Online Subterfuge Convulses The Noble Card Game Of Bridge:

It’s one of the greatest games ever invented”. When the Amerícan mystery-comedy author Louis Sachar made this remark, he wasn’t referring to football, rugby, tennis or any of the international sports with mass-media coverage. His passion is for bridge, which he admits to playing at least three or four times a week. This enthusiasm is shared by global personalities such as the business magnate and philanthropist, Warren Buffet and the Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates. Indeed, Buffet once declared in Forbes magazine that he wouldn’t mind being in jail if he had three cellmates who were decent players and who were willing to play it continuously for 24 hours a day.



The English playwright and novelist, W. Somerset Maughan, considered bridge to be “the most entertaining and intelligent card game so far devised”. The British wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, the former US President Dwight Eisenhower, the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif (famous for his roles in “Dr Zhivago” and “Lawrence of Arabia”) and India’s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi were apparently all bridge aficionados. As has pointed out, probably the best-known game outside the “closed world of bridge” was the one between the villain Hugo Drax and James Bond (with Roger Moore as 007) in the film “Moonraker”. For Sharif, “it prevents the rust forming in your mind” and according to a study by the Berkeley campus of the University of California (states “”) it “measurably strengthens the immune system”.


Not all assessments of bridge, however, have been quite so favourable. The British-American player, Alan Truscott, who wrote the daily bridge column for the New York Times for 41 years, observed that it “unfortunately attracts a substantial number of anti-social people” and the Daily Express contributor, Simon Edge, has noted that the previously dignified parlour game “has incited murder and counts billionaires and playboys among its devotees”. Edge cites the example of Mrs Myrtle Bennett of Kansas City, USA, who in September 1929 shot her husband after a furious argument erupted between them when she accused him of being “ a useless bridge player”. The jury in the subsequent court case, which caused a sensation at the time, acquitted her of murder on the basis that it had been “an accident”.

A Sunday Times editorial on 30th May, accompanying an article by two of its journalists, Nicholas Hellen and Shanti Das, about the boom in online bridge cheating during the pandemic, concluded that “there has always been something brutal about bridge. What seems at first sight to be a genteel diversion for the leisured bourgeoisie hides a ruthless battle for supremacy”.

Ed Caesar, a contributor to the “Independent”, has estimated that 200 million people play bridge world-wide, with around 30,000 of these being members of the English Bridge Union. The newspaper has also highlighted the debate over whether bridge should be classified as a sport. The difficulty, it has emphasised, arises from the perceived lack of physical exertion, even though at international level it is “an extreme test of concentration, stamina and mental deduction”. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) and then HM Revenue & Customs have ruled that it’s not a sport, which means that in England VAT has to be added to the cost of entry fees for competitions.

Nonetheless, bridge is recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as are other activities such as chess, tug of war, cheerleading, flying discs (“Frisbees”) and the martial art of “wushu”. The European Bridge League (EBL), formed in Copenhagen in 1947, now consists of 46 National Bridge Organisations, which in turn are members of the World Bridge Federation (WBF), along with affiliates from the USA and South America. In what “” has depicted as a coup for bridge, it appeared at the Asian Games for the first time in 2018: 217 players from 14 nations competed in six categories, with China emerging as leaders with 3 golds, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals.The WBF has announced with regret the cancellation of the 2021 World Championships, due to the pandemic, but the EBL’s 19th European Champions Cup will take place in Pezinok, Slovakia, from 11-13th November as scheduled.

The Sunday Times report by Hellen and Das focused on the fact that bridge is a card game for four people who play as two pairs and that crucially only each individual should be able to see their own cards during the bidding. However, this rule has proved much easier to circumvent online, with the result that investigations by the EBU into cheating allegations have shot up from one a year to 50: “So far 25 people – including seven couples – have been suspended for 18 months to five years for unfair or dishonest play”.

This is not the first time, though, this has happened. In September 2015, as was reported by the Daily Mail correspondent, Neil Sears, it was construed as being “improper communication” when two Italian world title winners placed their cards horizontally or vertically to indicate to the other whether they had a good hand.

Filed under: Society, Sports | Posted on July 3rd, 2021 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Growing Space Junk Threat To Sat Nav:

Have you any idea how many satellites are currently orbiting the world? You may think it’s at the most a couple of thousand. In fact, it’s considerably more than that. UNOOSA ( United Nations Office For Outer Space Affairs) has calculated that there are now more than 6,000 of them circulating above us, albeit only about half of them are “active. As Martin McCoustra, a Professor in Chemical Physics at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, has pointed out on, the environment up there is becoming extremely congested.

This is creating a problem for astronomers as the bright surfaces on satellites can apparently reflect rays from the sun and so impede observations of distant galaxies and planets. Of even more concern, notes McCoustra, is the increasing risk of collisions. How fast a satellite has to move in order to maintain its orbit depends on how high it is above the Earth. At an altitude of 124 miles (200 km) the required velocity is around 17,500 mph – so if two of them crash into each other, the combined speed could potentially be up to 34,000 mph.

It’s an issue on which NASA (America’s National Aeronautics And Space Administration) has focused more intensively since a Chinese rocket weighing 18 tons plummeted from the sky on May 11th 2020. The CNBC correspondent, Todd Wasserman, subsequently cited NASA statistics indicating that there are now “21,000 pieces of space junk larger than a softball orbiting the Earth and 500,000 pieces of debris the size of a marble or bigger”. Hence the 8,800 tons of objects that humans have left in space are becoming a danger and “near misses” – such as between Elon Musk’s SpaceX Satellite and one from the European Space Agency in September 2019 – are far more frequent.

