Monday, 9 December 2019

Brexit 419


I'm not going to call Boris Johnson a liar. There may well be a mountain of well documented untruths, deceptions and broken promises to put forward as evidence regarding the question of his honesty. But I've decided I won't stoop so low as to call Mr Johnson a liar.* It's unseemly, undignified and adds nothing to the febrile political atmosphere. What I will say is this. If the Conservative manifesto began with the words, 'Dear Beloved One', introduced the writer as  a Mr Johnson Ahmad (a close confidant of the daughter of the late Colonel Muammar Ghadafi, dontcha know) and finished with a request for the readers bank details and a small advance fee,  then the document would more accurately reflect it's true nature.

The Conservative manifesto is, at its heart, the ultimate 419 scam. A scam that promises the world, and all for such a small price. Just a little initial sacrifice. And then another small charge. And so on, until you've nothing left to give. Nada. So on until it's all gone. Your savings. Your pension. Your NHS. And the promised riches are still no where to be seen. Because, of course, they never existed. No faux Nigerian prince has ever attempted anything this ambitious, this audacious, on this sort of scale. The Tories are breaking new ground with the scam, and they are confident that they can pull it off. And why not? If we've learned just one thing these last three years, it is that a surprisingly large proportion of the general public are a greedy, gullible and easily duped.

I do not know what the result of the general election will be. The pollsters seem convinced of a large Conservative majority. But then, they were wrongly convinced of a similar Tory landslide last time round. To my mind, this is as unpredictable as an election can possibly be. But if there one outcome that this democratic exercise will deliver of which I am certain, it is this: the Leave voters will be disappointed. A hung parliament may take away their dreams of Brexit with a second referendum. Or - worse still - Boris Johnson  will triumph, but his undeliverable Brexit promises will be shown for what they are. A scam, peddled by shysters, bought and paid for by mugs.

*Not today. But normal service will resume tomorrow.








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Saturday, 23 November 2019

Find Your Luxury Stay at Heathrow London


It is vacation time again! People are finding new ways to please themselves, and traveling is one of them. It can be a solo trip or with family. In either case, you want a hassle-free travel that will save you time to explore the city. It can only be done if you have planned it over before. This traveling rate has increased the commercialization even in the small towns. You won’t believe how many options you will get for your stay from local budgeted hotels to seven-star hotels. You can choose accordingly as per your budget.

On exploring the internet about hotels in London, you will get immense options that will blow up your mind and make it difficult for you to choose. People have their priorities set; if they are going on a vacation, they will choose hotels within the city, and if for business, most people try to stay near the airport. When it comes to the airport, Heathrow is considered to be the most beautiful and large airport. You can get stays nearby quickly, and many hotels are willing to help you to visit the city in your meantime.

If you are looking for such a budgeted luxury Heathrow airport hotels with parking, then you should consider trying with Atrium Hotel Heathrow.

Choosing the best option among many hotels

It may be challenging to choose the best among all, as each hotel offer you tempting offers to welcome aboard. But you can choose wisely among all? Though, you can try to filter out hotels as per your requirement. This decision can be based on many factors like location, luxury, budget, and many more. It is essential to make the right choice as your complete journey depends on where you stay. If you are happy with your hotel and service, then you can consider it to be the best part.

How a pleasant stay will leave an impact on you
A visit is one of the essential parts of your journey, and you want it to be in the right way. Before the rest, you try to do all the research about the hotels and the place where you are going to stay. Hotel management takes care of all your need during your stay and makes sure you will love their service and expect you will recommend them to your friends. But sometimes there is no guarantee of the quality, so be careful with your research part.

Creating hotel awareness through great marketing

It has become the trend now that travel bloggers visit places and share their travel and stay experience with the world through their social media platform. It is one of the best ways that any hotel can create their awareness among people. Apart from this, an excellent staff makes sure your stay should be a memorable one, and you revisit the hotel again. So make sure you choose the right one and make your stay remarkable.
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Subtitles, Nipples and Netflix



Subtitles are a wonderful invention. For the hard of hearing, or just plain stone deaf, they give meaning to the magic of the moving picture. They reveal the mystery of a foreign tongue. And they bring us a dose of humour when they go wrong. Yet I did not warm to the subtitle for many years. They were a distraction. A nuisance. Irritating. Their mere presence on screen would compel me to change channel.

I did not watch foreign films. Ever. Except, if I’m to be entirely truthful, with the exception of a few choice late night French or Spanish flicks on Channel 4. There was no internet when I was a teenager. A saucy seƱorita revealing a breast or two in a moody continental film was pretty much as good as it got. Teenage angst is defined by the horror of patiently sitting through a film one does not understand, only for the joyous moment to be dashed by subtitling covering up the wonder of the female nipple. Lads born on this side of the millennial divide just don’t know how good they’ve got it.

Then I moved to Mexico. And subtitles became the norm. If we went to the cinema, I had to make sure I booked tickets for the subtitled version and not the dubbed one. At home, anything we watched either had Spanish subtitles on for Mrs P, or English subtitles for me. I became used to subtitles. They ceased to bother me at all. Indeed, they opened up a whole world of cinema to me.

Without subtitles I would never have met Hatidze in Honeyland, an endearing Macedonian production. I would not have gone on a trip to Acapulco with Mariano, Antolin and Justo. I would not have hit the campaign trail with Luis Colosio, and experienced the ensuing tragedy, in both 1994 and The Candidate. My taste buds would not have been tantilised by the Taco Chronicoles. I would not have become acquainted with the scandal of the Alcasser Murders in Spain. And I would have entirely missed out on the most bizarre real-life political murder mystery I've ever come across - Killer Ratings. I highly recommend all of the above, most of which can be found on Netflix.

