Remainers Are Playing With Fire – If We Stay in the EU, Democracy Will Wither Away

Sounds over dramatic surely? Maybe so, but there is a wave of disenchantment, of sheer exasperation and mistrust, which politicians and Remainers would be wise to consider. The harsh truth is that most people in the UK do NOT vote and it’s worth looking at the reasons why so many people have simply given up on democracy.

remainers-demo

The Brexit vote has stirred up a great deal of bitterness, on both sides, with the added twist of sour lemon added by the gloating SNP in Scotland, determined to stop Brexit for their own ends. Then there’s Ulster, keen to keep on receiving EU development/regeneration subsidies and no friend of Westminster government, for obvious historical reasons. That anger will be intensified if Brexit never happens – and I don’t believe it will, mainly becasue the EU needs our £350m per week subs. Public anger is one thing, and will dissipate, but the legacy will be a rapid decline in voter turnout in every election. People will then see that their votes count for nothing – a majority result only matters when it’s the `right’ result, as Tony Blair might put it.

Look at the decline in General Election turnout over the last 25 years or so. It peaked at 77% in 1992, as Kinnock’s Labour party narrowly failed to win power. There was a low point in 2001 when Blair’s regime held an iron grip, with a 59% turnout of the electorate. Since then things improved but in 2015 ONE THIRD of all voters couldn’t be arsed voting, even though you can easily – and fraudulently – do it by post.

Two recent by-elections in Sleaford and Richmond also highlighted how it takes a bitter clash of personalities, like Khan vs Goldsmith, to engage voters. Sleepy Sleaford, saw a measly 37% turnout. Yes, almost two thirds of voters thought the whole thing was a waste of time.

non-voters-in-majority

THE DANGERS OF A LOW VOTER TURNOUT

Hitler took power via the ballot box, not using a gang of brown-shirted, beered up racists storming the Reichstag with guns. The lower the voter turnout the greater danger we face  because extremist candidates – of all political and religious persuasions – can then seize an opportunity to be democratically elected.

If we look at politics in the UK over the last 20 years, we see a fragmentation happening, the collapse of the old two-party system. The Tory vote started to split into UKIP and traditional `one nation’ Conservatives about a decade ago. The Labour Party was wiped out in the 2015 election in Scotland and it’s NEVER coming back from that defeat. The shift towards Corbyn’s Momentum cult proves that Labour has decided its future lies in big cities, where a mix of young voters virtue signalling, long term benefits claimants and migrants offers a dedicated cadre of support.

In the regions, parties like Plaid Cymru, SNP, Lib Dems, DUP, Sinn Fein and others all have their loyal followers, aggrieved and fed up with the old order, the same old `yah-boo’ politics we see at PMQs, the smug elitism of the Lords, and the shameless money-grabbing that almost all career politicians are guilty of. In short, the UK is ready to become ever more divided because the old politics is in bitter denial of the new reality.

But as Tony Benn noted, the answer to imperfect democracy is MORE democracy, not less. That is why the federal, remote, corrupt and unaccountable EU was rejected by 52%. Migration – uncapped at any rate – was a secondary consideration. People can see that ALL politicians now rank themselves way above the rest of us and are most certainly free from obeying the normal rules and laws which apply to the majority of the population.

Mainstream media, pundits and politicians simply cannot grasp that Donald Trump didn’t offered some grand, coherent vision of a new America – he wasn’t voted in for hos policies or values. They were largely irrelevant. What amttered was that for the Mitt Ronmeys, Ted Cruz or Clintons of this world, the game was up – Americans could stomach no more of their blatant lies, greed and duplicity.

hillary-smug

 

People voted to wipe the smug smirk of entitlement off Hillary’s face.

That vengeful anger may yet propel a more sinister figure than Trump into the White House. If you want proof, look to the absolute monarchy of Russia, where Putin rules like a War of The Roses King, surrounded by his mafia-like Barons. There are elections, of course, but does anyone dare vote for real change?

Likewise, in the Middle East, where democracy has NEVER- as in never – taken hold, (except in Israel, ) we see a real danger of sectarian theocracy eclipsing any democratic regime. Egypt, Libya, Iran, Iraq, all the Gulf states…shall I go on? OK, let’s add Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Algeria and possibly Morocco. The economic migrants and refugees that we are inviting into Europe, Canada and the USA often share the belief that equal rights for women, or LGBT people, democracy or free speech are all ultimately subservient to the laws of the Prophet.

One day, both Sunni and Shia will form their own political parties, and votes will be cast along sectarian lines. The question is; once those parties achieve real political power in the UK, ( and the EU, or at least the Western half of the bloc) what laws will they pass, or refuse to accept?

What then for democracy, when gay marriage is repealed by a Coalition of religiously motivated parties, and a far-right party determined to turn back the clock of civilised society? Or all criticism, of all religions, is deemed to be `Hate Speech?’

Be careful what you wish for Remainers, for your refusal to accept the will of the people may yet bring about a tyranny of the few. The few who can be bothered to vote…

 

 

Towards A Divided Britain

I’ve written at length before on the topic of London vs The Rest of the UK.

It’s a process that started way back in the 80s as London property prices began to outstrip wages at an ever increasing pace, coupled to a migration within the UK, of talented people, essential workers and the young, heading to the Capital in the 1990s and early 2000s. Tony Blair’s policy of encouraging mass-migration from 1998 onwards accelerated the economic growth of London, and the changing ethnic make-up of the Capital.

