Sunday, 31 January 2016

Terry Wogan.

Terry Wogan passing today has brought up a lot of childhood memories.  On BBC Radio 2, he used to have the early morning slot.  When going to school, my brother and I used to have to make a bus for ten to eight and the family radio was never retuned from Radio 2, well until my teenage years at least.  So it was always our mother sending us out with Terry babbling away in the background.  He had a good sense of often zany humour and his presence on the airways seemed both rousing and reassuring.  In those years Wogan was, well, cheerful.  The three DJs that made up the running order in those days were Terry Wogan, Pete Murray and Jimmy Young.

Pete Murray moved on to other things and Wogan was promoted up the running order.  His banters with Jimmy Young were three minutes of nonsense that was always a pleasure to hear, sharpened was it was by mock-rivalry and thinly-veiled rudeness.  As I recall, his early slot became occupied by a fresh-faced young Celt by the name of Ken Bruce.

Terry then switched to television, first of all with Blankety-Blank and then his own peak-slot chat show.  I did miss him from the radio but television is where the big bucks are.  Looking back, Blankety-Blank was very much of it's time.  Even then it got some rough handling from the comics.  Jasper Carrott for instance doing a joke about the male prisoner, without female company for six months...

Perhaps I grew up, for when Wogan returned to the radio it wasn't the same.  I used to enjoy his sour Eurovision commentaries but eventually just got sick of his xenophobia.  Once the family moved to Ireland, we quickly released that Wogan wasn't too popular there.  His real name was Michael Wogan: apparently the change to Terry was to make him more palatable to Protestant audiences.  At least that is what was said.  One Irish friend this morning referred to his homophobia.  That bit passed me by but, given his age and background, would not surprise me.

So yes, I am sad today.  Condolences to his family and as for me, another piece of childhood has died.  Terry Wogan was, in his day, a great entertainer.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Holocaust Memorial Day, 2016.

On this day, Holocaust Memorial Day, let us remember those targeted for genocide.

The Jews were selected for extermination just because they are who they are.  Likewise the Gypsies and many disabled.

Let us not forget those who opposed and those who would not confirm to the Nazi ideals.  Homosexuals. Pacifists.  Communists. Freemasons. Resistance fighters from occupied lands and those who protected Jews.

Don't forget the slaves, shipped from Eastern Europe, from Holland, France and many other nations.  I am sure I have missed out many.

The evils that the Nazis promoted and carried out lives on, based upon those aspects of human nature that can be nurtured and turned to evil.  Hatred, indifference and ignorance to name but three.

That is why it is a duty of us all to actively promote the goodness in others.  It is not enough just to abstain from evil in oneself.

Genocide has not gone away.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Europe - Bridges to Everywhere

 Listening to Today, this morning there was a spokesman for the Vote Leave Campaign, John Moynihan.  When challenged by the figures of the cost of membership quoted on their campaign website, he had to admit that the listed figure was gross costs, and that the EU spends money in the UK, on farmer subsidies for example and, in a memorable phrase "the bridges to nowhere up in the far reaches of Scotland."

Congratulations John Moynihan.  You have just lost the Scottish vote and made clear your small nationalistic, Anglo-centric selfishness.

Let us examine this strand of thought.  As many readers will know, I grew up in England but also have an Irish background.  The first time I was in Ireland, in the late 1970s, even I as a teenager was shocked at the state of the roads in Ireland.  We did a grand tour of the Republic as Dad wanted to exercise his brand-new Alfa Romeo Sprint.  It was a great car for those roads.  Dual carriageway was rare.  A-Roads (T for trunk roads in Ireland) were single-carriageway and frequently dwindled to UK B-Road standards.  Growing up in East Anglia as I did, I had a good comparator to compare rural roads of the two nations.  Irish roads were definitely worse.

As a small digression, I still miss the old warning signs on Ireland's roads.  When there was a series of bends ahead, the first notice, painted directly on the road would be "SLOW,"  The next warning would read "SLOWER PLEASE."  Wonderful!