Of course, every silver lining has a cloud. The cloud being Parchis. For Mrs P, it was a nostalgic trip back to her childhood. For me, it was drivel that achieved nothing more than inspiring a sense of pity for kids growing up in Mexico in the 80s and 90s. Whether they deserve the same level of pity as us British teens wailing at subtitled nipples is open to debate. You can decide that one for yourself.
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Saturday, 9 November 2019

Seafood. And Steak.




One of the delights of popping across the channel, be it to St Malo - the location of our most recent jaunt - or elsewhere in France, is to sample the food. The French are famous for many things, but I'd argue that their food is top of the list. Any decent blogger worth their salt would produce lengthy reports on the culinary delights they sampled, reviews of the restaurants they visited and rave about the wonders of the French food scene in general.

Alas, I'm not worthy of any salt. Not the table, rock or sea varieties. My palate has the sophistication of a single celled organism. I'm as easily pleased in a hamburger joint as I am in a multi Michelin starred restaurant. This does at least make me a cheap and cheerful dining companion. My scale for rating food stretched from 'absolutely delicious' to 'well, I didn't spit it out'. The latter would, of course, be muttered quietly and even then only to the most trusted of dining companions.

I am ever so British. I could be served a broth scooped from an unflushed toilet, topped with maggots and a sprinkling of dustpan debris and I'd likely still inform an enquiring waiter that 'everything is just fine, thank you'.

The best I can do for you, should you happen to be curious about foodie options in St Malo, is inform you that they are very famous - unsurprisingly for a coastal town - for seafood. Mussels and oysters top the bill apparently. The photo above is of a couple of bags of mussels and a box of oysters (I think), dropped off outside a restaurant early in the morning. Most restaurants seemed to have a sack or two awaiting the arrival of the chef.

When we dined that evening, we were presented with a menu filled with different fish and shellfish options. I, ever the contrarian, ate steak. Which was 'delicious'. Mrs P went for the oysters, seeing as our home town on the northern side of the English channel is even more famous for mussels than St Malo. We like going to a local Loch Fyne restaurant where she can eat unlimited mussels on Tuesday when they are in season. I will eat steak. Or traditional fish and chips if I'm trying to 'fit in'.

Nothing during our short stay came close to 'well, I didn't spit it out'. Prices were reasonable - neither cheap nor expensive. There is a shop that sells butter which is very famous. We brought back a packet of their smoked stuff, which also fits in the 'delicious' category. I rather wish we'd brought back more of the stuff. What else can I say? I think I'm done on the topic.

If I were ever to branch out into the food blogging scene, I do know the niche I'd like to occupy. The title of the blog would be 'Cheese I've Eaten', which tells you pretty much all you need to know. I could live on cheese and bread. I've yet to find a cheese that my taste buds object to. Creamy cheeses, hard cheeses, blue cheeses, smoked cheeses, processed cheeses, mature cheeses, stinky cheeses, stringy cheeses - I like the lot. I've always liked cheeses.

I have fond memories of working on a delicatessen in a posh convenience store in the late 80s/early 90s. No off cuts were wasted. And there were a lot of off cuts. Indeed, if I am going to be absolutely honest with you, dear reader, then I must confess that what I refer to as an off cut would possibly be described as theft by the store owner. But it was all such a long time ago, let's simply describe the whole thing as a matter of semantics.

Still, my single celled palate developed a certain degree of hitherto undiscovered sophistication during my time working for that delicatessen. I discovered many new cheeses there, Roquefort being my favourite. But ultimately, nothing quite beats a real top quality extra mature cave aged cheddar. It's such a versatile cheese too. You can slice it up for a sandwich with some Branston pickle. You can melt it for the perfect Welsh Rarebit. Or just chop a big chunk off to go with a Cheese Ploughmans.

I don't think we actually ate any cheese in St Malo. The French are currently engaged in a national sulk having done so poorly in the World Cheese Awards. Perhaps the nations stocks of cheese have been removed from public view until the shame has passed. The awards are not to be taken too seriously though. An American cheese won, after all. The best thing I can say about US cheeses is that they're not Mexican cheeses. But when all is said and done, once all the insults in the world have been offered and received, after tempers have cooled - there's still not a cheese in that list - or any list - that I don't like
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Thursday, 31 October 2019

Neighbours Part Two



Our neighbours are moving out, exactly one year after they moved in. Apparently, the landlord is intending to sell the flat. But that's what we heard last time when the previous occupants moved out. Who knows. We'll find out soon. This isn't the first time I've mentioned the neighbours. I previously wrote about their unholy rows and the possibility of domestic violence. However, since I published that post, I don't think we've heard a single argument of note. Although two months ago somebody pinned up a poster on the communal noticeboard, titled 'Are you afraid of your partner?', with instructions on what to do if your answer is 'yes'. Perhaps someone else heard them screaming when we were out, and took indirect action. I do not know. I do know that I use it to jokingly threaten Mrs P if she carries on as she sometimes does. 

This isn't to say that they haven't caused any disturbances since. One afternoon in the summer, on a hot day when every window in the block was open to let fresh air in, they decided to have sex. Loud sex. We are talking the sort of noise levels that you would associate with a 70s German porn movie. Or so I've been told. Mrs P was mortified. I found it hilarious. I didn't ask the other tenants in the block what they thought. 

