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End Days[1] – part one – December 1998 to February 2009

I reached my 70th year in August 2007 and thus have achieved my Biblical ‘three score and ten’. Like a climber going up Everest, I have reached the ‘death zone’ – a hazardous period in which one may depart this life without reaching further objectives. But I hope to notch up a further decade or two, continuing what has been a pleasant life to now, before dying in bed suddenly and unexpectedly avoiding long illnesses, prostate enlargement, dementia, medical intervention and the need for carers. My father in law, Aage, at 88years set a good example of dying well, he e mailed Cubby enthusiastically full of his plans of what he was going to do next then died quietly, suddenly and unexpectedly that night.


I am in the final lap to heaven, hell, or oblivion - dependent on which religion or philosophy actually prevails. I tend to think that oblivion is the logical conclusion (with transmigration of souls a comforting outside possibility). But what purpose would a ‘spirit world’ serve – a mass of unoccupied souls worshiping a God, possibly an alien being not in the comforting image they had parochially conceived while living - a patriarch with a flowing white beard? Would heaven only be restricted to human beings or would other primates and animals also be included? Many would not survive happily in heaven without their pets. The alternative to heaven, hell fire is too dire to contemplate. If one lives eternally, is it indirectly through descendants or webpages? Can the web charges be paid for eternity and will the software remain valid? Will Google archive everything for eternal retrieval?


I think I have been a bit myopic here - too concerned with my own death - the deaths of others close to me, would be more disturbing.  


Cubby, at the end of 1998 after 40 years of uprooting and moving, was not keen on further overseas jobs. After our job in Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia, we considered settling in France where we already had a very small apartment of less than 40sqm in Paris, but Cubby was not too keen on living in Paris or elsewhere in France. I had earlier rejected the idea of living in our delightful house, near woods with some deer, and farmland, in Lohals on the Island of Langeland in Denmark. We sold it as I would have felt isolated in a small community where I did not speak the language. Also the countryside although attractive, especially in summer when wheat ripened and was harvested, was flat with limited walking possibilities.   


We could have returned to our birthplace, the then optimistic apartheid-free South Africa, but it was rather far from the bulk of Cubby’s family, now living in Denmark and part of our family in England, so we decided to return to Britain – no language difficulties. We had lived in Britain only 13 of 40 years since our original emigration from South Africa in 1959. The rest of the time had been spent working abroad as detailed in the earlier chapters of my memoir.


We went to Sheffield, where two of our children and our young granddaughter were living. We had visited Sheffield fairly often in the past and driven in the nearby Peak District National Park (part of which is included in the Sheffield area). Indeed our first visit to this Park had been with our first baby daughter Nicky one Easter weekend in the early 1960s when I was working on Thorpe Marsh Power Station near Doncaster. We had stopped at the Ramblers Inn near Edale railway station for a night. The Park, with both farm and moorland and friendly villages, would be ideal for walking. We fortunately could stay with our youngest daughter in her rented two up two down terrace house, while we searched for a house.


The house we required would ideally have 3 bedrooms, one for us, another for guests and the third as a hobby room for sewing, art and computers. We also wanted a garage or at the least off road parking. Many good houses in Sheffield only had on road parking. With the growth of the two universities in Sheffield quite a large number of houses were effectively now let to students, but there was still a fair number for purchase. Sheffield universities attracted many foreign students – some of them Chinese from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia which we found pleasant having just returned from the East.


We had hired a car on arrival in Britain and then bought one a month later initially for house hunting. We settled for a small Corsa which proved to be reasonably economic fuel wise but which had electric power steering which failed after some years – but still remained drivable. Irritatingly, to replace the power steering outside the one year guarantee period, would have cost as much as the second hand value. So we finally disposed of the car after about 5 years buying a new car, a Citroen C3, at a cheaper price. In the interim, people had started buying abroad through the internet – new car prices  dropped – manufacturers rather than dealers now set price levels! Price drops probably also resulted from plenty of good second hand cars being available. The use of corrosion resistant sheet metal in cars now ensured that they did not rust through in only a few years.


Our daughter lived in Meersbrook to the south of Sheffield centre, and our son and granddaughter in Ecclesfield even further north of the centre. Availability of houses at reasonable prices seemed easier in the north of the town – the south of the town had some rather splendid mansions built by steel magnates and industrialists in an earlier more prosperous era. In the end we found one of a set of four townhouses in Chapeltown at a price similar to what we had got for our Danish house. We bought it outright avoiding costly mortgage payments each month.  The house fortunately was just below the purchase tax band at that time. It was wider than the average terrace house, had a garage, parking in front and a strip garden at the back sunny south side of the house which Cubby was keen on cultivating.


