THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

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Heaven

I have still not found my lost faith but if I do and make it to Heaven, it will be like the place I took Mrs P II tonight. The one fixed point in this trip to the Côte d'Azur was, as it has been for me on every such trip for over twenty-five years, the Restaurant de Bacon at Cap d'Antibes.

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If it's not a cheap place, that's partly my fault. When a kind client took me there to Sunday lunch for my first visit, it was a local institution; too far from Cannes to pick up trade from the various festivals and trade fairs held there. It was even further from Nice. The local bourgeoisie in Antibes and the wealthy types with villas on the Cap knew it well enough but that was it.

Over the following years I took many clients and contacts there from all over the world. As I returned each year with a new batch of guests, I would see my former guests hosting other tables. On one such occasion, every table was hosted by someone I had introduced. Except, that is, for one presided over by the bemused gentleman who had first taken me there. He was mildly irritated, I think, that I had spread his secret local knowledge so widely.

One family vacation we met a Russian client there who had brought his family to Antibes for their holidays so he could take them to "the Bacon". One Christmas in Chester I was telling my family that "the best restaurant in the world" was in Cap d'Antibes. Our waiter asked me if I was talking about the Bacon and when I replied "yes" he said that he had trained there and would call the owner to tell him what I had said.

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The strange thing is that I loved it before I learned (on my recent diet) to love fish. I never willingly chose to eat it anywhere else. As we drove there in the evening heat, with Speranza's roof open to the moist air, I began to worry that I had built it up so much that Mrs P II might be disappointed. When I realised that, the old gentleman who took care of me so assiduously on that long-ago first visit having sadly passed away, the family had sold it to a new owner, I was even more worried. I need not have been. His spirit lives on. The food is as good as ever. The wine list is as spectacular as always. The service is just as impeccable.

Our waiter spoke such good English that we did not at first believe he was French. In all my years abroad working with speakers of the world's most widespread language – ESL – I have known lots of people who have achieved commendable fluency. I worked with lawyers for whom English was a second or third language and yet they functioned in it at a level most natives could not hope to reach. Yet I never met one like this young man, who could pass for a native. French cuisine's gain is French espionage's loss!

Sated and happy, we drove the long way home along the coast, rather than taking the autoroute. This allowed Mrs P II to get a sense of the South of France. It's not all Russian billionaires, bling and super yachts. There were also ordinary French families walking together through Juan-les-Pins and young people from all over Europe partying vigorously on the dark beaches as we passed. I played "Where do you go to my lovely?" by Peter Sarstedt to explain to her how a young me had first heard of a glamorous lifestyle unknown to my happy but modest childhood. He sang of Juan-les-Pins as we drove through it and I smiled. 

Tomorrow is our last full day on the Côte d'Azur. On Monday we are back on the road, heading first to Beaune.


Back to Italy

We have enjoyed restful days at our temporary home in Mougins; former home of Pablo Picasso and my favourite village anywhere. On Monday we dined with friends who are lucky enough to live there permanently. On Tuesday we visited my second favourite village, St Paul de Vence; formerly the home of Marc Chagall. But today we are back in Italy for an overnight stay,

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We were originally meant to make this tour some weeks ago and had it neatly planned so that we passed through Maranello – home of Ferrari – to take the factory tour. We had to delay the trip because Mrs P II had visa problems, but could not reschedule the factory visit to fit in so neatly with our journey. So we rose early and set off at 0700 this morning to be here for our appointment at 1430. Google Maps told us the trip would take five and a half hours, but by broadly complying with the speed limits we were able to shave enough from that to have a leisurely lunch at a nice local restaurant as well as a tour of the Ferrari Museum.

