Saturday, October 20, 2018

Longevity

I have always assumed that the Japanese on average live longer than people from other countries in the world because of their enjoyment of sea food. However  "The Times" this week reports that the Japanese are soon to be overtaken in the longevity stakes by the Spanish.

Spanish people that I have met, appear to enjoy life to the full, with good wine siestas, women (and presumably men) and excellent food. 

However they also appear to enjoy smoking and even drink roughly the same amount of alcohol as the average Briton so where are we  going wrong or rather the Spanish going right?

Part of the answer apparently is the Spanish custom of  taking a daily walk they call the "paseo". Apparently the paseo  daily stroll  is taken by over 75% of the population  of Spain at least 4 times a week. In Europe apparently, only the Bulgarians undertake more walking than the Spaniards.

Strolling about Wimbledon and environs as I do most days of the week, I find it interesting to see that many if not most, other people one notices walking about, are fairly lean looking but more interestingly, when passing by those in conversation, English is not the most common language to be heard.  

Local main roads though are often clogged up with cars and other traffic which causes me to wonder whether the report that UK longevity has now ceased to increase but has at best become static, is partially caused by the failure of many in this country to undertake even moderate amounts of daily walking.  Passing by a beautiful new Mercedes motor car, I noted that its happy owner or at least driver, who had exited the vehicle for a quiet smoke was hugely overweight looking. Given that the Spanish go in for smoking as much as those in the UK, one can conclude that being overweight is  caused at least in part, by the lack of sufficient exercise as well as presumably diet. 

Obviously   in the UK, Spain, Japan and elsewhere, excess weight can be caused by health factors but the statistics tend to show, that for average people with average health, more exercise, is one of the  keys to a long life.

The Times article also suggests that we in the UK, should eat more tomatoes, almonds and use far more olive oil, to improve our longevity.

Given that the Japanese have topped the longevity stakes for years, I would  surmise that increasing the amount of fish in one's diet, would also have beneficial effects.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

32 Years After The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Meltdown

The BBC website has a fascinating account of how some poor people from the Ukraine and Russia are returning to the edge of the still extant, 30 mile exclusion zone around the former Chernobyl nuclear power station.

The disaster of Chernobyl was huge. However Russia is not the only nation which has suffered from nuclear power disasters although theirs is the worst in magnitude that has been publicised to date. 


Three Mile Island in 1979 was as I recall the worst nuclear power accident in the USA. That disaster took some 14 years and $1bn to clean up although thankfully, reported increases in illness attributed to the disaster there were small though still significant. The Japanese nuclear power station at Fukushima was disastrously affected by a terrible tsunami/earthquake in the region as recently as 2011. That is recorded as being the second worst disaster after Chernoblyl


The worst case nuclear accident in the UK was in 1957 at Calder Hall.


Indeed my late father who was in the RAF and knowledgeable from his career about nuclear issues,  changed the name of the house the family had just acquired, from Calderwood to simply number 18, so disastrous that accident was. Indeed, the name Calder Hall itself was changed to Sellafield presumably for similar reasons. The Guardian newspaper reported some sixty years later:


It says something for how Britain's nuclear establishment worked from the start that when Windscale No1 Pile caught fire in October 1957, it was hushed up so well that even with 11 tons of uranium ablaze for three days, the reactor close to collapse and radioactive material spreading across the Lake District, the people who worked there were expected to keep quiet and carry on making plutonium for the bomb. This was Britain's worst-ever nuclear accident...But we also know from the interviews that it was largely thanks to the courage of deputy general manager Tom Tuohy that the Lake District is still habitable today. When all else had failed to stop the fire, Tuohy, a chemist, now dead, scaled the reactor building, took a full blast of the radiation and stared into the blaze below.

