Archive for the ‘Popular Culture et al’ Category


Every now and then, a revolutionary technological advance comes along and changes how we live our daily lives.

Li-Fi might just be the next one.

This amazing idea is like Wi-Fi, but much, MUCH, faster.


Having just been trialled for the first time in real life, Li-Fi was found to live up to scientists’ claims that it operates up to 100 times faster than Wi-Fi technologies.

And if you picture such genius inventions to have been born of a ‘light-bulb moment’, well this one most certainly was.

Li-Fi is a wireless technology that transmits high-speed data using visible light communication (VLC).

It means, within the next five years, you could be accessing the Internet using the light-bulbs in your home.

This would reportedly be safer from a data security perspective as well, protecting the data being sent, because light cannot pass through walls.

The technology was brought from research labs – where scientists achieved speeds of 224 gigabits per second – to real life by an Estonian start-up company, Velmenni.

Estonia? Yup.

“Currently we have designed a smart lighting solution for an industrial environment where the data communication is done through light,” Deepank Solanki, CEO of Velmenni, told IBTimes UK.

In another project, the company has set up a Li-Fi network in an office space to provide Internet access for a private client.

The man who invented Li-Fi, Professor Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh, said that current infrastructure is suitable for integration of Li-Fi.

In a Ted talk broadcast in 2011 he demonstrated how, by flickering the light from a single LED, he could transmit far more data than a cellular tower.

“All we need to do is fit a small microchip to every potential illumination device,” Haas said.

If it does all turn out to be that easy, you really could be downloading that favourite movie or TV series of yours in a flash – a flash of light.


A Florida man who had admitted he killed his wife and posted a photo of the body on Facebook has been found guilty of murder.

Derek Medina admitted taking the picture on his phone and uploading it onto the social media site.

He failed to convince the jury that he had shot Jennifer Alfonso (eight times) in self-defence, after years of abuse.

He said his wife was threatening him with a knife when he shot her in their home in Miami, but prosecutors said she was cowering on the floor.

When he posted the picture, he wrote on Facebook that he expected to go to prison or be sentenced to death for the killing.

Prosecutors successfully argued that the 27-year-old wife was in fear of her life when she was shot in August 2013.

He had vowed to kill her if she left him and she had told friends she intended to do that, the court heard.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Rundle said: “No family should ever have to see their daughter killed and then exhibited worldwide on the internet like some macabre trophy to a husband’s anger.”

Medina, 33, could face a life imprisonment over the murder.

syria photo


At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, deep in darkest Melbourne, people occasionally pass us vital documents they think should be broadcast to a wider audience.

This is how we stumbled across this revelatory but top secret intelligence briefing on the situation in Syria and Iraq.

With luck, this highly restricted document will clear up any confusion you have on the situation over there. We publish so that the truth may be known. Eat your heart out, Wikileaks.

So … (deep breath) …


Let’s kick off with Syria. President Assad (who is bad) is a nasty guy with a bad moustache who only got the job because his Dad had it before, but then he got so nasty that his people rebelled and the Rebels (who are good) started winning. (Hurrah!) This is despite the dorky Assad having a rather dishy British wife who was universally believed to be good, until she spent too much on shoes and stuff and became generally considered to be bad.

Things were sort of going OK for the good rebels but then some of them turned more than a bit nasty and are now called IS or ISIL or Islamic State or Daesh (doesn’t matter what they’re called, they are definitely bad) and some rebels continued to support democracy (who are still good) and some we are just not all that sure about (who may be bad, or good, but time will tell).

IS are so bad even Al Qaeda (really bad too) don’t like them and start fighting them.

The Americans (who are good) start bombing Islamic State (who are bad) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels (who are good) so they could fight Assad (who is still bad), which was good. But this ironically puts America on the same side as Al Qaeda in Syria, which is just plain odd.

Now. There is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they’re good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter altogether and we’ll get more confused so we’ll let it go. Meanwhile the Turks have shot down a Russian plane which they say was flying in their airspace (which is definitely bad).

Anyway, getting back to Syria and Iraq.

So President Putin (who is bad, because he invaded Crimea and thejoker Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium-poisoned sushi) has decided to back Assad (who is still bad) by attacking ISIS (who are also bad) which is sort of a good thing?

But Putin (still bad) thinks the Syrian Rebels (who are good) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans (who are good) who are busy backing and arming the rebels (who are also good).

Now Iran (who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel with them are now sort-of good) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad (still bad) as are the Russians (bad) who now have both ground troops and aircraft in Syria.

So a new Coalition of Assad (still bad) Putin (extra bad) and the Iranians (good, but in a bad sort of way) are going to attack IS (who are very bad) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels (who are good), which is bad.

Annoyingly, now the British (obviously good, except that funny and rather confused Mr Corbyn, who is probably bad in an ineffective sort of way) and the Americans (also good) and the Australians (who are generally considered good because they’re mainly about cold beer and beaches) cannot attack Assad (still bad) for fear of upsetting Putin (bad) and Iran (good/bad) so now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS (who are super bad).

So Assad (bad) is now probably good, being better than IS (but let’s face it, drinking your own wee is better than IS, so no real choice there) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them good.

America (still good) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin (now good) and that nice mad Ayatollah in Iran (sort of good) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and then on to Europe (which is bad) or join IS (still the only constantly bad group, and that would be really bad).

For all the Sunni Muslims in the area, an attack by Shia Muslims and Alawites (Iran and Assad) backed by Russians (infidels) will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of Daesh will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War. Hence many Muslims will now see IS as good even though they are the baddest of the bad. (Doh!)

Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their (good) Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal (not to mention we didn’t do anything about a corrupt Shia government being imposed on Sunnis when we took over Iraq: hmmm, might have a point there) and hence we will be seen as more Bad. Again.

A few million refugees are now out of harm’s way (good) but nobody really wants them (bad) and now winter’s coming (bad). Lots of people think the refugees are how IS will sneak bad guys into Europe (which would be bad, but there’s no evidence of it happening, which is good, but that doesn’t stop people being frightened of them even though they have no reason to be, which is bad). Meanwhile the French have decided to bomb Iraq to pay back IS for the attacks (bad) in Paris and other countries like Lebanon and Jordan also look like getting dragged further and further into the conflict (bad).

So now we have America (now bad) and Britain (also bad) and Australia (bad, but with good beer), providing limited support to Sunni Rebels (bad) many of whom are looking to IS (good/bad depending on your point of view, even though they’re still really bad) for support against Assad (now good) who, along with Iran (also good) and Putin (also, now, unbelievably, good) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?

There. I hope that this clears it all up for you.

And if in doubt, fuck it, let’s all just bomb someone else. ‘Cause that will help.


You know nothing, John Snow? Officially, at least.


Is this the confirmation worried Jon Snow fans have been craving?

Winterfell will play host to a meeting between some big characters in Game of Thrones season six.

Fansite Watchers on the Wall reports a scene with Ramsay Bolton, his reluctant wife Sansa Stark and the endlessly conniving Littlefinger is being filmed in Northern Ireland this week.

Jon Snow is also in the scene, according to the fansite, and is also the subject of a new teaser poster from HBO, (see above), despite apparently dying (or at very least, becoming very over-tired indeed) from multiple stab wounds from his Wall-watching mates at the end of season five, adding further fuel to the rumour (aka desperate female fan hope) that he didn’t die or will somehow be resurrected.

The encounter takes place in the courtyard of Winterfell, the childhood home of Jon and Sansa that is now under Bolton (boooo!) control.

