The Relentless Commercialisation Of Santa Claus:

Wanted: “ An enthusiastic, confident, jolly individual aged between 25-75 years old who believes in Christmas magic. Own beard an advantage. Personal experience not necessary: Full training and a quality costume will be provided. If you don’t have a large tummy, no problem. A synthetic one can be made available”.

This was the gist of the criteria specified by the Hillside Nursery Centre in Newton Abbey, Northern Ireland, when they were looking for someone to portray Father Christmas in their festive Grotto this year. The salary would be £12 per hour – somewhat less than the £25 per hour paid by Envisage Promotions for the same position at a shopping centre in Maidstone, Kent.

Both of these, however, compare favourably to the prevailing rates for Santa’s assistants, the elves, who get £11 per hour in Maidstone, between £5.30 and £9.00 per hour at the Planet Ice skating rink in Milton Keynes, “up to £9 per hour” at the Bentalls department store in Kingston Upon Thames and £7-£8 per hour at the Aldenham Country Park in Elstree.

Traditionally, “looking the part”, with a hearty laugh, a charismatic personality and a corpulent body were all that were needed to obtain a temporary Santa job. Not any more. Venues such as Capital Gardens in Sherfield, just north of Basingstoke, these days insist that applicants should have prior experience and training – which is why there are now several organisations in the UK that offer courses on how to be Father Christmas.

On the 27th November, for example, the events company Ministry of Fun hosted its annual “Santa School” at Southwark Cathedral in London, which included “all aspects of the role from boots to beard” and was designed to ensure that the students would be “equipped with a sack-full of responses for every potential scenario, especially the difficult questions they were likely to be asked by children”,

The “Santa School of Excellence” runs training sessions every day, price £99 per person, for a week in October at its headquarters in Rugby, Warwickshire and issues attendance certificates detailing the topics which have been taught. During the 6 years they’ve been hiring out their graduates to leading companies across the UK they’ve acquired (so they declare) “a vast amount of knowledge on what makes a great Father Christmas”.

There’s even an “International University of Santa Claus” (IUSC),based in Houston,Texas,USA. The IUSC claims that over the past eight years more than 3,500 Santas and Mrs Claus have enrolled at its Schools. It awards five different categories of diplomas in Santaclausology: Associate, Bachelor, Master, Advanced Master, and Doctorate (PhD).

To qualify for a PhD, candidates must have already passed the fourth stage, accumulated at least five years’ experience as Santa and then, as the final step, are required to submit a 20 – 30 minute dissertation to the selection committee.

Featuring among the possible topics suggested for the presentation are: “The basics of being Santa”, “The Correct Posture & Facial Features”, “The Do’s and Don’ts of Sitting in the Chair”, “Answering Those Who Don’t Believe in Santa or Christmas”, “Santa as a Business” and “How to Market Yourself”. Successful candidates are then bestowed with their Phd Diploma at an IUSC graduation ceremony and are entitled to attend the university’s future courses free of charge.

The Ministry of Fun’s Santa School opens its doors for its 18th annual training day. Potential Santas are put through their paces, with classes in general jolliness, reindeer name memorisation and learning “Merry Christmas” in 15 languages.

Many of the Santas currently working in grottos across the UK, may be feeling – irrespective of whether they have diplomas, experience or training – that their remuneration should and could be a little higher. That’s because, as has recently been highlighted by the British media, the expenditure for parents who want to take their children to see Father Christmas is more than double than what it was three years ago.

According to an analysis conducted by the Sunday Times and cited on 17th November by two of its journalists, Shanti Das and Tom Calver, the average charge has jumped from £9.39 in 2016 to £12.63 now, which represents a 35% rise.

In several places, the increase has been much higher: At the Royal Albert Hall, a ticket for an hour-long event with Father Christmas, music and puppets now costs £39.24, up from £26.50 in 2016. The biggest increase, noted Das and Calver, has been for the “Winterland Grotto” at Dreamland in Margate, Kent, from £9.95 to £27.95. The founder of the Mumset forum, Justine Roberts, told the Sunday Times that parents resented having to pay so much for attractions often consisting of “grotty grottoes and sullen Santas wearing ill-fitting beards”.

The fiercest criticism has been directed at the decision by Harrods in Knightsbridge to restrict access to its Father Christmas to customers who have spent at least £2,000 in the shop. As the Guardian columnist, Robert Neale, pointed out on 9th November, although the Qatari royal family – the owners of the store, which made a £171 million profit last year – have now agreed to allow 160 less well-off families the chance to visit the grotto, the wealthiest ones will still monopolise 96.4% of Father Christmas’s time at Harrods.

Filed under: Society | Posted on December 2nd, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Public Transport Etiquette Under Scrutiny:

The Government should completely ban the eating of food on trains, buses and the underground”. This was the opinion expressed by England’s recently retired Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, as quoted by the Guardian’s health editor, Sarah Boseley on 10th October. That same day, Stuart Heritage, a contributor to the newspaper, accused Davies of thereby trying to deprive the country’s population of one of its “fundamental human rights” – although he did promise, as a concession to Davies, that he would no longer snack on hot catsu curry during the morning rush hour.

Tony Naylor, also of the Guardian, has similarly queried why he should be fined (or suffer the disapproval of other passengers) for munching a ham sandwich on his way to meet friends after work on a Friday evening. He believes that the real issue is the mess that people leave behind them – the empty boxes, cans, apple cores, spilled drinks, rolling bottles and (“worst of all”) the ubiquitous chewing gum. If you get crumbs on the seat, he insists, “you should brush them to the floor as you get up”.

