Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Sir Legolot’s Castle Part 3

I think it’s time for an update on the construction project of the year! The last time I posted, the front elevation of Sir Legolot’s Castle was completed, along with part of the ground floor and the base of the deeper rear tower. Over the past few weeks I have managed to add the second and third levels to the Lego spiral staircase and that rear tower is nearing its full height, so let’s get some pictures on show!

Here’s a guard at the foot of the new tower. The depth had to be modified and so is a little more rectangular than the front two towers in order to accommodate the staircase pieces (Lego spiral stonework was never even on the radar when I was a child – I can’t remember being so excited by a piece of Lego arriving!). The additional leg room has allowed a nice Norman arch to be built which adds to the aesthetics on the ground level.

The rear tower was raised in three efforts – each one focusing on the individual staircase piece to ensure it locked in at the bottom and top whilst having enough light and access. One decision I did make was to remove the necessity to have to disassemble parts of this new tower at a later date in order to lock into the next piece of wall. I therefore put in two hole sections that can be linked with a small pipe – that way I retain the option to open up the back when I finally get round to building it.

You can see from this image above that the access points are lined up to take the next piece of wall with large archways, whilst there are also arches going into the balcony walkway sections that lead to the frontal towers (in other words all levels will be accessible from one staircase). The balcony is still a work in progress but is supported from the outer wall via buttresses and by pillars in the inner court side. I've still to plan the final part, but the King and Queen will have a throne section and that will I think lead into a more ornate “roof style” tower.

It’s clearly still not completed as I’m struggling with the final turret that allows protection when walking out on to the top deck, but I’ll get there eventually…

Next task is to complete the turret then perhaps take a few months off to plan the rear wall, throne section and final tower (The "Eastern Section". Still, it’s starting to look really good!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Why Are So Many Celebrities Socialists?

This is something that has grated me for quite a while and yet in recent times I’ve come to accept that if there is anyone in the public eye for whom I have an admiration – be it an actor, musician, comedian or artist – they are likely to hold left wing views. I should add for I continue that the very word celebrity is not one that I am a fan of because it tends to indicate someone of fame as opposed to someone who has actually achieved recognition via applied talent in their field. However, the term is now such an ingrained part of our language that a post like this is almost impossible to write without referring to the word. So be it, we live in a word of celebrities…I’ll sigh and get on with it…

Back to the topic at hand then. Typically, this concept has raised itself around the time of general elections, when for the past ten years or so we have experienced with growing frequency a plethora of celebrities wheeled out in support of their affiliated party, or similarly to condemn another party for their policies. Given the fact that I am at least economically inclined to vote for the Tory party in most elections and yet my entertainment tastes are often alternative, underground or at least eclectic, this means that I am faced with the uncomfortable scenario of people I like and admire telling me that I should vote for a politic party that I have little time for. I can of course turn a blind eye to this, but in more recent times, these suggestions have developed into a more aggressive form of persuasion; during the last general election there were a number of high profile cases where certain celebrities were suggesting that by voting for the Tory party I was in some way incredibly selfish, greedy and in part to blame for the misfortune of thousands of people.

Now, the purpose of this post is not really to justify my political tendencies. I have already indicated that I am economically inclined to vote Tory. That is not to say that I am a hard-line Tory or rigidly right wing. Or even always vote Tory. I often evolve my views, I am regard myself as a Libertine in many ways, and being married to a teacher means that I do have views that do not necessarily lend themselves to the core beliefs of the blue party. However, these are points that can be expanded upon at another time. The point here is that from a economic standpoint, there seems to be a predilection for many celebrities to endorse a socialist standpoint which often seems at odds with the lifestyle or wealth that they have accumulated and I find it curious as to how they can justify this juxtaposition.