Returning to the point though, Ireland joined the European Common Market (ECC) at the same time as the UK.  It takes time to modernise a nation, even a small one.  When I returned to Ireland in the early 1990s, it was clear that the road-modernising program was well underway.  Many of the contractor's work signs had at the bottom "Funded by the European Union".

This level of investment was certainly a large part of the improvement of the Irish economy.  During the 1980s, EU investment and infrastructure-building was the only bright spot in an otherwise bleak picture.  When the economic policies changed, the investment made by the EU rapidly paid off.  The Celtic Tiger began to roar.

What, if anything, did this mean for the United Kingdom?  The UK is Ireland's major trading partner (accounting for about one third of Ireland's exchange);  a richer Ireland meaning greater trade.  It is worth noting also that in terms of economic free-trades indices, Ireland rates ninth overall in global free-trade economies: showing that it is perfectly possible to have the kind of freedom of trade that critics claim is being stifled by the European Union.  Even after the 2008 crash (brought about in large part by poorly-regulated over lending by banks), Ireland is now on the road to recovery, with economic growth in 2015 of about six percent, three times the European average.

Doubtless John Moynihan would have classed Ireland's EU road development schemes among the "bridges to nowhere" projects that he so readily dismissed this morning.  It goes to show though that with vision, dedication and patience, this kind of long-term spending pays off.  It's not just about the economic figures though: at it's heart it is about improving people's lives.   I have seen this again and again: in Portugal, Greece and Bulgaria, the EU backs infrastructure projects and, while it may take time, the quality of people's lives improve.  

That is the main reason why, despite its flaws, I passionately back the European Union.  At it's heart there is a vision of being part of a greater whole.  I don't like using the metaphor of a family but in terms of European, we share a common history and cultural values.  In spending funds from the Central European Fund to improve infrastructure and transport, we are looking after our own.   Don't believe me in this?  A good example is Jeremy Clarkson when he did his television series travelling across the continent.  Hardly a raving liberal, he pretty much came to the same conclusions on the commonality of Europe as I have here and, it was clear, that he surprised himself in doing so.

Even the current refugee crisis is an appeal to rise to our better natures.  While working in North Africa in the previous decade, I was talking with Tunisian colleagues and it became clear that they were looking to Europe as a role model for their own region's development.   These people may not be of the same European family but they are our neighbours and now much of the region is in deep trouble.  Europe has a duty to help, even if it is ultimately up to the people of the Near East to sort out their own problems.  It is certainly not the role of Europe to thwart peace by engaging in wars without end.

There is a nobility at the heart of the European Union.  Yes, there are great problems too but since when did that change?  The nobility is held within that vision of being one family.  Trading with each other, improving the lives of others and being there to help in times of crisis, such as now.

That is why I am a Briton and a European.  Vote to stay in the European Union and support a noble cause.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Washing Documents.

Following the tale of the washed lottery ticket allegedly worth £30million, I thought I would revisit my own trauma of launders documents from 2011.

 Paperwork has never been my forte.  So it proved on that particular Thursday.

At the start of the hitch the company flew me out by El Al; not and experience I particularly want to repeat.  The airline itself is no better than average; it was the questioning that I can live without.  The kind of questions that one gets with no other airline departing Heathrow.  When leaving Israel I put up with the questioning with good humour.  “Where have you been?”  “Who have you been meeting?”  “Do you have any friends in the Middle East?”  “Have you been given anything to carry with you today?”  “We are asking you these questions because we are afraid that you might have been given something which could be a bomb.”  In Israel I don’t mind for it is their country, they make the rules and frankly that is the reality of it.  But at Heathrow, I surprised myself at my own reaction.  This is my own country and there I stood, the same questions from the same dark-eyed kids; the same scans, the same swabbing of my luggage.  At least I was treated with smiles which I imagine is different to the treatment is given to Israel’s nearer neighbours.  I better understand the frustration of others.  

My time in Israel itself was remarkable in being a matter of routine.  Not so much happened and for once I did not go offshore for the four weeks I was there.  Instead I was down the port most days, cleaning and preparing the equipment for the next job which came up in the week I was due to leave.  Usually that would mean I would be staying on but not this time.  This time I had it all arranged and for once people had listened: I had given them over two months’ notice that during the October half-term I was to be taking the family to Cuba.  The holiday was booked and paid for.  Passenger details had been supplied; names, address and passport details.  Visas had been issued and I had to be home by Friday the 14th at the latest.  No ifs or buts.

