Just A Phone Call?

You may have already seen the Google AI Assistant clip of Google CEO Sundar Pichai explaining Google Duplex in which a programme calls a hairdressing salon and books an appointment.  Very clever it is too and one can immediately envision some useful applications. There will be unintended consequences, not least of which will be people talking and connecting less, other than digitally.

Atlas; Boston Dynamic’s robot is turning into a right old show-off

You may also have seen the clip from Boston Dynamics of their latest clever robot doing things which look less and less robotic.

It is when your imagination fuses Google AI and the BD robot together that you think, “what if?” (and not in a good way). Throw in quantum computing into the mix and the 'they can do what?' curve steepens.

 The only way those two will talk to each other is if they happen to meet over Tinder

The only way those two will talk to each other is if they happen to meet over Tinder

The generally accepted estimate that 25% of all white collar jobs will be replaced by AI or robotics by 2030 looks out of court to me. It is not even in the right postcode. Manual low skilled and skilled jobs will also be decimated. This will create social tension with a declining percentage of the populace enjoying a greater share of wealth. Voters will be bought off for perhaps ten years with the widespread introduction of minimum living allowances which hitherto have been unthinkable for politicians. That will only delay the "villagers with their pitchforks," moment. Our direction of travel has implications for all parts of our lives and society has yet to engage directly with the downside rather than just the upside to accelerating advances in technology. 

I don't see myself as a Luddite. I can see terrific benefits which technology will bring, especially in medicine, materials and levelling the playing field for developing nations. Yet a big part of me yearns for much that we have already lost. I am also nervous about unrestrained and rapid change, sometimes profoundly so. 

Rubbed Out - A Short Story

Rubbed Out.jpg

1

Donald Paterson was not having a good day. Monday’s were sometimes like that. He had fled the house under something of a cloud. The simmering tension from the previous evening had persisted longer than he had hoped. His intended fun, but lewd and it has to be acknowledged out of character suggestion to his wife the night before had bombed. Her reaction had been immediate, scornful and icy. Not good. Jane was a good-humoured soul but one who was settling snugly into her middle-aged self and saw no need or want to revisit her adventurous and playful younger days. She was resolutely in control. Of the house, the family, of Donald but mostly, of herself.

Donald grappled with middle age. He sometimes felt middle-age was winning. His life was one of managing mini crisis and upsets, both domestic and professional. There was never enough time in life for Donald. That would change. Life would be all about Donald but in ways he could never have imagined. Or wished for.

The sunshine on his face as he strode across the Millennium Bridge from Waterloo to his office near St Paul’s lightened his mood somewhat. After, the ticket and cash machine fiasco at Waterloo it needed a lift. First his South Western Trains season ticket wouldn’t let him through the barrier, then the ATM on the concourse refused to cooperate and to his frazzled frustration had the temerity to swallow his card. Bloody machines.

Donald’s patience was further tested when his security pass didn’t work at the office. He and barriers were not getting along today. His resentment rose when Bob the security guard, who he greeted every morning, insisted on someone from HR coming to vouch for him in person. Stella click-clacked along the marble floor from the lift in her usual attention seeking way. A disgruntled and embarrassed Donald took the lift to his cubicle office on the 12th floor in the Compliance Department where a another bombshell was waiting.

Sam was a twenty-six-year-old junior Compliance Officer. That meant she had finished the bank’s graduate training course and had been palmed off to Compliance because whilst being easy on the eye, was not of the standard required to work in a trading floor department. Perhaps they thought her fetching blond hair, old fashioned hourglass figure and only a nodding acquaintance with HR’s ‘dress rules for female staff,’ might have been too much of a distraction for the traders. They were for Donald who found it difficult to keep his composure when she drifted in and out of his small cubicle leaving a long lingering smell of her Bond Street scent. He did in fact think her a menace and disruptive to the whole department. He saw no ill intent in her work or behaviour, rather it was her mere presence that seemed to create either tension or levity around the floor. Compliance after all was above reproach in everything it did. Donald saw the department as the torch bearer for diligent work and ethical standards for the whole bank and it didn’t need any slippage in that aspiration caused by a twenty-six-year-old in heels.

