Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Are we integrated? Are we part of the EU?

Do you ever wonder what the British look like from deep within the European Union? I have inside information. I have a secret friend based in Stockholm (yes Sweden is part of the EU, and no, it does not embrace the Euro).

My friend, Björn Runngren, can be succinct. Here's his current view:

"The Scottish are leaving the UK, the UK is leaving the EU, the EU is leaving the UK."

He claims that the 27 member states of the European Union have demanded a referendum on whether Britain should be allowed to stay in. Unbelievable.

He accompanied these observations with a picture of our queen in disarray which I am not including for fear of offence, and a sequence of quotes from establishment figures within continental Europe. I have censored some of these, once again, for fear of causing offence. These remain:
·         EU President Herman Van Rompuy said: “What exactly does Britain bring to the EU anyway, apart from of course your wonderful financial centre that destroyed all our economies a few years ago?”
·         Jose Triano of Madrid said: “An entire area of Spain – we call it the Costa del Crime – is a no-go area for ordinary people because of aged Brits reminiscing about the Krays while sucking up our health service like Bermuda-shorted vampires.”
·         German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Despite our difficulties, Britain does have a very important role within the EU. “ It unites the rest of us in loathing.”
Fortunately, I was abroad when his missive arrived. Not abroad in the sense of leaving these shores. No, I was out in the rain, on my bicycle, experiencing the incredibly multicultural and integrated slice of Oxford that borders the Cowley Road. My trip turned out to be so relevant to the missive from Stockholm. I did not respond directly to my friend's report, Instead I simply let my my experience of that evening speak for itself.


I am flabbergasted. I thought that we were a key part of Europe; after all we did once rule the world, sort of.

Anyway, I have just come home from the pub and wanted to contact you to describe my outing.

Tonight I went first to the Star public house near the famous Cowley Road which has everything from a Russian Supermarket to a Caribbean restaurant (Aren't we integrated).

The Star had two beers on handpump from a brewery called Compass. The brewer is a SWEDE (Mattias Sjöberg). The pub was OK (devoted to drinking and playing games). Beer, rather good and, for the UK (excluding Scotland) quite cheap.

Then, off to the James Street Tavern [my friend has been there] for an evening of Scandinavian music (how integrated is that? (And they have Galician music there sometimes (how integrated is that?)).

By my count, there were: seven violinists, two tin whistles, three accordionists, one finger-fiddle, and a bag piper (is that normal? Will he be ousted after the Scottish referendum?). The music was something we would call folky. Nice, but a little repetitive. The musicians easily outnumbered the audience.

I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman called Simon. He was the partner of one of the many violinists (she was also an acupuncturist). He was from New Zealand and last year survived the Bull Run at Pamplona, Spain (how integrated is that?)

I cycled home through the floods which were apparently caused by gay people getting married under the influence of the UK Independence party and passed the UKIP strong hold of Bongo-Bongo land as I wobbled home. 

Just another interesting evening out in Oxford, Central England, United (with certain exceptions) Kingdom.

We are soooo integrated.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Pub Philosophy

There are many things going on in Oxford, as you can imagine. Last night I went to a meeting called Philosophy in Pubs. It was held in a pub of sorts: The Jam Factory.

It was raining so I could not cycle to the pub. I walked, arrived late, got wet. I bought a pint of beer for a staggering price of £4. Not an auspicious start.

The subject for debate was "Is it wrong for parents to genetically engineer their children?"
The organiser, a nice chap called Ben Clark, listed some things to think about:

·         Was it acceptable for two deaf parents to engineer their child to be deaf so that he or she fits into the family?
·         Was cosmetic genetic engineering OK?
·         Would designed children be critical of the genetic choices made by their parents?

We split into groups, discussed. Had another drink. Mixed up the groups - had more discussion.
It is an interesting and topical topic. My groups came up with lots of ideas for genetic changes like: X-ray vision, growing wings, growing replacement limbs and organs, anti-aging, beauty, and increased empathy.
Anti-aging was interesting. It started with the idea of immortality, but this was quickly dismissed because people would become bored to death and there would be just too many of us. But if your children could arrest the development of their bodies at say twenty years, yet still die at say ninety wouldn't that be good?
As to beauty, it was feared that we might all get to look the same: quintessential beauty. But then everyone would get bored so beauty fashion would change.

