That awkward moment when… You do not have the answers

Needless to say I’m not a happiest person in the universe at the moment.

I am a little too disappointed in my country to even want to talk about it. But there is plenty of time for that. After all, despite what many people seem to be assuming the UK has not actually left the EU yet, and the government has put off the act of invoking article 50 to at least October. So plenty of time to stock up with cheap booze on the continent before Christmas I guess.

Seriously though, I’m sure there are some twists to come yet.

Now it is a time for being calm, let negotiations happen and stamp down hard on the racism that appears to be insidiously creeping into some parts of the country. Out of date patriotism I might be able to put up with, I’m not going to put up with hate crime of any sort.

Good people – do not stand by and let bad things happen. It is our responsibility and scary as it may be, we must not shirk it.

What is on my heart this week is the younger generation. I had a really informed, sensible conversation at the weekend with an eleven year old over the referendum result. He was very concerned and wondered what it meant for him, someone who had no say in the matter and will not get that say for some years yet. What struck me was (1) how much more informed he seemed to be than many of the adults in this country I’ve spoken to and (2) how much I wanted to be able to do what adults normally can do when children ask big questions.

By that I mean reassure them, explain to them what will happen as the voice of experience and allow them to get back to worrying about the next set of mock exams, or whether Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston really are now a couple. But in this case I had nothing to say, as I do not know what is going to happen next and what the repercussions will really be for someone who is eleven at the moment. After all, I do not know what the impact is going to be on the Lovely Wife and myself, as someone whose job is mostly centred around Europe.

So I had to admit this. My young friend understood, but I do not think it made him any happier.

But does makes me a little happier is that in the twenty somethings and below have a very different world view to my age group and older, and a more positive attitude towards people of other countries (or indeed to other things that traditionally separate people from the ‘not we’). It is not always the case of course and I am not criticising the old. But I do believe that it is different.

Now I’m not trying to prove a point here – this is only anecdotal based on personal experience/ But thanks to previous youth work and the prolific breeding of friends I have the pleasure of knowing a large number of young people pretty well. And in their different ways they are wonderful bundles of potential and not encumbered by the same kind of baggage that I feel I carry around with me.

It may take some time, but if we can limit the damage and stop the younger generation form becoming disillusioned – a hard task, but one I’m going to focus as much personal effort on as I can – I believe things will get better when they are in control.

To my young friends – please do not prove me wrong on this (as I am on so many other things, it seems). Watch and learn from our mistakes – and successes – you owe a lot to your parents and previous generations and there have been good decisions as well as bad (take advantage of hindsight!). Stand united with each other. I need you to hold each other’s hands through social media and other tools that we now have that can remove the separation and isolation that we might otherwise fall into.

For many years I have worried about the loss of ‘community’ in this country that I remember seeing as a child, and in many places that has indeed gone, and to some detriment. But looking at it a different way there is a growing community of young people that is not based on which country you were born in or what sex you are (and/or think you should be). It is potentially the most beautiful thing, but only if the younger generation can seize its potential and make it a reality.

As for the old fossils like me I am reminded of one of my favourite T shirts that features a cartoon dinosaur shouting

‘Save Yourself Mammal! We will fend off the asteroids!’

I’ll do what I can to help, but some of you need to grab your future and start moulding it into something we can all be proud of.


Decisions, Decisions

I do not usually like being even remotely controversial – I’m a conflict avoider by nature after all. But even I cannot avoid making some comment on Thursday’s Referendum. It is too important – so here goes my pub conversation opinion (and that’s all it is…)

I do not like referendums. By nature they boil things down to what seems a simple question, when things are never that easy. It then asks people to make a decision that the majority are not really equipped to make because of the level of complexity and the need for specialist knowledge that most of us simply do not have (nor should we normally need it).

I am in a rare position in that most of my work revolves around EU regulation and how that happens but most people are not so well informed. But if you ask me about economics and I’ll probably look blankly back at you and defer to people I know who work in that area (and I do not mean politicians, I mean the people who actually work in that area, as usually the experts are in Industry in my experience).

