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August 2013

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Photo by Steve Rhodes on FlickrI cannot let pass without comment the momentous and unprecedented sequence of events that unfolded last night in the parliament of the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had – in response to the apparent use of chemical weapons against its own population by the Syrian government – recalled parliament early following the summer recess in order that it might debate and subsequently vote on a motion seeking approval in principal for a limited armed intervention.

To the obvious surprise of all concerned the motion – on being put to the vote in the Commons – was decisively rejected. The UK will thus not be involved in any armed response to the events in Syria. The repercussions of this startling development (in the UK the Prime Minister pretty much has carte-blanche to go to war on his own initiative without consulting parliament) are awaited with interest.

One fact that is abundantly clear – sufficiently so that it now comes as a shock that it was not more widely anticipated – is that the outcome of the vote was heavily influenced by the events of a decade since that saw this country committed to an ill-starred invasion of Iraq based on what turned out to be faulty intelligence. The deeply flawed nature of that process – not to mention the hideous and tragic consequences of the entire enterprise – has left a sufficiently vivid scar on the psyche of the nation that even our normally bellicose parliamentary representatives shied away from a repeat experience.

During the debate it became clear that following questions would have to be answered satisfactorily before any agreement could be reached:

  • Had chemical weapons actually been used? The evidence – though circumstantial – suggests that they had, though the UN Inspectors’ report – and thus a definitive answer – has yet to be delivered.
  • If they have indeed been used, was the Syrian government the culprit? Cameron admitted that it was not possible to state categorically that this was the case, but stated that – in his judgement – the weight of the (circumstantial) evidence pointed to its complicity.
  • Assuming that a clear evidence trail could be established what would then be the exact aim of any armed intervention? Any action would need to be clearly defined in terms of intent and extent, and would be required to improve demonstrably the situation in Syria.
  • What would be the exit strategy from any action taken? How would the international community prevent any action escalating into something even more tragic than the current situation.

Parliament clearly felt that these questions had not been adequately answered and thus withheld their consent. Given my views on violence you will not be surprised to hear that Parliament – in this case – gains my approbation.

To those who would argue:

  • that we should take action to prevent the Syrian government from further use of these weapons – I would point out that no action has yet been proposed that would actually have this effect. Indeed, there is no armed response – other than invasion – that could be guaranteed so to do.
  • that not to take action would be to send a signal to Assad that he can get away with such crimes against innocent civilians – I would say that we are not dealing here with a child that is testing the limits of acceptable behaviour. History – recent history – informs us that a dictator who is prepared to use such weapons against his own population will not be persuaded to stop so doing by the ingress of a few cruise missiles. It is possible to effect such an aim – as the allies did in the case of Saddam Hussein – by invasion… but look at the consequences of that course of action.
  • that we should send a clear signal to the Syrian government – I would point out that a signal is only clear if the consequences of ignoring it are made evident – and if there is the credible will to enforce such consequences. Vague threats do not a clear signal make.
  • that we have a moral obligation to intervene – I would ask how it is that of the many atrocities that have been perpetrated across the globe in recent decades by other dictators and other regimes we have an ‘obligation’ in this case, though apparently not in others? If it is an obligation then it must apply in all cases – and not just those that suit. If the obligation is in fact relative then the moral case is surely dubious at best.
  • that not to take action would be cowardly – I would suggest that actually the opposite is true. To admit that there is no clear course of action that can be taken that would improve the situation actually requires more courage than the inverse.
  • that not to take action would leave us ‘sitting on the sidelines wringing our hands’ whilst leaving the US and others take on the role of global policeman – I don’t know where to start with this one!

The suffering that we are seeing in Syria is truly shocking and terrible. The acts that are being perpetrated – as far as one can tell by both sides – are criminal and those responsible must eventually be prosecuted through the international courts. We must – however – be rigorous in the analysis of our motives for any proposed response. If our desire to pursue a course of armed retaliation is rooted in the pained belief that ‘we must do something‘, then the danger is that our true motivation is the assuaging of our own feelings of guilt and helplessness, rather than any realistic ambition to produce the most beneficial effect on the ground… which latter might in this case simply mean just doing the least possible harm!

It is a truism to state that there are no easy answers. I state it nonetheless… The one positive that I can myself draw from this perilous affair is that maybe – just maybe – we might be starting to learn some lessons from our history.

