GET Ready!

GARC1.jpg

A Skype call with the boys in Grenada this morning revealed that that they face an early test of their decision making. A weather system is heading into the Lower Antilles which may develop into a tropical cyclone and is expected around midweek, (you can follow tropical storms and hurricanes here). They now need to decide whether to make a start tomorrow and get a leg or even two under their belts or wait until next weekend after it blows over. Most locals think it is coming except one old boy who resolutely expects it to miss them....... his earnest thoughts were dismissed by his wife who remarked "That's what you said about Hugo,''

Another unforeseen technical hiccup sees them short of about 100 litres of storage space leaving them to decide what to leave behind. Some of their dehydrated rations won't make the trip and they have been making enquiries to see if some helpful yachtsman heading north might take a bag with spare kit and silver packets of dehydrated food up to one of the other islands for them................ good luck with that one lads!

Otherwise all is well. The locals have been most helpful, (if somewhat bemused), sponsors decals are on the boat.... (I think they need to give her a name), and charitable donations continue to come in so thank you to all for your kind contributions and messages of support.

For anyone who missed their Facebook update this morning..... here it is,

So after months and months of preparation we are finally out here in Grenada!

After both arriving on Thursday and negotiating the delights of airport customs - for some reason George created a bit of a stir with the customs officers when he turned up with his 7 bags of equipment - we have since been unbelievably busy getting ready for the off.

Friday morning was spent collecting the kayak from Grenada's commercial port. This involved being bounced from enquiries, to security, to customs, to brokers, to more customs, back to security, and finally to the port storage warehouse. Here, after many stomach churning blank responses from the managers as we asked for what we could only assume would be a fvcking great big box, we finally found our vessel tucked nice and inconspicuously out the back.

A bemused truck driver helped us deliver it back to our poor host's house, aptly named Hard Landings after his career in the RAF. Since then it has been hard at work sorting, prepping and packing our kit and testing our equipment. Check out some of the kit we are using here.

This morning we spent time customizing the kayak and adding our sponsors details to make it look like a proper expedition boat. Check out some of our sponsors on the website here.

And this afternoon, finally, we got out on the water for a paddle. The Caribbean is average. But we think the kayak looks cool... 

(as they say in the movies.......'boys, this shit just got real..)

(as they say in the movies.......'boys, this shit just got real..)

The plan is to set off in a few days time. We have more preparation to do in the meantime and have been told Grenada's national news want to interview us tomorrow!?.. Monday is the proposed date of departure, although this may slip to Tuesday. Our only concern at the moment is the depression developing over the Atlantic heading our way - these things often turn into tropical storms, in which case we will have to batten down the hatches for a few days and wait it out.. 

More to follow! Check out our new Instagram account: goldenarcexpedition

 

David Batcup

Many years ago, I stood outside a wedding marquee sipping some water and going over in my mind the best man's speech I was to give a couple of hours later. I had long since discovered the perils of imbibing too much before such occasions and was determined that this one would go well. A cheery fellow suddenly appeared and thrust a glass of champagne in my free hand,.

'How is it going, all sorted for the speech?'.

'Well,' I said, 'Yes, but I'm unusually nervous. Toughest crowd I've ever faced. I've never spoken in front of a couple of hundred solicitors, barristers, QC's and judges before.'.

'Don't worry old boy,' he said. 'Half of them will be pissed and the other half will just be pleased it's you and not them up there. It'll all be fine.... cheers!'.

That man was the irrepressible David Batcup. David was cruelly snatched from us last week, a casualty of a high speed hit and run incident in South London. To call David a close friend would be wide of the mark but I was fortunate enough to share many lunches and dinners with him over the past twenty five or so years with our mutual chum who was the groom that day. David was always a joy to break bread with. His ebullient presence never ceased to lift those around him and his unflagging enthusiasm and interest in everyone he met was an example to us all in how to behave and conduct ourselves. .

When I worked in an office close to the Old Bailey I would occasionally bump into him in the street, pulling along his case on wheels containing his robes and files as all the barristers tend to do. He started every sentence with, 'I'm late......' before spending the next ten minutes inquiring after my wellbeing and that of the family. David was an utter and complete gentleman. 'Life has been the richer for knowing him,' is a somewhat overplayed phrase but in David's case it seems totally inadequate. .