"He was standing there putting water in and if things had gone wrong with the water – it had never been tried before on a reactor fire – if it had exploded, Cumberland would have been finished, blown to smithereens. It would have been like Chernobyl... there was contamination everywhere, on the golf course, in the milk, in chickens… but it was quickly forgotten about," says McManus.
Reverting to Chernobyl which was sadly, a far worse accident than Three Mile Island or Calder Hall, the BBC reports that 
On 26 April 1986, Chernobyl suffered the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
An experiment designed to test the safety of the power plant went wrong and caused a fire which spewed radiation for 10 days. Clouds carrying radioactive particles drifted for thousands of miles, releasing toxic rain all over Europe.
Those living close to Chernobyl - about 116,000 people - were immediately evacuated  A 30km exclusion zone was imposed around the damaged reactor. This was later expanded to cover more affected areas....Over the next few months a further 234,000 people were moved out. Almost all left in a hurry. Some were given just a few hours to pack up all their belongings. Others were told they would only be gone a few days, but were never allowed back. Many of the evacuees, who were subsistence farmers, found themselves rehoused in concrete tower blocks.

Yet some people from Ukraine and Russia displaced by the current wars in the Crimea and the Ukraine and who are also very poor,  perhaps because of those wars, have moved back towards the Chernobyl area and set up home there. Again the BBC reports:

It’s not just the absence of war, but a special kind of peace.
Both Maryna and Vadim’s families talk about their love of taking long quiet walks in the forest.
Life may be basic, but neither family wants to move to a bigger town, even if it would mean more friends or opportunities. Their need for stillness after fleeing from the chaos of war is sobering.
"I don’t care about the radiation," says Maryna. "I only care that there are no shells flying over my children. It’s quiet here. We sleep well and we don’t need to hide.”
Vadim says his wife Olena sometimes likens parts of the derelict exclusion zone to their war-torn hometown of Horlivka. But there’s a clear distinction - here on the edge of the exclusion zone she believes their family has a future.
"I felt like we had lost it all," says Vadim. "But now, living here, things are getting better.”




However the risks to life from radiation are still huge in the region and the Russians still maintain their exclusion zone  not only at  the ruined nuclear power reactor but for many miles around it. 

This history, more than for example cost, makes yours truly extremely wary of the proposals to build new  nuclear power stations in this country. 

The French and Chinese engineers responsible for some new nuclear power station building in the UK, thankfully (in my humble opinion) appear to be finding that they have immense, perhaps insurmountable problems with their projects in England so far. 

I would guess that the cost to the British taxpayer of cancelling their project would be huge whereas if the project proves impossible, the cost would be theirs and that this may be the reason for no cancellation directive being issued so far.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

A Tourist in London

Mrs maytrees' sister and brother in law were over from Dublin to spend a few days sight seeing in London so after some lunch at home on Sunday we were pleased to take them to two or three tourist sights on Monday and Tuesday.

The first was the British Library which was about a twenty minute walk from their Tottenham Court Road Hotel. Not having been to the British Library following  its reconstruction  a few years ago this proved to be a very interesting visit for me as well. 

The architecture of the library is very pleasing to the eye yet is quite low profile close to St Pancras Station, which of course has been magnificently revamped following the transfer of the Eurostar trains terminus there some years back, from London Waterloo.

The British Library is mainly a centre for looking at and reading, interesting or old books. Though to enter the research rooms or the library proper one needs to join which is free though requires passport style ID. There is an interesting exhibition area which did not require ID or membership so we restricted our visit to that  and then to  the library's refectory. I believe The British Library still holds one copy of every book ever published so on my next visit I might seek out my late mother's first children's novel - "The Mystery of the Blue Tomatoes"



The Library also houses  large stamp collections, which are cleverly stored in accessible panels in the public sections. Collecting stamps used to be a hobby for many people though these days although stamps are still purchased for investment purposes, the number of children collecting them has fallen heavily. Nonetheless I found viewing the stamps fascinating. The rarest seemed to be one from Mauritius and I note that in the 1990s one like that below, sold for $millions at an auction:

Mauritius stamp.jpg

The books were very cleverly stacked and  displayed throughout the Library and many including some in the exhibition rooms were extremely old and rare. In particular an old Ethiopian bible caught my eye. The whole volume had been meticulously compiled by hand including some brilliant art work though I had thought that it was older than C15:



The following day was for the V&A and the Science Museum. The impressively long pedestrian underpass from South Kensington Underground Station to the museums was appreciated as was the virtual pedestrianisation of  Exhibition Road. I wondered when the pedestrian underpass had been built - after WWII?

The V&A is a wonderful museum  with the main issue being where to start and what to see. As is usual for UK museums its cost free access is an huge plus.