To date, though, there’s been just one major collision, in 2009, between the American satellite Iridium 33 and Russia’s Cosmos 2251, destroying both of them over northern Siberia. Wasserman also reported that the experts anticipate the situation will get much worse and that by 2025 as many as 1,100 satellites could be launched every year, with the number orbiting the Earth quadrupling over the next decade. There are, consequently, now a few companies such as Astroscale in Tokyo, Japan, who provide a “satellite and debris clean-up service”. In October 2019, Northrop Grumnan, a global aerospace, defence and security corporation based in Virginia, USA, launched its first Mission Extension Vehicle spacecraft (MEV-1) “to prove it could intercept failing satellites, repair them and put them back in orbit”. It rendezvoused with Intelsat 901 on 25th February 2020 and by 2nd April 2020 had extended 901’s operational capacity for a further five years.

NASA emphasises that satellites, like every other machine, don’t last forever, so eventually have to be disposed of. They can either be blasted further into space or, if they are relatively small and close to Earth, slowed down so they then burn up in the atmosphere. However, according to the European Space Imaging organisation, this process is not so simple for larger satellites in “low earth orbit”(LEO). To avoid them plunging onto populated areas, they are brought down to a remote area of the Pacific Ocean known as “Point Nemo”, which is thought to already house 250 – 300 obsolete spacecraft. The remnants of the Chinese rocket were an exception, dropping instead into the Indian Ocean, west of the Maldives archipelago.

Available data indicates that the USA has an estimated 3639 satellites in orbit, followed by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS: former USSR countries), 1532, China (456), Japan (196), the UK (191), India (101), France (78), Germany (73), Canada (69), Italy (31), Spain (29). In Latin America: Argentina (35), Mexico (14), Chile & Venezuela (3 each), Colombia, Peru & Ecuador (2 each), Uruguay (1).

The BBC Future contributor, Richard Hollingham, has speculated on what would happen if the space technology on which we all these days depend suddenly stopped working due, for example, to a massive solar storm, a cyber attack or impact from debris. Among the many dramatic repercussions he highlights would be the loss of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which enables us “ to travel from A to B without getting hopelessly lost on the way”.

A survey by the automotive firm Leasing Options, quoted in the Scottish Daily Record, has shown that 97% of respondents would feel stressed and probably wouldn’t even attempt to drive to a new place if they had to use road signs and a paper map instead of their Sat Nav to get to their destination. Only 36% said they’d stop and ask for directions if they couldn’t find the correct route and 70% of 18-24 year-olds (unlike most over-65’s) don’t ever carry a traditional road map in their car.

This reliance on technology can cause problems. One in five motorists questioned by Europcar revealed they’d been directed into fields, rivers and dead-end roads by their Sat Nav, with a marginally higher percentage admitting they’d had an argument with their device.

Filed under: Society, Travel | Posted on June 4th, 2021 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Behind The Screen: The Secret To Television News Reading:

Cameraman capturing live shooting of news reader in television studio.




Do you know how to pronounce the name of “Shrewsbury”, the market town in the English county of Shropshire? If you’re not sure and really want to find out, the Oxford Guide to BBC diction provides the answer: “Shrohz-buh-ri”. This is unlikely to be at the top of your list of priorities – unless you have ambitions for a career as a BBC newsreader, in which case you’ll need to become familiar with most of the 16,000 words and names which are covered in the Guide.

As the Daily Mail has pointed out, for the BBC, it’s not what you say but how you say it that is particularly important. Other examples from the Guide are: The Dutch painter Van Gogh – “Van Gokh” (definitely not the Americanised version, “Van Goh”!), the Swiss city Basle – “Bahl”, the Harry Potter author J.K.Rowling – “Roh-Ling” and the Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich – “Ruh-Mahn Ab-Ruh-Moh-Vitch”.

There are of course other skills and qualities that you’ll need to possess if you want to present the prime-time “News At Ten” programme. For a start, in the opinion of the website, you should have a bold personality, there’s no room for camera fright and you need to be presentable at all times when you’re “live on air”. Furthermore, while you’re reading the news, you must “aim at grasping the viewers attention so that they stay with that channel”.

Above all, in this technological age, you’ll have to be capable of following what’s on the Autocue, as using notes written on a piece of paper is simply not how it’s done anymore (unless the equipment breaks down). That means, emphasises the former BBC News 24 presenter, Maxine Mawhinney, understanding the running order of the scripts, being clear about how the words will appear on the prompt screen and “telling the story rather than reading it”. That way, you’ll look and sound assured.

Smiling and speaking to the camera as a friend is essential, according to and you must keep your head, neck and shoulders relaxed: “If you lock your head into a rigid position, only your eyes can move to read the text. If the camera is fairly close it’s very obvious you are reading and it reduces your credibility”. They also advise asking the autocue operator to set the font size to suit your eyesight: “The bigger the font, the fewer words on the screen, so the less chance you have of seeing what’s next. Too small, and you’ll be struggling to read accurately”.

The Autocue company’s website states that they have been the exclusive provider of teleprompting services to all BBC News programmes for more than 20 years. The units they use are the “Master Series 12” which have the “highest brightness monitors so that the text can be easily read under bright studio lighting”. They’re mounted on robotic cameras which are constantly moving around, so they need to be as lightweight as possible. There’s a “cue-light” which changes colour when the camera is “live on-air” so the presenter knows which one to look at.

