Category Archives: Communities

If the cap fits, wear it

Years go – long before I was a boy – the Labour Movement was associated with cloth caps and handkerchiefs. One on your head and another round your neck was all you needed. That, and a coal-blackened face.

Nowadays, Labour represents a different kind of person. One who’s probably been to university, is well–educated and wouldn’t be seen dead in a cloth cap.

Yet the Tories don’t seem to have recognised this.

Only yesterday I saw a man – suited, scowling and briefcase in hand –  who looked as if he despised the world, because it wasn’t peopled by his ‘type’.

But his ‘type’ is – to coin an election phrase of years ago – yesterday’s man.

Once the Tories wake up to the idea that the composition of Labour has changed, and that many younger people who once voted Tory now see Labour as representing the establishment, we may get a government that reflects the majority of the people and their views.

Until then, we must put up with stereotypes. And, it seems, mediocrity.

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Leaving it all behind

I never thought I’d do it, but here I am, writing my first blog from Devon.

Leaving London after living there for more than 50 years was a wrench.

Having said that, I don’t miss the dirt, the crowds or the noise (all of which have increased over the years). Of course, I miss having galleries on my doorstep (or being able to go to one on a whim) and being able to go to the cinema without making it a planned activity based on bus timetables and what’s on. I miss living at the centre of national and international politics and debate. Big BenAnd I miss being able to shop for anything I’ve forgotten when I feel like it. I also miss some of the individuals I got to know (although many of them live, or lived, far from the centre of the action).

But, much more than generally speaking, life down here in Devon is far better than life up there in London. For one thing, the air is cleaner and it’s a great deal better to be woken by the squawk of seagulls – even though they still look bad-tempered and sound as if they’re laughing at me – or by the trilling of other birds than it is by the wail of sirens. I could do without the sound of the sea washing the pebbles clean each time it rushes out, instead of the swoosh of tyres on one of London’s wet main roads. But I can’t say I’d swap one for the other.

If I were many years younger, I would no doubt think differently. I would want  something going on all the time; clubs or discos to go to nearby, more young people my age around and willing to do much the same things. But, as an older person, the quieter life down here is just what I want. Goodness me, I can even shop in peace and buy The Guardian!

Doing what they said

Of course, I’m not the only one leaving things behind.

Donald Trump promised much in his campaign, pedalling a brand of patriotic rhetoric that got him elected to the highest office in the so-called free world. But he’s dealing in international pragmatism nowadays. Hell (as they say over there), he’s even stopped talking about building a wall.

Theresa May sat so firmly on the fence during 2016’s European referendum debate, refusing to say which side she was on, she must’ve hurt herself. It must be the reason why, today, she wears an expression of permanent pain whenever she extols what’s become known as ‘a hard Brexit’. She even has to peddle the same line as those she was supposedly against.

No, I don’t miss any of what I left behind. I can pick and choose what I want to pay attention to. I can even follow the fortunes of my favourite top-of-the-pile football club! And I will, eventually, be able to live the life I want to, once all the material things to do with moving have been sorted out.

It was a good move. Maybe even one I should’ve made some time ago. But, ‘there is a tide in the affairs of men’.

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We still don’t know

Back in August I was worried we didn’t know what was going to happen to us, now that we’ve voted to leave the European Union.

Today, I still don’t know.

Like a lot of other people, I’m in the dark about what our relationship with Europe will be like. Will we be in the free trade zone, or out of it? Will just anyone be allowed to come into the UK from Europe, or will they have to prove they’re wanted? Will we have to pay to travel outside the UK?

There are so many unanswered questions, it’s as if we’re being deliberately blind-sided.

True, it would help to know who we are dealing with. So we’d better wait until after the Germans have decided on their future. Likewise the French. And anyone else who’s got an election coming up.

But should we wait until after the Americans have decided on their president? That would mean waiting until late November, at the earliest.

It seems a long way off. But then, Europe seemed a long way off at one time. It was a foreign place, the other side of a stretch of water. Now it’s only a tunnel away and we (us Brits) are part of it.

At least, I think we are.

I’d like to know, one way or the other.

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Revive the Arab League!