Since my equipment when offshore on Tuesday the 11th of October, my work here was done.  So I contacted my office in Italy and asked them to rebook my ticket for the Tuesday or Wednesday.  My colleague Richard was already in country so everything was covered.  It was the Jewish New Year (I think, there are many bank holidays in Israel) but the point was that the flights were full.  Damn.  I asked the office to look out for cancellations and try to get me out on Thursday.  My original ticket was for early Friday morning so at least that was the last resort.  Except life is seldom that predictable.

There was no luck for me that Thursday.  No flights and what was worse, I had run out of clean clothing.  I just gathered it all together and threw it in one of the washing machines at the staff house.  I came down at four o’clock and looked in the machine.  Damn, I thought.  I had left some tissue in one of my pockets.  I looked closer.  That was no tissue; that was a Saudi visa.  Where was my passport?
It was with wide-eyed horror that I retrieved the tattered remains from my shorts pocket.  The cover and details section had survived reasonably well but the pages had been turned to papier-mâché.  I briefly toyed with the idea of turning up for the flight at the usual time and presenting this sorry ex-document.  Common sense kicked in after five minutes.  I started with a Google search for the British consulate and called the number.  Naturally, being a holiday it was closed.  The call was diverted to London.

“Hello, can you tell me please whether the consulate in Tel Aviv is open tomorrow?”  
“Are you in Israel?”
“Yes, my passport has been accidently destroyed and I have to fly out tomorrow.  I urgently need consulate help.”
“Well the consulate is in Jerusalem.”
This would have been an extremely major problem, especially when travelling from Haifa.  One would have to travel past the airport by several hours.
“Er, are you sure?  I am pretty certain it is in Tel Aviv.”
“Let me check.”
The Foreign Office lady came back several minutes later.
“You are right,” she said in a rather sheepish voice.  I got the address and directions from her.  If I appeared first thing in the morning I could have an emergency passport in only four hours.  Great, but it meant that that after all the trying to get on those El Al flights earlier in week, I was to miss the one I was actually booked on.  That meant that the next call was to my manager Nikos.  I had some explaining to do.

“Nikos, I’m in trouble.”  I explained the situation and realised that I was asking the company to bail me out. They would have been quite within there rights to book me on a later flight departing over or even after the weekend at no extra charge.   “I guess I’ll have to pay for the ticket since I have to be home tomorrow.  It was my own stupid fault.”
“You’ll pay for it yourself?”
“Yep.”
“Okay, send through your card details and we’ll do our best.”
Next was setting up the taxi another round of explanation to the local engineer-in-charge.  Then I realised I would have to contact the tour company: after all the vacation was booked with the now trashed passport.  Oh if the Cuban authorities kicked up, it could be a very short vacation.

There were plenty of other calls I had to make but one of them was not to Mrs V.  I could imagine how that conversation would go.  Darling, I wrecked my passport so you just go to Cuba without me.  No, that would be a call too far.  Besides, I had an ace up my sleeve; a second passport at home.  Once the tour company had its details I had a fighting chance.  Better then to keep the stress levels to myself rather than share the misery.

Next morning I made it to the Tel Aviv consulate but not before the taxi had dropped me at the wrong location.  Cursing, I walked the mile or so with luggage to the right office block but still made it in time before the consulate opened.  It transpired afterwards the taxi driver wasn’t a sadistic idiot: the UK embassy was having a refit and the consulate department had taken up temporary accommodation.  The staff though were very understanding, sympathetic and, more to the point efficient.  I had an emergency passport in less than three hours.

Now an emergency passport is a strange beast.  It looks just like a normal passport but the cover is white and not the usual burgundy colour.  It is issued for a limited time and this piece of paperwork is good only until one reaches the UK, upon which it is to be surrendered to the immigration official.  It proved to be a source of some puzzlement and entertainment to the kids questioning me at Ben Gurion Airport.  
“Why is your passport white?”
“It is an emergency passport.”
“Why do you have an emergency passport?”
“Because this is my original passport.”  I present the small plastic bag containing the earthly remains of what used to be my valid travel document.