Later we noticed that many newly built houses had virtually no gardens, but to ensure sought after socially desirable detached status, had spaces between houses often only of about one metre which we thought looked rather stupid. Possibly both house builders’ profits and council regulations crammed houses together or buyers with both partners working full time to pay mortgages had no time for anything but cursory gardening. Further developers were often making rooms much smaller – too small for furniture.


We had temporarily placed our furniture from our Danish house into a local removals company’s storage (which exorbitantly cost almost as much as a small house monthly rental). Much of this furniture was actually Cubby’s parents. When Aage stopped living in our Danish house we had sold it and he gave us some of his furniture and pictures.  Fortunate as during our travels, we did not have basics such as beds, bookshelves, and chests of drawers which were usually supplied to us on projects.


The house was built in 1993, effectively the windows double glazing gaps were too small and insulation of the sloping loft and bathroom spaces under roof tiling was inadequate. The Government has recently introduced the concept of ‘Home Information Packs’ to effectively grade houses’ insulation etc when put up for sale, but hopefully there is now also more effective inspection of new house building to ensure that minimum standards of insulation are properly done by builders and developers? With large increases of fuel costs for heating in 2008, and also with the desire to reduce greenhouse gases, the UK Government has woken up to the importance of insulation to reduce heating costs and fuel demands.


Home owners now have to pay for additional insulation which should have been adequately done after say 1970.  But probably lax insulation specifications and lack of control of builders assured that work done was sometimes inadequate. There is now a rush to upgrade houses insulation. It is fairly easy to inject insulation in cavity walls and place thicker ceiling blankets but rather more expensive where there are inaccessible sloping ceiling above loft rooms or floors over cellars and crawl spaces as in our house. The house central heating is fuelled by gas. The gas is from offshore or imported sources and there is a relatively small storage capacity onshore. Should gas and electricity supplies fail[2] at the same time, we and most of the population will shiver. Most new houses have abandoned proper fire places and only have chimney flues suitable for exhausting burnt gas, not real coal or wood fires.


The only significant change we made to our house after a few years was to incorporate a short portion of the garage within the house for a downstairs toilet and a washing machine. With the washing machine moved from the kitchen we added a dishwasher. The garage will now only take smaller cars.


The garden has changed a fair bit – small trees and bushes planted by the first owner grew larger crowding spaces and we uprooted these progressively. I moved the substantial wooden garden shed about 10m closer to the boundary on my own by crow-barring and skidding[3] on temporary tracks. In the sheds original place, a sunnier area, we erected a glass house where Cubby potters each year. We also planted espalier fruit trees along part of our boundary with our neighbours and have had crops of apples and pears. An existing Victoria Plum tree yields delicious fruit yearly. We also created raised beds for growing vegetables and have had good crops of runner beans but lesser success with other vegetables. We put water tubs under our shed and conservatory roof drainage pipes so that we could minimise the use of tap water in the garden during dry periods. We compost virtually all of our waste from vegetables and fruit and recycle glass and plastic at our local supermarket depots.  Our ‘wheelie bin’ is very empty each week when refuse is collected.


On return to England at 62 years old[4], I optimistically thought I would be able to get a job in Civil Engineering near the Sheffield area for at least some more years. My daughter thought this was unlikely as I was over 40 years, the age at which she thought one often became unemployable in Britain. I applied for some locally advertised positions without even reaching interview stage. Construction jobs were possibly available in London and further afield in the UK, but this would have involved long daily commuting or living away from home and returning at weekends, not an attractive prospect. Unfortunately the construction industry seemed to be depressed. There were few building or civil engineering construction sites in progress near Sheffield on our return, although construction later boomed from about 2003 until the economy collapsed in 2008.


Power plant construction, in which I was experienced, seemed to be dead. Strangely as within a decade, it was clearly apparent that electricity generation capacity would be much reduced with the phasing out of aging nuclear and coal power plants reaching the end of their effective lives. Further it appears that green wind generation, and other conservation measures such as wave power, to reduce demand might be insufficient. Wind generation also has opponents mainly concerned about the visual effects on countryside, but I personally find the wind farms quite attractive.