And then there's the cigarette inspired coughing fits that the gentleman treats us to. They aren't ordinary coughing fits. They are the deathly choking fits I'd associate with emphysema. He can't be much older than me. It's been going on a long time, but I'll bet he hasn't had it checked out. He won't, not till it's too late. He's that sort of bloke. Which isn't an insult. I reckon most of us are that sort of a bloke. 

As I sit here typing, there's a professional cleaning company inside the flat working their magic with noisy machinery and clever cleaning potions. I suspect they've got their work cut out. The ceiling will almost certainly need to be repainted to cover up the nicotine stains, although they will probably leave it to the next occupants. And once they're done and gone, we'll soon start to see people coming to view the apartment. Whether as tenants or owners, we'll have to wait to see. Will the next people be an improvement or neighbours from hell? We'll have to wait and see on that too.
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Wednesday, 30 October 2019

The Automotive Upgrade



Nearly five years ago, I passed my driving test. A month later, Mrs P and I went to buy our first car in the UK, from a dealer in east London. It was a four year old, low mileage red Mazda 3, and it served us very well. Reliable, easy to drive, comfortable and generally cheap to run. Nothing ever went wrong with it, beyond your normal wear and tear issues. And rust. Chronic, terminal rust. It is, I have since learned, a common problem with Mazda 3's from around that time and a problem that became noticeable on our motor about a year ago. It scraped through the last MOT. It would have needed substantial welding and other work to get it through the next one in April. That's expense that I'm not willing to invest in a twelve year old car. It was a shame, because were it not for that, I'd have kept it for a few years more.

I'd been looking at used cars since last April. The budget? I don't like taking on debt, but the choice was between borrowing big or bagging a banger. I didn't want a banger. So perhaps somewhere between £10,000 and £12,000. The car? Something reliable, easy to drive and comfortable. More of the same, really. Ideally about three years old, with less than 30,000 miles on the clock. Apple CarPlay would be a plus. But then something caught my eye. And I started looking at new cars. And doing the maths. It's always important to do the maths.

If you look hard and haggle harder, new car deals can start to look attractive. Even with the heavy depreciation. I used Carwow to gauge what sort of deal I could get. I became quite addicted to the process of choosing a car, specifying the extras and waiting for the offers to come in. I must have done hundreds, including cars I had no intention of buying. I didn't buy through Carwow, though. I bought from our local Mazda dealer. Because we really wanted another Mazda. But I used my best Carwow quotes to get a price match.

The maths told me that ultimately I would be paying more for a new car. Of course I would, or what state would the used car market be in? But not so extravagantly more, once I'd added in the extra costs of MOTing and maintenance. It's also a less risky purchase, with the chances of buying a dog of a car eliminated. And then there's the pleasure of having a brand new car. The smell of a new car.

So I'd like to introduce the new member of our family. It's a Mazda 2 Sport Nav+ in Mica Crimson. It's a smaller car, but more than big enough for our purposes. It's very economical. It's extremely easy to drive. It's comfortable. It comes with Apple CarPlay. It's pretty much what we wanted. We're happy. And the maths worked out for us. In case you're wondering, the cost of buying new worked out to be between £50 and £60 a month more than buying a £12,000 used car based on my estimations. 
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Tuesday, 29 October 2019

St Malo



Would you like me just for once to write a positive Brexit story? Well, I shall then. In June, Mrs P and I paid a quick visit to Malta on a Brexit-busting getaway, days before the UK was due to leave the EU. The grand departure from the union did not, of course, happen. It was postponed until the end of October. So we plotted another last minute Brexit-busting getaway to the EU. This time aboard the Bretagne, a Brittany ferry that crosses from Portsmouth to St Malo in France. It's a large ferry with plenty to do, see and buy on board. Although we'd highly recommend bringing your own food for lunch or dinner. The restaurants are neither cheap nor likely to feature in a Michelin guide.

We returned only to discover, much to our surprise*, that once again the UK's departure from the EU would be postponed. This time until, potentially, the end of January. We will need to plot another Brexit-busting trip before then. Although, as this extension is actually a flextension, the UK could actually leave earlier. Or we might not leave at all. Who really knows? If you ask about, everyone on both sides has a firm opinion, but I'd suggest you take them all with a generous pinch of salt. 



We shall plot another trip nonetheless. Although we will probably pick a different mode of transport. The English Channel can get rather rough in winter. It was rather rough on our way over to St Malo in October. However, as it was a night time crossing and we had a cabin with beds to lie down on, we survived without needing to make use of the seasickness bags provided to passengers. We did not get a wink of sleep though. It's not just the motion that keeps one awake. It's the constant, loud creaking and banging of the ship that really keeps you awake.

St Malo is a very pleasant little town. Full of history, cobbled streets, wonderful seafood restaurants, a picturesque beach and a stunning cathedral that sadly closed half an hour before we turned up to have a look inside. And there was also a four man troop of soldiers, armed with very smart looking assault rifles, on constant patrol. Mrs P found their presence to be disconcerting. I found them reassuring. Having watched the very moving Netflix documentary on the Bataclan attack, we both understood why they are considered necessary. I highly recommend watching the series.



Is there an actual purpose, a real benefit, for us Brits taking these Brexit-busting holidays before the UK leaves the EU? Not really. There will be changes. For example, we'll no longer have access to free health care. But then we have worldwide travel insurance anyway. But as the UK is not part of the Schengen area, passport control will not change. It might be more awkward to travel with pets. But duty free shopping with cheap booze and fags will return.