The Ferrari factory is impressive. The pace is slow. Each work station on the V12 line in the vehicle assembly building has 55 minutes to finish its tasks. There are some robots to handle tasks too dangerous for humans (e.g. immersing valves in liquid nitrogen before seating them in a hot engine head to ensure a snug fit when the temperatures match) but mostly it's artisan work. The aluminium for the engines is forged on site. The forge is the original one installed by Enzo in the 1940s but most of the rest of the factory is ultra-modern. I can show you no pictures alas, as we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before proceeding with the tour and photos are strictly forbidden. As a keen photographer I generally won't go where my camera is not permitted but as a keener Ferrarista I broke that rule today. The photo here is from the museum.

The other guests were Ferraristi too. The only non-owners allowed on the tour are Formula One sponsors. Our guide, Giulia, took us to the engine production and assembly departments, the V12 vehicle assembly line, the Racing Team department (comprising almost one-third of Ferrari's staff) and the FXX workshop.

The FXX programme involves the production of racing versions of the road-going models. They are not street-legal and live at the factory for their first two years. The lucky owners (by invitation only) have their cars delivered to their chosen tracks by Ferrari. They arrive with a team of mechanics and all the necessary kit. You show up, drive and the car is then taken home again. I witnessed one such race at Silverstone a few years ago and one owner was not so lucky that day. He roared out of the pits and hit the opposing wall to ironic cheers from the spectators. His race-day experience was over in seconds and his car returned to the FXX workshop for expensive repairs!

I learned today that there’s an even more exclusive such hobby. The Scuderia’s non-championship-winning F1 cars are auctioned after two years to pre-qualified clients who must have bought a minimum number of other Ferraris (of certain specifications) in order to bid. If they have the engine removed, the winning bidder can take his car home. If not, it remains at Maranello, is maintained by the F1 team mechanics and brought to suitable events at the owner’s request and expense  

For me the highlights were firstly seeing the place Speranza and her engine were first united and secondly being in the holy of holies, the F1 building. No recognisable fragments of this year's three cars were on show. It was more like a laboratory than a workshop. The technicians were analysing every component before the cars are reassembled for the next race. They are dismantled and rebuilt every time, with whatever refinements the team devises (and F1 rules permit). It was also special just to park Speranza at her birthplace and be told by a kindly young receptionist that she is “a pretty one”. I’m sure she says that to all the visitors. It may even be a requirement of her employment contract. I don’t care. It made my day. 

Our tour over we were taken to the Ferrari Store and presented with a book as a gift. The other tourists went to the museum but I did not presume on the patience of my new wife (it’s our five monthiversary today) by dragging her around it a second time!

Tomorrow we will take our time returning to Mougins. We will dine with a friend at Nice (a French photographer I met on a workshop in the South of France a couple of years ago) on the way back so we’re in no rush. 


Another day in Florence

Our B&B is agreeably like staying in someone's home. We had a simple breakfast on the terrace in the morning sunshine before setting out, dressed in our lightest clothes, to face another 30℃ day. The queues at the Uffizi Gallery were an hour long, so we bought tickets in advance for the afternoon and headed to the Duomo. The queue there was around the block too, but seemed to be moving quickly so we took our place at the back. Forty-five minutes later we were by the door when a German guide leading a group of tourists barged them all in ahead of us. There is no hope for a united Europe if we cannot even harmonise basic politeness! 

It was a minor frustration and soon we were inside. Given the magnificence of the exterior, the inside of the cathedral is surprisingly plain - at least by the standards of Catholicism. It's elegant and beautiful though and we paid the fee to enter the museum in the crypts too, where excavations have revealed parts of the foundations from different periods. Our museum ticket also entitled us to climb to the viewing platform around the Dome but, rather to my relief, that was fully booked until next week. We contented ourselves by visiting the Baptistery instead  

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What can I tell you about the Uffizi? Just as Hamlet is, to moderns, a play full of familiar quotes, so the Uffizi Gallery is full of paintings and sculptures you know on sight. For Europeans, they are a part of our cultural subconscious, even if we may only have seen them on book or album covers rather than in the flesh, It was an exhausting exercise, in our enthusiasm, to try to stand in front of every one - even so briefly as to rather insult the master who made it.

