Mike Vickers' Blog

March 15, 2012

The Kyle Line

Filed under: Personal, Travel, World Class — derryvickers @ 8:45 pm

Some years ago travelling one morning from Skye to Aberdeen via Inverness to catch a plane to Stavanger – as one does.

The train left Kyle on time and trundling along when the train came to shuddering halt around Strome Ferry, steep rock face on our right side. Nothing happens for about 20 mins when the guard comes around to say the engine had hit a rock and the fuel tank was leaking diesel – we would have to wait for a relief engine from Inverness (for those not in the know Inverness is about 60 miles away at the end of the first leg) to pull us onward – bang does my schedule for the fight to Stavanger. Anyway about 10 minutes late we start to move onward and eventually the guard comes back to say we would go forward to Strathcarron to wait for the relief engine there. At Strathcarron we stop as usual – then off we go again – through Achnasheen the next station and onward. Eventually we get to Garve where we are coupled up to the relief engine and travel forward to Inverness. Only about 45 mins late and in good time for the train from Inverness to Aberdeen.

Old systems, single track railway but a great will to get on with the job as best the Highland and Islanders can and do.

PS if you want a great Highland train journey, do a circular tour starting at Inverness – take the Kyle Line to Kyle – cross to Skye – down to Armadale on the Sleat peninsula – over on the ferry to Mallaig – along the famous train route (stream drawn in summer) to Fort William and back to Inverness along the Great Glen including Lock Ness with its monsters.

March 10, 2012

The Guiding Spirit of Co-operation – Montaigne

Filed under: economics, History in the making, Politics — derryvickers @ 10:03 pm

Yet me say straight away that this blog comes straight from an article on Montaigne in The Guardian Weekly by Richard Sennett.  Who is Richard Sennett – well I find that he is a musician turned philosopher ; he is Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University – clearly a man not to be trifled with.  Sennett currently is working on a project called ‘Homo Faber,’ exploring material ways of making culture. The first book in this series is The Craftsman, published in 2008; subsequent volumes are Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation, published in 2012.  And it is the last book that relates to Montaigne of which he looks to have a real affinity with.  You can read the whole article at


But the points that really have got to me are Michel de Montaigne (1533-92) inserted a question into an essay written many years before: “When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?” which of course begs the question as to whether cars have consciousness; but this is not Montaigne’s point.  As the article goes on to say a lack of mutual understanding shouldn’t keep us from engaging with others.  Montaigne was a seigneur but was interested in people active in everyday crafts on his estate. Taking an interest in others, on their own terms, Sennett thinks is perhaps the most radical aspect of Montaigne’s writing.  He says that Montaigne thinks empathy rather than sympathy is the cardinal social virtue.  Co-operation is the way forward; we should be looking outward.  We should recognize and accept others differences; Sennett believes that Montaigne is the dawn of the modern era but that era is still to come.  Sennett considers that the US and the UK in particular are failing with the distance between the elite and the mass increasing – ‘us against them’ and ‘you are on your own’.  He is particularly caustic that ‘The new capitalism permits power to detach itself from authority, the elite living in global detachment from responsibilities to others on the ground, especially during times of economic crisis.’

To me this is a powerful article and I shall go out and get Sennett’s latest book and hope to find more of Montaigne in it.  Without co-operation with those we disagree with we are lost.

A flight to Munich – well to Oberpfaffenhofen 20 kms away

Filed under: Personal — derryvickers @ 8:55 pm

I was working some years ago with ESA, the European Space Agency, in Darmstadt near Frankfurt and we worked closely with DFVLR at Oberpfaffenhofen (I remember it with a different name but clearly it is the same place East of Munich).  One day, one of the senior staff members Dr K suggested that we go to Oberpfaffenhofen in his plane.  I of course agreed – the car or train took quite a long time and the plane sounded an experience and it was.

The plane was a two seater and I sat in the co-pilot’s seat.  Dr K explained to me that he had not only a daytime pilot’s licence but a full navigation licence.  This is necessary to fly professionally.  And you have to supply a flight plan before you can fly in the commercial navigation lanes.  And I soon found out why.  Dr K was extremely thorough before we took off checking everything.  Our departure from a small airport in Frankfurt was under local ground control but as soon as we reached our planned cruising height we were picked up by our allocated ground support who spoke perfect English – I found out that English is the universal language for ground control – well it may have changed since then.  The flight continued and we were passed from control to control and were directed to change course from flight lane to flight lane and to change height where necessary – just as a normal commercial aircraft would be so instructed.

Ultimately we approach our destination, Oberpfaffenhofen, and we were back under local control – well we thought we were – but it was not quite that simple – there was low thick cloud and the two seater was not equipped with all the modern automatic landing equipment and as we were approaching ground I was looking out of one side and Dr K was looking out of the other;  at last I said to Dr K that I could see the autobahn and that was a good  sign that we were on the right flight path and as we dropped below cloud level there was the runway right below and we were on the ground safely.

On the return flight half way home and I was now enjoying the flight and the sheer experience of being in a small aircraft under the control home by excellent ground support when it was clear that we were heading straight for a black thunder cloud.  I was not worried but afterwards it was clear the Dr K was.  He asked ground control for a different height path which was granted and even so the flight through the cloud was quite an experience.

A flight to remember.  I didn’t fly with Dr K again and after a further flight to Paris, ESA high command issued a statement that none of its staff were in future allowed to fly on ESA business.

March 1, 2012

The UK’s Fiscal Outlook and should we still be part of it.

Filed under: economics, Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 9:54 pm

The UK’s Fiscal Outlook and the Chancellor’s Budget Choices was the title of a seminar given by Paul Johnson to the David Hume Society on Tuesday 28 February.  Paul Johnson is Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies .   He presented his subject very well but I found it utterly depressing.  He voiced his opinion, in questioning, that the Coalition has set themselves on a course to a balanced budget that not only politically but economically it would be difficult to diverge from.  More of the same but only 6% of the planned cuts so far been achieved.   See his chart of what is still to come.  You can see his whole presentation at: http://www.davidhumeinstitute.com/images/stories/Seminars/Spring_2012/Johnson_presentation.pdf

The Budget Deficit

The deficit remaining for a balance 5 year budget

Is this approach right or indeed good for Scotland ?  As I see it we should be a more egalitarian society than the UK at present– good to be more like Norway but unfortunately we don’t have Norway’s wealth.  Oil production last year was the lowest since production began. 

And as Jeremy Peat, Director of the Institute, said in his summing up said there is also climate change and selectivity v universality to take account of.  All major questions on top of Independence for Scotland and its partial steps of Devo-Plus and Max – the degree of fiscal independence while still remaining in the UK.  I am intrigued that Chapter 4 of the Independence Consultation is titled ‘After the Referendum’ but no consideration is given if the answer is ‘No’.  As I see there will be major change whatever the answer.  The Independence Question has killed off the Scotland Bill.

On the present schedule the Referendum will not take place till October 2014 – 2 1/2years from now.  Plenty of time to understand the consequences of Independence and Devo something.  But is this all too long? There is the strong possibility that Scotland will stand still till then and we will still be in throws of the UK economic cuts.

Yes of course there’s no reason why a Scottish Independent Government could do any better but at least it could try.

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