The former presenter of BBC2’s “Newsnight” and current host of the channel’s “University Challenge” programme, Jeremy Paxman, is however unimpressed by any of this. As quoted by the Daily Mail’s Media Editor, Paul Revoir, on 4th March, he’s declared that “any idiot” can read the news and has excoriated “vain reporters” who (in his view) are more interested in being on television than “letting the story tell itself”. He’s also portrayed the BBC as being “full of boring people doing dull jobs and pretending they’re important”.

Paxman’s claims (as observed by the Guardian columnist Tim Dowling, on 17th March, after unsuccessfully attempting to operate a teleprompter himself) were immediately challenged by one of the BBC’s current newsreaders, Reeta Chakrabarti, on the basis that she writes a lot of what she reads out: “These aren’t someone else’s words”.

Nonetheless, there was support for Paxman, notably in the Spectator magazine on 9th March, from Robin Aitken, a former BBC journalist and author of “How and Why The BBC Distorts The News To Promote A Liberal Agenda”. The hard work in TV news, he insists, is done by reporters and producers and the technical crews, while the newsreader “spends their day in planning meetings and make-up parlours being pampered and flattered before taking their place in the spotlight”.

Aitken dismisses reading from an autocue as “a skill many people could master after a morning’s tuition”. He also contends that no-one with pretensions to being thought politically aware now relies on BBC news bulletins as their main source of information. This is contradicted by a recent Ofcom survey that has revealed BBC 1 continues to rank highest in this category. By contrast,the number of people in the UK getting news from social media and Google Search has declined, with just 35% of those questioned who regularly use this way of finding out what’s happening saying they consider it trustworthy. Facebook was seen as the least trustworthy (32%) and Twitter the most (39%).

Filed under: Media | Posted on May 5th, 2021 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

“It’s A Conspiracy!”: Britain’s Anti-Vaxxer Campaigners:

They’re a medical marvel which has saved more lives than any other human innovation apart from clean water”. This was the view expressed by the Guardian columnist Leo Cendrowicz on 24th February in his analysis of the reasons for the “vaccine hesitancy” currently evident across much of Europe. Instead of being shunned, he declared, “the astonishingly rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines should be celebrated as a triumph of ingenuity”.

Niall McCarthy, a data journalist for the Statista research organization, has pointed out that it’s Europe, not the USA, that has the dominant share of global vaccine production (76%, compared to 13% for North America and 8% for Asia) and hence where a large proportion of its research and development activities are located. Despite this, as Cendrowicz observed, a 2018 Wellcome Global Monitor survey revealed that only 59% of people in western Europe and 40% in eastern Europe consider vaccines to be safe, compared with 92% in Eastern Africa and 95% in South Asia.

Furthermore, affirmed Wellcome, one in three of the population in France distrust vaccines, a percentage higher than any other country. Another poll, conducted by the Ipsos Global Advisor & World Economic Forum and cited in the Irish Sun on 11th March, has indicated that just 40% of French people want the “jab”, mainly due to fear as to the possible side-effects. The French health sociologist, Dr Caroline De Pauw, attributes this to previous health scares,especially the hepatitis B and multiple sclerosis scandals of the 1990’s associated by the public with the pharmaceutical industry, as well as the traditional French disenchantment with their Government and the political elite.

De Pauw perceives the British as being “far more pro-vaccination than the French”. This would appear to correlate with the latest figures issued by the Office For National Statistics (ONS) on 1st April. These show that 94% of adults in the UK are in favour of the vaccinations. However, 6% are still hesitant about having one, particularly those aged between 16-29, followed by those from the ethnic community, parents living with a dependent child aged 0-4 years and adults in England’s most deprived areas. There has nevertheless been a significant increase in vaccine acceptance in all of these categories since the previous 24-28 February period.

The most common reasons for “negative vaccine sentiment”, states the ONS, are: concerns about the side effects (44%), the potential long-term consequences for their well-being (43%), a preference to wait to see just how effective the vaccine is (40%) and they believe it will be too risky to have one (24%). Other explanations are that they don’t feel they are in personal danger from Covid-19, they are worried the jab might be painful, and they are against vaccines in general.

Aaron Kandola, a contributor to Medical News Today, on November 4 highlighted the fact that it’s this last justification that most characterises anti-vaccine supporters, They consider vaccines to be “unsafe, an infringement on their human rights and typically deny the existence or validity of the science”. The “anti-vaxxer movement”, Kandola noted, dates back to the 18th century in North America, where religious leaders denounced vaccines as the “devil’s work” and it was given an impetus in the UK in 1998 when The Lancet, a respected scientific journal, published an article by the former medical doctor, Andrew Wakefield, suggesting a link between the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine and autism in children.

A British Medical Journal investigation subsequently found Wakefield guilty of deliberate fraud and his medical licence was revoked by the UK’s General Medical Council. Despite being professionally discredited, his contentions – as the Evening Standard columnist, Katie Strick, emphasised on 21st September in a feature captioned “The Alarming Rise of The Anti-Vaxxers” – remain influential among vaccine sceptics, many of whom are apparently also either pandemic deniers or blame the coronavirus outbreak on a conspiracy led by “Big Pharma, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the World Health Organization”.

Anti-vaxxers, reported the Pharmaphorum correspondent Phil Taylor on December 2nd, “have been responsible for promulgating a series of fantastical rumours and theories about anti-covid-19 vaccinations”, including the persistent claim that, during the procedure, people are being planted with a microchip that will subsequently be used to track them. According to the “Techjournalist” website on March 24th, the major UK anti-vaxxer and anti-lockdown groups “have migrated to new social media platforms after Twitter and Facebook censored their content due to the disinformation and misleading claims they were propagating”.