I was so tired as we headed for our hotel that we decided to eat early and head back to our rest rather than change and come back out again for dinner.

Tomorrow we have a longish drive (more than five hours) to our home for the week in the South of France. We have no deeds to do when we get there however so can take our time and look out for a pleasant place to break the journey for a long lunch!


To Lucerne via Saarschleife and Strasbourg

A Ferrari factory tour and the Tazio Nuvolari Museum in Mantua seem romantic enough destinations to me but one of our friends last night suggested a nature ramble might be a more appropriate honeymoon activity. So after breakfast this morning we set off to the BaumWipfelPfad or "Treetop Walk" at Saarschleife. We had a short, pleasant walk from the visitor centre on a high level wooden walkway in the canopy of a forest to a spiral overlook structure above the banks of the River Saar at a point where it makes a horseshoe-shaped meander. It was "wunderschön”

The photograph of the viewing platform will give you some idea of the amount of serious engineering Germans are prepared to put into improving their view of a beauty spot!

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One of our friends, now a naturalised Luxembourgoise, was born in Strasbourg. On her advice we abandoned our previous plan to visit the European Parliament building in her home city. Instead she recommended a restaurant where they specialise in a healthy, fish-based version of the usual, meaty Choucroute Strasbourgoise. So we headed off through Germany (where we got Speranza up to 225kph on a short stretch of unrestricted autobahn) and then France to sample that. It was excellent.

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We then walked around the outside of the amazing Gothic cathedral in the blistering heat (32 degrees C) before heading back to the car and driving to Lucerne.

It was a great drive, though mostly through France so lacking in high speed opportunities. We found our way through the pedestrianised old town (as advised by the hotel and assisted by a police woman who gave us directions) under the disapproving gaze of hundreds of passing Swiss. It's a beautiful country but the locals love their rules so much that I never quite feel comfortable around them. I always feel they are looking for an opportunity to call the police!

After unloading our bags in the narrow alley outside the hotel, I left Mrs P2 to check us in and arrange for the luggage to be taken to our room, while I drove Speranza away to a modern car park across the river where vehicles are allowed.

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On my return we took a short walk around Lucerne, photographed the famous bridge and forewent dinner to have ice cream instead. This cooled me down to my optimum operating temperature and was a rare treat under my new dietary regime.

Tomorrow we head for Mantua and the museum of my hero Nuvolari, the great racing driver. 


On the road again — on honeymoon

After only four months, Mrs Paine II (an Indian citizen) has finally obtained her Schengen visa and this morning we set out in Speranza on our European road trip honeymoon. We crossed the Channel on the Eurotunnel train this morning and were in Bruges in time to take a boat tour of its canals before lunch. 

Mrs PII has never been to Continental Europe before and, with her detached perspective, offered an observation that — for all its evident truth — had never occurred to me before. “If it weren’t for the road signs and driving on the other side of the road” she said “I wouldn’t know we weren’t in England.”  We near-neighbours focus on our differences to such an extent that we fail to notice that in most everyday respects we’re just the same!

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After lunch we explored this beautiful little town in the pleasant sunshine before retiring to our hotel and resting before dinner. We found a delightful little restaurant on a side street near our hotel and passed our first evening on the road chatting happily with each other and our Belgian neighbours at the next table. 

Tomorrow we’re heading to Luxembourg where an old friend will show us around before he and his lady join us at our hotel across the border in Germany for dinner. Speranza and I are  hoping for some unrestricted autobahn en route

As usual, I’m using the excellent Track My Tour app to create an online map of the tour using geodata from uploaded progress photos. If you’re interested, you can follow along here


Blog meet oop North

For the first time in years I met James Higham of the Nourishing Obscurity and Orphans of Liberty blogs for lunch and drinks (Virgin Marys for me on my health regime) this weekend. I am visiting family in my home town in North Wales. Wanting to catch up with James and — given some alarming posts he has made about his health of late — check up on his well-being, I took the opportunity to meet in the nearest English city, just across the border.