In contrast to Heritage, the Metro columnist, Lizzie Thomson, asserted on 10th October that “it’s a truth universally acknowledged that sitting next to someone devouring a tuna sandwich on a bus is absolute hell”. While she accepts the contention that many commuters have no choice but to eat while on their way to and from their place of employment, she urges them to avoid “stinky food”, especially sushi, smoked salmon, camembert, mackerel pate and any nutriment that has a pungent aroma, as this will linger around long after they get off their means of transport: “Although the ‘fragrance’ of your doner kebab may seem like heaven to you, the rest of your carriage might disagree”. Furthermore, anything that has a potential to splash onto fellow travellers – such as noodles and all varieties of spaghetti – should be avoided and “ always ensure that you have a napkin with you”.

An editorial in the London Evening Standard on 12th November, advised any traveller tempted to start chomping through a packet of salt-and-vinegar crisps to keep their delicacy until later and focus instead on reading their newspaper. This coincided with a report that day by their crime correspondent, John Dunne, on the case of a city worker fined £1,500 by Blackfriars Crown Court for having launched an “aggressive tirade” against a fellow commuter, of South American origin, who had been enjoying her breakfast of “admittedly strong smelling” eggs on the 6 am train from Chelmsford in Essex to Liverpool Street Station in London.

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson banned drinking alcohol on the capital’s buses and underground when he was Mayor of London, there’s currently no indication that this will be extended to the consumption of food – unlike in many other cities around the world. Eating, drinking and smoking is not allowed on trams in Barcelona or the subway systems in Washington USA as well as in Beijing, Nanjing, Xiamen and Shenzhen in China, where violations can result in having to pay out up to 500 yuan (£54), an exclusion from using the underground and the infraction being registered on the offender”s credit record.

The Filipino Times has warned any of the nation’s citizens considering going to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that once they step foot inside an underground train there, no food and drink is allowed, including water and chewing gum. In Singapore, commuters discovered by SMRT Corporation officials to be sucking even a sweet reputedly run the risk of being penalized  by the country’s Land Transport Authority. In Japan, has noted, drinking and eating is acceptable on regional long-distance trains but not on local ones.

In reality, according to a YouGov survey cited by the Guardian commentator, Carmen Fishwick, no matter how well you try to behave on the London underground, you’ll probably eventually upset someone. Apparently, 90% of Londoners are antagonised by people pushing to enter a carriage without giving the passengers still inside a chance to get off, 74% don’t like bags being placed on unoccupied seats, 71% find malodorous food offensive and 56% become impatient when other passengers take too long to go through the ticket barrier. Talking loudly, wearing a rucksack and failing to move down inside the carriage also all feature in YouGov’s “20 most irritating tube behaviours”.

The Press Association journalist, Erin Cardiff, has compiled a list for BT Lifestyle of the ten particularly annoying things she asserts occur most frequently on public transport. Among them: Loud phone calls (“nobody needs to hear about what you had for dinner last night or the hilarious trick your dog performed that morning”), bad hygiene, blaring music, people putting their feet on the seats, eating noxious food, reading another person’s newspaper or texts over their shoulder, being a space invader (for some, that could mean a cyclist taking up three seats or a large proportion of the aisle on a busy bus or train”) carrying huge bags during the rush hour and public displays of affection.

But what seems to exasperate Cardiff the most is someone putting on cosmetics during the journey, not just mascara but “applying nail varnish, plucking brows and clipping nails, anything you’d normally confine to your bathroom at home. The 296 bus is not the place for all of that”.

Filed under: Healthcare, Travel | Posted on November 19th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Electorate’s Dilemma: Which Party To Trust:

People around the world expect and demand a lot more from their leaders than they receive”. That was the conclusion of Klaus Schwab, chairman of the World Economic Forum, following the survey conducted by Gallup International in 2004 which revealed that 63% of the 50,000 people questioned in more than 60 countries considered their top politicians to be dishonest, 60% felt they had too much power and 52% believed they behaved unethically. The result, as the Guardian columnist, Ian Traynor, commented at the time, constituted “ a massive vote of no-confidence in political elites worldwide”.

Fifteen years later, very little seems to have changed. Gallup International’s most recent global opinion poll, titled “Voice Of the People”, has indicated that the populations of many nations are even more unhappy now with their current government than they were then: In France, for example, 68% are dissatisfied, in Spain 64%, Argentina 61% (hence the defeat of President Mauricio Macri to the Peronist Alberto Fernandez on October 27), the USA 59% and Colombia 58%.

In the UK, the figure is 59% – which suggests (say Gallup) that there has been a shift in the British public’s attitude towards politicians, who are now seen more as being just “out for themselves and their party and not particularly concerned about doing the best for their country”. This evident disenchantment with politics and politicians is thus “fuelling a drift of voters away from the main parties”.

President Trump’s campaign mantra about putting “America First” has been replicated in many other countries: 72% of Italians (according to Gallup) hold the view that their national interests should take priority over international cooperation and globalization: In France, the figure is 70%, Spain 62%, Colombia 63%, Ecuador 82%, Argentina 81%, Paraguay 80%, Ethiopia 92% and the UK 71% – which would appear to explain the success of “Vote Leave” in the 2016 European Union Referendum.

