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

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Best friends forever; How friendship boosts pupils' grades

By Hannah Richardson for BBC News

27 September 2018

Best friends forever? Well, maybe not - but schoolchildren who keep the same best mate as they move to secondary have been found to get better results. A study of 593 found "substantial instability" in their friendships as they changed schools, with only 27% keeping the same best friend. But the ones who did achieved better results and had fewer behaviour issues. The researchers compared what they said about their friendships with how they performed in end of Year 7 assessments.

The University of Surrey study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, said: "During the transition, children may be more likely to lose best friends prematurely due to imposed school change rather than conflict or low-quality relationships, which may be the prevailing reasons under normal circumstances. Some commentators have suggested that the secondary transition may be a good opportunity to break ties with low-quality friendships because of the negative effects these can have. But little research has looked at the impact of keeping high quality friends."

Lead author Terry Ng-Knight, said: "We found that children who kept the same best friend over the transition tend to do better. Children's best friends change for all sorts of reasons but the transition is likely a big factor disrupting friendships. If we can find ways to support friendships during this time, this may help us to improve attainment and behaviour."

Most of those who had kept their best friend had gone to the same secondary school as them, according to the study. Dr Knight added that secondary schools varied in the extent to which they actively supported pupil friendships. Some schools asked children and parents to nominate friends they would like to remain with - but many others did not take friendship groups into consideration.

[I ‘transitioned’ with a group of friends from Junior school to Senior school aged 11. Not too much of a shock really as, at that time, there was only two High schools to choose from. I remember on the first day meeting up with three of my friends at one of their houses before making our way to our new school together. An abiding memory was of measuring how ‘flaired’ our trousers were – it was late 1971 – and laughing as we handed round a plastic 6” ruler. I imagine it would have been really stressful going to a school of over 500 pupils on my own. Fortunately I didn’t have to.] 

"Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain."

Napoleon Bonaparte.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Just Finished Reading: 1919 – Britain on the Brink of Revolution by Chanie Rosenberg (FP: 1987)

It almost happened here – apparently. With the war over the only thing on the soldier’s minds was going home. Unfortunately the British government had other ideas. As the Russian revolution descended into Civil War the victorious Allies saw the opportunity of ending the Red Menace in its crib. The soldiers, awaiting demobilisation, had other ideas. Not only did they not want to continue fighting, many of them had left-wing sympathies. Being used, after being told that a land ‘fit for heroes’ awaited them, to suppress a workers revolt in a faraway place was for many the final straw. Grumbling grew into restlessness and that grew into actual revolt. First individuals refused to be redeployed, that whole units. Officers were ignored or roughed up. The mood was angry, bitter and getting worse. In one such revolt soldiers from another unit were sent to supress things before they got out of hand – only to join their comrades in arms. Alarm bells began to ring in London. This they knew from information coming out of Russia was how revolutions started. Almost in panic demobilisation was speeded up and speeded up again. Within months tens of thousands of troops had been sent home but that was far from the end of it.

At the end of World War One Britain was bankrupt. The ‘land fit for heroes’ would need to be delayed. Debts needed paying and the economy needed to move away from its long ‘war footing’ conditions. Wages needed holding back, women needed to go home and the workers themselves needed to be put back in their place after 5 years of increased power. None of this went down well with the newly empowered working class. They wanted more – more power, more leisure and more money – and they wanted it now before their numbers had been diluted by returning soldiers and unemployment rose again and diluted their power. It was here that the government discovered that the old remedies of carrot and stick no longer sufficed. The carrot was a shrunken remnant and the stick…..? The stick – in the shape of the police and military forces – was seemingly more inclined to join any rebellion than put it down. Indeed during the Liverpool police strike of 1919 fresh army recruits (returned veterans were considered too volatile) fired on striking policemen while naval warships sat in Liverpool harbour with their guns trained on the city itself. It would only take a single low-level commander to panic and fire into the crowd to ignite at all – at least that’s what the Tory government felt.

