RIP The Duke of Edinburgh

The old order changeth . . .

Morte d’Arthur
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
So all day long the noise of battle roll’d
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur’s table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their Lord,
King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep,
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark strait of barren land.
On one side lay the ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.

Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
“The sequel of to-day unsolders all
The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
Whereof this world holds record. Such a sleep
They sleep—the men I loved. I think that we
Shall never more, at any future time,
Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds,
Walking about the gardens and the halls
Of Camelot, as in the days that were.
I perish by this people which I made,—
Tho’ Merlin sware that I should come again
To rule once more—but let what will be, be,
I am so deeply smitten thro’ the helm
That without help I cannot last till morn.
Thou therefore take my brand Excalibur,
Which was my pride: for thou rememberest how
In those old days, one summer noon, an arm
Rose up from out the bosom of the lake,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
Holding the sword—and how I row’d across
And took it, and have worn it, like a king:
And, wheresoever I am sung or told
In aftertime, this also shall be known:
But now delay not: take Excalibur,
And fling him far into the middle mere:
Watch what thou seëst, and lightly bring me word.”

To him replied the bold Sir Bedivere:
“It is not meet, Sir King, to leave thee thus,
Aidless, alone, and smitten thro’ the helm.
A little thing may harm a wounded man.
Yet I thy hest will all perform at full,
Watch what I see, and lightly bring thee word.”

So saying, from the ruin’d shrine he stept
And in the moon athwart the place of tombs,
Where lay the mighty bones of ancient men,
Old knights, and over them the sea-wind sang
Shrill, chill, with flakes of foam. He, stepping down
By zigzag paths, and juts of pointed rock,
Came on the shining levels of the lake.

There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o’er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth work
Of subtlest jewellery. He gazed so long
That both his eyes were dazzled, as he stood,
This way and that dividing the swift mind,
In act to throw: but at the last it seem’d
Better to leave Excalibur conceal’d
There in the many-knotted water-flags,
That whistled stiff and dry about the marge.
So strode he back slow to the wounded King.

Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
“Hast thou perform’d my mission which I gave?
What is it thou hast seen, or what hast heard?”

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
“I heard the ripple washing in the reeds,
And the wild water lapping on the crag.”

To whom replied King Arthur, faint and pale:
“Thou hast betray’d thy nature and thy name,
Not rendering true answer, as beseem’d
Thy fealty, nor like a noble knight:
For surer sign had follow’d, either hand,
Or voice, or else a motion of the mere.
This is a shameful thing for men to lie.
Yet now, I charge thee, quickly go again
As thou art lief and dear, and do the thing
I bade thee, watch, and lightly bring me word.”

Then went Sir Bedivere the second time
Across the ridge, and paced beside the mere,
Counting the dewy pebbles, fixed in thought;
But when he saw the wonder of the hilt,
How curiously and strangely chased, he smote
His palms together, and he cried aloud,

“And if indeed I cast the brand away,
Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,
Should thus be lost forever from the earth,
Which might have pleased the eyes of many men.
What good should follow this, if this were done?
What harm, undone? deep harm to disobey,
Seeing obedience is the bond of rule.
Were it well to obey then, if a king demand
An act unprofitable, against himself?
The King is sick, and knows not what he does.
What record, or what relic of my lord
Should be to aftertime, but empty breath
And rumours of a doubt? but were this kept,
Stored in some treasure-house of mighty kings,
Some one might show it at a joust of arms,
Saying, ‘King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur,
Wrought by the lonely maiden of the Lake;
Nine years she wrought it, sitting in the deeps
Upon the hidden bases of the hills.’
So might some old man speak in the aftertime
To all the people, winning reverence.
But now much honour and much fame were lost.”

So spake he, clouded with his own conceit,
And hid Excalibur the second time,
And so strode back slow to the wounded King.

Then spoke King Arthur, breathing heavily:
“What is it thou hast seen, or what hast heard?”

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
“I heard the water lapping on the crag,
And the long ripple washing in the reeds.”

To whom replied King Arthur, much in wrath:
“Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue,
Unknightly, traitor-hearted! Woe is me!
Authority forgets a dying king,
Laid widow’d of the power in his eye
That bow’d the will. I see thee what thou art,
For thou, the latest-left of all my knights,
In whom should meet the offices of all,
Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt;
Either from lust of gold, or like a girl
Valuing the giddy pleasure of the eyes.
Yet, for a man may fail in duty twice,
And the third time may prosper, get thee hence:
But, if thou spare to fling Excalibur,
I will arise and slay thee with my hands.”

Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran,
And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
Among the bulrush-beds, and clutch’d the sword,
And strongly wheel’d and threw it. The great brand
Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon,
And flashing round and round, and whirl’d in an arch,
Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
Seen where the moving isles of winter shock
By night, with noises of the northern sea.
So flash’d and fell the brand Excalibur:
But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
And caught him by the hilt, and brandish’d him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.
And lightly went the other to the King.

Then spoke King Arthur, drawing thicker breath:
“Now see I by thine eyes that this is done.
Speak out: what is it thou hast heard, or seen?”

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
“Sir King, I closed mine eyelids, lest the gems
Should blind my purpose, for I never saw,
Nor shall see, here or elsewhere, till I die,
Not tho’ I live three lives of mortal men,
So great a miracle as yonder hilt.
Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him;
But when I look’d again, behold an arm,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
That caught him by the hilt, and brandish’d him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.”

And answer made King Arthur, breathing hard:
“My end draws nigh; ‘t is time that I were gone.
Make broad thy shoulders to receive my weight,
And bear me to the margin; yet I fear
My wound hath taken cold, and I shall die.”

So saying, from the pavement he half rose,
Slowly, with pain, reclining on his arm,
And looking wistfully with wide blue eyes
As in a picture. Him Sir Bedivere
Remorsefully regarded thro’ his tears,
And would have spoken, but he found not words,
Then took with care, and kneeling on one knee,
O’er both his shoulders drew the languid hands,
And rising bore him thro’ the place of tombs.

But, as he walk’d, King Arthur panted hard,
Like one that feels a nightmare on his bed
When all the house is mute. So sigh’d the King
Muttering and murmuring at his ear, “Quick, quick!
I fear it is too late, and I shall die.”
But the other swiftly strode from ridge to ridge,
Clothed with his breath, and looking, as he walk’d
Larger than human on the frozen hills.
He heard the deep behind him, and a cry
Before. His own thought drove him like a goad.
Dry clash’d his harness in the icy caves
And barren chasms, and all to left and right
The bare black cliff clang’d round him, as he based
His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang
Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels—
And on a sudden, lo! the level lake,
And the long glories of the winter moon.

Then saw they how there hove a dusky barge
Dark as a funeral scarf from stem to stern,
Beneath them; and descending they were ware
That all the decks were dense with stately forms
Black-stoled, black-hooded, like a dream—by these
Three Queens with crowns of gold—and from them rose
A cry that shiver’d to the tingling stars,
And, as it were one voice, an agony
Of lamentation, like a wind, that shrills
All night in a waste land, where no one comes,
Or hath come, since the making of the world.

Then murmur’d Arthur, “Place me in the barge,”
And to the barge they came. There those three Queens
Put forth their hands, and took the King, and wept.
But she that rose the tallest of them all
And fairest, laid his head upon her lap,
And loosed the shatter’d casque, and chafed his hands,
And call’d him by his name, complaining loud
And dropping bitter tears against his brow
Striped with dark blood: for all his face was white
And colourless, and like the wither’d moon
Smote by the fresh beam of the springing east;
And all his greaves and cuisses dash’d with drops
Of onset; and the light and lustrous curls—
That made his forehead like a rising sun
High from the daïs-throne—were parch’d with dust;
Or, clotted into points and hanging loose,
Mix’d with the knightly growth that fringed his lips.
So like a shatter’d column lay the King;
Not like that Arthur who, with lance in rest,
From spur to plume a star of tournament,
Shot thro’ the lists at Camelot, and charged
Before the eyes of ladies and of kings.

Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
“Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world;
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds.”

And slowly answer’d Arthur from the barge:
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seëst—if indeed I go—
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.”

So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan
That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look’d one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.

Morte d’Arthur : Tennyson
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Coggin’ on . . .

Not a lot to report here. We continue to isolate but I see on social media that quite a few folks continue to go out and about (maybe unaccompanied ’tis true) and advertise that fact and where they have been by posting photos. This is in clear contradiction of the advice issued by the Scottish Government which can be found here. But a short summary gives you the idea . . .