Back Camera

As explained in the essay published two years ago in Notes From The Margins, money, getting rich quick, or joining the cosy cliques of power and influence, is the social glue which holds London and the South-East together. People there are generally able to forget, or at least set aside, the ancient grudges and sectarian hatred of their home turf, in order to have a better material life. And that money train shows no sign of stopping, despite the Brexit vote, as Google, ASOS and others continue to announce jobs investment in London, seeing it as a separate country, and crucially, an economy with a future – unlike Ulster, Wales, Scotland or the North of England.

Austerity Britain? Not in London my fellow citizens, and you only have to walk the streets of the Capital to see, and feel, the buzz, the vibrancy of the place. Building work is everywhere, massive infrastructure projects abound such as the Supersewer, London Bridge station, Heathrow expansion etc. plus millionaires-only-please apartments, boutique hotels, flagship Swiss watch emporiums, luxury car showrooms et al pepper the streets as the world’s rich continue to colonise our Capital with their funny money, which needs to be laundered by the professionals in the City.

THE GROWTH OF ENCLAVES

There is no doubt that the 2008 financial crash and recession has not impacted anywhere near as profoundly within the M25, as it has across the rest of the UK. Likewise, the social division, the emergence of distinct enclaves, based on religious belief, overseas nationality or local work opportunities, is nowhere near so sharply drawn in Greenwich or Battersea, as it is in Gainsborough or Blackburn.

Although London and the SE has its gated communities, posh avenues where private security vans patrol after dark, and servants from overseas whisper like ghosts from outbuildings, to main houses, via back garden paths, the majority of the population is undeniably integrated. People of all skin colours, backgrounds, religions and sexual preferences work and travel together, eat at the same fast food chains, watch the same tedious football or cricket matches. The overarching reason for existing in London, suffering the noxious traffic fumes and outrageous rents, is the dream of making it big; starting a business, getting promoted to a senior level, or seizing one of the many opportunities that may come your way.

But spend a few days in towns like Luton, Bradford, Blackburn, Wrexham or cities like Manchester, Sheffield or Leeds. It won’t take you long to find areas where one particular language or dialect is the dominant one, where many people do not speak more than a few words of English.

More concerning still, is the long term under-employment of around half of the working age population. Groups of young men – of all skin colours – can be seen hanging around with absolutely no career prospects. Women struggle to find anything more challenging than part-time work in supermarkets, carer agencies or shops. Men aged 45 or older are simply ignored, screened out of the jobs market by ruthless recruitment agencies, who insist on seeing applicants passports so they can discriminate by birth date. In short, there is no career ladder, no upward social mobility, which can act as a salve upon the wounds of ethnic or religious divisions.

It isn’t just a Brexit-fuelled casual racism which stalks the regions of the UK, although there are plenty of white British folk sullenly willing the foreigners out of their impoverished lives. The lack of hope, the grim realisation that things will NEVER get any better, no matter how hard you work, is something which drives all people, indigenous and new arrivals, to settle in familiar tribal surroundings. Form the wagons in a circle, is the unspoken agreement.

You can see this strong community identity best in a place like Belfast, where a peace wall segregates Catholic and Protestant, over 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement. People simply stick together, no matter what, and hold fast to the idea that incomers are not to be trusted, locals set the unwritten rules, and the Police should stay out of matters unless specifically invited in to resolve something serious.

The same mindset can be witnessed in Sheffield or Bradford, Salford or Burnley. You only have to look properly to find it.

mural-1-summer-69

EQUALITY, FREE SPEECH AND TOLERANCE ARE THE PILLARS OF PROGRESS

I’m talking equality of opportunity, regardless of gender, age or religion, or geographical location. It’s time to derail the London Economic Express and build a high speed social mobility ladder that has lower rungs across ALL of the UK – Scotland, Wales, the North and Ulster.

There must be freedom to worship any God, or no God at all if you like and those who espouse violence towards rival sects, or unbelievers, must be jailed – and sometimes deported – for the sake of wider social tolerance. A study of the tragic history of Northern Ireland shows how religious differences can be hijacked by those who would send young men, and women, on the fool’s errand of war. We must not lose our love of free speech, the ability to debate issues openly, or laugh at a risque or bad taste joke. Hate Speech is the stuff that Hitler, Pol Pot or Stalin spoke, not a reasoned criticism of men who would rather kill their female relatives, than let them marry a man they loved.

Those who seek to stifle debate by shouting about offending others need to understand that an enforced silence breeds suspicion, jealousy and deep division within society.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING, EVEN IN LONDON

Soon, automation and AI will sweep away millions of jobs and I have news for Londoners – you are not immune from this second Industrial Revolution. You will suffer too. City traders and stockbrokers will be replaced by algorithms, many teachers will lose their positions to glowing screens and self-learning software, and surgeons will find their sewing skill cannot match a robot’s adroit touch.

robo-surgery

The answer to this mass unemployment is Universal Basic Income, and a social contract which ring fences certain jobs as requiring the human touch, the understanding that ultimately we all live by the kindness of strangers.

Those who cannot help construct a new social, political and economic future, where all of us may thrive – not just the morally superior virtue-signallers of London – will condemn everyone to a soulless, automated existence, where we seek shelter in divided tribes, simmering with anger. This internal economic and social separation, the segregation of people within the UK by faith, language or cultural heritage, will become a much bigger problem that the slanging match surrounding Brexit.

