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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year!

The Best Books of 2018

I completed 62 books this year (just above my minimum aim) with 2 rejects. That’s not exactly good but I’ve been struggling with low reading speeds for a while now – at around 50% of normal too often – so maybe still achieving 62 isn’t as bad as it could’ve been. I’ll still be aiming for my usual 70 next year. I guess we’ll see! As usual with my end of year review I’ll split the Fiction and Non-Fiction with the BOLD titles being the best of the best.


Deadly Beloved by Max Allan Collins
Secret Harmonies by Paul J McAuley
The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck


The Empire of Necessity – The Untold History of a Slave Rebellion in the Age of Liberty by Greg Grandin
Narvik by Donald Macintyre
Merchant, Soldier, Sage – A New History of Power by David Priestland
Rebels Against the Future – The Luddites and their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age by Kirkpatrick Sale
The Battle of Matapan by S W C Pack
Why it’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere - The New Global Revolutions by Paul Mason
The War in the West – Germany Ascendant 1939-1941 by James Holland
Governing the World – The History of an Idea by Mark Mazower
With Wings Like Eagles – The Untold History of the Battle of Britain by Michael Korda
The Myth of the Strong Leader – Political Leadership in the Modern Age by Archie Brown
The Road Not Taken – How Britain Narrowly Missed a Revolution 1381-1926 by Frank McLynn
Amiens 1918 by Gregory Blaxland
Revolutionary Russia – 1891-1991 by Orlando Figes
Lords of Finance – 1929, The Great Depression, and the Bankers who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed
The War in the West – The Allies Fight Back 1941-1943 by James Holland
A Brief History of The English Civil Wars – Roundheads, Cavaliers and the Execution of the King by John Miller
With Our Backs to the Wall – Victory and Defeat in 1918 by David Stevenson

So, a little thin on fiction but a gratifying number of Classics in there – both actually read and enjoyed. Some of them surprised me a great deal by being much better than I’d suspected. The non-fiction is, rather inevitably, history heavy and also heavily tilted towards both World Wars which, I suppose, is my largest comfort zone. It does have a ‘lazy’ feel to it but that doesn’t take anything away from the quality of the reading. There’s also a number of political history books which I’m happy with as well as more evidence for my growing interest, indeed fascination, with all things Economic. What I do notice though is an almost total absence of female authors. I’ll look to address that in 2019.

Along with looking at the gender bias in my reading I’m going to see if I can drag myself away from military history and away from concentrating too much on the 20th Century. Again it’s the era I tend to habitually gravitate to but there’s many more centuries of human history that I can at least explore if not devour. One thing I feel the need to add to my reading schedule is much more analysis – essentially trying to understand how we arrived at this present mess and where it’s going next. I think that’s an important focus in the year(s) ahead.  I’m also going to be looking at my planned future reading. Presently the stack of 12 (presently 13) books on my couch means that I’m pretty confident of my next (approximately) 3 months’ worth of reading. Although I do like this element of focus – controlling my butterfly mind – it does at times feel just a bit too controlled for my essentially rebellious nature so I’m going to introduce a weird random element soon. What I intend to do is this: When I finish a book in future I’ll roll a dice. If it comes up a six I will pick a ‘free book’ from anywhere in my collection. I’ll roll a second dice to determine if it will be fiction (odd) or non-fiction (even). This will add enough ‘random noise’ into my reading habits to keep things nice and interesting. [Yes, I know it’s weird and convoluted but if it wasn’t it would be me. Here’s to 2019!] 

Oh, and I almost forgot The Best Title of the Year (by far): How to Stage a Military Coup – From Planning to Execution by David Hebditch and Ken Connor. Honourable mentions go to: Gut – The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Under-Rated Organ By Giulia Enders and Rebels Against the Future – The Luddites and their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age by Kirkpatrick Sale. 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

No snow yet... and none predicted....
NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars


September 28, 2015

New findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times.

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water -- albeit briny -- is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

These downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), often have been described as possibly related to liquid water. The new findings of hydrated salts on the slopes point to what that relationship may be to these dark features. The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. Scientists say it’s likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.

"We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks," said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, lead author of a report on these findings published Sept. 28 by Nature Geoscience.