Sam lurched toward him from his cubicle as soon as she saw him turn the corner.

“Bugger," he thought, “Not this early, please.”

“Morning Donald!” she said with her happy smiley face. Sam smiled a lot. She grasped every opportunity to display her Manhattan white teeth gained it was rumoured, at great cost by her indulgent father or was it an indulgent Premiership footballer? Donald wasn’t sure. He was never one for departmental gossip and at ten to eight in the morning he didn’t much care.

“Yes, good morning Samantha. What is it? Your flat is burning down and you need to take the day off work?” he enquired.

“Don’t be silly Donald. Mr Grenzewald called. He needs to speak to you.” She added quietly, “On the ninth floor.”

Donald turned into his cubicle and saw the ‘recorded messages,’ light flashing on his phone with seven missed calls. That would be Grenzewald he thought. Odd he thought that no one had tried him on the mobile. They usually did. The problem with working for a German boss in a German bank was that everything was urgent, and it was urgent all the time. Donald liked to think it had less to do with efficiency and more to do with feeding the suffocating self-importance of people who were important only in their own eyes. Until bonus time.

Donald picked up his yellow legal pad and strode back to the lift to head up to the ninth floor. He felt eyes following him as he left the compliance department.

3

The ninth floor receptionist glanced up and said ‘Conference Room B Donald.’

“Thank you Mary and Good Morning,” he said without stopping.

Donald walked into the glass walled conference room expecting an as yet unknown compliance related agenda although it would have to be serious to demand Mr Grenzewald’s presence this early in the day. Perhaps a corporate action planned by one of the bank’s clients, perhaps an enquiry from the Regulator. He hoped it wasn’t anything related to trading activities. They were the worst, hours and hours of listening to telephone tapes and reading thousands of email transcripts. He didn’t need that on a Monday morning.

Grenzewald wasn’t there. Instead Bill Flatman, the Deputy Head, was standing at the head of the table with the Head of HR, Michelle Tyning and her assistant Stella. Donald had been around banks long enough to know this set-up did not look or feel healthy in a career orientated kind of way. In fact, he felt nauseous as all the possible scenarios raced through his mind.

“Bill……?” he asked.

“Sit down old man. We need to go through a few things. Won’t take long and we’ll have this sorted out in double quick time. Nothing to worry about.”

Donald knew as soon as anyone in a bank said “Nothing to worry about,” then you had a truckload to worry about. But what?

“Right Donald,” Bill began, effecting as chummy a persona as he could manage which made Donald feel more uneasy. Friendly camaraderie was neither a requirement nor an aspiration in the Compliance Department and it did not suit Bill. To his annoyance, his bloody knee vibrated up and down. “Let’s press on. I’ll let Michelle take it from here.”

“Thanks Bill. Donald, we have some unusual issues that have cropped up and to be honest….. well, we have never had something like this before so we will take it step by step. It shouldn’t take long and we’ll do all we can to support you and manage the problem.”

This sounded more ominous with each word. Decoded she had said in her Chelsea-by-way-of-Benfleet accent, “You’re in the shit Donald but even we aren’t sure what you’ve done. You’re on your own until we confirm the bank is protected.” He knew what was coming next. He had been in Bill’s chair many times in the past. 

“What Michelle, is the precise nature of the alleged issue?” Donald started. He knew composure was everything at this point. He also knew the meeting was being recorded, (they all were), and after he left the building, because that was where this was heading, they would discuss his reactions.

“Okay Donald, I’m just going to tell you.”

"Brave of you Michelle," he thought, but he’d been at this game too long to let his inner sarcasm let rip in the open.

“An anomaly was identified in payroll reconciliation. The reconciliation happens before bank instructions are allowed but a red flag was thrown up by your name. Or rather it’s absence.”