These problems have very little to do with the EU, these are structural changes that are irrevocable, profound and global. Every nation is going to be affected by AI, from Indian call centre to Turkish car parts factory. How we deal with an increasingly segregated Britain will ultimately define our values, our humanity. Or the lack of it.

 

 

 

#TravelTuesday Aletsch Glacier Switzerland

aletsch-pano

The Aletsch is something wondrous.

A river of ancient water, grinding its way through the Alps, a ghost from the last Ice Age. You stand and stare, hypnotised by its serpentine grace, willing it to move a fraction before your eyes. But it remains immobile, brilliant white, like a finger of paint left by Picasso as an afterthought.

People sometimes take a guided walk on the Aletsch, treading on rain and snow that was frozen thousands of years ago. Better to sit on the mountains nearby, breathe in pure, thin air and enjoy a moment of escape from phones, work, traffic and all the other things that clutter up every busy minute.

Switzerland is a rich man’s playground in winter, dominated by snow sports and gin palace drinking culture. But in summer, it’s a retreat and that’s a rare thing anywhere in Europe.

 

True Equality Means Universal Basic Income

You can argue all day about the meaning of equal rights in Britain.

For example, the old debate about equal pay for women in the workplace has been long since superceded by virtue-signalling conversations about BAME/LBGT/Trans quotas, unacceptable speech policies, ageism, carers rights, paternity/maternity leave and the generally shameful lip service paid to candidates with disabilities.

The only thing that’s generally agreed in the UK is that we all hate middle aged white guys. Because…erm, well they’re all racist Brexiteers aren’t they? Yeah. Except for Jezza Corbyn.

Apprehension

But there is a structural shift coming soon in the world of work, called automation. Soon, robots will be doing the driving jobs, warehouse forklift driving, picking and packing etc. In the white collar jobs market, AI software and SIRI-like helpers will see an end to that 21st century workhouse, the call centre. Insurance claims will be settled by AI, plus arguments over legal separations, wills, traffic offences and divorces will be sifted by software too, putting thousands of family law specialists out of work – although the rich will always demand a sly, devious human to defend their interests of course.

What that means is millions of jobs vanishing, forever. Not a temporary recession, but a revolution which will see humans lose out to technology that never sleeps, never goes sick, needs a holiday in Turkey, or an index-linked pension that lasts for over 30 years in some cases.

The only logical answer in developed economies like the UK, USA, EU zone, Canada, Australia etc is Universal Basic Income (UBI). Politicians hate to discuss the idea, because many live in the past, where `work’ is intrinsically seen as a good thing, a moral obligation which every decent citizen is willing to do.

corbyn-hat

But the fact is that over the last 20 years Britain has constructed a system which rewards those who choose to opt out of working for a living. The key to unlocking this largesse is children, as those who have them can receive a percentage of their rent, a fixed amount per month, per child, free prescriptions, plus child benefit on top. Many women – and it’s usually women who are lumbered with the childcare – have sussed that it is a complete waste of time working full-time. A typical call centre job may pay £17-£20K in the regions and about £22-£25K in London. But three children should generate about £1500 per month in income. That’s more than your take home pay, so the answer is to work 16 hours, lie about the true sleeping arrangements between your male partner and yourself, and rake in the cash for about 20 years. Beautiful.

But this is clearly a case of discrimination against single people, gay or lesbian couples who choose not to have children, or older people whose children have grown up and left home, thus taking away the Tax Credits revenue. In a fair society, everyone would free cash because the truth is that everyone will NEED it in a few years. Singletons won’t be able to work because there won’t be any jobs to apply for.

The sensible solution is to pay everyone, over the age of 18, an income of say £7000-£8000 a year, and allow them to keep any cash that earn on top. This would reward those who feel like starting a business, or simply working as hard as they can, whilst those who like to stay in watching Jeremy Kyle can do so, especially if they partner up officially and a household has £14,000-£16,000 a year coming in. You aren’t living in luxury, but you certainly wouldn’t starve, so long as you were able to live without a car, fags, booze each day or legal high festivals at the weekends.

Pensioners could keep their pension, ISAs, bonds, shares etc. on top of their UBI, thus offering an incentive to save long term, be prudent, not hedonistic. The incentive to keep breeding, in order to recive more benefits, would also vanish which will one day save our planet. As Attenborough noted, we are over-populating this island Earth and that is a problem which must be addressed. Or we all die of starvation, except the rich eleite, who are busy reserving all the glam jobs and posh housing for themselves, their families and chums.

jack-wills-white-privilege

Your son or daughter can’t have a career, because a wealthy, tax evading, chumocracy have bagsied the best jobs in advance.

Corbyn’s Labour should be bold and seize this policy idea, sell the dream of `work when you choose’ to the voters, not the endless squabbles of who is more politically correct than thou. Rebrand Labour as the Universal Equality Party and a huge section of the working – and non-working – class will place their X in the Labour candidate box in 2020. Who doesn’t like FREE cash, indigenous Brit and gangmaster enslaved migrant alike?

The virtue signalling Londonistas, who simply adore protesting about all kinds of social justice trivia, will love the idea of being paid to be a student forever, a writer, a musician, a dreamer, Twitter Manager, blogger or an X-Box player…this policy has massive appeal to the bone idle younger voter who has no ambition beyond leaving their parents back bedroom one day. Corbyn’s core supporters basically. So it’s win-win – new Momentum Labour meets old school working class and the most wonderful thing about it all is that we simply tax everything that people buy to pay for the UBI top up. Any shortfall can be supplied by QE- invented numbers on an ECB screen.

