Saturday, September 21, 2019

Daily Life

Being out and about locally at present is refreshingly different. The nearest main road, Worple Road,  usually full of noisy trucks and dozens of cars, particularly during morning rush hour has been closed for over three months whilst Thames Water have been relaying a broken water main of some kind.

Thames water fairly recently even provided a small minibus for those with walking difficulties and who wish to travel cost free to Wimbledon or Raynes Park train stations.

As the picture to the left indicates the road is virtually traffic free apart from the odd local resident's car or the Thames Water minibus. 

All the TfL bus stops have been closed and the affected buses along with the usual heavy traffic rerouted to a parallel but smaller road at the top of Wimbledon Hill. 

The smaller road, The Ridgway, is quite unsuited to the large volume of traffic currently travelling along it. The occasional bus stop on the Ridgway, previously used only by the mainly single deck bus, travelling to Raynes Park and return but now used by double deck buses  on their way to Kingston and Clapham causes the already large volume of traffic to back up, whilst the bus passengers board and  exit at bus stops, thus causing the road to become even more congested and dangerous  for pedestrians to cross.

Before the Thames Water works, many school children would take buses to their local schools or be driven by their parents. Currently however it would appear that the road closure is resulting in large numbers of pupils from all the local schools both state and private, walking to school talking and even sometimes singing together, which must be far more healthy than either walking along a noisy congested road or being driven to their schools would have been, before the Thames Water works began.

Friday was climate change day when many school children and others around the world protested at the effects of  traffic pollution on human and animal life in the  world.Currently Thames Water are being threatened with huge fines if their Worple Road works are not completed by the end of this month. 

How much more in line with the concerns particularly of young people, would it be, if instead of fining Thames Water, a decision was taken to close Worple Road to most heavy  truck traffic and single person cars, once Thames Water has departed?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

National Archives Kew - And the Cold War

Youngest sister Steph suggested a visit to the National Archive Centre followed by a lunch at  the Michelin starred Glasshouse restaurant nearby Kew underground station, which meal she kindly offered to fund.

We walked from Kew Bridge South Western Railway station as Steph's home is not near to any underground lines. 

Surprisingly the National Archives are not signposted at all from the riverside footpath or any signpost that there may be, is not well positioned as we did not see it. Add to that, Google maps on our iPhone suggested that we needed to walk a long way east  along the Thames path which turned out to be  good exercise if somewhat exhausting though it made us all hungry for lunch. A local we met told us that Google's directions were quite incorrect as the National Archive Centre was only just off the riverside path a couple of miles or so back.

We eventually retraced our steps and arrived at the centre, the architecture of which reminded me of some of the 1960s architecture that many do not admire; for example see the earlier  blog post about the demolition of Pimlico School

The National Archive building is depicted below.

The National Archive Centre mirrored its lack of signposting, by being almost empty which is a shame as the site, which includes a decent book and souvenir shop, coffee bar and large restaurant is well laid out for visitors. 

The Cold War exhibition itself was quite small

However  the highlight for us was its small  Pathe News  cinema, which included photos of  and songs by the then young Beatles, who apparently the USSR were most critical of at the time because of their appeal to the  younger generation, which of course included yours truly.

Onward then to the Glasshouse restaurant which was about 15 minutes walk away.

I selected for a starter

Sea bass ceviche with avocado, pomegranate, lime, chilli, coriander and sour cream

Then for my main course

Yorkshire grouse with crushed root vegetables, crisp potato, smoked bacon and elderberries

And for sweet I think but memory is slightly clouded by the generous Sancerre kindly provided by sister Steph.

Warm chocolate croustade with milk ice cream and roasted nuts

We all agreed that the starters in particular  were really first class and left a wonderful impression on one's taste buds for some while. 

Of course the whole meal was simply delicious and we did not finish for a couple of hours or more.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Parliamentary Developments

The UK parliament has been described as the "mother of parliaments" as I believe that apart from the Manx parliament on the Isle of Man, it is the oldest in the world.

That our parliament received power as long ago as 1215 to require the King of England to be accountable to parliament and in essence to require free men accused of wrong doing, to have fair trials, signifies perhaps that some updating is long overdue.

