Saturday, September 16, 2017

Coward's Attempt to Murder at Parsons Green

One of the principal aims of the thugs who place bombs next to strangers who might include babies, elderly or infirm people, appears to be to cause panic. If there is violence nearby, quite understandably, people rush to move out of harm's way.

However as the cowardly bombing incidents in Iraq and elsewhere  sadly illustrate, often one bomb blast has the effect of causing people to rush away straight into the path of a second device, quite apart from the injuries the fleeing in panic itself causes, hence the wisdom of avoiding joining a rush of people.

Indeed panic is often the aim of the thugs and perhaps it was ever thus. For example I recall in the 1970s  a demonstration in Istanbul against the visit to the port  there of an aircraft carrier bound for the American fleet around S. Vietnam. A gun was fired in the street and panic ensued, with people risking more injuries by rushing and fleeing than by the gun shot - see:

Turkey 1970

Parsons Green Underground Station though is not well geared for mass exodus as there is only one exit at that small  suburban stop. Ironically had the device become active at the next station Fulham Broadway the risk of suffering in the rush to escape would have been rather less, as that station with its wide exits is well equipped to cope with the crowds attending Chelsea Football Club matches. 

Religious beliefs might warrant excommunicating non-believers but killing people at random is pure evil and/or insanity and should  surely always be treated as such.

On a more personal note maytrees min was on the train immediately following the train targeted by the thugs but quick 'phone contact (the  line is overground at that location) reassured that all was well apart from late arrival at a new job.

Certainly the thugs' actions apparently on behalf of one religion or another are a cowardly illustration that any so called religion which condones murder is anathema.

 Interestingly upon checking the definition of 'anathema' for this blog post, one definition reads:

"a formal curse by a pope or a council of the Church, excommunicating a person (f)or denouncing a doctrine.

Religious beliefs might warrant excommunicating non-believers but killing people at random is pure evil and/or insanity and should  surely always be treated as such.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Religious Belief/Unbelief 2017

The statistic just published shows that the majority of the British population now has no religious belief see the quote below  courtesy BBC:

Last year 53% of people described themselves as having "no religion", in a survey of 2,942 adults by the National Centre for Social Research.

Among those aged between 18 and 25, the proportion was higher at 71%.
The Bishop of Liverpool said God and the Church "remains relevant" and that saying "no religion was not the same as considered atheism".
The figures, shown to BBC Radio 5 live, reveal a downward trend for religious belief in the UK.
When the national centre's British Social Attitudes survey began in 1983, 31% of respondents said they had no religion.
If correct the above stat makes for depressing reading which is perhaps well illustrated by 

another quote this time from the Daily Telegraph:
Holding religious or spiritual beliefs is important for ‘thriving’ in life, a study by the University of Portsmouth has found. Dr Daniel Brown, a sport and exercise scientist, assessed all the research on what helps people to flourish to come up with a definitive list for living well.
To thrive a person must be optimistic, spiritual or religious, motivated, proactive, enjoy learning, flexible, adaptable, socially competent and have good self belief. They also must have opportunity, support from family and colleagues, a calm environment, trust and a high degree of autonomy.
Interestingly the above stats have been published at about the same time as articles about the huge fall in numbers of people adhering to the Church of England with comments that the relatively slight fall in Catholics arising from the probability that many immigrants from the Eastern EU come from Catholic backgrounds. Yet surprisingly the numbers of adherents to other faiths appear to have fallen as well. My impression had been that the percentage of the UK population   adhering to Islam was  increasing yet if the latest stats are to be believed that faith too has a smaller percentage of adherents now than was previously the case.
My own feeling is that in general  there is greater tendency to religious belief the older one becomes. The young understandably concentrate on earning a living, perhaps marrying and bringing up children finding somewhere to live and of course paying for the above. Religious beliefs for many logically come quite far down the list. 
Paradoxically perhaps, Christ was barely 33 when he was crucified thus perhaps signifying that there is no  right age for mankind's religious belief or as the case may be and indeed as regards  mankind generally bearing in mind that Christ is god made man, that human logic actually plays little role in religious faith. 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Kew Gardens 2017

As Mrs Maytrees  with the car was elsewhere on bank holiday a trip to Kew Gardens seemed a pleasant way to spend a sunny  Monday at the end of August.