His loss is a wretched thing. I find no mitigation or comfort in platitudes. The memory of the man however, is warm and affectionate and will always be so.

 

Libya; Ho Hum......

A 49 page parliamentary report from the Foreign Affairs Committee published today draws some pretty damming conclusions on David Cameron's ill advised and poorly planned and executed foray into Libya in 2011. 

Drawing all the critical strands together in the report we can neatly summarise them with the technical phrase which is often used on these occasions, it was a clusterfxck.

The failure of the half hearted enterprise was hard coded in it's very inception. We had no business being there and the policy of doing so at minimum political and military risk with no thought to nation building at the conclusion of the operation was either naive or simply stupid. Perhaps it was both. 

Now, Crumble is no Kissinger and I hate to say I told you so....... but I told you so. In what I thought at the time were some pretty good posts, I repeatedly articulated what was plain to any passing bystander but not to the genius's in Whitehall who failed to soak in any lessons from other recent interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and seemed oblivious to events in the rest of the Middle East. Sometimes I think you could hammer six inch nails into their foreheads and it wouldn't make any difference to their ability to reason.

Just for the record, here are the posts from February to August 2011,

Unrest in Libya and Haslemere                      February 22nd, 2011

Libya; The Wrong Issue For Britain                March 4th 2011 

Libya; No-Fly Zone Issues                               March 11th 2011

Libya; Who's The Nutty One?                         March 31st 2011

Libya; Straight Talking At Last                       April 4th 2011

Another Fine Mess.........                                 April 14th 2011 

Libya; Coalition Fragments                            July 15th 2011

Bless                                                                August 23rd 2011

What is to be done then to assist the Prime Minister of the day in making a balanced foreign policy decision thereby avoiding reckless interventions such as Libya. We can't go on leaving entire countries in a bigger mess than they were before we turned up uninvited. In my view, the Prime Minister needs a sanity check mechanism in his decision making process. One that is unencumbered with domestic political or career mindsets and definitely no policy wonks straight from the PPE course at Oxford. What I have in mind is a panel of six or eight clever folk who have an expertise in looking at problems in four dimensions, obliquely and from the inside out. They could be specialists in given fields but it isn't a hard requirement. Their task on being given a briefing paper would simply be to figure out the unintended consequences if the paper became policy. Their job would be to ask the 'what if's?' that others are either too timid, too inexperienced or too stupid to ask. Their input might just assist the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet in coming to better judged decisions, or at least be more conversant with risk. The team could work from a basement in Whitehall or from their home locations. All they need is the highest security clearance, be politically agnostic and without any career ambition in government. You could say that I've just described MI6 but that hasn't worked out so well over the past twenty years has it?  

Back to the blog in 2011 and this post,  Libya, The Black Watch & Spike was my favourite, mostly because of this concluding line from Spike Milligan, 'How long was I in the Army?...... Five foot eleven!'

The Lost Boys

Supposedly clever people in positions of responsibility and influence in politics and the media are getting themselves into something of a lather about the introduction of more grammar schools. The debate is characterised with the usual entrenched political dogma from all the usual suspects but it does not deserve the attention and focus that it is receiving in the context of the broader educational debate. Just as we might have anticipated, in circling the wagons around grammar schools areas of more immediate concern are simply being ignored.  That is, they are all arguing about the wrong question.

I have suggested on this blog many times over the past six years that social mobility is more challenged now than at any time since the late seventies. Simply put, those who did well over the past thirty odd years pulled the ladder up behind them. While more grammar schools might  contribute to correcting the imbalance they are not in themselves a complete answer and they will not suit all areas of the country. Nor will they address the festering problem of the poor white and black working class who have increasingly found themselves to be excluded from what one might call normal life aspirations. In practice, new grammar schools are likely to fill up with a mix of middle class and ambitious and bright immigrant children. Nothing wrong with that in itself and indeed, the influence of bright Asian kids, (and a considerable financial shot in the arm from City based charities), has probably helped the academies in London improve their performance to the point where they are leading the way forward for the state sector nationally. We should embrace and applaud their success and acknowledge that there is no one size fits all solution in a country of 68m people. 