“Go on,” said Donald.

“It appears from our current records you are not, not have you ever been, an employee of this bank. You have no HR file, no departmental file, no email address. In fact, we cannot find a digital trace of you anywhere.”

Donald’s first reaction was relief. A bloody computer mistake. That would be easily corrected by the Head of IT. “Well, if that’s all it is let’s fix it and get on. We all have a busy week ahead,” said Donald.

“It’s not that simple Donald. As I say, we have no trace of you. Your employment history and registration with the Regulator has also been lost. They can’t find you and we can’t have you working if you are unregistered with the FCA.”

“But that’s absurd. Call Morris at the FCA and talk to him. He’ll sort it out their end.”

Michelle put on her grave “your cat has died," face and said, “It was Morris who said we have no option but to release you go until everything is corrected. It will only be temporary Donald but I’m afraid we have to send you home for the time being. As you know we have a process and paperwork which we would follow but as you are not at this moment, an employee our lawyers have advised that to issue paperwork relating to a suspension might, in a future potential case, be prejudicial to the bank.”

Donald ignored Michelle and looked straight to Bill, “Are you hearing this Bill? Am I the only one who can hear the Nonsense Alarm going off? I’ve been at this bank longer than all three of you and you’re trying to tell me I’ve never worked here? It’s beyond satire it’s so bloody ridiculous.” 

“Now Donald, calm down.” Bill interrupted. “I know it’s all rather odd and we will find out what has happened. We will get things shipshape again. But you’ve been in this chair Donald. You know what it's like. My hands are tied. Sorry old man. Just put your feet up in the garden and relax. We’ll call you by Friday with an update.”

“But this is madness. Utter, utter madness. How can you be so gullible? You’ve been hacked…..”  Bill broke him off,

“Now, that’s enough talk Donald. You know what happens with rumours,” No, Donald didn’t know what happens with rumours, “Don’t mention this to anyone Donald. Keep it under your hat and it will make it easier to leave and easier to come back. We’ll tell the staff you’ve had a family emergency, and that’s all anyone needs to know.”

“Bill, you’ve lost the plot. This is an egregious abuse of my service and loyalty to this bank. It is an outrageous way to treat anyone let alone me…..” He immediately realised he was falling into the trap visited by so many former employees in his position. The outcome was obvious. There was no going back. He would be on the pavement in a matter of minutes. Anything he said from here on in would be counterproductive and would elicit contempt rather than sympathy. He took notes on the meeting and waited to learn how they planned the sometimes tricky, ‘leave the building,’ sketch.

Cometh the hour cometh the Head of HR. Michelle took over. She told Donald that to minimise disruption he would not be going back to the Compliance Department. She said his junior would bring up his briefcase and see him out through the basement garage entrance at the back of the building. The meeting was over.

On cue he saw Little Miss Happy bobbing back and fore on the other side of the glass. He stood, turned and left the meeting without saying goodbye. Sam trotted beside him toward the service lift to the basement. 

4

When the doors shut she asked Donald, "Is it bad?"

"It's not good Sam. I have to take leave of absence for a while."

"Can I help with anything?"

"Thank you Sam but I am not sure you can. I think I'm on my own on this one."

Fifteen minutes after arriving at the office through the front entrance he stood at the back. "Odd," he thought to himself, "Fifteen years and I've never been down here." Sam broke the moment,

"Donald, are you sure I can't do anything? You seem. Well, you seem faraway"

It occured to Donald that his young assistant was more in control of events than was he. 

"The thing is Sam, I appear to have been digitally erased. Rubbed out. Every piece of my life which has an electronic thread appears to have been cancelled and that is just about everything in my life. My phone, my bank account, my travel card, my job. Puff..... all gone."

"Oh, that's a pain," Sam remarked with unintended understatement. "Still," she went on, "We could fix some of those things. Who would do that anyway?"