The German stamps showing inflation in that country during the 1930s intrigued:




Though again as in the British Library exhibition, the hand made ancient bible was a highlight. The  items in gold silver old and new fascinated us all so  the V&A will of course be visited again.

Then on via the pedestrian subway to the Science Museum. The ground floor of this museum is clearly maintained to appeal to students and young people. Entrance again is supposed to be free of cost though one has to pass through what look like ticket gates to enter. However given the expense of constructing some of the exhibits which included old film of mankind's first walk on the moon and before that Yuri Gagarin's first flight  the museum's need for finance is keen.

One exhibition concerned the sun:

NASA composite image of solar flares

Again the time spent at the museum flew by.  

The last couple of days visiting and showing  people around the British Library, the V&A and The Science Museum made me appreciate how much London has to offer Londoners as well as tourists, provided one does not fall into the trap of taking its magnificent offerings, for granted.






Sunday, September 30, 2018

School Governors in England

In England, the overall running of most schools both in the  state and private sectors, usually including academies and free schools, is overseen by governing bodies. In state maintained  schools these are often appointed by or through churches, local authorities, religious orders, staff and parents. In many but not all, private schools governors, are appointed by the trustees of the school often upon the recommendations of existing governors.

Additionally many governing bodies employ a  clerk upon a part time basis to minute meetings and give legal advice. Some groups of schools share a full time clerk, who may then  have his or her own office and staff to facilitate the clerk's work

Governors meet  as a full group, at least once a term but committees of governors then also meet termly and there are usually two or three such committees.

Overall the experience of being a governor over the past 30 years or so and more recently, clerk to one governing body is very positive. There can be difficulties of course with staffing issues, grievance and disciplinary procedures being perhaps the most common. Governors in such times however can usually turn to the school's  solicitors for advice and assistance when necessary.

In earlier years one issue was that of redundancies when money became tight or pupil numbers fell. More recently the issue has been that of increasing the school's size and involving contractors with new building. 

Inspections,  for example through OFSTED affect governing bodies which seek to assist their schools' heads and staff manage these successfully.  

Overall though being a school governor though often necessitating the proverbial rolling up of sleeves, is extremely rewarding irrespective of ones age or employment experience. Of course governing bodies may benefit from having on their boards former head teachers but many in practice benefit from having  parents of former pupils at the school, or  current parents,  surveyors, accountants nurses, lawyers or those who practice in other trades or professions or did so before retirement, among their membership.

Perhaps the most unusual governing body meeting which can be mentioned on a public blog that I can recall, took place over 30 years ago. 

I was not a governor there but was asked to attend as a young lawyer to watch, listen and report back to the school's proprietor.  The meeting commenced at about 6pm with a prayer then followed by tea and biscuits with the agenda being gone through fairly efficiently. However by about 7:30pm it became apparent that there was an issue in the school's carpentry classes. The  carpentry class team leader was called in to assist with the governors' deliberations. After a while it became apparent that the carpenters had a "side line" of arranging for furniture to be made at the school with pupils' assistance and then selling off that furniture to private buyers with the sale proceeds going to the adult carpenters at the school.

The meeting then proved to be anything but routine and as I remember many years after the event, instead of coming to an end at about 8pm the governing body did not leave the school until well after midnight.

For governors as well as staff, DSB checking is required - simple, quick for most and free of cost to the volunteer governor or staff member. As is clear from news reports, the issue of  usually historic, child abuse can very occasionally arise although these days as sadly, if not more so, perhaps peer on peer abuse is as common.  I should add that neither issue has ever arisen at the two schools at which I still have involvement.

As indicated earlier though, being  school governor whether at primary or secondary school level and whether at state or private schools or the various type of educational institution in between, can be extremely fulfilling. Most governing bodies will arrange to have meals together to unwind from time to time. Training also tends to be freely available  not only for new governors but also  to assist all, in keeping abreast of new developments.

Hopefully anyone reading this blog of whatever age, might investigate further and perhaps consider applying, as there is currently a shortage of school governors in England. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The EU - Again

The topic of the EU has become so dull on the one hand yet gives rise to so many heated discussions on the other, that for family emails, I have asked my brothers and sisters that  we should avoid this topic where possible. 