The future is bright, the future is UBI.

 

 

 

The UK Needs a Constitution – Will It Ever Get One?

It is an undeniable truth that a country in possession of a fortune is in need of a written Constitution. The founding fathers of the United States knew that, even the bloody architects of the Soviet Union understood it too. Heck, even a vile place like Tajikistan or Mali has produced a Constitution or two.

But not the UK and this is the crux of the dry legal argument, which is being held in the Supreme Court, as millionaires attempt to stop Brexit. The central question is simple, yet complex; does Parliament, or the People have the last word? You may think that the two are for all purposes the same, but the trouble with one-off Referendums is that that by-pass the will of the House of Commons, and many MPs, and sometimes PMs, don’t like that.

bill_of_rights-usa

I think the UK needs a written Constitution for three important reasons:

One, Wales, Ulster and Scotland, are already separate states in some ways, and a written document would define that relationship, and the Commonwealth, or Crown Dependencies, in a much clearer way.

Two, any future debate about Parliament taking precedence over any Treaty negotiated by a government, or a Referendum, would be clarified in law. Until a dictatorship took power anyway.

Three, it would help prevent overseas based interests from influencing any UK government by means of bribes, promises, secret trade deals etc. It wouldn’t stop it completely, but defining UK citizens inalienable rights would – in theory – stop another Parliament from enacting laws which stole away those rights. A good example of this is the rendition of UK citizens to the USA or other EU states, without that citizen having the right to insist that a full case for international arrest and trial be heard FIRST in a UK court, before a jury, and held in public not in secret.

A LITTLE HISTORY

First of all, let’s not mention Magna Carta, which was nothing more than a list of demands from disgruntled Lords, Earls and Barons, aggrieved that the King was taking their money and then reneging on the mafia-like deals that had been struck. Ordinary people in 13th century England were slaves, end of. They remained so after Magna Carta.

The next attempt at a Constitution is the most interesting one; the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. In a series of battles Charles I managed to lose the argument over absolute monarchy to Cromwell and his Parliamentarian forces. The result was an ISIS style beheading, to show to all commoners that the Head of State was literally no more. Parliament was now Sovereign.

This was put to the test when James II took the throne and again, the Parliament side won, producing a Bill of Rights in 1689 to re-inforce two important points; no more Catholic monarchs and secondly, that Parliament offers truly free speech, (immunity of prosecution only for MPs of course) and has the exclusive power to raise tax and acts a brake upon the Courts. Power to raise tax was taken from the monarch by the 1689 Bill.

I shall say it again however, the 1689 Act had NO effect upon the lives of ordinary people at the time, who were virtual slaves. It offered no rights to poor citizens. Only those with money could avail themselves of any `rights’ listed in the 1689 Act.

parliament-london

Onwards to the 20th century and some real progress. The only part of the UK which has a written Constitution is Northern Ireland, with the Good Friday Agreement being the basis of a devolved, power sharing Executive. This document is also unique in that it was ratified by two Referendums, both in the Republic, and Ulster, later in 1998. In other words, the Constitution of Northern Ireland had the true consent of the people, not just the executive, law-giving body.

A POSSIBLE CONSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK

The Good Friday Agreement makes a good template for a UK Constitution in many ways, because it offers not just basic, and obvious, `human rights’ as agreed over the last century or so in Western nations, but also power sharing, and a right to self determination for a minority community.

This principle is much needed in a divided UK, where London and the South East has nearly all the money, good jobs and political power. It would also enable Scotland and Wales have clearly defined powers, identify areas of co-operation with other regions within the UK, (such as defence, traffic laws, control of infectious disease etc.) plus the right to make a treaty, agreement or trade arrangement with another country, or bloc of member states such as the EU, IF the majority of the population agreed to do so.

That would enable the SNP, or Plaid Cymru, to offer something unique to voters genuinely fed up of being ruled by London.

Things like fixed term parliaments, reducing the number of MPs and defining the powers of city Mayors, or regional assemblies, should be essential components in any Constitution. Hopefully we can all agree on that.

The matter of free speech, which is clearly being curtailed by the UK government, would also be defined in a written Constitution. This needs to be done, as we live in a country where particular religious or specific interest lobby groups take offence at various comments, resulting in jail terms for those who speak out of turn. It’s not good enough that an MP may call someone `zionist jew scum’ or a sand n***er’ in Parliament, but an ordinary citizen may not do so. The same laws on free speech – rights, limits and responsibilities – must apply to ALL citizens. The rich and powerful must not be granted an exemption from prosecution.

free-speech-art

This leads naturally to a definition in law of freedom to worship whatever God you choose, or no God at all, and enshrine mutual respect and toleration as a foundation stone of our UK Constitution. Those who call for other worshippers to be killed should know that they are breaking that written law, and violating the rights of others to believe whatever they want.

There is no point in having a written Constitution if the poor are excluded from accessing the rights afforded to them. We see the rich repeatedly buying their way out of trouble, getting away with crimes, whilst the poor suffer the lottery of the UK criminal justice system. Any written document should guarantee legal aid, trial in public – not secret – and the right to a hearing by jury for serious crimes.

The new Constitution should abolish the House of Lords, and replace it with a second elected chamber, based on proportional representation. This would act as a balance against the Commons, where MPs tend to pursue the party line and sometimes not vote with the long term view in mind, or the wider public feeling. The monarch should also be defined as a figurehead, devoid of all powers.