Clearly such a revolution never occurred. A mixture of luck, planning and divide and conquer tactics – playing individual unions off against each other and using the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) to take the heat out of any revolutionary talk got them past the point of no return. It was a close run thing it seemed but just how close is anyone’s guess. Could it have happened here? Possibly. The circumstances seemed to be ripe but, according to the author, without one critical component – a revolutionary vanguard to lead the way. Again this may be the case. The fact that the author was a member of the Socialist Workers Party (a hard Left pro-revolutionary party) undoubtedly played into this idea. This doesn’t mean he was wrong – just somewhat suspect. One of the things I am most intrigued by is that so little of this period has made it into the history books. It’s almost as if there’s a conspiracy to deny people knowledge of their (almost) revolutionary past. I find that most interesting. Definitely food for thought and an area that deserves more attention.     

Monday, September 24, 2018

Car Crash Politics

Well, it looks like it’s going to happen. With the recent EU rejection of Teresa May’s much vaunted Chequers Plan coupled with her insistence – despite the opposition of a significant section of her own Party – that it’s the only viable plan for our future and that no other plan will be forthcoming we’re going to be crashing out of the European Union next March. After almost 2 years of negotiation we’re coming down to the wire with 4 weeks (or so) left before the next EU Summit in October with the backstop of an emergency November Summit to ratify any final agreement before it goes to the individual members to agree to (or not).

The PM had, naturally, hoped that the EU leaders would’ve at least thrown her a lifeline to get past the Conservative Conference in just over a week. They didn’t do this saying essentially that her plan wasn’t acceptable (frankly I could have told her that and saved her the embarrassment) and that she’d need to go away and rethink – and make it snappy. Playing to her backbenches and the EU sceptics in her party she came out all growling a tough sounding response about respect presumably in a weak-assed attempt to keep her job. I have a feeling the only reason she’ll probably remain PM after the Conference is that if she’s deposed the Tories will essentially implode.

There is talk, or as I like to characterise it idle chatter, of a second referendum (never going to happen), a vote in Parliament stopping a No-Deal Brexit (unlikely) or even calling another General Election to give Teresa May the authority of the country to drive her deal through – and we all know how well that worked out for her the last time she tried to pull that shit. Presently we’re probably looking at No Deal as the most likely outcome by far. Naturally the Brexiteers (and not only in Parliament) think this is some kind of threat to the EU. A bit like saying to someone if they don’t give us everything we want we’ll sit in a corner and not talk to them until they give in – maybe going as far to hold our breath until we almost pass out. We’re even planning on the possibility of No Deal and stockpiling important medicines and such – although the pro-Leave people label this idea as Project Fear because why would you possibly plan for a bad outcome if leaving the EU will send us immediately into the Promised Land of independence? Of course, with the negotiations moving at a snail’s pace and the amount of red lines on both sides proliferating, the EU has put things in place to reduce the impact on them of us crashing out. I bet you a lot that their preparations are 27 times better than ours. I shudder to think what the pound will do if we do crash out. If the collapse of the pound to historic lows is the only bad thing to happen that’ll be bad enough. Of course that won’t be the only thing to crash next March. There are consequences that everyone knows about, there are even known unknowns that we can probably deal with. What will really kick a great many people in the teeth are the unknown unknowns that no one has given any thought to until we get to the point of someone looking sheepish saying: oh, I didn’t know the EU did THAT!

After the crash I’m guessing, ever the optimist, that there will be about 3 months of chaos and panic before things start getting back to some sort of normality. At that point the reality will kick in. As President Macron said a few days ago the people who said that Brexit would be easy lied to us. The way things are going, barring the kind of miracle I’ve never believed in, we are all going to pay for those lies – big style.   