Our Brexit-busting holidays are entirely symbolic, travelling when we are still part of the EU family. Seeing the sights before we become outsiders. Foreigners. Immigrants. So there is our personal positive Brexit story. We're getting multiple holidays out of the fiasco. While we can. Vive le EU!






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Thursday, 17 October 2019

Seasons

 

Summer is over for another year.  It is as far as I'm concerned anyway. Different people in different places have different methods to determine when seasons begin and end. I like simplicity. December, January and February constitute winter. March, April and May make up spring. June, July and August are the summer months. September, October and November are reserved for autumn. In Mexico I used different seasonal standards. There was dry season, rainy season and Jacaranda season.

Summer and autumn are my favourite seasons. I like the first month of winter too, thanks to the Christmas lights and festive atmosphere. From January onwards, life is just bleak. Rural landscapes are grey and lifeless. Towns and cities are grey and wet. But the New Forest, just a few minutes drive from home, offers some respite from the misery of winter. It's a pine tree dominated part of the UK. If the skies are blue and you can overlook the brown mass of dead ferns and ignore the cold, then you can pretend it's summer for a while.

The photo was taken just a week or so ago, at the beginning of October. October is the month when our central heating system springs back to life and our summer duvet is swapped out for our thick winter duvet. Mrs P and I are not fond of the cold. At all. We have it on higher than most households. And we get choosy about who we visit in winter and for how long. Most households feel like caves to us. We are not fond of cave-like temperatures. At all.
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Tuesday, 23 July 2019

The Rumsfeld Brexit



Tomorrow, unless the polls have gotten things even more horribly wrong than usual, Boris Johnson will become Prime Minister of the United Kingdon. He's campaigned on a platform dedicated to delivering Brexit by October 31st. Do or die, he says. Yet before he's even walked through the doors of No 10, MPs have pre-blocked his route to proroguing parliament, senior ministers have pledged to resign before he takes office in order to block a No Deal Brexit, and - far worse - there are plausible rumours of half a dozen or so Conservatives defecting to the Liberal Democrats.

Conventional wisdom suggests therefore that chaos will ensue. It's difficult at present to see how Boris Johnson survives through to October, let alone deliver Brexit. There is a chance he may not make it through the first week. Canning may indeed lose his crown. Arguably, Boris' insistence that he will deliver Brexit by the end of October makes this more likely, in that it makes a further extension to Article 50 less likely.

So what will happen next? Parliamentary arithmetic, for all of us that live in the real world, is a known known and does not currently favour the next PM. There are some within the Tory party who still believe the EU will renegotiate a deal. That is the unknown (to them) known (to the rest of us).  Does Boris Johnson actually have a plan that involves delivering Brexit based on a plausible route through parliament? Based on all the evidence provided by Brexiters since 2016, the answer would have to be that no, there is no plan. So we have our known unknown. And yet, he must - surely - come up with something. Mustn't he? This is the great unknown unknown.

I have given this some thought. And I have a prediction. It's a prediction based partly on Johnson's character, and that he'll do anything to claim a victory and stay in power, no matter how farcial the u-turn. And it's partly based on what I believe could be gotten through parliament. My prediction is this: Johnson will keep the UK in the Single Market. He'll pass the revised Withdrawal Agreement on that basis with support from moderates and realists from both sides of the house. It'll enrage the hardcore Brexiters, but they'll do nothing drastic (as per usual) when faced with the options of either this, a destructive General Election and/or a second referendum. And it'll enrage Corbyn too, which will be considered a plus point.

Keeping the UK in the Single Market doesn't solve every Brexit related problem. But it goes a long way to doing so. I'd guess that it would make the remaining issues a good deal easier to deal with. But will Boris actually attempt such a grand u-turn? Well, I make my prediction with the same level of confidence - and horror - as I would were I predicting the fortunes of the drunk guy who just put his life savings on number 26 on a roulette table. It could happen. But...


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Monday, 8 July 2019

A Shrinking World



I have been plotting our 2020 trips for several months. Next year, all being well, we will have two long haul vacations.  Mexico City next summer will be one of them. The other? I have been looking at a map of the world to have a looky-see, hoping for inspiration. Yet the options are diminishing every year. A few dozen countries are now categorised 'Been There, Done That', although a repeat trip to Sri Lanka one day is not off the cards. It's a fabulous place and I'm sure Mrs P would love it.

An increasing number of countries are a little bit too 'Head Choppy Offy' or just plain too confrontational for my liking. Which is a shame. I'd love to see Libya and Iran. A growing number of places just have too many people and too much pollution. Mumbai is an absolute non-starter. In fact, that applies to much of India. And, for next year at least, a trip to South America is not on the cards. It's an expensive trek, one that will have to wait for a year when we do just the one long haul holiday. 

I have been considering Uzbekistan, and possibly Kazakhstan. They are both opening up to the idea of tourism. But ultimately, our second long haul trip this year will be defined by cost and ease. So China and Cambodia it is. It is possible to nab a multi stop ticket from London to Beijing (two or three night stop over), on to Cambodia and then back to London for little over £400. That sounds like a winner. Not least because I'd like to see the Forbidden City and a bit of the Great Wall, but have never been inclined to spend a fortune in time and money on a Chinese visa. Which won't be a problem with this trip. So I think we may well have a winner...

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Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Guernsey



I have a range of options to choose from when looking to flee the country. The two most common departure points are Heathrow and Gatwick airports. At about 2 hours and 3 hours respectively, they don't make for a quick getaway, but they do provide the widest choices of destination, particularly if one is looking to  go to far flung shores. Stansted and Luton airports are a good four hours away, but as the likes of RyanAir and EasyJet use them, they are good for ultra cheap fares. I've made use of all these options more than once.