Adding to the tense scene, a giant then turns up at the gate and people have to fight it off. But it’s unclear whether the giant is Wun Wun or if another giant has made it south of the Wall.

Sophie TurnerPrevious spoilers have revealed that actor Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy, has been in Northern Ireland to film Iron Island scenes. This latest news means Sansa and Theon did survive the jump from Winterfell they made at the end of last season. Which is encouraging for the growing legion of male fans of actress Sophie Turner, who has turned into a grown up at least as hot as her tumbling red tresses.

All of which is good news, but we are still reeling, Dear Reader, from the demise of Clara Oswald (aka Jenna Coleman, who is coincidentally Rob Stark’s girlfriend in real life) in the most recent episode of Doctor Who.

claraYes, we all know that the Who writers regularly kill characters off, and Clara’s behaviour had become overly-reckless recently, but it was nevertheless suprisingly emotionally distressing to see a character we have come to know and love killed off instead of having her leave the series for some other reason and in some other way (Billie Piper getting trapped in an alternate Universe from David Tennant’s Doctor, for example.)

Dakota JohnsonIt is really odd how we come to identify so closely with characters in either movies or TV shows. It must have something to do with the way our brains “suspend disbelief” to allow us to enjoy the drama. We watched an interesting discussion with Dakota Johnson, famously the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, who plays Anastasia Steele in the schlock-BDSM pot boiler “Fifty Shades of Grey, and who is currently filming the sequel “Fifty Shades Darker”. She said she had difficulty finding a boyfriend because suddenly men seemed frightened of her, although apparently and happily she has recently rekindled her romance with her British rock musician boyfriend.

Apparently the men she was meeting thought she was “weird” because of the role she played, which was certainly “out there”. But why people would think the actress’s attitudes or behaviours would mimic those of a fictional character is curious.

Game of Thrones CycleAnyway, it looks like GOT fans might be grieving a little less next year.

And in late-breaking news, apparently Aslan in the Narnia Chronicles is not real.

I mean, really. Who knew?

Well done, Mr McClure, whoever and wherever you are. Well done, that man.


Well done, Mr McClure, whoever you are. Well done, that man.

Just some of those killed on the Russian flight.

Just some of those killed on the Russian Metrojet flight.


An amazing story has broken on the inside front cover of issue 1405 of the venerable and much loved scandal sheet Private Eye in the UK.

Their regular “Street of Shame” shame column reports that Nick Parker, Chief Foreign Correspondent of the populist tabloid Sun newspaper, had shocking news on last Friday’s front page: “Security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport has been exposed as a shambles after guards let Brits jump queues for a £15 fee – without checking their luggage.”

But as Private Eye alleges, it’s a pity he wasn’t allowed to write the story when he first discovered it, a full five months earlier.

They say it was while at Sharm airport in June this year that Parker heard of corrupt officials letting tourists avoid the queues – and bypass security and baggage checks – in return for cash backhanders.

He contacted his newsdesk and proposed an exposé of the lax security that was jeopardising the lives of holidaymakers. He would find an official, offer a £20 note and see if he could indeed get a bag through to flight-side without any checking.

Corporate prosecution

The newsdesk then contacted managing editor Stig Abell’s office, which informed chief compliance officer Imogen Haddon, who in turn consulted News Corp’s head office in New York and its Management and Standards Committee (MSC) – whereupon an urgent message was sent to Parker ordering him not to go ahead.

Why the panic? Private Eye say that since the News International scandals began, the Dirty Digger (Private Eye’s nickname for Rupert Murdoch) has been terrified of a corporate prosecution which could jeopardise his empire. Hence the creation of the MSC, which Private Eye argues kept the company out of the dock by grassing up individual hacks instead.

Hence, too, the reaction to Parker’s proposal: if he handed over £20 it might lead to charges against News Corp in America under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which applies to any company with US connections (such as News Corp) bribing foreign officials anywhere in the world. It might sound barmy, but that is how the News Corp minds now work.

So according to the Private Eye story the Sun missed its chance to expose the security failings at Sharm el-Sheikh.

And five months later, 224 entirely innocent Russian civilians were blown out of the sky.

In the interests of balance and fairness we should also say that the Currant Bun have denied the report. Indeed, the stunning claims in the magazine were met with a swift denial.

The publication’s managing editor, Stig Abell, said via Twitter the report was “sadly, totally untrue”. He also lamented being “blamed for a terrorist atrocity”. He also denied a story about the airport’s corruption was pitched or that money was involved.

We should also say that press watchers have poured scorn on their denial.

Which in the final wash up is all rather unsatisfactory.

Perhaps the Dirty Digger, long known for his enthusiastic use of Twitter to comment on world affairs and those he disagrees with, might care to clear things up?


 not afraid



Do not weep for the dead,
They do but sleep. See?

See. They float on a river of dreams,
gently rocked by ripples and currents.
Warmed by sun, cooled by zephyrs.
Do not even weep for their lost futures.
For their future is peace. And
when they awake, it will surely be to you.

Weep now for the sisters, leafing sadly through albums.
Touching a face, here and there.

Weep for the mothers, who hold their empty bellies.
Rocking with horror, a life unraveled.

Weep for the fathers, lips bitten through in inchoate rage.

Weep for the brothers, with no one left to tease.

Weep for the grandparents, dreams of second carings shattered.

Weep for the friends, struck suddenly dumb.

Weep for family celebrations with one chair always empty.

Weep for all who are
mesmerised by pictures,
strangled by sirens,
crying in bathrooms,
staring into emptiness,
fearful for the children,
losing perception,
casting this way and that,
picking flowers
in case it mattters.

Do not weep for the dead.
They would not wish it.
Think on them, because
you know it is true.

Weep now for the living.
The left behind.
Bind their wounds.
Listen in silence.

And weep for the world.
Wash it clean. And cleaner, still.
Make that their memorial.
And let it stand forever.

As reported by Melbourne’s Age newspaper, lawyers for “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin’s 17-year-old daughter Bindi must submit her father’s death certificate to a Los Angeles court to prove that he is actually dead.

Irwin’s father, who had a high profile on US television as a host of wildlife programs, was killed by a stingray barb in 2006; his funeral was broadcast on news services around the world.

But as strange as it seems, a Los Angeles court has ruled that without documentary proof of Steve Irwin’s death, it cannot proceed on the assumption that he is, in fact, dead.


Bindi Irwin has has received enormous praise for her performances each week on <em>DWTS</em>.

Bindi Irwin has has received enormous praise for her performances each week on DWTS. Photo: Supplied


At stake is Irwin’s daughter Bindi’s earnings from the reality television program Dancing with the Stars, on which she is currently competing.

Under US law, contracts with minors must be processed by a judge; during that process both parents or guardians would usually waive any legal right to the minor’s income.

But this very strange legal wrangle began when a Los Angeles Superior Court rejected Bindi’s “minors” contract with the show because the ancillary paperwork did not comprehensively prove that her father was dead.


Steve Irwin, who was killed in 2006.

Steve Irwin, who was killed in 2006. Photo: Animal Planet


Irwin’s lawyers had included in their submission a release stating that Irwin’s mother, Terri, surrendered all legal rights to any income Bindi may make from appearing on Dancing with the Stars.

But the judge has ruled that without a similar release from her father, “the court is unable to find that it is in the best interest of the minor to be bound by the terms of the contract.”

Owing to Steve Irwin’s huge profile in the US, his death created international headlines and his funeral was broadcast on news services around the world. Bindi was eight years old at the time and gave a memorable speech.