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Game of Thrones baby names still proving popular

By Lizo Mzimba For BBC News

21 September 2018

Game of Thrones continues to be a popular source of parental inspiration, according to the latest list of the most popular baby names in England and Wales. A record 76 baby girls were called Khaleesi in 2017, the title enjoyed by Emilia Clarke's dragon-raising would-be queen in the award-winning fantasy TV and book series. Three more children were called Daenarys, the real name of the show's Mother of Dragons. And more girls than ever before received the name Sansa, another significant figure on the show. But if baby-naming is a reliable indicator, Game of Thrones' most popular character appears to be Arya, with 343 newborns given the same name as Maisie Williams' sword-wielding Stark. That's a big increase on 302, the number of Aryas named in 2016. Eleven baby boys, the same number as in 2016, ended up being called Tyrion, almost certainly in tribute to Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister - perhaps the show's most intelligent character.

Animated movie Moana was released at the end of 2016, explaining why seven babies ended up receiving that particular name in 2017 - seven more than the previous year. The Star Wars universe has also continued to wield its influence on name choices. It's likely the death of Carrie Fisher in December 2016 was a contributing factor to the big increase (to 149) in girls being called Leia. Indeed, more children than ever before have been given names from a galaxy far, far away. Twenty-one were called Rey and 70 were called Kylo, almost certainly after the characters played by Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver in recent Star Wars instalments.

Three girls were given the name - but hopefully not the personality characteristics - of Harley-Quinn in 2017. The DC Comics villain and Joker's girlfriend was memorably played by Margot Robbie in the film Suicide Squad. In a similar vein, the success of the TV series Lucifer, in which the Devil leaves Hell and travels to Los Angeles, seems to have resulted in 11 boys being given the name of the show. It began in 2016, the year the name Lucifer entered the list for the first time. Four babies were given the name that year, a figure that increased by seven in 2017.

Reality TV is also getting in on the act. Before Made in Chelsea, the name Binky had never featured on the list. That all changed in 2014, and the number of Binkys has steadily increased with 10 newborns getting the name last year. In case you were wondering, Binky Felstead's real name is Alexandra. Choosing the right name for a newborn can be a tricky business. Luckily the world of TV and film is overflowing with unusual suggestions, and it's somewhere more and more parents are going to for inspiration.

[I do find myself cringing a bit when I hear what proud parents have named their new-born’s – names like Jack or Alex or even Arya are perfectly acceptable, but would you honestly name your child Binky or…… Lucifer? My advice to parents who do so would be to teach their children to fight – because they’re going to get bullied. A lot. Oh, and someone I work with knew someone who named their boy Huckleberry….. I wonder what they’ll get called in school. I’m guessing it won’t be Huck.]

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Just Finished Reading: Gut – The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Under-Rated Organ By Giulia Enders (FP: 2014)

As I get older I’m becoming more and more interested in the workings (and the failings) of my body. Part of that is insurance – knowing what to do when things go wrong. A big part of it is to know what to do to keep things ticking along nicely for as long as humanly possible. Books like this really help in that regard.

Like, no doubt, many of us I essentially ignore my gut until it does something odd or embarrassingly distasteful. I’m sure that most of us do. As long as it’s doing its mundane job or food processing and elimination we leave it alone to get on with things. When it’s humming along nicely, as it does most days, I just ignore it. How wrong I was. The author, who is a doctor of microbiology, makes the whole thing not only interesting (and frankly funny) but shows just how important our digestive system is – not just in extracting food and nutrients but in its role in our mental health too (go figure). One of the things that immediately jumped out at me was the fact that some skin diseases/issues had been greatly assisted if not actually cured by the partial removal of tonsils! How counterintuitive is that!

The gut turns out to be more complex, more diverse and has much more of an influence on our physical and mental wellbeing than we ever though. Biologists are only now getting a handle on what goes on in our stomach and intestines. Long held assumptions of where our gut flora come from, how they operate, how they’re different in different populations or even between individuals are being proven to be inadequate at best. It’s all, as the author gets across in style, very exciting.

