rashbre central: September 2019

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

becoming ordinary

I joined a dystopian book club some time ago and we’ve read about a dozen or so books and discussed them in various pubs. I decided to branch out alone this time and read Atwood’s The Testaments, which is supposed to be a kind of Handmaid’s Tale II.

It’s a book that has five stars sprinkled all over it, so I was expecting great things. It seems to be a novel that the publishing industry has pinned hopes on, with a massive display in the local bookstore, a fast pass to the Booker, and freebie copies of it appearing on all the favourite news channels.

I was therefore somewhat surprised that I just couldn’t get along with this story. There’s a serious baddie (the stone-cold enforcing puppetmaster Aunt Lydia – a survivor who will do anything to stay in the regime) and two teenagers (chalk and cheese, Daisy and Agnes) who provide the main action and viewpoints and we get a kind of escape plot mixed with some gritty scenes as the unifiormed establishment rumbles along doing its bad things.

Maybe I’ve become hardened to the scenario portrayed?

The convent-like situation of Ardua Hall, with its strange rituals and humiliations, coupled with a power to do anything to anyone, made the story ruthless and unremitting. Oh yes, and the dodge of plenty of conveniently placed hidden cameras.

Maybe the scenes are too reminiscent of modern-day news channels?

Perhaps it’s about the type of questions being asked?

“Was I exchanging my caring and pliable woman’s nature for an imperfect copy of a sharp-edged and ruthless man’s nature? I didn’t want that, but how to avoid it if I aspired to be an Aunt?” (p. 328) and so it dragged me along over bumpy dialogue, sometimes discovering handy facts about a character, just when they would become useful to that character’s actions.

There’s the societal splits, horrible men usually missing in action with titles like “Commander”, women like The Aunts, Pearl Girls, Marthas, Econowives.

There’s some low-key humour as well, although it gets a little lost in amongst the grimness of the general setting. “Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.”

It occurred to me that another novel I’d read had played with the themes, no doubt in response to the Handmaid’s Tale. It inadvertently tipped me off about some of the reveals later in the story.

Then there’s the little quotes which are a vital part of the novel’s press releases. “As they say, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” (p. 407) but these are quite well embedded, and often highlighted by other Kindle readers.

(non spoiler I think): At one point a character is put into the Thank Tank, a kind of police isolation cell. She observes that her mind goes soggy in the absence of others. Existence is relative to other people, she was a one person who risked becoming a no person.

She thinks:

“Whatever my resolve might be: after some days I lost track of that plotline. The plotline of my resolve.”

Is this post-modernist writing by Atwood, or a note that slipped through the sub-edit?

We could get some internalisation, instead we get the cell clanging open and light flooding in. And soon enough we are in an air-conditioned hotel (albeit with a mushy brain). Just time for a shower or two.

That seemed to be the challenge with this story telling.

The two disguised teen characters traverse this normalised puritanical totalitarianism with its street lynchings and institutionalised abuse.

The state of Gilead might be a hill of testimony, so perhaps these ordinary witnesses to events rely on someone else to interpret their words?

There’s a horrific regime in place, a manipulator in chief and a couple of escaping resistance fighters. We get a (deliberate?) clash of literary style influenced by Cromwellian times, with a kind of youth fiction escape story, involving trucks and a Lebanese flagged fishing trawler run by the tan-skinned and bearded Captain Misimengo. Fish fingers, anyone?

I paraphrase: “It’s okay though, he rubbed his fingers together, which I knew meant money (…to bribe the coastguard…)”

Luckily Cap’n had been tipped off by a minor character named ..er..Bert. Shiver me timbers.

So I’ve hauled myself through this book, including comments off along the lines of “If you’re not enjoying it then perhaps you should read something else.”

Margaret Atwood has written something that targets the same evil empire as a novel she wrote 35 years earlier.

Today's ordinariness with which the Handmaid's outfit becomes a Halloween costume, before being protested out of the stores.

The Offred, Ofglen and Serena Joy wine collection.

I paused at the start of these reflections to wonder whether I’ve become hardened to the portrayals. Now, I wonder whether we all have?

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

moves like Trump?

It's difficult to understand how Boris can still be in power.

He lied before the Referendum. He lied after it. He's misled the Queen. He's conducted an unlawful early termination of Parliament. He's saying, right now, that he will exit the EU on the 31 October, against the express legal framework voted for by Parliament.

