World Class Letter

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While not wishing to detract from Lt Col Ewen Southby-Tailyours world class letter to the Telegraph, he obviously hasn't read my recent post, 'Different Armies, Same Problem.' In summary, it is becoming more difficult, and expensive, to recruit men and women to the Armed Forces for a variety of reasons and most come from the same backgrounds that they always have. Moreover, the aspiration to have Armed Forces that reflect society is not new. Indeed the Prince of Wales many years ago let it be known that he would like to see more diversity in the Household Division where in-roads have since been made. Nonetheless, the Colonel's point is made and accepted. We do though, really need to see a broader representation of citizens serving, even in the Royal Marines.  

Seriously Mum?

A five thirty start this morning, a dash up the A3, M25 and M1 to deposit the youngest Crumble Kid at Leeds, a quick turnaround, (we couldn't have done it faster if he'd parachuted in), and the return leg in quick time to get us back by four to continue with the Rugby Fest.

All the way home though, I couldn't get out of my mind his mothers parting advice,

Mrs Flashbang, 'Love you, call if you need anything and be careful ; there has been a bad outbreak of gonorrhoea in the North, it was in the Telegraph.'

.. cue moment of stunned disbelief from father & son,

Crumble advice, 'Work hard and play harder son.'

 

What Are You Doing Darling?

Ambling through middle age with a curious approach to life and living leads me to asking many questions every day, a bit like toddlers are apt do. For example, on Sunday I was standing in the kitchen at home reading a text from son no 1 who had just illuminated the world of summer cocktails for me by forwarding the mix for something called a Pearl Harbour. Concurrent with this son no 2 was outside undoing a padlock, for which we’d lost the key, with his lock picking kit. Does that make me a good or a bad father?

And this morning, having read that the head of Pret A Manger has told his staff to give free drinks to people they like, I was perturbed when Tony from Latvia gave me a free green tea. Delicious Monika from Poland has never done that. What does it mean?

But the thing that has baffled me most is the report in the Telegraph that a chef flambéing a  beef stroganoff at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford was responsible for starting a major fire when flames were sucked up through vents. “It was a flambé which was the problem,” said Mr Grange, the manager. Accidents happen but what on earth would possess the Telegraph to then helpfully publish the recipe in some sort of Arsonists Cookbook manner thus arming over enthusiastic Dad’s up and down the land to self-immolate themselves after watching the Master Chef final? Picture the scene in the leafy environs of middle England,

 “What are you doing darling?”

“Oh, just knocking up a recipe I read in the Telegraph on the train dear”

 “hmmmm…. Why are you drinking cognac, bad day darling?”

“No dearest, I’m not drinking it, that’s to set the stroganoff on fire, just like they did at the Randolph Hotel; you never told me cooking could be fun. This is man’s work”

 “Right darling, I’ll just call 999 now before you get started….. just to be safe.”

 60% of house fires incidentally,  start in the kitchen



Disappointed but not Surprised

After a lifetime of reading the Daily Telegraph I’m finally jacking it in. Changing ones newspaper doesn't come easily to people from these shores but I've had enough. I read the Telegraph as a teenager, I had it delivered courtesy of the Sally Ann Red Shield Club in Deilinghofen in Germany when a private soldier, I read days-old dog-eared copies in the jungle, in South Armagh and then while lounging in the ante rooms of varied Mess's over morning coffee, right through the years of commuting on the Portsmouth line. It’s been part of my life.

The apparent subjugation by the owners, the Barclay brothers, of honest journalism for the sake of advertising revenue is unfortunately, a last straw. I’m disappointed but not surprised. Most Telegraph readers will admit that standards and the breadth of coverage have been falling for years. In fact its become something of a broadsheet tabloid but Peter Oborne’s resignation and statement have pretty much slammed the door shut for me. I’m off to the Times then, where the on-line thing and editorial line is superior,  (and where at least letters should be more easily published although I shall miss the quirky style of the last remaining gem in the Telegraph).