The most local airport is Bournemouth International which offers some cracking fares courtesy of RyanAir, to some pretty decent places. Malaga, Krakow, Prague, Dublin and Malta to name but a few. Indeed, I could continue to reel off some desirable European destinations. But it's a small airport, so if I did continue, I wouldn't add an awful many more words to this paragraph. We've used Bournemouth airport plenty though.



But living on the coast means there's more than one way to leave the UK behind. Docks at Southampton provide the escape route for the cruise liner set. Portsmouth is the place to go for most cross channel ferries. But Poole also has a port, just a fifteen minute drive from home. A giant ferry transports cars and passengers to Cherbourg in France. Condor Ferries operate a high speed trimaran between Poole and the Channel Islands.

Mrs P and I have used the ferry to Cherbourg. But I had refrained from jumping aboard Condor's Liberation. It might be new. It might be quick. But it also has a terrible reputation for emptying the stomachs of its passengers when crossing on waters that are anything other than dead calm. I've been sea sick before, on a small fishing boat nine miles into the English Channel. It's a thoroughly unpleasant experience. Not something one would want to repeat.



But a half price offer is hard to refuse. So, with a certain degree of trepidation, I bought a pair of day return tickets for the pair of us. And prayed to a god I don't believe in to provide us with seas that resembled a mirror. The non-existant god obliged, bless him. Very pleasant sailing conditions. Almost as good as they get. But regardless, we both felt a little bit queasy on the way over. Less so on the way back. Perhaps our stomachs were too full and too tired to be queasy.

Guernsey is a small, quaint little island. And much like the Channel Islands currency, it is immediately identifiable as British, and yet not British. One feels a little like Alice as one wanders through the streets of St Peters Port, as things become curiouser and curiouser. I was convinced I'd turn a corner and be greeted by a grinning Cheshire cat. Not that Lewis Carroll spent any time in Guernsey as far as I know. The most famous author to have spent time here was the French writer, Victor Hugo, who penned Les Miserables during his stay.



As with most of these sea faring day trips, one spends more time aboard than abroad. The ferry whisked us there in little more than three hours, but that totals six hours bobbing on the waves, and a paltry three hours walking and dining. Should you ever make it there yourself, I can recommend Le Nautique. It's a conveniently located restaurant, with reasonably priced two and three course lunch deals and excellent service.

Will we ever return? Never say never. But probably not. I'm still a cautious sea traveller and don't want to push my luck too far.

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Saturday, 22 June 2019

Bus 81 to Marsaxlokk



Shall I rate the four Maltese locations visited by Mrs P and yours truly? Scores out of ten, as is the normal practice. Rabat and Mdina score an easy 9 for its beauty and tranquility. The capital, Valletta, gets a 7.5 for its blend of history and shabby chic aesthetics. The Blue Lagoon on the Island of Comino also scores 7.5. If there'd been a thousand people fewer, I'd have given an extra point. If there'd been no one but Mrs P and I, it'd score a perfect 10.

The final destination on our whirlwind tour of Malta took us to Marsaxlokk, a small fishing village tucked away on the south eastern tip of the mainland. I'd seen pictures of the colourful fishing boats bobbing gently on the mirror like waters in the bay. It looked magical. Up close and personal, in the flesh, it's less so. The brochure doesn't show the cranes, tankers and other items of industry that lie in the background across those tranquil waters. But that's not to say that the place doesn't have its charm. The seafood is good. It's a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Marsaxlokk scores a decent 7.



Marsaxlokk presented us with two difficulties. The first was in the pronunciation of the name. I think I've got it now. Maybe. The second issue was getting there from Valletta. I rely, perhaps too much, on Google Maps. Google swore blind that we needed to walk the final mile, a thirty minute stroll down a road with no pavement. Google lied. There is a bus, no. 81, which runs to and fro between Valletta and Marsaxlokk all day and late into the evening. 

We discovered Google's treachery whilst feasting on a fish dinner, and armed with this new information we were spared a long walk back. The fish dinner took an alarming turn. We had several scaley creatures to choose from. Our waitress recommended the n****r. I looked confused. She repeated the word. I felt obliged to walk into the kitchen to inspect this fish. It was a Meagre. Much to my relief. Marsaxlokk retained its decent rating of 7. And my recommendation to pay the place a visit.
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Friday, 21 June 2019

The Alleys of Rabat and Mdina

First impressions count. The first impression one gets of a city is from the window of your aeroplane as you fly in. The first sight I had of Mexico City was a breathtaking view of the mountains silhouetted by the setting sun with the vast metropolis in the foreground twinkling as the lights came on. My first sight of Malta was less majestic.

We flew over a yellowish landscape that was largely rural, with small towns and villages dotting the lanscape. And I wondered aloud if we were overflying Syria. So many half built shacks. Or were they half destroyed? It's tough to tell from 10,000 feet in the air. But it looked a bit of a mess. 

We stayed in Rabat, with Mdina just a short walk away. One could argue that this area has a look of Syria about it, but from a decade or two ago, before the bombs and shells did their work. The names Rabat and Mdina certainly have an Arabic ring to them. It seems that everyone and their mother have been through Malta at some stage. Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, the French and British have all left their mark.