I did get a few funny looks reading this – both on the bus and at work – more so when people noticed my chuckling away as I read and the best pooping positions and much else besides in almost (but never quite) crude language. Never one to beat around the bush the author brings the gut out of the shadows to present it in polite society without the sniggers. Bathroom activities are one of the last taboos and because of that lack of public discourse can lead to unnecessary suffering and great problems down the road. Knowing what problems look like, feel like and smell like could, in these cases, be a literal life saver. Not being embarrassed to discuss such things with family, friends and your doctor is a healthy indication that you’re looking after your gut. Highly recommended for anyone who ever wondered what happens in your body between mouth and toilet bowl.     

Monday, September 17, 2018

A (not so new) Obsession.

It would appear that a long time interest of mine has turned into something of an obsession – even if (at the moment at least) a small one. For quite some time now I have had a decided interest in the period from the invasion of Poland in 1939 to the attack on Pearl Habor in 1941 when Britain stood essentially alone against the might of the Axis Powers. Not only was it a time of great danger it was also a time of great heroism and is a central point of our national mythology. Being British it’s actually a difficult era to avoid with so many books, TV series, documentaries and movies about the period. Two of the recent crop of movies in particular stoked my interest enough to move it in the direction of obsession – Nolan’s masterful retelling of Dunkirk and Oldman’s outstanding portrayal of Churchill in Darkest Hour. This in particular lit the fire as it raised a whole host of questions I wanted answering.

Churchill, as Darkest Hour rightly points out, was an unusual and unpopular choice for Prime Minister in 1940. I know some of those reasons why but wanted to know much more. Then there’s the leader of the Opposition to Chamberlin’s Conservative government – Clement Attlee. I know almost nothing about him so wanted to know more. Then, pre-dating the events of 1940, who did Britain get into such a mess? I know something about the process of Appeasement and the ‘peace in our times’ diplomacy but not enough to understand what was behind it all. Then there’s Lord Halifax – the Holy Fox – who was the ‘bad guy’ in Darkest Hour. Was he as portrayed or is that historians looking for a villain of the piece? Would he have actually sold Britain down the river for peace at any price? Then there’s Churchill himself. Did he really save England by taking up the position of PM when reluctantly offered it (I believe he did that and more but what was the truth behind the myth?). What of his long suffering wife Clementine and his children so intriguingly played in that scene in Number 10 on his first day in office as PM. What of his friend Antony Eden and what of Churchill’s relationship with the King which completely entranced me in the movie?

Once in power I was surprised by the Calais incident where the Prime Minister directly ordered the garrison to fight to the last man to give the men on the beaches of Dunkirk time to escape. What happened to the survivors? Was the ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk really that or was it a case of luck and Hitler’s reluctance to destroy the BEF when negotiations for an armistice was still a possibility? What happened to those who didn’t make it off the beaches and what happened to those who never made it to Dunkirk in time? Following on from the ‘miracle’ there was, quite naturally, the threat of invasion across the channel. Why didn’t Operation Sealion happen and could we have survived it? What happened in France post-Dunkirk? Why were they overrun in only 6 weeks despite the almost equivalence in forces in play? What happened to the French forces who made it to England and North Africa to continue the fight?

Taking a deep breath and a slight sigh of relief after Dunkirk and with the Battle of France over it was time for the iconic Battle of Britain. Was it the close run thing we have been led to believe? Why did we win in the end – luck, raw courage, British bloody-mindedness, or steady organisation and planning? Why, in 1940, did we have the fighters (amongst the best in the world), the organisation and RADAR ‘just in time’ that all took years to get into production?

So many questions, so many points of view around the actions of three of the most pivotal years in our long island history. I will endeavour in the upcoming years to try to answer them and I’ll let you know what I find out.   

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Cartoon Time.

