The Usefulness (or not) of Members of Parliament…

A heathy democracy depends on MP’s being accessible to their constituents and to be fair both of the Conservative MP’s who have represented me in Surrey and Monmouthshire, despite the fact I have never voted for them, have corresponded with me over the years.

Let’s take the current chancellor the Right Honourable Philip Hammond MP for Runneymede and Weybridge as an example.

When Debbie and I moved to Thorpe village in Runneymede we were ecstatic to move to a large four bedroom detached home called Kent House in what could only be described as a quasi-countryside retreat on the outskirts of Staines and Chertsey.  We fell in love with the chocolate box cottages, Frank Muir’s field and overlooked its proximity to the M25/M3 motorways and the Heathrow flightpath.

Of course this meant it was very convenient for me for work as it was only a 3 mile drive to Egham where Gartner’s European HQ was based in the Glanty and on my frequent trips necessitating taking a flight meant that I could get home on my return quickly.  Alas the latter advantage was somewhat diluted due to constant delays from congestion at the airport and the noise and air pollution.

The first issue I contacted “Philip” about was over Surrey County Council’s inability to take seriously a fire risk to Kent House due to several conifers growing on a strip of land they owned adjacent to my double length attached garage.  The gutters were completely full of detritus from the trees which overhung the garage roof with their branches.

Surrey CC was liable but replied to my letters of complaint with the response “they had no budget available” for such redial work that financial year even though they owned the strip of land and were responsible for its upkeep!

A strongly worded email to my MP cc the council seemed to work a treat and in the first instance they came and lopped down about 8 conifers down to stump level and the following year actually removed the stumps and landscaped the strip.  Result!

My next interaction with Philip came with the government announcement that Heathrow expansion was going to be decided imminently despite protestations by local people including those he was supposed to represent.  I sent him an email saying how much pollution had increased since we’d moved to Thorpe as the airport traffic had increased so much.

Alas in reply this time I got a weaselly worded reply that “he had made his views clear over many years and that he also had to think about the national interest”.  Translated that mean he wanted the Chancellor’s job, a position he achieved soon afterwards… Ho hum!

Escaping to Wales I thought little about my new local MP David Davies until history repeated itself when Monmouthshire County Council launched a “consultation” to impose charges on the free car park in Abergavenny used by dog walkers in Castle Meadows (including yours truly most days) and of course by the workers in the town’s shops and offices none of whom are paid a fortune.

The consultation involved writing to the council’s Chief Operating Officer who’s primary responsibility I translated to “Chief Revenue Officer” so I made my objections by email copying my MP!  I noticed that he then responded back to the COO cc myself insisting that my views along with many others be taken seriously.

Subsequently and much to my amazement all plans were dropped and the status quo maintained.  Result!

Sadly the following events confirmed to me that indeed “history does repeat itself” when I grew frustrated after giving the Conservatives the benefit of the doubt at the local government elections by voting for the for them for first time ever in my 58 years…

What caused my angst was the Conservative party manifesto on social care costs aka “the dementia tax” being introduced along with means testing pensioner benefits.  Added to this was the increases in Student loan principals and interest rates coming in for the new academic year and the continued funding through government debt of the foreign aid budget.

An email duly was sent with the following weaselly reply “that all political parties supported the continuation of the 0.7% GDP commitment to foreign aid even if this would not be a personal priority for myself”.

Then my concerns over yesterday’s announcement of the increase by a year for young people to receive the state pension on the last day of Parliament before the summer recess (no doubt to bury bad news)  was responded today with the fact “that I am affected too and the country can’t afford the status quo” although I had to point out in reply that he wouldn’t be affected due to the MP final salary pension scheme being one of the most generous in the UK…  Ho hum!

So in summary, if you want to use your MP to attack unfair decisions being made by your local council go ahead, you’ll likely be well rewarded.  🙂

If you want them to fight for you on a national cause – forget it! 😦

Power to the people!