The list is so exhaustive that I can cherry pick examples without too much effort, but the essence has remained for as long as time records. Go back to the sixties for instance and you’ll find actors of the caliber of Stanley Baker and Richard Burton being staunch socialists (the former being closely involved with Harold Wilson). Baker faced frequent criticism for being incredibly wealthy whilst maintaining a left-wing position on economics and sending his children to private school. He even considered moving abroad (he had a large villa in Spain) for tax avoidance but ultimately decided to remain as he would “miss Britain.” The gap between Baker’s beliefs and practice was clearly large and the same could be applied to Richard Burton, who did actually make an effort at articulating his thoughts on the matter. When it was put to him that there might be a slight contradiction in his views and the reality that he earned huge quantities of money for his roles in some of the blockbusters of the day, Burton replied, “unlike capitalists, I don’t exploit other people.” It was an interesting retort, but this comes down to the fact that he wanted a society in which everyone was equal in terms of pay unless they held a job by which they could claim not to have a hold over anyone else. And what could possibly constitute such a profession? Even the local plumber can money simply due to a lack of competition and therefore establish a monopoly with no barriers to his own pricing structure. Perhaps Burton should have spared a thought for his own profession and the fact that his vast earning power was at least in part down to the fact that people had to pay a set amount of money to see his films. I am of the view that he was a wonderfully talented actor with a supreme voice, but that it a subjective view and most people would at least consider him fortunate to have been able to succeed in a highly desirable and competitive profession (especially given his lack of professionalism and alcoholism). How dare he criticism anyone else for taking the opportunities that exist within the framework of society in order to pay the bills and provide for their children? Especially given that they are the people who are essentially paying his wages.

The frequency that these principles appear compromised and the comfort that the individuals appear to have despite this juxtaposition is the consistent factor. Of late, think Russell Brand and the fact that he quite candidly distances himself and his wealth from any conversation relating to socialism or even communism. Think Martin Freeman and his contribution to Labour Party election promotional collateral, despite the wealth his has accumulated from appearances in global movies with huge appearance fees and related image rights. Think Benedict Cumberbatch preaching to the masses from the comfort of his BBC contract at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. I could go on – the list is endless and relentless. For the most part, these are people I admire (not Brand I should clarify) in their professional capacity, but they all seem to draw a convenient line between their own comfortable and partially fortunate lifestyle bubble and the principles that they preach to those who do not have the opportunity to climb aboard their boat. That they do not even attempt to show any discomfort is perhaps indicative of the sheltered view of the world that actors have.

Of course, such hypocrisy doesn’t simply restrict itself to matters of economic principle. In the sixties and seventies Vanessa Redgrave was a member of Workers Revolutionary Party. Despite failed attempts at entering mainstream politics, she has campaigned for years on many “left-wing” issues – including that of illegal gypsy camps which have caused misery for hundreds of people caught up in their mess and anti-social lifestyles. "I'd be happy to live here with them, that's for sure," Redgrave declared, going on to describe Dale Farm as "a strong, wise, warm, gentle community." It was interesting that she perhaps wasn't talking about the homophobia, racism, sexism and misogyny that runs in the DNA of many of these communities, not to mention the violence towards those living nearby whose lives have been ruined. Also interesting to note her criticism towards the concept of housing travelers when she has put her lack of retirement down to having to pay off her huge mortgage towards an enormous house that one assumes she would not wish to be devalued by the close proximity of travelers. (Never mind, perhaps she could take a few of them in next time they're evicted.).

Almost all these examples are actors and actresses and perhaps it is the nature of their profession that dictates that they live their lives in fantasy, having gone from obscurity to wealth and fame in an instant and having bypassed the typical struggles that most of us go through in order to make economic progress in our daily lives. However, the principle is frequently observed in the fields of comedy (Eddie Izzard, John Bishop, Micky Flanagan, David Schneider, Stewart Lee, and so on and so forth) and music (almost every talented artist in the western world). Though a generalisation, it does seem to be a trend that reasonably bland, unadventurous, conservative or less quality comedians and musicians are the ones who either abstain from the debate entirely or perhaps even show a predilection for the alternative view; that perhaps capitalism is okay and people should carry on about their business without the need for an economic revolution. It is difficult to understand the link here, other than the fact that perhaps as part of their quest for taking a risk in the process of creating art, the left-wingers are more inclined to champion an alternative view, whereas those that play it safe are more likely to endorse what is seen as the status quo. That makes sense. What does not make sense is their inability to fathom how they can oversee the hypocrisy that ultimately discredits their own argument and ensures that people simply sigh and turn the channel over every time they appear during the general Election telling us to vote for Corbyn or the Green Party or whoever else might capture the hearts of the left-wing elite.