Here is one final detail – it isn’t a perfect solution to the matter of political corruption, but adding a Constitutional clause that any MP, or Upper House member who accepts gifts, jobs, or any sponsorship for themselves, their family or companies they sit upon, shall immediately lose their place in the legislature.

There is much more you could add, but it’s a starting point. The UK truly deserves a written document which sets out the apparatus of the State in clear terms, our rights as equal citizens and guarantees us a chance to a fair trial, the ability to express a view without prosecution, and the right to worship whatever we want; God or Mammon.

If we fail to have a Constitution then one day, we will lose all our rights, and that is the most pressing argument for having something in writing. In the end, it is a much more important document than anything to do with Brexit because it bestows power within the individual, as well as the State.

 

 

Travel Notes From NZ

Some memories from a two week road trip around New Zealand’s South Island.

WANAKA TO GREYMOUTH

The sheer space on the South Island is quite a contrast to most of Europe. On a long, lonely Highway 87, up past Ranfurly, along Highway 85 and 8 I overtook maybe two vehicles. I cruised slowly through Scottish-sounding towns like Galloway, Clyde and Bannockburn until I finally reached Lake Wanaka, which was a postcard smooth, mirror of ice-capped mountain views. Stunning.

lake-wanaka-nz

Rather than try a hotel, I checked into a house for two nights at Wanaka, as it had a washing machine and tumble-drier, plus a garage for the bike. Cost about £70 per night but worth it to re-charge my batteries. I spent a whole day resting, lubing the cables and chain on the VFR, checking the tyres and sleeping. Three days of hammering rain and strong winds had drained the fun out of motorcycling for a while.

Wanaka is a stunning, serene place, surrounded by mountains and unbelievably peaceful. You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful way of escape, a fortress of quiet solitude.

After a break I woke up to some NZ sunshine for the fabulous Haast Pass route; a serpentine roller-coaster through more spectacular mountains, with topaz coloured water crashing through the canyon next to the road. I stayed with Highway 6 as it wriggled down the mountains to the coast, then hooked northwards to the Fox Glacier and Greymouth.

This town has a real old school feel, a gritty, almost pioneer type of vibe. Coal mines, casinos and dusty old V8 American cars pepper the area here, you feel like this is the real NZ, a million miles from Queenstown’s `dude’ culture. Again, I checked into a small bed & breakfast hotel on spec and hit the local bar for decent meal and a pint. Greymouth was akin to small town America in lots of ways; low-roofed shops and restaurants, an easy pace to it.

CRISS-CROSS TO CHRISTCHURCH

I carried on up Highway 6 and over the hills. More swoopy bends, loose rocks in the road and squally showers of rain to contend with. NZ’s summer’s can be four seasons in one day, bit like Ireland in that regard. I picked up Highway 63 to Blenheim and briefly considered getting a ferry ride over to the North Island, which runs from Picton and takes about 3 hours. In the end, I decided against it; you can only cover so much ground in 10 days, so why pile on the big mileage days? I turned south and checked into Kaikoura for 2 nights instead and loved it.

keaparrotnztour

Kaikoura makes a fantastic base for whale or dolphin-watching, surfing, ocean fishing trips, or just lazing on the beach, watching the Kea parrots peck away at the cool boxes of camper-can travellers. The parrots even had a go at the panniers on the VFR, detecting the roadside picnic I packed in there.

This was the last lap of my South Island tour and then back to Christchurch along Highway 1, with a detour to Motunau Beach on the way. There’s a single track road to the rocky edge of the South Island, so it’s a quiet place. For me, this was another chance to paddle in the Pacific Ocean, mirroring the dip I’d taken a year before, on the other side of the ocean at Oregon. Two sides of a mighty sea in two years, I felt like Michael Palin, a proper globe-trotter. You feel like you are at the very edge of the earth on the South Island. There’s miles of sand, seabirds, maybe two or three campervans…that’s it. Next stop, Antarctica.

honda-vfr800-1998-onwards

Back in Christchurch I had a day to check out the John Britten museum, get used to being surrounded by people again and pack up for the long flight home. NZ has its own pace of life, a genuine old fashioned flavour in the small towns that sets it apart. The best thing I did on the whole trip was leave my mobile in a drawer at home – the South Island isn’t just Godzone, it’s a welcome break from the 24/7 modern world. It’s just you, the bike and the open road.

Like motorcycle touring used to be.

 

Postcards From The Past

I used to test motorcycles for a living. It was dangerous, fun and not very well paid. Out of the hundreds of motorcycles and scooters I had a spin on, here are a few which stuck in my memory, and why;

hayabusa-red2

Suzuki Hayabusa. Fast? Yep, warp friggin’ speed fast.

The Suzuki Hayabusa launch from 1998 at Bruntingthorpe was unforgettable. Jimmi from Fast Bikes spewed up in a car glove box on the way to the event, as he was still pissed from the free booze Suzuki’s PR specialists served up the night before.

I wasn’t feeling too clever and after getting my helmet visor hit by gravel at 150mph, as Shakey Byrne overtook me on the straight, I began to think one of us journos might die as we raced towards the speed trap at over 175mph. Then played chicken on the brakes. Things became so surreal that Chris `Crasher’ Moss from MCN declared the Busa was good enough to make a decent Proddie race bike.

I recorded a mere 194mph that day. Shakey did 202mph. Interestingly, the speedo on my bike was showing around 215mph at 190mph, which only goes to prove one thing; road tests are 90% bullsh** baby.

thunderclouds-nevada-rocketiii-small

Triumph Rocket Three belongs in the USA. Cinemascope motorcycling.