Britain’s David Cameron has expended a lot of energy during this past week trying persuade the House of Commons and the rest of the nation that we should instigate air strikes against ISL in Syria.

Why expend so much energy on such a waste of time, lives and money!

If he wants to see off ISL, he should be coercing the Arab League into doing something, instead of assuming that the ISL jihadis will listen to nothing more than a few explosions in their backyard. They’ve already heard a few of them, and still they seem to want more.

An organisation whose time has been barren for 70 years

Founded in 1945, the Arab League’s describes its own objective as to “draw closer the relationships between member States” and to “co-ordinate collaboration” in the region. At least, that’s what it says it does.

In truth, it does very little. It might be thought of as a footnote in David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. But, if my memory of that film is anything to go by, the League is best remembered as an opportunity lost.

If it had more teeth today, it would be doing something.

As it is, we in the West are left believing (or being led to believe) that the troubles in Syria are all our fault; that we should get stuck in there and sort it out, so they stop fighting with each other.

A generation or more lost

Who are we in the western world to tell them what to do?

We don’t have a handle on the truth. There’s more than one.

The one they hold is as valid as ours, which is based on the belief that there is one deity and one Holy Son of that deity, Jesus, who died on a cross so that the rest of us sinners could live in peace. End of. They (the jihadis and others) believe their man was the deity’s prophet: Muhammad, with a creed not a million miles away from that of Jesus’.

The trouble, as always, comes when family is involved. The Shia and Sunnis are part of the same family, but don’t see eye to eye on who’s the rightful heir to Muhammad. Traditionalist Sunnis believe they are the chosen successors. Shia muslims believe the others have no such right.

That’s their problem, not ours.

David Cameron should be promoting the idea that it’s up to them to sort out their own differences, not us. It’s not our role to be playground monitor. We should not interfere with how they play their games.

But we should promote fair play.

Which is why we ought to be putting our weight behind an Arab League that wants to bring about peace and harmony in a troubled region. That wants the playground to be level.

At least, that’s what their charter says they believe.

An end to ISL

If the League were to act, and act strongly and swiftly, there could be an end to ISL, and thus an end to the fighting in the Middle East.

As it is, ISL will only grow stronger and stronger as less and less is done.

And the more we talk about them, the more recruits they will attract.

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Making democracy work

It’s been Democracy Day today and, quite properly, we’ve heard a lot about the way we vote and what we vote for.
All the discussions and debates I’ve heard have made sense.
I have to say, it would have been a shame if they hadn’t. We are, after all, a civilised society and democracy is a civilised way of choosing our governments.
Major points
There are two major points that have stuck with me throughout the day.
The first is that politicians of all parties should offer us clearly defined, coherent policies that they then adhere to.
The second is that the increasing professionalisation and splintering of politics means it’s inevitable we’ll be offered a plethora of parties to choose from – many of them with no experience of government – when we get to the polling booth. Ballot Paper Cross 1
Like children in a sweet shop, we’ll be faced with a bewildering array of tempting goodies, all of them enticing but none of them guaranteed to do us any good.
Indeed, some of them may even do us serous harm.
Sharper cures
Faced with such a wide choice, and increasingly dubious about the worth of anything we’re offered, it’s little wonder people are turning away from mainstream politics.
Rather than suffer a never-ending diet of sugar-coated placebos prescribed by smart-suited spin doctors, some of us are turning to sharper cures for our current ills.
Protest has become rife. Revolution is on the rise. The clamour to be heard is mounting.
For some of us, the question now is where to turn for the kind of government we crave; fair, open, honest, honourable and humane policies that provide a solid foundation for a sound society.
True, most of the parties offer a version of this.
The disappointment for many of us is that few, if any, deliver on their promises, which leaves us disillusioned.
The sour choice
As a result, fewer and fewer of us even bother to vote.
We don’t go to the sweet shop because what’s on offer makes us sick.
Even if we did go, we’re not really able adopt a suck-it-and-see approach because, instead of giving us a second choice immediately, the current parliamentary system saddles us with a government we can’t change for five years.
So, if we are feeling sour-faced and militant enough, we trot along to the polling station and spoil our ballot papers by writing something rude across them, which makes us feel better.
The savoury alternative
The tragedy of this approach is that our votes are disregarded completely; written off as “spoiled papers” and never properly accounted for.
It’s my belief there could be an alternative for those of us who want to vote responsibly. Ballot Paper Cross 2
We should be given a box on the ballot paper where we can put a cross, not against a name or a party, but against No Confidence.
In this way, we would be able to voice our disappointment – even our disillusionment – without running the risk of our vote being, quite literally, consigned to the dustbin of history.
Moreover, all our No Confidence votes could be counted, thus sending a clear message to the politicians that – if they want to win our votes – they must give us something we can have confidence in and therefore vote for.
It’s not rocket science. It’s just democracy at work.

