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Wednesday, 5 June 2013


Waitrose, part of the John Lewis partnership, is one of my favourite shops. Their food quality is excellent, their no-quibble response to customer returns is first class and now they offer a free cup of coffee or tea plus a free Daily Telegraph or Daily Mail for Waitrose card holding customers. In my view, the Daily Mail is best avoided unless you like rubbish journalism on the far right or need paper to wipe up your mess. Every time I read a copy I fume with rage! The Daily Telegraph is more central politically, although slightly on the right of centre.

The John Lewis partnership is a model for future business: employees share a bonus based on real results (unlike the rip-us-off bankers) and thereby want their business to succeed. They treat their customers well.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

The sickness of banks

Having just read an excellent book by the BBC financial correspondent Robert Peston called "How Do We Fix This Mess?: The Economic Price of Having it All, and the Route to Lasting Prosperity" I am appalled by the action of banks and bankers over the last 10-20 years. Rotten to the core does not describe them accurately enough.

Reading this book it is clear that, from the very top, many in the banking business were corrupt, greedy, arrogant and deceitful people who greatly contributed to the crisis that has left many nations, including the UK, greatly in debt and living beyond their means. Not all the blame is on the banks: there was a total absence of control from governments of all flavours too and, as individuals, we were guilty of believing that something for nothing was possible. But, overall, we were being run rings around by greedy individuals who should be strung up and made to repay every penny of their ill-gotten bonuses.

Fixing the problem will be a long slog with a need for a cultural shift: we have again to live within our means at all levels. We need to earn our way in the world and not live on cheap finance (debt) provided by nations like China. The sooner the UK becomes a manufacturing nation again the better.

Globalisation cannot be stopped, but we need to make some major readjustments.

A final lesson from the book: the crisis is far from over and NEVER trust banks or governments with your money. Burying some of what you have saved in a box at the bottom of the garden may not be such a bad thing.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Dam busters raid anniversary
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the raid on the dams in the Ruhr valley by RAF Lancaster bombers of 617 squadron. Whether the raids had the effect intended or not remains contentious but the dam reconstruction work set back the Nazi war effort for several months.

My father was a flight engineer in Lancasters in the 482 Pathfinder squadron in WW2. He flew many night raids over Germany and crash landed on the return to England on one occasion narrowly cheating death. We rarely talked about his time in the RAF: he didn't want to relive the sheer terror he must have felt nightly setting out in the dark knowing his chances of seeing out the night alive were slim. I am sure the fact he dropped flares for the bombers following to kill innocent men, women and children deeply troubled him in later years. He was a very brave man and I wish I had acknowledged this in his lifetime.

"Honest to God" book is 50 years old

Back in spring 1963, a book on theology by John A. T. Robinson , the then Bishop of Woolwich, called "Honest to God" became an instant best seller selling millions and millions of copies around the world.  It was reprinted many times within just a few months.  At the time, everyone, it seemed,  was talking about it. It was endlessly discussed on the TV and in the newspapers. Many within the Church of England were deeply troubled by it.

In the book, Robinson challenged the conventional understanding of God "up there or out there" and instead looked for a demythologised understanding of God as the "ground of being" as Tillich termed it.

Today, few young people will be aware of this book, but if you can find a copy then I can recommend reading it. Unless you are a convinced and total atheist, you are likely to find the book thought provoking. This was no evangelical religious book: in fact it was quite the opposite.  For the first time it seemed a man in the Church of England was vocalising what many had felt: the old portrayal of God as a kindly old man on a cloud was dead, irrelevant. And yet, deep within us there is that sense of something transcendent with a deeper meaning than the atoms and genes from which we are formed.

I see that Amazon is selling a 50th anniversary edition.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The South Hams

I was born and brought up in the beautiful South Hams of Devon, UK.  This is a gentle land of rolling hills, estuaries and farmland surrounded on 3 sides by rugged coastal scenery and on the other side by the southern slopes of Dartmoor. This last week I was back there on holiday in the best weather possible: wall-to-wall sunshine and blue skies. Outside of school holidays the area is not busy with tourists and May is an ideal time to visit.

This video is of Salcombe at the very tip of South Devon, taken yesterday from Snapes Point.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Consciousness and the mind

Consciousness is surely the greatest mystery of all. How can it be that a large collection of interlinked cells can contemplate themselves and the world around them?  What exactly is it?  Can it exist outside of the body or does our conscious mind die with our brain cells?  One would think so.

What is the nature of consciousness in other creatures?  Can inanimate super-computers ever be truly conscious, that is have a distinct ability to be self-aware and contemplate themselves and the world around them?  How would we know? Is the conscious mind able to be understood and scientifically examined? Is the universe unique to each individual human being? Can we be sure that we are not ourselves just a computer program in a cosmic super-computer?

Not being a philosopher, I have no answers, just questions.  

Choral concert in Cambridge April 27th

Concert Poster
My wife sings with the Cambridgeshire Choral Society (guess who does their website!) and next weekend (Sat April 27th 8pm) her choir performs in St John's College Chapel in Cambridge. Both the Vivaldi Gloria and the Faure Requiem are great pieces. If you live in the area, may I suggest you come along? Tickets are available on the door as well as in advance (see poster).  I shall be on the door acting as a steward.