Rabat is effectively a suburb of Mdina. Rabat does of course mean 'suburb', which you'd be aware of if you knew a little Arabic. Or had just browsed the relevant wiki page. Both towns are pristine. And quiet. And the labyrinth of narrow alleys leading to tea rooms, museums, restaurants and little shops make for a wonderful few days exploring.

The stand out architectural feature of Malta are the balconies. Throughout Mdina, Rabat, Valletta and elsewhere, the honey coloured limestone brickwork is speckled with colourful balconies jutting out into the air above the heads of passers-by. They become addictive to the casual photographer. I have several dozen shots of balconies. I will bore you with just one of them.


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Thursday, 20 June 2019

Monzo in Malta



Our trip to the Blue Lagoon on the tiny island of Comino was a highlight of our short trip. The water is postcard perfect, is it not? Alas, the island has one tiny issue. People. Lots of people. Boat loads. If you want to pitch yourself on the tiny strip of sand, you'll need to be there at the break of dawn. By early morning, even the rocky bits are occupied. You're best of doing what we did and stroll over to Santa Marija Bay. It's a 20 to 30 minute walk, or a few minutes in a shuttle jeep at €3 each way. 

But unless you have a physical impediment, go for the walk. It's a very pleasant and scenic stroll. And Santa Marija Bay will be far less crowded. It's not quite so dazzlingly beautiful. But it's good enough. There are a couple of dozen sun loungers for rent, and half were empty. But this will at least in part be due to their cost, €10 each. We went for towels on sand. There's a couple of huts there serving up food and drink, and a small hotel with a bar and patio overlooking the bay.

 

But enough of what we paid, or didn't. And more of how we paid. A couple of months ago I opened a new bank account with Monzo. It's a new bank, one of the so-called challenger banks and you can only sign up with the iOS or Android apps. The bank has two big selling points, for me anyway. Firstly, transactions show up instantly. No waiting around for two or three days before a purchase shows up on my balance. 

Secondly, it's great for travelling. There's no commission or fees charged when you use it to buy things abroad. And the exchange rate is at Mastercard wholesale rates. Which are good. We'd bought some euros before leaving the UK at €1.09 to the £. The average rate on our cards worked out at about €1.12 to the £, as you can see from the summary above - #winning!
 


Are you a UK resident and fancy some of those Monzo benefits? Sign up via the link below and you'll earn an extra £5. As will I. We can both be winners.



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Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Malta

Mrs P and I have been to experience the delights of Malta, the tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean, just south of Sicily. And why not? It's the perfect short getaway for a resident Bournemouth. Flights from the local airport, just a ten minute drive from home, are cheap - from £60 to £100 return - and it's just three hours away. We set off early on a Thursday morning, enjoyed two full days in the sun and flew back mid-morning on Sunday, lightly bronzed and thoroughly relaxed.

What did I know of Malta before I went? It's small and rocky. The islanders bravely fended off the Nazis in WW2 - the Maltese flag features the St George cross, awarded by their then imperial master, the British. There's a bit of an issue with organised crime and suppression of the press. There's the Maltese dog. That was about it. Mrs P and I argued over just how small Malta is. I said smaller than the Isle of Wight. She disagreed. I have checked. And I was right. 

What didn't I know about Malta that I am now better informed of? Maltese is the only recognised semitic language in the European Union. It's a confusing tongue. Half the words are of Italian origin. English makes up anything from 10 to 20% of the vocabulary, with whole phrases abruptly interrupting an otherwise unintelligible stream of chatter. And a Tunisian would be able to understand about 30 to 40 per cent of an average Maltese conversation. Indeed, Malta seemed in many regards - language, food and architecture - to have something of a confused sense of identity. It doesn't, of course. Cultural blends are to be found in every land. It was I who was confused.

We also discovered that Malta itself isn't the cheapest European destination once landed. Buses are good value when getting around, at €2 for two hours travel. Food and accommodation are a little pricey. Not extravagantly so. But closer to what one would pay in Paris than in Budapest or Sofia. But for a long weekend, Malta is worthy of consideration. We may well return, particularly when we are in need of a little bit of southern  European sunshine. 




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Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Secret Garden


We Brits have few nice things to say about our weather. We do not receive the amount of sunshine that we would like. But it's not just about the gross amount of solar rays that reach our little island. It's the useable quantity. Let me give an example. Last week we set off on a day trip, deep into rural Wiltshire. It had been sunny all week, so why not make the most of it? Needless to say, the sun disappeared the moment we departed. And stubbornly refused to to reappear until the moment we returned home. We Brits have been playing this game of galactic hide and seek for millenia. It's a game that we are handsomely losing.

The garden? It's a strenuous half hour walk from the nearest train station at Avoncliff, up and down a steep hill. But that is all I can say. Mrs P has declared it a 'secret garden', just for us.
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Thursday, 30 May 2019

The Canning Manoeuvre


What can one make of the EU elections this week? Brexiters will rejoice that the Brexit Party won most seats. Remainers are quick to point out that Remain parties combined received more votes than the Brexit Party and UKIP combined. Nigel Farage insists that the Tory votes should be added to his column, because they are a Leave party, and this gives Brexit a win. But as someone who believes that the only democratic means of overturning the 2016 referendum is through a further referendum, I'd argue that these results should be viewed  through a Brexit v Referendum prism, and that Labour votes should be added to the latter group, giving Peoples Vote supporters the win.

Politically, the UK is a mess. Whoever takes the job on from Theresa May will inherit a can of Brexit, well beyond its best before date, and bruised from repeated kicking down the road. There are, as I see it, six potential options open to the new PM. It's essentially a Brexit edition revolver and the game - appropriately enough, given the various suggestions of foreign interference - is Russian Roulette. What should worry the incoming PM most, is that there is the distinct possibility that every chamber contains a live round.