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Living with legends

The tall, black hoardings have gone up. The great displays boasting of “creating legends since 1937” are shrouded. The few lights left on look like candles that someone forgot to blow out.

It is the beginning of the end. Earls Court has closed for good. The deconstruction process has begun.

A shedload of memories

For over three-quarters of a century this vast shed and its more recent sister building, Earls Court 2, have played host to the great, the good, the sometimes bad and the occasionally nonsensical acts and activities that have been part of our lives over that span of time. Earls Court

For many of us who’ve lived with this venue as our neighbour, Earls Court was always the home of the Motor Show, the Boat Show and the Ideal Home Exhibition.

We were used to seeing the annual procession of expensive limousines on low loaders, the incongruous sight of luxury yachts being towed through our streets and whole houses being shoehorned into the cavernous interior of a building which, on many occasions, became a kind of three-ring circus full of raucous folk hawking their wares and hoping we’d buy their sometimes outrageous offerings.

There was, too, the Royal Tournament, an event marked for locals by the early morning sight of the Household Cavalry exercising their horses along Lillie Road, past the Brompton Cemetery and up Warwick Road.

And then, of course, there were the bands.

Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, George Michael, David Bowie and a host of other big names; they all played Earls Court. It was, after all, the only venue in town big enough to hold their vast, adoring audiences.

And there was the trade.

For many local businesses – particularly those in Earl’s Court’s lively hotel and restaurant trade – the exhibition centre was a hugely important source of income. The manager of the long-since-closed L’Artiste Affamé once told me that visitors to the Boat Show brought in almost enough revenue to keep him going for eight or nine months.

A new community

Now we are faced with a different prospect; the creation of new “villages” featuring high-end residential properties whose doubtful value to the community is to be offset by new doctors’ surgeries and – it’s said – a new school.

The proof of this particular pudding will, of course, be in the eating.

In the meantime, life goes on and – thankfully – some things haven’t changed. Bob Dylan

The Troubadour, for example, is now a double-fronted establishment with an associated wine shop. Yet – in the basement where a young Bob Dylan and Paul Simon both performed – there is still live music several nights a week.

Response, the community project founded in the late 1970s by Neil Barnett and James Evans, still functions, albeit with a changed role reflecting Earl’s Court’s fluctuating population and fluid character.

The pubs are still busy. One – until recently a branch of O’Neil’s – has been refurbished and reverted to its original name: The Bolton.

Lost opportunities

While we may legitimately mourn London’s loss of an internationally recognised entertainment venue within an Olympian stone’s throw of Harrods, we can at least hope that this cosmopolitan part of the capital will not lose its identity along with its memories.

Who knows but that another legend may be born in the basement of the Troubadour. Or that a busker will appear at the entrance to the station and, catching the eye of a passing stranger, once more turn Earl’s Court into a place where small dreams become big realities.

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Defiance and deaf ears

Watching the news last night and hearing again this morning that upwards of one-and-a-half million people were on the streets of Paris yesterday reminds me that, in 2003, a similar number of outraged folk marched through London to protest their rejection of the war on Iraq.
Back then we carried placards declaring “Not in my name”, yet no one listened and the perpetrators of that invasion, who remained in office for some time yet still didn’t listen, have since been branded war criminals.
Yesterday, in a similar expression of solidarity, the placards declared “Je suis Charlie”.
Now I wonder if those who have already been described as criminals, and those they’re associated with, will listen.
My hope is they will. My expectation is they won’t.
Does this mean I despair of ever seeing peace and tolerance being accepted as two of the basic planks in the structure of any civilised society?
No, it doesn’t.
What I fervently hope for is a world in which open minds – and wide-open ears – are generally accepted as virtues and signs of strength rather than vacillation and signs of weakness.
Until then, like millions of other, I remain defiant and wholly on the side of liberty, freedom of expression and the truth.

