Viva Mexico Cabrones

Happy Independence Day to all my Mexican amigos. I’m sorry I can’t be there to share it with y’all. Instead, the same as every year since 2010, I’ll post my video from the Bicentenario. And the same as every year, I’ll say ‘wow, has it really been so many years since that great day?’ So this is my most unoriginal post of the year, but it’s become my own personal annual nostalgic tradition.

Every now and then in Mexico, to my amusement, I’d get asked when the UK’s Independence day is. Perhaps next year, I’ll be able to tell them. It’s three days after yours. September the 18th. Because, if Scotland gains its independence from the UK, does England not also gain it’s independence, albeit by default?

The Weather in Mexico

Got a smartphone? Haven’t we all. Got a weather app? I’m sure you have. Have you got the best weather app? If you have Yahoo’s weather app, then the answer is yes. Or so I will have you believe. If not, you can get it for Apple or Android. The things I like about Yahoo’s weather app is the photography they use as the backdrop. All sourced from Flickr. You have to join the Yahoo Weather app group and submit some photos to get noticed. I did that about a year ago, and a couple of them were chosen.

But over the last few weeks, I’ve had dozens of photos of mine from Mexico added to their pool. Almost all are mountain or archaeological shots I’ve taken from across central and southern Mexico. So if you do have the app and are travelling to sites of interest in Mexico, have a look out for where the photo came from. There’s every chance it came from yours truly.

The Scottish Independence Fraud

A couple of months ago I withdrew some money from a Tesco cashpoint. The screen came up with a little message. “All our call centres are in the UK. Because all our customers are in the UK“. It made me chuckle. I wondered how that would read in a year or two if the Scots choose to go their own way. In less than one week’s time the Scots will get to cast their vote and the decision will be made.

I’ve plenty of thoughts on the subject. But let’s look at that message on the cashpoint machine. The fact of the matter is, Scotland is host to quite a number of giant financial institutions and in the event of Scotland gaining their independence, they are all heading south of the border to London. RBS, Halifax, Lloyds and even little old Tesco. They have no choice. They need to be where their customers are. They need to have the backing of the Bank of England.

There’s the rub. That’s why Alex Salmond, the figurehead of the Yes campaign is so eager to ‘keep the pound’. His desire to retain sterling is not because of any historical link to the currency. Not because of any fondness for it. It’s because he wants Scotland to be underwritten by the Bank of England, for that inevitable day when everything goes economically pear shaped.

So when Mr Salmond boasts that Scotland is strong enough, confident enough and big enough to be its own master, he’s not quite telling the whole truth. He’s clearly not confident that Scotland is either strong enough or big enough to weather the financial storms without England backing them up. What Salmond really wants is devolution, but with a throne upon which he can sit.

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Independence comes down to two real issues. The first is, to state the obvious, economics based. So what sort of ‘independence’ is he peddling with his insistence on a currency union? Just how independent have Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain been these last five years? They’ve been effectively annexed into provinces of Germany.

It’s highly unlikely that Scotland will get to keep the pound. As an English person, I would not want them sharing our currency. If they want independence, that’s fine. But don’t cherry pick the good bits for yourselves and leave the rotten parts for us all to share. Do independence properly. Set up your own currency, or <suppresses giggle> join the Euro.

Only the most delusional Scot believes that they will be more prosperous in the short and medium term after independence. They will have extra oil revenues. And they will need them. To pay the costs of the unemployed. All the finance workers. The shipbuilders. The military bases. The industries currently based in Scotland which are dependent on being part of a United Kingdom. Plus all the basic set up costs of forming your own country. There will come a day when the Tesco cashpoints in Edinburgh and Glasgow might as well read, ‘All our call centres are in England. Because that’s where the money is. Bad luck’.