I’ve always had a soft spot for PB, ever since he walked onto Newsnight and handed the previously pro Euro Richard Lambert a copy of his pamphlet, “The Guilty Men.” Oborne’s statement is worth reading. Here it is, 
 

Why I have resigned from the Telegraph

PETER OBORNE 17 February 2015

The coverage of HSBC in Britain's Telegraph is a fraud on its readers. If major newspapers allow corporations to influence their content for fear of losing advertising revenue, democracy itself is in peril.

Five years ago I was invited to become the chief political commentator of theTelegraph. It was a job I was very proud to accept. The Telegraph has long been the most important conservative-leaning newspaper in Britain, admired as much for its integrity as for its superb news coverage. When I joined theTelegraph had just broken the MPs’ expenses scandal, the most important political scoop of the 21st century.

I was very conscious that I was joining a formidable tradition of political commentary. I spent my summer holiday before taking up my duties as columnist reading the essays of the great Peter Utley, edited by Charles Moore and Simon Heffer, two other masters of the art.

No one has ever expressed quite as well as Utley the quiet decency and pragmatism of British conservatism. The Mail is raucous and populist, while the Times is proud to swing with the wind as the voice of the official class. TheTelegraph stood in a different tradition. It is read by the nation as a whole, not just by the City and Westminster. It is confident of its own values. It has long been famous for the accuracy of its news reporting. I imagine its readers to be country solicitors, struggling small businessmen, harassed second secretaries in foreign embassies, schoolteachers, military folk, farmers—decent people with a stake in the country.

My grandfather, Lt Col Tom Oborne DSO, had been a Telegraph reader. He was also a churchwarden and played a role in the Petersfield Conservative Association. He had a special rack on the breakfast table and would read the paper carefully over his bacon and eggs, devoting special attention to the leaders. I often thought about my grandfather when I wrote my Telegraphcolumns.

‘You don’t know what you are fucking talking about’

Circulation was falling fast when I joined the paper in September 2010, and I suspect this panicked the owners. Waves of sackings started, and the management made it plain that it believed the future of the British press to be digital. Murdoch MacLennan, the chief executive, invited me to lunch at the Goring Hotel near Buckingham Palace, where Telegraph executives like to do their business. I urged him not to take the newspaper itself for granted, pointing out that it still had a very healthy circulation of more than half a million. I added that our readers were loyal, that the paper was still very profitable and that the owners had no right to destroy it.

The sackings continued. A little while later I met Mr MacLennan by chance in the queue of mourners outside Margaret Thatcher’s funeral and once again urged him not to take Telegraph readers for granted. He replied: “You don’t know what you are fucking talking about.”

Events at the Telegraph became more and more dismaying. In January 2014 the editor, Tony Gallagher, was fired. He had been an excellent editor, well respected by staff. Mr Gallagher was replaced by an American called Jason Seiken, who took up a position called ‘Head of Content.’ In the 81 years between 1923 and 2004 the Telegraph had six editors, all of them towering figures: Arthur Watson, Colin Coote, Maurice Green, Bill Deedes, Max Hastings and Charles Moore. Since the Barclay Brothers purchased the paper 11 years ago there have been roughly six more, though it is hard to be certain since with the arrival of Mr Seiken the title of editor was abolished, then replaced by a Head of Content (Monday to Friday). There were three editors (or Heads of Content) in 2014 alone.

For the last 12 months matters have got much, much worse. The foreign desk—magnificent under the leadership of David Munk and David Wastell—has been decimated. As all reporters are aware, no newspaper can operate without skilled sub-editors. Half of these have been sacked, and the chief sub, Richard Oliver, has left.

