Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from August, 2009

Playing it Cool

On holiday in a fairly remote part of Croatia I find myself surrounded by a variety of different nationalities: Czech, Slovak, French, German, Polish, Hungarian, Montenegrin, Serb, Croatian and my own Bosnian hosts. Inevitably the subject of what makes us different comes up- and in a variety of different languages we explore the issue.

One asks me "whatever became of the "English [sic] gentleman?".

"Once", he continues, "the British would not show their emotions", this was, he submits, an amazing advantage, because "one could never tell when the British were beaten".

They would not show emotions whether faced with triumph or disaster.

I was immediately reminded of Kipling's proscription for Manhood :"if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same". I suppose this is the very essence of "cool"- to remain unemotional when faced with considerable difficulty.

I think that this is what ma…

Croatian Sunshine

Having snuck off for a few days in Croatia I have rediscovered the virtues of sloth when it comes to blogging. The sunshine helps lift the clouds of gloom that I feel as I contempate my own country, though this may be partly because the Croatians are more or less totally relaxed about anything, despite the fairly parlous state of affiars here. I think that they probably do not have a word as urgent as "manana" in Spanish. Certainly in the fifteen or so years that I have been coming here there is still much that remains totally unaltered.

As the moon rises over the stone houses here in Trbinj, a very small town on the Peljesac peninsula, I now feel that I should turn my attention towards this large beer rather than my computer keyboard.

Democracy 2.0

One of the biggest grips I have about the way that British politics operates is that there is such extraordinary inertia in the process of reform- pressure grows over a period of decades before necessary changes are made to our system of government. Though we are taught about the Reform bills of the nineteenth century as creating the a democratic franchise for the Parliament, the fact is that the modest reforms of the Reform bill of 1832 took decades of agitation before it was enacted, after having been first proposed by Pitt the Elder in 1786. It was still nearly 40 years before the unfinished business of 1832 could be addressed by the Reform Act of 1867. Some have defended this extraordinarily conservative approach to change as being protective of order and political stability- the idea that British politics is- and ought to be- based on an evolution rather than the potentially revolutionary consequences of more rapid political reform.

As the United Kingdom continues to slip further …

Russian darkness

I have tried not to comment on the anniversary of the Russian attack against Georgia- the scale of the crime and weakness of the Western response tell their own grim story. However another, perhaps less reported story has been the explosion at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro electric plant which has killed at least 74 people.

The accident is typical of the spectacularly bad safety record that attends most significant projects in Russia these days- the cause of the explosion remains unclear, but it is quite likely that water entering a capacitor bank was a major contributor to the disaster. At this point, the impact on the Russian electrical grid system is not said to be significant, and though the loss of life is appalling, the incident is- in full Soviet style- being played down.

However, the failure tolerances in the Russian grid system- UES- are at a critical level. Without full capacity from Sayano-Shushenskaya, the pressure in the other stations in the Urals will almost certainly me…

Blog resurrection

Returning to the UK after a prolonged spell overseas has been a deeply dispiriting experience- so depressing, in fact that any blog comments of mine seem somehow inadequate. It is not just the chaos that has engulfed our airports, though the fact that we are not members of the Schengen area and our politicians have embraced intrusive but futile border checks now means that it can take more than two hours to enter your own country. The Libyan flight that landed at the same time as my flight from Copenhagen seemed to get through far more rapidly. I hear that the immigration officers intend to go on strike in protest at these conditions, and for once I can't say I blame them. Even when one has negotiated the squalid airport terminals, emerging frustrated and fuming, worse is yet to come. Despite a dramatic fall against the Euro, the fact is that London is still no bargain- the Heathrow Express is, mile-for-mile, one of the most expensive train rides in the world.

The air of defeat is …

Is Britain Decadent?

It was Georges Clemenceau who famously said of the United States that it was the only country that had gone from "barbarism to decadence, without the usual interval of civilisation". A comment that, while humorous, was not accurate even in 1918.

However as I consider home thoughts from abroad about the UK, it is hard not to become deeply concerned about the overall state of things in Britain at the moment.

The rather unpleasant attack with burning alcohol against a young Brit in Greece has been seen in that country as something that the victim in some way "deserved" and the perpetrator of the crime as a heroine. The constant stories of disgusting behaviour by "Brits abroad" has created an image of a practically feral population that has abandoned most of the restraints of courtesy and even of law. In the Baltic the repeated incidents of British drunks urinating on the hallowed freedom monument- a monument with the same significance to Latvia as the Cenotaph…

Ryanair's Rattner moment?

After two weeks in deepest France where, unlike deepest Estonia, the Internet was impossible to find and mobile signals erratic at best I have now returned to Tallinn. sifting through the silly season news stories I find that Ryanair have been insulting their passengers again.

It was a failure in the Ryanair online check-in system that saw me denied boarding and forced to pay £200 to get the next flight that I needed. I swore I would never fly Ryanair again.

I suspect that this latest fiasco might be a tipping point- Ryanair's Irish "gobsh*te" boss, Tony O'Leary seems to glory in the negative press he attracts every time he suggests another way to extort money out off Ryanair's victimised human cargo, but even he would be hard put to say that the events of a few days ago at Stansted was anything except a disaster.

Gerald Rattner discovered that there is a limit to the insults that customers are prepared to take from a business before they will simply abandon it. Af…