Then there’s the second issue that I referred to. It’s an emotional choice. It’s the chord that the nationalists are fine tuning to pull at the heart strings of the undecided voter. Cry freedom! Bad Westminster, Good Holyrood. It’s an unquantifiable argument that cannot be made with reason or logic. But it is effective. Mr Salmond is essentially pleading with voters to cast their ballot based on their heart, not their head. And the gap between the Yes and No campaigns has closed in the run up to the referendum, with some pollsters making it a neck and neck battle.

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There are other consequences to a Yes vote that are worth touching upon. In the last General Election, we had a hung parliament. The Conservatives failed to gain a majority of seats in Westminster. Their inability to woo voters in Scotland was a key part of this. They have just one of the 59 available Scottish seats. Without Scotland, David Cameron would have had a comfortable majority. Next year it is likely he will win a majority in the 2015 General Election if Scottish seats are removed from Westminster. Which means we will have another referendum. To be in the EU or out? (Caveat: the Scottish seats won’t be removed in time for the next election, but a year after which may prompt another General Election.)

Without Scotland it is more likely (though not necessarily likely) that the vote will lead to England’s exit from the EU. So many of the benefits that the Scots may assume will come from being in the EU with the rest of the UK may not materialise. It’s worthy of consideration.

My own feeling is that we are better together. The politicians are going to great lengths to predict the futures of our country/countries relative to the success of their own campaigns. But I look to the past, to the last 300 years. I am fairly certain that both England nor Scotland are be better off for having joined in union. I am equally certain that the future holds the same sort of story.

So what will happen? What would be the best result? If you’re interested in this story, I can point you in the right direction. The Yes campaign’s website is here. The No campaign website, Better Together, is here. The BBC poll tracker is here. And my preferred economics commentator, Robert Peston of the BBC can be read here. He has been posting plenty of interesting thoughts this last couple of weeks.

Finally, perhaps the soundest predictors of the future of them all. The bookmakers. They don’t like losing money. They don’t always get it right, but when it comes to uncertain outcomes, they have a better track record than most. What do they say? The bookies are convinced that this time next week, the United Kingdom will be intact. The No vote will triumph.

But the result is not entirely a foregone conclusion. Could Scotland have their independence? No, not if Alex Salmond gets his way. Ironically. But he might find in victory that the English force it upon them anyway. The Bank of England is for those inside of the UK. Not on the outside.

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Bournemouth Air Festival 2014

The Bournemouth Air Festival has been and gone once more. As ever, it was a fantastic show. Photographically, this year’s show was not the best for me. Firstly, I haven’t yet received my free telephoto lens from Fuji. And to match the shots I achieved last year with the Fuji X-S1, I really needed a telephoto lens. Secondly, the weather. It wasn’t cold. It didn’t rain. But it was grey. Which always makes photography a little more challenging. And again, I needed blue skies to match what I achieved last year. So. Maybe next year…

But I did get some snaps. The one below for starters. The others are in a single album with all the photos I’ve ever taken at the Bournemouth Festival, from 2011 thru to 2014. click here. This year’s are at the bottom.

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The Flying Carpet

Mexico City was not awash with flash cars when I was there. Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bugattis aren’t the status symbol in DF that they are elsewhere in the world. They’re a ‘come and get me‘ sign to the more dastardly sections of the community.  In London, owning a pricey motor is unlikely to get you kidnapped. The worst that might happen is that some jealous passer-by might rake his keys along the flank of the beast, scarring its expensive paint job.

What to do? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it. Do away with the paint. Carpet your coupé instead. As well as preventing the hoi polloi from gouging the car there are a plethora of other benefits. Worried about parking under the Walkie Talkie Tower? That’s no problem now. On hot days you won’t even burn yourself when opening the door. Fancy a picnic? Get yourself comfy on that spacious bonnet. Has Jeeves got the weekend off, and you really need the car as clean as a whistle, but….well, washing with a hose and bucket is just so messy? And just so not you, sir? Fear not. Fetch the hoover.