Traveling by Underground from Wimbledon with a view to changing trains at Earls Court for Kew I assumed that the District Line train was unusually crowded because of the huge engineering works being effected  at Waterloo, affecting SW Trains during August. However when the crowds exited at Fulham Broadway Station, it became apparent that Chelsea FC were playing at home that day.

Going to Kew Gardens as a boy I recall the admission fee going up from 1d to 2p upon decimalisation of the £. However as others in the family were not so sure I checked with Hansard (Parliamentary records).

Obviously MPs were  more familiar with Dickens in the 1920s, than perhaps many are today, as Hansard records:
79. Viscount CRANBORNE
asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will consider the advisability of reimposing, for Revenue purposes, the admission fee of one penny to Kew Gardens which was abolished in August, 1929?

§The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir John Gilmour)
I have had this question under consideration, and I have decided to reimpose as from Monday morning next this admission fee of a penny, except on students' days (Tuesday and Friday) when the admission fee will525 continue to be sixpence, and on the four Bank Holidays (Easter Monday, Whit-Monday, August Bank Holiday and Boxing Day), when admission will be free.

How much do the Government expect to get from this change?

It is estimated that it will bring in at least £3,500.

Will that fee of one penny be charged when classes from elementary schools are taken to Kew?

It will be charged, on the days when it is on, to everybody.

Will Scrooge be the caretaker?

Will it be another penny to walk on the grass?
The cost of admission in C21 even to old age pensioners such as yours truly was only a few pence shy of £16. Nonetheless  despite the  cost there were a large number of people in the queue for admissions.

The visit was well worthwhile though. I had not appreciated how huge Kew Gardens is and I must have walked miles. The centre piece for me was an architect designed giant beehive which visitors were encourage to walk round through on and over. Photos as depicted below  do not do the bee hive justice:

The glorious weather-unusual for a British late August bank holiday gave Kew Gardens a wonderful sheen and seemed to put other visitors in good form.

Kew Palace the family retreat of King George III, I had not seen before hence photographed below:

The following iPhone photo also illustrates the Kew Gardens Landscape:

 The distances between the gates into the Gardens was rather longer than I had anticipated with it taking perhaps and hour to saunter between Victoria Gate the Kew Gardens underground station  access point, and Lion Gate which is a mile and a half from Richmond Station. However  roaming around the gardens  conservatories  and tea shop covered many more fascinating miles. Exiting at Lion Gate for Richmond the issue then arose of the huge railway works affecting SW trains and stations though the journey by train still turned out to be far quicker than the outward journey on the Underground.

An energetic Bank Holiday.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

University in C21 or Not?

The UK  schools examination results having been published in the past few days, careful consideration is probably still being given by many to the question of which if any, college or university to attend for securing their desired degree. Others will have been offered places at their chosen or other place of learning and be planning  study arrangements and accommodation. 

Yet the cost of higher education is now so high that some young people will be considering whether there are other less expensive means of  pursuing worthwhile careers in life.

The Times newspaper headline this morning reads:

"Top schools push pupils away from universities." The article suggests that the number of private school pupils taking BTec vocational qualifications has doubled in 4 years. Other pupils are heading directly into work through  the government apprentice route introduced in 2015. Germany has had such arrangements for years which apparently are very successful there.

As annual university fees in England are around £9,250, a student leaving uni after an average 3 year bachelor's degree course, would be likely to have incurred debts of over £30,000 before earning any salary or starting  say to buy an home.

In my own  degree days some 50 years or so ago, there were  grants for students a rather than loans. There were also no fees to pay though hardly 4% of school leavers went on to higher education upon leaving school. That compares with 32.5% of school leavers in 2016, making the public cost of higher educational provision, far smaller in say 1970 than in 2017.