One of the most revealing aspects of the case is that it has effectively cracked open the financial terms of a reality TV contract, a rarity in US television where the details of such contracts are typically considered “commercial in confidence”.

According to the contract, Irwin is to be paid a fee of $US125,000 to appear on the show, plus $US10,000 per week for the third and fourth weeks, $US15,000 for the fifth, $US20,000 per week for the sixth and seventh weeks, $US30,000 per week for the eighth and ninth weeks and $US50,000 per week for the tenth and eleventh weeks.

At this point in the competition, Irwin has earned $US230,000. She and dancing partner Derek Hough are widely tipped as possible winners. They are the only couple in the series so far to receive “10” scores from all three judges twice. They were scored “perfect 10s” for both a rumba and an Argentine tango.

Though some media outlets are reporting that her income from the show is in jeopardy, there is no real suggestion that her salary will be withheld, though it may be delayed as the court processes the paperwork.

Irwin has not commented publicly on the legal wrangle. But we imagine the matter is rather distressing for her and her family. How utterly ridiculous. Then again, when did commonsense ever have anything to do with the American court system?

Or as Steve might have remarked: “Crikey!”

We are spending a lot more time than usual thinking about Dr Who in the Wellthisiswhatithink household.

Robert Lloyd and a Tardis made entirely of Lego. It's a long story.

Robert Lloyd and a Tardis made entirely of Lego. It’s a long story.

This is primarily because we have become friendly with a great guy who is deeply obsessed with the series and its history – Robert Lloyd.

And not least because he bears an uncanny resemblance to the tenth doctor, David Tennant, which allows the clever chap to make at least a partial living attending fan conferences as a lookalike host, not to mention producing his own very touching and funny Dr Who shows in Australia and overseas.

“Wait … what?”

Indeed, we are thinking of tracking down the real Mr Tennant simply so we can go up to him and ask “Aren’t you Robert Lloyd?”, because that’s the sort of silly joke that appeals to your indefatigable correspondent when the painkillers for our sore shoulder really kick in, and should you happen to run across the hugely talented Scots actor, Dear Reader, we urge you to do the same.

Anyhow, as we are breathlessly making our way through the new series of Doctor Who hiding behind the couch and peeping out occasionally, we have become inevitably more involved in all things Whovian, which is how we came to read fellow scriber Lee Zachariah’s review of the last episode.

It would be a shame to allow the episode to pass unremarked, as it carried a strong – some would say visceral – anti-war message, delivered by the Doctor to the leaders of the Zygon rebellion and Earth’s “Unit”. (Regular viewers will know what we are on about.) The speech is making news in the Twitter-blogo-internety-sphere thing, and rightly so.

soldierThe interesting thing is that this seminal solliloqy was timed to coincide, in the UK, with Remembrance Sunday, which we wrote about yesterday.

Lee’s review, which is well worth a read, contains this trenchant paragraph.

the Doctor delivered a more-than-ten-minute speech (go back and time it if you don’t believe me) about the pointlessness and devastation of war. It’s a sentiment we’ve heard many times before, but not like this. Peter Capaldi delivers the tremendous mostly-monologue brilliantly, and it never ditches the story for the metaphor, or vice-versa.

Which is a good point, well made, in two wises.

Firstly, it would be hard to imagine any television programme – especially one that is “popular” in the sense that it has a hugely wide and generally low-brow demographic appeal – dedicated Whovians will object to that characterisation, but fair play, you aficionados, it is prime time entertainment, you know, not the answer to life, the Universe and everything – that can weave in a ten minute speech to its script on, you know, anything, let alone a passionate and carefully constructed pacifist argument.

We were reminded of the famous attack on the current level of mindless jingoism in America by Jeff Daniels when he was playing news anchor Will McEvoy in the consistently excellent Newsroom, which was cancelled after just three short seasons (disgracefully) and which included one of the finest soliloquies ever delivered in the modern era.

It has been seen literally millions of times, and is constantly being referenced in social media. We would honestly be delighted if it was seen at least once by every American citizen. It’s also a mesmerising performance by Daniels. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and watch it now.


The second point to be made is that the speech in this weekend’s episode of Who absolutely required an actor of the staggering intensity and compassion of Peter Capaldi, the latest (and we hope long-lasting) iteration of the Doctor, both to deliver such a speech with any degree of conviction, and to hold the audience’s attention while he does.

Capaldi’s take on Who is a refreshing change from the whimsical boy-child performances of Matt Smith – he is argumentative, sometimes intolerant, excoriatingly witty, and less human.

Just as Smith emphasised the light-hearted whimsicality of a Time Lord who knows everything and nothing – but who exhibited a fine and moving line in pathos, too – and was perfectly balanced by the bubbly effusion of Karen Gillan – so Capaldi is a conviction Who for a modern era. An era that insistently offers us imminent climate change, dozens of very nasty global conflicts, an apparently unstoppable arms trade, a renewed nuclear arms race, newly intense superpower tensions, the horrors of IS and 4 million Syrian refugees.

Capaldi’s version of Who is perfectly nuanced for today. Just as his soon-to-depart companion Jenna Coleman has had a questioning demeanor and fiery temper and is thus appropriately and winningly less likely to fall for standard Time Lord snake oil shlock.

Anyway, back to the speech itself. As Capaldi fixes us with his near-manic gaze, we are commanded to listen carefully, which in turns allows the writers to try and do something serious with all that transfixed attention.

Talking to the Zygon rebel leader who is threatening to destroy humanity, Capaldi rages:

“The only way anyone can live in peace, is if they’re prepared to forgive. And when this was is over, when you have a homeland free from humans, what do think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it? Have you given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want.

“What’s it going to be like? Paint me a picture. Are you going to live in houses? Do you want people to go to work? Will there be holidays? Oh! Will there be music? Do you think peole will be allowed to play violins?”

“Well … oh you don’t actually know do you? Because, like every other tantrumming child in history, you don’t actually know what you want.”

“So let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect, and just and fair, and when you have finally got it, exactly they way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The trouble makers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Well maybe you will win. But nobody wins for long. The wheel just keeps turning. So, come on. Break the cycle.”

As he hammers home his points, Capaldi traverses an astonishing range of emotion and meaning in the speech – anger, sarcasm, pleading, fear, intellectual superiority, terror, far-sightedness, urgency.

“Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you don’t know who’s going to die. You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken. How many lives shattered. How much blood will spill until everyone does what they were always going to do from the very beginning. SIT … DOWN … AND … TALK.”

Please. Watch it.



This cultural memorandum is for the attention of David Cameron, Barack Obama, Francois Hollande, Vladimir Putin, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Bashar al-Assad, Hassan Rouhani, Benjamin Netanyahu, Malcolm Turnbull, Jean-Claude Juncker, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Ban Ki-moon, Pope Francis, Xi Jinping, Abubakar Shekau, Idriss Deby, Muhammadu Buhari, Shinzō Abe, Justin Trudeau …

William Leefe Robinson

William Leefe Robinson

William Leefe Robinson, then aged 21, was the awarded the most prestigious Victoria Cross for shooting down a Zeppelin airship, the world’s first long-range bomber, used by Germany over southern England. The Zeppelins flew at a high altitude out of the reach of ground fire. And at first, they seemed impervious to air attack.

The blaze was so fierce even the framework of the Zeppelin disappeared.

A combination of explosive and incendiary bullets was the answer.

The blaze of the Zeppelin shot down by Robinson was so fierce even the framework of the Zeppelin disappeared.