Of course there were few free men in 1215 other than barons whereas in C21 the population at large is mostly free. However in the 800 years plus that have passed since magna carta,  there have been many other  huge developments in society and the world at large.

These developments in the UK have included after WWII, consideration being given towards codifying human rights and indeed duties, and  the former though not  yet the latter, has largely occurred through the  passing of the Human Rights Act 1998.

UK Parliamentary legislation  has rarely required referenda to provide support. There was a referendum promoted by the LibDems on whether the first past the post voting system for MPs should be changed but the people chose to keep the existing system.

David Cameron when Prime Minister, promised a referendum on the UK's continued membership of the EU. He travelled to Brussels with a view to negotiating some arrangements with  the EU which he could put to the  British people to encourage them to vote to remain. The EU foolishly in my view, offered him nothing and much to David Cameron's concern the ensuing referendum in 2016 determined the the UK should quit. 

Sadly, although David Cameron himself  promptly quit, the people's decision to quit is still being argued over more than three years later.

The latest twist in the ongoing saga occurred this week when MPs  with the assistance of the Speaker of the House, took over the parliamentary debating arrangements from the government and substituted their own. 

Traditionally, the Speaker is supposed to act neutrally but he had already made clear his wish for the UK to remain in the EU  which sadly in my view, compromised his neutrality. However the Tories will now presumably put someone forward as  parliamentary candidate in his constituency, when the general election eventually comes. Usually the speaker of the House of Commons  is not opposed by other parties' candidates in General elections

Meanwhile, The House of Commons passed legislation tying the government's hands to such an extent, that the PM is theoretically now required to seek yet another extension  to the UK's EU membership, this time by three months. Added to all this the Tory government  team, has taken the party whip from the 20 or so (former)  Conservative MPs who voted to support this tying up, with a result that the government has far fewer supporters in the House than before, leaving them as a minority government. 

The Labour and other opposition  parties who have been calling for weeks, for a general election, now refuse to agree to one which seems absurd. No wonder the world's press are camped in parliament square wondering what the next development will be.

Yet Parliamentary procedure did and does need a shakeup which it has not really had in the 800+ years since the Magna Carta. Quite what this should involve, is surely best left to a learned committee of MPs to consider as objectively as possible rather than for the arrangements  for parliamentary change to result from subjective politicking  in an area  where the general public's views have already been determined by referendum?

As for the future; Boris Johnson has already indicated that he would rather die in a ditch rather than seek an extension to UK membership of the EU beyond Halloween 2019. 

My own  view is   that the Commons tying hands procedure, is so extreme and unique that the PM's duty is limited to following it to the letter. 

If Boris Johnson requests an extension and does not for example resign first, the extension will have to be approved by all the EU members including the UK. The Common's tying hands legislation, did not  so far as I am aware, do more than require the PM to seek the extension.  

The Times today reports that some MPs  acting against the PM, have already travelled to Brussels and secured in advance,  other countries' agreements that such an extension will be granted. 

However the UK like any other EU country has the power to veto such matters. Given the wording of the MPs' subjective legislation, I see no reason why the PM should not after  first seeking the extension, then veto any that might  otherwise be offered.

Additionally or alternatively, the PM could seek such a veto from another EU member. The difficulty about that however is that  the UK pays  so much into the EU coffers that nearly any other country including those whose leaders are friends of the British PM, will risk losing out financially if the UK does leave. 

Almost as  aside, on BBC Radio 4 last night there were Polish speakers who were saying how friendly they were towards the UK but that they feel that the UK  is diminishing  itself by seeking to leave the EU. Poland of course receives large payments from the EU  which has up until now been supported financially, by the UK.

Possibly I missed talks by speakers  from the other side about the UK's position; otherwise I wonder if BBC these days stands for Brussels Broadcasting Corporation. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

New Prime Minister and Brexit

Boris Johnson is still a new prime minister yet already he appears to have been the nation's PM for months.

Interestingly the complaints about him  seem  feeble to me. 

The first is that he had not stood as a prospective PM in a general election before being appointed by the Tories to replace Theresa May who of course had survived a general election. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown  (both Labour) are among the dozen or so others who became prime ministers without first facing a general election so that point is a non-starter.

