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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Just Finished Reading: Fallen by Lauren Kate (FP: 2009)

After a traumatic summer where a wannabe (or at least might have been) boyfriend died in mysterious circumstances straight A Honour student Lucinda Price finds herself at the Sword & Cross Reform school. Mortified at her fall from grace and the loss of her family, best friend and her mobile phone she is like a fish out of water afraid to talk to anyone and wary of any contact with wackjobs, criminals and drug addicts. What’s even worse is that the ‘things’ she calls shadows that have dogged her every step since childhood seem to have congregated in the nearby cemetery as if waiting for a big event. Within hours of arrival and with a sudden new friend already in tow Luce bumps into someone she instantly recognises but has never met before – Daniel Gregori – a mysterious troubled teen with a sparse past and irresistible eyes. But as Luce gets closer to Daniel the strangeness of situation grows. The more they meet the more Luce is convinced that they have actually met before although she can’t explain where or when. When a friend discovers a book seemingly with Daniel’s photograph taken in the 19th century events start spinning out of control but not before she recognises the young woman standing next to him – Lucinda Price.

I picked up this book and the next two in the series completely on impulse. It was back in the day when I read a lot more Fantasy than I have lately and as the trilogy was on offer I thought it was a pretty good bargain. Of course this was before I have seen/read Twilight (the first film/book anyway) and have become extremely bored with the whole teen/star crossed lovers theme that seems to dominate the world of modern Fantasy. Fallen is most definitely in that mould. We have an immortal boy, a curse (by God no less) and a troubled though supposedly bright girl. However for someone supposedly top of her class in multiple subjects she was pretty slow on the uptake and missed multiple clues as to what exactly what was going on. Even without the clues in the blurb at the back of the book I think I would have picked up on who and what Daniel was way before Luce even had a clue. As heroines go Luce is certainly no Katniss or Tris Prior. Maybe she buffs up in the later novels. I certainly hope so otherwise she’s going to spend all three books being confused, trusting the wrong people and getting her friends killed for no good reason. The story has a modicum of internal consistency and would probably make somewhat more sense to someone with a bit more (actually any) Biblical knowledge. Not that I needed much for the minimal plotline. Secrets (as such) were uncovered but at a glacial pace. Revelations were continually postponed or parcelled out in penny packets by people who seemingly knew *everything* about what was going on but considered the knowledge too much or too dangerous to pass on to those whose ignorance could (and sometimes did) kill them. As you can tell the whole things was pretty frustrating. There was, I think, at least a potentially OK story in there waiting to get out. Unfortunately you just had to wade through far too much teen moping around, bad dialogue and what passes for romantic imagery in High School to enjoy the few tarnished gems to derive much satisfaction from it. Readable but only just and finished mainly because I needed *something* to review today.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Not over till it’s over….?

Brexit debate not over, Tony Blair says.

It is possible that Brexit may never happen if public opinion turns against it, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has said. Mr Blair, who campaigned for a vote to stay in the EU, said such an outcome was unlikely but that "the debate continues" despite June's Leave vote. He told French radio station Europe 1: "Who made the rule that we have to stop the debate now?" PM Theresa May has said the UK will not stay in the EU "by the back door". On Thursday her cabinet agreed to "push ahead" with triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which begins the formal two-year process for leaving the EU. Speaking in French, Mr Blair said Mrs May - who also backed a Remain vote - had to make her "Brexit means Brexit" statement to unite her party and appease the right-wing press in the aftermath of the referendum. "For the rest of us, we are free to have a debate," he said. There was currently "confusion" over the way forward because "we do not know the terms of Brexit", said Mr Blair. "We have done something rather bizarre with Brexit," said the former Labour leader. "It's like moving house without having seen the new house. We have made an agreement to exchange, but we don't yet know the terms of Brexit, we don't know the costs and the consequences."

Brexit protest: March for Europe rallies held across UK.

