Tucker Carlson

Via ZMan I came across this speech by Fox presenter Tucker Carlson which he gave to the International Association of Fire Fighters a few months ago. The first ten minutes are well worth your time, and he makes several points that I’ve made on this here blog over the last year or so.

I like Tucker Carlson, both his political views and presentation style. He is refreshingly honest about the sort of people who inhabit Washington DC and he freely admits that he is very much one of them. His career seems to be soaring – he took over the prime 8pm slot when Bill O’Reilly got the boot – and I hope that, when the ruling classes eventually turn on him and start looking for dirt, they can’t find anything.


Two Approaches to Safety

Tim Worstall makes the following remark in response to a column by Polly Toynbee:

There was significant regulation here. What there wasn’t was responsibility. And a little more of the second can be very much more important than the first. Whether we call it the Clerk of Works, or professional responsibility, whatever, that one individual–and yes, making it one person does concentrate minds wonderfully–owns a project, the benefits and failures of it in that liability sense, tends to make things safer. On the very sensible basis that someone with their knackers potentially in the vice tends to pay attention. Box ticking doesn’t have quite the same effect.

This is absolutely correct.

In the wake of Piper Alpha, the regulations governing North Sea oil and gas operations were completely overhauled to address the many, many shortcomings that had led to the world’s worst oilfield disaster. One of them was to adopt what is known in the industry as a risk-based approach to safety, and put the responsibility to implement it on the shoulders of the operating companies.

What this means in practice is this. Each company must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the UK HSE and – God forbid – a tribunal or court in the event of an accident, that the residual risks have been minimised to a degree which is As Low As Reasonable Practicable (ALARP). Residual risk is the term used to described the risks associated with a facility or operation which remain once mitigation and prevention measures have been implemented. This is important: playing around with highly volatile hydrocarbons is an inherently dangerous business, and there will always be risks associated with it. The requirement is not to eliminate risks entirely, as that would entail leaving the hydrocarbons in the ground, but to minimise the risks that remain once you’ve done all you can.

This is the principle of ALARP: “reasonably practicable” is an open term with no strict definition, but is well understood in the risk management industry. It recognises the fact that money spent on safety and minimising risks is a scarce resource and must be properly targetted. If open-ended safety obligations are demanded of an oil company, commercial operations will cease.

Most important is the word demonstrate, which is why I emboldened it. How a company demonstrates that it has minimised the risks associated with its operations is largely up to them, but the North Sea has developed a standard process (with associated tools and techniques) which all operators now follow. In short, it consists of:

1. Identifying potential hazards and the events they could lead to.

2. Identifying the consequences of such events should they occur, in terms of effects on humans, the environment, the asset, and the company reputation.

3. Identifying what can be done to prevent the event (preventative measures).

4.Identifying what can be done to mitigate the impact of the event, should it occur (mitigation measures).

5. How the company intends to manage the residual risks of their operations once 3 and 4 have been implemented.

This process focuses the minds of those charged with designing, building, and operating the installations to ensure the residual risks are ALARP, and can indeed be demonstrated to the satisfaction of anyone who may ask (e.g. regulatory bodies). I am heavily involved in this entire process as my day-job, and have been for years. I take the approach that if I find myself hauled in front of a court facing twenty to thirty years in an African prison for manslaughter, can I demonstrate that I did everything I could do minimise the risks associated with the installation? I am not exaggerating, I really do think this. In Nigeria I was responsible for signing off designs. Gulp.

By telling companies that they have to demonstrate their facilities and operations are as safe as they can be, and all potentially catastrophic scenarios have been thought of and addressed, it forces them to take responsibility for the complete design and operation. Moreover, it forces them to consider the installation as a whole, i.e. how the different systems interact with one another, and address the unique complexities of their particular situation.

The alternative system is one whereby clever people draw up a set of rules and regulations that must be followed, and if a company does then – in theory – the installation will be safe. This is called a prescriptive-based approach to safety. In effect it’s a giant box-ticking exercise, which involves little actual thinking on the part of the design engineers and allows them to shift responsibility to those who drafted the regulations if something goes wrong. As far as I am aware, this is how most industries are regulated: companies obtain a set of prescriptive rules and regulations and if they follow them to the letter, they are covered. Indeed, this is how the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) works, and this approach is applied to their own oilfields.