If ever a bike belonged in the Grand Canyon, the badlands of Missouri or cruising the Strip in Vegas, it was the Triumph Rocket III Touring. True, the motor is NOT a V8, but the pistons are from a Dodge Viper I believe and the way the three cylinder engine punches you towards the next horizon is deeply MoPar.

It drinks fuel. I recall filling the tank every 100 miles or so, but in the USA that doesn’t matter. It corners like a big sofa, but again, what difference does that make on an arrow straight road in Nevada? Lie back and enjoy the adventure, the sheer emptiness of the open road. There was a moment on the ET Highway, where I started singing Wanted: Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi, beneath the confines of my Arai. Think I got away with it…

ducati-1098r-stat-1

1098 Ducati – dream on track, nightmare on UK roads.

You know when you meet one of your heroes and it’s a great disappointment? Well the same thing happened with the Ducati 1098.

I loved its sheer Sophia Loren curvaceous beauty, drooled over the tech spec when Ducati’s PR team sent over the promo blurb and couldn’t wait to test the bike. As a lowly scum internet editor back in the 2000s, I wasn’t allowed on the flashy press launch, so instead had to book a week’s road test.

Rarely have I felt such pain in my neck and back, (and I’ve attended many of Max Mosley’s finest evening soirees,) and the number of times the bike almost wrenched its handlebars from my grip, as the rock solid suspension bumped and thumped over pot-holes was a constant unsettling annoyance. You simply didn’t trust the bike to behave at speed, as it reacted to every piss-poor road repair, thickly painted whiteline, or drainage grid. The 1098 was incredibly hard work in traffic too; a lumpy low end power delivery and a clutch that seemed extremely sensitive and fragile.

In short, a fantastic track bike, a pure racer. But a total bag of nails on the A41 during a showery day in April. You could cover ground quicker on a ten year old 748. Like so many exotic motorcycles, the 1098 was more show than go, a medallion man machine for those blokes who feel the need to say “I’m considerably richer than yow” at biker hang outs.

Ridden an unforgettable steed? Post a comment below.

#Amwriting: Colouring in Character

Writing is a tricky thing and I don’t think I will ever perfect the business of defining characters completely, rounding them out to the reader.

Maybe that’s a good thing, perhaps the reader needs to visualise the character and interpret their thoughts and selected scraps of dialogue? It’s an especially difficult process with minor characters – bit part players – in novels. You don’t want a lesser character becoming a big distraction from the plot, the central dilemma the hero/heroine is facing, the action sequences etc. But you do want them to resonate, to feel real.

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Ian Hart as Parkis in The End of The Affair

One thing I’ve noticed in real life is that we all have vocal `tics.’ Things like saying wee man instead of little man, or making an umm or ahhhh noise to gain thinking time when faced with a tough question. Another strategy that politicians use is repeating a question back, while you think of a good answer and this is something I used in Grievance, during scenes where Police, MI5 and politicians all danced around the vague topic of truth and reconciliation.

Arguably Charles Dickens was the master of pen portraits when it came to character studies and he was famously a cartoonist called Boz in his younger days. Another writer I love is Graham Greene, who often sums up so much about the English class system, crime or Catholic sins, via a few well chosen words from his characters.

In Greene’s masterpiece, The End of The Affair, the way that Parkis refers to his son as `the boy’ and tries to shield him from the seedy world of divorce court snooping, speaks volumes about the era, and the particularly awkward British hypocrisy of conducting a middle class love affair. Plus, the way Parkis regards himself as being automatically part of the lower orders, and expects his boy to follow in his father’s sad, beady-eyed footsteps, is summed up in the tone, the feel, of the dialogue. It has a methodical, clock-watching, workmanlike flavour and that brings Parkis alive for me.

I tried handling multiple plot lines, and an ensemble cast in The Pink Peppermint Lounge and most likely, I haven’t done all the characters justice. But I spent hours editing, and sometimes re-writing from scratch, lots of dialogue exchanges – far more than I did with third person descriptions of the actors, or their actions. People are defined, ultimately, by their actions, not their words. But you need the flesh of dialogue, fitted smoothly upon the bones of plot development, to get anywhere near a kind of truth in fiction.

If you want to sample a few extracts from my books then here’s a link.

 

 

 

Notes From an Ace Rocker `n’ Racer

Years ago I wrote a book called The Cafe Racer Phenomenon and as part of my research I went to see Dave `Crasher’ Croxford, a true character and a guy who famously crashed his racing bikes hundreds of times and never broke a decent sized bone in his body.

I was backing up old files onto a USB stick, and found the raw notes that jotted down back in 2007, right after speaking to Dave. Here are some extracts, which capture the feel of the 50s and 60s Cafe Racer scene – and UK road racing – perfectly.

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BSA Gold Star 500; true classic.

“I got into sidecar racing when I was young. I was an apprentice toolmaker then, they were great days in the 50s for me, I made loads of bits in aluminium dural, which I nicked from the workshop, then sold the bits to mates. The Ace Cafe was a good place to go, there were a few bikes that were fast, and lads who raced. There was some bullshit though, people used to say they’d taken Neasden bridge at 90mph – impossible, too bumpy. Stories about racing some place whilst a record was on the jukebox happened, but not that often…there’s a lot of myths about now. The thing that stands out is how good we were back then, lads didn’t carry guns and knives about with them, the trouble wasn’t anything like as bad as it is now. You couldn’t even score a hookey packet of fags at the Ace, never mind stuff falling off the back of a lorry…it was a clean-cut era really.”