 

 

 

The Usefulness (or not) of Members of Parliament…

Exploring the Past

Yesterday we decided to go for a short drive to try and dry off Molly after her usual “dip” in the Usk, Hamish having dipped his toe in wasn’t as bad thank goodness but as the odour emanating from the rear of the Freelander got worse I decided it would be a good idea to get out and dry them both out with a further walk.

I remembered reading Chris Barber’s book on following in Alexander Cordell‘s footsteps that they paid a visit together to see the ruins of the Clydach ironworks which run parallel to the A465 Head of the Valleys road that is currently being “duelled” through huge earthworks in the Clydach gorge.

So turning sharp left from the A465 under the new bridge being built and following the road round for 1/4 mile we saw the turnoff for the car park to the right.

By now it was quite hot and Molly was literally steaming as we made our way across the River Clydach on an old metal bridge into a clearing with some stone ruins to the rear shaded by some young trees.

Debbie & Hamish walking from the bridge towards the ruins
Chris Barber’s book was written in the late 1980’s and his photo of these ruins was bare of trees!
Closer inspection of the railed off ruins, with three blast furnaces in the foreground

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After trying to identify the ruins today with the drawing of the ironworks above as it would have appeared in 1840 we retraced ourselves back to the car across the old bridge again, remembering that if we’d bought the house in Gilwern rather than Mountain View it ran all along the side of the property.

The same Clydach gorge that further downstream passed by Rock Cottage in Gilwern

With Molly and Hamish now only slightly damp we decided to continue exploring and rejoined the A465 only to double back at the next mini roundabout and take the road off to the left towards Blackrock running parallel to the main road but on the other side this time.

After reaching the Brynmawr summit we then decided to take a single track road called Hafod Road that followed the contour of the ridge of the mountain above the road we just driven up.  There were excellent views of the old quarries cut into the mountain opposite, as well as sadly a tin can that had been carelessly thrown out of an earlier car!

Following the road round to the left it readily became quite steep to the right and narrow so to take this photo I pulled into a passing point.  We didn’t encounter any cars thank goodness but quite a few pedestrians and their dogs and push bikers enjoying the scenery.

Sugar Loaf and Skirrid Fawr on the horizon

Continuing on to the left we passed the odd hill farm to the left until we reached a large cross roads with a car park to the left and a Youth Hostel sign to the right.  We carried on until we reached a dead end and having retraced our path for 1/4 mile we then headed off downhill hoping to find a country pub to refresh ourselves and the dogs.

This was when the adventure really started as the road down was very steep, very narrow with few passing points should a vehicle be coming up the other way.  With my heart in my mouth and silent from the three other passengers I threaded the Freelander down between two houses gingerly and made our way to Llangattock and civilisation!

There was nothing to do further than celebrate continued life by visiting the Bridge End Inn in Crickhowell where this selfie and picturesque view of the bridge over the River Usk made an excellent end to the adventure.

Beautiful spot to relax and take in the views of horses paddling under the bridge

By the time we got back to the car the hounds were dry, our thirst quenched thanks to San Miguel and we headed off home exhausted but happy!

Exploring the Past

Remembering Cpl James Davies VC

Just over 100 years after his death in Flanders, this brave soldier’s sacrifice together sadly with many others was commemorated during the presenting of the Royal Welsh colours in Abergavenny yesterday.

The parade of 70 regular army soldiers was organised in reaffirmation of the Freedom of Monmouthshire parade being granted to the regiment in 2011 in Monmouth.

They were led by their Regimental Band and Corps of Drums who were all Army Reserve volunteers with the local Army Cadets following them.  Separating the soldiers from their band was the Regimental goat mascot on the march to St. John’s Square from the start just opposite Borough market.

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I asked the goat major why he was allowed a beard to which he answered “because the goat has one” which sounded like a reasonable excuse!
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Bandsmen all army reservists – with their leader sporting a huge bearskin hat and a rather portly figure – but hugely impressive nonetheless…

The parade started with the familiar commands of “standing/dressing in open order” which brought back memories and not a little tear in my eyes, followed by the band playing – as can be seen in this video.