William Robinson cheered by his fellow airmen

William Robinson (centre) was cheered by his fellow airmen the day after destroying the Zeppelin SL-11 over Cuffley, in Hertfordshire.

In April the following year, Robinson himself was shot down over France by the squadron let by Manfred von Richthofen, the famed Red Baron, and spent the rest of the conflict as a prisoner of war, making repeated but failed attempts at escape.

Tragically, like many young people, he died of influenza within a fortnight of returning home after the War.

Just one story from amongst millions. Lest we forget.



Hating war – arguing for a pacifist position, even one that is not utterly purely pacifist – does not mean we cannot weep for and celebrate those who fight wars on our behalf.

With the tragically costly conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Remembrance Sunday – just like Anzac Day in Australia and Memorial Day in the USA – has assumed a new significance, and a new enthusiasm from the young.


From left to right: Distinguished Service Cross, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-18, Victory Medal 1914-18, Medal for Military Valour, Mercantile Marine War Medal 1914-1918,

From left to right: Distinguished Service Cross, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-18, Victory Medal 1914-18, Medal for Military Valour, Mercantile Marine War Medal 1914-1918,


For ourselves, remembering a father who died at 46 worn out by terrifying six years of naval service, a cousin who endured tropical diseases for his entire life after incarceration in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, a Grandfather who served in the trenches in World War 1 and another Grandfather who received the DSC for trawling up mines dropped by Zeppelins in Portsmouth Harbour, we have always paused for two minutes at the appointed hour, bought our poppy to wear in our lapel, and subscribed to war casualty charities.

In our view, despite that, we are convinced that the very best way to show our respect for those we commemorate is to state, unequivocally, the old an unarguable truth.

“War will continue until men refuse to fight.”

This list of current conflicts, worldwide, makes very depressing reading. Are we really doing the best we can?

Listen to any old soldier, and simultaneously, along with their sadness felt for their injured or fallen comrades, and their quiet pride in “a job well done”, you will almost always hear them explain how the horror of war was worse than anything they could have imagined. How they often felt they had more in common with the foot-soldiers opposing them than they did with their own leaders. And always, how anything must be tried, and done, before humankind responds to a crisis by turning to arms.

Even the most significant war leader in 20th century history, Winston Churchill, who through sheer force of will saved the world from fascism and rescued democracy in its darkest hour, remarked, “Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.”

From their graves, the dead of countless wars cry out to us for attention. “Don’t do it again! Don’t do it again!”

If you are interested to purchase my collection of poems called Read Me – 71 Poems and 1 Story – just head here.



We are on record as long being a fan of Karen Gillan, whose body of acting work is growing but who is best known still as a hugely successful Dr Who “companion”.

She’s approachable, funny, sexy, smart and has loads on on-screen chutzpah, with a wide range of available emotions projected by those big, ridiculously perfect hazel eyes.

She also sends us video messages – well, one video message – but that’s a whole other story.

Now it turns out she’s a fine writer and director too.

Watch it. Conventional. Ten minutes of perfectly nuanced misery.

The short form of video is highly demanding. Much more demanding than many of the great, flabby two-hours-plus bore-fests that pass for feature films.

Karen Gillan knows a lot about fan conventions. Goodness: we can only hope her experience of them is happier than this very creepy little film.

We’re betting there is much more to come from Ms Gillan – keep an eye wide open.



When Robin Williams killed himself in August 2014, depression was considered the culprit.

But the beloved film star and comedian was in fact struggling with a demon even more sinister: Lewy body dementia, a little-known and often misdiagnosed disease that manifests as a combination of the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia. Robin Williams’ widow, Susan Williams, shared this diagnosis, which was revealed in an autopsy, Tuesday in an interview with People magazine and ABC.

A few days after Williams’ death, his media representative, Mara Buxbaum, said in a statement: “He has been battling severe depression of late.”

rubberNow we know that wasn’t the full story: “Depression was one of let’s call it 50 symptoms, and it was a small one,” Susan Williams said Tuesday, in her first public interview since her husband’s death.

Lewy body dementia, she said, “was what was going on inside his brain, the chemical warfare that no one knew about.”

And even if the 63-year-old had not ended his own life, the disease would have killed him within a few years, she said.

Lewy body dementia usually strikes at age 50 or later. Like Parkinson’s, it begins with abnormal protein deposits called Lewy bodies, which disrupt brain cells’ normal functioning and later cause them to die. The disease’s plethora of terrifying symptoms start slowly but worsen over time, and include: Alzheimer’s-like memory loss and dementia; Parkinson’s-like tremors and loss of balance; and terrifying, schizophrenia-like hallucinations. The symptoms “present themselves like a pinball machine,” Susan Williams said. “You don’t know exactly what you’re looking at.” Perhaps worst of all, at least at first, the patient can be fully aware of his or her own decline.

After it is diagnosed, Lewy body dementia usually kills a person within five to seven years. There is no cure or effective treatment.

Despite the fact that it is little known, Lewy body dementia is not rare; in fact, it is one of the most common forms of dementia, affecting more than 1 million Americans, according to the National Institute on Ageing. But because it bears many similarities to other degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, it is frequently misdiagnosed. It can take more than a year and visits with multiple specialists to get a correct diagnosis. According to Susan Williams, a coroner’s report revealed signs of Lewy body dementia, as well as early-stage Parkinson’s.

Although Williams didn’t know he was suffering from Lewy body dementia, he seemed to know he was losing his mind.

“He was aware of it,” Susan Williams said. In her opinion, she told People and ABC, his suicide was his way of taking control of an impossible situation. “He was just saying no,” she said. “And I don’t blame him one bit.”

The news may reignite the ongoing debate about “dying with dignity”. For a man of the intellectual and emotional depth of Robin Williams, the perception – even if not yet formally diagnosed – that he was losing his cognitive function would have been unbearable. Especially as we know he had concerns that his career was faltering and he faced certain financial pressures.

It may be that depression contributed to his death, or it may be that it was a carefully-considered and rational response to an awful situation that he felt would only get worse. As his wife says: “taking control”.

We will never know, but it is something to ponder … It is also worth considering that a different cultural response to chronic illness and dying might have encouraged him to hang around a little longer, and to end his life more gently, in the bosom of his family, with the people around him given an opportunity to say goodbye.

Again, we will never know.

(Slate and others)


Most of them you never see, or notice. Yet everywhere you go, quiet acts of kindness surround you.

Every day, good people live their lives with strength, with purpose, with compassion and integrity. Every day, the whole world is lifted by people who are happy to have the opportunity to make a difference.

Usually, those who boast about it or make grand promises are not the ones who are actually advancing life’s goodness. It’s the quiet, sincere kindness, from folks who have no interest in taking credit, that gives each day its special shine.

It’s hard to remember sometimes, with the relentless miserableness of the news, but the world is actually filled with good, caring people who never find themselves in the headlines and who never care to, either.

The magnitude of their cumulative kindness each day is too large and far too widespread to ever be calculated. It is the perfect tonic to those who are toxic in our life – people who should know better but are nevertheless happy to offload their personal stresses onto us, to be angry, unreasonable, venial or just plain bad.

Life is good today because so many people choose to see it as good. And in every small moment, each in his or her own way, they humbly give life to the goodness.

Quiet acts of kindness surround you, even now. So feel the goodness and quietly pass it on.

A word. A gentle gesture. A task done for someone who can’t manage it themselves. A little encouragement. Or just some simple unforced friendliness.