James blogs so eclectically that the inside of his mind is well known to his readers. Some of them may even feel they know too much! This is something of a paradox as he’s such a private person when it comes to the external details of his life. It’s one of the interesting aspects of our online community that someone who knew almost all of his innermost thoughts and beliefs (and not a few of mine) could walk by our table in the charming pub where we spent our happy hours together without knowing who either of us was. 

He was in good form and full of adventurous plans for the future. We had a convivial meal and gossiped a little about people we know. Mostly they are bloggers from the brief golden age of the ‘sphere before Twitter coarsened the online world, removed much of its good humour and brought it under the dangerous, authoritarian gaze of the establishment.

We also reminisced about our very different experiences in Russia. Our times there overlapped and, at this remove of time and space, we were able to get a more rounded picture of what was going on at that interesting stage in Russian history than was apparent to either of us while we were there  

We have in common a classically liberal approach when it comes to making laws (as few as possible but rigorously enforced because so few would be the truly important ones). We are both also quite socially conservative when it comes to matters of personal ethics, family, duty and personal life. James is a Christian who trusts God to deal with others moral failings, so doesn’t need secular leaders to address them clumsily. I lost my faith years ago and though I look for it occasionally have never found it again, but my morals are essentially those of the church in which I was raised. In practice that means I feel guilty about any of my actions that the church considers would disappoint God.

I lack - and sadly miss - James’ hope for justice in the afterlife and am as painfully aware as anyone with actual experience of Man’s attempts at justice of their inadequacy. Yet like him I feel immorality (to the precise extent it doesn’t genuinely injure or defraud others) is a matter for individuals, their consciences and (if they have one) their God.

James is an eccentric perhaps to modern eyes and his tastes in music are not always mine but agree with his posts or not (and often I don’t) I have always enjoyed and often learned from his writing. He’s no angel (yet) but he’s a smart cookie (former professor) and a good egg. It was a pleasure to see him being his unique self and relishing his complicated life. 

UPDATE: James blogged about our meeting here


Postmodernist truth

To oversimplify post-modernist moral philosophy (or more accurately, amoral philosophy) there is no objective truth. One's stance in relation to the world is determined by one's class, sexual, gender, ethnic and other "identities" and – in the most up-to-date version – by the intersections between them. I may deceive myself that my view of the world has been developed by the application of my education and my reason to my experience, but in the "there is no truth" truth of the "woke", I think what I think because I am what I am.

This idea is a smidgen of truth taken to an absurd extreme. Of course one's life is shaped by one's experiences. Any political canvasser will tell you that he can have a good guess at the likely response of potential voters by where they live, the car they drive and how they present on the door step. Had I been born into another family in a different set of circumstances, then yes –  I would have trodden a different intellectual and moral path. Those of us who cling to the ideas of my namesake's era – the Age of Reason – do understand that our background, educational opportunities and experiences have a role. We simply consider there is a moral duty to strive – by reading, study, travel, discourse and whatever other opportunities present themselves, to transcend our experiences and strive for objective truth. We are not saying it's easy to find, but we believe that it's "out there".

It's a more optimistic philosophy, I submit. Whatever your origins, privileges or dis-privileges, you can strive for truth in our world-view. Unless you are of the elect however, post-modernism leads only to despair. You are as lost to hope and opportunity as the merest medieval serf. Your opinion counts for as much as that of a slave in the ante-bellum American South.

Born into the intersecting "privileges" of being white, male and – while not rich – not poor, what I think therefore counts for less than naught. There is no way for me to live blamelessly, let alone virtuously. The closest I can come is to "be an ally",  "stay in my lane", "shut the **** up" and listen humbly to my superiors. The post-modern West is in this respect at least headed for a new Dark Age.