The shortcomings of the prescriptive-based approach are obvious, but a risk-based approach is more complicated and expensive to implement. However, the lessons from Piper Alpha might well be dusted off and re-learned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. I highly doubt that the British building regulatory regime allowed banned cladding to be installed: I am reasonably certain that it was quite legal. However, they were clearly not suitable for the application, because nobody considered the cladding system as a whole as it was installed on that particular tower, and what might happen in the event of a fire. All they did was select a panel type that was approved by the regulations, comply with all the other regulations, and assume they were safe.

The problem with prescriptive regulations is that they cannot anticipate every scenario, and it only takes one unique application of a certain product or system to leave the whole thing prone to a catastrophe. Or course lessons will be learned from the Grenfell Tower fire and that particular gap will be closed, but others will remain so long as we insist on a prescriptive-based approach to safety. The irony is that all those people calling for companies to take greater responsibility for the works they carry out are likely to be the same people calling for greater regulation, which will inevitably be of the prescriptive type. The two demands are not compatible: either we tell companies to follow the regulations, or we tell them to proceed as they see fit but demonstrate to the regulators that they’ve done the job properly and take full responsibility if it later proves they haven’t.

My guess is we’ll end up with an unhealthy mess of both: companies told to follow regulations but also carry the can when those regulations prove to be inadequate, leading to increased prices, a lack of transparency, and yet more cosy partnerships and conflicts of interest between private businesses and those writing the regulations. None of this will make the public any safer.


A Tragic Spiral Downwards

A few weeks ago a deranged lunatic murdered two people on a train in Oregon after they interrupted his verbal assault on a Muslim woman and her friend. One of the victims, Ricky Best, was stripped of his wedding ring and backpack as he lay dying by one George Tschaggeny in what was described as a “completely heartless” act by the Portland Police. Tschaggeny was seen stealing the items on CCTV and was later found in a homeless camp wearing the wedding ring.

This Tschaggeny sounds like the sort of man you’d want to drop into a deep hole and forget about, but Samantha Matsumoto, a journalist at The Oregonian, has done some splendid work and written an article which suggests we might want to pause for a moment:

Tschaggeny’s ex-wife remembers, they built a great life together.

[He] introduced her to Australian shepherds, and soon, they had four.

They spent their days hiking, mountain biking and lifting weights. At home, their TV was always tuned to the Western movie channel. Tschaggeny tended to the rose garden in their yard and, every day, he made his wife lunch for work and then dropped her off.

Tschaggeny was honored by police in June 2010 for stopping a bank robber a few months earlier, Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson said. The robber led police on a car chase, then crashed into a bus at Providence Hospital. The robber ran into a nearby neighborhood.

Tschaggeny, who was in his front yard of his home with another man, Scott Morales, saw the robber with a knife in his hand running from officers. They chased him down and took him to the ground, holding him there until police could arrest him.

The awards ceremony lauded the men’s “courageous and selfless” actions.

So what went wrong?

Tschaggeny started going to a clinic for knee pain he still had from injuries he’d gotten as a child. To help him deal with the pain, his ex-wife said, the clinic prescribed him pills.

“That’s how it all began,” she said.

The change happened slowly. Tschaggeny’s ex-wife noticed he was angry and not interested in their usual activities.

At some point, though his ex-wife isn’t exactly sure when, he began to use heroin.

From there it was all downhill: Tschaggeny became a different person, his marriage failed, and he started getting in trouble with the law. It’s easy to criticise people for getting hooked on drugs, but this guy didn’t set out to become a junkie, he was fighting what sounds like chronic knee pain. And as the article says:

Four in five new heroin users reported they started out abusing prescription pills, according to a 2016 report by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Many say they turned to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids, the report says.

I’ve had a bad back for years which has recently gotten worse (yes, I’ve been to a doctor), and I am trying everything I can to manage the pain without taking pills other than the occasional paracetamol. It’s not bad, easily manageable, but on the days when it flares up I can imagine what it must be like for somebody who must live with intense pain in their joints day in, day out, year after year.

I doubt the poor chap in the story above knew quite how badly heroin would destroy his life, but he obviously thought it worth the risk for few hours without pain. Yes, perhaps he was weak and had other flaws which lead him down this path more easily than others, but still…there but for the grace of God, and all that.

The whole thing is a tragic reminder of how easy it is to slip between the cracks of life, and how hard it is to climb back up. It’s hard to know what to do really, other keep an eye on those around you and help them where you can.