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The Bank Holiday spent with good friends – sun-drenched conversation and epicurean feasting in their drowsily gorgeous garden. All (for now at least!) well with the world…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Sam Newman on FlickrNow – I know that regular readers may find this difficult to comprehend, given my normal sweet nature – but throughout this last week my mood has been distinctly – how shall I put it – tetchy!

Looking back to this time last year – as illustrated by this less than temperate post – it should be apparent that this is, to an extent, an annual phenomenon. Granted that last August was in many ways exceptional (the Kickass Canada Girl had just gone back to Canada and I was feeling abandoned and overwhelmed) it has to be said these last few days before the start of the new academic year are always fraught with difficulty. The teaching staff – having disappeared for the entire summer – pitch up again with all manner of last minute demands and requests just at our busiest time of the year. This time around we have also suffered from an apparent lack of planning and forethought (on the part of others!) which caused us to sit twiddling our thumbs (metaphorically at least) for the first part of the summer, followed latterly by a mad dash to execute a variety of complex projects for which it is far too late for there to be any reasonable hope of completion before the new term starts.

This makes me grumpy – which in turn leads to my behaviour towards others falling short of the standards to which I normally aspire. This culminated yesterday in what might be considered a mild incidence of ‘road rage’.

There is a point on my weary journey home at which a bottleneck on the motorway that I use – two lanes merging into one – inevitably causes the traffic to bunch and to slow down. The queue of vehicles shuffles forward sluggishly at this point – merging in turn in the accepted fashion (accepted in the UK at any rate!).

Or at least – that is what usually happens. Yesterday I was in the outside of the two lanes and I duly let the inside car go first and then moved to follow. The next driver in the inner lane – half a car-length behind me – had other ideas and proceeded to muscle his way forward preventing me from completing my maneuver. Forced to stop unexpectedly I glared at this inconsiderate automobilist, throwing my hands heavenwards in that time honoured gesture that is recognised the world over as meaning – “What the f*ck?”!

Normal behaviour on the part of the offender at this point is to make a show of not even being aware of one’s presence. In this case – to the contrary – the aggressor wound down his window and glared back – making gestures of his own and mouthing what I can only imagine to have been language of an ultramarine hue. He then proceeded to drive in what can only be described as a menacing manner – sometimes hovering in front of me, sometimes rather too close behind – in a fashion that suggested he was just waiting for me to come to a halt so that he might have an opportunity to leap from his motor to beat the cr*p out of me. Fortunately he had to turn off the motorway before I did, and I did not see him again.

Not pleasant – and not my doing, though I have no doubt that my mood probably exacerbated the situation.

The truth is that I do know – deep down – at least part of the reason for my present petulant frame of mind. Had our original scheme come to fruition as intended I would by now be retired and we would be busy establishing our new life in Victoria. Instead of which I find myself dragging my weary bones towards the start of another arduous academic year.

The Girl was sympathetic. “Go to work – ya hippie!”, she explained.

She had a point…

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIt says a good deal as to the frenetic pace at which we have been living of late that Sunday last saw only my second appearance of the season in the whites (as opposed to the garish ‘pyjamas’ of the short-form game) that are still in the main the mark of the village cricketer.

I posted regarding my first outing of the season here. This fixture was played under rather different circumstances, taking place not on some bucolic countryside cricket green but rather in a council run park in one of the suburbs of south London. Nowhere near as pretty and – as is often the way with council squares – the pitch was – shall we say – erratic… to put it mildly. In other words – some balls kept low whilst others would shoot abruptly up to chest or even chin height and very few came on nicely to the bat – making the timing of shots difficult in the extreme.

No matter. A good game was had by all and the opposition – another side new to us – were good sports. The match was thus played in an appropriately Corinthian spirit.

One of the great beauties of cricket is that the game came be played in a wide variety of formats, from the full five day ‘tests’ so beloved of the purists (of which I count myself one) down to the frantic dash of the Twenty20 format, which is done and dusted – razzamatazz and all – in around three hours. Even at village level subtle variations can be agreed upon to enhance the occasion. For this fixture – for example – we had agreed on two additional rules:

  • every member of each team would be required to bowl at least one over – including the wicket keepers…
  • once a batsman reached 30 runs he would be obliged to retire, though he could come out again if all of his team’s other wickets had fallen.