Let me be clear that I do not seek to cast myself in the role of a victim here. I am lucky enough to be able to laugh at this analysis. I am financially independent and fear neither employers' nor customers' opinions. I thoroughly enjoy the discomfiture of the "woke" in my circle when I opine freely. I have fun asking them to justify their preposterous faith (it's not really a philosophy, as not only has it no rational basis, but it denies the possibility of such a thing).

One of the ways in which I keep my mind alive in retirement is by studying things for fun. A local novelist has been conducting writing classes for beginners and (though I have no intent of going into print) I have been attending for the stimulation of it. This morning a fellow-student was telling us about her novel. She has written a thriller informed by post-modern "wokeness". Her main protagonist is a privileged white male who thinks he is "woke" but isn't and the story is about his dangerous journey to true understanding.

She described him as "working in the public sector" (which she clearly thought made him a moral superior of those who pay to fund it) and "aware of social justice issues." However he has no genuine understanding of how privileged he is and how his life-choices impact others who are less so. As an example, he casually looks down upon young black men in his city caught up in drug-dealing criminality but has no idea that his cocaine habit is a cause thereof.

Before you pile in, gentle readers, with critiques of this unpublished work, let me explain why it has (despite its right on-ness) yet to find a publisher. Everyone to whom she has sent the manuscript has responded in similar ways. They like the story, but they don't know why she – as a young black woman – has written it. "You don't have to write like this any more", one publisher said. "We want novels from the point of view of people just like you" said another. I smilingly observed that they had told her to "stay in her lane", but sadly she didn't get the joke. I didn't add that they wanted her to stay on the metaphorical plantation and think as her skin colour predicts. I think that jibe would have ended our budding friendship.

She is right on. She is woke. Her stance towards society is politically correct but – as a creative – she has made the fatal error of attempting empathy. It is almost as shocking for her to animate a literary puppet of a white man as it would be for me to animate one like her. Which in the anti-wonderland of wokenes is not crude, pathetic racism but in the real world is.

Isn't empathy the whole point of creative writing? How limited we would all be if we couldn't inhabit the minds of others through their stories, poems and plays. How limiting it would be to see the world only through our own eyes and interpret it with only our own judgement. But the highest literature involves a truly creative mind attempting to inhabit the personalities of a variety of other humans. Every character in Austen, Dickens or Tolstoy is informed by the author's experiences and often based on the people she or he has met, but they are not all Jane, Charles or Leo in disguise. How wooden would they all be? Actually you can answer that question (painfully) by reading the "novels" of Ayn Rand. Her characters are a series of stick figures declaiming her ideas from a pulpit. Her books work well enough as the political tracts she should have written but fail epically as literature because she had no empathy.

I liked my new author acquaintance. Her different viewpoint won't disqualify her, if she's interested, from becoming my friend. I have offered to shoot the author picture for the dust-jacket of her novel when she gets it published. I hope she will because I would like to read it. It's my duty (and often pleasure) as a rational man to refine my own understanding by learning how others see the world. It's a good job I am not going to write my novel though, because by her rules it would certainly disqualify me from friendship!


Happy New Year, gentles all!

It has been an interesting year, politically and personally. The nation is divided. It seems many of the things we thought we had in common are no longer there.  The verbal ferocity against the majority of us who voted for Brexit has confirmed that our decision was correct. It has even changed the minds of some who voted “Remain”, but has made us fear for our future in new ways. I have seen real hatred in the eyes of posh, mild-mannered West Londoners when I’ve told them I voted “Leave.” People who have neither been involved in international trade nor co-owned a pan-European business with people from most EU member states. People who don't how the EU works. People who still deny its ultimate goal - the creation of a federal state with a single tax base, economic policy, criminal code, foreign policy and army. 

In all the years we have been in the EU, I never heard anyone from Britain praise it. It was “flawed” or “misguided”  but, of course, always “misrepresented” as a political project, when it was the merest of economic pacts. Its keenest advocates said that, for all they shared my concerns, “on balance”, we should stick with it. There was never any passion at all. Certainly none from which I could ever have predicted the passionate hatred its bloodless “supporters” revealed for us when we voted “the wrong way”. 