But let’s come back down to earth. What this carefully coiffured Rolls Royce really tells us is that if you have the money, then every dream, no matter how fanciful or whimsical, can be turned into reality. And that no amount of money can buy good taste.

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Notting Hill Carnival

When I was a youngster, I didn’t much want to go to London’s premier carnival. It wasn’t much of a multicultural event. Not much in the way of diversity, not very inclusive. Many things have changed over the years. It’s gone from a troublesome street party known best for after dark riots, to a riotous jamboree of colour, smells, flavour and fun. And now I do want to go. So I did. Although there is still some trouble, sadly. Every year a number of people will have a less than pleasant encounter. And as you’ll see from the boarded up windows, the local shop keepers know what’s best for their businesses.

We were early to arrive and early to leave, so any potential trouble missed us. Except for one very troublesome chap. He’s called many things, mostly starting with curse words. But you know him best as English Weather. He was in a foul mood. And he let everyone know it. It rained from dawn to dusk and through to the next dawn. It often came down cats and dogs. Sometimes it eased off. Just some cats…

But a spot of rain wasn’t going to stop the party. And the drop in temperature wasn’t going to get the girls in the parade donning sweaters. Which was a good things. There’s nothing like a skimpy costume to warm everyone else up. There’s a taster below. For the full booty call, click here and Flickr will provide…

 

To Blog Or Not To Blog

It’s a question I often ask myself. What is the purpose? I did once have a defined purpose. Once upon a time in Mexico. I sometimes redefined that purpose, changing the ‘theme’ or style of my content. But it always had a purpose. Once upon a time, I used to earn money from my blog, from revenue brought in through running sponsored posts. Alas, that market is currently dead and the Mexile is revenue-less. I have sometimes used my blog to praise companies or products. And if I’m displeased? It’s a great place to vent my displeasure, publicly. Although I’d be well advised not to do so in France.  Nowadays, I seem to blog out of habit. Is my blog dying? Just a little bit. A bit of bird flu at the least. But some do say the concept of blogging is dead anyway. Perhaps I should lay the Mexile down to rest in peace in the bloggers graveyard.

Not so many people read my blogs these days. The stats page of WordPress confirms that the world was far more interested in my adventures in Mexico City than it is in my daily grind in Bournemouth. My readership nosedived in March 2011, the month after my return to the UK. It is but a third what it once was. But you know what they say about quantity. It is secondary to quality. And so it is with the little band of readers I have here. Many of whom have blogs of their own, which I in turn read. I may have departed Mexico in the flesh, but my blog list shows I am still very much in Mexico in spirit.

The thing about blogging is that you own who you are. You can present your favourite version of yourself to the world. It doesn’t have to be the real you. But then, the blog concerned would be less engaging and less believable. In my opinion. This isn’t to say that everything must be revealed unto the world. But it is good to get to know the real person behind the virtual pages of the web. The chaps and chapettes on my blog list certainly let themselves be themselves. Or else do a fabulous job of pretending. Either way, it’s why I follow them.

I think most of us also blog simply because we enjoy it. Writing can be therapeutic. Fun, even. I’m sure there’s a number of us, myself included, who’d like to write something of importance one day and gain a few minutes worth of fame. I’ve had a few ‘minor moments’ of international renown with the Mexile. This won’t be one of those posts though. I’ve already been scooped. Which brings me to the point of the post.

I’ve met a few bloggers before now. Some have been a bit of a mystery. There was, for example (and I hope he doesn’t mind being an example) the legendary commenter on Mexico’s many blogs. His first name gave away nothing. Male or female? Could be either. Korean or Danish? I couldn’t tell. There was no second name to help out. He had, at the time, no blog of his own. The great Sherlock Holmes would have had a job deducting the story behind the internet moniker of Mexico’s most famous blogging participant. He was, as I found out, a great guy.