Nor is the ritual beating up of the public school sector an answer to anything except to polish the worn and beaten credentials of droopy eyed class warriors. Within their own means, public schools contribute greatly to the public good not least in terms of pushing innovation in education which in time filters into and throughout the state sector. Apart from their considerable advantages in terms of facilities and keeping their students in a disciplined learning environment for longer, (a local school close by ends their school day at 3:15pm three days a week and 2:20pm on the other two days...... unbelievable. As it happens, this Academy is doing well, how much better could it do?), public schools are fortunate in attracting a pool of considerable talent at the headmaster level. Easily the most important and critical component of a school is the head. As Napoleon said, 'there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.'

The answer to our national educational debate comes in five parts.

First, things are not as bad as they are  reflected to be by Westminster windbags and their media drones. Schools seem, to me at least, to be in better shape than was the case twenty years ago and that is a good thing. Moreover, today's generation never cease to impress. They are more worldly, sharper, brighter and engaging than are all who have gone before. We simply need to add refinement, focus and a leg up for the dispossessed to  go to the next level.

Second, a rich mix of comprehensives, public schools, academies, grammar schools, University Technical Colleges (championed by Kenneth Baker), and specialist academies, (for example languages and sciences which already exist), with each acknowledging the place of the others and interaction between them all is where the answer lies. Which-one-where will be driven by local resources and local preference with government help and direction only on an 'as required,' basis. 

Third, and this is the single most important part of this post, schools must address their teaching to fit the world the students are entering. The question isn't 'where are we teaching?' but 'what are we teaching?' It is shameful for example that most schools, from our very best down, still do not teach children how to code. While some prep and primary schools have the right idea and teach basic coding almost as a language rather than a technical subject we are woeful as a nation in elevating the subject and giving it the importance it deserves and demands in 2016. For a nation which built it's prosperity on engineering we have simply lost the plot. How ridiculous is it that students leave school for university not knowing the basics of Excel, that most basic of tools in any workplace. Having achieved success in propelling maths to its rightful place of importance in the school system over the past fifteen years it is wasteful not to teach the subjects like computer science for which it is most useful and most pertinent.

Fourth, grab the universities by the balls, squeeze and twist until they start doing their jobs to an acceptable standard which offers value for the money they take from students. Some courses at some universities do offer a good value proposition, most do not. Four hours of lectures a week, half of which are usually done by a heavily accented Phd student from the Ukraine is not acceptable. If they expended as much energy in creating a rounded education with good pastoral care as they seem to do in encouraging students to drink their own body weight in cheap white spirits in their first week we would be in infinitely better shape. 

Fifth, what do we do about the Lost Boys, those who already find themselves in care, in correctional facilities or those who are on their way to life behind barbed wire but just haven't yet been caught? I have a plan.

Up until about ten years ago a Sandhurst institution existed which had the purpose of taking young officer cadets who were thought to be not quite ready for the full commissioning course. With a focus on adventure training Rowallan Company emphasised leadership, fitness, self reliance and communication skills to help cadets quickly mature. Those who passed invariably went on to do well at the Academy and after commissioning. 

We could do the same with what I call the 'Lost Boys,' in a demilitarised version of Rowallan and use old military facilities to house it before they are all sold off. Take 30 young men with all manner of black marks against them, a remote location, six instructors and a couple of academic staff and in 24, possibly 16 weeks you could turn their lives around sufficiently to give them a shot at reentering the mainstream. At the end their street-smart knowledge would be turned into a self reliance and confidence that could be applied to any environment. Think of it as a poor man's Gordonstoun meets Rowallan. This would be the deal. Complete the course and your record is struck clean. You get a shot at applying for military service and they will forgive your past misdemeanours but only if you pass the course and the entrance requirements for the service of your choice, (we're short of recruits by the way), or a government approved apprenticeship scheme. If you take the apprenticeship option you must join the Reserves for three years. After three years you are your own man. Abscond or fail (through indifference not injury), and you go straight back from where you came; end of second chance.

Think it's a long shot? I happen to think not and I'm absolutely not thinking along the lines of some reality television boot camp set up. The approach is much more intelligent than that yet remains a simple one. The thing is, while everyone is running round in circles arguing about one type of school or another it is not addressing a pretty key issue. Or are we just going to accept an exploding prison population and pretend the problem isn't there? The instructors are out there, the facilities and kit are there and there are teaching staff, retired or otherwise, who would put their hands up. The big roadblock here would be attempting to get three different government departments to agree on a policy, (probably never been done before), and getting on with it out of the glare of the media.