In truth their passion is still not for the EU. It is against the ordinary people of Britain with our irritating patriotism, our belief in self-reliance and our annoying desire for our distinctive voices to be heard. The EU never needed to be worthy of their support on its merits. They would have supported ANY project, foreign or domestic, that would allow them to ignore us and routinely override our wishes.

That’s why they so often blamed “Brussels” unfairly for laws they actually welcomed. It allowed them to mask their hostility to us while hypocritically blaming “Johnny Foreigner.” In their contemptuous and inaccurate view of our patriotism they thought that would play well. It should have come as no surprise that their agent Theresa May thought she could give away every other advantage of leaving the EU – including the right to govern ourselves as an independent nation – if she only gave us immigration control her successors could quietly waive. After all we’re just racists, right?

It has come as an enraging shock to them to find it’s not enough for "the people" to be brandished as a talisman by members of the establishment while they pursue their own interests. Their mask has slipped. Their hatred of us has been exposed. All hope that, even after a flawed debate in which the entire apparatus of the state was improperly deployed for “Remain” and the full weight of the establishment and its lickspittle media brought to bear to persuade us, we might now unite as a nation around a democratic decision seems lost. 

Chesterton's Secret People have spoken, but we have still not been heard. 

They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger or honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

I still hope that we will exit on time with a true Brexit; not “Brexit in name only.” That hope is founded not on their principles, their patriotism or their respect for their fellow citizens but their incompetence. They overplayed their hand in calling the referendum. They overplayed Project Fear — achieving reductio ad absurdam without any help from their opponents. They continue to underestimate us by conspiring clumsily with the other side of the withdrawal agreement negotiations. 

All we have learned since the referendum is that our ruling class despises us, our democracy comes second to their wishes and that voting may be as pointless as it has always felt. There is no leader in sight to unite the nation. The Conservative Party seems likely to disappear into history, leaving free marketeers without even that despicably unreliable voice. 

Things look bleak politically and yet I am optimistic. Unlike my would-be masters in the establishment I lived a life in business. I am confident that in boardrooms and partners meetings all over the country, calculations have been made as to how to profit from the change to come.  Business and trade is done despite politicians not because of them. I know that every major British financial institution (and many a minor one) is already inside the “passporting” regime and ready to drive its business forward by selling services that were never bought from love. If it depended on the competence of the kind of parasites attracted to government service, the British economy would have died long since. It doesn’t, it hasn't and it won’t. 

What does concern investors is the prospect of a Corbyn government. While Remainers say Brexit is driving house prices down, at the top end of the London market those who know say it’s him. Our capital is the bolt hole of choice for those from lesser lands without the (rule of) law. It’s not our cuisine, climate or low cost of living that has them owning homes here but the independence of our judiciary, which will not deport them and/or seize their assets when their tyrant rulers demand it (and our craven elite would cheerfully comply in return for corrupt favours). Since Magna Carta “be you never so high, the law is above you”. That’s our unique selling point as a place to invest, as a conduit for international investment, as a place to adjudicate disputes fairly, as a safe refuge for wealth and - in a pinch - the wealthy in distress. However the mobile wealthy are not dumb (or if they are can afford smart counsel). They won’t park assets here to be nibbled away by wealth taxes or managed by advisers coerced into being secret policeman for a hostile regime. Especially one driven by an ideology that in many cases impoverished their home countries and whose consequences they understand all too well. 

Theresa May’s is a double betrayal. First, she would deny us the Brexit we voted for. Secondly she is destroying the only political force that has any parliamentarians who respect property rights and the rule of law. Her second betrayal worries me more because I don’t give the EU long, Brexit or no. Handing the UK legislature over to economic vultures for the foreseeable future is far more dangerous than delaying our escape from its rickety structure. Yet even that, though it will be costly and impoverishing, will not be fatal. Not because Corbyn will see the light, but because his ideas don’t work. 