After the privatisation of the electricity industry, it is not clear to me who really looks  to future supplies. Will the Government or the utilities do this?  The now privatised (largely foreign owned) power companies’ main purpose is profit, and some of them may be reluctant or unable to spend huge investments on new plants. Are they regularly putting money aside for replacing power plants? Or is Government putting taxes taken from suppliers on one side to finance new plants?  Planning applications, particularly when environmental factors, and waste disposal problems are considered, could be abortive and costly. Also protests by environmental groups could slow or stop the building of plants. It would seem that some government initiative and funding (the tax payers paying up front) may have to be provided for future very large power projects despite shareholder profits reaped from privatisation. Ironically nuclear plants, if built, will be by foreign companies – apparently no British owned company has recent nuclear design and construction experience. Meanwhile we can only hope that blackouts will be avoided before more power sources come on line. Possibly the power industry like some of the banks from 2008 on will have to be re nationalised.


Looking back it was fortunate I did not get a further job - I was probably a bit burnt out. Retirement gave me an opportunity for a more restful and healthier life style – so long as I had sufficient funds, difficult to predict with the possibilities of inflation of prices and currency devaluations. With hindsight I would advise most retirees if they are seeking a job to look outside their past occupations, a clear break with different interests could be more interesting and shake up and change their perceptions.


 We had a few fragmentary pensions from my various jobs in several countries, some which could start directly and others when I reached 65years, 3 years later. In Britain at this time the populace were generally being advised by ‘New Labour’ to see Financial Advisors to ensure profitable savings for their retirement but I hesitated to pay for advice and suspected that Advisors (or for that matter financial institutions) would almost certainly rip us off  getting excessive kick backs at our expense.


I rejected the concept of buying annuities which would give a steady income, but seemingly not much larger than the interest one could then obtain on capital, with the end result - no capital left when one died. This system seemed to largely benefit financial institutions and not the punter. I spoke to two well known British Financial Institutions who came up with schemes giving an income but still progressively reducing capital which we did not want and thus rejected.


As our money was earned abroad and saved in Europe, we wondered whether it would remain stronger there and devalue at a lesser rate than in Britain. Europe appeared still to have some serious heavy industries, agriculture and even some mining while much of Britain’s heavy industry and almost all mining had already disappeared. The amount of oil and gas which could be extracted from the North Sea also appeared to be declining. Financial services (money churning in London), armament manufacture and sales, and companies exploiting resources mainly abroad such as oil apparently were a major source of the Britain’s income. Politics at home and in countries abroad could affect arms sales, oil and gas supplies and prices. My father in law Aage Brink had experienced the devaluation of the British Pound from about 1972 to 1980[5] where it lost about 7/8 of its value and his fixed sterling pension from his latter days working in London for Christiani and Nielsen became almost worthless.  Aage suggested that we buy some European Obligations – (effectively bonds) and we followed this course.


After a few months, we went to Paris, packed up our apartment and sent further belongings, accumulated during our travels, to the UK. Rather foolishly in retrospect I  put our Paris apartment up for sale (stupidly ignoring Cubby’s advice to retain it as an asset). I did not want to have the bother of finding tenants nor did I wish to be forced to travel to Paris regularly to check and maintain it. The money from the sale we ill advisedly invested through our French Bank into recommended shares which along with the global stock markets plunged within a few years.


We then set about the serious business of retirement. I started walking on Saturdays in the nearby Peak District and South Yorkshire areas on walks arranged by two local railway companies (the Hope Valley Line & the Penistone Line). Both these lines, when used for slow trains stopping at all stations, used ancient diesel powered carriages – the railways were now privatised[6] and every few years the franchises came up for renewed bidding. The companies running the trains sometimes changed, but the decrepit rolling stock owned and hired out by separate companies (owned I believe by banks), continued.


I later joined the Ramblers Association and started walking with their local Sheffield group on Wednesdays and Sundays. Most of the ‘Wednesday’ walkers are retired persons with newcomers joining each year while some older or less driven walkers move to ‘Tuesday’ walks which are shorter and less demanding or dropped out. When I joined ‘Sunday’ walkers had a sprinkling of people still working but later a younger section was formed with their own separate walks. Walkers seem to come from all segments of society but probably women school teachers seem to predominate. It seems that we walkers are probably not as hardy as those 50 years ago (many of whom worked in physically demanding jobs in the steel industry). They often scheduled walks approaching 20miles in a day compared to our average of about 10miles plus. Once you start walking you find that you loose condition if for some reason you miss a few walks. Walking does indeed keep one physically and mentally fit.