Perhaps a change of direction, a small tweak to the approach could be all it would take to actually embrace the stark realities of their economic prosperity and find a way to connect with the ordinary man on the street. However, even when this happens, it still ends up in a mess. Take Chris Evans recent statement that the top earners at the BBC have caused a funding issue. “It’s simple,” he stated. “It doesn’t take much to work out that you should pay people like me less.” Hmm, would a lower salary have convinced him to sign a deal to present Top Gear? Would he be prepared to ignore the pleas of his agent in the negotiation process? Did he actually offer to take the job for less money? No. Once again, the words ring hollow.

And so we return to my dilemma; art and politics. They forever remain two separate streams with one exception. This is why I am a fan of Jeremy Clarkson…

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

No thanks, it’s time to leave. Why a Brexit can be a positive thing (and doesn’t mean you don’t like Europe)

I like Europe. I should start by saying this, not in the equivalent sense of trying to undermine my whole argument (some of my best friends are black, I’m not racist but, etc…) but in a genuine “I mean it” sense. Europe is full of small countries with lots of history, much of which is intertwined with that of our own. Much of Europe is accessible, doesn’t require vaccinations, free of hideous diseases, savage warfare and of a relatively similar climate. It is therefore a worthy geographical, economic and social companion. I would also add that my job is one that encompasses ownership and management of a range of websites across many European countries and I have a diverse team of people from many different European countries who interact well and contribute to the mix. However, in spite of all this I am intending categorically to vote leave in the forthcoming EU Election. This is not a decision I have really pondered much over of late; rather it is the persistent conclusion I have come to over many years of trying to understand why from a political and legal standpoint we have turned this likeable companion into a undemocratic and hugely costly vanity project.

I find myself smiling when I read and hear people who are Pro-EU make comments such as “We need all the friends we can get” and “this is not a time to burn bridges” and “we need closer union as it’s not a time to move farther apart.” As far as I am concerned one can agree with and fully endorse these statements both in essence and in practice without the iron burden of the EU hanging overhead. We do not regard Americans as “the enemy” and yet we have never sought to write ourselves into an umbrella contract with the U.S.A. Moreover, the Commonwealth has a history bound by a spiritual D.N.A that ultimately amounts to a sports festival once every 4 years. In short, there is no need to create pointless and bureaucratic millstones to simply make the point of being friendly.

We all know why we are here. What was originally conceived as a way of bringing many countries together following the massive upheaval of WW2 became essentially an economic trading agreement. A way of ensuring that countries could benefit from a “Common Market.” Before we knew it, the common market became a system of government in itself; a bureaucratic nightmare that attracted legions of failed politicians into an arena of grey; a utopia for the completely pointless; an organization for those who could not affect change in their own government systems so felt they could make an even tinier difference in Brussels via the back door. Lest we forget that a butterfly flaps its wings in Maastricht and before you know it the 0.001% is applied everywhere. Scale becomes scale and suddenly the likes of Neil Kinnock have gone from falling over in the sea to affecting change behind the scenes without anyone knowing. All we have to do is to sign more countries up and there you have it…

For politicians such as Tony Blair, signing even more of our “rights” away to the EU was convenient. For one, nobody cared anyway; in Labour’s first term in office following the landslide 1997 election, most people were either on a high having perceived a sudden change in direction and those who did not vote Labour were probably too depressed at the thought of William Hague being the Leader of the Opposition. I also doubt if people knew how the whole thing worked… who approves these things? Who decides? Does it get debated? Does it matter? What powers of law does the EU have? Can we pick and choose?

I can answer that last one. No. We cannot pick and choose. This is not a park run or a local library course. If a country is fully subscribed and signed up to the EU then it is bound under law by its decisions. And therein lies the problem. It is contentious enough within the United Kingdom to discuss and agree upon political direction. Some people vote Tory, some people vote Labour. A bunch of other people vote for other parties. Layered across this is a plethora of different ideas, ideologies, topical that matter and topics that don’t. Politics is complex and the idea of a democracy is a difficult one to enjoy until one considers the alternatives. One man’s government is another man’s disaster. And so forth. The point is that we all agree to disagree within the framework of the U.K; however, can anyone imagine trying this exercise out within the broader framework of the EU? An expanse of 4.5 million kilometers (why can’t I use miles?) covering 28 countries? There are 65 million people (that we know of) in the UK but try half a billion in the EU. The task is vast, nay infinite. And utterly futile.