Thousands of pro-Europe protesters have been marching in London, calling for the UK to strengthen its ties to the continent following the Brexit vote. The March for Europe aimed to put pressure on the government to delay activating the formal process of leaving the EU. Pro-Brexit demonstrators also gathered in the capital to form a counter-protest along the marching route. Rallies are taking place across the UK including in Edinburgh and Birmingham. A sea of blue EU flags filled Parliament square shortly after 13:00 BST, where protesters sang along to The Beatles' hit Hey Jude, replacing the title words instead with "EU". Demonstrators were calling for the government to make tight economic, cultural, and social ties with the rest of Europe.

Theresa May: UK will be 'global leader in free trade'.

The UK will be a "global leader" in free trade following the Brexit vote, Theresa May has said, as she heads to China for the G20 summit. Speaking at Heathrow ahead of her first international conference since becoming prime minister, she insisted it was a "golden era" for UK-China relations. The assurance comes as she faces a row with Beijing over a delayed decision on the Hinkley Point power station. At the summit, Mrs May will meet one-to-one with US President Barack Obama. She will also hold talks with other leaders of the world's 20 major economies and is expected to tell them that the UK is "open for business" following the referendum vote to leave the European Union. Chinese President Xi Jinping will also meet with her but no announcement on the Hinkley Point project is expected.

Jobs market shrinks for new graduates, survey suggests.

The number of jobs for new graduates has shrunk by 8% in a year, suggests a survey of more than 200 top employers. This is a sharp reversal after four years of growth in graduate jobs, says the Association of Graduate Recruiters. Some firms are "repackaging" graduate roles as higher apprenticeships but overall the labour market for young people is shrinking, says the AGR. Brexit is the biggest serious challenge for recruiters, said AGR Chief Executive Stephen Isherwood. The AGR, which represents blue chip companies and major public sector employers, carries out an annual survey of graduate job vacancies among its members. "The labour market for young people is shrinking for the first time since the financial crisis, but the composition of the market is also changing as employers invest more in school leaver programmes and apprenticeships," said Mr Isherwood. "The uncertainty of Brexit is the single biggest challenge facing recruiters in the year ahead."

Brexit may bring difficult times, says Theresa May.

Britain needs to be prepared for some "difficult times" ahead as it leaves the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May has said. Speaking to the Andrew Marr Show - in her first major interview since taking office - Mrs May warned Brexit would not be "plain sailing" for the UK. She said formal EU talks will not begin until 2017, but vowed the process would not be "kicked into the long grass". Mrs May also ruled out a snap election, saying the UK needs "stability". The former home secretary became prime minister after David Cameron resigned in the wake of the EU referendum - with the Brexit process likely to dominate the first years of her premiership. Speaking before travelling to China for the G20 summit, Mrs May said she would not pretend that leaving the union would be "plain sailing", despite positive economic figures in the UK since the referendum. "We have had some good figures and better figures than some had predicted would be the case. I'm not going to pretend that it's all going to be plain sailing. I think we must be prepared for the fact that there may be some difficult times ahead. But what I am is optimistic."

G20: Theresa May faces Brexit trade pressure.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has come under pressure at the G20 summit over Britain's trade links with the US and other countries after it leaves the EU. President Obama said the US would prioritise trade negotiations with the EU and Pacific nations over a UK deal. Japan has warned of "drastic changes" after Brexit and said the potentially "harmful effects" must be minimised. But Mrs May has insisted that the UK can prosper outside the EU and become a "global leader in free trade". Mrs May is also facing questions over Chinese investment in the UK ahead of a meeting with leader Xi Xinping later. Asked whether she "trusted" the Chinese government - amid claims she is reviewing China's planned investment in a new nuclear reactor in Hinkley Point on security grounds - she said the UK "had a relationship" with China she wanted to build on.

All details above from BBC News website.

[It’s interesting, now that the Labour Party is starting to get things back together again, that the Tories seem to be laying into each other over David Cameron’s real reasons for leaving and the new Prime Minister’s ‘luke-warm’ Remain credentials. Of course this is likely to be a mixture of political smokescreen, playing to various audiences and a repositioning of Teresa May as more pro-Brexit than she probably is in order to calm things down and stop it spinning out of control. I guess that the PM need to walk a fairly narrow tightrope of doing things properly with enough planning whilst moving fast enough for the Euro sceptics in the hope of preventing any kind of backbench revolt. It’s not easy being PM!]