"I have no idea Sam. Disgruntled ex employee perhaps. A teenager with acne in a basement in Estonia. Who knows? I'll go and report it to the police but I'm not optimistic. Difficult to know where to start with anything when your bloody phone doesn't work." 

"Why don't we meet later for coffee. I'll get you a burner and you can pay me back later."

"Thank you Sam. A compliance officer with a burner phone; that's a first. You don't have to do this you know. It is kind of you." 

Sam shrugged, told him she would meet him at midday in Paternoster Square beside St Pauls, smiled and headed back to the lift. It occurred to Donald that it had been quite a while since he was last on the receiving end of an unconditional act of kindness.

 5

They met at midday and sat with coffee on a bench. The City of London Police desk sergeant had been polite but unable to help beyond platitudes of "contact your bank sir and your mobile telephone operator." The police cyber crime unit was understaffed. Their resources were aimed squarely at corporate fraud and not the odd individual who wandered in off the street. The sergeant agreed though that having his entire electronic footprint cancelled was, "a bit rum," and "highly unusual." Donald's caustic remarks did not help his cause but the sergeant reluctantly acquiesced and promised someone would contact him at home. 

"Here's the burner and I got £50 in cash. It's not much but it's a start." Sam's irrepressible smile was infectious. 

"Thank you Sam." He smiled back but it didn't quite work. Sam wasn't used to a smiling Donald and Donald wasn't used to smiling. Donald's smile was better suited to a thirsty vampire about to lunge at his victim. Sam leaned back slightly but kept her poise. 

"What next Donald? What will you do?"

Donald let the smile go. "Sam. I have choices. I can run around chasing my own tail trying to put all this right. Or I can sit back and relax and wait for other people to chase me trying to put it right. Or I can just say "bollocks to the lot of them," and go off the grid for a while and have some peace and quiet for the first time since I remember. I choose off the grid."

Sam gave him a 2,000 lumen smile, "You are mad Donald Paterson. It's good to have a plan though and if your plan is no plan then it's a good starting plan." 

Before Sam confused the issue any further Donald stood and extended his hand. "Thank you young Sam. I shall meet you here in one weeks time when I shall reimburse you. You have helped make all this wretchedness bearable. Thank you for being helpful and resourceful." Sam beamed.

With that, Donald turned and strode off. He walked off in the general direction of "off the grid,"  with all the purpose of a man who the rest of the world no longer knew or for that matter cared about. It felt he decided, warmly liberating. 

Fantastic Day!

Stand By Me - My favourite version by Playing For Change. You can’t have enough volume with this one. Play it and smile.

In November 1973, when Princess Anne married Captain Mark Phillips, I could not be doing with the fuss and instead wandered into town and went to the pictures. If I remember correctly I watched Live and Let Die, (still the best Bond movie). When Prince Charles married I was on a patrol in the jungle in Belize. I remember it only because all the soldiers in the battalion made a donation toward a wedding present of a diamond regimental brooch. When Andrew married Fergie I somehow got tangled up with the crowds on the Mall when trying to cross London. It was easy to get swept up in the exuberant excitement of the crowd which I had not experienced before. I was at a friends house for Prince William's wedding and I shall be there again today. My wonderful friend Mary's warm and open hearted enthusiasm for such occasions is infectious. With friends gathered we will have a fun and memorable day. The great thing about a royal wedding is the upbeat mood will be reflected up and down the country. And yes, we do all rather need a 'cheer us up,' day.

Prince Harry's popularity is striking but not puzzling. The prince has charm and an easy way with people. He has our respect because he served and our admiration for his sincerity in applying himself to making other peoples lives better. Prince Harry and his bride will make a formidable team as a force for good. It is though, an immensely important day for our little kingdom. His marriage to an American divorcee from a mixed race background is very significant. It marks a turning point in our social history which will achieve more in a one hour service than any legislation from Parliament or lecturing from Guardian journalists. 