Virtually all walks make use of public transport at start and end points which can be quite expensive for persons who, unlike retirees mainly over 60 years, do not have bus passes giving free travel (after 9am on weekdays and all day on weekends). Initially virtually free travel was only within Sheffield boundaries and some other nominated Yorkshire areas. We then still had to pay when frequently crossing the boundary into Derbyshire. However, the Governments introduction of free local bus[7] travel in all areas has been a boon for retired walkers who make increasing use of buses especially when private car fuel prices are high.


The introduction of the ‘Right to Roam’ (after campaigns by the Ramblers Association and others) on previously restricted moorland mainly used by landowners for shooting grouse, greatly increased the scope of walking over the whole of England and especially for us in the Peak District. The Ramblers are also continually vigilant in ensuring that existing footpath rights of way are kept open to the public and not shut by landowners. The National Trust had earlier bought up some areas (often moorland) and giving access to walkers. By paving eroded routes in NT areas with flagstones (apparently from old Mill Buildings), they have also improved walking conditions.


Fairly early on, I started walking with two poles which I think undoubtedly reduce wear and tear on ones joints. They also give a good level of security when walking on rough ground and down slopes in wet slippery conditions, compacted melting snow on rare occasions. Poles clearly reduce the number of tumbles one takes. One can also walk faster and tire less, and are especially useful if one is carrying a heavy pack on a trek. With poles I find I can run down slopes something I would be reluctant to do without them. Some walkers appear to be reluctant to use a pair of poles or even one pole. Some adopt poles only when they have aged and have weaker arms and upper bodies, and thus use them tentatively. Many walkers set poles too short, almost like walking sticks, not realising that longer poles give more possibility of recovery if one slips. When walking with two poles to ensure three point contact, one poles is placed alternately in front. This is unlike Nordic cross country walking where the two poles are pushed on simultaneously together behind one – good exercise similar to skiing on the flat but not giving the same security on rough ground.    


Cubby attended the local Anglican Church and became involved in the design and making of religious banners and cards for festivals and the kneading and baking of Communion bread. She also started swimming regularly in the local baths in early mornings 5 days a week until just before the end of 2008 when she seemed to develop an allergy to chlorine used in the pools purification process. Cubby also enrolled for a one lesson a week Botanical Art Course given at Sheffield University and subsequently painted with other enthusiasts.




For several holidays since our second departure from South Africa in 1980, we visited Cape Town, staying with my sister and daughter reduced cost considerably. South Africa seemed more relaxed after the demise of apartheid in 1991. The economy seemed to have been little affected by the change in government to the ANC who had let free enterprise flourish rather than nationalising infrastructure. The government’s policies as to the integration of sport – particularly rugby and cricket seem to have been very successful.


In 2000 I went on an interesting and enjoyable trek in the Hindu Kush[8] organised by Christopher the husband of Cubby’s Danish cousin Mette. Christopher had, before his retirement, been British High Commissioner in Pakistan based in Islamabad. Pakistan, where I had also worked in the 1960’s on the construction of the Mailsi Siphon, was thus of common interest to us both. Shortly before this trek there had been a military coup in Pakistan and General Musharaff became their president.. Christopher correctly predicted that this coup should not affect us (9/11 occurred about 2 years later) but about 7 year later Musharaff was forced to step down to avoid impeachment.


The participants in the trek were mainly English, together with a French Doctor and his pharmacist wife. I sometimes found, with my different youth and varied and long periods of living abroad, it was easier to relate to our more practical and lively Pakistani head guide and the French couple than some of our Oxbridge companions. 


At home I recommenced writing my memoirs using MS Word. I had saved some earlier parts written while in France on floppy discs (using a different Apple PC system) but found I could not open them. I effectively edited and rewrote from earlier paper copies. After the above trek in the Hindu Kush, I enrolled for a once weekly writing course at Sheffield University on ‘Journeys and Travel Writing’ tutored by Liz Cashden. On the course, I largely rewrote and submitted sections of my memoirs, these being interpreted as parts of a journey through life. The course was useful making one write briefly avoiding repetitions, possibly something up with which I have not kept. About 3 years ago my son Benjamin helped me put my memoirs on the web and I then progressively added historic mainly family photographs, mainly laboriously scanned from 35mm negatives.