 Prima facie the position seems  more favourable to prospective students in 2017 than in 1970 as so many more now have the opportunity than their peers did c.50 years ago but is the university entrance possibility in fact more favourable today? There were of course fewer universities 50 years ago even taking into account other seats of higher education such as Polytechnics, than there are in 2017. Society has  moved perhaps  too far, in the direction of  university education, by providing the same for all who wish to go down that route rather than for those who would really benefit themselves and the nation, by securing university degrees. 

Courses at institutions of questionable academic merit for individuals who may secure little benefit in being awarded a degree in say media studies from such institutions but will still have the burden of c. £30,000 debts, seem wasteful of personal talent as well as expensive and inefficient for society at large. 

Should not there be more promotion of  apprenticeships and the BTec route mentioned above, followed by a gradual cull of places of higher education? This would of course result in  fewer "universities" but would also facilitate large  reductions in fees payable by students attending them.

From the perspective of the solicitors' profession, the arrangement 50 years ago was that an individual could qualify with the Law Society by working for 5 years  ("articles of clerkship") in the solicitor's office and taking professional exams. The alternative was to go to university, secure a degree and then undertake 2 years articles, again with Law Society professional exams before entering the profession. 

The 5 year  non-university route for qualifying as a solicitor was abolished years ago but in my view consideration should now be given to its reinstatement.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Well age catches up with all of us eventually  including yours truly. 

On this topic on  a more serious note,  I applied recently for one of the private pensions I had paid into for years, since the 1980s. Under changes  introduced by the last government various options were introduced for those who have saved for their pensions, including rights to take all or part of the pension fund in cash as the  idea of taking pensions in the form of an annuity seemed to be thought of as second best possibly because of points published in today's Daily Telegraph reading:

The research, conducted by Fidelity, the fund manager, shows that a typical pension pot in 2017 would be able to produce an annual income of only £6,607, only just over half the £12,193 retirees in 2007 enjoyed. The analysis compares the 10 years before 2007 – the year when Northern Rock imploded and the US investment bank Bear Sterns realised it was in trouble – with the past decade.

In fact as UK interest rates in the 1980s were very high, running as I recollect to 17%, some private pension providers at that time published advertisements signifying that pensions would be guaranteed to provide pensions of at least 9% or 10% or even higher, of the pension monies saved by the private individual. 

Benefiting from such guarantees at a time of very low general interest rates caused by quantum easing, surely makes annuities well worth while for those who started pensions saving in the 1980s or maybe earlier?

One of my sisters is a pensions adviser so I wrote to her recently about this saying inter alia:

At first the pension provider (now Canada Life; initially the Albany which I think is defunct) quoted me a figure around the Telegraph typical £6,607, mentioned above. When I complained they quoted £12,000+ but when I pointed out that they had still not quoted for the most significant pension they came back with a figure of £17,000+ which I am happy to take.

The 2nd pension  provider (now Phoenix initially Sun Alliance) gave  me all the various quotes including one which pays a large annual figure if the pension is taken as an annual lump sum in arrears. In fact delaying taking that pension for another year or two, both saves tax and gives an even higher pension as their figures made plain.

Both pension companies are keen to snowball one with large volumes of paper including details of independent advisers who one can approach but if they ....gave simple details of the pensions available under their plans, the position would be far simpler and would negate the reason for having so many potential advisers.

To err is human but how one deals with a mistake when the matter is highlighted is important. I telephoned Canada Life upon receiving their low quote and made representations - in other words - complained gently. They then gave me the higher estimates outlined above but gave no explanation let alone apology for the huge error in their previous quotes even though had I relied upon the company's figures, the cost of their error could have easily exceeded £100,000 over the period of retirement.

If one makes provision with a commercial concern for one's retirement pension, there should be a duty on the commercial concern when relevant, to identify in relatively simple terms, what type of pension the payments made over the years can provide.