On Friday I met another blogger. A meeting that has long been in the making. Our paths have crossed before, but alas it wasn’t to be. This is a guy who runs a very open blog. I expected my every expectation to be met. He’s very much a Ronseal type of blogger. Maybe you need to be English to ‘get’ the analogy. For the record, I’m not suggesting that anyone put Steve through a human sized blender and smear him against a door. But he is every bit the person you’d expect the Mexpatriate to be. He is what it says on his virtual web based tin. Which is a good thing. The Mexpatriate is great. It makes my life easy as well. I don’t have to convince you of his general decency and joviality. I can just point you in his direction and let him do the job. But if you read this blog, then you probably read his already.

So I’ll keep on blogging. Less often, I suspect. Although things can change. But alongside the therapeutic nature of blogging, the enjoyment of recording my adventures, there’s also the benefit of keeping in touch with the Kim G’s and Steve’s of the world. There are other bloggers I wish to meet to one day, though I’ll need to return to Mexico. To places like Puerto Escondido and the Pacific Coast. Until then, I present you with the sole photograph I took on Friday. Just one? In more than four hours of being in a fancy part of London. That’s unlike me, I know. It tells you how good the conversation was.

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Paddington’s Bench

There are a ton of colourful new benches all over London right now. Fifty of them in all. Each one decorated in the theme of a book. A specific book. There was only one that I really wanted to see. I didn’t look for it, but life is full of funny coincidences an surprises. The first book bench we saw was the book bench. Paddington Bear. The original Latin American illegal immigrant in the UK. A trendsetter. Years ahead of his time, with Mrs P following, legally, in his pawsteps. His TV series is decades old, but every bit as enchanting today as it ever was.

We are big fans of Paddington Bear. He’s a true English icon and worthy of his bench. We’re pleased to have sat on it. I’d like to buy it. Once the display is done, the benches are all being auctioned off. I suspect my bid will fall short. I would have liked to have seen a John Le Carre bench too. He has been my favourite British author of the last 20 years. Alas, he has none. Or if he does, one needs the help of the great masterspy Smiley to find it. And you? Is there a deserving author that has entertained you that is worthy of a bench?

What’s In A Wallet?

In short, not as much cash as I’d like. But the reality is, I rarely have any cash any more. This isn’t a poverty issue. This is a plastic issue. All my wonga is held in the two debit cards in my wallet. And in an emergency I have two MasterCards and a Visa credit card to spend the money I don’t (yet) have. But this isn’t a post about cash or credit cards. It’s about all the rest of the stuff that pads my wallet into a pocket bursting brick of plastic.

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So let’s see what we got here. A Tastecard for 2for1 dining. A PayPal MasterCard that I’ve never used, but might do one day. A House of Fraser loyalty card, used once. But it has some points on it now, so I’m reluctant to chuck it, even though I know the points probably barely add up to a pack of Polos. My Odeon cinema loyalty card does get used. There’s a Waitrose, Tesco and Nectar card. My National Trust membership card. My Next store card. My driving license. A Subway points card, my Oyster card to use the London Underground and a Costa Coffee loyalty card for those essential caffeine breaks.

Oh, and a Gala casino members card in case I want to gamble away all the money I don’t have. There’s a Carnaby Street card with a map of the Underground on it. And a crisp £1 note. Yes, a note. Really. I still have one. I’m that tight. There’s a packet of six second class stamps in there to reinforce that point.  A pair of vouchers for discount Subways and cinema tickets. This is my lightweight wallet. It just about fits all 20 cards (plus a couple of pics of Mrs P) uncomfortably in my back jeans pocket. In my drawer at home is my grown up wallet with another multitude of cards.

For the love of <your chosen deity>, will someone please invent a single card that one can load all these other cards on to. Pretty please. Sitting on a solid wedge of plastic is a right pain in the bum.