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn defeats Owen Smith

From The BBC

Saturday 24th September 2016

Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected as Labour leader, comfortably defeating his challenger Owen Smith. He won 61.8% of the vote, a larger margin of victory than last year. He vowed to bring Labour back together, saying "we have much more in common than divides us", insisting the party could win the next election as the "engine of progress" in the country. More than half a million party members, trade unionists and registered supporters voted in the contest. In a result announced on the eve of Labour's party conference in Liverpool, Mr Corbyn won 313,209 votes, compared with Mr Smith's 193,229.

Speaking to the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg after his victory, Mr Corbyn said the debate about who led the party was "now over" and Labour needed to take its message on the economy, education and the NHS to the country. Asked what steps he would take to reassure critical MPs, he said the return of shadow cabinet elections was "absolutely in the mix" although he declined to rule out the possible deselection of sitting MPs in the run-up to the next election. "I think you will see a lot of changes over the next few weeks," he said. "They (MPs) have no need to worry at all because it is all about democracy. We are all democratically accountable to our party and to our constituents. They have no need to worry at all. I am reaching out."

[Good! Now hopefully the Labour Party can stop pissing about with all the stupid in-fighting and get back to attacking the Tories. Maybe now they can abandon a lot of their Centrist bullshit and move back to the Left where they should be with a CLEAR distinction between what they stand for and what the Conservatives believe in. At least then the electorate will have an actual choice rather than the faux choice of politicians in different styles of Saville Row suits. I look forward to having some real politics to argue about and an end to the constant attacks on Corbyn from all side – except now I expect things to go underground because the PTB are REALLY scared of him and that alone gives me great hope for the future. For the first time in a long time I’m even thinking of voting Labour in the next election…..]

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Just Finished Reading: A Jane Austen Education – How Six Novels taught me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter by William Deresiewicz (FP: 2011)

Ok, how do you expect me to resist a book with that title? It practically LEPT off the table in the book store into my open hand. As a huge Austen fan (although with two of her books still unread – I bought the missing one last weekend) and someone with a growing interest in rather quirky Lit Crit I just had to read this. Considering I only bought it a few months ago it actually landed at the top of my ‘to read soon’ list pretty damned quick. But was it any good? Reader, I loved it (OK, that was paraphrasing a Bronte novel but I’ll get to that…).

Using each of the six novels to concentrate on a particular life lesson: Emma (Everyday Matters), Pride and Prejudice (Growing Up), Northanger Abbey (Learning to Learn), Mansfield Park (Being Good), Persuasion (True Friends) and Sense and Sensibility (Falling in Love) the author relates, along with a great deal of humour and personal revelations, how each book started him on the road to questioning the ways he had always done things and who he actually was (and wanted to be). His biggest revelation it seemed was that not only could Austen actually write – he was initially rather dismissive of 19th century literature as a whole – but that her novels were most definitely not simply early 19th century ‘chick lit’. Being forced, with great reluctance, to read Emma as part of his graduate English course he initially hated it (as did I) but was then increasingly brought under Austen’s spell as the eponymous character blossomed before his eyes. From then on he was hooked on Austen. So much so, indeed, that he used the lessons learnt from Emma to start a life changing process beginning with dumping his then girlfriend and moving further away from his domineering father. Not a bad start from someone so initially disparaging of her work! Over the next 3-4 years and 5 more novels the author become more convinced of Austen’s genius and used the lessons embedded between the covers to analyse both what was wrong in his own life and what was wrong in the world around him. It was, I can tell you, quite a journey.

Told with great dollops of literary insight – so much so that I’m tempted to re-read the Austen books I’ve already finished as well as finally read the final two - Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park – as soon as possible. Re-reading books is a very rare activity for me but I think I’d find it interesting in this case as I could compare, in detail, the authors impressions compared with me own. I certainly agreed with a great deal of what he said regarding my favourite Austen novels – P&P, Persuasion and Emma (in order of preference) so re-reading them might give me a greater insight although I’m not sure if by doing so my life would change that much! His analysis of the two books I have yet to read has definitely piqued my interest and has definitely raised their profile and accelerated them on the path towards actually being read!