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The men sporting a white hackle above their cap badge
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A very appreciative crowd gathered to see them off

The personal weapon drilled with was the SA80 with a bayonet attached which looked only slightly easier than my own Sterling 9mm SMG backing in Templar barracks for the Squad 29 pass out parade!

After arriving at the square, the speeches were very good both from the town mayor David Simcock who reminded us of the forces covenant especially as the Royal Welsh had deployed recently to Iraq and Afghanistan with an imminent move to Estonia after recent exercises in Canada.

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St John’s Square the corporal had been in service over fifteen  years when asked by the inspecting mayor which made me feel quite humble
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The dignitaries taking the salute

After the speeches Debbie and I made our way back to the Freelander parked in the rugby car park, stopping along the way to pay our respects at the town’s war memorial in honour of one of the predecessors of the Royal Welsh our own 3rd Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment and the statue of a “Tommy” contemplating the fighting in Ypres.

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Going back to the beginning of this post of course James our youngest son shares the same name as the poor soldier from 100 years ago awarded the Victoria Cross, long may the peace last that we all enjoy thanks to our wonderful armed forces.

Remembering Cpl James Davies VC

Taking a Break…

Hi

I’ve been publishing this blog to llanfoist.com and “sharing” it on Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn for over two years now.

I’ve decided to take a break from social media until 2018 and concentrate just on blogging for now.

So for those of you who have enjoyed the ride so far I thank you for your continued interest, but everything in moderation as they say!

Au revoir

Peter

Taking a Break…

Molly’s “Birthday”

It was a year ago today that myself, Debbie, James, Emma & Hamish drove down to Gatwick in the Galaxy to pick up Molly our rescue golden retriever.  We’d adopted her from the Many Tears rescue centre in Llanelli who’d rescued her from an Irish puppy farm.

Molly had been fostered with Julie who lived near Gatwick awaiting her “forever home” and we found out later that she had been considering adopting her but fortunately for us we were very keen to take her on, hence the rapid deployment down south!

Of course we don’t really know her true birthday, nor how old she really is but officially from now on we will treat today as her third birthday which can’t be far out.  Many people have told us that taking on a rescue dog is very rewarding and all we can say is that we agree wholeheartedly.

Molly is the most affectionate dog we’ve ever had in the family (sorry Tom & Hamish) and I think seeing her transform from a untrusting, terrified and emaciated creature into the happy and contented member of the family we see today is really heartwarming.

So here follows her monthly adventures over the past year as she too has “escaped to Llanfoist”!

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May 2016

This is how Molly looked when she first came to Llanelli from Ireland, she was looked after by Chloe one of the volunteers at Many Tears who sent us this photo before she was fostered out…

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June 2016

This was us collecting Molly on the 29th June from Julie who lived in Copthorne near Crawley and Gatwick airport.  She had a rather smelly slip lead around her neck for the journey home as we were all terrified she’d escape and we’d not get her back.

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July 2016

For the first few weeks we all had to work hard to earn her trust despite inducements such as raw lamb breast and sliced hot dog sausages…

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August 2016

Eventually we started to venture out and I had the Freelander fitted with a dog guard supplemented by a rear window guard so that we could lower the window without them escaping.

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September 2016

Despite being the larger dog Molly will often curl up and sleep in Hamish’s smaller bed and even worse ours!

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October 2016

Eventually we gave up trying to get her to sleep in her cate downstairs and somehow she wheedled her way onto our king sized bed.  Not for long though and we found that she quickly preferred to sleep in her own bed next to us, rather than being disturbed in the night as we tossed and turned!

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November 2016

This was her first visit to the seaside at Barry Island and although she only paddled a little in the sea water this must have given her ideas for wallowing in the River Usk later on.

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December 2016

Her first Christmas with us dressed as a reindeer, unlike our neighbours Andy and Helen who dressed as Elves…

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January 2017

A lady in repose relaxing on our bed while she thought we weren’t looking.