In its report “Revealing The Truth About Trust” issued on September 19th, the market research company Ipsos Mori emphasized that “everywhere, the elites and mainstream media are being challenged by an angry populace”. As a member of the audience in the BBC TV’s Question Time programme on 31st October pointed out, the widespread contempt in Britain for Members of Parliament dates back to the expenses scandal of 2010 – which, the New Statesman contributor, William Lewis, observed in the publication on 1st May, involved claims ranging from the comical (duck houses and moat cleaning) to the criminal (false accounting, mortgage fraud) and has led to “a profound, long term disintegration of public trust in our political institutions”. has similarly noted that questions are again being raised about the alleged corruption, greed and improper financial conduct of some MPs, whose basic annual income is £79, 478: “In a period of recession, when the wages of many employees around the country have stagnated, such behaviour is widely deemed to be a betrayal of their power”.

On the same BBC programme, the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, Paul Scully, acknowledged that politics in Britain currently resembles “ a war of attrition” – a view apparently shared by another member of the panel, the journalist Isabel Oakshott, who described it as “a brutal game” and expressed her disquiet about the 500,000 abusive tweets received by MPs between January and September this year, a phenomenon partly due (she declared) to the “incredibly polarizing effect of Brexit”.

Although 70% of UK residents agree with the global perception (cited by the Pew Research Centre) that the political elites are out of touch with average citizens and that elected officials don’t care about what ordinary people think, politicians are perhaps surprisingly not the least-trusted profession in Britain. That accolade belongs to advertising executives, who with 16% are bottom of the Ipsos Mori Veracity Index, below politicians (19%), government ministers (22%), journalists (26%) and estate agents (30%).

At the very top are nurses, who with 96% are regarded as most likely to tell the truth, followed by doctors (92%), teachers (89%), engineers (87%), professors (86%), scientists (85%) and judges (83%). Members of the armed forces (78%) and the police (76%) are 8th & 9th on the list, but priests are down from 69% to 62% and TV news readers from 67% to 62% since 2017. Charity chief executives are trusted by just 48%, trade union officials by 45% and bankers by 41%.

Irrespective as to their position in the “Brexit” debate, UK residents don’t generally appear to differ from their fellow-Europeans on many other issues- for instance whether to trust pharmaceutical conglomerates (40% say no) oil and gas companies (18% say no), food & drink wholesalers ( 31% say no) or the banks (51% say no). The technology sector is the only one of the five classified as reasonably trustworthy.

Europe, emphasises Ipsos Mori, is one of the most privacy sceptical regions in the world, so people there (including in the UK) tend to be uncomfortable about handing over control of their personal data to others. Furthermore, “Over six out of ten Europeans trust news they receive from the radio, TV or the printed press but only 25% are fully convinced about the veracity of what they read on social media”.

Filed under: Media, Politics | Posted on November 5th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Driving On The Left Or Right: Which Is Better?

It can happen”. That has been President Donald Trump’s response to the fatal accident in August near a British military base in Northamptonshire involving the wife of an American diplomat. He’s also suggested that it’s “very tough” for anyone from the US driving in Europe as the roads there are “contrary” – despite the fact that all European countries (except the UK, Ireland & Cyprus) drive on the right, the same as in the US. Furthermore, Trump appears to exonerate visitors to the UK who veer onto the wrong side of the road and instead attributes the blame to Britain’s “different system”.

Drive”, which provides advice for UK residents taking their cars to the Continent, has cited the case of a French tourist, Emmanuel Lillaz, who crashed his hired vehicle into a baker’s van in a village in Devon while driving on the right. Unlike Trump’s fellow citizen, who has claimed diplomatic immunity and returned to the USA, Lillaz apologized, was subsequently fined £500 and had his licence suspended for a year by Exeter Crown Court.

British residents going abroad, of course, face a similar problem. According to a survey conducted by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC), the greatest fear of 26% of those questioned is driving by error on the wrong side of the road or going around a roundabout the wrong way – and indeed 10% admit to having done so. Statistics issued by the insurance company Churchill, reported by the “” contributor, James Fossdyke, indicate that 2% of British motorists have mistakenly deviated to the left in Spain in the past five years and that 10% of them have experienced a “near miss” while driving abroad.

Although almost 75% of countries now drive on the right, a study by the British civil engineer, Professor J.J.Leeming, in 1969 concluded that those with left-side driving have a lower level of traffic-related accidents. His explanation for this was that the right eye of humans is usually sharper and clearer than the left one, drivers use it more to watch traffic coming from the opposite direction and hence being on the left side is safer.

In historical times, it seems, the majority of travellers preferred the left of the road, because (asserts “most people are right-handed and it was easier to protect themselves from attack”. The trend to the right-hand side began in the 18th century, following America’s independence from Britain in 1783 and the French revolution in 1789, before which the aristocracy had priority on the left-hand side and the poor were restricted to the right. After the storming of the Bastille, it became more advisable to pretend to be part the peasantry. Countries subsequently conquered by Napoleon in 1805, such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, were forced to change to the right.

Until the 1930’s, Barcelona and some parts of Spain drove on the right, whereas Madrid and other areas kept to the left. It was a similar situation in Italy: Its first Highway Code on 30th June 1912 specified that all vehicles had to drive on the right, but Rome only implemented this regulation on 1st March 1925 and Milan on 3rd August 1926. Portugal also moved from left to right during the 1920’s. Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary all changed to the right after being annexed or invaded by Hitler.