I bought a Fuji X-M1

I have a new camera. I’ve been looking for a while, I’ve been tormented and teased but I have finally taken the plunge. And it’s not one of the cameras I was directly looking at. But it was the sensible choice. I’m sure I’ll be uploading a ton of photos soon and will have more to write about my new purchase. But for today, I’ll just explain why I bought the X-M1, which becomes the 10th digital camera I’ve ever owned after an unknown Sanyo, a Nikon Coolpix 880 and 8800, a Fuji V10, a Panasonic TZ5 and FZ35, a Fuji HS10, an Olympus E-PL1 and a Fuji X-S1.

The Check List

Any new camera I bought had to meet a few essential requirements. It was going to be a Compact System Camera. I don’t want the bulk of a DSLR, or a bridge camera for that matter. I want my camera to do more than a compact is capable of. It also had to have an APS sized sensor. The Micros Four Thirds cameras are very good. Some argue there’s little between them. But bigger is better in this case, and that narrowed my choices down to Fuji, Sony and Samsung. I’m not a Samsung camera fan. So, really, it was down to Fuji and Sony.

I want a small body. This time, it’s the smaller the better. No one does small as well as Sony. But the X-M1 is pretty diminutive. I wanted GPS geo tagging. The X-M1 does this. Sort of. You need to do it with a smartphone, via a special Fuji app. It’s not the perfect solution, and I’d prefer a built in GPS unit. But it works. I also wanted an electronic viewfinder. Alas, this is where the Fuji fails. But sometimes you have to compromise, and this is where I do just that. I can live with the pretty decent tilt-able LCD monitor. Finally – image quality. It has to be fantastic at taking photos.

Social Media

I do my research before I buy I camera. I know what I want it to do, how much I have to spend and what models are in the market place. I use Flickr’s camera finder (see the X-M1 by clicking here) and photography review sites. Not every photography blog ‘gets’ the X-M1. Most bemoan its missing viewfinder. But some harp on about filters, features and fancy bits and pieces as deal breakers.They are not. Not for me. Camera Labs is an example. Others, such as Photography Blog focuses more on the image quality. Many will point out that it offers a noise free experience comparable to, if not better than, some full frame DSLR models.

The X-M1 delivers the same excellent image quality as its big and more expensive brothers. Noise is noticeable only by its almost complete absence throughout the ISO range of 100-25,600, while the Dynamic Range function helps to boost contrast and detail. The new 16-50mm lens is also worthy of mention, as although it has a cheaper build quality, it still offers sharp results throughout the focal range. The X-M1 is certainly right up there with the best APS-C sensor cameras on the market, and some full-frame models too, so if image quality at an affordable price is paramount, the X-M1 certainly fits the bill.

 

Brand Loyalty

I’ve owned nine camera previously, and enjoyed them all. But some, of course, more than others. There is that hard to measure sense of satisfaction that things can give you. Truth be told, the Fuji HS10 and the Fuji X-s1 are the two most satisfying cameras I’ve ever owned. They were a joy to use, both of them. The features, the image quality, the ease of use. It counts. A lot. They’ve both played a big part in my plumping for another Fuji.

I also like how this Fuji looks. It is, on paper, the least important specification of them all. But the design of the camera is hugely important. If it looks good, you’re pleased to be seen with it, to take it out and to get shooting. Fuji has also got a good track record in putting out software updates to fix older models and get them working properly, rather than simply replacing them with new models. Again, that counts.As does the fact that Fuji now has a fairly mature and high quality range of lenses available.

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The Deal

There’s one more key factor in any purchase. The deal. Not necessarily the price. Most of us would pay more for the right package. Value for money is key. This is where I would answer the question, why not a Sony a6000? The Sony has a better feature set, for sure. It’s also a couple of hundred pounds more. Why not the XE-2? It’s beautiful camera and if I was a little richer, that’s the one I’d have gone for. But then, for a two lens deal I’d have shelled out a stonking £1,200. Albeit for two really top quality lenses. There’s the older Fuji XE-1 too. If you could actually buy that model anymore from the dealers I’d buy from, it would have been a candidate. But stocks are running out.