Solecisms, unthinkable until very recently, are now commonplace. Recently readers were introduced to someone called the Duke of Wessex. Prince Edward is the Earl of Wessex. There was a front page story about deer-hunting. It was actually about deer-stalking, a completely different activity. Obviously the management don’t care about nice distinctions like this. But the readers do, and the Telegraph took great care to get these things right until very recently.

The arrival of Mr Seiken coincided with the arrival of the click culture. Stories seemed no longer judged by their importance, accuracy or appeal to those who actually bought the paper. The more important measure appeared to be the number of online visits. On 22 September Telegraph online ran a story about a woman with three breasts. One despairing executive told me that it was known this was false even before the story was published. I have no doubt it was published in order to generate online traffic, at which it may have succeeded. I am not saying that online traffic is unimportant, but over the long term, however, such episodes inflict incalculable damage on the reputation of the paper.

Open for business?

With the collapse in standards has come a most sinister development. It has long been axiomatic in quality British journalism that the advertising department and editorial should be kept rigorously apart. There is a great deal of evidence that, at the Telegraph, this distinction has collapsed.

Late last year I set to work on a story about the international banking giant HSBC. Well-known British Muslims had received letters out of the blue from HSBC informing them that their accounts had been closed. No reason was given, and it was made plain that there was no possibility of appeal. "It’s like having your water cut off," one victim told me.

When I submitted it for publication on the Telegraph website, I was at first told there would be no problem. When it was not published I made enquiries. I was fobbed off with excuses, then told there was a legal problem. When I asked the legal department, the lawyers were unaware of any difficulty. When I pushed the point, an executive took me aside and said that "there is a bit of an issue" with HSBC. Eventually I gave up in despair and offered the article toopenDemocracy. It can be read here.

I researched the newspaper’s coverage of HSBC. I learnt that Harry Wilson, the admirable banking correspondent of the Telegraph, had published an online story about HSBC based on a report from a Hong Kong analyst who had claimed there was a ‘black hole’ in the HSBC accounts. This story was swiftly removed from the Telegraph website, even though there were no legal problems. When I asked HSBC whether the bank had complained about Wilson's article, or played any role in the decision to remove it, the bank declined to comment. Mr Wilson’s contemporaneous tweets referring to the story can be found here. The story itself, however, is no longer available on the website, as anybody trying to follow through the link can discover. Mr Wilson rather bravely raised this issue publicly at the ‘town hall meeting’ when Jason Seiken introduced himself to staff. He has since left the paper.

Then, on 4 November 2014, a number of papers reported a blow to HSBC profits as the bank set aside more than £1 billion for customer compensation and an investigation into the rigging of currency markets. This story was the city splash in the TimesGuardian and Mail, making a page lead in theIndependent. I inspected the Telegraph coverage. It generated five paragraphs in total on page 5 of the business section.

The reporting of HSBC is part of a wider problem. On 10 May last year theTelegraph ran a long feature on Cunard’s Queen Mary II liner on the news review page. This episode looked to many like a plug for an advertiser on a page normally dedicated to serious news analysis. I again checked and certainly Telegraph competitors did not view Cunard’s liner as a major news story. Cunard is an important Telegraph advertiser.

The paper’s comment on last year’s protests in Hong Kong was bizarre. One would have expected theTelegraph of all papers to have taken a keen interest and adopted a robust position. Yet (in sharp contrast to competitors like theTimes)I could not find a single leader on the subject.

At the start of December the Financial Times, the Times and the Guardian all wrote powerful leaders on the refusal by the Chinese government to allow a committee of British MPs into Hong Kong. The Telegraph remained silent. I can think of few subjects which anger and concern Telegraph readers more.

On 15 September the Telegraph published a commentary by the Chinese ambassador, just before the lucrative China Watch supplement. The headline of the ambassador’s article was beyond parody: ‘Let’s not allow Hong Kong to come between us’. On 17 September there was a four-page fashion pull-out in the middle of the news run, granted more coverage than the Scottish referendum. The Tesco false accounting story on 23 September was covered only in the business section. By contrast it was the splash, inside spread and leader in the Mail. Not that the Telegraph is short of Tesco coverage. Tesco pledging £10m to fight cancer, an inside peak at Tesco’s £35m jet and ‘Meet the cat that has lived in Tesco for 4 years’ were all deemed newsworthy.