In Memory of Steve Gerrard, SSI

There were two or three people who had a substantial and positive influence on me when I was in my mid-to-late teens, all of whom worked at the boarding school I attended.

Participation in the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) was compulsory at Seaford College, situated in the South Downs near Petworth, West Sussex. On my second day there I was sent to the “corps office” to collect my uniform, which might have caused me some concern had I not been in the Dyfed Army Cadet Force for the past year and taken to it like a duck to water. The Seaford College CCF was commanded by one Major (cadet force rank) Keith Woodcock who was also a geography teacher, part-time fireman, and all-round good bloke. He had no military experience, and so the unit was assigned a School Staff Instructor (SSI). This came in the form of a stocky, tough-looking individual with a moustache, hairy hands, and a voice which, when raised, would scare the absolute shit out of you. He was Steve Gerrard, a former Warrant Officer 2 (Company Sergeant-Major) who had completed 25 years regular service in the Parachute Regiment (2 Para) following 2 years in the junior army (also as a para).

I walked into the corps office, a skinny, insecure kid who couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and found the SSI, as he was known, behind the desk. He asked me where I was from and I said Wales, and from thereon he addressed me as “Taff” or “Taffy”. He took me into the stores, gave me my uniform, and for the next four years served as a sort of mentor to me. He was an extremely tough man – a veteran of the battle of Goose Green, he’d both boxed and played rugby league for the army – but he showed not the slightest aggression towards anyone. If he needed to assert his authority he only needed to raise his voice slightly, and anyone with in earshot – child or adult – shit themselves and paid attention. You don’t get to be a sergeant-major in the Parachute Regiment by being unable to project authority. Occasionally I was on the receiving end of a sharp word of his, and it brought me to heel pretty fast.

His language was appalling and his eating habits worse: he would sit in the school canteen and wrap bread around whatever was on his plate and stuff it into his mouth like a sandwich. He told me he learned this in the army: you never know when you’re going to be kicked out of the canteen, and if you’ve got it in your hand nobody can take it away from you. But for all his rough exterior he genuinely cared about the welfare of the boys and girls who were placed in his care. He would obtain for them (meaning, steal from the nearest army barracks) the best kit he could lay his hands on, arrange special activities (such as firing machine guns we weren’t supposed to), and do his absolute level best to ensure everybody enjoyed themselves, learned, and were kept safe. I participated heavily in the CCF activities and went three times on the adventure training weeks in Wales and Exmoor. Steve arranged all the logistics, including doing all the catering. He was outrageously funny, mainly because none of us knew a character quite like him: he’d walk into a room of fifteen year old boys and say in his thick Derbyshire accent: “That were fooking lucky, if I’d been a minute later some humpty-backed c*nt would have taken my parking space!” None of our parents or teachers spoke like this.

Looking back, he was probably the first adult to treat me like one. I wasn’t an adult, but he spoke to me in a way that, in hindsight, was highly respectful: he would fire instructions at me, ask for help with CCF activities, teach me things, answer questions, and have conversations without the slightest hint of condescension, pomposity, or arrogance of being in a senior position. He treated everyone equally, and spoke to them in much the same way. Perhaps it was his having a short childhood himself, joining the army at 15, that made him understand that if you want young lads to behave as men you have to treat them like men. For dozens of us, it worked.

I spent a lot of time with the SSI, sitting in the corps office or in the stores, having conversations which were probably very immature on my part. I even met his mother and stayed in his childhood home when he gave me a lift up north one weekend when I was 18. I admired him immensely, as did most people who knew him. He left the army after 27 years somewhat lost – diabetes prevented him from getting a commission – and found a new purpose in teaching young boys and girls things which went way beyond his military remit.

Last week I heard from a schoolfriend, who had followed in Steve’s footsteps by joining the Parachute Regiment, that he had died. Diabetes plagued him even back then and apparently his health had been suffering. I regret I never saw or spoke to him once I’d left school: living abroad meant I rarely went home anyway, and his sharing a name with a famous contemporary footballer meant finding him online was impossible, assuming he was even there to be found. I wish I’d been able to let him know what a great help he was to me at a time when I needed it. I’m sure I’ll not be the only one.

Rest in peace, Sir. You really were one of the very best.