Some of them were quicker on the uptake and said “Ah, laundry” but others were not so astute and demanded a full explanation of yesterday’s events.  My voice began to get rather tired but finally I was allowed to board after more than the usual questions, scans and swabs.  It was a blessed relief to board a British Airways flight.

Sure enough, at Heathrow the official at Immigration, with some ceremony, declared that the brief life of my white passport had come to its end.  Like a mayfly it lived for just a day and was now spent.  Which would have left me in another world of trouble if that was the only identification I had with me.  The onward flight to Edinburgh awaited and I still had to prove myself there.  Sure enough, ID was demanded so I am glad that for internal flights, a driver’s licence will still suffice.

It was Friday midnight before I got home but it was only on Sunday afternoon, after I successfully passed through Cuban immigration that I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.  
I never did get around to telling Mrs V.  Unless she reads this of course…..  


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

New Year, New Politics?

It gets a bit wearing sometimes.  It was a narrow failure to convince fellow Liberal Democrats to stop fudging over Trident renewal.  I was watching an online feed when the vote was taken at conference.  When it was realised it was close, many changed their minds and swung behind the leadership.

Perhaps given the current Liberal Democrat situation, many would see that all this is academic.  I believe it is a sign that that party is still following opinion of what the leadership thinks will make us electable.  If one lesson from the current political landscape are to be learned it is this: say what you truly think and be genuine.  This is the situation both to the right and left of the political spectrum.  Compare the situation in the USA, where although the media coverage is going to Donald Trump, on the left it is Bernie Sanders making the running.  Neither of these individuals are pandering to political wisdom.  Agree with them or not, they are leaving their opponents behind.

One does not have to look so far afield.  Jeremy Corbyn pulled the same trick to win the Labour leadership.  I say "pulled the same trick" although in reality, the trick is that there is no trick.  Cameron, for all his flaws, is not stupid.  Hence he can get away will ill-thought out policies such as cutting support for green energy and singling out Muslim women with the threat of extradition.  He can do this because he his fulfilling his pre-election pledge of "ruling like a true Tory."

Saying "the safe thing" in order to get elected is dead and so it should be.  Outrage is more the order of the day.  That does not mean that we can now just political parties at their word.  The sin is often one of omission.  It is often far more useful to look at the areas where politicians are not talking about.  Neither the SNP nor the Conservatives are keen to talk about crisis in the energy industry.  Both are far more keen to focus on the current civil war in the Labour Party.

It is very interesting to watch the travails of Corbyn as he takes on the inertia of the British establishment.  It cannot be a surprise to him that the Labour Party has a large shared responsibility in this: after all a two party system gives a huge motivation to the largest two parties to keep things as they are.  What may be a greater surprise to those on the left is how much resistance the unions are putting up to change.  Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, has been telling anybody who listens that Trident must go ahead simply to protect his members' jobs.  Now I have heard reasons to uphold the ownership of weapons of mass destruction before, but jobs is a morally indefensible one.  I wonder how that would also square up to his offer of being the SNP's "critical friend" in Scotland, a party that speaks against austerity but does nothing but practice it at home?  I think it is safe to say that McCluskey has outed himself as being a very small 'c' conservative and regressive figure, posing as a firebrand leftie.

So that is my pledge for 2016: just say it as I see it.  It seems that it is an approach with is increasingly, although not universally catching on,

Friday, 8 January 2016

Car Parking at Edinburgh Airpot: A Fee Too Far?

This isn't the first time it has happened.  Going to pick up somebody at Edinburgh airport, check their live arrivals webpage, see that the flight is marked "scheduled" and then, upon entering the International Arrivals area, check the board only to find the flight has been delayed by some time: certainly more than enough to bump up the car parking charges into the next tier or even two.