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Vote, they say. But how?

Hardly a day goes by these days without us being asked or told how to vote for some cause or another.

Last month, the residents of Scotland were asked: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” To many people’s surprise, and many others’ disappointment, they turned out in force to narrowly vote “No”.

Last week, the people of Clacton were asked to vote for a new Member of Parliament, their previously incumbent Member having defected to the UK Independence Party. The original Member got his job back, albeit under a different banner.

The other day I was asked to vote for Time Out magazine’s awards for the best best local restaurants, cafés, pubs and shops in London.

And so it goes on. We are asked to vote on anything, from the best of an obscure category to the worst of some other mysterious grouping.

As for being told how to vote politically, even former Sex Pistol, Johnny Rotten, is in on the act! He believes we should all vote, no matter how apathetic we may be about British politics. “Stand up and be counted”, he says.”Make your voice heard.”

And I agree. We should all vote.

The trouble is, many of us either don’t know who to vote for, or see the whole process as a waste of time because none of the parties, or their candidates, offer anything we can relate to.

Much of this apathy is, no doubt, due to our disillusionment with Parliament and our MPs. The expenses scandal clearly undermined people’s trust in the establishment. The differences between the parties’ policies are so slim it’s impossible to slip a cigarette paper between them. The all-too-frequent bouts of incompetence do nothing for our confidence.

As a result, many of us see politics as a waste of time and don’t bother to vote at all. Which, as Johnny Rotten would no doubt agree, is a crying shame.

A new alternative

I believe voting in Britain should be compulsory.

“Pretty radical”, I hear you say.

Well, maybe. But look at it this way.

If we were all legally obliged to vote, we might all pay more attention to what’s on offer and, instead of abdicating our responsibilities for the way our society is governed, we might actually engage with politics more positively.

Some of us, of course, will never want to vote for any political party or movement.

At present, if that’s how we think, we can always go to the polling station and write whatever we choose all over the ballot paper. “None of these candidates are suitable” or “Bollocks!” or “I’d rather go to a hen party than vote for one of these dogs” are all candidates for this style of voting.

But this is not very productive.

Under the present system, the spoiled papers are set aside and described as such: “Spoiled Ballot Papers”. They’re not counted. No one knows how many there are. They’re just a pile of waste paper and a waste of time.

The confidence trick

My suggestion is that, as well as being obliged to vote, we’re offered a space on the ballot paper where we can put a cross against “No Confidence”.

This way, we could express our disaffection. All the “No Confidence” votes would be counted, just as if they were votes for an accredited political party, and the politicians would know exactly how many people, nationwide, had given Parliament the thumbs down.

As a result, people like David Cameron and George Osborne, David Milliband and Nick Clegg, will know beyond all reasonable doubt that XX% of the population have no confidence in any of them.

It’s my belief that this will make them think.

At the present time, they don’t have to. They can simply brush aside all the spoiled papers by telling themselves that people who do that kind of thing don’t matter. “Loonies”, as David Cameron might describe them.

But, faced with the certain knowledge that a percentage of the population – which could be as high as 50% or even 60% – were actively saying “We have no confidence in any of you”, the folk in the Westminster village would have to pay attention. They would have to ask themselves: “What are we doing wrong?”

Doing the right thing

Making voting compulsory and offering people a chance to express “No Confidence” is the right way forward.

It will make people understand that we all have a responsibility for our society and how it’s governed. It will give us all a chance to express what we feel about politics, just as it will continue to give us the opportunity to support the candidates and parties we favour.

And it will ensure a properly representative turnout out major elections.

That must be better than living in a country governed by people who sometimes represent fewer than 30% of the population.

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Is there a thief in your telephone?

They used to say: “Watch out, there’s a thief about!”

Nowadays, a better slogan might be: “Watch out, there’s a thief in your phone!”

Why do I say this? Here’s why.

A few weeks ago I received a telephone call from a man claiming to be DCI Paul Graham, who said he worked for the National Fraud Department of the Metropolitan Police.