However appreciating that two of them at least have had incomes from working for the EU and one at least is still securing income from Brussels, I begin to appreciate that there has probably  been an element of not biting the hand that feeds you in some of the family discussions. 

Likewise the most ardent supporter of the EU that I know of outside of the family, turns out to have been paid a vast salary through Brussels for his work there essentially on behalf of the EU. 

This experience causes me to wonder if all those receiving payments from Brussels should have been excluded from voting in the UK's referendum on leaving the EU. As it happens those in favour of Brexit won by a decent margin in any event  though I personally voted with reluctance, to remain.

Irrespective of the political and financial arguments, the rudeness of some of the senior European politicians in Brussels this week was unacceptable. The behaviour of President Macron of France who banded UK Brexiteers as "liars" was really appalling. 

Of course politics and terminological inexactitudes sadly often go together but politicians particularly presidents, of one country should surely usually let those in countries other than their own, criticise their politicians how they wish, rather than stoop to do so themselves as senior outsiders, especially when labelling them liars?

In times of war or say criminal poisonings where a foreign country might be guilty of the most serious of murderous behaviour, using the term "liar" might be apt but certainly not in arguments about leaving a nations' trading club. President Macron has substantially gone down in many people's esteem.

Mrs May on the other hand has never seemed particularly high in people's esteem, even in the UK yet her Downing Street speech in response to the Brussels rudeness and that of President Macron, coupled with the EU 27's General de Gaulle approach to the UK of "non non non" was her best in office so far.

Given that the EU treats countries  which seek to leave their  club in such high handed fashion I am now more strongly convinced than ever that we should leave. 

Yes the City and others will suffer for a year or two but sooner or later the UK as a fully independent nation outside the  EU bloc, will gain considerable momentum in adjusting positively to the change. 

For example at present, the  City of London makes a fortune out of trading (if that is the right word) derivatives. I have considerable doubt whether such trades are in the long term best interests of this country and personally hope that such money making activities will diminish after Brexit. 

Similarly, the advent of the C20 "big bang" in the City of London, resulted in amongst other changes, shorting shares becoming legally enforceable, that is betting on a company's shares going down in value and  making money from  so  doing,  by using shares owned by fund mangers rather than the traders themselves.  This activity often results in huge  profits for traders at the owner's (usually pension funds and the like) expense. 

Earlier such betting debts would have been legally unenforceable so paid really as a matter of honour. The outcome of the big bang changes, may have been to enrich  traders like shorters but at what cost, eg to pension funds when the shares owed by such were and are still, often used? 

 It needs to be borne in mind that shorters profit from the value of shares going down whilst the fund managers require the shares to gain in value, for their members such as prospective pensioners, to profit.

The EU27 have by their attitude probably assisted the UK PM, though only time will tell. Meanwhile Brexit continues.

After the UK has left the EU, I speculate that the remaining 27 members will consider changing the rules to make leaving their club even more difficult for any other nation.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Peer on Peer Safeguarding

A conference effectively  based on this blog post title does not  sound a vitally interesting way of spending a whole day. Nonetheless as topics of this kind affect school governors generally, I was pleased to accept the invitation to attend.

Not having to travel to London during rush hours, is one of the delights of retirement so the conference time table from 08:45 to 17:00 hours was slightly daunting. None the less, Wimbledon being at the start of the two District lines on the London Underground, meant that at least the journey into town was straightforward and with ample seating room. 

Indeed so efficient was the underground, that I decided to alight early at Victoria Station and walk to conference venue at Methodist Central Hall Westminster. 

As it happens, I was passing by Westminster Cathedral at 8am just in time for the morning mass there. The congregation was spread widely around the large cathedral in typical English fashion, rather than occupying the front seats which would strictly, have made more sense. Nonetheless a  calming thirty minutes mass before attending the conference  was just what was needed.

The Methodist Central Hall itself has quite a history. It hosted the first United Nations assembly  after WWII in 1946, not to mention Andrew Lloyd Webber's first public performance in 1968. 



Related image

In fact with over 300 delegates, a large meeting room like that provided by the Central Hall proved to be essential.

The conference itself, despite its difficult subject matter and not overly attractive  title, was excellent. 