I am looking forward to the service. The gospel choir has to be a hands down winner and Stand By Me is just about my all time favourite song. In passing, singing in a Southern Baptist choir in the Deep South while dressed in one of those purple gowns is on my bucket list. It would just be a hoot. 

I hope they take the odd moment to soak it all in. The day will go in a heartbeat. My wedding day did. In the car from the reception to the hotel my bride complained of sore cheeks because she had been smiling all day. She said she felt happy but tired. Ten minutes after arriving at the hotel I opened the champagne, gazed upon my sleeping bride, sat down and watched television. I am not convinced I got value for money having a suite at the Savoy on my wedding night.

Have a fantastic day y'all.

Physio

PT.jpg

I went to my first session with a physiotherapist today. There may not be a second. Not unlike many hospital visits, I left in worse shape than when I walked in, unaided.

My physio seemed sweet, engaging and interested when I first arrived. Disregard that nonsense about 'first impressions,' She lulled me into a safe place then toyed with me.

'Lift your leg up; and out to the side. Good Mr Crumble, but we don't have too much lateral movement in the hip do we.'

'Well no, that's why I'm here.'

'Does it hurt when we extend?"

"Yes, it does."

 Nadia - We have different design specs

Nadia - We have different design specs

That was like a secret signal. She set about me like a psycho toddler going postal with a rubber bendy toy. I tried to muffle my whimpering. That spurred her on. I watched my legs flash before me in a blur as she worked her way through Volumes 1-4 of the Nadia Comăneci workbook on things you shouldn't be able to do with your lower limbs. She stopped as abrubtly as she started.

"I think I need to refer you to one of our specialist physio's." 

I shivered; she smiled.

At that point I more or less resigned myself to a wheelchair and bib for life on a fluids-only diet. If a referral to someone who specialises in involuntary contortion is my next treatment plan a wheelchair sounds like a positive alternative. None of us like to be drama queens and while it is only a dodgy hip, I wish we could just get to the hip resurfacing chat without all this preliminary box ticking of, "if it hurts, refer."

I'll book an appointment with the Ninja Physio then and try and be brave. I just can't wait.

The Only Sane One Left

 Mad as a box of frogs

Mad as a box of frogs

Being a parent has been one long slog of worry punctuated by occasional moments of joy and inspiration. They say as a parent you are only as happy as your unhappiest child. While that is certainly true I find myself only truly relaxed when all the planes are back on the mother ship and in the hanger. The way it tends to work though, one rolls in for a fleeting visit and another rolls out on a new crackpot scheme. In the odd idle moment of reflection I sometimes think I am the only sane one in the asylum. 

This time, it is Georgina, who is to have a crack at a 53 mile ultra marathon, The Race To The King from Arundel to Winchester, on June 23rd.

Very cool graphics of the route.


"On the 23rd June I will be attempting to run The Race to the King, a 53 mile ultra marathon along the South Downs Way.

After realising I would never run a fast 5K it seemed like a good idea to focus on a challenge where having a slow pace is an advantage. This weekend I completed my first 30 mile training run with over 1,100m of total elevation (more than Snowdon!).

A large part of my motivation for completing is the ultra marathon is the two charities I will be running for. The first is MIND, the mental health charity, which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. The second is the Get Exploring Trust, which aims to inspire and support 13-25 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into the outdoors.

I understand that you receive emails like this all the time but I really appreciate the support. Here is the link to my fundraising page, any donations will help motivate me on the day!"


GET.jpg

MIND is a fantastic charity but we are thrilled that she is also running for the 'House,' charity, the Get Exploring Trust. GET is still a young and small charity. We have though made grants this Spring to a range of groups and individuals for the 2018 expedition season. These include a 22 strong team of cadets from East London heading to Namibia, other individuals joining British Exploring expeditions to Iceland and Peru and some self organised expeditions such as one with two young men cycling from China to Paris. 