I was going to call this one something like the man who had no power, but it seems that this is wrong. He clings to power and no-one is able to remove it. A vote of no confidence won't work either, because no-one can agree who would take the new lead.

If Johnson has behaved unlawfully and undemocratically (as the Supreme Court seems to suggest) then he shouldn't have any legitimacy in office. He's still unbowed and personally thinks that the Supreme Court were wrong in their decision.

So that's how he sees defending democracy and supporting the will of the people?

He's clueless about a revision to the Withdrawal Agreement (which is what his Brexit bluff is based upon).

Tomorrow, he is trying to get the Conservatives to propose another recess to Parliament, so that the Tory conference can continue. Kind of having a laugh, really.

The ripples have affected the Labour conference too, with Tom Watson's sensible speech, with its nasty, scripted walk-out by some of the more militant left wing now shelved to make way for Jezza Lite, with his cut-down crowd-pleaser speech, hastily re-edited by his minders to position Corbyn for fuzzy leadership.

Two conniving yet useless politicians being manipulated and putting their own self-interest above country.

disorder, disorder, and a plot bigger than Guy Fawkes

I come back into the UK and observe that the situation gets worse. At least the Supreme Court has called it.

First, the busted Labour Party scheming its drive-by firings and vote rigging by hall-stuffing and distraction, engineering it as a loyalty vote for Corbyn.

Then, Boris the Misleader shown to have illegally halted Parliament. Two useless parties struggling to keep their tattered remnants together at the expense of the UK. Will chancer Boris admit he has been found out, arrogantly challenge the Supreme Court, or throw Cummings under the bus?

"Order, order!" as the man with the colourful tie says.

And it is only Tuesday.

Friday, 20 September 2019


It turned out that the hotel had a cryospace suite. They call it The Longevity Suite, built into a wall of the hillside. I was too much of a chicken to try it, but the idea was to sit in a Polish deigned, German TUV-certified freezer and be taken down to -195 Celsius for around 4 minutes.

It is supposed to be jolly healthy, but I decided that jumping into the Mediterranean's cool waters was more my thing.

And yes, there were actual sardines swimming around in the clear blue Sardinian waters, an altogether more pleasant temperature.

Thursday, 19 September 2019


We'd ordered a little Fiat 500 to get around the island, but instead were given a Renault Clio. I'm already familiar with the 500, but didn't know anything about the Renault. So here's some impressions. Firstly, I should not be coloured by the time we were awarded a Citroen C something in Norway, which was automatic but fairly hard work.

This Renault came as a pleasant surprise. I knew we'd have been able to get the luggage into the 500, having previously stashed a complete drum kit into one, but the Clio took the 2x 23k bags with ease. The rear seats folded and swallowed the bags without drama.

Then for the getaway. A manual shift, so always more of a challenge for a normal automatic-driving Brit, what with the gear stick being on the wrong side and all that. Actually, it all worked out quite well, and although a somewhat noisy car to drive (diesel) it was also quite frugal and sipped the fuel rather than guzzled it.

I've no idea what model we were given but we had start-stop and a curious key fob with a separate button to start the car. I'm not entirely convinced by this system, which meant I still had to fiddle to find the card and put it into a slot before firing up the engine. What's the point, except brochureware?

It also failed a couple of times when I wanted to switch the engine off, and I had to eject/reset the card and then press stop again. Flaky software?

Then quite a good surprise was the built-in satnav, which booted up in English and was quite helpful at sticking to routes. It got confused around the airport, where a number of new roads and roundabouts had been built, but that's just par for the course.

The rental car's diesel engine was pretty solid and managed to salvage a couple of my duffer hill starts that I attempted in third gear. That's just a mix of being used to an automatic and left-handed gearstick. But oh, that engine was noisy. "Listen to the engine note" might be a Top Gear line, but in this case it wasn't an option.

That was until the great stall. I was heading through a little town when the engine simply died. Peep-peep and similar expressions from the cars behind me. I couldn't get it to restart until I'd removed the key, counted to five and reset everything.

I empathise with the Italian hand-waving expressionism.

The stall only happened once, although there was the time I was trying to reverse out of a space and the whole engine appeared to lock up.

And the time I had to coast into a roadside cafe, when the engine cut out. I managed to "bump start" the engine on this occasion to park respectably.