The Withdrawal Agreement

Tory leadership candidates are shouting rather loudly that they'd renegotiate the WA. Alas, the current extension that the government signed up to expressly excludes any possibility of doing so and it is difficult to see the EU even entertaining the idea. A new PM could, however, simply try what May tried and failed to do three times and try his or her luck. Obtain a non-binding letter of intent from the EU, rebrand the WA as 'bold', 'dashing', 'brave' or 'adventurous' and bring it before parliament a fourth time. I suspect that the ERG and DUP will brand it as 'bananas'. It ultimately cost May her job. But hey - you don't know till you try...

General Election

Current polling suggests that a Tory PM calling a General Election anytime soon would effectively be handing in their notice of resignation. But what boost will a leadership change provide the Tories as far as the polls are concerned? If there is a significant lift in the numbers, might the new leader chance his or her arm and seek a fresh mandate to force through the Brexit of his or her choice? Risky? Yes, very...

Second Referendum

It's poisonous to both parties. But of all the available options, it's the one most likely to break the deadlock. It's the most democratic option. Long term, it's probably the least damaging option for the Tories. But the resistance to it from within the Conservative party would be huge, and the risk of being deposed by a flurry of letters sent to the 1922 Committee is high.

No Deal

If the three options above are too upalatable, or fail, then the new leader would be expected by the hardcore Brexiter group within the party to go for a No Deal exit. He or she might try. But the most likely outcome would be a vote of no confidence in the government being put forward and passed by parliament, prompting a General Election. An election that, for the Tories, would come off the back of a humiliating defeat rather than a positive bump in the polls.

Revocation

It's unthinkable, isn't it? The new Conservative Party leader taking to the podium outside No10 to announce that the government is to revoke Article 50? It remains an option, but one I could only envisage occurring in the event of a very serious international incident. Serious enough to put Brexit on a back burner for another day.

Further Extension

You know what options 1, 2 and 3 all need? Time. A further extension is the most logical course of action. The reality of the situation demands it. Alas, reality and the ERG are not happy bedfellows. The opposition would make the most of it. And for any candidate elected to the role of PM on the basis of a pledge of  'Deal or No Deal, we leave in October', his or her position becomes a little untenable. Does it not?

Theresa May pushed for a couple of those options, flirted with a couple more, but settled for two Article 50 extensions. I expect the next PM to do the same. But without the benefit of the originally specified two year period of negotiation at the point of triggering Article 50, without even the possibility of renegotiation and in a political environment that is becoming more hostile by the day. It takes a very special kind of fool to even contemplate taking the job on, to be frank. Each of those possible courses of action could well lead to an early exit from No 10 for the new PM.

One of the above must come to pass. On which should a betting man put his money? Extension, of course. But there's a more interesting bet to be had that brings the title of the post into the conversation. George Canning became the British Prime Minister in 1827, at a time when the Tory Party was split between moderates and ultras, with members frequently switching allegiances to other parties. Canning himself was a leading opponent of the Concert of Europe, proving that continental scepticism is not a new fangled idea.

But the most interesting detail about Canning's time in No 10 was the length of his term in office. He took the job in April but was out in August, just 119 days later. No PM has 'enjoyed' a shorter tenure in the top job. His departure was not prompted by a vote of no confidence by parliamentarians who questioned his ability to do the job. It was necessitated by Death, who decided he had no further confidence in Canning's ability to continue breathing, and took the appropriate action.

Canning's 119 day record could well be under threat. With a timeframe of just a few months between a June/July accession and the expiry of the Article 50 extension on October 31st, the new PM might find his days are numbered when they're still in double digits. What are the odds? I do not know. But I imagine they are rapidly decreasing.








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Thursday, 23 May 2019

Queen Mother



Given that it seemed like the Queen Mother lived for all eternity, it somewhat surprised me to find she's been dead for more than fifteen years. I only remember the last couple of decades of her life, when she closely resembled a breathing corpse. She would be trundled out on her walking frame to be waved at by an adoring crowd, before being trundled away again. Quite often to hospital to have a fish bone removed from her throat.

This statue is a recent creation, on display in Poundbury, Dorset. The Queen herself came on her Royal Train for the grand ceremony. Made from a fairly solid chunk of stone or metal, this Queen Mother may well survive for all eternity. Or at least, until the revolution...


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EU Elections 2019

I'll vote in a few hours, probably Lib Dem, but possibly Green. And not simply because I believe that the UK should remain in the EU. Even if I were convinced that the UK would be better off outside the EU, I wouldn't vote for the Brexit Party. Or UKIP. Or the Tory party, while it's infected with a hardcore cadre of right wing infants.
I wouldn’t vote for them because I’m not a bigot. I wouldn’t vote for them because I fundamentally oppose fascism. I wouldn’t vote for them because I refuse to put my name to or in anyway support a group of people or an ideology that promotes hatred, violence and casual discrimination.
Politics might well be broken. But the likes of Farage, Rees-Mogg and company have more to do with the cause than with the solution. Their campaign of populist nationalism, entwined as it is with the creep of fascism throughout Europe, should be abhorred and opposed. Not given a thumbs up at the ballot box. No matter what anyone should think of the EU.
At every turn, the Leave side have lied. Money for the NHS? Sunlit uplands? Easiest deal in history? German car industry to the rescue! Global Britain. The Norway option. And then there were the ridiculous untruths spread about what the EU is and how it works. How gullible does one have to be to continue to swallow their guff? 
Fascism is a strong word. If one is minded to believe it neither exists nor matters until tanks have rolled into Poland, then one is not paying attention. It can arrive in sharply pressed uniforms with supporting troops of brown jackets. It can equally come dressed in tweed and bigged up by thugs in yellow vests.
Farage is a pound shop populist. The language and imagery he uses are unmistakable. The company he keeps tells its own story. The origin of his ideology has a documented history. If you remove the pretence of his oratory, what are you left with? I present as evidence, UKIP. A party that embraces the likes of Tommy Robinson into its ranks, albeit informally.
A vote for either Farage or UKIP is tacit approval of bigotry, discrimination, the deliberate dereliction of the vulnerable, the suppression of minorities and a future UK that no one should be proud of. Vote. Everyone should vote. But do think about exactly what it is you want to vote for.
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Monday, 20 May 2019