There are other very troubling cases, many of them set out in Private Eye, which has been a major source of information for Telegraph journalists wanting to understand what is happening on their paper. There was no avoiding the impression that something had gone awry with the Telegraph’s news judgment. At this point I wrote a long letter to Murdoch MacLennan setting out all my concerns about the newspaper, and handing in my notice. I copied this letter to the Telegraph chairman, Aidan Barclay.

I received a cursory response from Mr Barclay. He wrote that he hoped I could resolve my differences with Murdoch MacLennan. I duly went to see the chief executive in mid-December. He was civil, served me tea and asked me to take off my jacket. He said that I was a valued writer, and said that he wanted me to stay.

I expressed all of my concerns about the direction of the paper. I told him that I was not leaving to join another paper. I was resigning as a matter of conscience. Mr MacLennan agreed that advertising was allowed to affect editorial, but was unapologetic, saying that “it was not as bad as all that” and adding that there was a long history of this sort of thing at the Telegraph.

I have since consulted Charles Moore, the last editor of the Telegraph before the Barclays bought the paper in 2004. Mr Moore confessed that the published accounts of Hollinger Inc, then the holding company for the Telegraph, did not receive the scrutiny they deserved. But no newspaper in history has ever given an unfavourable gloss on its owner’s accounts. Beyond that, Mr Moore told me, there had been no advertising influence on the paper’s news coverage.  

After my meeting with Mr MacLennan I received a letter from the Telegraphsaying that the paper had accepted my letter of resignation, but welcomed my offer to work out my six-month notice period. However in mid January I was asked to meet a Telegraph executive, this time over tea at the Goring Hotel. He told me that my weekly column would be discontinued and there had been a "parting of the ways".

He stressed, however, that the Telegraph would continue to honour my contract until it ran out in May. For my part I said that I would leave quietly. I had no desire to damage the newspaper. For all its problems it continues to employ a large number of very fine writers. They have mortgages and families. They are doing a fine job in very trying circumstances. I prepared myself mentally for the alluring prospect of several months paid gardening leave.

Story, what story?

That was how matters stood when, on Monday of last week, BBC Panorama ran its story about HSBC and its Swiss banking arm, alleging a wide-scale tax evasion scheme, while the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published their 'HSBC files'. All newspapers realised at once that this was a major event. The FT splashed on it for two days in a row, while the Times and the Mail gave it solid coverage spread over several pages.

You needed a microscope to find the Telegraph coverage: nothing on Monday, six slim paragraphs at the bottom left of page two on Tuesday, seven paragraphs deep in the business pages on Wednesday. TheTelegraph’s reporting only looked up when the story turned into claims that there might be questions about the tax affairs of people connected to the Labour party.

After a lot of agony I have come to the conclusion that I have a duty to make all this public. There are two powerful reasons. The first concerns the future of the Telegraph under the Barclay Brothers. It might sound a pompous thing to say, but I believe the newspaper is a significant part of Britain’s civic architecture. It is the most important public voice of civilised, sceptical conservatism.

Telegraph readers are intelligent, sensible, well-informed people. They buy the newspaper because they feel that they can trust it. If advertising priorities are allowed to determine editorial judgments, how can readers continue to feel this trust? The Telegraph’s recent coverage of HSBC amounts to a form of fraud on its readers. It has been placing what it perceives to be the interests of a major international bank above its duty to bring the news to Telegraph readers. There is only one word to describe this situation: terrible. Imagine if the BBC—so often the object of Telegraph attack—had conducted itself in this way. TheTelegraph would have been contemptuous. It would have insisted that heads should roll, and rightly so.