Ojha first noticed these puzzling features as a University of Arizona undergraduate student in 2010, using images from the MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). HiRISE observations now have documented RSL at dozens of sites on Mars. The new study pairs HiRISE observations with mineral mapping by MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). The spectrometer observations show signatures of hydrated salts at multiple RSL locations, but only when the dark features were relatively wide. When the researchers looked at the same locations and RSL weren't as extensive, they detected no hydrated salt. 

Ojha and his co-authors interpret the spectral signatures as caused by hydrated minerals called perchlorates. The hydrated salts most consistent with the chemical signatures are likely a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Some perchlorates have been shown to keep liquids from freezing even when conditions are as cold as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 Celsius). On Earth, naturally produced perchlorates are concentrated in deserts, and some types of perchlorates can be used as rocket propellant.

Perchlorates have previously been seen on Mars. NASA's Phoenix lander and Curiosity rover both found them in the planet's soil, and some scientists believe that the Viking missions in the 1970s measured signatures of these salts. However, this study of RSL detected perchlorates, now in hydrated form, in different areas than those explored by the landers. This also is the first time perchlorates have been identified from orbit. MRO has been examining Mars since 2006 with its six science instruments.

"The ability of MRO to observe for multiple Mars years with a payload able to see the fine detail of these features has enabled findings such as these: first identifying the puzzling seasonal streaks and now making a big step towards explaining what they are," said Rich Zurek, MRO project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

For Ojha, the new findings are more proof that the mysterious lines he first saw darkening Martian slopes five years ago are, indeed, present-day water.

"When most people talk about water on Mars, they're usually talking about ancient water or frozen water," he said. "Now we know there’s more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL."

The discovery is the latest of many breakthroughs by NASA’s Mars missions.

“It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.”

There are eight co-authors of the Nature Geoscience paper, including Mary Beth Wilhelm at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and Georgia Tech; CRISM Principal Investigator Scott Murchie of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland; and HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. Others are at Georgia Tech, the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Laboratoire de PlanĂ©tologie et GĂ©odynamique in Nantes, France.

[I know I keep banging on about this, intermittently anyway, but if water is flowing on Mars even seasonally and has been for some time then I think there’s decent odds that they’ll discover life of some kind their eventually. It’s a fairly big planet with around the same surface area as Earth I think (we have oceans too which naturally makes possible biomes much more available for life than on Mars!) so the only way we’re going to stumble across it presently is by accident. But just imagine what it will mean when/if they do find it!]

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Ready for Adventure!

Just Finished Reading: With Our Backs to the Wall – Victory and Defeat in 1918 by David Stevenson (FP: 2011)

They knew it was coming (how could they not?). Knowing that whole divisions were on their way West from the collapsed Russian Front the French and British awaited the expected German attack with a mixture of trepidation and confidence. Much had been learned by both sides in the preceding four years of war – both by the attackers and defenders. Taking a leaf from the German way of defending the Western Front the Allies (in the main) drew back from their front-line trenches and laid their defences in depth, sometimes miles deep with interlacing fire zones, mutually supporting concrete pillboxes and designated artillery support just a telephone call away. But the Germans had also learned a great deal from throwing back the massed Allied assaults. They had learned what did not work and, by extension, what would. So when the deluge was unleashed on a (largely) prepared Allied force it was overwhelmed in a matter of hours. Strong points where sidestepped, artillery neutralised by pin-point accurate gas attack, and trenches taken by a well equipped, well-armed and highly motivated new type of soldier – Stormtroopers. Along miles of front the Allies fell back losing men and equipment with every mile. Pushed back across battlefields that had cost tens of thousands of lives to take the retreat continued throwing the French and their British Allies into a panic. This could be it. This could be the end of the war. The French looked to protect Paris whilst the British looked to their exit routes of the Channel ports. But slowly the enemy advance paused and stopped. As the Allies scrabbled to stabilise the new front another attack erupted with further loss and then another and yet another. Bur retreat failed to become a flight for safety and each subsequent attack achieved less and less. Finally the German army had nothing more to give. They were spent. Now it was time for the Allies, the French, British, Commonwealth and Empire and the newly arrived Americans to counterattack with everything they had. Once the attack began it would not end until Germany and the rest of the Central Powers were defeated.