Despite the concerns of the MHRA(Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agencies) regarding the possible adverse impact of the anti-vaccine rhetoric, the UK’s anti-coronavirus vaccination programme has been hailed as a “resounding success” by the British Government, its medical & scientific advisors and even by most of the media, with around 33 million people having so far received their first dose of either the Pfizer or Oxford /AstraZenica versions and more than 5 million their second one.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on April 4th, 2021 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Tangled World Of British Embroidery:


A stitch in time saves nine”: This was the phrase that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson used during a televised speech on 22nd September 2020 to explain why he would be introducing a “package of tougher anti-coronavirus measures” in England. His reasoning, as the Metro newspaper columnist, Caroline Westbrook, noted the following day, was that it would be better to take the necessary action immediately rather than to wait for the situation to get worse later.

According to historians, as Westbrook then observed, the first published reference to this saying was in 1732, when it appeared in a book by the clergyman Thomas Fuller on “Gnomologia: A Collection of Adages, Proverbs and Witty Aphorisms”. It’s origins are generally believed to be derived from sewing, the idea being that “if you mend a small tear with one stitch, it will prevent it from becoming a bigger tear which might need more stitches – in fact nine – to repair”.

It’s a concept which will undoubtedly be particularly familiar to the thousands of devotees of embroidery and textile art around the United Kingdom. However, the organisation to which it would seem to be most applicable – the Embroiderers Guild (EG), founded in 1906– has this year become embroiled in a fierce dispute with its 145 branches and 4,200 members and been on the brink of having to close down altogether. On 5th March, Tara Conlan, a journalist with the Guardian, reported that the bank accounts of all the branches had been frozen by the EG in February “to divert money to pay head office debts as part of a plan to save money”.

Penny Hill, EG’s Social Media Trustee, justified this decision during an interview with the “Stitchey Stories” podcast producer, Susan Weeks, on the basis that membership numbers – EG’s primary source of income – had declined by 1,500 over the previous twelve months despite the annual prescription being only £38 and so it was no longer covering its costs. Because the rules governing charities don’t allow it to run at a loss and in order to avoid liquidation, it proposed to focus on online courses and on “ThreadIt” a “dedicated digital space where members can meet, converse, explore and discover the many aspects of embroidery and the textile arts.”

Hill pointed out to Conlan that, due to the surplus of £129,844 in 2018 having become a deficit of £67,305 in 2019, Embroidery magazine no longer making a profit and the sales of Stitch magazine falling by 47% over a decade, the only way EG could survive was by turning its branches into completely “independent stitch groups”. It would, though, provide them with “set-up grants of £250” along with continuing support and information.

Following EG’s announcement, a petition opposing it, launched by one of its members, Eliza Bruml, an artist with “Bound To Stitch” in Kings Worthy, Hampshire, attracted 5,486 signatures. It demanded the unfreezing of all local branch bank accounts, a period of consultation and insisted that, with so many people feeling isolated due to the covid-19 restrictions, it was not the right time for this action to be taken.

There were also complaints that long-serving members were not being valued and a query as to why the retiring CEO, Terry Murphy, who by his own admission, despite 10 years with EG, had “never picked up a needle” had been paid “such a vast (undisclosed) sum” if HQ had been haemorrhaging funds. Despite these protests, of the 2099 votes cast either at the General Meeting on 4th March or received by 5 pm on 12th March, 88.4% were in favour of the EG’s plan and just 10.2% against.

The Embroiderers Guild’s current difficulties are perhaps a little puzzling in view of the soaring demand for stitching kits which has apparently been galvanized by the Netflix show “Bridgerton”. The Yahoo!Life contributor, Tara Donaldson, on March 1st estimated that 82 million viewers had tuned into the “period drama” since its launch on Christmas Day. At the moment, she perceived, consumers don’t want fashion to reflect reality and instead have responded to the creation of an escapist, romantic long-ago world that has served as an antidote to the interminable months of “quarantine-induced malaise”.

The Daily Mirror’s Consumer Editor, Ruki Sayid, on 20th January depicted the “Bridgerton Effect” as having sparked “an embroidery craze” with fans obsessing over the Regency lifestyle and keen to copy the glamorous look of the smash hit. Sayid cited statistics released by the UK’s leading specialist retailer of art and craft products, Hobbycraft, revealing that there has been a 1,000% increase in searches for the term “embroidery” on its Ideas Hub since December. Likewise, the sales of stitching accessories and kits have increased by 30% and 20% respectively.

It’s the witty personalities and eccentric outfits which, in Hobbycraft’s view, have led to such huge success and have seemingly provided some much-needed crafting motivation, with the leading characters “embroidering their way through the series”.It would appear, Donaldson also reflected, that even collections for Spring 2021 virtual events such as London Fashion Week AW21 have been labelled as “Bridgerton-Inspired”.

As the historical designer, Dr Christine Millar (better known as “Sewstine”) told Donaldson, she suddenly noticed her sales were going “utterly bananas” and she didn’t know why: “Turns out it was Bridgerton: It was like a 1,000% increase in orders specifically for the Regency patterns”. The sudden, urgent search for “Bridgerton’ seguins, Jane Austen gowns and Regency era dresses was what was driving traffic to her site.