To minimise the risk of spreading the virus, you must stay at home as much as possible. By law, in a Level 4 area, you can only leave your home (or garden) for an essential purpose.

The Pipe Band Hall is the wee hoose beyond the two green bushes.

In other news we now know that we have appointments for our second Astra Zeneca anti Covid vaccinations. They are being done as before at the Pipe Band Hall in Kirkcudbright, but I notice that the instructions ask the menfolk to wear a T shirt or something which enables quick access to the upper arm without lots of undressing. Obvious old men stripping off is not a pretty sight !

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Rubaiyat . . .

As I grew up there were several little books in our home bookshelves whose origins I did not question, but I have it in my mind that they came from either my Mother herself, or at least from her family home. There was, for example, a neat little set in a carrying case with a handle of a Book of Common prayer with a separate volume of Hymns Ancient and Modern, all done in a red Morocco (?) leather finish. There was John Keble’s “New Every Morning”, also red, with a poem for every day of the year. “New Every Morning” was one of the poems, but was better known as the hymn of that name – the rest, so far as I could see were practically unknown. Another was “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam“, again done out in red. A longish poem but one which I thought was rather “cool” (although that phraseology had not been born then) and from which I quoted bits go my friends and acquaintances despite their boredom and indifference. The image above is harvested from the web and in no way resembles the edition I knew although the art nouveau style seems to be about right date wise.

The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a voice within the Tavern cry,
‘Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry.’

And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted – ‘Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more.’

Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

Iram indeed is gone with all its Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one Knows;
But still the Vine her ancient ruby yields,
And still a Garden by the Water blows.

And David’s Lips are lock’t; but in divine
High piping Pehlevi, with ‘Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine! ‘ – the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow Cheek of hers to incarnadine.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly – and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life kep falling one by one.

Morning a thousand Roses brings, you say;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?
And this first Summer month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.

But come with old Khayyam, and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobad and Kaikhosru forgot:
Let Rustum lay about him as he will,
Or Hatim Tai cry Supper – heed them not.

With me along the strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan is forgot –
And Peace is Mahmud on his Golden Throne!

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now!

Full text HERE

The bit I liked and annoyed everybody with was the “Jug of Wine” verse which came to me again this morning in a slightly different form . . .

“A glass of wine, two paracetamols . . . ” which sorted out my troubles temporarily at least.

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Keeping things going . . . or trying to

Went out about lunchtime to run the two cars. I have tried to do this regularly during the lock down periods to keep the batteries charged up. It also warms up the engine compartment and helps to keep the damp at bay. The Skoda started immediately. On this car I can wedge something like a piece of folded card into the accelerator pedal hinge which is enough to boost the idling speed and ensure that the alternator is turning fast enough to supply demand and charge the battery too. When the car starts it runs up to about 1500 rpm, but as the engine warms up this speed increases and today, after the engine had run for about 30 minutes it got up to about 3000 rpm.  I think the time and the engine speed should have given the battery a good go.  3000 rpm is equivalent to about 30 mph in third gear, from memory, so you could say overall equivalent to about 10 to 15 miles of driving.


The Toyota, alas, had not got enough in the battery to turn the engine over and start it. This is disappointing as we have already fitted it with a new battery, so either I have not been running it for long enough or not fast enough. The Toyota does not have an rpm counter so I have to run it by ear, and my ears no longer hear the engine speed very well. So I have to do it by feeling the vibration which works well enough, but is not very accurate.  The Toyota was a cheap buy for a second car and I suspect that the charging system may be not as good as it should be.  I have therefore emailed the garage to come and take the car in and test the system, as follows . . .


Wilsons Motors

fao : Mr Bruce Wilson

Our Toyota failed to start again to day because the battery was too low.

I have been running it weekly at a good engine speed in order to keep the battery charged, but it seems that this had not worked so I am suspicious that the charging system is not up to scratch.  Please will you come and collect it at your convenience (not urgent) and see what you think, and repair it if necessary.

I would just mention that the Skoda Citigo gets exactly the same treatment but seems to keep going on it satisfactorily.

Sorry to be a nuisance.

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Nearly a year . . .

Another day, another Tesco delivery. A small energetic man, heavily masked who whizzed everything into the garage, showed the delivery note with one ,missing item and, after sanitising his hands and the usual tapping in of info on machinery in his cab, was off with a cheery wave. The Tesco delivery, albeit distanced has been our main contact with the outside world for 361 days as of today. Next Tuesday is our first anniversary as isolators. How momentous ! Not.