I found it interesting that the young man who opted for increased empathy received, and actually answered, four calls on his mobile phone whilst we were talking.

The idea of enforced deafness in a deaf family revolted most people: "condemning your child never to hear Mozart" was one reaction.

Some thought that genetic engineering would only be for the rich. Undoubtedly, it would be to begin with. But technology prices always tend to fall dramatically (mobile phones, cars, dishwashers, computers) and the rich subsidise that fall to an extent.

I told my group of Ken Dodd's desire for a mouth on top of his head so that on train journeys he could put his sandwiches in his hat, put the hat on his head, and eat his lunch without embarrassment. The group was unimpressed and not at all amused. Perhaps they could not understand why Ken was shy about eating his sandwiches in a crowded train.

At the end a vote was taken, but by then it had become clear that none of the questions posed had a simple yes/no answer. It was an interesting discussion though, not the least to observe the interaction between self-styled philosophical people.

I will go to another of these philosophy in the pub sessions - providing that I can save up enough for a pint of beer. Maybe I could link philosophy into the pub I run in my bookshop (currently being considered for renovation).

P.S. Searching my memory and the web I find that a pint of beer when I left school in 1963 was 10p (in new money). That's a one fortieth of the £4 pint. Mind you, my weekly pay as an apprentice was just £5. I suppose we must be philosophical about inflation.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Limericks, books and a new year dawning

Christmas has come and gone and a new year has just begun. My greatest disappointment was that I lost the Christmas day limerick writing competition. I thought my effort was quite good, but it did not attract even one vote from the other competitors, not one. Later I heard that tactical voting had been employed. Either way we will not be playing that game again next year. Here's my entry, which you can judge for yourself.

3d characters isolated on white background series Stock Photo - 7026400
There once were some gangsters from Buckingham
Who stole children's sweets and liked sucking 'um
To stop this shebang
They arrested the gang
And transported the lot of 'um to Birmingham

I also did badly in the quiz (I foolishly chose my topic as Spain, the others had the good sense to select a more limited subject) and even worse at the poetry reading. It's not all about winning though: the drink, the food, the karaoke and the magic was good.

The build up to Christmas was good too: an excellent carol concert in a central Oxford Church, carol singing in the street with other guides to raise money for a hospice (then off to the pub), a wonderful party to celebrate Geraldine's 90th birthday, a walk through a storm with a good friend followed by many beers in a pub with a log fire, and a nativity play in which my grandson played Joseph.

Looking further back, 2013 was a good year for travel with visits to Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia. Not forgetting Spain, of course, where work on my caseta took a bit of a leap forward with completion of two ceilings, a roof and the terrace. I also completed my sci-fi book (3D Futures) and launched it on Kindle where it picked up a couple of good reviews. I've also read some great books. Outstanding for me were:

  • The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes - about the colonization of Australia.
  • Stoner: a novel by John Williams.
  • The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama.
  • American Rust: a novel by Philipp Mayer.
  • Dorothy Hodgkin A Life By Georgina Ferry - Dorothy discovered the structure of insulin, etc.
  • Sick Notes by Dr Tony Copperfield - a medical doctor's account of modern day practice.
  • Walking the Lions: a novel by Stephen Burgen.

I finished the last book at two in the morning today, the first day of 2014 - after dancing and singing Auld Lang Syne at a local pub. It was excellent; I really could not put this book down even though I had to buy it as a paper book rather than reading it on my Kindle. It tells a complex story based in Barcelona and around. It contains: sex, violence, blackmail, betrayal, corruption, manipulation, love, intrigue, and an excellent explanation of the Spanish reticence with regard to the civil war. It's one of those books that you cannot stop reading, yet are disappointed when it ends because you want to go on even though the ending is perfectly satisfying. Thanks Sue and John for commending it to me.

Now I need to start writing. I've dithered for too long between commencing the second book of 3D Futures and carrying on with my Margaret Thatcher in conversation with Dorothy Hodgkin thing. I've decided to do the latter first - bit scary though.