Filed under: Society, Theatre & Film | Posted on March 22nd, 2021 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

London Fashion Week AW21: “An Opportunity For Renewal”:


After an incredibly challenging year for the industry, it’s what we all need to lift us up”. This was the significance that Caroline Rush, the Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council (BFC) attached to the latest LFW (19th – 23rd February) and the fresh scope for creativity it provided, when quoted by the Sky News correspondent Emma Birchley on the opening morning of the event. The sector, declared Rush, is reeling from what she depicted as the “disproportionate impact” of the combination of the pandemic and Brexit. This was precisely why the BFC had needed to “pivot and adapt the event very quickly”, moving the displays and catwalks to a digital platform easily accessible both to the general public and to all those working within the fashion trade.

In her report on LFW’s final day, the Evening Standard’s fashion correspondent, Chloe Street, acknowledged that although she had missed the intimacy and excitement of attending catwalks in person, the new format had not detracted from “the evident talent on show, with designers delivering exciting collections that spoke to a life post-vaccine”. She cited as examples Simone Rocha, Erdem,Preen, Molly Goddard, Eudon Choi, Vivienne Westwood,Osman and Temperley. Her counterpart at the Guardian, Hannah Marriott, had been perhaps rather more candid on 25th January when she described 2020 as “a terrible year for the world and a head-spinning one for fashion”, albeit that she still believed the industry has “a genuine chance of rebuilding in a slower, more considered way”.


There are mixed views within the sector, however, as to whether even Marriott’s cautious optimism is justified. Her colleague, Priya Elan, on 1st February speculated as whether we are “on the brink of a colourful post-Covid recovery”. This was despite recognising that the number of retailers closing down is continuing to rise – most prominent among them being Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, whose Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Burtons and Debenham brands have been taken over by the controversial Leicester-based fast-fashion company Boohoo, which has been criticised for the allegedly poor working conditions in its supply chain. Asos meanwhile have become the new owners of Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge.


Nevertheless, reflected Elan, the Nobel-winning economist Professor Paul Krugman, has predicted in the New York Times that “things will get better” and the American billionaire businessman, Tilman Fertitta has confidently assured CNBC that “This is going to be the ‘roaring ’20’s – the consumer is coming back”. Yes, but exactly where and which ones, was the query raised by the Guardian’s Fashion Editor, jess Cartner-Morley on 6th February, when she pointed out that the “Fashion industry’s balance of power is moving to China”and that it’s estimated that by 2025, Chinese consumers will account for more than 50% of global luxury spending.


The new complications involved in accessing accessories such as zips from Germany or textiles from Italy were highlighted by the designer Paul Costelloe during Birchley’s Sky News programme and the BBC’s News at 10 on 23rd February: “They get stuck at Heathrow or Stansted airport for two weeks, and by the time I receive them the Show for which they were required has already come and gone”.


The growing anxiety felt by UK fashion retailers who now have to pay an average tariff of 12% when re-exporting to the EU has provoked 450 luminaries from within the sector, among them Dame Vivienne Westwood and the ’60s model Twiggy, to sign a joint open letter to the Government. It warns, in the words of veteran designer Katherine Hammett, that “British brands will die” without a “radical overhaul” of custom arrangements with the EU.


Organised by Tamara Cincik, chief executive of the “Fashion Roundtable” organization, it emphasises that the sector contributes “more to UK GDP than fishing, music, film and motor industries combined, yet we have been disregarded in this deal”. Moreover, that “parity in support is vital” to save the remaining 890,000 jobs in the UK fashion and textiles industry after the loss of 176,718 over the past year due to a decline by an estimated third in consumer spending on fashion.

Cartner-Morley observed on 20th February that “the fashion world has been brought down to earth”, transformed from a world of escapism into one tentatively sketching what the “new normal” may look like. She also noted that the BFC’s choice of Clearplay, a market leader in the “buy now,pay later” credit system, as LFW’s principal partner, has faced some criticism from Labour’s Stella Creasy and 60 fellow MPs.





Meanwhile, the Sunday Times Fashion Editor, Jane McFarland, on 14th February appeared ecstatic that “a famously exclusive industry” has been obliged to become more democratic: “ A ticket for a catwalk show is normally something money cannot buy – a closed world reserved for A-listers and fashion editors.” This year, however, there were no arguments about who would sit FROW (front row) as everyone or anyone could WFH (watch from home). 


This means. the designer Alice Temperely commented to McFarland, not having to turn people away from a show with limited seating. That will be welcome news to the many university arts students in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere in the UK whose predecessors waited patiently in long queues in the wind and rain at previous LFWs, often for more than an hour, clutching their invitations, but in the end were not allowed in.







Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on February 24th, 2021 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

“This Is Our Home”: The Europeans Who Want To Stay In The UK”:

Who would live in Britain now if they could go elsewhere?” That was the question posed by the Observer columnist, Barbara Ellen, in the newspaper on 17th January. For her, it seemed logical that many foreign-born workers might be looking at a country which is “not only undervaluing and demonising them but is also badly screwing up the pandemic” and so are concluding they should book “a one-way ticket home”. The big problem for this post-Brexit isle, declared Ellen, won’t be keeping people out but convincing (even begging) them to stay.

It appears, however, that this is not at all what has happened. On the contrary, as the Economist magazine noted in its January 9th /15th edition, although many commentators predicted a stampede of Europeans out of the UK following the Referendum on 23rd June 2016, statistics issued by the Home Office on 30th November showed that 4.48 million EU citizens had by then applied for settlement status in the UK.

As Madeleine Sumption, the Director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, told the Economist, “the longer a migrant stays in a country, the less likely they are to leave”. An example of this, cited later in the article, is the case of a French citizen, Caroline le Luel, who had moved with her family from Paris to London in 2005. While acknowledging that they “don’t see the UK as much of a cool place as it used to be”, she emphasised that they nevertheless want to stay here: “This is our home”.