So the game old Support Team will be dusting itself down for another outing. Do come and join me along the route. There are after all, some very fine pubs between Arundel and Winchester.

Nemesis

 How difficult can it be?

How difficult can it be?

A common refrain heard from friends, garage mechanics and even AA Patrolmen is, "Cars these days are so complicated, so electronic; they aren't designed for the ordinary man to do maintenance." So they are. And I am not one of the few who would dabble under the bonnet 'these days.' The problem is, I am not so great at old-fashioned, simple mechanical engines either. Never have been. After my Royal Artillery Young Officers Course at Larkhill they sent us to the Cavalry headquarters at Bovington in Dorset to do a Driving and Maintenance Course. In theory, if we didn't know how vehicles should be maintained, how could we inspect them in our regiments and keep required standards? The first lesson on the course was about nuts and bolts. Our instructor lost me at, 'Mornin' Gents.' I should have paid attention. I didn't. Big mistake. Had I applied myself then I might not have spent the whole afternoon today trying to figure out why my 2 stroke petrol engine strimmer would not start.

 The only success of the afternoon was cleaning a rusty bolt with WD 40. 

The only success of the afternoon was cleaning a rusty bolt with WD 40. 

Oh, and I tried. How I tried. I drained the fuel, drained the fuel pipes, cleaned the spark plug, cleaned the carburettor, cleaned the air filter, cleaned the fuel filter; all to no avail. I know friends who strip down entire engines and rebuild them. I know one fellow who rebuilds classic cars and even another who went racing around Monza this weekend. Yet I can't get a bloody garden strimmer to spark into life. The casual reader would be mistaken in believing I am overcome with deep feelings of inadequacy. I am not. For I see a challenge before me. Next weekend I will strip that wretched thing back to the bare metal and rebuild it from scratch. The easy way out in our disposable society would be to bin it and buy another. We don't do easy here and I may have an edge.... I didn't test the electrical circuit today. There is always one more thing to try...... before I call that guy who rebuilds E-Types.   

Basil.jpg

Staring defeat in the face I retired to the kitchen in search of a sundowner pick-me-up. Morale plummeted when, after a frantic search, I concluded that we were out of gin. 'I know,' I thought, 'lets have a cocktail; I'll make a margarita.' Good plan except the lonely lime left standing would not cover it. I'm a resourceful cove though and am happy to share my new discovery; the Lemon & Basil Margarita. I prefer it with crushed ice but feel free to experiment. It has brought rather an uplift to an otherwise dispiriting afternoon. It remains to be seen if the garden strimmer or the margarita will prove to be my nemesis.

Plea from Pia

screenprotector.jpg

A plea from my lovely friend Pia...... she has a point,

Do you remember when we used to say in this country about toasters and washing machines ‘why don’t they sell them with the bloody plug on?’ And now they do, right?


So can anyone tell me why Apple doesn’t sell their phones with the bloody screen protector? So that cack handed people like me don’t have to wait a few days and then stick on a smeary, bubble infested and wonky bit of clear stuff? For crying out loud, the amount they charge, you’d think they would bung on the things that we all buy for a couple of quid and do a better job of it. 
(Feeling frustrated because my computer is not working - got it in for apple and google this evening.)

shhhhhh.... let's not tell her they will apply the screen protectors for free with their special gadgets in Apple stores!

 

Weekend Gremlins

‘Floor of Doom’

Reel4.jpg

Dedicated reelers have been spinning themselves and their partners with joyful abandon at the Royal Caledonian Ball since 1848. The Royal Cal is the first of the big reeling balls and the most prominent. It has been cancelled in the past only because of war, (Boer War and the World Wars) and after the death of King Edward VII. With over 700 guests it is an immense party with tiara's and sashes 'encouraged.' Children may observe the set reels from the balcony with their nannies, 'in uniform.' Tickets are consistently in high demand and are priced at a premium to benefit a range of charities which the ball has supported since its inception. 