I had a great uncle who won an Oscar for his part in making the Dirty Dozen. Perhaps it's time to make it happen in real life but by using the outdoors and books rather than weapons and uniforms, for the good of the individual and the greater good of us all.

is this the best we can do....... seriously?

is this the best we can do....... seriously?

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Peter for Big Boys

If it's Seventies innuendo they want; no need to watch Bake Off...... I can do that.

I understand perfectly well that in the interests of good order and preserving love and affection between couples, that there must be some basic rules in place based on mutual trust and respect, which promote and enhance harmonious living. Most couples have these rules which, over time, become simply habit and routine driven and very rarely do they attract any comment. We're talking about  laundry, dishwasher, toothpaste, towels, ice in the freezer sort of routine and that is all well and good. Until that is, random rules are introduced, the breach of which is usually followed with, 'I told you the other day.' The two most recent rules in my household which suddenly appeared are apparently, 'no talking during the Archers trial,' and 'don't record over Bake Off.' Seriously? Ambridge has been in a spiral of self absorbed leftie love-in since at least 1995 and as for Bake Off, well, I've never seen so much fuss about making iced buns in my life. Who is going to live long enough to waste their time watching that rubbish and all the seventies innuendo which comes with it which at worst isn't funny and at best comes nowhere close to equalling the art form perfected by the original masters. It makes me want to lob a brick through the flatscreen.

In fact Bake Off represents the race to the bottom between the BBC and ITV to find the lowest denominator of the viewing public and they've hit the target with this one. In desperation, I often take the path less travelled and occasionally discover a gem which I'm happy to share and this one is an absolute 24ct nugget.

We're talking The Reassembler,' on BBC Four. This three part series sees James May in his shed reassembling iconic bit's of kit, piece by piece. The series is genius. In fact, it is pretty much Blue Peter for big boys. So far he has done a 1959 petrol engined lawn mower and an old Bakelite GPO telephone, both classic examples of design and engineering. The programmes are utterly absorbing. Which one of us hasn't stripped down an engine or piece of machinery only to expend hours if not days being frustrated in attempting to put everything back together? I've been plagued since childhood with the age old problem of reassembling things and always finishing with two screws spare which ought not to be spare. Sometimes I don't finish at all and find myself on the Electrical And Mechanical Goods For Sale To Husbands Who Attempted Home Repairs And Completely Buggered Them Up website. The series ends on Wednesday with the assembly of an electric guitar, I can't wait. 

In the pottering-about-the-shed-talking-to-himself format May is of course filling the considerable cultural boots of Jack Hargreaves who presented 'Out of Town,' for oh, just about all my growing up years. Jack Hargreaves had a formidable knowledge of the countryside and the old pre war ways of the countryside. It was a fascinating series. 

Schoolboys doing metalwork in the 1960's, (much more interesting than maths and easily my favourite subject. I made a trowel and a screwdriver).

Schoolboys doing metalwork in the 1960's, (much more interesting than maths and easily my favourite subject. I made a trowel and a screwdriver).

The other can-do programme of the era for young boys was Blue Peter. I don't suppose they make train sets on that programme anymore or have presenters skydiving from Hercules aircraft. That's a shame and here's the rub. The luvvies at Television Centre only show what they decide is best for us which is not necessarily what we want. James May shouldn't be doing his programme on BBC 4 at nine thirty in the evening. He should be broadcast at the weekends at times when kids can watch with their Dad's and perhaps not start with the Grade Really Difficult stuff but with easier to do projects for aspirant kids fed up with toys with chips.  All kids love a challenge, all kids have a thirst for knowledge and all kids enjoy making things and the sense of purpose and achievement they bring. Come on Mr May, time to properly take over old Jack's legacy. Go and rattle some cages, (any way but the Clarkson way).