These circumstances happened to me, again, last night and I've had enough.  The last time I  tweeted Edinburgh airport (@EDI_airport) but probably because I was rather impolite in my tone (I believe the phrase "taking the piss" may have been used), it is not surprising that I received no reply.

This time I am being more serious.  Below is a copy of the letter I sent this morning to Edinburgh Airport in which I raise the following issues;


  • Accuracy and timely updating of their live arrives webpage http://www.edinburghairport.com/flights/live-flight-arrivals
  • The impact of late information upon those collecting people.
  • The possibility of the airport's conflict of interest in providing timely information with the profits being made on short-term car parking.
  • The larger question on Edinburgh Airport and the effective local monopoly it holds, which allows it to charge effectively what it thinks it can get away with.


To be fair, I have only sent the letter this morning so Edinburgh airport has not even seen it yet, never mind  had a chance for a considered response.  Even so, I believe that they do have a case to answer with their policy of car park charging.  They even charge for merely picking up passengers from the multi-storey car park zone.  Since there cannot be any local competition, this is effectively a monopoly situation.

If you have been in a similar situation or have other issues with access to Edinburgh Airport, I would encourage you to not remain silent but to get in contact with them, either through their webpage edinburghairport.com/feedback or by writing to them at  

Customer Services
Burnside Building
Edinburgh Airport
EH12 9DN

You will be very welcome to leave a comment on this blog if any of this rings a bell with you.  Speaking for myself, I am really fed up of being ripped off.

Below is my letter:

Dear Customer Services Executive,


Yesterday evening I had to come out to Edinburgh Airport in order to collect my daughter.  She was travelling as an unaccompanied minor on the last KLM flight of the evening: KL1293, 7th of January, scheduled arrival time of 22:10hrs.

At 20:00hr of Thursday evening, I checked Edinburgh Airport live arrivals website, which informed me that the flight was due to arrive as scheduled.  I checked again at 21:30hrs, before departing the house.  Again the website read as "scheduled" for this particular flight.

When meeting an unaccompanied minor, I understand that we as parents have to be there at the appropriate time in order to complete the legal handover with airport staff.  Therefore I ensured that I was at the airport at 22:15hrs, five minutes after the scheduled arrival time.

It was therefore to my considerable consternation that upon entering the arrivals hall, the board shows that KL 1293 has been delayed, with an expected new arrival time of 22:54hrs.  

Why is it that the "live" flight information provided by Edinburgh Airport is so badly wrong?  Regretfully, a cynic might suggest that your company has a vested interest in not updating your website in a timely manner, and that is because of the excessive car-parking charges that are made.

For parking one hour twenty minutes, I was charged the same as for three-hours: £10.90.  It is not as if we have any choice.  There is not an alternative airport in East Lothian competing for business.  Your company is operating what is effectively a local monopoly.

If Edinburgh Airport provides information, as you do, then there is a duty of care to ensure it is both accurate and timely.  This is not being done.  I wish I could say that this was an isolated event.  The fact that similar incidents have arisen in the past is one reason I am writing to you now.

If you had provided accurate and timely information on your website, I would have departed later and thus would not have incurred such excessive charges.  Thus I enclose my car park ticket in the hope that you have the decency to refund the difference between charges of over one hour and under this time.

I believe that this particular incident illustrates a wider public interest debate as to Edinburgh Airport's policy of exorbitant car parking fees.  I understand there is a green imperative on ensuring reduction of private transport usage.  I also understand that Edinburgh Airport is a business with a duty to make a profit.  The debate lies upon whether your company is, frankly, milking the situation.  I publish a blog and will be writing an article on the issue.

Yours sincerely,

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Burnt Out Car - Crammond Foreshore

Yesterday evening I was taking a walk with Mrs. Veart along the Silverknowes prominade. As we approached Crammond, we came across this sad sight.



I think it was a BMW One Series and it is a bad end for such a fine car.

Since there were no Police Aware stickers or tape, I reported the wreck to Edinburgh Police, just in case no one else has reported it.  The car must have been passed hundreds of times during the day, so I sincerely hope I am not the first to call it in.

If you do come across such incidents and unsure whether the police have been notified, please do not pass on by but take a few minutes to report it by calling 101.