The second is that he is proroguing  Parliament by  longer period than is customary prior to the Queen's Speech, to make life more difficult for those who oppose Brexit. This seems true but  given that remainer MPs  who successfully stymied the referendum outcome since March 2019, have been arguing for three  years,  and with the Speaker's support, have bent the parliamentary rules somewhat to thwart the government's attempts to conclude the matter before now,  rule bending on the government's side can not fairly be the subject of complaint.

The third is that  it is said that the original referendum  did  not  mean that the UK  should leave without an EU deal. Again this is nonsense as logically, the position would then be that the EU could simply block Brexit by offering only a poor deal or none at all which would mean that the UK would remain, despite the majority voting to leave.

If the referendum outcome had been 52% in favour of remain and 48% seeking Brexit, would there have been be negotiations for the UK  with the EU, to  give a better deal on remaining? Given that David Cameron's attempts to negotiate some reasonable deal with the EU whilst the UK remained within the EU, have already failed, this point too is a non starter. 

Those complaining about a possible no deal Brexit, never propose what they would regard as a fair deal and of course the deal already offered by the EU was rejected by the Commons on three separate votes.

Although I personally voted to Remain in the referendum,  I believe that we should now leave asap. 

The EU of course  (as  has been the case  elsewhere) always welcomes second and even third referenda to secure the result Brussels prefers but it is right for the UK to resist this.

Naturally rioting in the streets  can be expected from those who rue the referendum outcome and do not wish the people's vote to be respected.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Cardinal Pell

Now being a retired solicitor after  some 45 years of practice, a possible autobiography beckons. However with one more Employment Tribunal case to complete, that possibility  may be deferred until after the remaining ET case reaches judgement or is settled.

The most difficult area of legal practice that I recall at present, was that of alleged abuse of children or young adults by Catholic clergy. Cases of this kind began to arise in England at least, fairly early on in my legal career. The first I recall involved an Irish priest who was convicted in England.  Unlike the situation likely to prevail in C21, there was no UK publicity but the conviction was headline news in his rural hometown newspaper in Ireland. Since then the Church, Charity Commission and the law in England, have tightened up considerably, to the benefit of all.

Having acted on occasion for victims of such abuse and sometimes for perpetrators, the case of Cardinal Pell who has been convicted in Australia of I believe two counts of abuse and who also lost a recent appeal is of interest certainly from a legal viewpoint. 

I do recall one case in England where a priest was arrested following a complaint of abuse by a girl. The priest was placed in custody by the police. 

Upon visiting him in the custody suite, he told me that the complaint concerned alleged behaviour in the church towards the end of Sunday Mass. He said that the alleged behaviour when he was still vested, would have been impossible to have taken place unseen in the Church at that time and asked me to check. Upon visiting the Church and looking at the area where the girl complained the alleged abuse had taken place, it was obvious that the priest was correct. The police concerned who told me that they were not normally churchgoers, promised to check at the Church which they did. The priest was released soon afterwards.

The fact that Cardinal Pell's case  proceeded to trial and appeal with its sad outcome so far, signifies probably that there was no clear evidence of the kind mentioned in the previous paragraph. On the other hand being a Cardinal, was likely to have encouraged the Australian authorities to take the strongest action possible against him, upon the basis that the public  backlash  against them from not so doing, would have been very strong.

As for publicity, the media has written about and broadcast the case widely certainly in the UK and presumably in Australia and elsewhere, which caused me to read the comment in today's Sunday Times by the paper's commentator Melanie McDonagh, reading:

"The flimsiest evidence has cast down a cardinal to hell
It is hard to think of a more obvious travesty of justice than the case of Cardinal Pell, whose appeal against his conviction for child abuse has been thrown out by two of three judges in Australia. I still can't see how he could be convinced on the uncorroborated evidence of the one surviving witness given the sheet implausibility of the scenario. The judges had to take the feel of episcopal vestments to see whether it would have been possible for Pell to get them out of the way so as to assault two choirboys, after nipping away from a church procession in full rig. The other alleged victim, now dead was asked by his mother in 2001 whether he had ever been 'interfered with' while in the choir and he said he hadn't. No doubt members of the clergy have assaulted children in Australia as elsewhere but it's wrong to hang out Pell to dry to pay for their sins."