The global shift to the right side continued throughout the 20th century: Gibraltar (1929), Panama (1943), Argentina (1945), Philippines (1945) , China (1946), Taiwan, North & South Korea (three former colonies of Japan, which has stayed on the left, as have Thailand and Indonesia) in 1946, Sweden (1967), Iceland (1968), Burma (1970). Canada moved completely to the right after the 2nd World War. Previously, the territory under English (rather than French) influence had remained on the left side.

Although the majority of former British colonies, including Hong Kong and Guyana in South America, continue to drive on the left, some of them in Africa, such as The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana, have switched to the right to conform with neighbouring French-speaking countries. For similar reasons. Mozambique, which is bordered by six English-speaking nations, has remained on the left.

One big concern for European Union nationals living in the UK is the post-Brexit status of their EU driving licences. The current situation is that both they and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens, as well as those from “designated countries” such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, can drive in the UK until their document expires or they reach the age of 70. One possibility is that both they and British residents going to Europe will also need to acquire an International Driving Permit (IDP). The USA is not on the “designated” list, hence anyone from there can only drive in the UK for a maximum of 12 months, after which they must obtain a provisional licence and take a theory and practical driving test.

Filed under: Society, Travel | Posted on October 21st, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

An Expensive Business: The High Cost Of UK Vets:

On 2nd September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, adopted a dog – a small Jack Russell which they have named “Dilyn” (meaning “follow” in Welsh). They acquired it from the Friends of Animals Wales charity specialising in rescuing farm puppies discarded and unwanted because they have physical defects. Dilyn and his brother Jed were both born with misaligned jaws. As the Daily Mail journalist, Barbara Davies, noted on 6th September, Dilyn has now become a firm favourite with the staff at 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence.

Johnson, Symonds and Jed’s new owner (a civil servant in Wales) have thus become part of the 50% of the UK adult population that own a pet. Statistics issued by the People’s Dispensary For Sick Animals (PDSA) show that 24% of households in Britain have a cat (total estimated number, 10.9 million), 26% a dog (9.9 million) and 2% have a rabbit (900,000).

Melissa Hogenboom, a contributor to BBC Earth, has queried exactly why people have pets. Making an animal part of the family, she points out, seems to be something only humans do: “You won’t see a chimpanzee taking a dog for a walk or an elephant keeping a tortoise for company”. Pets, she notes, get meals, healthcare and a home for life, looking after them takes up time and you “can’t expect them to offer anything material in return”, though she does acknowledge that they clearly provide companionship. It’s all very strange, in her opinion, considering the expense involved.

The Pet Keepers Guide, by contrast, focuses more on the health benefits derived from, for example, walking the dog, as well as the opportunities this provides for enlarging one’s circle of friends. In some cities in China, it observes, many retired old folk carry their bird cages to a nearby park and socialize with other bird keepers while the avians themselves are singing to each other. Furthermore, the Guide suggests pets help boost their owners’ self-esteem:”Whether we are rich or poor, good-looking or “ugly”, overweight or underweight, our pets just don’t care. Their loyalty is unconditional”.

Hogenbooom’s comments about the cost of having a pet do, nevertheless, resonate with a large number of owners. The PDSA has calculated that caring for a dog will require an outlay of between £6000 – £17,000 during its life-time, depending on its breed, size and longevity. The minimum monthly expenditure for a small dog such as Dilyn will be at least £70, for a medium breed £80 pm and for a large one, £105 pm.

This is unlikely to present any difficulty for Boris Johnson, with his Prime Ministerial and MP’s salaries, but could be a concern for anyone with a much lower income or no job at all. For cats, the PDSA figure is £12,000, rising to a potential £24,000 “if you decide to spend a little more on your cat’s care or they live longer than the average of around 15 – 16 years”.

None of this, of course, includes the veterinary fees which will be incurred if your pet develops health problems or has an accident. Indeed, the high charges involved have become increasingly controversial, to the extent that – according to the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter, Patrick Sawer – vets are being threatened on a regular basis by pet owners angry at the cost of treatment.

A survey by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), cited by Sawer, has revealed that many practices are accused of being “money-grabbing” by clients upset at the amount they are required to pay for standard appointments such as follow-up checks for their pets.

The MoneySupermarket commentator, Kevin Pratt, confirms that vet bills in the UK have continued to rise, which is why pet insurers paid out a record £775 million (the equivalent of £2 million every day) for sick or injured animals in 2017. Blood tests can cost £100 – £130, X-Rays £300, a consultation with a vet £60, emergency surgery at least £1,500, an overnight stay in a pet hospital £500 or more and ongoing treatment such as chemotherapy £5,000.