If a mistake is made by the company particularly a potentially expensive error then the company should apologise.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

50 Years or so with HCPT - The Pilgrimage Trust

After careful discussion with some other long term  helpers  we in HCPT Group 729 decided that now would be a good time to retire from the Trust after so many fulfilling, interesting and not infrequently exciting, years of traveling as pilgrims to Lourdes with HCPT.

Immense gratitude first and foremost to the many children we have been privileged to have in our care over so many years; also to the many helpers  friends and other pilgrims  met over that time and to those who have had the task of coordinating such a great  group of travelers.

Very many happy, sad, exciting and even frightening events occurred over the years of pilgrimaging but this blog post will only mention a few.

In the early years HCPT was organised by a parish priest from his presbytery in Sutton Surrey. Then the organisation was that of a small London based charity with no groups from the Caribbean, Eastern Europe or the USA or other international groups as there are today. 

Boys from Beaumont College (which closed down 50 years ago) were encouraged to help with disabled children at Lourdes. So successful was that encouragement that some 6 or so HCPT groups were and still are led by Beaumont boys or their children and friends and there is even an HCPT London Beaumont region.

In the early days travel was  to Tarbres Airport by somewhat shaky turbo prop aircraft.

I recall one early flight when some children from Newcastle had to be escorted by Group 35 after Lourdes on a flight back from Gatwick - the huge aircraft was almost empty with just half a dozen children and helpers - no other passengers  on the round trip. Since then of course  several HCPT Groups based in Newcastle have been formed. 

On another occasion  when one of the plane's propellers span to a stop in mid flight, many in HCPT and the Group began to think of alternative means of travel and the result was the chartering of three HCPT couchette trains each with an ambulance car, traveling overnight from Boulogne to Lourdes. This form of travel  many of the children found exciting although from the helper's perspective was usually tiring. 

As one might expect a number of memorable travel incidents occurred on the trains. One involved a French national SNCF railway strike which started one year  just as we arrived a Bolougne sur Mer. A couple of thousand young children and their helpers were stranded on platforms after the cross-channel ferry had docked. What was to be done? 

As it happened one helper Yvonne who was half French and half British and had fought with French resistance colleagues during WWII.  One of her WWII resistance colleagues was now  a senior SNCF union official based in the town. He was on the platform  for the strike and was confronted by Yvonne. An argument ensued on the dockside but the outcome was that he agreed personally to drive the train from Bolougne to Lourdes overnight, which was a great relief to all. The only train to run  that day and night, in the whole of France. 

Another year I recall at about 2am as the train stopped at a small village station,seeing gendarmes  in mid fight with some louts drunk in the station bar; the gendarmes then fired tear gas at a few men misbehaving there - absurd over reaction in my view. The tear gas missed the louts but hit our couchette carriage promptly causing three asthmatics to wake and  vomit. I lept out of the train to confront the gendarmes but the train driver too came out and kept the peace by saying "moi asthmatic aussi!". 

In another year, a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk held a party in the ambulance car for helpers not needed at that time for child care.

Initially as 15 year old Beaumont College boys, Brian and myself joined HCPT Group 24 as helpers but then after a few years we started our own group Group 35 which Brian led for a couple of years until he became a Trustee of HCPT. Sadly Brian died in 2007 see:
Brian Burgess R.I.P. 

Happily  during the April  2007 pilgrimage, while walking back alone at about 12:30am from the Lourdes  Grotto to  the hotel  Alba, I met with  Brian quite by chance. He walked back to the hotel with me although it was in the opposite direction from his own hotel. We talked about life and our years together with the HCPT, going back to school days in the 1960s. Alas he died hardly three weeks later.

There were of course also many memorable happenings with Group 35 children. One involved 4 teen aged girls who were initially very difficult to manage,  partly I believed because they were trying to imitate the Spice Girls pop-group . Some devout pilgrims on the Lourdes Torchlight procession complained loudly that I was not doing enough to make them behave themselves! 