But a Referendum is what we have and we will all have to live with what the people decide (whatever that is) and the implications, whether this be continued engagement with the rest of the EU and the compromises that will inevitably bring on UK policy (as it would in any trade agreement of course), or the uncertainties that a Leave vote will bring. I subscribe to the view that neither course is clear and anyone who says that it is probably selling something.

I normally fiercely protect my political views – it is a secret ballot for a reason – but for me I do not see this as a political vote (difficult to be when the major parties at least formally all back one side). And anyone who has actually discussed this with me knows I will be voting to Remain.

I believe that way people will vote will be based on a mixture of general attitude, whatever access they have to (the limited and insufficient) data and an unhealthy(?) dose of ‘what is best for me.’

Certainly I cannot say I am not impacted with that. As someone whose job is technical regulatory convergence (a slow and painful process at the best of times) to support something that at least sets up the environment for divergence post exit would be hypocritical in the extreme. A UK exit will impact me negatively both in terms of finance, and while I do not think would threaten my job it would certainly complicate it and make it more difficult. There are some things I am prepared to fall on my sword for, but not the political ambitions of certain players, scaremongering on immigration (for goodness sake, this country would not run if people did not come here and some of the most positive places in the world I have been built on positive acceptance of immigration) or some misplaced sense of ‘regained sovereignty’.

More importantly – I’ve spent the last twenty four years working with people from all over Europe, in industry but also with groups such as the Commission and other EU ‘institutions’. And with very few exceptions that period has been a rewarding and enriching experience and the friendship and togetherness I have felt with many of those people is extremely important to me. The world’s problems cannot and will not be solved by separatism – I challenge anyone to tell me how that is going to work. So fundamentally I cannot do anything but personally reject the philosophy of a Leave vote.

Everyone must vote based on their own reasoning (although for goodness sake please do vote one way or the other, it is too damn important not to).

But, for the record, I’m IN.


[On some aspects I am less familiar with – which incidentally came to me via the weirdest source – a shared post from aging Leftie Folk rockers Oysterband on facebook – a talk from someone more informed than I if you have a spare 25 minutes]

Up (dating) the Garden

Before I start rambling, is it only us that have been surprised by a lack of swallows and martins this year? The swifts normally arrive last, but they suddenly turned up without their normal precursors. Maybe not be anything, but the skies do seem a bit emptier than normal this year.

This year he garden has not been as interesting as in the summer of 2015. If you recall, we had two sets of guests move in, one welcome, one less so. We are fairly sure that the Great Tits that were nesting in the soil pipe from the bathroom fledged successfully, despite the magpies knowing exactly where the best was – but unable to get into the pipe to get the fledglings (incidentally, we do not hold anything against the magpies – the poor things have had their own nest predated by the local pair of crows, so what goes around comes around). The less welcome visitation was the wasp nest in the loft, which caused a certain amount of concern in whether they would bother us and the neighbours in the garden or worse perhaps find their way into the house – I still remember coming home to the house I was sharing at the time to find my bedroom literally crawling with dead and dying wasps (my erstwhile housemate at the time had arranged for them to be fumigated but had failed to either tell me and/or check they could not find their way into the house. But then he was an idiot.

As it happened our small stripy lodgers behaved themselves pretty well and did not seem to give us any reason not to live and let live in this case, which made the Lovely Wife and I happy – wasps are fascinating creatures and very useful in the garden except when determined to get into your Pimms or later in the season when they are effectively starving and go a bit nuts.