Amazingly I can’t find a photo of her in February 2017, the only missing month!

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March 2017

Watching the Rugby with James in her favourite viewing position.

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April 2017

A walk up Sugar Loaf mountain licking her lips in anticipation of sheep…

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May 2017

A later walk down Sugar Loaf after chasing some sheep hence back on the lead!

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June 2017

A classic pose in the River Usk sans tennis ball.  This walk is the highlight of her day and she will nudge my hand and prompt me to where we store the dog leads to try and persuade us to take the Land Rover out and park up at Castle Meadows.

So a year on what does Hamish think of her?  I’m not 100% sure but I do know he gets jealous of affection that we show to Molly but when we try and do the same to him in return his terrier instinct kicks in, but all in all I think he loves his little (or should that be big) sister don’t you Hamish?

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Together at Royvon kennels
Molly’s “Birthday”

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

I love the Small Faces song called Lazy Sunday which goes a little like this:

A wouldn’t it be nice to get on with me neighbours
But they make it very clear
They’ve got no room for ravers
They stop me from groovin’, they bang on me wall
They doing me crust in, it’s no good at all – ah

Lazy Sunday afternoon
I’ve got no mind to worry
I close my eyes and drift away-a

🙂

Truthfully though, two years ago all I would do on a Sunday afternoon would think about my Monday work schedule and often try and make a dent in it in advance to catch up by working into the evening…

Today though I had no such thoughts!  After getting up around eight-ish to feed Molly I rejoined the slumbering Debbie after our rather late night watching the Jacksons at Glastonbury on the box.  Sadly without Michael the acoustics seemed a bit off, possibly due to advancing age but it was still enjoyable.

Eventually we both got up to take her out for her swim in the Usk as Hamish was still asleep upstairs with James who was having a day off from the Blue Cross and Emma was pottering around in her newly reconfigured bedroom.  Note:  just ordered her a new double bed to replace her current single so that she and Josh don’t have to change rooms when he comes up to stay.

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Driving the “hippo” with her new Anglo Freelander Club sticker on the rear window over to the free car park at Castle Meadows right next to the entrance we let Molly off the lead and she hurtled towards her favourite place on earth namely the River Usk.

 

These two photos were taken the previous week during the heatwave inflicted on our return to the UK after Menorca, just when we were looking forward to a cooler clime!

On this occasion we took the tennis ball chucker to give her even more exercise and after around ten swims and an extended walk with her revelling in hiding in the extra long grass and having a breather.

The local fire brigade had three engines out with teams practicing a rescue of people from the river near Llanfoist bridge and after a quick peek we headed back up to the King’s Arms for a refreshing half pint of Moretti – purely to allow extra time for Molly to dry out and have a refreshing bowl of water provided by the helpful barman.

Rather than rush back home with all the windows open in the Freelander to expel the odour of damp dog we decided to go for a quick run to see if we could find where Jonathan and Angela are going to stay at Old Rectory Cottage in The Bryn, a few miles outside Abergavenny later in summer.

Alas we saw a sign first for strawberry PYO and after taking a few wrong turns passing the  Chainbridge Inn (which looked like it was closed for refurbishment) on the way to Usk town, we stopped off at the farm shop just off the B4598 where we bought two punnet of strawberries, one of gooseberries and a small bag of potatoes and a large one of broad bean pods.

Loading up with fresh produce we headed past the Hardwick restaurant and saw the turning for The Bryn a little too late – we’ll explore it properly on another day.  Arriving home to Amazon Logistics trying to deliver our order for Hamish’s food next door, we ate rather a lot of our newly acquired fruit.

Debbie reminded me that her father loved broad beans cooked with bacon, needing no further encouragement I placed my order, ate it and decided to leave Debbie with the two hounds while I did a quick shop in our local Aldi for dinner.

On my return home I proceeded upstairs to put on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra to listen to TMS and the England vs. South Africa T20 cricket match in the den where I’m writing this blog.

Paradise and truly a lazy Sunday afternoon!