I'll put these occasions down to something to do with the driver, but I can't help thinking that the start-stop (and its inscrutable options buried in the menu system) was somehow a factor.

And yes, the little car had all around beepers to help parking and a reversing camera with guide-lines to help reverse park.

The prevailing impression was positive from this little car; four door practicality, usable space, zippy enough and with decent telemetry. Clearly built to a price point, it even had admirable clip-on fake alloy wheels. I wonder about the stop-start, which was perhaps a gimmick that could have been avoided.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019


I've worked in Italy and visited it many times. This time we're off to an island, so I wondered if the shaken up impression would be greater or smaller than in the old days.

Sure enough, we arrived and were bundled onto the bus to the terminal. I felt the surge of adrenalin.

My history of Italy goes back to the days of Lire, when the bars used to keep chewing gum in the cash tills to give as change for small amounts. Then there would be the craziness of Milan during the fashion week, when the whole city would turn over to the shows.

It is where I'd visit a quiet bar with a friend, we'd sip grappa and nibble grana and at random intervals there's be a flurry as a group of fashionistas arrived for a break.

My observation of Italian traffic that it was never parked, just momentarily at rest, like some giant arcade game. Arriving in Venice train station on the day of the Grand Regatta, with furious oarsmen rowing along the Grand Canal.

This time it is altogether more sedate; a chance to relax by the pool, or on the beach. Pass the sun creme.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019


If I position the sunshade just right it will edit the sun from the picture. The only thing that is missing from this scene is the cool beer.

Monday, 16 September 2019

escape route

I decided that escape was the best solution. To simply get away from the dystopia for a few days. To reset. In the sunshine. So here we are, at Heathrow.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

“The truth can cause a lot of trouble for those who are not supposed to know it.*”

It's time to leave the country when the bookstores fill and flash warnings with political analyses and memoirs. Davy has made his self-indulgent and sorrowful attempt and plenty of others are attempting to cash in on the store visits. Why, even Ken Clarke has gone a Kind of Blue.

*Margaret Atwood may pronounce fair warning, but it amounts to another reason to leave. Enjoy the last moments of freedom of movement, read the book on a beach somewhere.

It has to be done.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

our view from the man in a shed

There's an attempt to freshen the content for Cameron's memoirs.

So much has happened since he triggered the Referendum and Tory psychodrama that crashed the UK, it is not surprising he can't sleep at nights.

At least he has a choice of venue, with his Cotswold home and the west London one. Then there's his £25,000 shepherd's hut designed for writing, yet he preferred the garden. Or, come to think of it, the second shepherd's hut on his £2 million Cornwall holiday home.

In this recent publicity interview, he has called out Gove as mendacious, Johnson as appalling and acting with 'sharp practices' and that the Referendum campaign left him caught in a quagmire. That the pair of them "left the truth at home," when campaigning for Brexit. Hardly insightful.

"I think about this every day. Every single day I think about it, the referendum and the fact that we lost and the consequences and the things that could have been done differently, and I worry desperately about what is going to happen next."

Cameron accuses Gove of creating the false narrative (like Turkey or the NHS bus) although I suspect that Gove's assistant Dominic Cummings was significantly influential. He also mentioned that he offered Boris a top-five job to support him. Would Boris have behaved differently if it had been top-three?

Cameron's already received the HarperCollins reported £800,000 for the right to publish his memoirs. No wonder he can give away the profits from the book and audio.

Friday, 13 September 2019

the littlest yellowhammers sing the prettiest song?

Tap turns on the water. See the water flow. As the old CCS song goes.

Now we've got the new CCS being authorised and budgeted. The Civil Contingencies Secretariat.

Acorn makes a forest. Watch the forest grow.

The justification and financing of the CCS is so that the short term impacts of No Deal can be handled, from ND D1 onwards. Yellowhammer says it is for short term and unusually has been granted power to suspend normal legislation in emergency situations. Maybe Boris is jumping the gun on this one somewhat? Once the peak of chaos is over, the DExEU swings into action and runs the long game.

Everything works in PowerPoint, as they say.

What I'm interested in seeing is the risk register, which should show mitigations for the main areas. Instead we have an allocation of risk assignment to other Departments sprinkled around the Civil Service.

It's clever, because it also has three cross cutting areas of responsibility covering legal, communications and data. There's plenty of lines and gaps to fall down, even before we get to the politics of who can tell what to whom.