 

 

Texting Trauma

For a parent, the worrying never stops. Remember the days when we used to worry about stair-gates being left open or perfectly functioning baby monitors being mistrusted because the baby was sleeping not crying, 'I'll just go and check, the monitor might be broken.' Well, it doesn't get any easier. The worry level just goes up a gear . A big contributing factor are mobile phones and texts. Life was so liberating without them despite the obvious drawbacks of often finding oneself being in the wrong place at the wrong time, there being no quick means of contact outside using rarely working public telephones. 

It's been a standing family joke for years that wherever the kids are, their Mum will have spy planes constantly on patrol monitoring their movements. If you don't believe me then stand within 500 m of one of the kids and odds on you'll see an aircraft in the sky. Anyway, look what dropped into my in-box this weekend......

Son No 1

What could possibly go wrong............ 

Son No 2

Clicking on the link takes me to this map, identifying his precise location as the Middle of Nowhere. Good thing these boys were taught by a Jedi.

 

The good news is, for I'm a sharing person, is that you too can climb the wall of worry given the location map is to be found on the Golden Arc expedition website. When the boys kick off later this month the map should update throughout each day of the expedition allowing us to monitor progress. You can find it here

Incidentally, if you thought in passing that the development of satellite GPS technology had anything to do with NASA and the American military industrial complex then think again. Jewish mothers made it happen.................

GET Going!

Back in the day, I left school on a Friday afternoon and seeing no reason to muck around and waste time, joined the Army the following Monday. As it happens, one of the Crumble Kids has a few months spare before he kicks off as a long term employee of HM Gov and what bat-shit-crazy plan has he come up with this time? He and a friend are planning kayaking the 2000 nautical miles between Grenada and Miami. Moscow is closer to London than is the length of this undertaking. I swear, that boy must spend every waking moment dreaming up things for his mother to worry about. She's had a lot to worry about.

With just 24 days to go before the start preparations for the Golden Arc Expedition are warming up and every day more kit arrives at the house from kind sponsors, more 'no thanks,' emails drop into the in-box from not so kind potential sponsors and new challenging last minute issues raise their ugly heads......... 'son, this kayak which is being shipped to Grenada from Vancouver; are you on top of import duties?' 'Import what Dad?' So, what's the point?

Will and his chum George have started a charity, the Get Exploring Trust, (Charity No 116901). The aim of the trust is simple and straight forward. It aims to assist in the advancement in life of young people between the ages of 13 and 25 by providing small to medium sized grants to allow them to access recreational and leisure time activities in the outdoors designed to improve their life conditions and life chances. 

It is extraordinary just what a great equaliser clinging to the side of a windswept hill can be when you are all cold, wet and hungry. Being close to the elements on land, at sea or in the air is inspirational and life affirming. Way too many of our kids don't get the opportunity to access the outdoors. They genuinely don't know what they are missing. The Trust will help more of them discover the outdoors, and themselves, and from there they can make their own minds up.

Now, here at Expedition Headquarters we're not proud  and will of course accept help in any shape or form. If anyone were so moved to assist in sponsoring the actual expedition then there are still some niggly, naggly safety items which need to be purchased but any advice or local contacts through the route would be gratefully received. Obviously, the funding of the expedition is completely segregated from raising funds for the charity. All charity monies will go to the purpose for which donors intend and we are funding both the expedition, and the charity's administrative costs, separately.

If you did wish to donate to the charity the 'giving,' page may be found here while our bank details are, HSBC Sort Code 40-34-18, Acc No 54342615.

Of course, should you happen to be enjoying the azzure blue waters of the Caribbean between October and December and happen to see two blokes paddling in the direction of Florida then do give them a wave. If you see them paddling out to the Atlantic then give Air, Sea Rescue a wave. A bed for the night or dinner would be nice but then we wouldn't want to spoil them, would we?

I will be updating throughout.

 

Weather; Changable.

I rather miss the days when the weather presenter looked and talked like your Geography teacher

I note the BBC have binned the Met Office as it's provider of weather forecasting services and will instead, be using the Dutch company MeteoGroup. None of this is actually news, we knew about the impending change a year ago and it is unlikely to lead to an improvement in the veracity of forecasts given the Dutch company will largely still be using Met Office data. 

Personally, I use the Norwegian forecaster which can be found at yr.no and find them, somewhat perversely, to be the best at forecasting local conditions in the UK.