These ‘house’ rules were adopted to ensure that all concerned would be as involved in the match as possible, and so that no particularly gifted individuals could hog the limelight.

As a result I got to bowl a couple of overs for the first time in ages and – to my surprise – I actually took a couple of wickets… although the second such – a stumping – came from such a rank bad ball that I felt embarrassed to have my name associated with it. I also hung around for a while with the bat and accumulated what is – for me – a respectable score.

Once I was out – however – we lost several more quick wickets and soon found ourselves at 120 for 8, chasing a target of 183 and with only 7 overs or so left in which to get them. A win looked the least likely outcome at this point. Fortunately – by another of the sort of quirks that features only in this type of game – we had held back a couple of our better batsmen until well down the order, and some judicious hitting out by them saw us home with a few balls to spare in a most exciting finish.

Jolly good stuff all round – and everyone went home happy.

As the title of this post suggests, I have made no attempt herein to elucidate any of the arcana of the game for those with little or no extant knowledge thereof. To make up for this ommission I am very happy so to do – individually – for anyone who might be interested.

I don’t think I will hold my breath though!

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DNA_Double_HelixWe are all selfish and I no more trust myself than others with a good motive.

Lord Byron

At the roughly equivalent point last year – shortly after the Kickass Canada Girl and I had returned from Provence and before she flew back to Victoria to face the as yet unanticipated storm – we met some very old friends of ours (and – in terms of longevity – of mine in particular) for a drink at a very pleasant pub in the Surrey hills. I posted concerning that rendezvous here – the subject of which being elicited by Oldest Friend’s wife’s then recent retirement.

It is a sad side-effect of busy modern lives that – although we met our friends subsequently once more before Christmas – we realised recently that we had not done so since. Indeed – we had not even spoken to them! We rectified this sorry omission at the weekend by meeting for a drink at an altogether different – but equally pleasant – pub in the Surrey hills. Much catching up was done but one major topic of our conversation was not dissimilar to that of the previous encounter, we being – quite naturally – most keen to learn how their first year of mutual retirement had gone.

This whole question is once again at the forefront of our minds and I will be posting further on the subject shortly. Given the current climate it is no surprise that many of us of advancing years find ourselves preoccupied with thoughts as to how we will live once we are no longer ‘economically active’. Being baby-boomers we are nowadays assailed routinely by (or more accurately ‘on behalf of’) those less fortunate than ourselves (for which – in this case – read ‘younger’) and lambasted by complaints (of increasing ferocity) that we are somehow stealing their birthrights and plundering their futures.

The irony is that what many of those of us with a particularly late-sixties upbringing (if not actually hippies then certainly empathisers!) thought we were doing was our bit to save the planet. We are a gentle people with left of centre persuasions. We care about the environment. We care about inequality. We care about injustice. We still want to know what’s so funny ’bout peace, love & understanding… Accusations of selfishness thus wound us deeply.

And yet…

Whereas it has always been in my nature to feel vaguely guilty that I earn a pretty decent salary for what doesn’t exactly seem like rocket science (to me, at any rate!) and that I have been hugely fortunate to have found myself – quite accidentally – a member of some really rather good pension schemes – and whereas on the rare occasions that I have been obliged to seek better terms and conditions the experience has left me feeling as though I had just been accused of indecent intrusion upon some innocent instance of ovis aries…

…I can’t help but observe that – of late – my demeanor in such circumstances has shifted somewhat – and I am become considerably more single minded when it comes to maximising my possible returns. I am uncomfortably aware that this is the inevitable result of the realisation that time is running out – and that once the deed is done and I am no longer gainfully employed then the opportunities to influence my standard of living become negligible.

But that don’t mean that I like it!

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 Photo on Flickr by aresauburn™I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
It’s wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care

New England – Billy Bragg


Spent some time outside last night –  looking for Perseids…

Saw three shooting stars – and a bat!…

Made a wish (on the stars – not on the bat!)…

Seemed a reasonable night’s work – so I called it a day – (if you see what I mean)…


Got a crick in my neck!…


Photo by Andy Dawson Reid…strange light in the sky?

It will not have escaped the notice of the gentle reader that we have been enjoying of late – both here in the UK and, as far as I can make out, also in BC – that nigh-on forgotten of the seasons – a summer! This has – I am sure – come as a most pleasant surprise to all concerned.