Modern Britain on Display

Yesterday evening I did what I rarely do, and that was watch the TV news. I switched it on because I was reading reports on Twitter that a riot was going down in Kensington, egged on by Sky and BBC reporters.

What I saw was illuminating if one wishes to see what modern Britain is like. I don’t mean understand what it is like, just to see what it is like. A protest had been organised against the local council in response to the Grenfell Tower fire by a man with an Egyptian name whose accent suggested he’d lived in London for a while but wasn’t native born. He was surrounded by people waving crudely-printed A4 signs with people’s photos on, presumably those missing or dead. He was speaking in a stuttering, disjointed manner but with plenty of passion into a loudhailer, cheered on by the crowd. It looked very much like the protests you see on TV taking place in Pakistan, the Middle East, or North Africa. Which is about as surprising as British football hooligans looking like British football hooligans even when they’re in Portugal.

The protesters had submitted a list of demands to the council, one of which was that all those effected by the fire be rehoused immediately in the same area. Within 30 minutes – which must be an all-time national record – the local government responded saying they will rehouse everyone and do their utmost to make sure people can stay in the same area. The protesters rejected this, presumably because they have knowledge of an empty tower sitting nearby into which all residents can move immediately.

They then interviewed several people who were complaining about the information regarding the number of dead. The police said they can only confirm each death once they have a dead body – a reasonable argument, one supposes – but warned the number will probably rise. The people interviewed didn’t like this approach and would prefer the police speculate as to how many people might be dead. The leader of the protest said he was upset because the police said six people had been confirmed dead and he’d thought that was the lot. People who had not heard from loved ones since the fire, and were sure they were inside when it happened, blamed the police for keeping them in limbo. To be fair, these individuals were highly distressed and I can’t blame them for lashing out: they get a free pass.

As the evening wore on the protest morphed into one calling for the resignation of Theresa May, seemingly on the grounds that she had won the election last week but Labour had done better than expected and this fire ought to reverse the result. I have no idea how many people protesting were residents of the Grenfell Tower or their relatives with a genuine grievance, and how many were simply hard-left rent-a-mob types who have taken a lead from their cousins in the US and decided to make the country ungovernable.

Browsing Twitter, many people felt an inquiry into the fire is not required because even if the cause is not known the solution is: the Tories must be replaced by Labour in national government. For those who did venture a theory as to the cause, it was a muddle of technically incorrect information regarding sprinklers, cladding, and insulation mixed in with general cluelessness about how installation works are priced, subcontracted, and carried out. The Daily Mail didn’t help things by spouting absolute bollocks on the subject, as usual.

I thought the whole thing was a wonderful illustration of modern Britain, and few came out looking good. Having a bunch of foreigners submitting a list of demands to a local council who, when they respond almost immediately with a reasonable statement, see fit to reject it is indicative of the sort of people who are in that council, and the people who voted them in. They’ve spent so much time, effort, and money in pandering to the feelings of minority groups that they’ve allowed these mobs to develop; this hasn’t just occurred overnight. The irony is that in doing this, the council has neglected more pressing tasks – such as ensuring people are not living in tower blocks shrouded in flammable materials.

You have the police issuing reasonable statements, seemingly bewildered that the mob in front of them jeers and throws things at them. Could it be that the touchy-feely Met police who are quick to throw people in jail for racist Tweets aren’t actually liked or respected by the diverse mobs whose arses they’ve been licking for the past twenty years? Yet only last week I had a bunch of policeman assure me public opinion of them is rising.

Then you have the mob of white, middle class hipsters wandering through London shouting “Tories Out!” Where are their parents? Inviting them around for Sunday dinner and doing their laundry, I expect. They probably think it’s perfectly fine that Toby is out calling for violent revolution against the ruling classes who engineered the house price increase that paid for their son’s “education” in the first place. And he wants a new iPhone for his birthday, but not the shit one with no memory.

I was just a kid in the 1980s when we had that seemingly endless series of disasters: Piper Alpha, the Herald of Free Enterprise, the King’s Cross fire, the Marchioness, the Clapham Junction rail crash. These were catastpophes of enormous consequence with all the emotional and human aspects of the Grenfell Tower fire, yet we did not see third-world style mobs whipping up anger and making ludicrous demands, nor perpetual adolescents demanding the government be replaced by one headed by a bunch who’d just lost an election. Sensible heads prevailed, inquests were held, genuine lessons were learned, and the rules changed so they didn’t happen again. In those days the adults were in charge.