This brings me to a second and even more important point that bears not just on the fate of one newspaper but on public life as a whole. A free press is essential to a healthy democracy. There is a purpose to journalism, and it is not just to entertain. It is not to pander to political power, big corporations and rich men. Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional duty to tell their readers the truth.

It is not only the Telegraph that is at fault here. The past few years have seen the rise of shadowy executives who determine what truths can and what truths can’t be conveyed across the mainstream media. The criminality of News International newspapers during the phone hacking years was a particularly grotesque example of this wholly malign phenomenon. All the newspaper groups, bar the magnificent exception of the Guardian, maintained a culture ofomerta around phone-hacking, even if (like the Telegraph) they had not themselves been involved. One of the consequences of this conspiracy of silence was the appointment of Andy Coulson, who has since been jailed and now faces further charges of perjury, as director of communications in 10 Downing Street.

Urgent questions to answer

Last week I made another discovery. Three years ago the Telegraphinvestigations team—the same lot who carried out the superb MPs’ expenses investigation—received a tip off about accounts held with HSBC in Jersey. Essentially this investigation was similar to the Panorama investigation into the Swiss banking arm of HSBC. After three months research the Telegraphresolved to publish. Six articles on this subject can now be found online, between 8 and 15 November 2012, although three are not available to view.

Thereafter no fresh reports appeared. Reporters were ordered to destroy all emails, reports and documents related to the HSBC investigation. I have now learnt, in a remarkable departure from normal practice, that at this stage lawyers for the Barclay brothers became closely involved. When I asked theTelegraph why the Barclay brothers were involved, it declined to comment.

This was the pivotal moment. From the start of 2013 onwards stories critical of HSBC were discouraged. HSBC suspended its advertising with the Telegraph. Its account, I have been told by an extremely well informed insider, was extremely valuable. HSBC, as one former Telegraph executive told me, is “the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend”. HSBC today refused to comment when I asked whether the bank's decision to stop advertising with theTelegraph was connected in any way with the paper's investigation into the Jersey accounts. 

Winning back the HSBC advertising account became an urgent priority. It was eventually restored after approximately 12 months. Executives say that Murdoch MacLennan was determined not to allow any criticism of the international bank. “He would express concern about headlines even on minor stories,” says one former Telegraph journalist. “Anything that mentioned money-laundering was just banned, even though the bank was on a final warning from the US authorities. This interference was happening on an industrial scale.

“An editorial operation that is clearly influenced by advertising is classic appeasement. Once a very powerful body know they can exert influence they know they can come back and threaten you. It totally changes the relationship you have with them. You know that even if you are robust you won’t be supported and will be undermined.”

When I sent detailed questions to the Telegraph this afternoon about its connections with advertisers, the paper gave the following response. "Your questions are full of inaccuracies, and we do not therefore intend to respond to them. More generally, like any other business, we never comment on individual commercial relationships, but our policy is absolutely clear. We aim to provide all our commercial partners with a range of advertising solutions, but the distinction between advertising and our award-winning editorial operation has always been fundamental to our business. We utterly refute any allegation to the contrary."

The evidence suggests otherwise, and the consequences of the Telegraph’srecent soft coverage of HSBC may have been profound. Would Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs have been much more energetic in its own recent investigations into wide-scale tax avoidance, had the Telegraph continued to hold HSBC to account after its 2012 investigation? There are great issues here. They go to the heart of our democracy, and can no longer be ignored.

A Thundering Good Read

The 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War and the recent annual remembrance parades have touched us all and each in our own way.

The casualty lists are desperately sobering though with up to 5,000 names appearing on some days.

The casualty lists are desperately sobering though with up to 5,000 names appearing on some days.

I’ll admit to a life-long interest in the conflict and like to think I’m fairly well and broadly read on the subject. I’ve taken though, to following the war  in a slightly different way. I subscribe to both digital versions of the Times and the Telegraph. The Times though has a simply awesome archive of past papers and it is through these that day by day, I’m following the war a hundred years on.

