Mike Vickers' Blog

October 16, 2011

A Weekend in a wigwam in Northumberland

Filed under: History in the making, In Our Time — derryvickers @ 8:19 pm

Preston Tower

Last weekend we headed south to Northumberland across the Scottish border into England – no we are still one country but the border is still closely cherished by both peoples.  We stayed in a wigwam near Bamburgh.  What is a wigwam – well here’s a small picture.


Not sunny but at least dry – Scotland has had its wettest Autumn since ‘records began’.  The North Sea coast of Northumberland is dotted with castles; Lindisfarne, Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Walkworth – some in ruins but some like Bamburgh are spectacular.  In contrast Preston Tower is just a tower, a front Gate and no back; but it has a working replica of the clock mechanism of Big Ben.

Bamburgh Castle

A major feature of Northumberland is the iron age hill forts capping the Cheviot Hills – well the lower ones and we walked up to see a couple – not much to see but the land had been clearly sculptured into defensive rings at the tops of the hills.  One wonders whether all the hill tops in Britain had hill forts and it’s only because the Cheviot Hills are so isolated that their forts have survived. 

Hill Fort above Ingram

Hill Fort above Kirknewton

We had a lovely Italian dinner at the Lord Crewe Arms in Bamburgh after our first walk.

Another unforgettable feature was the Alnwick Gardens recreated over the last 10 years by the Duchess of Northumberland.  Unforgettable but once seen, like the Las Vegas strip, is quite enough.  The Duchess looks to have had a 21stcentury Versailles in mind!

Alnwick Gardens - Waterfall

And on the second day a fully restored and working flour mill driven by waterpower.

Finally I can’t leave Northumberland on the Scottish Border without mentioning the battle of Flodden where the Scottish King James the 4th and the cream of Scottish nobles were  wiped out by an English Army directed by the 1st wife of Henry the 8th – Catherine of Aragon.

October 15, 2011

Week of October 10th – What a week it has been!

Filed under: economics, Politics — derryvickers @ 11:01 am
  1. Politics – Liam Fox – at best crass naive and what a MOD and Government to let him act like this for 18 months and more.  Oliver Letwin – disposing of ‘document’ in a park bin – must have known he would be seen so what message was he trying to make?
    Wider afield – first there was the Arab Spring, now there is the US Autumn (around Wall Street); and Autumn appears to be catching on across the whole of the Western World but I suppose Autumn is Autumn
  2. Steve Jobs – not necessarily the greatest inventor but clearly the greatest in recognising what will make that quantum jump.  Xerox Parc invented the graphic interface but it took Jobs to instantly recognise its potential.  Lisa, his first graphic interfaced PC was ahead of its time and was a flop (I had to take the decision for the IBM PC when at Britoil even thought Lisa was clearly a much better product); but he persisted and brought out the Macintosh which still was not a great seller, leading to Apple Mac and then of course to the Iphone and Ipod and now the IPad.  Like the BMW – ‘a must have’.  Evolutionary theory suggests that new species come out of isolated communities that mutate and survive.  Jobs followed this principle – he had his idea and brooked no criticism.
  3. The economy – Chaos theorists regularly quote that a butterfly flagging its wings in Brazil can lead to a thunderstorm in Europe.  In the current case a failure of the European economy is causing chaos in Brazil (and elsewhere).  There seems to be a disjoint between macro and micro economics; though I don’t doubt that the Pentagon has a mega modelling system that incorporates both.
  4. Nearer home there were 60,000 Welshmen (and women) watching the France / Wales game on TV in the Cardiff Stadium.  Why on earth did the Welsh captain do such a stupid tackle?  Would there have been the same number in Murrayfield should Scotland have got so far?

October 13, 2011

The State of Politics in the US

Filed under: History in the making, Politics, USA — Tags: — derryvickers @ 2:37 pm

I make no apologies – I have lifted this article by Joe Klein direct from Swamplands – the on-line daily update from Time.

I have done so because I believe the story should have a wide UK based readership.  As Joe says the media love a good story and the Tea Party is one such but in his view it is giving a very slanted view on US politics.   Most Americans want compromise and the current apparent polarization Democrats and Republicans is not conducive to good government: in this respect I believe Obama has got it right but can’t appear to deliver. So here is the article.

‘ I’ve written the cover story for this week’s magazine, which is now available online to subscribers. The piece summarizes some of the things I saw and learned on my recent road trip from Laredo, Texas, to Iowa.

The most important conclusion seems obvious, but it isn’t much appreciated by our political class or by those of us in the media: Most Americans are sane moderates, even in the most conservative areas through which I wandered. They are fascinated by the Tea Party’s success in grabbing the national megaphone, but also very much opposed to Tea Policy–and they are extremely frustrated that their views are not acknowledged by either the politicians or the media.

Lest you think these views were merely pruned and harvested me, there is a new TIME Magazine poll that vehemently reinforces the opinions of the Normal Majority: 89% of Americans want politicians to compromise on the major issues like the federal deficit; more than 70% believe the rich should pay higher taxes; 60% believe the media and politicians aren’t discussing the most important issues. There are mixed feelings about the effect of the Tea Party on American politics, but only 11% describe themselves as Tea Party supporters. The feelings about the Occupy Wall Street protesters are far more positive; a solid majority agree with the goals of the movement. (Most of my travels took place before OWS went viral; none of the people I interviewed mentioned it.)

Also, as expected, the poll reinforced the sense I got that most Americans think the country is on the wrong track (81%) or in decline (71%).

In general, I found people to be less anguished, and more contemplative, than last year’s trip. Some blamed most of our problems on the federal government, but most didn’t. Most were beginning to wonder if we had grown lazy or too materialistic. A Little Rock orthodontist said, “I can be a happy camper in a house about half the size of the one I live in. I didn’t have to drive here in a BMW. Maybe we’ve been concentrating too much on material goods.”

The most important days of the trip were spent in Joplin, Missouri, where material goods had been swept away in a killer tornado, and a new spirit of community, spirituality, cooperation and awe had begun to fill the vacuum left by the loss of 162 lives and the total destruction of more than 4000 homes. It was interesting, too: there were few complaints to be heard about the estimated $450 million in federal disaster relief funds that are beginning to flow into the community.

And this, I think, was quiet message of the trip, delivered by dozens and dozens of people whom the media usually ignore: a belief that democracy requires compromise, that it works better without screaming, and that the federal government does have an important role to play. But, ultimately, the choices that each of us makes–to work hard, or not; to become active citizens again, or not; to see past the momentary pleasures of material goods, or not–will determine the future of the country.

Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2011/10/13/the-end-of-the-road/#ixzz1afhqLkgg

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