Ms McDonagh has a good legal point  quite apart from her article generally. Some courage is also required these days  for a journalist to write in that way for which she is to be commended.

 I wonder if Cardinal Pell will endeavour to appeal further?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Westminster Pier to Kew Gardens

Maytrees min 70th Birthday gift was a trip for two on an old Thames boat from Westminster Pier to Kew and then entry into Kew Gardens on what turned out to be the only sunny day during this showery and stormy weather week.

The boat trip lasted for about an hour and a half and was interspersed with interesting comments by the captain on the bridges and sights to see on either bank of the Thames.

One of the interesting comments made by the captain concerned the old Harrods Repository building. Apparently the building was sold by Harrods some time ago and  converted into flats with a new housing estate on adjoining land. The prices of the flats and houses are according to the Captain out of this world. Cost apart what put me off the estate was the fact that it is called or maybe known as "Harrods Village."

The boat old though it was sold some decent wine which other passengers were happy to avail themselves of

Passing under the Thames Bridges was interesting as details of who designed them when they were built and the current issues with Hammersmith Bridge were given by the captain. Interestingly he had difficulties in explaining to the American tourists present why the two bridges carrying trains to Wimbledon and Richmond on the Underground were in fact so obviously not underground at all.

We alighted at Kew

And made our way to Kew Gardens. Having been to Kew Gardens many times from Childhood days when the entry fee was 1d. to today when the fee for admission is some £15, it was surprising to find it full of tourists from around the globe obviously not too put off by the admission costs. In fact as preserving the world's plant life is now as much of the aim of Kew Gardens as welcoming visitors to view plant life there, the cost of admission is overall reasonable.  

Mrs Maytrees and I enjoyed roaming around the gardens and the huge old Victorian greenhouse:

There were also a number of sculptured exhibits which were interesting

Upon leaving Kew gardens to travel home home, we were fortunate enough to catch a bus immediately to Richmond Station and thence by SouthWestern Railway directly to Wimbledon.

A really interesting and enjoyable day, with many thanks to maytrees min.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Tourism in C21

The BBC World Service recently broadcast some interesting interviews and comments about the effects of what may fairly be described as "over-tourism" in some areas of the world.

A professor from Geneva university drew attention to changes which over-tourism has caused in recent years to Barcelona. He commented that often that city itself is often unpleasantly over-crowded with tourists but signified that this was really on the periphery of the problem. 

The main issue affects housing for local people. He reported that many ordinary houses have been bought up for use as  "Airbnb" accommodation with others being converted into hotels resulting in a shortage if not an absence of ordinary homes for the indigenous population. The BBC commentator sensibly in my view inquired as to whether local planning laws and regulations should not be used to contain this kind of problem.

The Geneva professor agreed but said that attempts to do so had been made with some success in theory. However he reported that in practice local orders restricting  hotel and Airbnb usage were ignored  and not enforced meaning that the problem had become such that the real character of Barcelona had changed not only for the indigenous or erstwhile indigenous population but also for the masses of tourists who now visit. A problem is that tourism brings in much needed cash for areas that may be said to need it but if the cost involves local inhabitants of such areas having to leave, what really is the point?

The BBC then had briefer interviews with locals from other affected tourist centres. One lady from Camden Lock in London reported that the issues had now become so bad as a result of the 100,000s of visitors there, that she had taken to avoiding Camden High Street altogether. 

Croatia, Budapest, parts of Japan, Venice Rome Machu Pichu and many parts of India including some of their national parks are just example of many places around the globe that are affected.

Add to the above the pollution caused by huge cruise liners and the vast numbers of aircraft flying tourists around the world the problems are apparent and severe.

Recollecting my own days as a student I can appreciate the attraction and indeed the education, of travelling to other parts of the world. However train and ferries were the methods of transport used then and perhaps should be used more in C21. For example not that long ago  maytrees mi travelled to Shanghai by train. 

Families with young children are unlikely to be able to spend days travelling by train to the beach. However using car ferries or Eurostar and holidaying less far away and less often,  could surely begin to resolve some of the problems?

Daily Life

Being out and about locally at present is refreshingly different. The nearest main road, Worple Road,  usually full of noisy trucks and doze...