Interestingly after I finished this delightfully interesting book I checked to see if the author had written anything else. He had – and I immediately impulse bought his work outlining what he thinks is wrong with graduate education in the USA (although I’m guessing this would apply in the UK too if not necessarily elsewhere). His style, whit, insights and humour made this a hugely enjoyable work and I can highly recommend it to any Austen fans out there.  

Oh, the Bronte thing - it seems that in the world of English Lit there's a huge competitive rift between fans of each author and, in the end, he really did marry her (without giving too much away....)

Monday, September 19, 2016

We’re in for the Long Haul…..

UK consumer confidence 'improves in August'.

Confidence among UK consumers improved in August, a survey has suggested, but remains below pre-Brexit vote levels. Market research firm GfK said its consumer confidence gauge had recovered to -7 in August, up from -12 in July. Encouraging economic data, low interest rates, falling prices, and high levels of employment have all contributed to a rise in confidence, it said. GfK's survey also indicated a sharp drop in people's propensity to save in August. GfK's Joe Staton said there had been "some recovery" in consumer confidence in August compared with July, when the firm's figures suggested confidence dropped at its sharpest rate for more than 26 years. "We're reporting some recovery in the index this month as consumers settle into the new wait-and-see reality of a post-Brexit, pre-exit UK," he said. The improvement was in keeping with recent data suggesting consumers have remained resilient after the 23 June referendum, even though there have been some indications that they are more reluctant to make big purchases than before the referendum. Last week, a YouGov survey said consumer confidence recorded its highest monthly bounce in August since February 2013, while official data found retail sales increased by 1.4% in July from the previous month. Mr Staton added that it was "remarkable" that GfK's savings survey figures - which are separate from its consumer confidence figures - had collapsed by 16 points in a month. People are "clearly determined to carry on shopping for today rather than saving for tomorrow," he said.

Eurozone inflation remains weak in August.

Eurozone inflation remained weak in August, raising the prospect of further action from the European Central Bank to stimulate the bloc's economy. Inflation in the eurozone was 0.2%, unchanged from July and below analysts' forecasts of a slight increase. The ECB has introduced a number of stimulus measures, but the inflation rate still remains some way off the bank's target of just below 2%. Separate data showed the unemployment rate remained at 10.1% in July. Analysts had been predicting a slight fall in the jobless rate. Eurozone inflation remained unchanged as prices of food, services, and industrial goods rose by less than in July, while the drop in energy prices was not as sharp. In March this year, the ECB stepped up its attempts to stimulate the eurozone's economy, cutting its main interest rate from 0.05% to 0% and its bank deposit rate from minus 0.3% to minus 0.4%. The ECB has stepped up its programme of quantitative easing, and is now buying €80bn worth of bonds a month.

'Glaring deficiencies' in EU debate, Electoral Reform Society says.

The EU referendum campaign was dogged by "glaring democratic deficiencies" with voters turned off by big name politicians and negative campaigning, a report says. The Electoral Reform Society attacked both sides of the referendum campaign, saying people felt "ill-informed" by the "dire" debate. The society said the impact of political leaders had been "minimal". It called for a "root and branch" review of the way referendums are run. Recommendations made by the society include having a public body intervene when "misleading" claims are made by campaigns, reviewing broadcasters' role and publishing a "rule book" to govern conduct by campaigns. It said voters had viewed both sides as increasingly negative, and many "simply did not trust" their key claims. These included Remain saying households would be on overage £4,300 worse off outside the EU and Leave claiming an extra £350m could be spent on the NHS. The government's controversial mail-shot to every household in the UK had "little effect on people's levels of informedness", it said, and towards the end of the campaign nearly half of voters thought politicians were "mostly telling lies". The society said the EU debate was in "stark contrast" to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, which it said had featured a "vibrant, well-informed, grassroots conversation that left a lasting legacy of on-going public participation in politics and public life".

Pound jumps as UK manufacturing activity rebounds.