Matters improved fairly quickly though. Indeed during the Group 35 reunion at Wimbledon College  after the pilgrimage that year, the girls detailed  more about their family lives which sounded very difficult  and probably explained some of the earlier difficulties we had experienced. It was great that they then asked if they could join the Group as helpers in the years ahead.

Another case is   amusing. There was in the group a great boy who had Downs Syndrome and who loved swimming. One morning he wished to go for a swim supervised by our then young Jesuit helper Mr Bishop. He banged on an hotel door near his own room which he believed was  occupied by Mr Bishop but was then quite unfazed when the door was opened by a Diocesan Bishop but immediately said "oops  wrong bishop!". 

The  child in question has long since become a man and on occasion goes out to a local pub for a drink with one or two people who came with him as helpers when they and he were children, including maytrees max.

In the early days we stayed at the Ste Suzanne Hotel the water tanks of which at the top of the 7 storey building, frequently flooded the hotel. When this occurred water poured forth flooding the ground floor and bar, so much so that on one occasion I recall two small children from another group staying there, coming out of the ground floor lift with water all over the place and informing  Paul,  Group 35's deputy leader and myself, when we were visiting from our new Hotel (The Alba) that umbrellas were needed inside as well as outside, the Ste Suzanne.

Perhaps one of the most unexpected events involving the HCPT and   Lourdes was in preparation for the 1991 pilgrimage. One of the great Group 35 helpers was Bernadette from Baghdad. She told me at that time that her young nephew and niece had been visiting her from Baghdad when Saddam Hussein's army invaded Kuwait. Their father who had been due to join Bernadette, was stranded in the Middle East leaving her in charge of his two very young children who could not speak a word of English. 

To make matters far worse, the two children were declared enemy aliens in both England and France. Bernie said that that meant she could not travel with Group 35 to Lourdes that year. As we had a number of children who needed helpers like her, I asked her to bring her nephew and niece as well and that we would sort out their travel arrangements. In fact they came and by  dropping a pile of passports as they were being checked by immigration officials on the coach we managed to sneak them into and back from France without further difficulty. The niece who married at the Sacred Heart Wimbledon a couple of years back, after leaving uni. worked for the UN and today  speaks impeccable English

Of course there are countless   other happy and sad moments which took place over the years but which must remain private.  

Many many people young and old, have brought so much happiness and love to each other and it is a privilege to have been part of HCPT for so long.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Venezuela - President Maduro's Alleged Constituent Assembly

The apparent political views of President Trump of the USA tend to be rather different from my own but one view he holds with which many appear to agree, is that the new 'constituent assembly' created by Venezuelan President Maduro, is "the illegitimate product of a flawed process designed by the Madura dictatorship". 

Having said that it is perhaps noteworthy that  a supporter or at least a former supporter of Venezuelan regimes, namely the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons, Jeremy Corbyn, has not so far joined in the widespread international opposition to President Maduro's actions in Venezuela.

According to The Times newspaper,  His Holiness Pope Francis made a last minute appeal for the constituent assembly to be suspended with the Vatican issuing a statement urging President Maduro

 "to suspend initiatives such as the new constituent assembly, whiich rather than fostering reconciliation and peace, encourages a climate of tension and confrontation and mortgages the  future."

The pleas of Venezuelan expatriates living in the UK, to Jeremy Corbyn to speak out against Maduro's regime appear so far at least, to be falling onto deaf ears. There are  dire food shortages in that country and another Venezuelan exile, a lawyer, urging the Leader of HM Parliamentary Opposition, to join the protests, is recorded (The Times) as saying:

"Silence is very dangerous. Silence is complicity. This is not communism. It's dictatorship, tyranny. Who wants their party to be the friend of a dictator? People who kill protesters are not your friend."

Leaders from over 40 countries have condemned Maduro; sadly the leader of Her Majesy's opposition in the UK is not yet among them.

Coward's Attempt to Murder at Parsons Green

One of the principal aims of the thugs who place bombs next to strangers who might include babies, elderly or infirm people, appears to be t...