 After four years of stalemate and stagnation on the Western Front why, in mid-1918, did everything suddenly change and why, soon after, was it all over despite the belief that the war would extend into 1919 and, quite possibly, 1920? That is the question that this excellent book attempts to answer. With the first third recounting the events of the German attack and the Allied counterattack the rest of the work does the analysis of the factors that led the Allies rather than the Central Powers to victory in 1918. It was not just Intelligence, Technology or Logistics that turned the tide. Both sides exhibited strengths and weaknesses in all of those. There was both Manpower and Morale to be considered. With the British calling on their vast Empire and the Americans arriving in ever increasing numbers the manpower equation was, as both sides knew, tilting in the Allies favour. Likewise the morale boost provided by the American arrival as well as its use in political propaganda gave hope to those already fighting in the West. By 1918 the shipping war had been won and the U-boat menace (so central to the next war) had been effectively neutralised. With losses at manageable proportions men, machinery and food flowed across the Atlantic and from the rest of the world to feed, clothe and arm the Allies in ways that their enemies could only dream of. Money also flowed to a much greater degree amongst the Allies than it did within the Central Powers. Initially largely financed by Britain, and to a lesser extent France, American loans helped support the war effort long after the other allied countries would have bankrupted themselves. Lastly there was the Home Front where, for the first time, the idea of a total war economy took hold especially in Britain and where every resource was used to ensure final victory.

Despite being just under 550 pages long there’s a lot crammed in here with little padding. The level of relevant detail is amazing as the author explains not only what was happening – dramatic enough in itself – but why, when it looked like the Germans were about the deliver the knockout blow of the war failed to do so. It wasn’t for want of trying and it certainly wasn’t just down to Allied resilience under enormous pressure it was because of deep differences in approach to the war and many people across the Allied countries making often difficult and unpopular decisions. Told with great authority this was a gripping account of the end of World War One that could have been very different indeed – in more ways than one. Concentrating on the Western Front (for obvious reasons) other battle zones are not ignored with reports from Italy, Palestine and Macedonia. A must read for anyone who wants to understand how and why the war to end all wars came to an end. Highly recommended.       

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Monday, December 24, 2018

Making Christmas WEIRD again....

I think they call it a *walk-in* fridge....

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

I suppose that it’s a combination of being (relatively) poor in my youth and not really being a member of any kind of extended family. Which means that I have almost zero experience of the kind of family Christmas you see on TV or in the movies. So, no giant turkey being cut by the Patriarch, no Elders complaining about the food, falling asleep or constantly farting (and blaming the dog) and no children running around, fighting and throwing food. It was only my Mum and Dad, Me, my Brother and, until she moved away to start her own family, my Sister. We never even had a family dinner around the table – not having a table or room for one – but sat with our Christmas meal (always very nice – Thanks Mum!) on our laps while watching TV (not the traditional Queen’s Speech). Naturally we had a tree and decorations. Those decorations lasted years, indeed decades. I remember the last time I saw them a few years ago and they still included items I had made in school almost 50 years before. The angel on top of the tree was older than I was, so we had smaller family traditions that hardly varied across the decades. Indeed one of the last innovations was that the chicken leftovers (rather than turkey which we never had) ended up in a curry rather than cold meat over the next few days.

After I moved away in my 20’s (University) I always came back home for Christmas. It became more of a bind later when I had to travel up from London with, it seemed, a million other people doing the same thing and the travel back (usually on 27th December) was a complete pain because the railways always chose this time for repairs. Then, a couple of years ago, there was an uncharacteristic blizzard on the day I was travelling North. What was normally a 3 hour journey (1 change) took over that to get half way – before I was advised from home to turn around – and another 5 hours to get back here. After that I decided that Christmas from then on would be moved into October and I’ve been doing that ever since. The family (and work) think it’s funny but there’s a lot of advantages to it. Mum even cooks Christmas dinner (veggie version for me these days) which I think is very good of her – and very good generally.