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347 days . . .

Today is the 25th of February. The Tesco van has just been, and as an indication of how good they have become, our booked slot was from 12.00 to 1.00 pm. They put a message on their website to say they were due to arrive between 12.35 pm and 1.00 pm, and that is what happened. We have now been isolating since 16th March of last year a total of 347 days, so it will not be long now before we will have spent a whole year of doing nothing very much. We have got through it pretty well so far, but we have both said that we feel the effects of age more now, so for us it has been a precious time – we haven’t got a lot left – so this year will have been largely wasted.

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Professor Chris Grey illuminates again . . .

A screenshot of Professor Chris Grey’s blog header

I haven’t harped on about Brexit for some time as no doubt we are all a bit fatigued by it. But I suspected that as the effects of non EU membership began to crystallise items would become apparent that might do with a mention. Professor Chris Grey has put together his blog – as he does every Friday – and gives us a good summary. As Morecambe and Wise used to say, “What do you think of the show so far ?”, to which the inevitable answer was “Rubbish !” Well, here is Chris Grey’s answer . . .

Friday, 5 February 2021

Brexit is coming apart at the seams
The electronic ink had hardly dried on my previous post which finished with a reminder that unexpected events are always liable to arise than just such an event occurred. During a very confused few hours last Friday evening the EU first proposed and then withdrew the proposal to impose export controls on coronavirus vaccines moving from Ireland to Northern Ireland, though this did not mean ‘closing the border’ and would not have meant stopping vaccine shipments at the border. This proposal would have involved the invocation of the emergency provisions in Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. In the event, it did not happen but it has brought to a head issues which have been lurking in the background for months and given the UK government an alibi for destabilizing the Protocol.

The EU’s blunder

It immediately became apparent that this was a major blunder by the EU – or more specifically the European Commission – which had been done without regard for the political consequences. Neither the British nor the Irish government nor the Northern Ireland Assembly had been consulted or warned, and nor had Michel Barnier’s UK engagement team. As the news emerged, the Irish government in particular, along with Barnier and the EU Ambassador to the UK, played a key role in getting the situation quickly resolved. It also seems to be the case that the British government was measured and calm in its response, for which it deserves credit, although since then there has been a marked shift in its tone.

In and of itself it was an indefensible error by the EU. But all political systems commit such errors and it was speedily corrected, so whilst there may well be some lessons for the European Commission in what happened the idea that it says anything one way or another about the merits of Brexit is nonsense. Inevitably some Brexiters leapt upon it to claim justification, and some erstwhile remainers professed that it had changed their minds about Brexit. But there was no reason for that except for anyone who imagined that the EU is a perfect institution that never makes any mistakes, which remainers shouldn’t have and Brexiters surely didn’t. And let’s be clear, this episode has not led to the breakdown of trust between the UK and the EU – that was caused by the UK’s behaviour over the last four years or so, years in which the EU has been remarkably consistent and rational. That doesn’t excuse this piece of stupidity but it should put it in perspective.

The underlying problem: Brexit itself

The key point is that this episode was only possible because of Brexit and in particular because of the rickety and highly precarious arrangements for Northern Ireland which have had to be created to accommodate it. For the EU this means, amongst other things, having to get used to the fact that closing its borders with adjacent third countries is no simple matter. The UK is a third country, but the unique situation of Northern Ireland gives the meaning of that a particular complexity.

The issue isn’t that the EU needs to have any concern for annoying Brexiters. Despite what some in the UK seem to think, the EU does not view the world through the lens of Brexit as they do, and is not particularly bothered about nasty headlines in the UK press. Rather, it is that the EU needs to be attentive to the specific situation in Northern Ireland, not least as this is a matter of significant concern to Ireland which is a member state. In that context, any invocation of Article 16 would have to be a very last resort for a massive emergency.

The EU’s carelessness about this has been jumped on to feed the pre-existing, and wholly unjustified, demands from some unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, as well as some Brexiters outside Northern Ireland, to make use of Article 16 to suspend the operation of the GB-NI border, as mentioned in my post a few weeks ago. This is unjustified primarily because that operation is not an unforeseen or temporary emergency but is the necessary consequence of what the UK and the EU have agreed. Even more unjustified is to opportunistically use what happened on Friday to bolster the again pre-existing demand to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol in its entirety.