In addition to  the Minister for Children and Young People  who spoke briefly, two of the most interesting talks were given by senior staff of schools for special needs children, based in Croydon. The two senior managers  recounted the area's  difficulties, some of which recently featured on the national news following stabbings of  four young people in Croydon. 

An issue is that many ordinary schools are not really well equipped to deal with children with special needs. This means that permanent exclusions of such young people from mainstream schools  tend to be relatively frequent. Schools specialising in special needs children may be a good way forward for some at least. We heard via video from a young lady who had been excluded from a mainstream state school then admitted to one of the Croydon group's schools where she did well in her public exams.

Reflecting though on the problems of violence in and about Croydon, which also happens to be one of the main  centres of the country's immigration offices  including their "compliance and enforcement teams" and reading in today's Sunday Times, about the large percentage of people living in London who are below the poverty line, raises question of why so many refugees and young new immigrants, are housed in the capital rather than being housed in less densely populated parts of the country? I cannot answer that question though thankfully I am not a politician.

The walk back to Waterloo station from Methodist Central Hall Westminster was enjoyable in the fair weather though crowded with tourists  and there proved to be a reasonable amount of space on the rush hour train back too!


Saturday, September 08, 2018

Immigration

Immigration has become one of the most contentious issues for many  countries today.

In Europe, the issue arises partly through the violence and wars in the Middle East  probably compounded by people from Africa seeking work or simply better lives. 

The immigration issue has also increased in South America of late, with many seeking to flee the financial disasters of Venezuela  despite their  president being hugely praised  not that long ago, by the UK's Labour Party leader. 

The failures of Nicolas Maduro, the President of Venezuela  are now illustrated by that country's currency note:

Image result for venezuela currency pictures

 However as an aside, my recollection is that Zimbabwe holds the post war record for a country's inflation rate, since largely resolved by moving to the US $ as their basic currency:



As significantly, the increase in numbers seeking to flee Mexico for a new life in the USA, has led to President Trump's campaign to build a fence along the whole frontier between those two nations. I am sure he would be wrong to do so.

The immigration  issue comes to the fore this week end, at least in Europe, with a general election in Sweden,  the country which per head of population. has welcomed more immigrants than most if not all other European countries. 

From newspaper reports, the Swedes did not appear to have been troubled over much in previous years, by  welcoming a large number of immigrants from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, more recently from Poland and other Eastern European countries. I surmise that the majority of those immigrants shared a similar religious  view to most Swedes. 

Although religion in C21 is far less significant in many Europeans' lives than even in C20, the historic European position has largely been one of Christianity whereas many immigrants from the Middle East adhere not only to a different religion but also take its practice far more seriously than many in the European countries they seek to access. That point perhaps also raises the (academic) question of why they do not seek to travel to countries with a similar historic religious background to their own, given the already large non-religious differences between the immigrants' existing ways of life and those of the countries they seek to enter for new lives?

However there now appears to be growing unrest in Sweden arising from the large number of  newer immigrants from the Middle East, so much so that there is even a risk that Sweden's far right political party will win twenty percent of more of the nation's vote in tomorrow general election there, perhaps receiving more votes than any other political party, which in my view would be sad. 

Violence in Sweden is being reported which runs counter to the country's great reputation as being one of the happiest and fairest places on the planet to live. For example in Malmo, violent deaths are reported as being far higher per head than in London, despite UK newspapers'  huge criticisms of the failures by the London Mayor  to tackle that dreadful issue here.

Possibly The Times newspaper is mis-reporting but today it states:

"It's not just Malmo that's on edge. Across Swedish cities such as Gothenburg and Stokholm, cars have been set ablaze and the foot soldiers in various gang wars think nothing of lobbing hand grenades. They're cheap sometimes free if you are buying  Kalashnikov."

The  Times hopefully is exaggerating the difficulties in order to sell more copies but the outcome of the Swedish general election this week-end should  set the matter in perspective.

My own opinion is that Germany, by  failing in 2015, to consult its EU partners with a view to reaching agreement, particularly about refugees and sub-Saharan immigration, before opening the flood gates to the whole of Europe, precipitated the crisis now facing countries like Italy and Greece in particular and the EU more generally. 




Longevity

I have always assumed that the Japanese on average live longer than people from other countries in the world because of their enjoyment of s...