Feelgood psycho-babble? Nope. This isn’t just “fluffy stuff”. Living in a close-knit community and having good neighbours could have hidden health benefits and may even reduce people’s risk of suffering a heart attack, new research has claimed.

getting onResearchers in the USA said that the social support and reduction in stress levels afforded by getting on well with the people in your community could be of benefit, particularly for elderly people more likely to suffer a health crisis.

Thy found, based on a four-year study of more than 5,000 Americans over 50, that people who said they trusted and liked their neighbours, felt part of the community, and expected their neighbours would help them in a difficulty, were less likely to go on to have a heart attack.

Levels of social cohesion were rated one to seven based on people’s responses. Each one point on the scale represented a 17 per cent lower risk of heart attack, the researchers from the University of Michigan said.

Well, yesterday Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and I were at the races in the afternoon. We were having a wonderful day – our mare Khutulun won with a huge surge at the end of her race and a great time was had by all.

photo finish

But it was somewhat spoiled by the fact that all the way to the racecourse, about an hour and a half, the car had been busily flashing warning lights at us (and plenty of things that go ping were ping-ping-pinging for all they were worth) and after Khutulun had duly saluted (at 14-1 no less, thank you very much) we called the Roadside Assist guy.

He picked us up from the back of the grandstand, which was very nice of him, as by then there was the mother of all thunderstorms breaking over our head, and to find us he had to weave his way through thousands of pie-eyed drunken revellers and then take us from the track to our car which was miles away in the car park. He didn’t have to say yes to doing that, he just did. And he was chirpy, and cheery, and made us feel better because of his relentless enthusiasm.

He duly got us going, chatting cheerfully all the time dispensing little jokes and bits of folk wisdom, although the car did play up all the way home and finally conked out altogether about three streets from our house, but that’s another story.

What really struck me apart from Mr Happy Car Fixer was the little guy in his 60s sitting in his car waiting for the traffic to clear leaving the course, who got chatting to us as we piled out of the mechanic’s van – that’s when we eventually made it back to our car after narrowly avoiding running down half a dozen young ladies who obviously thought that drinking four bottles of cheap champagne in the hospitality tent somehow makes you invulnerable if hit by a truck.

He was an immigrant from somewhere or other – I am guessing Serbia or Croatia or somewhere like that from his thick accent – and as soon as he worked out we were in a fix he said “Well, I can take you to Melbourne, no problem.” He just smiled an encouraging cracked-tooth, unshaven smile and said it, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to drive someone you’ve met 30 seconds before 125 kilometres down the freeway.

We didn’t need his help in the end, but what a generous thing to say? Fair bucked us up.

As we limped cautiously out of the car park a cheerfully sloshed guy making his way through the puddles back to town called out to us “Any chance of a lift?” and Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink, entirely unsure that the car would keep going for a hundred yards let alone an hour and a half answered “No, sorry.” and I felt a little guilty after the kindness that had been shown to us.

But we had been told in no uncertain terms not to stop if we wanted to get home, so we spluttered and lurched onwards.

Sorry mate. Hit us up again next time. Just let me get the car fixed first. Which I have no doubt will cost every penny we won on Khutulun.

Funny old life. And often, a kind one.


Pamela Smedley with her mother Betty in 1990

Image copyrightP amela Smedley Pamela (right) reunited with her mother in 1990.

Up until the late 1960s the UK sent children living in care homes to new lives in Australia and other countries. It was a brutal experience for many.

In the winter of 1949, 13-year-old Pamela Smedley boarded a ship to Australia with 27 other girls. She had been told by the nuns from the Catholic home she lived in that she was going on a day-trip. In reality, she was being shipped out to an orphanage in Adelaide and wouldn’t see England again for more than three decades.

“We thought it would be like going to Scarborough for the day because we were so innocent and naive,” says Pamela, who is now in her 70s and still lives in Adelaide.

“The nuns said that in Australia you could pick the oranges off the trees, and I was very excited because I loved oranges.”

Pamela’s unmarried Catholic mother had been pressured to give her up as a baby and so she was sent to live under the care of nuns at Nazareth House in Middlesbrough, Teesside.

Pamela Smedley at Goodwood Orphanage, 1952

Image copyright Pamela Smedley. Pamela Smedley at Goodwood Orphanage in 1952.

The place was cruel and joyless, according to Pamela, and she remembers that when the Reverend Mother asked who wanted to go to Australia, every girl in the home put their hand up.

Once the SS Ormonde set sail for its six-week voyage, the girls soon realised this would be no day-trip. Instead they were allowed to believe there would be families waiting to adopt them.

“We arrived wearing our winter coats and hats and I remember being hit by this stinking 100-degree heat,” recalls Pamela. “I hated it and when we found out we had travelled 10,000 miles just to be put in another orphanage we all just cried and cried.” Anyone who has ever been in Adelaide – a desert city – during summer will have the greatest sympathy with the new arrivals.

Children en route for emigration to Australia

Image copyright Molong Historical Society. Children en route for emigration to Australia, the subject of a new exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London.

Pamela would spend the next two years at the Sisters of Mercy Goodwood Orphanage, an imposing redbrick Catholic institution, home to about 100 children.

She was one of as many as 100,000 British children to be sent overseas to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries as child migrants between 1869 and 1970.

Run by a partnership of charities, churches and governments, the schemes were sold as an opportunity for a better life for children from impoverished backgrounds and broken homes. In reality, an isolated and brutal childhood awaited many of them.

Pamela was one of an estimated 7,000 children to go to Australia, some as young as four. They were often given the false status of “orphans” to simplify proceedings – and most never saw their homes, or their families again.

Boy on ship

Image copyright Molong Historical Society An estimated 7,000 children were sent to Australia, like this boy

“Child migrants were actively solicited in Australia as a way of building up the white Anglo-Saxon population and to give the growing economy there a boost,” explains Gordon Lynch, Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology at the University of Kent.

This was not something which happened under the radar – the vast majority of children were sent to Australia with government funding.

“It is sometimes easy to assume childcare continuously improves and becomes more enlightened, but by the time Pamela went out [to Australia] the child migration schemes were really running against the grain of accepted childcare practice in post-war Britain,” explains Lynch, who is also a contributing curator to a new exhibition around the subject at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London.

Upon arrival at Goodwood, all the children’s personal mementos – photographs, letters, toys – were taken from them and they were left with just a Bible. Everyone was terrified of the Reverend Mother, even the other nuns, says Pamela. She recalls the big strap the nun had around her waist which her rosaries would hang from.

“It is what she’d use to beat us – at night she would walk up and down the dormitories and if you so much as twitched in your bed you’d get the strap.”

Child migrants picking peas at the Fairbridge Farm School in the 1950s

Image copyright Molong Historical Society. Picking peas at the Fairbridge Farm School in the 1950s.

When she arrived, Pamela remembers defiantly shouting out “God Bless England!” during morning prayers, rather than saluting Australia, for which she received “the thrashing of her life” from the Reverend Mother. Eventually, the nun retired and was replaced with someone much kinder and more progressive, according to Pamela.

Daily life at Goodwood consisted of early prayers, chores and then school, followed by more chores, prayers and an early bedtime of 6pm.

A few hours a day would be spent making the strings butchers use to hang their meat. “It was very coarse string and it made our fingers bleed,” says Pamela. “If you did anything wrong the penalty was an extra 100 strings and the nun in charge would hit us with her walking stick.”

Forced child labour helped schemes like the one at Goodwood to be financially viable, according to Lynch.

Boys working on building site at Bindoon Boys' Town

Image copyright Molong Historical Society The migrant children were often used as cheap labour.