Unsurprisingly, some of those doing so are still pretending that it, and the whole Withdrawal Agreement, are open to wholesale revision in the light of the TCA. Indeed it shouldn’t be forgotten that there is a hard core of Brexit Ultras who have never accepted the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol and have long argued for the government to jettison them, and will use any pretext to support that argument. The current row about last Friday’s events is therefore a symptom of a much deeper problem.

How have we got here?

Demands to ditch the Protocol beg the question of what should replace it, and here it’s necessary to go right back to the fundamental issues of how it arose. To be extremely brief, it has come about because the hard Brexit of leaving both the single market and customs union necessitates that there be a border somewhere. Since it cannot be a land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland because of the Good Friday Agreement, and there are no technological solutions that would create a virtual border, it has to be a sea border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

These facts were ignored or denied by Brexiters before the Referendum, including Boris Johnson, and many of them continue to deny it even now. Yet it was the reason for the ‘backstop’ agreed by Theresa May. Brexiters, including Johnson, said that was unacceptable and he instead agreed, and his MPs voted for, the ‘frontstop’ whereby there would, regardless of whatever got agreed in the TCA, be a sea border of some sort. How intrusive a border that has turned out to be is an artefact of the UK’s decision to prioritise divergence from EU regulations in the name of sovereignty in the TCA.

That is a very short account, but what it means is that the complex and messy situation we are now in – including the ongoing and expected to increase disruptions to goods flows between GB and NI – is the result of Brexit in general, and of the particular way that Johnson’s government chose to implement Brexit. What that is now leading to is not just economic disruption but an emergent and highly worrying political and, potentially, security problem whereby sea border control staff are being threatened with violence and as a result some checks on animal products and food were suspended this week. Note that these threats also pre-date the Friday night Article 16 fiasco so cannot be blamed on it. Just as a land border is unacceptable to, especially, the republican community so too is a sea border unacceptable to, especially, parts of the unionist community. (It is important for anyone with a public platform, even one as limited as this blog, to clarify that there is no evidence of paramilitary involvement in these threats.)

What is now becoming ever-clearer is that Brexit threw a huge rock into the high delicate and fragile machinery of the Northern Ireland peace process, a machinery of complex checks and balances which had as an implicit condition the fact that both Ireland and the UK were within the EU. The Protocol averts the worst of the damage, by preventing an Irish land border, but that doesn’t prevent there being any damage at all. It is an enduring badge of shame that Brexiters were so casual in ignoring what Brexit would mean for Northern Ireland, that hard Brexit was pursued despite what it meant, that Johnson agreed to something without, apparently, understanding what it meant, and that his MPs endorsed it. The shame is all the greater given that the majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.

Johnson’s dishonesty and opportunism

The danger now is that the government looks set to use the EU’s stupid mistake as cover to try to completely unpick the Protocol. At the heart of that lies the refusal of the government, including Johnson and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, to accept that the Irish Sea border even exists as a result of the Protocol they agreed to. That it manifestly does, with all the adverse effects that is having on Northern Ireland, is therefore being blamed on the way the Protocol is being operated, allowing Johnson to indulge in the sickening pretence that he can “ensure there is no border down the Irish Sea”. Worse, he threatened to invoke Article 16 even before the Friday row and is doing so again now as if in response to, or somehow justified by, the EU’s error.

The problems that Brexit is currently causing businesses in Northern Ireland, even though they are of the government’s own making, make it reasonable to ask the EU to extend the various existing grace periods – for example on uncooked processed meats – as Michael Gove has done in his letter to Maros Sevcovic, his co-chair of the Joint Committee. And there may be other adjustments that can reasonably be made. But Gove is quite wrong to suggest, in his rather aggressive letter, that the EU’s error provides a reason why the operation of the Irish Sea border should be revised wholesale and entirely in line with UK demands, and still less justified in using the implicit threat of the UK itself now invoking Article 16 if these demands aren’t met (which would in any case be a misuse of Article 16).

The border operation reflects the fundamental, long-term, structural problems of Brexit in general and the Northern Ireland agreement in particular, problems for which Gove is one of those most responsible. The problems it is creating were not ‘unforeseen’, they were set out in the government’s own impact assessment in October 2019 of the Withdrawal Agreement it had reached with the EU. This, remember, was the deal that Johnson hailed as a great triumph of his negotiating skills, the deal he sold at the General Election, the deal all Conservative MPs voted for, and the deal he signed barely more than a year ago.