Pass the hot potato parcel, anyone? It's not clear from the diagram how something gets placed into YellowHammer or DExEU.

There's a gap instead of overlap between the two areas on the diagrams. Maybe this will all be resolved amicably in the case of any surfacing emergencies?

Particularly noteworthy is the choice of language used to describe the CCS role. Advice, guidance and facilitation. In the type of crisis being portrayed, this doesn't seem strong enough, but I suppose the other Departments don't want to be messed with?

It appears that the decisions from the CCS can be communicated not only through the communications hub, but also through the liaison teams to the operational centres. I can see this governance model working in a steady state, but perhaps less so in a volatile one? Maybe someone should illustrate who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed as well as communicated to?

At least there are some guiding principles, to aid the decisions and direction setting. I'm not sure that it is enough though, even if Mr Gove is definitively saying that it is?

The yellowhammer is an unmistakeable yellow-headed and pretty bird, singing from the tops of trees and bushes. Sometimes the littlest birds sing the prettiest songs.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

mad boris

No wonder everyone is twitchy. Comic book mad Boris has tapped authority to sanction via arbitrary decree, relying on absolute authority to enforce. It is, as Mr Bercow implied, rule by fiat. The deceptive clown is borrowing from the Presidential model, as exploited by the big twit of the United States.

He's probably got there under guidance from the shadowy one.

The Tories haven't woken up yet to the thought that shadester Cummings believes huge amounts of what the Tories did was wrong. Not least of which was the hurried invocation of Article 50. Cummings has been exploiting the dysfunctional wiring of power in Downing Street and was one of the early ones to call out that the state had made no preparations to leave and planned to make no preparations to leave even after leaving.

Some of that has been revised now, with Gove's appointment and DeExEU chugging out papers on borders, security and Ireland. We must not forget the Brexit checker tick-box system, which auto lists other useful documents.

I tried it for TheSixTwenty and look at what we've received.

Dive into it and there's soon a complexity of semiconductor topology patents and uniformity of EU geo-handling (Don't Geo-block a country). Then there's UKCA (UK Conformity Assessment) - which is a new thing. I assume that CE will still work? Ah yes..."The CE marking will only be accepted in the UK for a time limited period. The government will consult and give businesses notice before this period ends." No hint of dates?

It reminds me of the consultancy process to generate a thin book and a fat book. The fat book has alll the facts and figures in it to support the thin book. I'd hazard a guess that the fat book has to justify its production fee of around £nK per page.

Cummings has gone on to say (to the Tories): "It also increases the probability that others will conclude your party is incapable of coping with this situation and, unless it changes fast, drastic action will be needed including the creation of new forces to reflect public contempt for both the main parties and desire for a political force that reflects public priorities."

Mwah,ha,ha, as a villain might say.

So now we get Mr Speaker diving in. Blockbuster ending, anyone?

Pass the popcorn (CE approved).

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

strong and stable

We've had a few crazy days with the aspiring strong and stable Parliament. Buffooning Boris is being taken to court for his ducking and diving associated with closing Parliament. So much for the will of the people and democratic processes.

No wonder most of the other parties are so guarded around the lies of progress in the negotiation and the thought that Boris might simply hoodwink everyone to get Brexit passed.

But where to start? The pound? The stock market? British industry? Let's take a look.

The Pound hasn't done so well, dropping from 1.69 to around 1.22 against the dollar.

Maybe the stock market has fared better? Or maybe not. Here is the FTSE100 compared with the DAX and the S&P400.