Obtaining permission to stay in the UK on the basis of the “EU Settlement Scheme” is nevertheless not a simple matter. The website states, somewhat confusingly, that “the deadline for applying,if you meet the criteria, is 30th June 2021, but that you must usually have started living in the UK by 31st December 2020. Up to November 20th 2020, 54% (2,422,100) of the 4.48 million had been granted “settled status”, 43% (1,936,500) “pre-settlement”, 0.8% (33,700) had been refused, 1% (47,000) had been withdrawn or declared void and 1% (49,100) considered invalid.

The nationalities with the highest number of applications were: Polish, 80% of whom were given settlement status, 18% pre-settlement and 2% refused; Romanians (34%, 62%, 4%), Italians 42%, 56%, 2%, Portuguese (59%, 38%, 3%) and Spanish (46%, 52%, 2%).

Some clarification on the difference between the two main categories is provided by the “3 Million organisation”, which is campaigning to “give a voice to EU citizens in the UK”. It explains that they, along with those from Switzerland and EEA nations (Iceland, Norway & Liechtenstein) and their family members can request settlement status if they have lived in the UK for at least five years, and during that time spent less than 6 months abroad in any 12-month period. This constitutes “continuous residence” with the same rights to live, work and healthcare as UK citizens, though it can be revoked if they commit a serious criminal offence and they will lose it if they leave the UK for five consecutive years.

By contrast, as the “3 Million” points out, an “eligible applicant” who has been in the UK for less than five years will only obtain “pre-settlement status” lasting 5 years, which they will lose if they leave the country for 2 consecutive years or spend more than 6 months abroad in any 12-month period, in which case their only option will be to try to obtain a visa under the new immigration rules”. They can request “full settlement” after 5 years of “continuous residence”, but must do so before their current status expires.

The “3 Million” is particularly concerned that those in the pre-settlement category are not benefiting from the “equal treatment” rights promised in the UK/EU “Withdrawal Agreement”. This “has caused a lot of hardship, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people have lost their jobs and face destitution without access to Universal Credit and other help from the Government”.

Another major preoccupation is that EU students who enrolled with UK universities for courses starting in 2020 but have been following them remotely from their own countries due to Covid-19, could be refused pre-settlement status and so will have to apply for a visa costing £348 plus £470 a year to be able to use the NHS.

The Guardian’s education correspondent, Lisa O’Carroll, reported on 27th November that the Home Office had given “no indication it would be addressing these exceptional circumstances”. The “3 Million” consider this to be “extraordinarily unfair” as these students have been attending, via Zoom and other conference apps, the same lectures, handing in the same assignments, participating in the same groups as their counterparts already in the UK.

The Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA) based in Swansea, Wales, prior to a virtual media conference with the Foreign Press Association (FPA) on 28th January, released a statement emphasising that, subsequent to the end of the Brexit transition period, it has the responsibility and power to protect EU citizens living in both Britain and Gibraltar.

The IMA will thus be ensuring that their rights, relating to residency, employment, recognition of professional qualifications and social security, are respected by all UK public bodies – including HM Revenue and Customs, the Courts, local councils, the NHS, the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Home Office itself.

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Politics | Posted on January 22nd, 2021 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Outdoor Festive Illuminations Help Alleviate The Gloom:

We must find new ways to celebrate Christmas this year, to minimize the risks for ourselves and those around us”. What Joan Bakewell, the veteran broadcaster and Labour peer had in mind when she expressed this view on Channel 4 News on 24th November was, for instance, that we shouldn’t on this occasion huddle together with the others in our domestic “bubble” around the Christmas tree in the living room, but instead put it up in the front garden (if we have one) and then decorate it as usual. Moreover, that the outside of the house (or flat) should be festooned with festive lights as much as (or more than) the inside.

It seems Bakewell may have been unaware that this had already start to happen around the UK. On November 29th, the Sunday Times columnist Katrina Burroughs reported that since earlier that same month “a galaxy of  outdoor glitter has exploded on to urban streets across the country, from Cornwall to Cambridgeshire and Lancashire to London”. This “garden decomania”, the New York decorator Benjamin Bradley, explained to Burroughs, represents a rational reaction to the frustrations engendered by the succession of constraints imposed on the population over the past 10 months, hence a concerted attempt to banish the despondency and look on the bright side.

As a result, observed Burroughs, by mid-November, many large-scale decorations – such as Wayfair’s “besteller”, a 243cm inflatable Christmas tree with a Santa, a snowman and a penguin – had already sold out, and although Lights4fun’s popular acrylic light-up reindeer family was no longer available, it still did have a 1.75m-high 400 LED (electroluminescent diode) acrylic stag on offer for £179.99.

The Uswitch Energy correspondent, Kasey Cassells, on 14th December cited a survey by her organisation that had found UK households have been particularly keen this year to get into the Christmas spirit, with 4 million putting up their displays earlier than previously, the most common date being November 26th, and did so because they wanted to cheer up both themselves and their neighbours during the lockdown. It appears, observed Cassells, that we’re no longer satisfied with a bit of tinsel: Fairy lights accompanied by dazzling reindeers, Santas and snowmen are the evocative items now especially in demand.

Cassells has also pointed out that most individuals don’t seem to take into consideration the impact this will have on their electricity bills, with only 39% checking the power consumption or energy efficiency of the products before they buy. She calculates that for the full holiday period, a home with 200 fairy lights and a glowing reindeer could incur an extra £11 in costs by keeping them on for six hours a night: “Multiplied by 7 million domiciles, this could add £79 million to the UK’s energy expenditure.However, if they all changed to energy-efficient LED , their outlay would only increase by an average of £1.10 over the Christmas / New Year break – a tenth of the current amount”.