So it is totally reasonable to expect the EU simply to ignore all the practical consequences of what Britain has chosen to do to itself. Rather, it is for the British government to row back on its hardline decisions (in the TCA) about, for example, freedom to diverge from EU food hygiene rules. This in turn would reduce the extent of the sea border checks. Pretending they are something to do with the Friday mess-up is dishonest and opportunistic, and suggests that despite the government having met the initial crisis calmly it is now deliberately exploiting it to further antagonize relations with the EU.

It is hard to resist the thought that the government, and most certainly some of the Brexit Ultras, have always been intent on picking away at both the Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA at the earliest opportunity. And the illegal clauses in the Internal Market Bill showed its lack of acceptance of the Northern Ireland Protocol. If it chooses to really ramp up a row over the Protocol, especially to the point of actually suspending it without legitimate grounds, then it may create a very serious situation for Northern Ireland, of course, but also for itself. Nothing could be better calculated to sour the UK’s relations with Biden’s new administration, for one thing. And it bears saying that the European Parliament has not yet ratified the TCA, so it is hardly a propitious moment to effectively renege on the agreements that were its prior condition.

For now, the Joint Committee has issued an anodyne ‘place holder’ announcement, and there will be a further meeting next week, but the omens are not good. We are only a month into Brexit, in the full sense of the end of the transition, and already key parts of it are coming apart at the seams.

The wider picture

The wider lesson of the current situation in Northern Ireland is of the need for this Brexit government to take responsibility for all of the unfolding problems of Brexit. For this week has again seen a slew of reports about the difficulties facing businesses across the UK, underscoring that, as Gove has admitted with respect to Northern Ireland, these are not ‘teething problems’ and are liable to get worse, not better. In a summary of the first month since the end of the transition, Lizzy Burden of Bloomberg News reports how “UK firms are being slowly ground down” by the new barriers to trade with the EU. The BBC Reality Check team provides a similar summary as does the Financial Times (£).

In all three reports there are links to some of the stories referred to in the last few posts on this blog – the evidence base for substantial and permanent damage to UK businesses is now growing, and increasing delivery times mean that UK manufacturing is “close to stalling” (£). Whilst the latter is due to both Covid and Brexit, the report shows that other countries, which are also suffering from Covid, are seeing a growth in manufacturing exports. So it seems fair to attribute the difference to Brexit. I don’t think it is hyperbole to say UK SME exporters to the EU are experiencing a bloodbath from which many of them are unlikely to recover.

It has now emerged that, apparently without having realized it, the government has permanently destroyed British shellfish exporters. There are also new reports of serious problems facing the fashion industry and, as with the situation facing musicians and other performance artists, they arise ultimately from the end of freedom of movement of people but proximately from the UK government’s unwillingness to agree a mobility chapter with the EU as part of the TCA. That could, potentially, still be agreed if, as with the issue of food standards, the government were to change its hardline stance. Doing so would be far more important that the much-trumpeted opening of talks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). There’s nothing wrong with doing so, but its economic benefits will be nugatory and it is more designed to make a purely political point about ‘Global Britain’ and the supposed long-term opportunities of Brexit.

That is hardly a priority when businesses are on their knees right now and could at least partly be helped by improvements to the TCA. One thing which any ‘Global Britain’ worthy of the name should certainly be doing is extending the clearly inadequate June deadline for EU nationals to apply for ‘settled status’ (£), as well as simplifying the system and stopping the bone-headed refusal to provide paper documentation when settled status has been established. Doing so would not only be right but would head off what otherwise is going to be yet another monumental mess caused by Brexit.

Will the Brexit government take responsibility?

The full effects of Brexit, now that the transition period has ended and the TCA has kicked in, are still only beginning to be felt. Every single one of them discredits the claims made by Brexiters, including the idea that there was no need to extend the transition so as to allow a genuine implementation period. There’s no point in them continuing to deny these effects, or continuing to try to justify the false claims they made. Now, it is their responsibility to work to mitigate, so far as it is possible, the worst of the damage they have created.