When changing later to digital photography, I could select, edit and reject on the computer without having to print. After reducing the numbers of pixels, I added many ‘walking’ pictures to my web page. I later found, as Computer screens are ‘panoramic’, by cropping out surplus sky or foreground in standard camera images the image spreads and enlarges across the screen. Should future camera picture sizes be modified to match computer screens?


While walking I tend to take pictures rapidly relying on the cameras automatic settings so as not to fall behind other walkers. A point and shoot view finder against the eye is more practical in such circumstances than holding a camera at length and looking at an image (often moving) on a screen sometimes not easily visible in sunny conditions. My pictures are thus not masterpieces each taken carefully over some hours. In a days walk I may take up to 150 images.   


When we arrived back in the UK in 1998 a youthful, attractive, Tony Blair led a ‘new’ Labour Government and many people seemed relieved that the Conservative Party (with some MPs caught in sleazy situations) had been deposed. The Labour Party was still then conceived as being more concerned with the welfare of the citizens of the UK than the Conservative Party had been. Originally the Labour Party had championed the ‘Working Classes’, those who worked mainly in heavy industries, mining, and other manufacturing. But many of these industries had disappeared and their political pitch now, mainly towards a growing ‘Middle Class’, seemed to be the selling of increased prosperity and better state services such as health and schooling, socialistic idealism was no longer to be a saleable issue.


There seemed to be little change in ‘New’ Labour’s financial policies and ideology to that of the previous Conservative party. Privatisation of public services remained. The only exception was the railway track which the Labour Government took back into public ownership after a series of train crashes with loss of life resulting from inadequate track maintenance. Unfortunately, although the Government introduced a ‘Strategic Rail Initiative’ body, this seemed to fade away and unlike other countries in Europe new really high speed train lines were not planned or built.


Most British political parties believe in free enterprise, but in an endeavour to prevent this being abused, Regulating Bodies had been appointed to safeguard the public and to act independently of Government. Government also believed that cycles of inflation could be controlled better by the Bank of England than by politicians and gave them the power to set interest rates, although clearly inflation cannot be controlled by only tweaking interest rates. They also relied on a Financial Services Authority to control the financial system within the country. With the financial crunch in 2008 it would seem that these three bodies the FSA, the Bank of England and the Government were very unsuccessful. Probably the left hand did not know or care what the right hand was doing leading to a general disregard of thrift, an encouragement of debt, and poor investments by banks[9]. In any event the IMF correctly considered that the government had too much debt.


Regulatory bodies possibly have had little effect on the excesses of some Public Service Providers. They have occasionally imposed fines for fraud etc, but such fines are really paid by the public customers. Managers and share holders do not feel the pain – personal fines and imprisonment would be a more correct option. Similarly risky bankers / gambling stockbrokers have not been penalised – most still receive excessively high salaries and bonuses which any self respecting company shareholders should prune down. The Government appears to take a hands off approach even with recently nationalised banks. The ratio of payments to senior directors to the average wages of workers has increased from about 20 to 1 to about 200 to 1 in the last 30 years. With the failure of the financial sector in 2008 such a large ratio seems totally undeserved. In Britain the wages of ‘executives’, ‘sportsmen’ and ‘entertainers’ have escalated undeservedly and unrealistically. The excuse given is that it is necessary to pay the going rate to retain talent, rather a spurious excuse. Payment of ‘golden handshakes’ to failed senior managers also seems the norm - a practise which should become illegal.


However several things occurred in our decade back in Britain since 1999:


Property prices rose steeply and in the euphoria of gained values, increased purchase (windfall) taxes accruing to the treasury. The inevitable inflationary effects on the whole economy which would occur some years later seemed not to be anticipated by the Labour Government who seemingly took no measures to calm the situation – did they think this was purely a regulatory task?


Banks and other financial institutions which in earlier times had cautiously restricted the debts (including mortgages) of their customers, now apparently saw debt and the interest gained as the fount of their shareholders fortunes and their high salaries and bonuses. In some cases mortgages of over 100% were granted and with the later slump in prices house negative equity occurred and repossessions rose (a situation not dissimilar to earlier property boom / bust in the late 1980s and early1990s). In France mortgages are apparently restricted to 70% of a properties value.