He wanted me to know that one or both of my bank debit cards had been compromised that morning.

According to Graham, someone had used one of my cards to make a £699.00 purchase in the Apple store in London’s Covent Garden, and had then used either the same card or the other card to make a substantial withdrawal from the cash machine at Sainsbury’s in nearby Holborn.

When I asked him for some more detailed identification, he repeated that he worked at the National Fraud Department of the Metropolitan Police, that he was based at Holborn police station, that his badge number was EK350 and that I could dial 101 and someone at the Met would confirm that he was a regular policeman.

What would you do, under the circumstances?

I dialled 101 and someone did, indeed, confirm that DCI Paul Graham, badge number EK350, worked in the National Fraud Department.

Still suspicious

I was nevertheless still suspicious, so Graham suggested I call the number on the back of my debit card and ask my bank to confirm that he, Graham, was a bona fide policeman working for the Fraud Department. They would know, he said.

I dialled the number and was told that Graham was bona fide. I was asked if I had given him any of my personal details and, when I said no, was told that was a good thing.

I remember that, in the course of this call, I wasn’t asked any security questions. Doh!

As soon as I hung up, Graham was on the phone again, this time telling me I shouldn’t be so suspicious; that it had been confirmed by two people that he was a genuine policeman; and that I should believe he was only trying to help me.

Although his plausibility was doubtful, I remember thinking he might be OK when he gave me what he called a Crime Reference Number – CE030917085826 – and a package reference number, PK350.

He also asked me to turn off my computer’s router, which I did.

He then asked me to check to see if either of the chips on my bank cards looked in any way damaged.

I told him they didn’t, at which point he said both of them would still have to be analysed by someone on his team and that, in order for this to be done, both would have to be collected and taken to Holborn police station for examination.

“Only trying to help”

I had, by now, started to get much more suspicious and somewhat distraught, especially when Graham kept repeating that he was only trying to help me, which I had begun to doubt, and constantly prevented me from saying anything to him by talking across me.

“Bear with me,” he kept saying. “Bear with me. I’m only trying to help you.”

Believe me, if this ever happens to you, you’ll know how cleverly persuasive these guys can be.

Graham’s next ploy was to tell me that, if his team were to succeed in their examination of my cards, they would have to know the PINs and, please, would I put them into my telephone keypad.

I initially refused, as any sane person would. But, when he repeated, persuasively, that he was only trying to help me, and only trying to prevent any further fraudulent use of my cards, I reluctantly agreed and punched the PINs into my phone.

At this stage I’d become so distraught and malleable that, had he told me to shoot myself in the foot, I’d have asked him to wait while I went and bought a gun.

Instead, he told me to put the two cards into an unmarked envelope, seal it and a courier would come to my house and collect it.

I asked him how long that would take. He said it would be about fifteen or twenty minutes.

“Have a cup of tea”

By this time I was beginning to get very distressed by the whole experience, so he suggested I put my phone onto speaker mode so that I could – as he suggested – go and get myself a cup of tea and “relax”. With the phone on speaker mode, he said, he would still be able to keep in touch with me.

I didn’t make a cup of tea, but I did hear Graham saying the courier was now only six miles away.

Then he said he was only two minutes away.

When I asked how I was supposed to recognise him, Graham said he would be from Express Couriers and that he would ask for package 242. I was not, under any circumstances, to hand over the envelope unless the courier asked for package 242.

A few minutes later the courier arrived at the house. I live on the ground floor of a converted terrace house, so I let him into the common hallway.

The ‘courier’ was probably no more than 18 or 19 years old, about 5’ 6” tall, of Indian or Pakistani origin, with black hair and a young man’s beard. He was wearing black clothes and carrying a black backpack. This much I remember.

When I asked him for some form of identity, he simply said he was from Express Couriers and that he had come to collect package 242.

I asked him again for some identity and again he said no more than that he was from Express Couriers.

I said something along the lines of “No identity, no package” and he again said only that he was from Express Couriers.

“Give him the envelope”

Graham was still on the phone, so I told him the ‘courier’ was here and he said it was OK, I should give him the envelope.

Foolishly, I did, and the ‘courier’ immediately left the house.