It’s precisely because – as the Guardian journalist Jon Henley reported on 5th December – advancing technology has made bigger and more complex options available at an ever lower price and modern bulbs use less energy that the authorities in the Dutch city of Amsterdam have introduced new and stricter limits on their size and colour permutations.

From next Christmas, throughout Amsterdam,“solely low energy LED appliances  will be allowed and they will all have to be turned off between midnight and 6 am. Any inhabitant wanting to hang more than one square metre of these, or cover more than 10% of their facade, will be required to inform the council and obtain its permission at least 72 hours in advance.” In the 17th-century canal district, a UNESCO world heritage site, only “warm white” may be used and all garlands will have to closely follow the gabled outline of each building.

These stipulations will probably have gone down well with the contributor to the mumsnet website who complained that the people living opposite her had put up some very bright flashing combinations outside their house which were disturbing her sleep: “Surely, they could be switched off at, say, 9pm?” In fact, as the Lifestyle Daily commentator, Claire Roberts, pointed out on 4th December, an investigation by the online estate agents Emoove has shown that anyone infringing Section 3 of the Environmental Act 1990 , which regulates the safety of roadside lamps, interference with other residences and statutory nuisances such as excessive noise, could be liable to a fine of up to £20,000.

Naveen Jaspal, Emoove’s Chief Operating Officer, recommends installing a timer which will automatically deactivate the array at a reasonable hour. Above all, he urges, avoid anything that flickers continuously or noisily plays tunes on a loop: “ ‘Jingle Bells’ once will undoubtedly get everyone into the seasonal mood, but 50 times a night is sure to get the culprit onto the ‘disapproval list’ of all those nearby obliged to endure the incessant repetition of this traditional Christmas melody”.

Filed under: Society | Posted on December 21st, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Adios Agata? The Exodus of Au Pairs From Britain:

“When our current au pair leaves, I’ll be left without child-care and will probably have to stop working” There’s no way I can afford a live-in nanny”. That’s how a Devonshire-based consultant surgeon foresees his situation if the future immigration status of au pairs has not been resolved by the time the UK’s one-year Brexit transition period ends on 1st January 2021. What particularly infuriates him, he declared to Anna Cooban, a journalist with the South West Londoner weekly newspaper, is the perception of au pairs as “an option for the upper middle classes who want to neglect their children”. This is an image which, as Cooban observed in her article, has proved difficult to dispel.

Similarly, Cheryl Newbury, a single mother-of-two, a nurse and a deputy ward manager in Weston-Super-Mare, told the Sky News correspondent Dan Whitehead that it would be “disastrous” for her if this type of domestic help is no longer available, her career would suffer, she wouldn’t be able to work and could even lose her home.

Jamie Shackell, the chair of the British Au Pair Agencies Association (BAPAA) is acutely aware of such concerns and the reasons for them, pointing out to Cooban that there are thousands of families across the UK who are key workers (such as those employed on a “shift” basis), who rely on au pairs for the flexibility it provides and who would be “financially crippled without them”. In March, the Home Office confirmed to BAPAA that the Government’s new points-based employer-led immigration system does not recognise au pairs because they are not legally classified as “employees”.

This has resulted in the International Au Pair Association (IAPA) querying on October 29th whether it in practice signalled the end of the Au Pair Programme in the UK. Quoting BAPAA statistics, IAPA noted that the estimated numbers of au pairs coming to the UK from the European Union has declined by 75% since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and that unless the government agrees to the creation of a special visa category, they could virtually disappear from the British domestic scene.

The two associations acknowledge that this sector is quite small, since only around 7% of UK families with children say they hosted an au pair in 2019 – 2020. However, they emphasise that “although this may not sound a lot, it equates to 1.4 million households”. Research conducted by the “Surveygoo”market

consultants on behalf of BAPAA has shown that 75% of parents who rely on au pairs for childcare say the other options are too expensive for them, 41% say they would have to switch to part-time employment, 26% would have to stop working altogether and 79% think the UK should adopt an official Au Pair Visa programme.

Traditionally, 24% of au pairs come from France, 13% from Germany, 12% from Spain and 11% from Italy. After 1st January, they will no longer have freedom of movement to the UK. If they are already here and they wish to stay legally, they must apply for “pre-settlement status”, along with proof of identity and address, before 31st December 2020. The Evening Standard columnist, Ana Davis, reported on 9th November that the Home Office has suggested that the Youth Mobility Scheme” (YMS) which “currently applies to citizens from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan” provides a viable alternative.

BAPAA disagrees, considering this to be “a less than ideal route for European au pairs into Britain as YMS applicants must prove that they have at least £1,890 in personal savings – a difficult requirement for young people in their late teens and early twenties to meet”.

There are those, however, who will welcome the fact that the post-Brexit regulations will put a stop to what they regard as the exploitation of a vulnerable workforce. Rosie Cox, co-author of “As An Equal? Au Pairing In the 21st Century” and professor of geography at Birkbeck College, University of London, has pointed out in an article for the Guardian that “Since 2008, au pairs have been specifically excluded from the legal definition of “worker” or “employee”: they have no right to the national minimum wage, they are not covered by health and safety regulations, there are no limits to their working hours and they have no legal right to holidays or any time off”.