Many UK Financial Institutions invested in the dodgy ‘sub-prime mortgage’ market in the USA which collapsed leaving them with massive bad debts. While the principles of free enterprise hold that banks and mortgage companies should fail if their debt exceeds their assets, effectively the UK Government[10] did not let this happen as small depositors would have suffered and possibly more importantly the whole economy would collapse. Effectively against the principles of ‘free enterprise’ such institutions were either fully nationalised or some extra shares bought in them by the government / taxpayer. In addition huge loans were given to failing banks at taxpayers’ expense so that hopefully but uncertainly further money might continue to be borrowed by entrepreneurs and others[11]. Stock markets were still considered essential for free enterprise despite the fact that they are used as gambling casinos. Those managers and brokers who had earlier gained from trading commissions and false profits arising did not have to return earlier paid excessive salaries or bonuses.


Before the stock market collapses, the Chancellor benevolently introduced a scheme whereby newly born children were given a lump sum for investment by their parents, it being assumed that such sums would increase and be used later for education etc. Unfortunately with shares falling and money devaluing the real value of such lump sums has declined.


It would seem obvious that present ‘cowboy free enterprise / banking / stock markets’ needs to be effectively controlled in future but has any Government the vision and ability to do this? While the Government has tried to blame the global economy for Britain’s downturn it is pertinent that the Pound has devalued disastrously against the Euro in the past few years even although the Euro zone is also depressed.     


Possibly the field where the Labour Government differed greatly from the Conservatives was to tax the public in every conceivable way to raise government funds which were then spent to ‘improve’ public services. How effective and controlled this expenditure was, is not too clear. Generous civil servants inflation linked pensions are funded by the tax payer.  What percentage of our rates and taxes go into public servants wages and pensions? Unfortunately government spending on Private Finance Initiatives is also hidden from view.


Like the previous Conservative Government the Labour Government’s relationship with Europe remained tepid as reflected by it not changing its currency from the Pound to the Euro. Britain’s desire to follow the lead of the USA often seemed stronger than their European link. If Britain had joined the Euro would the rules regulating its banks and financial institutions have changed? The pound has now effectively devalued by about 25% against the Euro (or its equivalent) since 1998. If Britain had joined the Euro would it in effect have also devalued the Euro by 2008 or would the Euro rules governing banking obviated this?


The British people I have come across however seem to be largely uninterested in the governments’ present political and financial aims abroad and in both their past domestic and colonial history. I for one was unaware of the historic abuse of labour within Britain. Miners for instance at one stage were close to being slaves with their earnings barely covering their rental for accommodation and food costs (both usually paid to the Mine Owners who ran a shop). To make family ends meet, children effectively had to work. The picture attached with the inscriptions on the 4th July 1838 Huskar Pit Disaster memorial in Silkstone Common Churchyard to young children killed in an accident illustrates this.

The God at the time was imputed as being judgemental, the children’s deaths being seen as punishment for sin, but the mine owner was apparently blameless.


The British people seem to hope that their governments will act ethically abroad but do not inspect too closely if dubious policies would affect their income and cost of living adversely. Indeed, the Labour party before being elected in 1997 had evidently touted the concept of an ‘ethical foreign policy’ but as this possibly clashed with the UK’s profits made from its armaments industry, and British Multinationals interests in oil etc, this ideal disappeared from view. Further George Bush and Tony Blair vision of ‘a new world order’ would hopefully ensure the continuing wealth of their nations through global trade (possibly at the expense of other poorer nations?) However, industrious, hardworking China, the new supplier to the world, is set to upset this complacency.


Like most British Citizens I unquestionably believed that Britain was a democracy and believed Churchill’s dictum that the system is not perfect but is the best we have. I unthinkingly did not question things such as the bombing of No Fly Zones in Iraq and the mishandling of ‘aid for oil’ causing the deaths of thousands of children and civilians in Iraq in Saddam Hussein’s era (both occurring after he had been pushed out of Kuwait). Or the bombing of Yugoslavia which instead of stopping ethnic cleansing largely fomented it - all of this happened during Tony Blair and Bill Clintons terms of office in the UK and USA. I also thought the USA’s bombing in Afghanistan during George W Bush’s presidency was justified after the 9/11 - 2001 attack on the twin towers[12] in New York and the Pentagon where about 3000 innocent people were killed.


But this bombing failed and did not eradicate Osama Ben Laden or Al Qaeda. The USA and allies ‘War on Terror’ started with this bombing and continues 7 years later in Afghanistan. The Afghans have previously successfully driven out foreign intruders, including the British and the Soviet Union in the past. Ironically the production of opium / heroin has increased under the new ‘democratic’ Afghani administration compared to the earlier Taliban period where production was reduced. Much of this production is smuggled into the ‘west’.