With a sense of bewildered astonishment the gathered guests at this years ball on Friday witnessed large cracks emerging in the vast dance floor after merely two dances. Who know's? Perhaps the reeling community is tainted with the Obesity Crisis. Perhaps it was a floor designed for floppy disco dancing rather than 700 reelers galloping round the room like the Scots Greys charging the French guns at Waterloo. The cause was irrelevant to those present as dancing was suspended and despite the best attempts of those present will not happen again in the Grosvenor Ballroom until next years ball.  

The committee have announced they will give refunds. Refunds are unlikely to be taken up by most given the altruistic nature of the event. Physiotherapists across the land are facing the unavoidable reduction in post-event injuries and physical complaints with fair-minded stoicism. 

 

A&N18.jpg

The next day over 82,000 serving and retired soldiers and sailors gathered with family members amongst them at Twickenham for the annual Army v Navy rugby match. It is the largest amateur rugby game in the world and the one which records the biggest beer consumption in the Twickenham area of any event. Few of the attendees at the previous night's ball would have been at both events. The game was going swimmingly until at 15 minutes, a sailor got himself sent off. This undermined the Navy's hope's of winning. Despite this, they played well with 14 men. How much closer might the 22-14 score have been had they been at full strength? 

The crowd enjoyed the game and the day out in the sunshine right until the 60 minute mark when a power problem caused the scoreboard and big screens to go blank. So did the tills in the bars. When the tills stopped working so did the beer pumps. Having the beer stop flowing with 82,000 thirsty serving and retired servicemen could be described as sub-optimal. Others might say calamitous. A body of opinion exists which advocates that the rugby only serves to impede a good days drinking with old mates. For this cadre, the beer tap debacle brought their fun to a shuddering halt. For the majority though, it was a blip in a good day out and saved many a few bob given most servicemen have an aversion to paying £5.50 for a pint at Twickenham and do so only reluctantly.

Two sets of gremlins over the weekend then at two very differnet events. Could be an interesting summer.

High Bar

IMG_8638.JPG

I was grateful to be invited to a 60th birthday party last evening. It was a first for me and I have decided I rather like them. The birthday girl had invited an eclectic collection of guests who touched every part of her life from school days onward. She had a good line in her short and emotional speech, 'I didn't bring my phone because if anything happens anyone I care about in the world is here.' 

IMG_8659.JPG
 head for heights

head for heights

The venue was spectacular. I didn't realise you could throw a party on Tower Bridge. It is probably the best venue I have experienced. The choice of Tower Bridge had a lingering emotional trigger. Sue regularly walked across the bridge with her father when young and they used to say to each other, 'one day we'll have a party there.' Her old Dad is no longer around. I'm sure though he would have been proud as punch of his girl. 

fullsizeoutput_1b04.jpeg

 

 

Memorable party but she has set the bar rather high. I'm not sure how one follows that. 

A Young Man's Game

 A young man's game

A young man's game

Age3.jpg

I note from the Armed Forces bi-annual Diversity Report that as of the 1st October 2017, 23.6% of the UK Regular Forces and 13.9% of the Future Reserves 2020 are under 25 years old. In the last year, this has decreased by 1% in the UK Regulars and 0.9% in the Future Reserves 2020. Of the Officers, 7% of the UK Regular Forces and 5.3% of the Future Reserves 2020 are under 25 years old. At 1 April 2017 48% of UK Regular Forces personnel were under the age of 30. The overall average age was 31. The Army had the lowest average age (30), and the RAF the highest average age (33).

 Age of Officers in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

Age of Officers in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

Both Officers and Other Ranks in the Regular Forces are younger on average than is the case in the Reserves. The average age of Regular officers is 37 years old compared to 43 years old in the Reserves while Other Ranks in the Regular Forces have an average age of 30 years old compared to 35 years old in the Reserves.