Together with Nicky Busch, a fellow-academic, Cox has analysed online ads and found that the average au pair is expected to work 38.7 hours per week ( recommends just 30 pw) and although the average “pocket money”offered is £108 pw, the duties often include not only help with childcare and housework, but also shopping,cleaning windows, caring for relatives’ children, waitressing or cooking for dinner parties, gardening, teaching a child a language, and more. “” adds washing upholstery, carpets and the family car or doing the ironing and bed changing for parents to the heavier tasks that au pairs should not be asked to carry out.

In a Guardian feature captioned “Not Quite Mary Poppins” (the magical Disney nanny), Maggie Dyer, Director of the London Au Pair and Nanny Agency, admitted she is continually shocked by what some people believe they are entitled to demand of an au pair and agreed that it could sometimes be depicted as “the new slavery”.

The International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWFED) is adamant that “the first step in protecting au pairs is to recognise that they are workers so that their role is encompassed in employment laws and they can access fair pay and visa conditions appropriate to the work they do.”

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Society | Posted on November 22nd, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Premier League Scores A Penalty Against Football Fans:

The beautiful game has been turned, by the people who run it, into the greedy game”. That was how the Sunday Times, in an outspoken editorial on 11th October, lambasted the decision by the Premier League, Sky Sports and BT Sport to charge £14.95 each time to watch matches that they had not originally scheduled for transmission. It then cited Henry Winter, the chief football writer for it’s sister newspaper,“The Times”, as fulminating that £5 would be acceptable but that the proposed amount was “disgraceful and disgusting”. Precisely while Premier League clubs have been spending £1.2bn on buying players (declared Winter) and have handed £200 million over to agents, many families have been struggling to survive: “This truly stinks”.

The Guardian correspondent, Paul MacInnes, the previous day depicted the announcement as a public relations debacle, particularly as many fans have not only already paid for standard subscriptions to these two broadcasters but also for season tickets for their seats in the stadia which have been suspended due to the pandemic.

The Sunday Times also admonished the Premier League for having (in its opinion) become “adept at squeezing money out of fans”, for example by changing strip designs every year, which dedicated supporters feel they have to acquire in order to keep up to date.

The new levy has provoked widespread disapproval from both opposition politicians and several well-known ex-players – including BBC TV’s “Match Of The Day” presenter, Gary Lineker and the former Manchester United right-back, now Sky Sports pundit, Gary Neville.

The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) has urged BT Sport and Sky Sports to reconsider the prices and for Gary Caffel, the utilities editor at (reports MacInnes), it’s tantamount to treating fans as “cash cows”, since they either have to be prepared to fork out the extra amount or miss watching their club in action.

According to another the Sunday Times journalist, Dipesh Gadher, in a separate report on the controversy in the publication’s 11th October edition, the critics not only believe the charge is “too high” but that “it will encourage people to gather in households and pubs to watch the matches together”, hence spreading the virus.

The condemnation, however, has not been completely unanimous. The polemical contributor to the Spectator magazine and the Sunday Times, Rod Liddle, though acknowledging that, for him, the games have a feel of practice kick-arounds, an atmosphere of pointlessness and lack a communal experience, is mystified by the fury which has been aroused. He doesn’t consider the tariff to be unreasonable: “Someone has to pay for the football we’re all watching and I would prefer it to be the fans rather than the taxpayer”. The first “pay-per-view” games – Chelsea v Southampton (BT) and Newcastle v Manchester United (Sky) were shown on Saturday 17th October.

So why has the Premier League taken the risk of offending the fans? That’s because, John Purcell, the co-founder of the financial analysis firm Vysyble, explained to website, many of the clubs are in a terrible economic state and their accounts are lamentable. They are in a precarious situation, just like any other sector that depends on people being able to go out, congregate and spend freely.

Kieran Maguire, a lecturer on football finance at the University of Liverpool and the author of “The Price Of Football” concurs, emphasising that Premier League clubs have higher fixed costs – mainly wages and transfer instalments – than the rest of the entertainment industry and that they rely on the broadcasters for 60% of their income. Hence, any reduction in this would have a significant adverse impact.

Indeed, has noted that the Premier League has already had to reimburse £330 million to its broadcast partners as a result of the delayed conclusion to the 2019/20 season, with some clubs deferring part of that refund in order to spread the cost. The global consultancy Deloitte , observes theathletic website, estimated prior to the onset of the current crisis that PL clubs would earn £5.25 billion during the 20/21 season, £2 billion more than the Bundesliga and La Liga combined, but that their salary commitments would be twice those of German clubs and 50% more than Spanish ones.

Among the highest-paid footballers in England now are Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur: £600,000 per week, 50% of which is being paid by Real Madrid); Mesul Osil (Arsenal: £350,000 pw); Raheem Sterling (Manchester City: £300,000 pw); Paul Pogba (Manchester Utd: £290,00 pw); N’Golo Kante (Chelsea: also £290,000 pw).

Deloitte statistics show that eleven PL clubs made pre-tax losses in 2018/2019, the worst being Chelsea (£101.8m) and Everton (£107m), yet Chelsea still spent over £200m on transfer fees this summer (funded by owner Roman Abramovich) and Everton 67.50m.

In an interview with, Dr Stefan Szymanski, author of “Soccernomics” and a sports management lecturer at the University of Michigan, pointed out that “the Premier League has been giving people round the world what they want for nearly 30 years. But now, for reasons beyond its control, it cannot. And also because it has been perhaps a little too generous with its players and their representatives”. It’s likely that most fans these days will agree wholeheartedly with this last observation.

Filed under: Sports | Posted on October 20th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »


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