When I began my career as a business lawyer, it was at the tail end of the last Old Labour economic shambles. Our work then was largely driven by tax structuring. It was not possible for our clients to do projects in the hostile economic environment created by Wilson and Callaghan’s regimes and our job was to find ways through the fiscal mine fields. The best legal, accountancy and tax brains in the country were ranged along a cold war front between HM Treasury and wealth creators. To trade goods and services with each other is as natural to humans as to have sex. Labour could not hold back the tide of the market where robust Canutes like Stalin had failed.

Tyranny is economically just another cost to be priced. Markets — white, grey or black — will always wash over it one way or another. My landlord in Poland had been one of the greatest manufacturers of cosmetics during the Soviet times, meeting illegally the needs of women ignored by the Communist central planners. I lived there for several years next to what had become a legal contractor to EMI for the manufacture of CDs but under communism had for years been the largest bootleg record manufacturer behind the Iron Curtain. It had supplied “decadent” Western pop to the masses though the Party sought to deny them.  In both examples the price reflected the risk of doing illegal business. As a more current example, is a single drug user going without his fix in modern Britain, for all its illegality? No. He’s just paying more for it. 

All will be well given time because the facts of economic life are Austrian. Government is not natural to mankind, it has to be imposed by force. Markets are as natural as breathing. Which is why, though I will probably live less comfortably than I had hoped for the rest of my life, I have no plans to run away. I’m a pessimist for me but an optimist for my children’s generation. 

My own personal life has been interesting, complicated and ultimately fulfilling this year. I’m getting married again on the 26th of next month and I look forward to continuing to enjoy everyday life with my friends, my family and my new wife. Politics intrudes, often unpleasantly, but the world moves on. We must live, love and strive for truth and happiness as if the vicious parasites attracted to ruling us did not exist. For most practical purposes, they still don’t. Even in a state as damnably intrusive as ours is, the extent to which they can hurt us is limited by the  attention we are prepared to give them. 

I urge you also to live your personal lives to the full, gentle readers. I wish you all the very best for 2019. May your lives be as free of political interference as possible. When you encounter it, don’t forget to mock it furiously and subvert it as wittily and as effectively as you can!


On becoming less of a man

I am just 100g away from losing 50kg this year. I am off to the pool to swim some more to see if I can make this happen by my “official” weekly weigh-in on Wednesday. 

 

My ultimate goal, by June 30, 2019, is to lose 68 kg. Even then, by government guidelines, I will still be 12kg “overweight”. 

 

Me, the Welsh rugby team and many other males of athletic build so to hell with government and its guidelines. Not just in this respect neither!

 

Politics is show business for ugly people and government is violent extortion for those too cowardly to use their own fists. 

 

Damn them all! I am looking forward to fitting comfortably into my gilet jaune in readiness for when that time comes. 


A road trip to Northern Ireland

I returned yesterday from an impulsively-organised road trip to Northern Ireland. For those of us who grew up during the Troubles, it's not an obvious tourist destination. The names of its towns and villages meant nothing to me but violence and – Giant's Causeway apart – I had never seen a reason to go. However, the future Mrs P the Second's sister was visiting Ireland and is a fan of "Game of Thrones."  The series was mostly filmed in a studio on the Belfast Docks and on location around Northern Ireland so we decided to meet her there and visit some of those locations.

It was a frivolous idea but it led to some good fun. Mrs P2-elect and I crossed from Birkenhead to Belfast on the 1030 sailing on Friday. I wasn't too happy that Speranza travelled on an outside deck, exposed to weather and spray, but the passage was calm and agreeable enough, if a little boring. We landed on Friday evening at 1830 and were safely at our modern hotel near the docks by 1900. Within minutes we were changed and in a taxi to a splendid restaurant recommended by my cousin in the catering trade. She had told me that the chef was on the cusp of his first Michelin "macaron" and after our experience there, I can believe it.