Whoever is responsible for forecasting on television I am confident that the graphics/pretty girl arms race between broadcasters will continue unabated, except on local stations in the UK which tend to focus on a pretty girl / pretty boy arms race all of their own. 

They do great weather in Argentina...

For those who care not about tomorrows weather but nonetheless enjoy the forecasts I can happily direct you to weathergirlstv.com, a site devoted to weather girls from around the world (but with no Anne Lundon I have to say it is less than comprehensive). No prizes for spotting the common theme and here's a clue, it's not the weather.

Rio Review

Permanent Secretary     'Minister, may I have a word?'

Minister for Culture, Media & Sport 'Yes, what is it now?'

PS     'Well Minister, terrific news. Our athletes have blown the lights out. They've only gone and won more medals than they did in London. 66 in fact, including 27 golds.'

Minister    'They've gone and done bloody what? How in the blazes did that happen? It's the last thing I need. We'll have to redo the whole honours list. They'll want a bloody silly parade and drinks at No 10 and you can bet my tickets for the Six Nations they'll be crying for more money the moment they get back. Who's going to tell the luvvies their grants are going to be slashed to pay for more trampolining? Selfish sods. Don't they realise they're supposed to be plucky losers up against the drug fuelled might of East Germany and industrialised American athlete factories?. They're not supposed to win. Who in the flying fxck decided to change that script? I knew I should have stayed at Agriculture; teas with the WI, the odd shoot and make up an argument with Brussels if things were going astray. I don't need this, I absolutely don't.'

PS     'Quite Minister. Shall we look at the diary and see how you are fixed for the reception?'

As the Rio Olympics draw to a close we can reflect on what has been a reasonable showing from the British cohort and while doing so note what has become the new national sport, Having A Go At John Inverdale. I'm not quite sure what the origins of this new game are but with the current score of Twitterati 341,000 to John Inverdale 0 I think it's time to shore up his defence. I don't particularly care if he tweaked a few oversensitive princesses by making a couple of honest errors while live on television. He is a good guy, has long been an enthusiastic supporter of charitable works, (especially sports related endeavours such as CRY), and is a commentator who I at least, am happy to listen to. There is nothing wrong with being grounded and unassuming rather than over the top and emotional. Certainly, I would rather have a pint with Inverdale than I would Queen Clare and therein I suspect, lies the problem. 

While Rio has been memorable for many individual sportsmen, teams and their respective families and fans there has yet been, no 'one big thing,' that will stay in the memory for me. Perhaps that is a good thing for often the 'big things,' are bad things as with Munich or some incident of cheating or other. Yet, there have been moments in the Olympics that will honestly live forever, (or live forever honestly). 

Dick Fosbury; the man who changed the history of high jump

I'm thinking especially of that moment 48 years ago when a young man walked into the arena in Mexico City and turned a sport on it's head. I was a young boy but the day after we saw the Fosbury Flop for the first time it was all anyone, from kids up, could talk about. It was a remarkable moment and he was a remarkable man. I wonder how many kids ended up in A&E in the weeks following as we all tried to emulate the new technique?

Bugger Bristol

Disappointed

In the unlikely event that it passed you by, yesterday was A Level results day for students up and down the land. Cue photographs of happy girls dressed in inappropriately short skirts jumping in the air and a queue of middle aged know-it-all celebrities quoting themselves saying, 'exam results don't define you; look at how rich I am.' Unfortunately, for many kids, they kind of do. Certainly, underachieving immediately narrows down options and gives them less control over their own destiny. 

So, many kids will have found themselves in the position of narrowly missing a grade yesterday and will have turned to Clearing to find an alternative university slot, just as the daughter of a friend did yesterday. 

With nothing less than an A, her chosen faculty bounced her on the basis that her A* was not in the right subject. She called. The fellow on the end of the telephone was very helpful, 'Looks a bit odd he said, I'll take a look and get back to you. You're not a non EU national are you by chance? We've been told you'll have no problem if you're from outside the EU.'

You see, it's all about money. Non EU nationals pay more. It is time someone tore into these universities and ripped their pious sense of entitlement to shreds. The illusion that they promulgate of fairness and value in education is cracking. As it happens, the young girl concerned happily received an offer from another, and better rated, university. So Bristol University, you can mostly bugger off you mercenary sods.