The value of the pound has jumped after a survey indicated the UK's manufacturing sector rebounded sharply in August. The Markit/CIPS purchasing managers' index (PMI) for the sector rose to 53.3 in August from July's figure of 48.3. A figure above 50 indicates expansion. The weakening of the pound following the Brexit vote boosted exports, the survey found. However, it also indicated that the weak pound had pushed up firms' costs. A weakening of the pound makes UK goods cheaper for overseas buyers, but increases the cost of goods imported into the UK. Since the Brexit vote, the pound has fallen in value by more than 10% against both the US dollar and the euro. Following the release of the latest PMI survey, the pound jumped by 1%, more than a cent, against the dollar, to $1.33 before falling back slightly. Against the euro, the pound was 0.6% higher at just under €1.19.
Markit said the month-on-month increase in the PMI level was the joint largest in the survey's 25-year history. "The August PMI data indicate a solid rebound in the performance of the UK manufacturing sector from the steep downturn that followed the EU referendum," said Rob Dobson, senior economist at IHS Markit. "The domestic market showed a marked recovery, especially for consumer products, while the recent depreciation of sterling drove higher inflows of new business from the US, Europe, Scandinavia, Middle East and Asia," he added. Mr Dobson also said that inflation was "raising its ugly head". "Rates of increase in input prices and output charges both hit five-year highs, which manufacturers placed squarely at the door of the cost impact of sterling on import prices," he said.

Andrew Tyrie: Government should set out Brexit aims.

The government must set out in detail what it hopes to achieve from Brexit talks in order to restore public trust in politics, a senior Tory MP says. Andrew Tyrie called for an "early, full and detailed explanation" of the government's negotiating position. The public's "sky-high" expectations about the financial savings from Brexit had to be managed, he said. Meanwhile Boris Johnson has insisted defence and security co-operation would continue despite the UK's exit. Ahead of a meeting of European foreign ministers in Slovakia, the foreign secretary said "we may be leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe," adding that the government is "absolutely committed to participation in European foreign policy, defence and security cooperation". Mr Tyrie, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, backed Remain in June's poll which resulted in a Leave victory. He is now urging ministers to "cast aside the damaging claim and counter-claim" of the referendum period. In a pamphlet written for the Open Europe think tank, Mr Tyrie said the referendum's "pernicious legacy" was to add to a "deep distrust in politics". "Politicians cannot afford to allow this to get any worse," he said, saying the government had to be frank about the "trade-offs" involved with Brexit - "and the fact that many of the promises made by the Leave side are manifestly unfulfillable".

[As we move slowly – or glacially – towards the exit things are starting to heat up again. Mud is being slung around, along with Brexit timetables, and more dire warnings (and messages of hope) are being broadcast around the bazaars. But we’re nowhere nearer discovering exactly what we’ll get and what we’ll lose when we finally leave in 2019 or 2020. I wonder if anyone actually knows. I suspect not.]

All details above from BBC News website.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Grammar schools benefit rich, says OECD

By Sean Coughlan BBC Education correspondent

15 September 2016

Grammar schools are likely to benefit wealthy families without raising overall standards, says the OECD's head of education. Andreas Schleicher said international evidence suggested that selection was not linked to improving schools. He said bright pupils in England were not getting enough opportunities, but grammar school tests were not reliable. "Any kind of one-off test is likely to favour social background over true academic potential," he said. Education Secretary Justine Greening has published plans calling for more selective schools in England, and a Department for Education spokesman said any new grammars would "prioritise the admission of disadvantaged pupils".

Mr Schleicher, the think tank's education director, was presenting the OECD's annual report comparing education systems across the industrialised world. He said there was no relationship between increasing selection and how well school systems performed. And countries such as Germany and Switzerland, where selection was widely used, were not more likely to produce high-achieving students. "You might expect that where you have more grammar schools, you will have more of the really top students, that's not what we've seen," said Mr Schleicher. The OECD education expert said access to selective schools was often unfairly biased towards wealthier families - and that contradicted the aim of stretching the most talented. "I can see the case for introducing more meritocracy in the school system. Bright students here don't always have the educational opportunities they deserve," said Mr Schleicher.