So now I have ‘proper’ Christmas here. Friends (and again people from work) think it’s odd that I spend Christmas alone. I’ve even been invited to other people’s family get-together’s (usually by friend’s Mother’s) as they think that Christmas MUST be a family occasion. Where actually I like the idea of being here on my own – beholden to no one, doing what I like and eating pizza (although not this year – long story). Traditionally these days Christmas Day (and New Year’s Day) are gaming days. I get up late, potter about a bit, and then game for 12 hours – with breaks of course. It’s a treat I don’t often get the time to do – plus most of my friends are off-line with their families so….. My plan for most of tomorrow is to build a base in my game No Mans Sky (Next) which is something I’ve never done before – the basics went in today but there’s lots I haven’t even touched yet. I’m looking forward to be able to invest that amount of time/effort towards it. I’ve even got a bit of an extra treat set aside for New Year’s Eve (also spent on my own) – I’m going to watch all 5 Jurassic Park films back to back. Yup, I’m THAT sad!

A VERY Merry Christmas to all my readers. You know who you are (obviously!). 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Seal pup found in Terrington St Clement back garden

From The BBC

22nd December 2018

A three-week-old seal pup was found in a back garden four miles (6.4km) away from the sea. The RSPCA said it was found in Terrington St Clement in Norfolk. It said it believed the pup travelled up a drainage system in the hope of finding water or food. Animal collection officer Naemi Kilbey said she was grateful the "incredibly feisty little fella" was found, otherwise he may have died from starvation. The seal pup was taken to the RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre where it was checked over.

Ms Kilbey said it was found in a garden in an area surrounded by agricultural farmland and "there was definitely no sign of the sea or a beach". She said the water system had only two inches of water in it "so this poor pup must have just kept trying to travel further and further down in the hope of finding water or food. He was an incredibly feisty little fella and it took all my strength to catch and rescue him, but it would have been his spirit and fight for life, that would have kept him alive during his ordeal," she said. "I'm just so grateful to the homeowner who found him and called us, if the pup hadn't been found he would have likely have died of starvation due to not being able to find any food." The centre said the pup, which was found on Wednesday, will be monitored and fed before it is released into The Wash.

[…and it other weird news….. I mean, how weird is that? Imagine, you’re just popping out to the shops to buy some milk… and there’s a SEAL PUP in your garden and you live four MILES from the sea….. WEIRD!]

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Just Finished Reading: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (FP: 1939)

It was the dust that did it. That and the Banks who held title to the land. Without the understanding of those who spilt blood to farm they made decisions in their boardrooms based on balance sheets and not on sweat and history. With the sweep of a pen and the imprint of ink families from all over the west lost everything they had spent decades building. Tenant farmers were no longer needed, no longer economic, no longer required to farm the land. In their place came machines and machine drivers equally untied to the land and with as much feeling for it as the machines and the bankers they served. But what to do and where to go? California – that was the place, where fruit fell, ripe, into your hands without the need to pick it, where it was always sunny and where people, farmers, were needed. So, along with hundreds, thousands, of other families the Joad’s packed up everything they couldn’t sell and headed for the sunshine and work. Across thousands of miles they nursed their truck, dealt with whatever the elements and the locals threw at them, buried their dead and finally, finally, arrived in the much promised land – to discover that not everything they had been promised was true. In fact it was a lie. Work was practically non-existent and fought over by the lowest bidder. People fought each other for starvation wages and, outside the government camps, looked on each other as competitors who schemed each day to take the bread out of their children’s mouths. But if they could just organise and fight back (what against rich owners who hired thugs to make sure that no leaders survived long enough to lead?) and be treated like decent human beings (what, you Red or something?) rather than cattle or Okies (the lowest of the low). So survival is the game, day by day, picking by picking, rumour of work plucked out of the very air and luck, always luck….. Until it runs out.

I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect from this. I hadn’t seen the 1940 movie version with Henry Fonda (or at least not all of it) but knew the outline. I hadn’t even heard just how controversial it was – although I can certainly see why now! Of course the thing that surprised me more than anything else – even from that time – was just how radically left-wing it was. Not even just Socialist but practically Marxist in tone. Not only from the point of proposing unions to defend labour but collectivisation, citizens committees, radically equality, deep criticism of the rich, demand for land for anyone who can farm it taken off those (if necessary) who had too much land or too much money – more than they could ever farm or spend. This is radical stuff these days – especially in uber-capitalist USA – so I guess that they must have been radical (if not maybe as radical) back then?