Even when the temperatures have not been scorching their way into the 30s Celsius – and thus, as far as we Brits are concerned, into ‘heatwave’ territory – they have hovered really most pleasantly in the mid-20s C. Yet more – such rainfall as we have seen has by and large graced us during the nights – and the skies have featured an abundance of hues azurian in place of their more accustomed fifty shades of leaden.

This is all – frankly – very lovely. The ragtop owners are out in force, topping up their farmers’ tans and reveling in the unaccustomed sensation of the warm, dry wind rippling though their hair. The inns and taverns – such as remain after the recent creeping contagion of conversions to Thai restaurants and the like – are empty! This is, however, only because everyone is outside – the beer gardens and riverside terraces groaning with merrymakers late into the nights.

One thing only troubles me…

If you are a regular follower of these idle musings (what do you mean? – of course you are!) you will doubtless have noticed that I have from time to time posted images of our really rather beautiful gardens. I feel safe here from any accusations of braggadocio because their loveliness has absolutely nothing to do with me. We rent the apartment: the communal gardens being maintained by landscape gardeners at the expense of the owners. Mind you – we do contribute to the upkeep of the gardens at our own apartment in  Buckinghamshire – which are now enjoyed equally by our tenants.

The splendour of these gardens is in large measure the result of the slightly unusual history of the house itself. The building that used to stand on the site was a rather splendid Victorian mansion – set in the middle of mature gardens. As is often the way of such things the house was sold at some point post-war and ended up in the hands of a commercial organisation for a while before  being left empty. Eventually there was a fire, which damaged the buildings to the extent that they had to be demolished.

The developer who purchased the site submitted several planning applications – one after the other – with a view to building apartments. Each application was rejected in turn. Bewildered, he finally he asked the planning officials what they would approve. They pointed him at a picture of the original edifice. As a result we live in a contemporary recreation of a Victorian mansion, surrounded in the mature and magnificent gardens of the original.

I digress! Necessarily – but none-the-less…

The thing that troubles me is that although we love these gardens we don’t actually go and sit in them very much. We don’t take our lunch outside – we don’t picnic under the shade of the oaks. Earlier this year – as soon as the weather turned clement – the Kickass Canada Girl and I rushed out and purchased ourselves a zero-gravity recliner – to avail ourselves of this wonderful facility on our doorstep. It sits – as yet unused – in our hallway!

Now, this is really quite embarrassing. It could be that – because we live in a first floor apartment – the separation between us and the outside world makes things just that little bit too fiddly. We throw open the windows and lean out – enjoying the views and the sun’s rays on our faces – but we don’t go to the trouble of taking everything downstairs and locking the door behind us. Perhaps the fact that it is a communal garden also puts us off a little.

What worries me is that the truth may be that – because we have had to do without one for so long – we have forgotten how to do summer properly! Now, that would be a tragedy!


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The great beauty of the Fuji X10 is that it is small enough and light enough that it can simply be carried over my shoulder pretty much everywhere I go. It is also at the same time both versatile and yet simple to use. As a result I can quickly fire off shots whenever I see anything that tickles my fancy. The great step forward that digital represents, of course, is that one can execute as many such as one desires – with no cost implications and the ability to rapidly lose any results to which it is just too embarrassing to admit. Goodness knows how we managed in the days of film!

Herewith a few more snaps from our recent travels.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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For our recently (and most sadly!) concluded sojourn in the Perigord we stayed in a beautiful apartment at a wonderful old manor house not far from Périgueux. Our hosts there – Catherine and Maxence – go out of their way to make their guests feel welcome, to the extent of introducing them to – and involving them in – the delights of life in the small village that is their home.  The house is called Le Maine and I encourage anyone seeking a tranquil and delightful stay in the region to investigate. We were in ‘La Cuisine d’Alice’ and we loved it! I can’t recommend it highly enough…

Herewith some images – although those on the site above (taken by Catherine – a professional photographer!) do the house and grounds considerably greater justice than ever I could.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidIn addition to being a professional illustrator, Maxence (who teaches art and who also curated a splendid exhibition of Perigordine artists – to the opening of which we were invited) plays a mean harmonica! On our first night in the village he enticed us to the tiny but ‘happening’ local bar – Le Cube – where a completely splendid Anglo-French duo called Buckshee entertained us to a wild evening of French, Irish, Cajun, bluegrass, swing, rock and roll, calypso and soca musics. Great and sweaty fun!