I seem to remember I summarised British industry in January 2019. Slip slidin' away.
  1. JPMorgan Chase & Co chief executive Jamie Dimon said the bank would probably use Frankfurt as the legal domicile of its European operations after Brexit, though jobs could be put elsewhere as well.
  2. HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver confirmed possible plans to move 1,000 jobs from Britain to Paris in case of a so-called "hard" Brexit, and said recent reforms from the French government would be positive, if enacted.
  3. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are planning to spread their operations across a number of cities including Dublin and Paris.
  4. Lloyds, Standard Chartered, Credit Suisse, Citigroup and Nomura are among the banks that are planning to expand or set up new offices in Frankfurt in light of Brexit.
  5. Hubertus Väth, the managing director of Frankfurt Main Finance said: “All in all, we expect a transfer of €750bn to €800bn in assets from London to Frankfurt, the majority of which will be transferred in the first quarter of 2019.”
  6. Nomura Holdings has set up new offices for certain operations in Paris and Frankfurt as part of its Brexit preparations, but says it headquarters remain in London.
  7. Other Japanese firms, including Daiwa Securities and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, plan to move their main EU bases out of London.
  8. Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, said the failure to sort out Britain’s departure from the European Union was damaging Britain’s brand abroad and had joined a list of systemic risks to the world economy.
  9. Ford has predicted that a no-deal Brexit will result in costs of $800m (£612m) during 2019 alone, in the latest in a series of stark warnings over potential disruption to British manufacturing.
  10. The Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis has said it is stockpiling drugs in the UK before a possible no-deal Brexit, which it warned would be “hugely impactful” for patients.
  11. Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s largest carmaker, informed employees that it will shut down its four main factories for extra time because of “potential Brexit disruption”.
  12. Airbus manufactures aircraft wings in the UK and employs 14,000 people in the country. Chief executive Enders stated: “It is a disgrace that, more than two years after the result of the 2016 referendum, businesses are still unable to plan properly for the future.”
  13. The BBC is considering Brussels as the location for a new EU base after Brexit to allow it to continue to broadcast across the continent.
  14. Sony will move its European headquarters from the UK to the Netherlands to avoid disruptions caused by Brexit.
  15. Panasonic has already moved its headquarters to Amsterdam, mostly because of tax issues potentially created by Brexit.
  16. BMW plans to shut its Mini plant for a month after the UK’s official departure from the European Union, to minimise the impact of a no-deal Brexit that it fears would cause a shortage of parts.
It's hardly stable, despite Gove's claims that everything will be fine if there's a No Deal Brexit.

Similar stories of uncertainty in the House too, with shambolic scenes intended to echo the time of King Charles I, when members held the Speaker in his chair to delay ending the session.

A glance at certain commonplace pub names would remind us that it didn't end well for the Ruler.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

shiny-shiny matt-matt

Alongside Apple's further shift to a services model, they've announced their next shiny-shiny and matt-matt versions of the iPhone. It illustrates that services may well be Apple's way forward because the iPhone form factor and massively copied features have just about run their course. BCF was an old commercial motto. Better, Cheaper, Faster. It plays out with the new cameraphone having an extra lens and some wild new voltage management and super-fast AI processing.

I was amused to see the video of a red one being dropped. It didn't seem to suffer the same filigree glass fractures that one of ours has.

I've been using the iPhone XS camera for most of my snapshotting over the last six months, instead of a bigger DSLR. It has proved to be pretty good so long as I don't use the digital zoom, which shows a smudged blockiness to some of the pictures.

As an equivalent of a 35mm snappy compact it's fine and ideal for routine travelling around pictures.

I use the Nomad case and pocketable Moment lenses as add-ons occasionally and thought Moment would give a pragmatic impression of the update.

Sure enough, they already support the new iPhones and have several new cases. Interesting that the Moment add-on lenses are still only for the same two lenses that they supported in the XS.

Moment are really a photographer's brand and make lenses and equipment for video as well as stills. Need anamorphic? macro? It's covered.

It makes me wonder about a device that can take slofies, yet has respectable tiny near pro-grade video cameras on the back? Who will really exploit it?

Of course the usual trolling has started.

Blahs got more mega pixels. Blah blahs got more lenses.

I wonder if it misses the point that, like Microsoft in the 80s, Apple is targeting to raise the game of casual users? Another old tag line "Computers for the rest of us".

I'll stick with my X at the moment, it is already pretty amazing.

It just works.

Monday, 9 September 2019

virtual yorkshire

Zwift's London makes for an interesting route, with pubs, bus stops, crowds of shoppers,Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and cityscapes featuring the Shard and the Gherkin. Some parts are very familiar, but then there's a dive into a tunnel near Waterloo which mysteriously emerges on the lower slopes of Box Hill.

Then a similarly sudden return from the countryside where one is thrown out on the south bank near to Tower Bridge. Of course, it is edited highlights of a real cycle route, rather than the whole thing.

Now they've added a new piece of the UK. Yorkshire, for the UCI Championships. Apparently they sent out scouts to video and photograph the route so that they could render it into the turbo trainer. It's certainly got a very different look from New York or Innsbruck.

I've seen the video and glanced at the route. I'll need to try this too. Fire up the turbo time.