Is Theresa May in charge now? Hardly. It appears that nobody is, and every time somebody opens their mouths they are already compromised by being complicit in the sort of blithering incompetence and half-arsed dithering that brought this entire situation about in the first place: the unfettered immigration, the pandering to minorities, the emphasis on feelings, the win-at-all-costs politicking, the ludicrous housing and welfare policies, the stuffing of councils and companies with inadequate people who are incapable of doing the job and – most importantly – the voters who put them there, kept them there, and shit their pants at the first sign that anyone, anywhere, wants to do things differently.

I watched the news last night and realised I have no dog in this fight. I have nothing whatsoever in common with any of the people involved, the whole thing might as well be being played out on Mars. I’m not just talking about the people who lost their homes, I’m talking about the protesters, the media, the politicians, the police, the middle class voters, and most of those commenting on social media. I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a witch’s cauldron, looking at some bizarre concoction being prepared and wondering how it’s all going to turn out.

Badly, would be my guess. See if I care.


Further thoughts on the Grenfell Tower

Over the past 24 hours social media seems to have been inundated with experts on structural engineering and fire protection. I am no expert in either, but I know a bit about the latter – a career in oil and gas will leave you with more knowledge on fires and explosions than most. I probably know more about structural engineering than most people, too.

When I was involved in the construction of a residential unit in Sakhalin, I was told the fire protection was not there to protect the asset, it was to buy enough time for everyone to evacuate. Once everyone is out – well, let it burn, claim the insurance, and build another one. Of course, it was designed not to burn, but if it did the priority was to get everyone out ASAP. Being owned by an oil company, the unit we built had alarms and a full evacuation plan.

I have no idea what the philosophy was in the Grenfell Tower, but it should have been to get everyone out ASAP in the event of a fire: you hear the alarm, everyone evacuates, the firemen turn up to see what’s what. From what I’m hearing, people believed they should stay in their apartments because the flats were designed to contain fires, or something like that. Even if they were designed to contain fires, you should still evacuate. Yes, it’s a pain in the arse standing in the carpark in your pyjamas at 1am, but it’s better than burning to death.

Back when I worked for a Shell-affiliated company, an email went around about two Shell employees who were staying in a hotel in (I think) India. When you work for a major oil company, particularly Shell, safety is dinned into you from day one to the point that it becomes second-nature even outside your workplace. Next time you see Rex Tillerson boarding or disembarking from a plane, notice how he always holds the handrail: he got that from ExxonMobil. Anyway, these two guys were in their hotel rooms when the fire alarm went off. Most people would have just thought “sod it” and stayed in bed, but these boys were good little soldiers and grabbed their passports and left via the fire escape. They got outside and found the whole building was alight, and some people died. Shell saw fit to circulate this in an email, and it made an impression on me. If you hear an alarm, get the hell out of there. Better to look a fool than be dead.

Anyway, my point is that fire protection is usually installed to slow down the spread of a fire, and give people enough time to get out. A lot of people are asking why sprinkler systems weren’t installed in the Grenfell Tower. Contrary to what most people think, sprinkler systems are not supposed to extinguish fires: they are activated by heat and designed to keep surfaces cool, thus preventing the fire from spreading. You know when you see the firemen spraying water at a fire? Most of the time they’re not aiming it at the flames, they’re soaking the areas around it. They don’t have enough water to put the fire out, so the best they can do is try to keep the surrounding surfaces cool enough so it won’t spread. Eventually the fire will spread, if it’s hot enough and there is enough fuel, but it will take more time and hopefully everyone will be out by then. All the firemen do from then is to try to stop the building collapsing and the fire spreading to other properties.

I doubt there are many residential buildings in the world which have the sort of evacuation procedures you see in offices and hotels. Perhaps this will change, or at the very least people will be advised to evacuate rather than stay in their apartments. There is not much point installing sprinkler systems which buy people time to evacuate if everyone is staying put.

I confess I was surprised that the cladding was flammable. This is a rather colossal failure of the building regulations, and raises the question how much of this stuff has been installed already. Quite a bit, would be my guess. It is possible to get cladding which has insulating properties and is also fireproof, and we use it extensively on oil and gas facilities. It is usually a form of mineral wool, but it is probably too expensive for large-scale residential use. You also need to keep the stuff dry: it isn’t much good when sopping wet, meaning the external cladding needs to be watertight, i.e. properly designed and installed.