NovaSAR: UK radar satellite to track illegal shipping activity

By Jonathan Amos, BBC Science Correspondent

16th September 2018

The first all-British radar satellite is set to go into orbit on an Indian rocket. Called NovaSAR, it has the ability to take pictures of the surface of the Earth in every kind of weather, day or night. The spacecraft will assume a number of roles but its designers specifically want to see if it can help monitor suspicious shipping activity. Lift-off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota is at 17:38 BST. NovaSAR will be joined on its rocket by a high-resolution optical satellite - that is, an imager that sees in ordinary light. Known as S1-4, this spacecraft will discern objects on the ground as small as 87cm across. Both it and NovaSAR were manufactured by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited of Guildford.

UK engineers have long had expertise in space radar but their technology has previously always gone on broader missions, such as those for the European Space Agency. NovaSAR, which has the distinctive shape of a cheese-grater, is uniquely British, however. Its radar instrument was developed for SSTL by Airbus in Portsmouth. The mission incorporates low-cost, miniaturised components and will aim to demonstrate a more affordable approach to radar imaging. It will operate in a number of modes for applications that include the detection of oil spills, flood and forestry monitoring, disaster response, and crop assessment.

But perhaps its most interesting role will be in maritime observation. The satellite is equipped with a receiver that can pick up Automatic Identification System (AIS) radio signals. These are the positional transmissions that large ships are obliged to broadcast under international law. Vessels that tamper with or disable these messages very often are engaged in smuggling or illegal fishing activity. If such ships appear in NovaSAR's pictures, they will be reported to the authorities. "We are very interested in this maritime mode, which is a 400km-plus swath mode," said Luis Gomes, the chief technology officer at SSTL. "It is important to be able to monitor large areas of the ocean - something we don't do at the moment. We all saw with the Malaysian airline crash in the Indian Ocean the difficulty there was in monitoring that vast area. We can do that kind of thing with radar and NovaSAR is good for that," he told BBC News.

The NovaSAR project was initiated inside SSTL in 2008/9. Back then the idea of a radar satellite that measured 3m by 1m was regarded as something of a breakthrough because, up that point, such spacecraft had been big, power-hungry beasts that cost a lot of money. It is a little unfortunate therefore that the programme got delayed because in the meantime others have also managed to package radar systems into small volumes. The Finnish start-up Iceye has a platform flying now that is the size of a suitcase. And an American company called Capella is promising a radar satellite that is not much bigger than a shoebox. But radar expert Martin Cohen from Airbus is unperturbed by these developments. "NovaSAR is still a step change, certainly for Airbus in terms of what you can do for a particular amount of money. But while we've been waiting for a launch, we haven't stood still," he said. "We've done lots of work on the next generation. NovaSAR is just the first in a family of instruments that will offer different capabilities, such as finer resolutions and other parameters; and we will be putting those capabilities on smaller spacecraft than NovaSAR."

The satellite, as presently configured, will operate in the S-band (3.2 gigahertz), giving a best resolution of 6m with a swath width of 15-20km. Future variants will go to the higher-frequency X-band and sense features on the ground as small as a metre across, and less. The Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) aims to put NovaSAR and S1-4 into an orbit that is 580km above the Earth. SI-4 will be taking pictures of China for Twenty First Century Aerospace Technology (21AT). This company, based in Beijing, will use the data in the Asian nation to help with urban planning, working out crop yields, pollution monitoring and doing biodiversity assessments, among many other applications.