True, some of the reporting may obviously be sanitised but I can tell you it’s massively more comprehensive than anything we’ve been fed in recent decades from Iraq and Afghanistan. I find it interesting on multiple levels, not least that the war is reported from all fronts and naval actions too are very well covered.

 

Typical obituary notice in the Times; Lt Arthur Collins, 628 not out at Clifton when 13

Typical obituary notice in the Times; Lt Arthur Collins, 628 not out at Clifton when 13

Major H G Powell, the fifth CO of the 1st Loyals since the outbreak of war; "With a hail of shells and bullets falling around him he directed the operations of his detachment from the chair in which he sat until he was wounded."

Major H G Powell, the fifth CO of the 1st Loyals since the outbreak of war; "With a hail of shells and bullets falling around him he directed the operations of his detachment from the chair in which he sat until he was wounded."

Short obituaries of some officers are listed every day and the vast majority are regular officers, most having seen service throughout the Empire with names such as Omdurman, Ladysmith and Mafeking often recurring. That will change as we move into 1915, mostly because there wasn’t much of the pre war regular army left. Each though has a story such as young Lt Arthur Collins above who scored a remarkable 628 not out as a 13 year old schoolboy at Clifton and the commanding officers of the 1st Loyals below that.

The articulate and colourful 1914 equivalent of being dumped by text

The articulate and colourful 1914 equivalent of being dumped by text

We'll never know if she made his day.

We'll never know if she made his day.

Anyone looking for the opening line of a novel need look no further

Anyone looking for the opening line of a novel need look no further

The paper exudes social history. I’m finding the personal notices both desperately sad with parents making public enquiries about the well-being of their sons at the front, “may be a prisoner of war,” and entertaining with romantic notices, “meet me under the clock…” There are too a great many notices in French, reflecting the wave of refugees in London, (not unlike today you might think!), and as the war goes on, a growing number of “disengaged,” servants seeking work, houses and flats for rent or sale and auctions of possessions. I expect all of these will clearly grow as the war goes on.

Personal notices placed in respect of the "football" debate.

Personal notices placed in respect of the "football" debate.

The letters page also reflected the "football," debate.

The letters page also reflected the "football," debate.

There are a few running debates in the paper with one of the most strident surrounding the decision of the Football Association to continue with professional matches. This attracts lively criticism with complaints about the lack of volunteers stepping forward to enlist at league matches. There are some who defend the game asking what separates the football players and fans from those who go to the theatre, horse racing or other sports and activities.

It’s a heart tugging journey each day punctuated only by the odd uplifting piece. It’s going to be a long four years but I’m nonetheless finding it rewarding and look forward to sharing the odd piece with you.

Having discussed the Great War I should end by mentioning the publication today by the Telegraph of a "virtual memorial" to our 453 dead from the conflict in Afghanistan from 2001-2014. Their average age was 22. The obituaries from family, friends and comrades for each of the 450 men and three women are warm and friendly as befits the changed times but actually, you feel the pain in the reading. God bless them all. We will remember, always.

“This has come as a complete surprise.”

The Met Office have issued their quarterly contingency outlook, advice which is designed for long term planners such as councils rather than the general public, with an outlook for above average rainfall for November to January. That in itself is bad news for those with waterlogged gardens and trees standing in increasingly weak soggy soil. Anyway, that’s theirs, this is mine.

There is a theory out there that early snowfall accumulation in Siberia signals a cold winter for the rest of us. Unfortunately, about 14.1 million square kilometres of snow covered Siberia at the end of October. According to the boffins at Rutgers University Snow Lab that’s the second most since 1967. Ominously, the snow has fallen at the fastest rate since 1998. Moreover, this year’s Atlantic sea ice maximum was 1.54m square km’s above the 1981-2010 average; that’s 4 standard deviations off the mean. That’s a lot of cold air.