 Age of Other Ranks in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

Age of Other Ranks in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

These average ages appear high. Average ages in the Royal Navy and the RAF are higher than the Army. We would expect that  given the need for more technically qualified servicemen given the nature of their weapons platforms. There is also a minimum requirement, however much the Services have been cut, for command, control, support and logistics which would increase the average age.

 Average age of Infantry recruits from 2001-2012. The leap in average age may be a result of more accessible higher education and benign economic conditions during that period.

Average age of Infantry recruits from 2001-2012. The leap in average age may be a result of more accessible higher education and benign economic conditions during that period.

Notwithstanding that the proportion of servicemen aged between 18-24 has declined in recent years.  In 2000 this age bracket accounted for 31% of all personnel, in 2017 this had been reduced to 24% of personnel.

 More soldiers are aged over 35 than are under 24 years old.

More soldiers are aged over 35 than are under 24 years old.

The ugly fact though, is that war fighting is a young man’s game. I have written before about how small the Infantry portion of the Armed Forces is. The same is true of the other combat arms, Artillery and Armour, but with at a best guess, less than 12,000 fighting infantry soldiers fit to fight, the government of the day has limited optionality in committing itself to any kind of armed response. Worse, if those available forces were to be committed they would again be at elevated risk because there are no great numbers in reserve behind them. In a worst case extreme scenario we could lose the fighting strength of the British Army in a matter of days bringing unthinkable last ditch options in play. In pursuit of short term gain UK governments have therefore lowered the nuclear threshold.

Age4.jpg

I would find reassurance in lower average ages across the board but what do I know? I’m just an old guy armed with a mouse and a keyboard.

 Strength of the full-time trained and untrained UK Regular Forces since 1980.

Strength of the full-time trained and untrained UK Regular Forces since 1980.

Size matters. UK Regular Forces are 50% smaller than in 1980. The total strength of the full-time UK Regular Forces (trained and untrained) at 1 January 2018 was 147,033. Between 1990 and 1995 the strength of the UK Regular Forces reduced by around 72,500 personnel (a drop of 24%). The reduction in strength was a result of the MOD’s Options for change strategic defence review announced in July 1990. The review was intended as a response to the changing strategic environment in the post-Cold War era, establishing a smaller better equipped forces and making defence policy focused more on capabilities rather than threats. 

Age7.jpg

Since 2000 the total strength of the UK Regular Forces has generally declined year on year (except for four years of slight growth in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010). The Regular Army has fallen in size in the last 12 months by 2.3% with rises in numbers of Gurkha's and Reserves off-setting some of the decrease. Overall, the Army has a 6.3% shortfall in manning from it's Trade Trained liability against 3.7% for the RN and 5.9% for the RAF. 

 trend in the total trained strength against the requirement for the UK Armed Forces.

trend in the total trained strength against the requirement for the UK Armed Forces.

The manning shortfall across the Services is not historically unusual. It has more impact now however because the overall size of the Armed Forces is dramatically smaller than was the case even since 2000. The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review has indicated that the requirement for the UK Armed Forces would be 144,200 personnel by 2020. The 2020 target is 53,960 (27%) personnel fewer than needed at 1 April 2000.

Age10.jpg

Is the world 27% safer today than in 2000? With our Armed Forces at their smallest since the Napoleonic Wars we would wish that to be the case. Back on Planet Reality we know that is not so. In December the House of Commons Library carried out an analysis that looked at the real-terms (ie inflation-adjusted) changes to defence spending. It found that between 2010 and 2015 the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) budget had fallen by £8bn in real terms. That's a cut of 18% compared with the 2009-10 budget.

In January, the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter said in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute that Britain "must take notice of what is going on around us" or that the ability by the UK to take action will be "massively constrained." For the CGS to speak out in public and in plain terms was unusual. In previous times his stark warning would have sparked a national debate about Defence. Not so now. The truth is few people care and why should they when dealing with their own busy lives? Nor do most politicians. The consequences of under resourced defence will be felt hardest by those serving if they are called to action. The repercussions though, will be felt by us all.