[Personally I’m predicting an increased demand for stealth technologies at all levels – from the personal, vehicle and now maritime markets…… If I had any spare cash that’s where I’d be putting my investment money…]

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Just Finished Reading: Just Warriors, Inc – The Ethics of Privatised Force by Deane-Peter Baker (FP: 2011)

They’ve probably been around for as long as humans have been engaging in organised warfare – those who fight for gold rather than land, or state or family. It’s where the name ‘Freelance’ comes from, where knights hired themselves out to princes fighting in faraway places for money and with the opportunity for glory or just the fun of the fight. Today they’re known as mercenaries or, in a less pejorative and more politically correct sense, private contractors or variations thereof. In more recent years still we know them as organisations such as Executive Outcomes and Blackwater as well as other less well-known company’s whose business is security, personal protection and, very occasionally, actual war fighting. This is a state of affairs the author argues (and I agree with) which is not only here to stay but one set to grow in the future. But is that a good thing? Surely privatised violence is inherently a bad thing that can only erode a state’s legitimacy and lead to all kinds of regrettable outcomes? After all mercenaries have no honour, no loyalty and no reason to be trusted with the lives of others. Right?

I did a unit of Military Ethics (called War & Peace Studies) as part of my first BA degree and really enjoyed it so this was, despite my philosophical muscles being a little rusty, right up my street. It took a while to get back up to speed on terms and Just War Theory but once there the book hummed along nicely. I quickly learnt exactly where the author was coming from because this was no even handed work of philosophy. Clearly he was pro-Combat Contractor, that was obvious from early on – but this did not distract from the good arguments put forward in their defence. Section by section the author logically demonstrated that there was little practical or philosophical difference between State soldiers and their private counterparts. Both exhibited courage, both had honour, and showed the understood military virtues – indeed generally private soldiers used to be state soldiers or police prior to them going private. The idea that what was once acceptable was no longer the case because of a change of direct employer was quickly dismissed. Indeed the only negative thing the author could point to was the fact that private soldiers could not be expected to lay down their lives if the mission or the circumstances demanded it. Potentially you could pay the expected grieving families an additional bounty for acts of sacrifice by private soldiers but you could not reasonably have such sacrifice written into their contracts. State soldiers however would understand that they might be called on to lay down their lives ‘for the greater good’ and then go on and do so and we would call them heroes because of their sacrificial actions. But apart from that? The author sees no significant downside and several (at least slight) upsides to employing mercenaries at least on some missions and in some situations.

Outsourcing war is coming I believe. I don’t think it will be completely privatised but I can see admin functions going to contract, logistics, satellite services (GPS, surveillance), guarding of base installations and even some ‘Special Forces’ units in their entirety. Commanders will be able to buy specialisms off the shelf as part of their deployment ‘in theatre’ with probably more flexibility than with state provided units at their disposal. There are financial, tactical and ethical advantages that can’t and won’t be ignored for long. Mercenaries have picked up a bad reputation over the centuries. This book goes part way towards addressing that. Interesting.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Is Democracy Dying?

There is much talk on the streets and in the newsrooms that Democracy itself is in trouble – and not just in Trump’s America. People talk of a 1930’s vibe when democracies across the world trembled, some fell, and it looked briefly like the great democratic experiment was coming to an end. Is that’s what is happening today? Was the 2008 banking crisis our 1929 Wall Street Crash? Are we heading for another Stalin, Mussolini or Hitler to arise if he hasn’t done so already? Are things anywhere near that bad?

It has been said, more than half jokingly, that although History doesn’t repeat itself sometimes it does rhyme. So it’s not hard to see a number of similarities between what was happening across the world in the run up to World War Two and today’s headlines. I think it’s beyond argument that it’s something we should all be concerned about. Few democracies die because of a political or military coup. When they fail, as German and Italian democracy failed, it was through a mixture of fear, opportunism and neglect. The apparent similarities, especially in the US, are striking. Could a popularist demagogue so undermine American democracy that he could become the country’s first Fascist dictator? Could it happen here (or actually there)? Yes, it could. I don’t believe that there’s anything unique about America to stop something like that ever happening? Is it happening now or could it happen soon? Well, I really don’t think so.