The band’s website gives some idea as to their multi-instrumental capabilities. Not content simply to display their own array of talents they invited a local English lad (who is blessed with a great swing voice!) and Maxence onto the tiny ‘stage’ area to belt out a stomping version of Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’. No photo could do this justice. This is a close as I could get…

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid


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Photo by Peter80 on Wikimedia CommonsOne of our reasons for choosing the Dordogne for this brief break from our daily grind in the UK is that the Kickass Canada Girl has an enthusiasm for pre-historic cave art. I found myself wanting to write ‘Neolithic’ then rather than ‘pre-historic’ because it just somehow felt right, but the period in question is actually the Magdalenian, of which – I must confess – I had no previous knowledge at all. This is – however – from the man who complained after sitting his physical geography ‘A’ level paper that there had been no question on glaciation – a subject on which he had particularly ‘mugged up’. Sadly that mugging up had not included the key phrase ‘Pleistocene Era’. Doh! My, how the other kids laughed!

Anyway – the Girl came to the subject through the works of the American authoress – Jean M. Auel – who wrote the ‘Earth’s Children’ series of books, of which ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’ is the first and – possibly – the best known. Now – I must admit to not having read any of these titles but – as those who know me will be only too aware – I have always been drawn to those who have an enthusiasm for pretty much anything and in this case the Girl’s avidity was infectious. Hence, the Dordogne… hence, trips to a number of cro-magnon sites.

We have in the last few days visited cave sites at Rouffignac, Lascaux and Peche Merl. All were fascinating in equal measure, whilst all being at the same time completely different.

Rouffignac is an extensive ‘dead’ limestone cave system. In other words, though the caves were formed by the action of acid-laden water they are now completely dry. The system is sufficiently extensive that visitors travel to a depth of approximately a kilometer underground on a small electric railway that winds its way through the subterranean passageways. The caves feature both engravings – many of which are of mammoths – and drawings of horses, bison, ibexes and rhinoceroses. One of the many mysteries of this cave art is that there are no representations of the animal with which Magdalanian Man was most familiar (it comprising the better part of his diet) – the reindeer.

Several days later we paid an unexpected visit to Lascaux. The reason I say ‘unexpected’ was that all of the Girl’s research prior to our journey south suggested that getting to see any of the cave systems might prove difficult. The numbers allowed into the caves on any given day are extremely small since preservation of the fragile drawings is the imperative and they can be damaged by an excess of carbon dioxide in the air. Visits to most sites – according to the literature at least – cannot be booked before the day concerned and thus queues form very early in the morning to ensure entry.

Our hosts in the Dordogne – of whom more in a later post – advised us that this was a gross exaggeration, and indeed we arrived at the ticket office for Lascaux (in the neighbouring village of Montignac) at 10:30am and acquired tickets for an English tour at 11:00am. Not much of a wait there! A similar story could be told concerning Peche Merl. The website advised that tickets could be reserved in advance, but that to do so one had to book a week or more ahead. Ploughing ahead regardless I was able to book tickets just a couple of days in advance – and for the time of our choice. The lesson is – don’t at believe everything that you read on the InterWebNet – though I expect that you knew that already.

At Lascaux – of course – one cannot see the original cave itself, it now having been sealed safely away from heavy-breathing visitors. The clever French have – however – created a complete underground replica of the cave which they call Lascaux II. This millimetre exact copy of the original is made of concrete and is thus not prone to the decay that is endemic to the limestone equivalent. Even in copy form Lascaux was exquisite.

However beautiful it may have been, however, we had clearly saved the best until last – with Peche Merl. This cave is in the valley of the Lot, rather than that of the Dordogne, and was a two hour trip from where we are staying. It was – as you will see if you follow the link above – completely worth the trip, with fabulous and moving drawings of horses, mammoths and outlines of the human hand, but also with a dazzling display of stalactites and stalagmites. Those of you who remember the works of Roger Dean will recognise clearly the organic forms built up over the millenia in the rock formations. Perhaps the most moving details of all were the footprints of a cro-magnon adolescent which had been preserved at the bottom of a dried out pool. Really quite spooky.

There are many strange and unexplained phenomena in these eerie grottos in the limestone hills of the Perigord. I may revisit the subject in a future post – or perhaps even persuade the Girl herself so to do.

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