The former vet, Matthew Watkinson, in an article for the Daily Mail, expressed his shame at having been a member of a profession “that puts pets through painful, risky and unnecessary treatments to fleece their trusting owners”. A whole industry (he wrote) has arisen out of squeezing the most money out of treating family pets, especially in affluent areas with middle-classes residents, hence cash, not the welfare of the animal, is too often at the forefront of the vet’s mind. Pet insurance is “simply a licence to print money” that helps only vets. He’s opposed to animals having to endure lots of operations in the hope that their health problems can be cured and their lives prolonged.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has responded to this criticism by acknowledging that there might be some “bad apples” in the sector but emphasizing it operates “a robust regulatory system to ensure high standards of education and professional conduct are set, met and maintained”

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on October 8th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

London Fashion Week SS20: Climate Change Overshadows The Catwalks:

They were all there as usual at the latest London Fashion Week (13th – 17th September: Famous designers such as Mark Fast, Roberta Einer, Molly Goddard, Erdem, Victoria Beckham. However, this time they were not the only focus of the national media’s attention. The spotlight was as much on the demonstrations outside the main LFW venue in the Strand as on prestigious occasions such as the Burberry Show. The UK protest group, Extinction Rebellion, had asked the British Fashion Council to cancel the event altogether “in recognition of the existential threat that faces us” – but when that didn’t happen, as the Guardian’s fashion editor, Jess Cartner-Morley, reported on 14th September, they threw buckets of fake blood onto the pavement to symbolize their view that the fashion sector, like other industries, is leading towards the extinction of life on the planet.

During the five days of LFW, they also handed out leaflets declaring that fashion is one of the biggest scourges of the earth: The water, the chemicals, the waste. “Don’t make any more clothes. Don’t buy any more clothes” they urged, “Instead: Be mad and inventive with the clothes that already exist in the world. We have enough forever now”.

The campaigning designer, Stella McCartney clearly agrees. In an “Open Letter To The Fashion Industry” published in the Sunday Times Style magazine on 15th September, she noted that it’s become one of the most damaging industries in the world and is responsible for more than a third of ocean microplastics: “Every single second, the equivalent of one rubbish truck of textiles is sent to landfills or burnt, while textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally”.

The British Council (BFC), in its pre-LFW press release regarding the possible impact of a “no-deal Brexit”, emphasized the importance of the UK retaining its role as a global leader in creativity, innovation and business – not least because the fashion industry is worth more than £32 billion to the country’s GDP and employs over 890,000 people. However, as the Observer columnist, Ed Helmore, pointed out on 1st September, although people in Britain buy more garments than any other European country, they also seem to throw a lot of it away – in fact, that 11 million items of clothing end up in UK landfills each week.

In response to this, the model Stella Tennant and the charity Oxfam, have launched a “Second Hand September” campaign aimed at persuading consumers not to buy any new clothes for at least 30 days. According to the Guardian journalist,Sarah Butler,on 22nd August, there is already a trend among many young people to buy from resale sites such as Depop in the UK and the market analysts GlobalData anticipate the second-hand market will become 50% bigger than its fast fashion counterpart by 2028.

Helmore highlights the suggestion by Nicole Phelps, the Director of Vogue Runway, that celebrities should set an example by re-wearing gowns they’ve worn in the past. He also cites the results of a United Nation’s study indicating that the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, 20% of waste water and consumes more energy than the airline and shipping industries combined.

The BFC Chief Executive, Caroline Rush, acknowledges that the issues of sustainability and climate change represent formidable challenges for the fashion industry – but insists that the BFC hears the message of Extinction Rebellion. “Our role”, she told Cartner-Morley, “is to make the information digestible for fashion businesses so they can take practical action”. One example of this was the launch at LFW by the designer Roland Mouret and the Arch & Hook company of clothes hangers developed from 80% marine plastic which is harvested from oceans and waterways and so removes plastic waste from the environment.

Another designer, Julien Macdonald, is similarly trying to ensure his brand becomes more ecologically aware: His clothes, he told the Evening Standard fashion journalist, Lizzie Edmonds, are made from as many organic fabrics as possible. He’s also apparently “bored of young girls on the runway” as although they may look fabulous when modelling his clothes, they’re not the ones who buy them. His declared aim is to produce a collection for “real women”. His LFW SS20 Show took place in Southwark Cathedral the evening of 16th September.

Meanwhile, the BFC is imploring the Government to seek a deal with the European Union that will guarantee that international designers and students will continue to feel they are welcome to study and work in the UK. The introduction of World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs, they argue, will have serious implications, as fashion is comprised of “component goods which traverse borders multiple times before becoming a finished product”. Designers, driven by the need to achieve high artistry and creative pieces, thus have to adopt a global approach in all elements of their business, from sourcing the perfect fabric, through to finding the best pattern cutters in the world to work with that fabric.

Filed under: Society | Posted on September 23rd, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

A Second Brexit Referendum On The Horizon?

Be careful what you wish for. You might receive it”. That’s how the English author W.W. Jacobs began his classic horror story, “The Monkey’s Paw”, which was first published in 1902. As the wiseGeek website has pointed out, this expression – which has become almost a cliché – constitutes a warning to those people hoping for something without considering all the negative consequences that could accompany obtaining it. Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London and British Prime Minister since July 23rd, could well be reflecting that this applies very much to the situation in which he currently finds himself.

In September 2018, the Guardian columnist, Steve Richards, noted that Johnson “obviously aches to be prime minister” but that he would never get the top job in British politics because his vaulting ambition is too transparent” As we now know, Richards was wrong. On 30th August, Johnson told a group of young prospective journalists aged 9 –14 who’d been invited to 10 Downing Street that in fact his early aspiration had been to be a rock star or a supermarket tycoon rather than Prime Minister and that he regrets he isn’t allowed by his bodyguards to ride his bicycle any more because someone might try to attack him.