Victoria Pubs: Real Ale and Real History


Have you arrived in London to immerse yourself in its rich culture? Learning about London and its history would be incomplete without a visit to the best pubs near Buckingham Palace, where you can enjoy pints of quality ale, while having a lively conversation about the culture capital of the world. And, if you need a good place to stay in the meantime, there are some great yet affordable hotels near Buckingham Palace, the Passport Office and the London Eye, offering easy access to the pubs and major tourist attractions in the city, says Sidney Hotel, one of the leading Hotels near Buckingham Palace

Here’s a look at some of the best pubs in Victoria.

1.       Cask

If you're after craft beer, then you cannot go wrong with Cask. Moreover, this pub in Pimlico is among the best-stocked beer bars in the UK. Even a person who considers himself a connoisseur of beer would be overwhelmed by the range on offer here. And, if you happen to go there on a Sunday, there's a live folk band playing that adds to the whole ambiance. 

2.       The Thomas Cubitt

The Thomas Cubitt in Belgravia is best known for its food, but it also offers a wide variety of cocktails. It has a bar on the ground floor and has a French-style dining area on the first floor. You can eat and drink in whichever part of the pub that suits you the best. Roast rack and pumpkin wellington are their specialties. This is a fine dining restaurant, so the prices are on the higher side.

3.       The Orange Public House & Hotel 

This hotel cum pub on Pimlico Road is another one of Cubitt House Group's upmarket gastropubs. It attracts a wealthy crowd, just like The Thomas Cubitt. The bustling ground floor bar is The Orange's heart. You can enjoy classic British dishes, along with a good variety of drinks here. But, if the bar is packed, then there's a vintage dining area upstairs. 

4.       The Albert

If you're a tourist looking for some cheap breakfast early in the morning, then this Victorian landmark, situated between the Parliament building and New Scotland Yard, is where you must go. Portraits and photos of past prime ministers, members of the Royal family and leaders can be seen on the walls here, which give the place a historical feel. Also, this place is popular among the locals for its puddings.   

5.       Speaker

If you're like old-school pubs, then this one is a must-visit for you. This pub prides itself on having created an atmosphere of a classic English pub. There's a sign in the front of this establishment that proudly states, “This is a real pub.” There are no television screens or music being played in this pub. This is where you go for a drink, some great food and some good conversation. 

Victoria is among the best places to stay for tourists visiting London. Hotels near the Victoria Tube Station in Central Londonand pubs in and around this area can offer you a real cultural experience of Britain.
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Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Lost and Found



I have recovered another batch of photos from a recently rediscovered set of CDs that I'd long assumed were lost. This set featured three photos from our flat in Mexico City, which brought back memories. The remaining hundred or so photos were from a trip Mrs P and I made to see her family in Milwaukee. With a day trip to Chicago thrown in. The year? Twas 2005, a few months after I moved to Mexico.

The photo I've chosen was for more than a decade my most viewed image on Flickr. For a while it was used by Wikipedia, and can still be found on dozens of other websites. And it was published in a book about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It's hardly the greatest photo I've ever taken, but it is the most successful. For much of the last decade, I've had only a 640 pixel copy of it. Now I have the full size original again. Which is nice.
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Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Egypt 2001



I visited Cairo in 2001. It seems a long time ago. It was a long time ago. The world has changed hugely since then. Shortly after a visit to the pyramids of Giza where this photo was taken, I learned that Timothy McVeigh had been put to death whilst I relaxed beside the hotel pool. One associated terrorism with white christian males back then. Either of the US far-right variety, or the Irish unionist/republican kind. 

That said, there has been an horrific Islamic terror attack on tourists at Luxor four years earlier which left over sixty people dead. But this was before 9/11, which changed everything. Anything before 9/11 was a 'one off' tragedy. The Arab Spring that rose up a decade later did the tourism industry of the Middle East additional harm. I visited Cairo at a good time. A simpler time. 

I took this photo with a 3.3mp Nikon  Coolpix 880. It was a great little camera that cost me a small fortune. I was impressed with the photos I came back from Egypt with. Sure, low light shots in the museums were a little blurry and grainy, but the ones taken outdoors were sharp and vibrant. They printed out onto A3 paper just fine. 

I recently found the CD I had the photos backed up on. I hadn't seen it for years. I wasn't sure I even had it anymore. I'm glad I found it, because my digital copies are all at small resolutions. I transferred them to my iMac and processed them. I learned that while the photos looked great on my old HD laptops, they do not look so great on a 27" screen with 4k resolution. Far from it. This made me a little sad. Still. The Nikon 880 was a great camera, back in 2001.
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