“It would often be presented as an opportunity for children to learn useful skills or a trade but it was much more about providing some economic contribution,” he explains.

Pamela also remembers working in the laundry room and would spend school holidays living with a family and being worked hard throughout her stay. “The two daughters in the family were very good to me but their mother just saw me as free labour,” she explains.

Pamela says that every now and then a priest would come to check up on how the children were getting on. “The nuns would stand right beside us when we were asked questions and toys would appear in time for his inspections, but as soon as he left they were taken away,” she says.

One of the biggest failings of these schemes was that staff were often poorly trained and poorly resourced and very few follow-up checks were made, explains Lynch. Eventually, the Ross Report came out in 1956, as the result of a visit to Australia by a British team of inspectors, commissioned by the Home Office.

“It made grim reading and said that children who’d already had disruptive backgrounds and been subjected to traumatic experience in the UK were really the last people who should be sent overseas,” says Lynch. Reflecting the sensitivity of the subect, confidential appendices, containing the worst of the findings, were not publicly released until 1983.

But despite the report, children continued to be shipped overseas. According to Lynch, the reality became “an uneasy truth” – the Home Office weren’t prepared to publicly go against the Commonwealth Relations Office (who were in charge of the schemes) so they tried to discourage local authorities from continuing to send children overseas instead.

A diary of the voyage to Australia written by one little girl, Maureen Mullins

Image copyright Molong Historical Society. Pages from the diary of 12-year-old Maureen Mullins, who emigrated to Australia on SS Otranto in 1952.

“Furthering the British Empire was still very much a priority and there was also a fear of going up against not only the Australian government, but the Catholic Church,” he explains.

The Australian government soon countered the Ross Report with its own glowing review of all the homes under criticism.

Sexual abuse was a harsh reality for many of the children under the care of these schemes, including Pamela, who was assaulted while on the voyage over to Australia and while working at an isolated shearing station, aged 15.

“We were taught never to let a man touch you and that was all I knew- so I believed I was a sinner and would go to hell for it,” she says. When it happened for the first time on the boat, the nuns in Pamela’s charge insisted she was just dreaming. “I was terrified and I still go to sleep with my hands guarding between my legs,” she says.

At the shearing station Pamela had just one weekend off every six weeks and spent her entire first pay on a ceramic miniature English house. “I bought it to remind me of England,” she says.

Desperate to break free of the scheme’s clutches, she got married three days after her 18th birthday. In 1989 she was connected with the Child Migrants Trust, who helped her to be reunited with her mother Betty. For 40 years Betty had believed Pamela was adopted by a loving family in England.

They kept in touch until Betty died, and in 2010 Pamela was one of 60 former child migrants to be flown over to England to hear an official apology from the then prime minister, Gordon Brown.

“I still have nightmares about what happened but hearing the apology gave me a little bit of peace,” says Pamela. “It showed that finally somebody cared about what happened to us.”

Pamela Smedley meeting Gordon Brown after the British government apologised for the migrant programme, 2010

Image copyright Pamela Smedley. Pamela Smedley meeting Gordon Brown after the British government’s official apology in 2010.

(Story from the BBC)

Along with the “Stolen Generation” of aboriginal kids removed from their families and their attempted “whitiefication”, the forced expatriation of British children remains one of the most shameful episodes in British history.

That so many of those children have gone on to be stalwarts of their community is entirely besides the point – so might they have become had they been left with their birth parents or cared for empathetically in their home country. The stagering cruelty of the Churches and the Governments of the time beggars belief.

The same question occurs again and again – “What on earth did they think they were doing?”

And what similar lunacies are still being pursued around the world?

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An ongoing debate about laws to tackle “hate speech” is busily making headlines in the USA in particular, but is a hot topic elsewhere as well.
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We are firmly of the belief that free speech cannot be absolute, in any civilised society.
Defamation laws exist because they protect individuals from being lied about.
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“Jon So-and-So fiddles with kiddies” would, quite rightly, be considered illegal to say or print without proof, as it would damage Jon’s reputation, and possibly cause him to find his safety endangered, too.
“Gays fiddle with kiddies, they shouldn’t be teachers” is, however, acceptable. That’s legal to say in the USA and elsewhere, despite the fact that child abuse in the gay community is way below that in the heterosexual community.
Any gay person driven to suicide by this slur or others, (and sadly there are many of those, especially teenagers), or beaten up as they walk down the street, sacked from their job, or worse – murdered in a gay bashing incident, which happens with tragic regularity – well then, that’s OK, it’s free speech and if it stirs up that sort of reprehensible behaviour, well, you know, we’re sorry, but it’s free speech.
No. That’s too high a price to pay for some spurious “right” to spout bile and filth.
If you can’t see what a ludicrous, Kafkaesque double standard this knee-jerk defence of the right to say anything, anytime really is, then sadly we can help you no further.

So we just passed a thousand posts. 1001 to be precise. And well over half a million hits.

As is our wont when we reach a milestone the first thing we do is say thank you to you, Dear Reader. After all, you’re the point.

Over more than three years the blog has become an eclectic mixture of politics and popular culture, enlivened with a decent dose of sheer nonsense from time to time, and we’re really quite proud of it. It’s been re-reported all over the world, read in virtually every country in the world, and we have a made a bunch of wonderful and loyal new friends. You know who you are, and how much we appreciate your support.

And as is also our wont, we wanted into the blogosphere to find out the significance of the number we’re celebrating, in this case the palindromic 1001.


So we came across Norway’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 87th Academy Awards. Apparently Bent Hamer’s 1001 Grams is delightfully quirky and gently affecting as it ponders how much a life really weighs, and whether it is possible to truly measure happiness. We’ve never heard of it but apparently it’s “buoyed by trademark deadpan humour and wry observation: a film as restrained – and as slowly illuminating – as the protagonist.” Which sounds pretty good, really, so we might look it out on the worldwideinterwebs to reward ourselves for the effort involved in 1001 posts.

1001 was a special year, of course. It was the first year of not only the eleventh century in the Christian calendar but also the first year in a new millenium. Pretty big. It was a rather disturbed year in Europe. Lots of people called Aeth-something or miscellaneous Viking names were having at it.

And talking of Vikings, it’s also thought to be the year that Leif Eriksson and his band of brothers and sisters established small settlements in and around Vinland in North America, hundreds of years before Columbus found the place accidentally.


Looks quiet. Don’t be fooled.

Baitoushan volcano on what is now the Chinese-Korean border went pop with one of the biggest explosions in history. It has remined active 9and dangerous) ever since. In other China news, construction began on the Liaodi Pagoda, the tallest pagoda in Chinese history, which was completed 54 years later.

In mathematics, One thousand and one is a sphenic number, a pentagonal number, a pentatope number and the first four-digit palindromic number. We have not the faintest idea what any of those things are, so we’ve left the links in for you to find out.

Luckily for her, she talked a good story.

Luckily for her, she talked a good story.

In The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, harem member Scheherazade tells her husband the king a new story every night for 1,001 nights, thus staving off her execution. From this, 1001 is sometimes used as a generic term for “a very large number”, starting with a large number (1000) and going beyond it, as in:

1001 uses for…
1001 ways to…

In Arabic, this is usually phrased as “one thousand things and one thing“, e.g.:

The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, in Arabic Alf layla wa layla (Arabic: ألف ليلة و ليلة‎), literally “One thousand nights and a night”.
1001 thanks is Alf shukran wa shukran (Arabic: ألف شكرا و شكرا): “One thousand thanks and thank you”.