Although Boris appears so far to have retained his popularity with much of the public, he has been depicted by his opponents as a dictator for proroguing Parliament from 10th September until 14th October and as a bully for suspending from his party the 21 Conservative MPs who voted in Parliament against his Government. Furthermore, the Guardian correspondents Jessica Elgot and Peter Walker, in a front-page article on 6th September, described Johnson’s speech in West Yorkshire the previous day as “rambling and occasionally incoherent” and Emily Thornberry, the Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, on the BBC’s Question Time programme that same evening, denounced him as a “reckless liar”.

Irrespective of whether such harsh remarks are justified, most recent British Prime Ministers and opposition party leaders have had to accept that being ridiculed has become an integral part of their job. Theresa May was constantly mocked for her “robotic” speaking style, her stiff way of walking, her embarrassing attempts to dance in public, her social awkwardness and even her leopard-skin shoes. In the House of Commons on Tuesday 3rd September, during Johnson’s fierce verbal exchanges with the Opposition benches and some of his own MPs, May looked alternatively happy that she was no longer Prime Minister and gloomy that she was no longer the centre of attention.

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has often been taunted for having an allotment and growing his own tomatoes, potatoes and marrows. At the end of an appearance on the BBC TV’s “The One Show” in May 2017, he gave the presenters a jar of his home-made jam. His predecessor, Ed Milliband, is remembered mainly for the inelegant way he ate a bacon sandwich, a photo of which featured on the front page of the Sun newspaper.

In the opinion of the contributor, Jonathan Bacon, on March 13th, the image then in circulation of a “beaming and ruddy-faced” David Cameron (Prime Minister 2010 -2016), perched on the steps of his £25,000 garden shed, encapsulated the out-of-touch complacency of a man who had plunged his country into the worst crisis in decades by calling the Referendum, then had promptly left when he lost “to spend time with the baubles of his wealth and privilege”.

Boris Johnson has responded belligerently to his critics. On the 4th September, he characterised Corbyn as a “chlorinated chicken” and accused him of being prepared to “surrender” to Brussels. The Labour Leader retorted that the Prime Minister had “no mandate, no morals and no parliamentary majority”. The Washington Post commentator, Adam Taylor, has queried why British politicians insult each other so much. He considers it could be partly due to the adversarial design of the House of Commons itself, where government & opposition MPs sit, “at a distance said to be slightly more than two sword lengths”, glaring fiercely face to face at each other.

In the era of social media and 24-hour news, Taylor observes, British politicians are increasingly rude to their opponents and “have become aware that a quick insult might be a better way to gain popularity than a serious debate”. He cites the examples of Cameron advising Corbyn to put on a proper suit, do up his tie and sing the national anthem, MPs pleading with Boris Johnson to tuck in his shirt and the former transport minister Simon Burns being reprimanded for apparently portraying the “diminutive” House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, as a “stupid, sanctimonious dwarf”.

So what happens now? Boris might resign rather than ask the EU for another extension or win the next election and then try to get a revised deal. If Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, he’ll probably also attempt to renegotiate with Brussels, then hold a 2nd Referendum, with many (but not all) of the Labour Party advocating Remain. The Liberal Democrat Party Leader, Jo Swinson, has declared that if the country votes “Leave” again, she won’t accept the result.

Filed under: Politics | Posted on September 9th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Holiday Souvenir No-One Wants To Bring Home:

Travelling abroad has become a hugely unpleasant ordeal”. That, at least, is the opinion of the Spectator magazine’s outspoken columnist, Rod Liddle, expressed in the publication’s 10th August edition. From now on, he announced, he and his family will take their vacations in Britain. He feels that going to other countries to widen your horizons and experience different kinds culture has lost some of it’s allure and he can anyway no longer endure “the endless security rigmarole at the airports and the queues everywhere for everything”. Moreover, the rejuvenation of the UK’s seaside towns with their food festivals, chic art galleries and “prettified and gentrified promenades” means that staying in the country “has become much more palatable and, thanks to the collapsing pound, much more affordable”.

Liddle could have added another reason: According to a survey conducted on behalf of the probiotic supplement company Bimuno Travelaid cited by the Daily Mail, 50% of the British population suffer health problems while they are abroad. Moreover, as the newspaper’s travel reporter observed, although many people may believe they are more likely to become ill on destinations such as Egypt or Turkey, in fact Spain appears to be the worst offender for holiday illness – to the extent that perhaps “traveller’s tummy” should be renamed “costa cramps”: 32% of Britons questioned said they’d become unwell while in the Iberian peninsula, compared to just 6% in Italy and 3% in Thailand.

The statistics place Greece in 2nd place (14.2% of Britons on holiday there fall ill), followed by France, despite it’s image as a centre for gastronomy (9.6%), Egypt (9.5%), Africa (8.1%), India (5.3%), and the Caribbean only 4%, “perhaps surprising in view of “the region’s bad reputation for causing illness”.

So what’s the solution and how can this situation be avoided? Birmuno Travelaid claim that their product “Increases the good-boosting bacteria in your gut and also provides a natural protective barrier against bad travel diarrhoea-causing bacteria including e-coli and salmonella”. Philip Calder, professor of nutritional immunology at Southampton University, has pointed out to the Daily Mirror that when you visit foreign countries, “your body encounters a whole new set of bacteria and viruses – starting with those of the passengers you sit in close proximity to and share air with on the plane”. Moreover, research shows that the behaviour associated with many tourists, such as risking sunburn, drinking too much alcohol and eating unhealthy food can further suppress the immune system, thereby providing a recipe for getting sick.