Democracies that fail are usually in such a weakened state, after war, revolution or economic collapse, that dictatorship is often seen as the solution to problems that cannot be addressed in any other way. Democratic systems throughout Europe, the US and across the world are nowhere near that state today and for many it is almost inconceivable that they will get there. Despite the present quiet compliance of the US Republican party other organs of the democratic spirit are working exactly as they should despite, or even because they are, being under almost daily attack. Democracy is most certainly being challenged in the US but I for one do not believe it is under threat. Indeed it is clear that the behaviour of the incumbent in the Whitehouse is galvanising a democratic (in both senses of the word) opposition that may very well tip the balance of power in November. The young in particular, on both sides of the pond, are waking up to the fact that their vote not only matters but that if they abrogate their responsibility to be politically active citizens then others who do not have their interests in mind will make decisions for them that they could regret for a very long time indeed – the Brexit vote for example. As Obama said in his speech just recently, if you think that your vote has no meaning or is a waste of your time then the last two years should have disabused you of that. That’s a message that was heard on both Atlantic coasts. After the doldrums of the 90’s when the voting numbers fell on almost every election we are now looking at increasing numbers of people – and especially people under 30 – who will vote in local elections never mind national one’s. The Scottish Independence referendum was a revelation to many with the numbers who turned out as well as the quality of the debate at the grass roots level.

The rise of Nationalist parties, Popular Fronts, Independence Movements and much else besides has increasingly politicised a generation of previously cynical non-voters. Rather than the 1930’s the present political situation looks more like the 1960’s and 1970’s (Nixon being much talked about presently!) with rising protests and increasing political activism. This is not to say that we should not worry. We have every right to be afraid for our democratic norms. But democracy is far from dead. It is, indeed, far from wounded. Maybe we all needed this situation we are going through in order to wake us up from our complacency. Democracy, just like a fabulous houseplant, needs to be nurtured and cared for. Neglected for too long, taken for granted, it will sicken. What we are seeing are the signs of neglect. Some leaves have turned yellow at the edges. The soil is dry and needs watering. Its death, although foretold, has been greatly exaggerated. Democracy is stronger than that. Just don’t forget to vote every time you can….       

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Dutchman wins bookshop in west Wales win raffle draw

From The BBC

8th September 2018

As far as raffle prizes go, they do not come much bigger, or as surreal, as the one offered by Paul Morris. The 57-year-old book store owner gave customers the chance to win his shop Bookends in west Wales along with its contents if they spent more than £20. Mr Morris, who is taking early retirement, said he wanted to give it to someone who may not usually have the chance to run their own business. The winning ticket was picked by sci-fi fan and Dutchman Ceisjan Van Heerden. He will be giving up his job in customer service to relocate to Cardigan in Ceredigion, on the west Wales coast. "I was so shocked when I heard I had won," said Mr Van Heerden. "It's surreal. I had a coffee and a sit down to take it all in."

Father-of-two Mr Morris set up Bookends in 2014 after decades working in the publishing industry. "I'd always thought Cardigan needed a book store and one night I was on eBay when I saw 18,000 books for sale - and it went from there." Two lorry trips later - and six days of shelf stacking - the shop was up and running and has hosted in-store appearances by poets and authors. However, with Mr Morris' osteoarthritis worsening over the years he reluctantly decided to call it a day - but wanted to sell it with a difference. For three months, people who spent more than £20 were entered into a raffle. "I didn't want to sell the shop and then see a chain take it over - I wanted it to stay a bookshop but give someone different a go," he said. "I figured a raffle would be good, because no-one loses. Even if they did not get the shop, they still have some great books to read."

On 1 September, number 33 was picked out of the hat to the tune of The Winner Takes It All by Abba in a packed bookshop. Its new owner Mr Van Heerden, known to friends as CJ, learned of his good fortune through a text message. He said he plans to run the shop with his friend Svaen Bjorn, from Iceland. The pair have been friends for the past nine years after meeting on the internet - but have never actually met face-to-face. "It might sound strange, but we can make it work and it is just an amazing opportunity," said Mr Van Heerden, ahead of the formal hand-over on 5 November.

[Oh, for the want of a raffle ticket!]