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Cafe Continental near Oldham, one of many roadside cafes in 60s Britain

“The Busy Bee had two doors in it, no steep steps, so you could ride a bike straight through…which some guys did on a Friday night, but you were being a bit of  rebel if you pulled tricks like that, most guys were surprisingly well behaved. The only other place I went was the Chelsea Bridge, maybe a local pub…but the Ace was the place to go in North London. If you were travelling to Brands Hatch there were a couple of places, Bill Ivy started his racing at the Hill Top cafe I think…”

“I had a big Healey sports car, and I owned a Gold Star on HP. But I lost my licence, bit of a stitch-up with the law really, but there y’go…the Goldie was re-possessed. So while I was banned I built a Manx Norton cafe racer, used the engine from the sidecar race outfit. It was  a quick bike – I had racing leathers on at the Ace, so I thought I was the bee’s knees! Hardly anyone wore leathers in those days…but I crashed it at a roundabout, hit a concrete barrier…but didn’t damage myself too badly, really lucky. That was what prompted me to go solo racing, and finish with posing about down the Ace..”

 

“As regards bikes, I had a Triumph Tiger 100, that never really ran right, but then I didn’t know how to set the timing properly…everything was back of a fag packet then, unless you were a real engineer like say Peter Williams. Very clever bloke Peter, brilliant at setting up bikes. I liked the Norton 88 and 99 model Dommies, they were good machines, so I ended up racing quite a few Nortons. When I started riding in the mid ’50s the Manx Norton was considered a really lovely bike, the best thing to have if you could find one.”

“The Gold Star and Road Rocket were the most popular BSA choices and the Triumph Bonneville arrived in the early 60s, became the top bike, at least in terms of speed…I liked the Goldie, you could make `em go quick, might break your leg when trying to start it. One thing I recall is that the brakes on nearly every bike then were absolute crap.”

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Dave Croxford, about 250 crashes…no serious injuries. Lucky or what?!!

“If you were building a Triton – or any mix of one make’s chassis and another bike’s engine – you needed to make your own engine plates. It was usual to make a cardboard cut-out first, because everything was trial and error and that’s why people like Degens and others figured out some basic problems and could sell plates, footrests, oil tanks etc as a kit, or build something for you.”

“In terms of bike development things were simple then, in the 60s I fitted hotter cams, race pipes, junk the kick-starter to save weight…set the timing with a small light, got some Ferodo brake linings, Manx close-ratio gearbox…that was about it. I even used to switch tyres around to get maximum wear from them from a couple of meetings.

“Think I was the first racer to use a disc brake, that was back in ’66. Met this guy Colin Linton from New Zealand, he told me he was gonna make a disc brake for bikes. He made a huge disc, plus a carrier from old boiler plate, cast iron caliper from a Mini Cooper, plus master cylinder, and made up a linkage…think the pads came from the Mini as well. It was incredibly heavy. I tested it at Mallory Park and it felt great braking late into the hairpin, so I was the first bloke to win a race there with a disc brake..as far as I know Colin sold the patent to Lockheed, but I know he sent it to BSA, Triumph, Norton…all of `em…they just laughed. That was the British bike industry at that time, they had idiots running the factories.”

“On the track back then, you could out-brake nearly everyone else with that disc – the only thing it lacked was the feel, the sensitivity you got with a real nice twin shoe drum brake…I rode the restored John Player Norton that was damaged in the Museum fire, and I thought the brake was so wooden, I couldn’t believe that I raced it so hard!”

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Typical late 60s/early 70s Sunday run out of London, down to the coast.

 

“Paul Dunstall used to sponsor Ray Pickrell, and Paul realised that the disc brake and other chassis developments were long overdue…he was good at making plates, footrests, bracing frames and other mods to improve on the Nortons, then later with Suzukis…Colin Seeley tried to do a complete road bike, but I think he did a few hundred, it was better to offer the kits I think, or offer tuning for racers and the faster road riders.”

Colin Seeley was a right fussy bugger, the type who insisted on a matching cup and saucer…you could eat your dinner off the workshop floor and everything was in symmetrical lines in the shop, rows of immaculate bikes and bits. Other tuners, like say Joe Ryan from Ireland was the opposite way; dirty looking bikes, scruffy, but really fast Nortons. He knew his stuff. You had to know lots of tricks and dodges to get the best from British bikes back then, or be a clever engineer like Pete Williams – then you could build a bike that was capable of winning races. Happy days!”

The Cafe Racer Phenomenon is still in print, available on Amazon.

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A Short History of Our AI Future

AI and automation are the two horns of a perplexing dilemma which faces every capitalist economy.

A second Industrial Revolution is already underway and, just like the 18th century, a huge social upheaval will be prompted by changes in work, the lack of well paid, full-time employment and the argument about who gets the lion’s share of the consumer cake.

Let’s start with a snapshot of where AI and its soulless sister Automation are right now. How many jobs are being lost forever, how many are being created? Which sectors will be affected first, and what kind of jobs will be do in the future? Finally, where will AI take us a human beings in the long term future, once the shock of mass unemployment and enforced leisure time has been absorbed over the next two decades or so?

THE ROBOTS AREN’T COMING, THEY’RE HERE AND WORKING. NOW.