🙂

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Once a Geek, Always a Geek…

It’s now over two years since I retired from my job as Regional VP for UK & Ireland at Gartner Executive Programs (keep those cheers quiet all ex-colleagues please) but I still love dabbling in technology where the entry cost is minimal.

So I get a thrill each time I logon via my eldest son’s cast-off iPhone 6 via thumbprint recognition, which incidentally still worked when I cut it open (my thumb!) with an ill thought out attempt to open a tin can…

One of the last attempted and sadly abortive hires in the UK & Ireland team I managed was in the area of fintech, which my new Italian boss was very keen on acquiring into the team, for a very good reason.  Financial services firms typically spend the most on IT with government coming a decent second, but my grasp on this sector was minimal at the time & despite offering to “name your price” the answer was “no”.

Now some time ago I read an article about “Mondo” bank which was a fintech 3rd generation start-up looking at revolutionising the UK current account which typically is rather a kludge with a mainframe type backend with a fancy “app” as a front end with many layers in-between which often cause technical “challenges”.

Now I’ve banked with the Nationwide for many years now and their app just gets better and better but the underlying legacy architecture is still apparent with real time updates of balances pretty much impossible and transactions often taking a couple of days to appear on the account, which on occasion has caught me out in a rather bad way, thinking I had more money than I had…

Mondo, renamed Monzo recently due to a clash with another trademarked business, has an all new architecture that permits real time pushes of transactions and automatic classification of the types of expense plus the ability to take photos of receipts for your records.

This intrigued me and although only a beta test of a pre-paid Maestro debit card it warranted further investigation so six months ago I applied online to join.  Unfortunately there was a waiting list of many thousands ahead of me and I quickly lost interest and ignored an email to say that I was now eligible to send then a £100 top up and get my hands on a card.

That was until a few days ago when Martin Lewis from moneysavingexpert.com came on TV and Debbie suggested I listen to what he said about financial common sense when it comes to foreign holidays.

Much to my surprise he recommended the Monzo card as it was very cost effective to use abroad despite the waiting list time.  Given our two trips to Greece we’ve booked in the next year I checked back with Monzo to find out that if I wanted still wanted their card I could without any further delay.

Getting the card was quite interesting as there were no forms to fill out but configuring the app required a photo scan of my driving licence and a short video selfie to be uploaded to their servers, to satisfy presumably money laundering regulations, then a transfer from my Nationwide current account of £100 to pump prime the card which arrived via first class post a few days later.

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Not mine I hasten to add…. 🙂

The app on my iPhone was initialised with the card’s details, which incidentally doesn’t have my name embossed on it but is contactless, operates real time and runs against the host application running on Amazon Web Services – at least according to a current Gartner analyst I’m Facebook friends with!

This is where the modern “push” architecture really shows, although “deja vu” hit me again when I discovered much to my chagrin that our eldest son Alex is already a Monzo user.

This is the same Alex who aged ten was interviewed by Jon Snow at the ITN studios for Channel 4’s “First Edition” in November 1994.  The topic was on the information superhighway, as the internet was called then, which prompted me as the so-called global head of IT strategy to download a “Mosaic” browser and demo the world wide web to an incredulous Pfizer leadership team shortly after…

Anyway, to get back on topic today my card arrived and I proceeded to top it up with further funds, freeze and unfreeze it via the app, change the pin, withdraw cash and purchase a bottle of wine from Waitrose using contactless  – all in the cause of fintech user acceptance testing naturally!

I have to say it’s all rather impressive and a foretaste of how current accounts are likely to be operated from a mobile perspective going forward.  I think one of the big six current account providers are likely to buy the company at some stage to leap-frog their traditional competitors and catch up on such fintech upstarts.

Now I wish I’d got shares via the two previous crowdfunding rounds now they’ve obtained an unrestricted banking licence, ah well!  For now I’m keeping my main financial capability with the Nationwide and I’m truly in beta test mode with Monzo but I have a feeling…

🙂

 

 

Once a Geek, Always a Geek…