To illustrate this, take David Cameron’s recent week in which he spent frantic round-the-clock sessions with EU leader trying to force his hand and negotiate “key changes” to some of the legislation that he considered to be restrictive. In all probability, his efforts were the most concerted and concentrated attempt by a UK leader to force their hand since the dawn of our membership back in the 1970's and yet the reality is that he was limited to beg for scraps at the side of the table. The holy grail of human rights legislation, freedom of movement across EU borders and other such contentious foundation pieces are carved in granite as far as EU leaders are concerned and we have as much chance of changing these as do we have changing the tide or the setting of the sun. That Cameron didn’t even attempt to negotiate his way around these tells us a great deal. More concerning, the crumbs that he did go after took days of immense effort and strain to affect. Imagine what this will be like going forward as the inevitable increase in legislation takes hold? We will be fighting a more intensive, all-consuming battle in a doomed effort at trying to influence a diminishing set of laws. In short, it is an invisible behemoth before which we are all-bowing. Our hands are tied and we will become more and more subject to its will and governance. It is not a case of trying to influence from the inside; moreover it is a case of getting out before it is too late and our hands are bound forever.

Hyperbole? Why am I so skeptical? Well, the issue of immigration is one. Europe is facing a migrant crisis and yet we are expected to take our fair share of immigrants by European leaders. However, one must consider the huge discrepancy in population density across European countries. The UK has a population density only surpassed by Holland and Belgium within Europe. To illustrate this, Germany would have to agree to house somewhere in the region of 9 million people just to draw level. Moreover, if one takes the southeast of England where a great deal of the economic opportunity lies, the place is as congested as can be; towns and cities now blend into one another with little definition. The expectation that we should continue to have people flow in from Europe without question whilst at the same time being allocated our “fair share” of migrants is frankly ludicrous.

There is also the question of cultural influence on policy. I have enough experience of European travel and communication to realize that Germans, French and Belgians operate in different ways to the English. Subtly different way for sure, but different enough for this to manifest itself in law and order. Some of the legislation that European countries aspire towards would be universally hated by those who reside in the UK. And I am talking about “similar” Western European countries – this is before we even start to factor in some of the more culturally diverse Mediterranean countries or even those in the East of Europe.

We have heard the arguments from those in favour of remaining. For the most part they are framed by scaremongery – be it apocryphal impacts on public services, the economy and security. All of which are speculative and subjective. The money we will save could be negated by the money we will lose. Or vice versa. The impact on our services are almost pointless to raise, given that we will win back governance over 100% of our law and policy. Our politicians are voted in every five years which ensures that democratic rule lies within the hands of the UK people, rather than an unelected set in Brussels. But of course, all these arguments are formed by opinion and much of this is pre-determined by a sense of direction rather than logic. So in an effort to be logical, consider this. There is not one single aspect, element, idea, policy, benefit or  agreement that currently exists or is in force that we are bound by as part of our membership of the EU that we cannot recreate in some way without having to retain our membership. Not one. However, in freeing ourselves of this utterly pointless burden, we can start to regain use of our limbs. We stop being bound by the laws and policies we don’t agree with. We stop wasting tens of millions of pounds a week on this impotent project. In other words, membership comes with some positives and lots of negatives. Brexit comes only with positives.

In the end it’s really rather a simple choice. It’s time to leave.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Time for the Monarchy to Implement a Retirement Plan

The Queen has just turned ninety and as ever the country has thrown itself into a feast of celebration to mark this milestone. Meanwhile, we have observed William embark on yet more public royal engagements, Kate’s images published in Vogue, photos to mark Princess Charlotte’s first birthday and Charles continue to make public pronouncements on environmental change.

All of this combines to remind us that there are now three generations waiting in the wings to take the throne and yet our current monarch shows no sign of going anywhere. I appreciate that it might seem slightly distasteful to speak in these terms, but it must be said that this situation is almost completely unprecedented in the history of the British Monarchy. For centuries, kings and queens lived and died, leaving their throne to their children or siblings, with life expectancy dictating that nature would more or less sort this out in equal measure. Initially, a combination of war, disease and low life expectancy ensured that the kings of the time would only reign for a maximum of a few decades and would be lucky to reach the age of fifty. Throw in the machinations and plots of those who would seek to depose them and very often this age dropped to thirty. Even in the past couple of hundred years, it was only Queen Victoria who lived to become significantly elderly; the benefits of wealth for the most part ensuring that many monarchs would simply drop down dead with cancer, gout or something similar.