We met my fiancee's sister's train from Dublin at the railway station on Saturday morning and set off on our (as it proved) over-ambitious tour. Our first stop was Cairncastle, where the scene in which Ned Stark lived up to his motto that "the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword" was filmed. The photo below shows Speranza near the place.
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A nearby hotel features one of the "Doors of Thrones". These are made from wood from trees at the Dark Hedges (itself a GoT location – see below) felled by Storm Gertrude in 2016. Local tourism promoters turned damage to one tourist attraction into ten new ones – all at pubs or hotels near to a location used in series six. All the locations can be found here

From there we drove to the Cushenden Caves at Ballymena. They are open to the public but the locals didn't seem keen for us to find them. There are no signs until you have actually arrived. We persisted however and duly saw where the Red Priestess gave birth to the shadow creature. We lunched at a pub across the road before striking out, this time with the roof down, for Murlough Bay

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This location stands in for the region of Westeros (the fictional continent where most of Game of Thrones is set) known as Pyke. Inevitably, as GoT is set in an alternate medieval reality, there's little to see but windswept hills and ocean but our tour was getting us out into some beautiful scenery and involving us in lots of healthy outdoor exercise. The roads to this remote spot were not (unlike the winding B roads we enjoyed for most of the trip) ideally suited to Speranza but she coped.

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From here we drove to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which features in GoT as the scene of the killing of Balon Greyjoy. 

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We arrived too late to buy a ticket to cross the bridge, which was a disappointment, but made the walk there and back anyway to take a look and make some pictures. By this time night was falling and it was too late to go to our main destination for the day the famous Giant's Causeway. As we drove back to our hotel in Belfast however, we came up with a plan to return the next day.

We also had the chance on our way back from the rope bridge to park up near the Dark Hedges. My camera can shoot at very high ISO and so I was able to get one of my favourite shots of the weekend in near-darkness. Had we arrived in daylight it would have been crammed with tourists spilling off the coaches that were leaving as we arrived. As it was, it took me seconds to Photoshop away the few stragglers that remained.

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After breakfast on Sunday morning, we drove directly to the Giant's Causeway. On well-maintained and (by English standards) lightly-used motorways and A roads it was a different experience from Saturday. The miles ticked away quickly and we arrived within 50 minutes or so despite a refuelling pit stop. The attraction is natural and free, but the National Trust is in charge and determined to rake in the cash. Essentially it charges £11.50 per person to park and kindly allow access to their gift shop and cafe where its polite and helpful staff can relieve you of more cash. The "visitor centre" is modern and magnificent and we did plan to spend some time there so as the NT is a charity and mostly (despite its political correctness and priggishness) does a useful job we decided to pay up with a smile. If you were minded to be more frugal you could drop your passengers at the entrance to the car park and they could walk for free to the Causeway. If you wanted to be really frugal, you could park the car down the road and walk in. There's nothing in the gift shop or cafe that you couldn't get online or nearby from some private business or other.

After exploiting the NT facilities we had paid so handsomely to use,  we set off for nearby Dunluce Castle, a ruin that stands in for Castle Greyjoy in GoT, but is an interesting enough attraction in its own right. The owners clearly think so as, despite the constant GoT chatter of their visitors, they make nothing of the connection to the show. 

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We then had a late lunch in the nearby town of Portrush, before heading south again towards Belfast. We had hoped to visit another GoT location, Shane's Castle, on the way back but it is part of a working agricultural estate and is only open to the public for special events. So we called an end to our GoT tour and returned to town to visit the famous Crown Bar and then the cafe of the Europa Hotel (bombed 36 times during the Troubles but a pleasant enough place to pass an hour these days).

From there we dropped our guest at the station to return to Dublin and we set off to wait for our ferry home and a good night's rest at sea before a pleasant drive home to London. Given our early start – disembarking at 0630 – and a single pit stop to refuel at a motorway service station, we were home  before 11am.