I have heard reports that £9m was spent refurbishing the Grenfell Tower recently. What isn’t clear is how much of that went on purchasing certified materials and paying qualified, experienced tradesmen and how much went on kickbacks, admin fees, consultancy, fees, and audits to ensure the companies involved had diverse management teams and recycled their office waste properly. As I learned in Russia, spending $50m on a building doesn’t always give you $50m worth of building.

Finally, Twitter user Old Holborn has discovered that the monthly rent in the Grenfell Tower was £1,625 per month. It might be slightly less now, but this is London so perhaps not. I’m wondering why this tower, sitting in one of the most expensive boroughs in the country and consisting mainly of social housing, was occupied almost exclusively by immigrants from the poorest parts of the world. Actually, I know the answer to that.

This whole incident raises so many questions it’s hard to know where to begin.

And this:

On Thursday, the first victim of the fire was named as Syrian refugee Mohammed Alhajali, 23.

In a statement, the Syria Solidarity Campaign said Mr Alhajali, a civil engineering student, had been in a flat on the 14th floor when the fire broke out, and had spent two hours on the phone to a friend in Syria.

He had been trying to get through to his family while he was waiting to be rescued.

“Mohammed came to this country for safety and the UK failed to protect him,” the group said.

Speaks volumes.


Of Sub-Letting and Scams

Back when I lived in Lagos I had an English friend who was married to a Nigerian-born British lady. Because of this, they interacted a lot more with the locals than the rest of us expats. We lived in a compound on a private island in accommodation that by any standards, let alone those of Nigeria, would get called luxury (lest you think we were spoiled, one of the issues that plague developing world cities is that there are generally two types of housing: total shitholes and ludicrously expensive luxury apartments).

My friends got chatting to some Nigerian neighbours and discovered that one of their income streams was sub-letting council properties in London to other Nigerians. They’d gone to the UK, got themselves a council house or flat, rented it out to somebody else, then came back to Lagos. When my friends started getting cross at this, the response of their neighbours was along the lines of:

“Why are you mad at us? Why aren’t you mad at the idiots who put this stupid system in place that allows Nigerians to get council houses and rent them out? Frankly, we can’t believe that they let us do this!”

They had a point. One of the worst aspects of the British welfare system isn’t that so many people game it, but that it does not adequately provide for many of the deserving poor either. Yet we’re always being told it’s a funding issue, rather than an organisational one.

I was reminded of this story when I read somebody on Twitter saying that in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, some poor sod is going to have to work out who was actually living there. I don’t know the mix of private and social housing in the block, but you can be sure that sub-letting of council flats was going on. Although disallowed, the practice is widespread, particularly among immigrant communities. Even identifying the dead might be difficult if the person living in a particular flat wasn’t the person whose name is one the lease. No doubt insurance claims will be affected as well, assuming they even had any.

This in turn reminded me of something else, bringing me back to Nigeria again. On the only occasion I flew from Lagos to Port Harcourt, i.e. an internal flight, I was surprised to find my boarding pass – handed to me by a Nigerian who was assigned to “look after me” – had somebody else’s name on it. Apparently middle-men buy up all the plane tickets the moment they’re issued by the airline and re-sell them at a marked-up price. That this is allowed to go on says everything you need to know about Nigeria, but it’s not just a cost issue. It occurred to me as the plane lurched and weaved its way towards Port Harcourt that if it crashed nobody would have any clue who was on it. There was no record of me being a passenger, some chap with a Yoruba name was supposed to be in my seat. People would assume he’s dead, which I’m sure would open up all sorts of opportunities for additional scams.

I’d not be at all surprised if opportunists seize on the Grenfell Tower tragedy to perpetuate various scams, either.


An Excerpt Re-Written

I took on board the advice I received when I posted the excerpt from my book in May and am in the process of rewriting the whole lot. In particular I am trying to, as commenters dearieme and Andrew suggested, build the descriptions as the action occurs, not alongside it. More importantly, I realised it is overwritten and my efficiency of words was poor (which is probably not surprising for a first draft), and I was spoon-feeding the reader with too much information.