The reality now, however, is that Queen Elizabeth leads a reasonably healthy life, has a great support staff in place and could well expect to live another ten or even twenty years. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. Life expectancy is ever increasing and with Charles already sixty-seven years old, it is feasible that he himself could be ninety before his chance to become king arrives. If his grandmother lived to one hundred years old and his mother one hundred-and-ten, then how long could Charles expect to last? To one hundred-and-twenty? In that hypothetical scenario, that could give him twenty years to rule, before handing it down to William, himself seventy-five by that stage (bear with me – this is incredibly presumptuous I know). Even if he failed to demonstrate the durability of his ancestors, he might still reign for twenty-five years, which means that Prince George might not get to become king until his seventies.

Just think then that the cute little boy who we’ve seen trawled out in 1920’s style retro shirt and shorts might not get to actually don the crown for another seventy years. And just think about the series of events I have just speculated upon. Of course they are suppositious and of course there are things that could change with unexpected events lurking around every corner. But the basic principle remains; the very essence of the Monarchy requiring the present incumbent to die before the crown being passed on is something that I strongly question in the context of the 21st Century.

Before I continue, I should point out that the strength of the British Monarchy lies in the fact that it has evolved continually over the course of a thousand years. Compare and contrast with the French royal family, which refused to compromise and which paid the price when the people rose up and executed their king and queen. Despite a couple of efforts at restoring the crown, it has more or less remained a republic ever since. Britain on the other hand has gone through at least two civil wars, a Renaissance, an Enlightenment and a Restoration in which the role of the Monarchy has been reshaped to something more empathetic and symbolic without any actual powers over the democratic process of government. Its purpose lies within our DNA; it is a historic monument to our past and a palatable symbol of what Britain is all about. For most people, it is far preferable to the idea of a bland republic with an arbitrary presidential figurehead, turning us into a beige nation with no tangible or intangible identity.

I digress to make the point that I am favour of the Monarchy continuing, but surely it must learn the lessons of the past and continue to evolve itself in order to protect its future and remain relevant to the British public. As such, it is my view that a retirement plan should be introduced which in practice would mean that a handover period is implemented, with Queen Elizabeth stepping down over the next two years and handing the reigns to Charles. As an “interim” measure, Charles would get perhaps fifteen or twenty years as King Charles III, before in turn handing over to William. At that point, a mandatory retirement age of seventy would be enforced to ensure that future kings and queens would at least be crowned at a youthful enough age to avoid ancient and decrepit coronation ceremonies (how absurd would it be to watch a ninety-year-old man being crowned at Westminster Abbey?). It would also mean that they could adhere to their duties to a reasonable age and then slip away to a nominated palace for retirement – after all, we have had a Queen Mother before so it is not beyond the realms of imagination to picture past monarchs still alive in the same way as we have ex-prime ministers still in existence.

This sort of arrangement would provide far more weight and realism to the idea of new-born princes and princesses becoming kings and queens. It would bring the royal family to life. It would inject life into the Monarchy and it would bring it into the 21st century, making it more relevant, durable and tangible. But how likely is this to happen? The answer is not very. Queen Elizabeth is of the old school: she will continue until the day she dies, unless law dictates otherwise. David Cameron and other prospective Conservative leaders are also of the traditional view and, moreover, do not have the appetite with all the other more pressing projects in flight to tackle this issue. The current Labour leadership is acknowledged to be anti-royalty so they have little appetite to instigate changes designed to strengthen it. It is, therefore, a situation that is likely to fester until the day that Queen Elizabeth dies, which could be in the next couple of years but is more likely to be in the distant future. At that point, the reality of an old man taking the throne will hit home (throw in the fact that Charles is not the most popular member of the royal family) and public support for the royal family will probably start to wane. The question that that point will be can it survive such a period of discontent? Conversely, public support for the Monarchy would surely be boosted by a more frequent turnover of kings and queens, with coronation ceremonies taking place when the newly-crowned Monarch is still relatively young.

This is an issue which is unlikely to be proactively tackled, but I am of the view that if is ignored for too much longer there is a good chance of Britain becoming a republic within the next fifty years. It’s a depressing thought…