The Fuji X-M1’s price has tumbled. I picked it up for a paltry £386. And to sweeten the deal, I get a free zoom lens too, that would normally set you back about £300 plus.  How does one say no to that? Well…I didn’t. I said yes please.

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I will tell you more about my shiny new Fuji over the next few weeks, months and years. I’ll let you know what my first impressions of the camera are, and compare it to my outgoing friend the Olympus E-PL1. And there’s be plenty of photos. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands. Hopefully. Till then, I’ll leave you with Photo Number One. The first shot taken with the X-M1 and uploaded to Flickr. It’s a very appropriate welcoming shot for my new friend…

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London Parks

London is the world’s largest urban forest. True fact. Apparently. I can believe it. There are parks and woodlands everywhere, and the account for about 20% of the total area of Greater London. They are there for the residents more than for the tourists, although the famous London parks will see plenty of foreign footfall. They are a respite from the traffic, the fumes and noise and bustle of everyday city life. I worked for a while in Gloucester Road, South Kensington, and liked to go up to Kensington Gardens after work on a sunny weekday afternoon. I sat underneath a tree and read my way through John Le Carre’s ‘The Russia House‘. I don;t remember which summer it was, but it was a long, hot one. I know this because the book was a long, long read and I did finish it, eventually, under that tree. I have a few photos of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park – click here.

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Riches to Rags

Some properties have some very fanciful addresses. But most are based around the often pretentious naming of the property itself. The White House. Buckingham Palace. Windsor Castle. But these grand names often hide more mundane postal addresses. Such as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. With Apseley House, this is quite the other way round. This rather grand property can be mailed at Number 1, London. Is there a more pompous address anywhere else in the world? I don’t know. If you do, let me know,

Number 1, London was home to Arthur Wellesley. More familiarly known as the Duke of Wellington, oft referred to as the Iron Duke. He was a general, a Prime Minister and a national hero. Never defeated on the battlefield, his exploits combined with his naval contemporary, Nelson, put Britain on the path to Imperial riches. Number 1, London is home to some of the looted riches he took and was awarded.

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They do say that the bigger you are, the harder you fall. The British Empire expanded into a vast global enterprise in the second half of the 1800s. It was always bound to end badly. A tiny island cannot forever maintain control of a third of the world’s population while fighting off the imperial ambitions of rival European powers. The French and Spanish were done for. The new Germanic state was another matter entirely. There was no great need for Britain to enter World War 1, other than to try and see off the Hun and maintain the UK’s dominance of the seas, of trade and of wealth production.

It turned out that that was reason enough, and the final consequences of Wellington’s triumphs can been seen at the Tower of London. An altogether older, more famous and grander property just down the Thames, the Tower is currently home to a growing exhibition. Ceramic red poppies are being planted in the moat. By the time they have completed the job, in November, there will be 800,000 odd poppies. In memory of the 800,000 odd Brits who perished in WW1, trying to keep the Iron Dukes ill gotten gains.

It’s already an impressive site. Click here to see the full photo set of Number 1 London and the poppies at the Tower of London. Sadly, interior photography in Apseley House is not permitted.

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The Royal Navy Submarine Museum

Once upon a time I wanted to be a palaeontologist.  I must have been 11 or 12. I liked dinosaurs, I liked digging holes in the ground and I liked puzzles. I also felt that having any sort of career with ‘ologist’ at the end could only be a good thing. There was also the sadist in me, looking forward to taunting people who couldn’t spell the word palaeontologist.  I never did become a palaeontologist. It turned out that one needed to study for more years than I was prepared to do and that I only liked digging holes so deep. I’ve also discovered that some ologists, some as scientologists, are not such a great thing. And computers came along with their dastardly auto correct spelling feature dashed my hopes of faulting my friends spelling.