Incidentally, the story of why Scheherazade was in danger of her life is quite interesting.

The main story concerns Shahryar, whom the narrator calls a “Sasanian king” ruling in “India and China”. He is shocked to discover that his brother’s wife is unfaithful; discovering his own wife’s infidelity has been even more flagrant, he has her executed: but in his bitterness and grief he decides that all women are the same.

Shahryar begins to marry a succession of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to dishonour him. Eventually the vizier, whose duty it is to provide them, cannot find any more virgins. Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter, offers herself as the next bride and her father reluctantly agrees. On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it. The king, curious about how the story ends, is thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins (and only begins) a new one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion, postpones her execution once again. And do it goes on for 1,001 nights.

The tales vary widely: they include historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, burlesques and various forms of erotica. Numerous stories depict jinns, ghouls, apes, sorcerers, magicians, and legendary places, which are often intermingled with real people and geography, and not always rationally; common protagonists include the historical Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, his Grand Vizier, Jafar al-Barmaki, and the famous poet Abu Nuwas, despite the fact that these figures lived some 200 years after the fall of the Sassanid Empire in which the tale of Scheherazade is set.

Sometimes a character in Scheherazade’s tale will begin telling other characters a story of his own, and that story may have another one told within it, resulting in a richly layered narrative texture.

An early manuscript of the One Thousand and One Nights

The different versions have different individually detailed endings (in some Scheherazade asks for a pardon, in some the king sees their children and decides not to execute his wife, in some other things happen that make the king distracted) but they all end with the king giving his wife a pardon and sparing her life. Phew.

The most immediate reference that occurred to us for 1001 was 1001 detergent, used for various uses, but primarily for carpets.

“1001 cleans a big big carpet, for less than half a crown” was the hugely famous slogan, and I have never forgotten it.

Anyway, the ad is just simply wonderful – just love the accents.

Even better, the product is still available although the ads, sadly, have ceased.

Most people these days wouldn’t even know what half a crown was, more’s the pity. Ah well.

Happy 1001th everyone, and once again, thank you!

Clinton makes an ill-advised pitch for the youth vote.

Clinton makes an ill-advised pitch for the youth vote.


Hillary Clinton inspires me. But not for the reasons you might think. No, not because I’m a bit of an ironed-on old leftie and she’s the likely small-l liberal winner in 2016. No. In point of fact, Hillary’s probably a bit right wing for my taste. I’d prefer Bernie Sanders (who despite his populist appeal is not going to beat her), or perhaps Elizabeth Warren, who chose, sadly in our view, to keep her powder dry this time round.

No, she inspires me because the very likely next President of America is 68 today.

As we all live longer – and not just longer, but more healthily, too – the cult of youth that has pre-occupied the Western world since the youth revolution of the later 1950s and 60s appears increasingly silly and unwise.

Other sixty plus leaders still doing the rounds include the impressively successful Angela Merkel at 61, the forceful Vladimir Putin, who is 63, and Tunisia’s first freely-elected President Beji Caid Essebsi really leads the way, being just a month from 89.

And at the eye of the perfect storm, Mahmoud Abbas is still the President of Palestine – juggling one of the most difficult jobs in the world – at nearly 81.

And with age does come a certain perspective. As Clinton herself has said: “I think that if you live long enough, you realise that so much of what happens in life is out of your control, but how you respond to it is in your control. That’s what I try to remember.”

Which is why it is more ludicrous than ever that businesses often discard employees in their fifties and sixties, or don’t employ job-seekers in that age group.

It could be argued, one supposes, that younger employees have more energy or ambition than older ones, but with those traits can also come impulsiveness, foolishness, or simple lack of knowledge. They may also have more distractions, one supposes.

So whilst I would dearly love not to have a sore shoulder – gardening, grrrr – and a bung knee – too much sport as a kid, I fear – and I do not always take the counsel of my own body gracefully – I am not so curmudgeonly as not to recognise that I am, despite myself, improving as a person. Late in the day, mayhap, but unmistakeably.

At 58, I am not the same cantankerous person I was twenty years ago, when I thought I probably knew everything. Or even ten years ago, when I was sure I did.

And largely, the late changes in my character have been improvements that make me much more useful organisationally.

I am slower to anger. Later in life, I discover that anger is always exhausting, and rarely useful. So I look for alternatives.

I also have less need to always be “right”. (It’s now honestly more important to me that the group is right.)

I now find it easier to see other people’s point of view, whilst still maintaining my own politely if I think it’s justified. I can discuss, more often, and more easily, rather than argue.

I have also found dealing with inter-personal conflict easier in recent years (which has always been a thorny area for me) as I have gradually realised that though it feels like personal conflict it is actually very rarely truly personal, in reality.

People turn conflicts personal because they are not taught how to resolve them less antagonistically. Once I realised this, it was easier to learn how to de-personalise conflicts and resolve them more easily.

I am not sure that was an option when my testosterone levels were at their tippty-top. Nowadays, my gradually but inexorably appearing pate is evidence that they are dropping, and as they reduce so I have definitely become more skilled at defusing grumpy colleagues or customers.

I have also given up the need – at least in part, I am trying, Dear Reader – to control every last feature of my life. Sometimes, letting go of overt control can reduce not just your blood pressure and anxiety levels but also increase your chance of resolving a problem successfully.

Not everything matters equally, and sometimes stepping back can let things meander their way to a good conclusion without one having to be personally involved. As you gradually reduce the sheer number of items you’re worrying about – and let someone else worry about them – you can do a better job of resolving the ones that really matter.

Additionally, everyone has problem-solving skills. If you try and control every solution all the time you unsurprisingly tend to get the same sort of solution all the time, when other answers may in fact be preferable, but other people will never use their problem-solving skills – that might be better or different to those you exhibit – because you’re always pre-emptively using yours. Dumb.




And then there is always the point that we shouldn’t “sweat the small stuff”. It’s easy to say, and hard to do. But look: whether one has carrots or peas with that evening’s lamb chops doesn’t really matter, in the scheme of things. Does it? Really? Do you have to have an opinion? Do you have to dominate the planning?

You like both carrots and peas, yes? Or at the very least you can tolerate one or the other. Far better to focus instead on the things that we have to solve, because only we can solve them.

Just go with the flow. “Hey, it’s carrots tonight? Yay!”

Last but by no means least, when one is in one’s 20s or 30s, the sheer amount of time hopefully stretching ahead of one rather oddly creates an impatient and insistent pressure to “achieve”. With no apparent reason why we can’t do everything on our bucket list, ironically the extra time available just makes us anxious to make sure we “do it all”.

When one gets a little older, it’s obvious that one can’t do absolutely everything one could possibly imagine because one literally doesn’t have the time left, so one becomes more selective and thoughtful about what one does do with one’s life. And as one subtly becomes more “on purpose” with ones deepest needs and desires, one’s sense of well-being duly improves as well, and we become nicer – and more productive. We become better people.

This is not by any means an argument against younger leaders. Quite the opposite. Younger people have much to recommend them, including a mind less ossified by past experiences – Einstein remarked that he never had an original idea after 21 – and, of course, that ebullient energy mentioned earlier.

But it is an argument that we discard productive people to their metaphorical pipe and slippers far to quickly, and that we are very foolish to do so.

So thanks Hillary. We might run for Prime Minister yet.

And Happy Birthday.