I also began to wonder how effective a democracy Britain really was. Despite mass protests on the 15th and 16th February 2003 by an estimated over 6 million people in the world against a war in Iraq, the USA and Britain arrogantly refused to wait for the United Nations to complete their inspection for Weapons of Mass Destruction before bombing and invading. At a debate in parliament, the Conservative Party (Her Majesties Official Opposition) rather than opposing as could be considered its duty, unfortunately also backed Tony Blair’s warlike adventures[13] abroad swallowing the story of the imminent threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction, with only the Liberal Democrats under Charles Kennedy standing against. He was considered to be unpatriotic by some myopic MPs. A few Labour members of parliament also voted against the war.


Iraq certainly was led by a nasty dictator Saddam Hussein (to whom the West and others happily and profitably supplied armaments during his war against Iran). When Saddam gassed Kurds in his own country the West did not condemn this. Only when he invaded Kuwait did he fall out of favour, and the West pushed him out of Kuwait.


Clearly both before and after 9/11, Saddam’s purported links to Al Qaeda were dubious. The excuse used by the USA and Britain of a threat of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ also did not materialise in searches after their invasion of Iraq. The UK Government later strongly denied  making a ‘sexed up dossier’ putting the case for war against Iraq, but the Dr David Kelly affair, his suicide and the slapping down of the BBC and following resignations of staff left an unpleasant smell. [14].


After the failure to find WMDs the allies concentrated on the barbarity of Saddam Hussein’s and implied the numerous deaths he had caused had justified their invasion. They held that this was the only way to be rid of him, although before the start of the war there appeared to be a fair chance that his removal from power could be pressurised by outside countries and the UN. 


Unhappily, but not unexpectedly, with the bungled military interventionism in Iraq, collateral damage, killing / deaths of many innocent people, possibly ½ to 1 million has occurred and infrastructure rather than being rebuilt is now much worse than before the invasion. The war had been sensibly opposed by Germany and France (with President Chirac accurately predicting the chaos to come). The Pope also opposed the war in Iraq and informed Tony Blair who ignored this advice[15].


British voters, seemingly swayed by domestic and financial considerations, re elected Tony Blair and his ‘new’ Labour Party on 5th May 2005 for a second term. Tony Blair apparently considered that the bombings in London on 7th July 2005[16] were not necessarily due to Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq but was part of Al Qaeda’s terrorism against the West. Similar bombings with an even greater death toll had taken place in Madrid on 11th March 2004 – the then Spanish government were also supporters and participants in the war in Iraq.


Indeed Britain seems to be, and have been, ruled by self perpetuating elites heading the political parties. MPs seem to follow the elite’s agenda and seemingly do not think or vote independently – are their monthly salaries and other benefits too important to their personal survival? Many MPs seem to be largely ignorant of Britain’s colonial past or view this period through rose tinted spectacles[17]. All MPs and candidates for election to Parliament should be obliged to read / view works written by historians –


·        The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781 – 1997 by Piers Brandon

·        Web of Deceit (Britain’s  Real Role in the World) by Mark Curtis 

·        The recent TV series on post WW2 history (A History of Modern Britain) by Andrew Marr should also be compulsory viewing.


Unfortunately the public appear to be apathetic influenced both by their rulers and a compliant media – spin and propaganda[18] seems very persuasive. The main things which perhaps arouse the public are social and financial issues which affect them directly, who really cares what government does in our name abroad? I sometimes think that clever and witty political satirists and cartoonists (like ‘Bremner, Bird and Fortune’ and ‘Steve Bell’) are about the only people who express the actual situation, but while everyone laughs nothing changes the system. There are also numerous media forums and debates involving the public which often come up with sensible social and political ideas generally ignored by political parties.


It is perhaps unsurprising that some ‘rebels’ such as the Scottish Nationalist Party apparently wish to separate from the United Kingdom. Their leader, Alex Salmon, who sensibly did not support the war in Iraq, wants independence for his country. Would an independent Scotland abandon the Pound in favour of the Euro? Would they effectively withdraw their regiments from the British forces? Would they abandon the Monarchy and become a republic?


Other concerned citizens in England can only hope for a new more ethical political system which seems unlikely to come about without a new constitution and electoral reform. Is it unsurprising that voter turn out at General Elections is poor?