"But what happens in most European systems is that academic selection becomes social selection. Schools are very good at selecting students by their social background, but they're not very good at selecting students by their academic potential." When admission to school was based on a one-off test, he said, "wealthy parents will find a way through it". But there were Asian school systems, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, that seemed to be more effective in how they selected pupils. "They are selective, but they seem to be very good at figuring out how good students really are," said Mr Schleicher. But focusing on grammars and selection was not the way to raise standards. "I think the importance of grammar schools is dramatically overplayed," he said. And there should be more investment for "more schools that are more demanding and more rigorous".

[So, yet again a study is produced stating the bleeding obvious. It’s been known for a very long time that the kind of selective schools represented by Grammar schools favour those who are already advantaged whilst hardly assisting those from less advantaged backgrounds. As the author of the reports said: "wealthy parents will find a way through it" – either by employing tutors or by other means. There has to be a better way than going back to the Grammar school system of the past – what next Secondary Moderns – and essentially labelling people as failures at the age of 11. Sure bright children from all social backgrounds should be encouraged and everyone should get a decent education but this type of selection visibly failed in the past and will undoubtedly fail again.]  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Just Finished Reading: The Viking Art of War by Paddy Griffith (FP: 1995)

The Vikings, who terrorised a whole continent for close to 300 years, have a fearsome reputation as a warrior elite who carved up their enemies as easily as they carved up their empires and simply took whatever they wanted. Likewise they freely navigated across the globe, from England and Ireland to Iceland, Greenland and they even discovered America centuries before Columbus. No wonder they fire the imagination of so many historians and anyone interested in the wild times of a warrior elite. It’s a shame, therefore, that very little of the legend is true – at least according to the author of this interesting work of military history.

He certainly has some worthy credentials to back up his claim being, after all, a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (essentially the UK equivalent of West Point) so he should certainly know a thing or two. He also provides us with the facts, as much as we can ascertain such things, which do tarnish the Viking reputation as some kind of superman or demon sent by God to prey on the wicked. Referencing the saga’s and contemporary accounts from across Europe it becomes clear that against poorly armed or poorly organised opposition the Vikings did prevail and “cause much slaughter”. But where they met determined defences the odds of success fell away rapidly with the sea pirates coming off worse (and sometimes much worse) as often as they prevailed. There greatest asset was their ability to ‘pop up’ almost anywhere sometimes miles from the coast in apparently ‘safe’ areas, take what they wanted or what was available then vanish before armed help could arrive. The fed on chaos and mismanagement but made little headway against well trained and well led troops – as they found to their cost in England during the reign of Alfred the Great and almost every time they tried to nibble off pieces of the Arab/Muslim empires towards the East. Here they were repeatedly repulsed with much more than a bloody nose.

Likewise the author calls into question their much talked about sense of adventure and basic navigation skills. Referring yet again to the saga’s he points out just how many times new lands where stumbled upon by accident, lost, found again and eventually settled by groups arriving in small fleets who often made landfall only after losing a number of their ships in the process. Normally the Viking ships rarely sailed out of sight of land and then only in the best possible weather – yet still significant numbers of their ships were lost in the process.

So where did the reputation of essential toughness and capability come from? A great part of it, it seems, was the unexpected nature of the attacks – seemingly random and almost always decidedly violent. Where countries had not prepared adequate defences the Vikings went where they liked, did what they wanted and took what they could carry. Anyone who objected generally ended up dead – but this was standard practice across Europe at the time. The Vikings, it appears, where not vastly different in the level of violence used from any of their contemporaries. It was their strangeness, the ever present fear of their arrival and the helplessness of the general population to defend themselves (by and large) that gave rise to the legend of the Northmen.

This was a very different book from the others in my Viking Blitz read concentrating as it does purely on the military aspects of this fascinating people. Discussing overall strategy, military organisation, tactics, weapons, ships and fighting techniques it was a valuable addition to my understand of their way of life and death. Definitely recommended for both Viking and Military History buffs.