Another snow guru, a Mr Judah Cohen who is the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, who developed the theory linking Siberian snow with winter weather said, “A rapid advance of Eurasian snow cover during the month of October favours that the upcoming winter will be cold across the Northern Hemisphere...... this past October the signal was quite robust.”

So what exactly happens?

Cold air builds over the expanse of snow, strengthening the pressure system known as a Siberian high. The high weakens the winds that circle the North Pole, allowing the cold air to leak into the lower latitudes. The term Polar Vortex actually refers to those winds, not the frigid weather. When the winds are extremely strong, they can lock down all the Arctic cold in the po­lar regions, allowing most of the North­ern Hemisphere to have a warm winter and spring. When they are weak, the cold plunges south. In 2012, they were very strong and spring arrived six weeks ear­ly. They have shown no sign of being very strong this year. That’s a bad thing.

 

Something else out there to watch is the North Atlantic Oscillation, which often acts in tandem the Arctic one. The oscillation is a shift of high and low pressure systems over the ocean that can influence storm tracks and the location of the jet stream, and affect the weather over the eastern U.S. and western Europe. Just for fun and giggles our Mr Cohen has started a blog to track these changes.

In the here and now, the different systems, (Arctic and Atlantic), are likely to bring cold weather to the Eastern US and warm weather to Europe. Problem for us is that Eurasian snow covering may turn the Atlantic oscillation from it’s current positive to a negative state. That’s when we start complaining about the roads not being gritted and cue relevant government minister on News at Ten to say, “This has come as a complete surprise.”

Just to add some spice and intrigue to the mix, and not to be left out, the Pacific is likely to toss in an El Nino event this winter, (well, a 60-65% probability). Whilst no certainty it would have implications for regional planting and harvests. As a very rough rule of thumb, California and Southern Brazil could expect much needed rainfall while Australian farmers would face drought conditions.  El Nino impacts the tropics much more than the northern hemisphere which have the weakest geographical correlation but again, as a rule of thumb is usually leads to colder and wetter conditions in Europe. Certain conditions still need to be met for an El Nino event to be declared and the event usually has a shelf life of about seven months.

 

The wild card for us is the eruption in Iceland. The eruption is vast but has stayed off the front pages because it hasn’t been particularly explosive. The eruption though has haemorrhaged lava and gas emitting some 20,000-60,000 tons of SO2 a day compared to the whole of Europe that emits 14,000 tons a day.  Historically, large eruptions, and this is the largest in centuries, add to cooling and acid rain as far south as the UK. If this puppy became more kinetic, the impact on us would immediately intensify.

So what?

It may transpire that nothing much happens except an unusually wet and muddy winter. Indeed, we have Big Rain this week with more flood warnings being issued by the hour. That pretty much was the view of my cab driver yesterday. The conditions exist though, and are growing, for a pretty chilly outlook. Snow Zero is likely to come in January.  At the minimum, expect more volatility in temperatures and wind. For us in the UK whatever happens we can guarantee that central government and local councils will be blissfully unaware of the consequences of perpetual inaction until its too late which is pretty much why Mrs Flashbang has been dispatched to the Cash & Carry. That is, prior preparation, (emergency fuel, light, food), may stand you in good stead, especially in rural areas.

Am I being a drama Queen?

Perhaps.  The European Energy Markets Observatory though recently warned that the risk of blackouts in Europe is growing as thermal generating capacity has been hosed in favour of renewables, (23.5%) which, we’ve seen before, don’t work well, if at all, in extremes. The Icelandic volcanic activity won’t help here either given the acidic moisture in the air can damage the exposed elements of wind generators. Part of the issue here is that the generating industry’s capacity to meet surges in demand is degraded with a greater dependence on renewables. Problems with Russia won’t help one wee bit, (think we all see this one coming), and a number of nuclear reactors in Europe, (3 in Belgium), have recently been shut down because of safety or engineering concerns. Indeed, the National Grid has already told us that their winter capacity will be at a 7 year low with spare capacity at 4% compared to 17% three years ago, (we’ve shut 15 plants since then).