When I picked up the phone, I could hear Graham laughing like a maniac, saying something like “That was a good fraud, eh? Now I’m going to take fifty grand off you! A good fraud, eh!”

At this point I completely lost my self-control and, because yet again he was talking across me, I screamed at him to shut up.

He just went on laughing at me.

In my rage, I told him he was nothing more than a common criminal and that, if he was ever caught, I would personally make sure he was thrown into hell where I would light – and stoke – the fires myself, forever.

After a few moments, he hung up.

As soon as I could, I rang my bank and, after answering the necessary security questions, reported the whole incident, including the fact that I had re-started my computer and could see on the screen that, by using the stolen bank cards at 11:58 and again at 11:59, someone had accessed the cash dispenser at the Earls Court branch of Sainsbury’s and withdrawn £300 from each of my bank accounts.

The bank promptly cancelled both my bank cards and then transferred me to a member of their fraud team, who took the details of the whole incident, as best I could remember them.

A complete fiction

I subsequently reported the incident to the Metropolitan Police. After confirming that Graham was not a bona fide policeman, and that his badge number EK350 was entirely fictitious, they arranged for a couple of uniformed policemen to visit me.

When the policemen arrived, I was so unsure of everything I said them: “How do I know you’re policemen? You could have picked up those uniforms in a fancy dress shop.”

It was a relief when one of them showed me his Metropolitan Police badge.

Later that day, about four hours after I’d been the victim of what I now recall as a terrifying fraud, I received three calls on my mobile phone, all from an unknown number.

I rejected the first two but answered the third.

To my horror, it was – or at least sounded very like – Paul Graham, who seemed to be saying he was sorry for conning me but, after all, he had only taken £600 not the £50,000 he had boasted of, so I should be glad to have gotten off lightly.

This time I didn’t say a word, other than hello, but just let him prattle on until the line went dead.

Hang up

Next time you receive a call from an unknown stranger claiming to be either a policeman or someone working for your bank or credit card company, simply hang up.

If the caller’s genuine, they’ll ring again and you can decide whether or not to speak to them.

If you’re still unsure, hang up again.

Remember: even though you think you might have friends in your phone, you might just as easily have a thief.

Beware. What happened to me could happen to you.

 

 

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Is the search for civilisation becoming a lost cause?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a project that’s caused me to look up the exact meaning of a variety of words.

Over the same time – and probably for even for longer – I’ve become aware of the number of doomsters who would have us believe society is going to hell in a handcart.

As a result, it occurred to me to check out the real meaning of ‘civilise’ and its partner, ‘civilisation’, and to wonder if – leave aside the doomsters – we really might have lost our way.

Not the meaning of life

My battered Chambers tells me ‘civilise’ means: “to reclaim from barbarism : to instruct in arts and refinements”. And that ‘civilisation’ means: “state of being civilised : culture : cultural condition or complex”.

Now I’m no expert, but it does seem to me that, for centuries, mankind has been trying to ‘civilise’ almost every aspect of what we’ve come to know as society: our way of life, our habitat, our behaviour, our environment, our laws and much more have all been subject to civilising forces.

And yet, when I look around – were you to look around – it’s hard not to conclude that we still have a long way to go before we can say we have reclaimed the world from barbarism.

True, we don’t still wear animal skins or live in caves. Well, not many of us do.

We are generally polite towards one another. Well, most of us are.

We are, by and large, mindful of our environment. I think.

And our laws do have the effect of controlling the wilder elements of society. Well, most of them.

But couldn’t we do more?

The search goes on

I’m not advocating a society in which everyone is so well behaved, so well housed, so well fed, so well dressed and so polite to each other that ugliness, non-conformity, eccentricity and individualism is never found anywhere.

That would be akin to living in a custard coloured world, with nothing to eat but custard and nothing to wear but custard-yellow clothes.

I’m sure no one wants that.

But wouldn’t it be nice to see a little more progress towards civilisation?

A little more grace and dignity here and there?

Not quite so much noise. Not quite so much of the isolationism borne of headphones and mobile phones and a little more of the interactive behaviour that’s often associated with more “civilised” times.

I’d like to think the search goes on, and that you’ll want to be a part of it.

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