Recently US publishing giant Hachette announced the closure of its UK book distribution centre in the South of England. Some 230 jobs will go as a new digital POD (Print On Demand) and computerised book packing/shipping centre will be constructed at Didcot. No word on how many new jobs will replace those old ones, but I can tell you it won’t even be half the 230 jobs lost. Probably closer to around 30 positions, than 230. Many of those roles will be zero hours, casual, machine-minding jobs, or cleaning/maintenance roles.

Small fry you say, 200 jobs is nothing. OK, try around 30,000 jobs in the UK car manufacturing industry.

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Aston Martin plan to start making a 4X4 SUV, (for elitists who need to negotiate London’s busy traffic) and the brand new factory in Wales will get by with just 1000 employees. Compare that to 6700 currently paid at Nissan Sunderland making the Qashqai, or 2500 at Honda Swindon, 3500 at Toyota Deeside. What those figures tell you is that a brand new car factory is heavily automated, it needs far fewer actual people to fix bits onto a chassis rolling along a production line, than an old one – like Toyota’s 1990s facilities in Derby and Deeside. The world is moving forwards and the business of car production is dispensing with human labour, slowly but surely.

Now compound that rate of job loss across the global car industry and its supply chain. All those packers and part pickers; gone. The exhaust, engine block, valve etc parts factories will also switch to robot CAD/CAM systems. That is why VW are cutting 30,000 jobs globally. Not because of emissions rigging, but automated systems technology is simply making people irrelevant, as far as the car making is concerned. In fact, ALL manufacturing; design, supply procurement, finished products and testing for compliance, will be automated within 20 years.

There’s no going back, no re-inventing factories staffed by people. Brexit makes NO difference to this massive structural change in how we live, how we make things and ship them worldwide.

BLUE COLLAR FIRST, THEN WHITE COLLAR JOBS

Think you’re safe in a white collar or professional role? Dream on.

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We already have AI algorithms that are writing blogs and articles, just like this one.

Journalists and PR Gemmas and Emmas will soon be replaced by software which churns and recycles news, research and previously published op-ed pieces. All you will need are a handful of original reporters or spin merchants – the machines can handle the global village dissemination of stories.

AI is already being used to predict share price or commodity movements, although the rate of learning and deployment is arguably being held back by nervous banks, governments and hedge funds. Humans are afraid of letting software control the markets – for one thing, automation would prevent the obvious rigging that is going on in say gold, or oil.

But it will come and when it does, thousands – tens of thousands – of jobs in finance will vanish. Forever.

Insurance companies are also trying to use more data to assess risk, and spot fraud when a claim is submitted. Driverless vehicles will have cameras and data recorders to capture evidence of road accidents, so AI software will be able to apportion blame more rapidly, and scan the web for the best outsourced repair job, or medical assessment of injuries. That processing of claims is currently immensely expensive, and one by one, the big insurance companies will cut jobs as software replaces human beings who require time off for childcare, holidays, pension plans, sick pay, lunch hours etc.

robo-surgery

Robots are already performing major surgery, with one surgeon controlling the robot arms. Here’s a video link; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJ_3GJNz4fg

It’s easy to see that the step from human supervision by a surgeon, to a cheaper, less expensive `medical specialist’ will be accomplished within the next decade or so. Jobs will be downgraded, reduced to part-time roles and many will simply vanish, because the robot can do the cutting, fixing and stitching up so much better than a very, very expensive human surgeon. Why would you spend five years training a doctor, another five training them to be a brilliant surgeon, when a robot can do it better, error-free, and cheaper?

The big question facing humanity with regards to health is a deeper, more complex one; who gets the chance to have life-saving surgery, when your `usefulness’ as an employee is increasingly hard to justify in an age when robots and AI software do all the work?

WELCOME TO THE LEISURE AGE, PLEASE DON’T FIND RELIGION

The new age of enforced leisure will soon be upon us. No more taxi, bus or train drivers. No distribution jobs for migrants, as warehouses switch to robot pickers and packers. Far fewer box tickers in the public sector and service sector as AI deals with the electronic data trail of our daily lives. Online benefits, banking, shopping – all processed by software systems. Not people.

Does anyone imagine that physical banks will exist in 25 years time? Who will use them, as governments – and large companies – are determined to abolish cash payments?  For therein lies REAL population control – no personal money, no exchangeable assets, no true independence. You are beholden to the state, or the corporation, who pays your `wages’ or Universal Basic Income.

For that is the future for many of us. A basic allowance; credited online by the state, on condition that we don’t cause trouble. In this brave new utopia, we will have the `option’ of doing useful work, like teaching, social care, spying on our criminal neighbours, fixing up knackered old bicycles etc. Anything to keep us busy. But the really well paid jobs will be reserved for the wealthy elite, who – like now – will live virtually tax free, in enclaves free of social unrest, overcrowding and failing healthcare resources.

How we deal with this profoundly unsettling shift from full employment, to mass unemployment, will define our humanity. Or the lack of it.

But the great danger in our collective future is not a revival of the Luddites, hell-bent on smashing the new electronic machinery that causes unemployment, and taking us back in time to an era where everyone magically has a job, but religion.

You can see already that an ideological clash between Salafist/Wahhabi Islam vs The Rest is the very engine of ISIS, the siren song that draws in young men with no interest in a Western consumer society. In an AI future, the one thing that computer intelligence will ultimately fail to grasp is the illogical, utterly unreasoning power of religiously inspired hatred.

The Devil makes work for idle hands.