Coming Next in History: Three Battles that made Britain.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Just Finished Reading: The Lie by Helen Dunmore (FP: 2014)

Cornwall, England 1920. It wasn’t easy growing up poor. Forced to drop out of school early to earn money, Danny is found a job as under-gardener at the house of Mr Dennis, a wealthy businessman. There he meets and befriends Frederick, the wayward son and his younger sister Felicia. Soon the boys become inseparable much to the annoyance of Frederick’s father. For Danny it is the gateway to another world, where people are warm in winter and where there is always enough to eat. It is also a world of books and knowledge of far flung places. In a library hardly entered never mind used by the family Danny finds an escape from his hard life in the classic works of the ages. But childhood can’t last forever. Frederick is sent off to school and Danny must work for a living to support himself and his widowed mother. As the two boys approach and then reach manhood war arrives and both are sent to France to end up in the same trench but miles apart. For Frederick is an officer, recently put under a cloud by a disastrous attack on an enemy position that left many of his men dead whilst Danny is just trying to stay alive and anonymous in his unit.

With the war at an end Danny returns to his home town on the Cornish coast knowing that his mother is dead and there is, in fact, nothing for him to return to. But he has to go somewhere away from strangers who neither understand nor want to understand what he has been through. Plagued by nightmares and haunted by the ghost of Frederick standing at the base of his bed each night he is invited to stay in the cottage of an old woman who takes pity on him. With her death from natural causes Danny has a choice – report her death to the authorities with all of the questioning and whispering that will entail or pretend that his benefactor is too ill to be seen and live in peace on the outskirts of town. But as lie is laid upon lie and future plans are put in jeopardy and Danny takes the opportunity to run before his lie is uncovered.

After my promise some time ago to turn my eye more towards WW1 in both fiction and non-fiction I was feeling that I had been neglecting things much more than I should. This short novel, only a little over 290 pages long, seemed an ideal way to start addressing that neglect. As with these things I picked this book up because it looked interesting and was reasonably cheap. I admit I was impressed. The feel of the book is generally excellent and has a great resonance about it. Danny and Frederick are both well drawn and interesting characters (particularly Danny) and I had a lot of sympathy for his childhood, his dashed dreams of a proper education and his love for books only satisfied by someone else’s neglected library. More sympathy was due because of his mental state on return from France and his bouts of ‘shell shock’ – clearly suffering from PTSD – where disturbingly real. The author had clearly done her homework on the condition to make things feel very real indeed. The only issue (not profound enough to call it a problem) I had with the whole thing was how the story ended. It felt rushed and rather out of character to much that went before. After enjoying the previous 275+ pages the last 20 rather disappointed me. However, this is still, by and large, a well written novel about a difficult subject. There are some very emotional passages and the author can certainly create very believable characters and situations. I shall look forward to more of her work in future. Much more WW1 to come. Recommended.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Nothing going wrong because nothing’s happened yet….

Investors 'sought safety after Brexit'.

Personal investors took a safety-first approach with their portfolios after the UK's vote to leave the EU, new figures show. Investors withdrew £1bn from investment funds in July, with some moving their money into fixed-income products, the Investment Association said. This withdrawal was not as dramatic as the amounts taken out in June, when the vote was taken. It did mark a significant shift from the £3.7bn inflow in July last year. "UK retail investors remained cautious as they sold out of equity and property funds, favouring fixed income, mixed-asset and absolute return strategies," said Guy Sears, interim chief executive of the Investment Association. "Although global equity markets initially fell following the EU referendum announcement, they recovered through July to produce positive returns."

German business confidence falls post-Brexit, says Ifo.

Business confidence in Europe's biggest economy, Germany, has fallen unexpectedly after the UK Brexit vote, according to a closely watched survey. The Ifo business confidence index, based on about 7,000 company responses, fell to 106.2 points for August from 108.3 in July. It was the steepest monthly fall in more than four years and took the index to its lowest since December 2014. Despite the gloom, the euro was up slightly against the pound and dollar. The latest drop follows a much smaller decline in confidence in July immediately after the UK voted to leave the EU. Economist Carsten Brzeski at ING-DiBa said the ongoing decline "suggests that German businesses have suddenly woken up to Brexit reality. It is not the first time that the Ifo reacts with a delay of one or two months to global events,'' he said, adding that at present, the German economy remained in a "virtuous circle". Across the sectors it examines, the Ifo found confidence had fallen in all but construction and services.