I moved on to a new dream. I wanted to join the Royal Navy. It was more realistic, offered the chance to see the four corners of the world and is traditionally a very sound career choice for a 17 year old Brit. I sent off for my application pack, filled it out, stuffed it in the envelope and per chance went on a sea fishing trip before I got to post them. I was very sea sick. Not a little, but very. I didn’t feel right for two weeks and couldn’t fish on a canal without getting nauseous for two years. I didn’t step on another boat for about fifteen years, until a trip in Nicaragua. Most people get their sea legs after a few days or weeks. Some, like Charles Darwin, are simply ill for the full duration. Which boat would I be in? I didn’t want to find out. I never did join the Royal Navy.

But I still have a fascination for the Royal Navy. I recently went to see the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Portsmouth. There are a lot of naval museums and ships in Portsmouth. I’d already seen HMS Victory and HMS Warrior. But not the Submarine museum, and seeing as they’ve just recently opened their all new, prize exhibit – well, it seemed worth the trip. The exhibit is HMS Alliance, the last remaining British submarine from World War Two.

The museum is also home to Britain’s first ever submarine, a diminutive and rather rusted little undersea demon. You can venture inside both subs. HMS Alliance is an impressively complicated beast, with pipes, handles, dials and switches from floor to ceiling along its entire length. You’re welcomed aboard by a uniformed and suitably bearded old sailor who once called the boat home. It’s nice to have a short introduction and explanation of life aboard a boat by someone who actually served on it.

Submarines are notoriously cramped creatures of the deep. It wasn’t quite as cramped as I had assumed. Sure, there were plenty of opportunities for me to whack my skull on metal, but I could stand up straight with a few inches to spare. But life as a submariner was never my cup of tea. In the end I switched allegiances to the RAF, and did actually manage to get in. Although that was not a long lived career choice either. I have plenty more photos on Flickr of the submarine and Portsmouth, of course. Just click here.

If ever you have the chance to visit the Submarine Museum, you’ll need to catch a boat across the harbour. There is a free waterboat on offer to ticket holders, but you must have a ticket for the entire Historic Dockyard. A simple Submarine museum ticket will not do. The boat runs hourly and is often full. My suggestion, regardless as to whether or not you have the full ticket,  would be to catch the Gosport Ferry that is near the train station. It isn’t free, but for £3.10 you get a return ticket on a more spacious vessel that runs every 7 and a half minutes at peak times, every 15 minutes off peak.

My dreams of being a palaeontologist, Royal Navy seaman and RAF air traffic controller were never fully realised. I did fulfil one dream though, and lived abroad teaching English for a few years. Some dreams do come true. But reality is what it is. I never dreamt of a career selling home insurance to the over 50’s.

A Century of Remembering

Already this year there have been several important dates commemorating the centenary of World War I. Today is the special date for Britain. A hundred years ago today, Britain declared war on Germany. Arguably, it was today in 1914 that a potentially localised European war turned into a full scale global conflict. There are lots of events taking place across the country and on the battlefields in France and Belgium. Lest we forget.

There’s little chance anyone will forget. Every town, village and hamlet has a war memorial with the names of the dead of 1914 to 1918 engraved upon them. Other institutions like train stations and Royal Mail offices have their own plaques. Bournemouth has a rather grand memorial in the gardens, which I cycle past on most days. I cycled past this evening and took a photo.

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In the gardens today there were youngsters from all over Europe playing football. On the grass, not across trenches. After school or work, not during a ceasefire. The airship in the background is a balloon to provide tourists with a view, not a Zeppelin dropping bombs on civilians. I came home from the gardens to find a letter from the government. It was about my right to vote, not conscription papers.

I’m glad to be alive in 2014 rather than 1914. The young men of 1914 would probably disagree. Adventure was in the air. The survivors of 1918 would probably come round to my point of view. They were just glad to be alive at all, I’m sure. To be able to join in the annual rituals of remembrance. Alas, around the world today in Ukraine, Israel, great swathes of Africa and elsewhere, the futility of war is forgotten and ignored. But we will be able to remember them next year.