I don’t find this rewriting particularly difficult as such – I understand what I have to do – but it does take concentration, more than writing the first draft did. If you have to check every word for suitability and necessity, it only takes a few paragraphs before you’re skimming and not doing the job properly. I have found myself having to read and re-read the same passages a dozen times or more. Of course, there may be other things I need to do with it which I’m not yet aware of and may prove more difficult again, and I am sure at least one more rewrite will be required before it goes in front of an editor.

The word count is tumbling: the first draft was about 98k words and it’s already down to 87k and I’m only halfway through the rewrite. Anyway, yesterday I re-wrote the passage which I posted as an excerpt back in May, taking it from 4,014 words to 2,671 (a reduction of a third). Not quite the 50% which commenter James Hoskins implied, but close enough.

Anyway, the re-written passage is below. Feedback, no matter how brutal, is welcome: I found the last lot to be of tremendous help.

Continue reading



It’s no wonder the Blairites love Macron:

President Emmanuel Macron’s government wants to end a 14-month ‘state of emergency’ in France, but at the same time integrate several of its exceptional anti-terrorism powers into common law, alarming judges and civil liberty groups.

Warrant-less property searches and house arrests, two controversial measures currently used by French security officials under special state of emergency powers, could become ordinary policing practices under a new bill being sponsored by the country’s new government.

This is right out of Blair’s authoritarian, snooping, meddling handbook. If he starts going on about military action in Syria, look out.


The Lions v The Highlanders

Last night I watched the British & Irish Lions lose a closely-fought, scrappy match against a depleted Highlanders side.

It was a completely different Lions side from the one that beat the Crusaders, and they were playing a very different opposition. The Highlanders have always been a side that plays by creating as much chaos as they can and hassling the opposition in defence and at the breakdown. Predictable they are not, and the Lions are probably pleased that scrum half Aaron Smith, who excels at orchestrating the chaos, was not playing.

The loss was not a bad one: 23-22 is a close match, and it was hard-fought on both sides. More importantly, it gave Gatland another look at those players who didn’t play against the Crusaders. Certain questions have been answered, and the outline of the test side is becoming more clear.

Jared Payne cannot play full-back: in the absence of Hogg, who has had to withdraw from the tour through injury, Leigh Halfpenny will surely fill that slot. O’Connor is probably preferred over Webb at scrum half; Webb played well yesterday, but not as well as O’Connor. Biggar had a decent game yesterday, particularly when he delayed his pass to send Joseph in for his try, but I think Farrell will get the No. 10 shirt given his performance against the Crusaders (whose style of play is closer to the All Blacks’ than the Highlanders’ was). Both Joseph and Te’o have played well and look dangerous in attack. Can we play both of them? I don’t know, but I hope so. I’d rather see that than Farrell at centre and Sexton at 10. Sexton isn’t in top form, and I’d prefer to see Biggar on the bench instead of him.

The back row didn’t play especially well: Faletau is better than Stander, and unless Gatland is seeing something I’m not – which he normally does – I’m not sure how he can play Warburton. The second row will cause him the biggest headache: Lawes played well last night and the experience of Alun Wyn-Jones was invaluable, but Kruis impressed against the Crusaders and Itoje is too good to leave out. Marler didn’t impress much yesterday, and the scrum didn’t perform particularly well against a Highlander pack that was a lot weaker than the Crusaders’. They were unable to defend against the lineout drive too, conceding a try. Ability to do so will be vital against the All Blacks.

Two aspects of the Highlanders’ play came as no surprise. Firstly their use of the width of the pitch, bringing Naholo into the game at every opportunity. The Kiwis like to stretch the opposition, and they’ll do that all tour. Secondly, did you see what happened before Naholo’s try? The ball went wide to the Highlanders’ No. 6, Gareth Evans, who was roaming out on the touchline, just as I described here. Joseph went in to tackle him and bounced off, meaning that instead of being bundled into touch as he should have been, he was able to get the ball back inside keeping it in play. A phase or two later and Naholo is running in for a try. The Lions need to make sure these mis-matches out wide are dealt with properly: you don’t want a Lions centre or wing having to tackle Kirean Reid or Ardie Savea and stop him offloading the ball. You can be sure this will be a major part of the All Black’s game, and it is very effective.

The Lions disappointed yesterday but didn’t disgrace themselves by any means. The game, insofar as it showed us who is who in the Lions squad, served its purpose. The match against the New Zealand Maori on Saturday will be as close to a test match as they will come before the real thing. Let’s hope they do well.