The very name Mumbles sets one wondering what sort of a place is known by such a fascinating name. Now a suburb of Swansea in South Wales, Mumbles was where my relatives lived when I was a child, and the scene of a hundred happy holidays.
The headland is thought by some to have been named by French sailors, after the shape of the two anthropomorphic islands which comprise the headland, as the name could well be derived from either the Celtic, Latin and then French words for “breasts”.
Its famous lighthouse was built during the 1790s and was converted to solar powered operation in 1995. The nearby pier was opened in 1898 at the terminus of the Mumbles Railway, which in its time was one of the oldest passenger railways in the world. (The railway closed in 1960.) These days the name ‘Mumbles’ is given to a district covering the electoral wards of Oystermouth with its eponymous castle ruin, Newton, West Cross and Mayals.
mumbles panorama

Mumbles pier on the left, and the two islands with lighthouse on the right

Apart from being very pretty and a fun place to visit in its own right, Mumbles marks the beginning of the Gower Peninsula’s coastline, one of the most exquisite areas of natural beauty in Europe. A series of small coves and beaches, often relatively deserted even in high summer, offer much to recommend both the fossicker and the lazier occupant alike. The area is also well-known for a huge variety of “fresh off the boat” seafood, and has become something of a foodie’s stop off with excellent locally-created chocolate and ice cream as highlights.


Looking towards Mumbles from Swansea

Looking towards Mumbles from Swansea

Oystermouth Castle, which actually nestles right in the middle of the village, is well worth a visit, just off a busy shopping street. There are 600 castles in Wales, but there aren’t many which come with a better view than this one, looking out over Swansea Bay.

Over recent years the castle has undergone conservation work to ensure its structure is safe and sustainable for the foreseeable future. Now the public can explore parts of the castle that have been hidden away for centuries and learn about the castle’s exciting history.

Features include ancient graffiti art from the 14th century, plus people can come and explore the medieval maze of deep vaults and secret staircases and enjoy the magnificent views over the Bay from the 30 foot high glass bridge.



When I was a littlie, the family’s home was just around the corner from Mumbles, on a high ridge overlooking Langland Bay. Often forgotten in favour of more obviously picturesque and wilder bays both before and after it, Langland always called to me to ramble for hours with its mesmeric wide and sandy beach and Victorian foreshore, full of bathing huts and ice cream opportunities.



There used to be a really excellent hotel overlooking the Bay, called, logically, Langland Bay Hotel, and the views from its massive picture windows as one enjoyed a dry sherry and then roast beef and Yorkshire Pud was simply breathtaking. 

I recall starched white tablecloths and napkins, and smiling Welsh waitresses squeezed into slim-fitting 1930s maids uniforms. (By the time I was old enough to enjoy a Sunday lunch sherry I was beginning to notice such things.) With a sad inevitability the hotel was turned into holiday flats which probably yielded much more money for its owners, but robbed the rest of us of a great cultural artefact.

In fact, the sea front of Langland and the adjacent Rotherslade, or ‘Little Langland’ as it is sometimes known, were once the location for three hotels: the Langland Bay, the Ael-y-Don, and the Osborne; and three further hotels – the Brynfield Hotel, the Langland Court, and the Wittemberg – were located in the immediate hinterland. 

All but one have closed over the past forty years, and have been replaced with apartments (Langland Bay, Osborne and Ael-y-don), converted to a nursing home (Brynfield), or closed down and sadly subjected to arson attacks (Langland Court and, previously, the Osborne). The Wittemberg was partially demolished and re-opened in its original Victorian core as the Little Langland Hotel.


Langland Bay - UK


By far the most dominant building on the Bay, built in the mid-nineteenth century and backing on to the Newton Cliffs, was originally known as Llan-y-Llan. Built in dramatic Scottish Baronial style by the Crawshay family, the Merthyr Tydfil Ironmasters, it was used as their summer residence. In the first part of the 20th century it later became part of the Langland Bay Hotel, and later again, when I was a child, it was the Club Union Convalescent Home for coal miners. I would sit on the tables outside chatting to the hoary old miners, nursing their pints and coughing up black bile from their lungs. For a nicely brought up middle-class kid their stories were eye openers, and induced in me a horror of the social effects of coal mining that has never left me. After a period of closure it has been renamed Langland Bay Manor and has also been converted into luxury apartments.


Siseley's painting, "On the cliffs, Langland Bay". I have walked that very path a thousand times, at the top of which was my Aunt and Uncle's home, Kylemore.

Sisley’s painting, “On the cliffs, Langland Bay”. I have walked that very path a thousand times, at the top of which was my Aunt and Uncle’s home, Kylemore.

I was by no means the first to become enchanted by the area. In 1897 the French Impressionist painter Alfred Sisley made two watercolours of Langland Bay, while on honeymoon, staying at the Osborne Hotel. Over twenty paintings resulted from his visit to Penarth and the Gower and two of them are now in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

As well as the beach huts that still exist, Langland Bay was famous for its ‘community’ of green canvas beach tents. These were erected annually, usually between April and early September, on the stoney storm beach in front of the promenade. A much-loved local spectacle was the early September ‘spring tide watch’ when rough seas would occasionally cause the loss of one or two. Somewhat safer and more sheltered on the higher ground of the Langland Bay Golf Club, a magnificent course which abuts the Bay on the western side, where a further two rows of tents were permitted. All sadly succumbed to vandalism in the 1970s.

Langland Bay has always been a site of sports innovation. Every year in the early 1960s local teenagers becoming amongst the first in the country to take up American innovations such as skimboarding, and surfing,

You can checkout the essential idea in the video.

Whilst I never took up surfing, I enthusiastically embraced skimboarding on the vast flat beach over which the sea would roll in and provide a perfect environment with hundreds of metres of calm water just an inch or two deep. Those who are still aficionados of skimboarding and surfing  (unlike your near-retired correspondent, Dear Reader) will enjoy checking out the live webcams of the area which are here during local daylight hours.

Anyway, forgive us for wandering down memory lane to no great purpose. If you’re ever near South Wales, we warmly recommend you to visit this area.


lava bread


And if you do drop in, make sure you taste the local delicacy, called laver bread, which is essentially stewed seaweed. Not only is it an authentic memory of the folk diet of the area, it is also delicious, and incredibly good for you. Try it warmed through in the fat from the bacon which you just cooked yourself for breakfast.

If you can, chuck on some of the local cockles, too – but don’t forget a healthy slosh of dark malt vinegar on them, without which they are only half as good.

Laver cultivation as food is thought to be very ancient, though the first mention was in Camden’s Britannia in the early 17th century. It is plucked from the rocks and given a preliminary rinse in clear water. The collected laver is repeatedly washed to remove sand and boiled for hours until it becomes a stiff, green mush. In this state, the laver can be preserved for about a week. Typically during the 18th century, the mush was packed into a crock and sold as “potted laver”.

Laver and toast

 Cultivation of laver is typically associated with this part of Wales and further along the coast towards Pembrokeshire although similar farming methods are used at the west coast of Scotland.

Laver is excellent eaten cold as a salad with lamb or mutton. A simple preparation is to heat the laver and to add butter and the juice of a lemon or Seville orange.

Laverbread (Welsh: bara lafwr or bara lawr) is a traditional Welsh delicacy made from laver. To make laverbread, the seaweed is boiled for several hours, then minced or pureed. The gelatinous paste that results is then rolled in oatmeal and is generally coated with oatmeal if it is to be fried.

Laverbread can also be used to make a sauce to accompany crab or monkfish, etc., and to make laver soup (Welsh: cawl lafwr).

The most famous actor ever produced by the area. Richard Burton, was quoted as describing laverbread as “Welshman’s caviar”.


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