling by road or canal.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

My Favourite Samaritan

I am returning to the subject of Paris for which I make no apologies  so if you have lost interest feel free to make a cup of tea and change channels.
View from roof of La Samaritaine
Whilst tourist scale the Eiffel Tower for a bird's eye view of the city I have always preferred the more human scale available from the top of Au Printemps or Buttes Chaumont.  My favourite, however, was to climb the spiral staircase which emerged from the fifth floor of the main building like a conning tower (mind your head!) onto the roof terrace of  La Samaritaine department store. I have watched the sun go down from this vantage point many times whilst sipping a double express  and admiring the delicate construction of Le Pont des Arts.
Opened in 1870, the Samaritaine store was famous for its eclectic and comprehensive stock and for the rudeness of its staff.  It had the reputation for being able to supply anything from an elephant to an aeroplane. I never tested the former: nor can I corroborate  the latter as I found the staff no more rude  than any Parisian is to an Englishman. In fact one visit I made in 19991 ran quite contrary to that assertion:
At the time I was working in Paris, moving mainframe computers around the world. One of the transport companies I employed played a local radio station - Cherie FM - on their telephone system whilst callers waited for an internal connection.  A company I used  in the UK who operated a similar system abandoned it when they realised that a competitor was advertising on the radio station they were playing to callers. Towards the end of 1991 I kept hearing part of a song which I rather liked but was unable to identify either the title or artist. So one Saturday I took myself off to La Samaritaine  and  tackled the maze or stairs and aisles eventually emerging into the music department in the basement.
Here I sang  to an assistant the snatch I could remember of the song . He  was able to identify the tune as Un Homme Hereux by William Sheller. Having reinforced the assistant's belief that all the English are mad I purchased the cassette and departed happy.   Regular readers will no doubt have heard this story before as I recounted it on BBC Three Counties Radio on My De sert Island Disc a few years ago.

Inside the main building of La Samaritaine
You may be wondering why I have so far referred to La Samaritaine in the past tense. This is because in 2005, my having neglected the store for a few years , it was  purchased by the luxury goods group LVMH. They fairly rapidly closed it down "on safety grounds" but truthfully it was to punish me for not visiting.   Since then LVMH have been fighting for permission to redevelop the site. Various iterations of their plans have fallen foul of  the Paris public or the city council.  A final approval has been obtained which retains the main Art Nouveau building (but as a hotel) and replaces the adjacent buildings with apartments and shops.  This will include 95 social housing units and a creche and daycare centre.  I can't imagine the demand for the social housing units on the banks of the Seine!
La Samaritaine was founded as a result of two factors. During the 19th century the French government passed a law which permitted anyone to sell items which they had not manufactured themselves. Coupled with the industrial revolution this presented the ideal commercial environment for such a venture. The business started in the back room of Cafe de la Samaritaine on the site were the glorious Magasin No1 was built in 1910. 
Often referred to as the Jourdain Building after its architect, the four-story metal structure is laid out on a central hall surrounded by superimposed open galleries, then accessed by a cast iron grand staircase and topped by a glass roof adorned with a carved and painted frieze.
Francis Jourdain, the son of the architect, designed the stunning Art Nouveau facade overlooking the Rue de la Monnaie.
The painter Eugène Grasser designed the iconic Samaritaine logo.

Art Nouveau facade of Magasin no1

The master blacksmith Edouard Schenck and the master ceramists François Gillet and Alexandre Bigot were commissioned for the decoration.
The facade, originally painted bright blue, has turned a darker shade of green over the decades.
It is adorned with an elaborate decor consisting of metal volutes, mullion windows and arches, polished and enameled lava panels adorned with floral mosaics and inscriptions.
Magasin no2 showing Art Deco and Art Noureau styles

Magasin no 2 was enlarged in the 1920s and decorated in the Art Deco style. The solid and square stone facade is framed with woodwork painted in a bronze colour and is adorned with balconies and canopies.
Entirely free of any mosaic, I think it is a splendid  illustration Art Deco.
Detail of the Art Deco facade

Two more buildings were acquired with the profits from supplying army uniforms  for the Franco-Prussian war and Magasin no 3 & 4 were both enlarged and modernised during the 20th century.
So why name a cafe and subsequently a department store after a Samaritan woman?  In the 17th century a pump  was installed under the Pont des Arts to supply water to the Louvre . It was decorated with a statue of the  Samaritan woman who gave water to Jesus on his way to the cross.
LVMH impression of rue de Rivoli redevolpment

And now the Paris prefecteure has approved the redevelopment of Magasin 1 and 2 and the demolition of the later buildings which front rue de Rivoli. This building, with its wavy glass facade, has been dubbed the shower curtain by its detractors.

Detail from the Art Nouveau facde
For this, and many other photographs, I thank TravelFranceOnline

Sunday, 10 April 2016

10th April 1858 -1912 - 1955

Loughborough boasts the largest bell foundry in the world - Taylors - where Great Paul, the 17ton bell at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, was cast. Local residents may also tell you that Big Ben was cast here but this is another of the many stories which surround this bell. It was actually cast in Stockton-on-Tees and weighed 16tons. As St. Stephen's tower was unready, Big Ben was first hung in Palace Yard but it cracked in use. The metal was recast at the only other bell foundry now existing in England - Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the east end of London. In this process it appears to have lost 2.5 tons. Along with most natives of this country and all tourists - I have never seen Big Ben- but I am very familiar with its sound and with Elizabeth Tower, as it is now known, which houses it.

Colne  in Lancashire has many claims to fame but more of that in future. For many people it is famous for its giant outlet centre - Boundary Mill - and Banny's Fish and Chips.

Today, however, we are interested in the cemetery in Keighley Road.

Image result for cemetery chippy colne

First, I would like to draw your attention to the Cemetery Chippie on the opposite side of the road.

If you are not shy of associating your food outlet with a cemetery why would you not use the slogan
Chips to die for

The reason  we have come to Colne Cemetery is to view this gravestone.

Have you guessed yet?

On 10th April 1912 RMS Titanic sailed from Southampton on her maiden, and only, voyage.

The band master on that voyage was a Colne man - Wallace Hartley who was interred here 33 days after the sinking.

Ruth Ellis 

The last woman to be hanged in Britain for murder was Ruth Ellis.

On 10th April 1955 she shot David Blakely in London after he had beaten her up and caused a miscarriage.

Image result for amersham st marys church She was initially buried in Holloway Prison but her body was later moved to St. Mary's Church in Amersham, Bucks.

The headstone read Ruth Hornby  1926-1955  but this was destroyed by her son just before he committed suicide.

Friday, 8 April 2016

J'ai Deux Amours

 Following my recent  piece about Maigret I have been made aware that some people are unfamiliar with Josephine Baker's song.
I found this for you to enjoy on YouTube

Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Key to Understanding Women?

Research into stem cells has been quite intense recently but has the Museum of Lancashire in Preston really discovered the key to understanding women?