The fashion stylist Eve Brannon, in her article captioned “Don’t let Traveller’s Tummy Ruin Your Summer Holiday”, has recommended including more sources of soluble food fibres such as onions, garlic, artichokes, leeks, chicory and asparagus in your diet in the weeks preceding your journey. Then ,while you’re away, you should avoid local tap water, if you can’t be sure of its purity. This includes taking ice in drinks, brushing your teeth with tap water or eating fruit and vegetables that have been washed in it: “Even if locals drink it without any problems, it’s unlikely your stomach will have the suitable bacteria to protect you”.

As a precaution, always drink bottled water, ensuring the seal is intact when purchased. Avoid raw or undercooked foods. Choose fruit that has to be peeled – such as bananas, mangos, oranges or pomegranates – and prepare them yourself. Beware of hotel buffet food, as there’s no way of knowing how long it’s been sitting out. Street stalls, contends Brannon, can be a safer bet than buffet-syle meals because they cook the produce fresh in front of you at high temperatures. When dining out, “pay attention to the restaurant’s overall cleanliness, especially as regards the tablecloths, cutlery, glasses and toilet facilities”.

The “Healthy Soul” website makes some suggestions that don’t feature on Brannon’s list. It advises that you should shower with your mouth closed: “Sometimes, even a small amount of water from the shower can be enough to upset your stomach badly”. It also advocates using iodine tablets to purify tap water if you can’t easily get hold of bottled water.

If you’ve nevertheless unfortunately experienced a severe episode while on holiday and are still coping with the after-effects now you’re back home, what’s the best and fastest way to get better? Brannon emphasises that the most important thing is to make sure that you drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Avoid spicy, fried or fatty foods. Even if you’ve recovered your appetite, you should for the moment eat just bland foods like rice, soup, toast and bananas and then add in a probiotic supplement for extra support.

If – unlike Rod Liddle – you haven’t lost your enthusiasm for visiting other countries and intend return abroad as soon as possible , perhaps the advice of specialists such as Calder and Brannon will help you avoid falling victim again to the dreaded “traveller’s tummy”.

Filed under: Healthcare, Travel | Posted on August 27th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

In The Spotlight: Multiple-Job Executive Directors:

So what exactly did Theresa May achieve as Prime Minister? According to the Sunday Times on July 21st, she became desperate in her final few days in office to be remembered for more than her “failed Brexit policy”. Which is why, during the week preceding her resignation on July 24th, she announced a flurry of new proposals – among them a law committing the UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a £2 billion pay increase for some UK public sector employees.

As a result of what the Daily Mail columnist, Claire Ellicot, described on July 19th as May’s “farewell gift”, police officers, dentists and consultants will get 2.5% more, soldiers 2.9%, teachers and other school staff 2.75% and senior civil servants 2%. Quite how the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and his Chancellor, Sajid Javid,will fund this additional expenditure is not yet clear, though as Ellicot noted, the relevant Whitehall departments are likely to be told to find the cash from their existing budgets.

Will this extra money really relieve the financial pressures on the people it is designed to help? A survey conducted by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), cited by Jamie Grierson, the Guardian’s Home Affairs correspondent, has shown that 9,500 police officers took on second jobs during 2018 because they were struggling to make ends meet. These include a variety of roles such as taxi driving, photography, plumbing, gardening and beauty therapy.

On 17th June, the Oxford Mail journalist, Tom Williams, reported that firefighters in Oxfordshire are being forced to seek second jobs after years without a proper pay rise in order to pay their mortgages and utility bills. Many teachers are having to do likewise, often – as Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the National Education Union told the Guardian’s Donna Ferguson – because their low net pay means they can barely even afford their rent. The Council of British International Schools (Cobis), observed Ferguson, estimates that around 15,000 teachers leave the UK each year to work in education abroad – an exodus, declares Bousted, for which the Government is largely responsible.

The Financial Times commentators, Sarah O’ Connor and Vanessa Houlder, have pointed out that, due to real-term wages having fallen 8% since the financial crisis of 2008, more people across the country are cramming extra work into evenings, weekends and even their lunch hours to supplement their main incomes. A poll of the users of “People per Hour”, a website for online freelancers, has indicated that around 25% are doing extra work to cover a payday loan or credit card bills and another fifth to finance childcare costs.

Ben Chapman, a contributor to the Independent, has cited Henley Business School research that suggests 40% of UK workers have set up a business “on the side” due to the increasing insecurity of their day job. The precise numbers are uncertain as apparently many “moonlighters” don’t declare their second incomes to the tax authorities.

Taking a second job – or even several – has long been standard practice among the UK’s “elite”, for rather different reasons. George Osborne, the former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example, currently has seven, among them as editor of the London Evening Standard, two different roles with Stanford University in California, advisor to the US fund managers Blackrock (for which he’s reputedly paid £650,000 a year working one day a week) and chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

This isn’t unusual: Indeed, the media consultant Peter Cunliffe remarked in an article for The Times that “going plural” has become the fashionable career choice for executives of a certain age. “What could be more agreeable (he asks) than taking on three or four non-executive posts for £60,000 each and flitting from one boardroom to another to dispense wisdom?” Investors, however, he adds, are beginning to rebel against directors who take on too many non-executive roles – a phenomenon known as “overboarding”.