It is difficult to be hopeful that this will happen, not least because of the apparently pathological inability of Johnson and the Brexit Ultras to tell the truth or to take responsibility for their actions. So it seems more likely that the same failings that created this mess will be repeated and repeated. The appointment last Friday of David Frost as the UK’s Brexit and international policy representative is an especially bad sign given that he was the architect of the TCA which is responsible for some of the damage. And with Johnson and Gove now apparently refusing to accept that the Northern Ireland problems flow from their own policies there is little reason to doubt that we are the beginning of years of acrimony and instability as the Brexit process continues to play out. As many of us feared and warned.

Posted by Chris Grey at 08:42 on Friday, 5th February 2021.

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The Reverend William Raymond Shinn

On 18 December 2020, the Revd William Raymond Shinn: Team Vicar in the Dunstable Team Ministry (1978 – 80), Vicar of Round Green, Luton (1980 – 88); aged 98.

The top notice above appeared in a recent Church Times, which led me to search the web and produced the boxed notice from the “Comet” a newspaper from the Stevenage, Hitchin area. I was initially shocked, then wondered why I should be shocked as I am no spring chicken, and I knew he was older than me – but I did not realise he was 12 years older.

I liked Bill Shinn. I arrived at Salisbury and Wells Theological College in the October of 1971 and joined an already existing group. We were all technically “older men” studying for the General Ordination Examination by the Essay Scheme. And, boy, did we write some essays. Most of us had not written an essay since doing “compositions” at school, and because we were such greenhorns, they employed a lady to take us through some basic grammar and answer the many questions we came up with as we realised more and more how little we knew.

Bill Shinn was of this group. I found out that he had been a Production Engineer in the motor tyre industry and that he had been with a party from the UK that went to Russia to assist in the establishment of such a factory there. He told us of the surveillance to which they were they were subject. He was a very nice man and something of a father figure who occasionally played on his age in amusing ways. He said to me once how much they had had to pay to buy a house to live in whilst at Salisbury, and contrasted this with what he and his wife had paid to buy their first home all those years before. The later was in hundreds of pounds, while the Salisbury house was in tens of thousands. “Wh -wh- wh – what is happening to us”, he said. He had a slight stammer, which impeded him not at all and actually made him a more attractive personality. He could use this age difference to the advantage of us all because he could play at being slow on the uptake. Often he would voice a question that was on many minds, but we were too shy to ask as we feared being embarrassed.

I recollect on one occasion the New Testament lecturer was waxing lyrical about “Eschatology”, and after some time Bill Shinn said, “W -w – w- -wait a bit. I haven’t got the faintest idea of what you are talking about. Just what is this E – es- esch – eschatology thing ?” The lecturer was bought up short and had to waffle for some minutes as he got his brain into gear. I am sure that he knew what it was, but it had been a long time since he had had to put the meaning into simple words. But it was good that this happened as it enabled more of us to chip in and clarify the issue for our selves too.

The only thing I don’t understand about the brief Church Times obituary notice is that we all left Salisbury at about Petertide of 1974, so there seems to be a four year gap in his biography.

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Photos they wish were never taken . . .

Photos that seemed like a good idea at the time, but eventually come back to bite . . .

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We’re done . . .

A strange wet, foggy day in which to be going out. We turned up at the Pipe Band Hall, were met at the door and instructed to sanitise our hands and then ushered in to the hall proper which was set out in screened cubicles – I didn’t count, but there were probably about half a dozen. The Nurse to whom we were assigned was the same one that did our flu vaccinations a month or two back. She nattered away, bless her, but I couldn’t hear a word she said, and then remembered my “Live Transcribe” app on my mobile phone. I fired it up and put it in front of her and it worked a treat. The only slightly comic bit was that it occasionally put up a pink box with “Music” in it, and at times her conversation had the word “violin” inserted.

The vaccination it self was absolutely unnoticeable, and the Nurse opined that it might be most of the 12 weeks allowed before we got our second ones. That takes us up to the 13th April next. This dose is reckoned to be protective in two to three weeks time from now. So we continue to isolate as before, and will continue to do so util we have had dose No.2 and that has had time to take effect – which could mean early in the month of May. That would be a year and two months since we self isolated.

Before we were allowed to drive away home we were instructed to sit in the car for 10 minutes which we found a bit boring so we (I) was naughty and drove off after a little while, and so far have suffered no ill effects.  I think this is to allow time for anaphylactic shock to appear.

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