So far there has not been much sign that anyone is taking up on our garden’s offer of accommodation, although according to the Lovely Wife the bird box we put up in the apple tree was inspected by some of our feathered friends (albeit then turned down). It is now getting quite late in the season, and indeed the one thing we are starting to see is parent birds bringing fledglings into the garden and introducing them to the joys of bird feeders (no more caterpillars for you chaps, its sunflower seeds and fat balls from now on). Starlings and sparrows for the moment but hopefully we will get some more species with their juveniles in tow soon. They are always a cause for some hilarity as like teenagers the poor young birds have not quite worked out what all their limbs are for or how the ‘system’ works – and like many young humans as well are so keen to get their beaks on the food that they have not really taken the time to see how mum has obtained the treats in the first place… At least for a while, until the adult birds get so irritated with their offspring’s lack of getting their act together that they stop feeding them and youngster has to learn or starve. Generally we do not go down that path ourselves in functional families (that’s called being a college student I think) but I wonder if there is a temptation sometimes.

So not a vintage year so far but plenty of time for things to improve still, we are fairly sure our resident fox is a young vixen and she has been missing for a while so (thinking positively) maybe she is rearing cubs. Our pond may yet give up some new frogs to try and avoid catching in the lawn mower. The arrival of a band of badgers however will have to remain locked firmly in the land of fantasy, however.

Happy Five Hundredth Birthday, DWM

One of the things that popped through the letterbox when I was away (OK, was handed to the Lovely Wife as it was considerably too big to get through the slot) was a mysterious large, flat parcel that when shown to me via Facetime to inspired a complete lack of recognition on my part. This is unusual; although I am certainly guilty of buying too much stuff from on line retailers I can usually keep track of what I had ordered and when it was likely to arrive, but I was drawing a blank on this one.

Turns out I had to wait until I got back from Asia to find out it was actually a bumper issue of Doctor Who Magazine (from here on referred to as DWM) which has turned in issue 500.

I have no embarrassment in revealing I’m a subscriber and while the tidal wave of BBC merchandise that has appeared related to the series since it came back on television in 2005 has rather washed over me – I still have trouble believing just how much Who related stuff is out there – this is one thing that I have stuck with. And it has been a long relationship. The first issue I picked up was in 1979 – issue three, in those days you never actually found out about such things existing except by stumbling across them in a shop which nowadays even I feel strange looking back on considering targeted internet advertising making it harder to avoid knowing there is something you could spend you hard earned pocket money on. But there it was, Tom Baker on the cover being menaced by a (not actually that menacing) ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ class cyberman (as an aside I have now just educated my spellchecker that ‘cyberman’ is a thing) lurking in a newsagent in Blyth in Northumberland, in October Half Term. Thoughts of sweets or some Spiderman comic vanished in an instant and I pounced. The relationship was off to a good start, and it is still going strong.

Love of DWM is almost a separate thing to a shared love with the rest of the leadership of the programme. The best way I can put it is that over the next 497 issues (plus specials!) I’ve grown up with this magazine and reading the celebratory 500th issue it brings it home quite sharply – I know all the in jokes as well as the contributors, probably better, because the best in jokes are ones that are subtle and known only to those who think themselves clever enough to notice. I suspect younger readers are somewhat flummoxed by this month’s exercise in nostalgia but I don’t really care. This month is not for them, it is for long term followers like me who had my parents subscribe to it from issue 4 and who now automatically renews his own subscription – and probably always will until it folds.

Why such loyalty to a magazine? Well, part of it is Who off course, but I think at the moment the magazine speaks straight to me. It is written for adult fans and most of the people writing for it, as well as the people actually making the programme are within a decade either way of myself; similar touchstones. Perhaps more importantly during the wilderness years – 1989-2005 with a blip in 1996 – DWM, together with the Virgin New Adventures novels was the main crutch for fans like me that were missing the programme that we loved. Endlessly creative in finding ways of filling the gap when there was nothing really new to report it rarely felt padded and if anything it seemed quite odd when the programme came back with so much publicity – and certainly they are playing an interesting game in featuring the new stuff but not neglecting the old that aged fans like me still want to see covered – and it is an important game as they cannot afford to upset the old timers. Like any specialist restaurant or pub you might patronise (in the proper sense of the word) the casual purchasers are what gives you profit, but it is the regulars that keep you afloat. A pub without regulars will usually fail at some point, and a specialist magazine without subscribers will go the same way; thankfully my favourite magazine seems good at playing the long game.