In between the political musings we are presented with a very human story – of a family trying to survive in suddenly very hostile circumstances, indeed it often read like an end of the world tale minus the zombies and radiation. Although the pace was rather slow throughout, the characterisation was outstanding – especially Ma and the ex-con Tom. It was easy to identify with their plight and easy to become emotionally involved in their journey and their many trials. Probably the best of the classic reads so far. I shall be looking out for more of Mr Steinbeck’s works. Highly recommended.   

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Cartoon Time (the Mike Flynn version).
The Top 20 from the Radio Times Best Christmas Movie Survey 2018:

1. It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

2. Elf (2003)

3. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

4. Love Actually (2003)

5. Home Alone (1990)

6. Die Hard (1988)

7. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

8. The Polar Express (2004)

9. White Christmas (1954)

10. Scrooge (1951)

11. A Christmas Carol (1984)

12. The Snowman (1982)

13. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

14. Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

15. The Holiday (2006)

16. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

17. The Grinch (2000)

18. Scrooged (1988)

19. Nativity! (2009)

20. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Long Christmas Break – Day Four

As I’ve got no burning issues just now I don’t really have much to say. It might be something to do with the time of year with the aptly named SAD kicking in but I think it’s more likely a reflection of the fact that there just isn’t much happening in my world presently (thankfully as I really needed a break!).

So – rather than simply skipping my ‘Original Content Monday’ post and go straight to yet more pictures I found whilst browsing Google images I thought I’d say what I’m up to and what my plans are for the rest of my long Christmas break. But don’t worry, I expect to have more interesting things to say as the year ends…..

As the weather was OK on last Friday (cold but dry) I had one of my rare trips into town to drop by my two semi-regular ‘remainder’ book stores, partially to check if they’re still in business. Thankfully they both were – not that I need more books, but when has ‘need’ been a factor right? It was a little bit different this time and I walked right past the fiction and went to the back of the first stores to dive straight into the non-fiction section including hardbacks all for the price of £3 or 2 for £5 which is a hell of a bargain in anyone’s language. Along with the second shop I picked up a total of 10 books (low by my standard) of which 9 were non-fiction (which is historically high). As usual I treated myself to pizza on the way home.

Since then I’ve had 3 days at home. It’s been mostly raining and, as I didn’t need to go out, I’ve stayed here warm and dry. One important thing I’ve been doing is catching up on sleep averaging, so far, around 8-9 hours a day. That’ll ease off later as I stop being so sleep deprived. Naturally I’ve been reading – presently a long and very well written book on the end of WW1 – but, because I have access to the Internet, not to the extent I did when at my Mum’s house. I’ve aiming to read at least 4 books over Christmas/New Year. That should be achievable. I wish I could read more but at the moment I’m just too tired and too distracted mostly by YouTube.

One other thing I’m catching up on is my TV boxset series watching. I recently finished Series 2 of Agents of Shield but now I’m 5 episodes into Series 1 of The Expanse and loving every minute of it. I’ll finish that half way through the break and am undecided what to watch next. I’m itching to watch Series 1 of Westworld (yes, I’m that far behind the curve) but I might just take a break from SF and watch Series 1 of True Detective instead (yes, I’m THAT far behind the curve). Along with TV I’ve also been movie watching. A friend and I caught ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ at the Multiplex but both of us were disappointed overall. I loved the trailers but the rest of the movie was more than a little flat. The animation was exceptional and there were plenty of good ideas but the storyline essentially sucked. On DVD so far I’ve watched ‘Blackhawk Down’, ‘Rollerball’ (1975 version) and, today, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri’ – so, quite a mix so far.

Out a bit tomorrow – for no other reason to get out of the house for a while – and later in the week out with another group of friends to see ‘Mortal Engines’ which will either be awesome or another Peter Jackson train wreck. Hopefully I’ll find out before the weekend. Mixed in with that is the mundane stuff of sorting through my DVD collection to get rid of the deadwood and generally tidying up and throwing crap out – creating space to buy different crap next year [grin]. Oh, and not forgetting the obligatory eating far too much snack food. There is that… always that…. And sleep. Much more sleep….   