It is amazing how ‘busy’ one has been in retirement - engaged with holidays, hobbies, gardening, fetching a grandchild from school, seeing our widely spread family from time to time (especially at Christmas time), and existing without the strain of earning a daily crust. Besides walking near my home, I have enjoyed waking in the Pyrenees, The Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales, Scotland, Cornwell, Wales, The Alps, Iceland, etc and we have holidayed frequently in the South of France and some other places – South Africa, Sweden, Denmark, Czech Republic, Namibia, and on Greek Islands.


But Britain has so many attractive places to visit and walk that I am becoming more insular as I grow older and plan to spend more time holidaying here rather than abroad, less hassle and just as enjoyable (with possibly reservations about heavy fried English breakfasts). Sheffield itself has improved markedly during our stay. The construction of the ached timber framed glass ‘Winter Garden’ and other projects have made the city more liveable and attractive. Despite this many London centric visitors from the south are surprised to find that that it is not covered in a smoggy gloom of blast furnaces or dark satanic mills.


Amazing also, Cubby and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary at the end of 2008.   


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[1] My observations which follow are of a retired person – probably with a different perspective to those of the population engaged in working to keep the wolf from the door sometimes with less free time or inclination to consider what is happening around them. Further as a retiree I am in no danger of losing a job and hopefully we can live reasonably to the end on our pensions and savings.

[2] Gas supplies from abroad could become a political weapon

[3] I had been involved with skidded large high scaffolding on the Weaver Viaduct project into new positions under insitu cast concrete box beams.

[4] Although the 1997 New Labour Government tentatively scheduled women’s retirement age to be raised progressively from the present 60years of age to 65years (ensuring parity with men), will future governments try to raise the retirement age above 65years so as to increase contributions towards pensions and at the same time reduce anticipated pension payouts and anticipated budget deficit? The reality is that employers are usually reluctant to employ older experienced persons thinking that they cost more and are difficult to integrate into teams lead by younger managers – both possibly fair points. Any raising of the retirement age could lead to the older unemployed going on benefits for a few more years before being entitled to draw their state pensions.  Older people seeking jobs probably do need to adjust their egos – not always easy. With Britain’s decline in manufacturing and coal mining, there are limited jobs available and youth unemployment is more critical than aged unemployment. People best able to work into a long old age would seem to be individually creative persons – or those who have started and run their own enterprises – not plebeian wage slaves.  

[5] The Labour party had been in power led by James Callaghan

[6] Rail fares in Britain are apparently some of the highest in Europe, although one can sometimes get cheaper fares if one books months in advance. There is thus considerable competition with airlines on domestic routes. Although the running of the trains is privatised apparently these companies are often subsidised by the Government / tax payer and new carriages etc probably also depend on some tax payer investment. With the track having being re nationalised by the Labour Government should the train operators also now be re nationalised?

[7] If the retirement age is raised from 60 to 65 years will the qualifying free travel age be raised also? – wait and see. Bus companies are subsidized for permitted free travel, but if they think such subsidies are insufficient will the number of bus services used by retired walkers be reduced restricting areas of walking? Perhaps this perk will be scrapped or means tested by future cash strapped governments unable to meet bus company’s demands?

[8] See chapter on this treks under my web page walks section.

[9] Particularly banks, which had previously been Building Societies, and then rashly abandoned investment conservatism in pursuit of shareholders profits.

[10] The mighty USA did the same with its two biggest mortgage suppliers and bailed out Wall Street (stock exchange debts to avoid its collapse and a American and global recession)

[11] The banks apparently welcomed the bailout but still seemed to sit on the money rather than lending it out. They also appeared to wish to continue paying large bonuses against the wishes of their ‘tax payer’ share holders.

[12] We along with millions of other saw much of this as it occurred on our television set

[13] Did Tony Blair ever consider the fact 3million Vietnamese had died in their allies, the USA’s military actions in Vietnam and that similar collateral deaths could occur in Iraq?

[14] Later the squashing of the enquiries into ‘cash for peerages’ and the investigation into bribery in Saudi arms deals seemed to be manipulated.

[15] But all is now possibly forgiven with Mr Blair being received into the Catholic Church.

[16] On the previous day 6th July 2005 London had been awarded the 2012 Olympics. Would this decision have been made if the bombings had occurred days earlier?

[17] Is it too unkind to think that labour MPs were more concerned about the cruelty of hunting foxes and traded off the Governments support of a fox hunting ban against MPs support of the Governments intervention in Iraq? 

[18] Propaganda can also be achieved by government and media by withholding adverse news or information..


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