On 14th July, the Guardian highlighted stakeholder concerns that the chairman of Scottish Power Energy (SSE), Richard Gillingwater, may not be devoting sufficient time to the company because he’s also chairman of the £274 billion asset manager Janus Henderson and a director of Whitbread PLC, the UK’s largest hospitality company.

Other prominent business figures and industrialists who have become the focus of comparable disapproval are: Sir Nigel Rudd,chairman of the aerospace and defence group Meggitt as well as of BBA Aviation and Sappi, the Johannesburg-listed paper conglomerate; Barclays Chairman Sir Ian Cheshire who was retired from the board of the department store retailer, Debenhams, in January; ex Diago CEO Paul Walsh who resigned as an HSBC Director following unease regarding his “portfolio of directorships” such as with the Compass Group and Avanti Communications.

Stephen Martin, Director General of the Institute of Directors, has emphasised that organisations need to ensure their board members don’t spread themselves too thinly and have sufficient time available to effectively fulfil their duties. The UK Corporate Governance Code (July 2018) stipulates that candidates for a Board should disclose, prior to their appointment, any other significant business commitments they may have.

Filed under: Society | Posted on July 29th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The UK’s Fragile Bridges:

This year is the 125th anniversary of London’s Tower Bridge. It was inaugurated, after 8 years of construction work, on 30th June 1894 in a “lavish ceremony” by the then Prince and Princess of Wales. Building it was considered essential for the million people living in the eastern part of the capital, who had either to take a ferry to cross the River Thames or use London Bridge, which 128,000 pedestrians did every day. By comparison – as the official Tower Bridge guide has noted – the 2.3 million residents living to the west of London Bridge had 12 bridges up to Hammersmith at their disposal.

Promotional material issued by the Kallaway PR company has hailed Tower Bridge as “London’s defining landmark, one of the capital’s most iconic attractions”. The bridge, however, has had it’s problems: In 2016, it was closed to road traffic for three months so extensive repairs could be carried out. Its owners, the City of London Corporation, pointed out at the time that “The bridge carries around 40,000 people, including 21,000 vehicles a day. This heavy use had had an effect on the timber decking. Maintenance is also required on the lifting mechanism and the waterproofing of the brick arches”.

This is not an unusual situation to arise with London’s bridges. Most of them (apart from the steel suspension pedestrian-only Millenium Bridge, linking Bankside with the City of London) date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Westminster Bridge, for example, opened in 1750; Putney (1729), Battersea (1771), Vauxhall and Waterloo (1817), Hammersmith (1827), Chelsea (1858), Albert (1871), Wandsworth (1873).

Putney Bridge was closed for essential repairs from the 14th July – 25th September 2014. More recently and controversially, since 10th April motorists and seven bus services have been banned from using Hammersmith Bridge after safety checks revealed “critical faults”, though access remains available for pedestrians and cyclists. The Evening Standard’s City Hall Editor, Ross Lydall, has quoted estimates by the New Civil Engineer magazine (NCE) that the repairs could take three years, cost around £100 million and indeed that the bridge may never be re-opened to motorists. The main issue is where the money will come from: Government budget cuts have left both Hammersmith & Fulham Council (LBHF) and Transport For London (TfL) seriously short of funds.

Greg Hands, the MP for Chelsea and Fulham has however insisted that keeping the bridge permanently shut to motorists is not really an option: “There is a massive impact on communities like Fulham and Putney from diverted traffic”, he told Lydall. The leader of Wandsworth Council. Clr Ravi Govindia, agrees vociferously with Hands and has criticised LBHF for failing to keep their bridge in good working order – as a result of which it’s calculated that Putney Bridge now experiences 4,000 extra vehicles every day, Wandsworth Bridge 2,000 more and Battersea Bridge an additional 1,000:“The Nitrogen Dioxide pollution levels on Putney High Street, which we had managed to control and reduce, have now gone up by 4% and all this extra traffic is having a devastating effect on our roads, bridges and the surrounding areas”.

On 11th July, the NCE journalist, Katherine Smale, highlighted the fact that the backlog for maintaining London’s roads now exceeds £1billion. She noted that, in the opinion of the London Technical Advisors Group (LoTAG), the capital is getting an unfair maintenance deal from the Government, that its road network is suffering from “chronic underinvestment” and that other English authorities are being granted a much more favourable annual financial arrangement: “London boroughs and TfL are doing their best, using their own budgets, but if the current funding conditions remain, the future state of the capital’s infrastructure is clear: Failing highways, more potholes and more closed bridges”.

In fact, most councils across the country appear to be facing similarly difficult circumstances. On 7th January, the Transport Network correspondent, Dom Browne, reported that there are almost 3,500 council-maintained road bridges in the UK which are considered to be substandard. He was quoting from a survey conducted by the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) Foundation with the help of the National Bridges Group of ADEPT (The Association of Directors of Environment, Economics, Planning and Transportation) which infers, for example, that 18 of the 34 bridges in the London Borough of Lewisham, 2 of the 4 owned by LBHF and all of the 25 in Redbridge in the east of London, are in some way deficient.

Substandard” is defined as being unable to support the heaviest vehicles now seen on Britain’s roads, including lorries of up to 44 tonnes. The analysis found that an estimated £6.7 billion is needed to bring all these bridges back up to perfect condition – but that budget restrictions mean that the “economically-straightened” councils anticipate only 370 of these will have the necessary work carried out on them within the next five years.

Filed under: Society, Travel | Posted on July 16th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »


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