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Future Movie Crossover!
Tourist pound now down at close to just one dollar

By Brian Milligan, BBC Personal Finance reporter

14 December 2018

Travellers at some UK airports are barely being offered one US dollar for each of their pounds, following a month of Brexit uncertainty. Those exchanging pounds at the UK's biggest airport, Heathrow, are finding as little as $1.05 coming back across the counter. Since 16 April the pound has fallen by 11.77% against the US dollar. In places, sterling buys less than a euro, with tourists being offered just 92 cents for every pound. Against the dollar, the pound is now at its weakest since April 2017, although it has recovered slightly since Theresa May won her vote of confidence. In March 2008 the pound was briefly worth more than $2.00.

While there are some other factors behind the drop in the pound's value, such as the receding chances of an interest rate rise, most experts accept that the politics of Brexit are chiefly to blame. "Over the last couple of months... we've seen several developments in Brexit negotiations, MP resignations and more recently a leadership challenge which have all sparked significant turbulence for the pound," said Ian Strafford-Taylor, the chief executive of currency traders FairFx. Changing money at a port or airport is the most expensive way of doing so, and there are usually much cheaper deals online. The best deal on offer on Friday was $1.23 for one pound.

Tourist rates are also more expensive than official exchange rates, as they take into account the costs of providing bureaux de change. But the weakness of the pound leaves anyone thinking of going abroad next year with a dilemma: Should they buy their currency now, or wait, in the hope that the pound will recover? "It's impossible to predict how foreign exchange rates will change in future, especially with volatility around Brexit and other economic events," said Nathan Best, UK commercial director at Travelex. "The best customers can do is keep an eye on rates and convert at a rate they feel comfortable with. One option for customers who are wary of foreign currency volatility is to split their currency purchases to reduce risk. Customers can choose to buy some of their currency before their trip with a preferred rate, and then buy the remaining currency closer to, or during, the trip."

[One thing some people tend to forget is that the value of the pound against the dollar – and presumably other currencies – has NEVER recovered from the drop it experienced when the Brexit Referendum results came out. That alone, not counting everything else Brexit has and will do to the economy, has cost the country and its taxpayers billions of pounds and, as we’re constantly reminded, we haven’t even left yet. Of course some shrug this off as a price they’re willing to pay. We’ll see what else they’ll put up with from next March. Unfortunately the rest of us will have to put up with it too….]

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Getting a little frosty.......

Just Finished Reading: Women and Power – A Manifesto by Mary Beard (FP: 2017)

There’s a lot of it about at the moment. Not women in power but books and general talk about the subject most of whom saying that not enough women have enough power – which is true enough, but….

Whilst the author makes some good and interesting points – the first half of this tiny book (at a mere 97 small pages) relates how women have been silenced down the centuries by authors, playwrights and politicians while the second half considers women in power and the harsh price they seemed to pay for it – but offers little in the way of solutions short of musing on the nature of power itself and the thought of women redefining power to more suit themselves. It was more than a little woolly to be honest. It wasn’t helped by her repeatedly pointing out how she had been attacked by Tweeters who called her rather nasty names for merely suggesting or defending the idea of historically significant women appearing on our banknotes. I also found some of her complaints or observations to be rather disingenuous – for instance that the UK has never had a female Chancellor of the Exchequer (true) and yet has had at least two Home Secretaries responsible for national security and, of course, two Prime Minister’s. Women are also at their highest level of representation in Parliament ever. So at least some progress has been made and is continuing to be made. It’s most certainly not all doom and gloom.

I do agree on many of her points though: Women have a much harder time gaining and keeping power. They are held to higher standards and are criticised much more harshly when they fail. They are expected to be representatives of their entire gender unlike men who are seen as merely representing themselves. Women are criticised for being too feminine and too masculine. They are accused of using their sex as well as hiding it. They are judged as much on their appearance as on their ability and judged even more when their appearance is seen as both important and unimportant. In many ways they simply cannot win – and not all of the criticism comes from men.

So, the author is right in pointing out the disparity in power between the sexes, how that power is exercised and criticised, and how that power is constrained or encouraged. However, I really don’t think this manifesto really addresses any of those problems. Unfortunately I found it all rather disappointing – but maybe that’s because I’m a man? More on power and power relationships – and leadership – to come.   

The start of a 20 Day break...... and RELAX!