Poland overtakes India as country of origin, UK migration statistics show.

Poland has overtaken India as the most common non-UK country of birth for people living in the UK, Office for National Statistics figures show. It comes as net migration estimates show it remains near record levels, at 327,000 for the year to March. The figures - for the period before Britain voted to leave the EU - are down slightly on the previous year. Net migration is the difference between the number of people coming to the UK for at least a year and those leaving. There were an estimated 831,000 Polish-born residents in 2015 - a jump of almost 750,000 compared with the number in 2004, the year the country joined the EU. India and the Republic of Ireland have traditionally been the sources of the UK's largest foreign-born groups. The latest net migration figures show a slowdown in the numbers settling in the UK from Poland and seven other former Eastern bloc countries - but that was offset by an increase in net migration from Bulgaria and Romania, which hit record levels of 60,000. Nicola White, ONS Head of International Migration Statistics, said: "Net migration remains at record levels although the recent trend is broadly flat”.

UK could remain in 'looser' EU - Lord O'Donnell.

A former head of the civil service has said the UK might remain in a "more loosely aligned" European Union, despite the referendum vote to leave. Lord O'Donnell told the Times it would take Parliament "years and years and years" to separate fully from Brussels. "It very much depends what happens to public opinion and whether the EU changes before then," he said. He later told the BBC he did not think the EU would make the radical changes needed for the UK to remain a member. As Gus O'Donnell, he was cabinet secretary from 2005 to 2011 and is now a crossbencher in the House of Lords. Lord O'Donnell told the Times: "Lots of people will say 'we've had the referendum, we've decided to go out, so that's it, it's all over'. It might be that the broader, more loosely aligned group is something that the UK is happy being a member of." Asked about these comments, he told BBC Radio 4 this was an example of a "low-probability event that might mean we don't leave". He also said his "central assumption" was that the EU would not radically change. "The probability of us not leaving is very, very low and we need to get on and implement the people's decision," he added.

Brexit may send EU 'down the drain' - German vice chancellor.

Germany's vice-chancellor has warned the future of the EU could be in doubt if the UK's exit is handled badly. Sigmar Gabriel said the EU would go "down the drain" if other states followed Britain's lead and that the UK could not keep the "nice things" about Europe while taking no responsibility. It comes as Theresa May summoned ministers for a meeting on Wednesday to discuss ideas for the UK's withdrawal. Downing Street said Brexit was "top" of the prime minister's agenda. But a report in The Sunday Times suggested her cabinet was split over leaving the single market. The UK voted to leave the European Union in a referendum vote on 23 June. Mr Gabriel, who is also economy minister in Germany's governing coalition and Chancellor Angela Merkel's deputy, told a news conference that as a result, the world now regarded Europe as an unstable continent.

Theresa May chairs cabinet Brexit brainstorm at Chequers.

Theresa May is to chair a meeting of her cabinet at Chequers to discuss the UK's approach to leaving the EU and its objectives in future negotiations. The prime minister and senior ministers are gathering to debate the way forward amid reports of tensions and diverging priorities among key figures. Those present will include David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, each of whose departments is focused on Brexit. Mrs May has said talks with the rest of the EU will not begin this year. BBC political correspondent Tom Bateman said Mrs May had asked every Cabinet minister before the summer break to identify what were described as the "opportunities" for their departments and she will now expect them to report back.

[Don’t Panic! Everything in the garden is rosy…. At least that’s what we are expected to believe. Tourism is booming, consumer confidence has rebounded and the economy is starting to recover (even *bound back*) from the shock of the Brexit vote. Even the Bank of England is breathing a sigh of relief that we appear to have dodged a bullet. People all over the UK are going about their lives and business as if nothing has happened, probably because nothing has actually happened. But the warning signs are there for those with eyes to see them. I wonder how long it will be before the signs are front and centre and those who wanted to ‘take back control’ realise what a horrible mistake they’ve made!]

All details above from BBC News website.