The energy secretary, A Mr Davey, told us last month that "there will be no blackouts. Period." Well, Mr Ed Davey obviously believes he has the powers of the Almighty. His civil servants don't though. They quickly moderated the comments by telling Channel 4 news that what he meant was the "UK was not going to run out of energy this winter." Mr Davey will now endure a sleepless winter because blackouts are likely to = "minister fired for being a stupid person." Obviously, you get to make your own choice here, believe the minister or listen to Crumble; your call.


One last point to ponder because we mostly like to cover all the bases. May I direct your attention to the letter to the Telegraph above from a Mrs Margaret Higgs. (I spotted ladybirds last weekend in the corner of my bedroom by the window. How spooky is that Margaret?).

 

In summary, the bad news has arrived for the mid west of the US already, (today in fact). We’re most likely in the clear in respect of heavy snow until after Christmas but at Crumble Towers, I’m taking no chances.In the meantime expect rain, and lots of it.

Unpublished Letter to the Telegraph (2)

Hose_Pipe_Ban.png

I'm in a bit of a letters trough here, not many getting through the net,

Sir,

While we all wait in weary bemusement for the inevitable hose pipe ban announcement, it may yet dawn on members of Her Majesty's Government that citizens might welcome capital expenditure that protects their life's work and investment in their homes and communities, rather than the planned profligate and wanton expense on a high speed railway which is about as welcome in most counties through which it will travel as is the next flood.

Unpublished Letter to the Telegraph

Receptionist.jpg

Another one that didn't make the cut:

Sir,

The recent furore over the potential increased demands on GP's resources from economic migrants is misguided.

Commentators have of course, forgotten to factor in the GP's Auto Defence Shield; that would be the formidible cadre of Dreadnoughts known as the GP's receptionists. As we all know, years of experience in attempting to navigate passage through them offers no advantage and migrants will require deep pools of tenacity, cunning and resilience to succeed.

 I say good luck to them!

Housing Timebomb

Max Keiser always sounds as if he's pumped up with a mixture of 17lbs of blue smarties and three pipes of crystal meth. He does though, in amongst the ranty delivery, have some salient points to make. He is right in large part about the economic distortions of the housing market, mostly engineered for political gain, (which is about to backfire on the Coalition at just the wrong time before the election), and he is accurate in some of his observations about the banking sector, particularly in the "mark to myth," problem with assets and a dependency on government subsidy be it direct or indirect. In short, many of the distortions which created the crisis five years ago remain unresolved because the political and moral courage, to do so is absent. 

I am a very right wing individual but by the Gods in Heaven these inept and self interested fools in Westminster are day by day, turning me into a raging socialist. Why, because to use the old phrase they are socialising losses but privatising the upside for the benefit of a microcosm of society. In doing so, they are shaming the City, (many in its ranks are arch critics of policy and have been for many years), and mortgaging future generations by spending today even more of what we don't have.

Anyway, I'll leave it there for the moment before I become completely unglued. Keisers rant is worth a listen to, especially the last few minutes.

Shocking Ommission

The Downton Abbey scriptwriter hard at it

Another unpublished letter to the Telegraph, 

Dear Sir,

My usual morning equilibrium was rocked today as I travelled on the 06:00hrs from Haslemere, when I discovered whilst passing through Woking that excepting a fleeting reference relating to a photograph on page 8, the usual fawning and sycophantic daily piece about Downton Abbey was absent from the paper. This shocking omission left me with nothing to complain about on arrival at Waterloo but has left me feeling oddly uplifted and optimistic about the rest of my day.

Yours faithfully,
— Mental Crumble