PC 189 With Some Trepidation!


You remember back BC when we couldn’t envisage the future and we made plans ….….. that this year included seeing Celina’s family in Estoril over Easter. As we booked the TAP Portugal flights we thought even further ahead and also booked flights to cover the month of August in the sun. Little did we know the whole world was about to be turned on its head, or arse depending on your view.

Our Easter flights were cancelled and we have a voucher for future use with TAP Portugal. As we lived further into the lockdown period, we prayed we would still be able to go to Portugal on 28th July. At some point Celina was checking the airline’s flights from Brazil and in a ‘while I am on the website’ sort of moment, checked our July flights were still there. Nothing showed! We rang the airline in Portugal; I won’t bore you will the length of the call and the number of times we were put on hold etc etc as that, sadly, is an all too familiar experience, but eventually we talked to Gustavo.

We are not flying out of Gatwick in July so had to cancel your flight.”

(Unspoken, as we wanted to keep Gustavo sweet and didn’t want him to hang up , …… “But why didn’t you tell us and explore some of our options?”)

He rebooked us on a flight from London Heathrow for the same day. And so it transpired that on Tuesday we were due to fly to Lisbon. Two days before, the Prime Minister surprised the whole country and those 600, 000 tourists already there by adding Spain to the list of countries from which returnees would have to isolate for 14 days. Difficult if you are only allowed to take 14 days holiday at one go.

We had packed; we had a chum coming to stay in our apartment; we had the taxi booked to take us to Terminal 2. Still ….. Monday night was spent tossing and turning ….. should we or shouldn’t we. ……. imagining this and that …. and some of the other? A little bell was reminding me that my travel insurance probably would be invalid as the UK’s Foreign Office had advised against non-essential travel to Portugal. Maybe that health agreement whereby UK NHS registered individuals could access Portugal’s health care system would be honoured? Was it worth the risk? I should add that it was our intention to simply spend five weeks in Celina’s mother and cousin’s apartment, which has its own pool, not join a group of fifty somethings wanting to relive their youth in the local Cascais nightclubs or boogieing the night away at a BBQ on some distant beach. And anyway Portugal had been remarkably successful in dealing with Covid 19, far far better than the UK, so it wasn’t exactly jumping out of the frying pan into the fire or indeed vica versa. The doubts rumbled around over breakfast!

Sam picked us up and drove us to Heathrow. We hadn’t spent so long with someone in a car for a while and as we talked, I realised something was different. When you meet someone of the first time we automatically look at their eyes; if we find the eyes friendly our own eyes drop down to the mouth – more information gathering at a sub-conscious level. Our Covid 19 facial masks hide a real contributor to the conversation, the visual inputs now limited to the other’s eyes and eyebrows. You have to work harder at a conscious level to convey the intended message. Some people naturally have smiley eyes; for most of us it’s something we are going to have to work on if the wearing of masks becomes a way of life and not just for those attending a Venetian Ball.

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Apparently there is a shop in Brighton only selling facial masks!

At Terminal 2 there are one or two shops open for the few passengers in evidence; everyone is socially-distancing, wearing their personal choice of mask, and looking anxious. We board and taxi to our take-off position. No aircraft are landing and there is no queue of planes on the tarmac, neither in front nor behind us. Normally I am always like a child, fascinated by the long line of landing lights fading up into the sky as the aircraft make their decent towards the apron. Not today! We take off slightly early and fly out over the Isle of Wight, arriving over France on the western side of the Cherbourg Peninsula, and on over the Channel Islands of Sark and Jersey. We’re over Ushant, situated on that North West corner of France and I am reminded of our ferry trip from Portsmouth to Santander on the northern coast of Spain in 2018, when their course takes them through this rocky stretch of water.

My reveries are interrupted by a paper form that’s stuck rather unceremoniously under my nose. We borrow a Biro from the stewardess, for the form wants the details of where we are staying, our mobile numbers, full names, sex, shoe size (no! not really!) and our home address. I have read that some Covid-vaccine deniers think a microchip might be slipped under your skin as you have the little prick of the vaccine needle. This will give Big Brother the ability to access details of your life. (Some people actually believe this rubbish!) This form was enough ….. and I was filling it out very readily!

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The mask is hot to wear for a long time and I reach up to angle the ‘fresh’ air nozzle onto my face. The distance between the rows of seats is adjustable depending on the carrier, the position of the nozzles not. The best I can achieve is for the jet of cool air to hit – just behind my shoulder.

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Flying over Lisbon before doing a 360° turn to line up the approach

We land safely at Lisbon. There’s always one individual who has to be the first to stand as soon as the aircraft comes to a stop, as if they will gain a few seconds and lemming-like the rest of the passengers follow, only to stand bunched in the aisle until row 3 has cleared. Social distancing? Nah? At least they restrict passenger numbers on the coach that took us to the terminal building.

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The Sintra hills in the distance, the Monument to the Discoveries in the foreground on the shore.

On the way up the escalator to ‘Passport Control’ I realise this is my first European flight since the UK left the Union at the end of last year; we are currently in a ‘transition period’. So ‘EU Passports’ or ‘Non-EU Passports’? My burgundy-coloured EU passport is still valid so we try that line. We are through without a hitch. Bags collected and on our way towards Estoril within 40 minutes of landing – without any trepidation!

Richard 30th July 2020

PC 188 Did I Plan my Life? – A Sequel to PC 181

The current pandemic has laid bare a number of myths about the way we live. For instance we have always imagined that the government had stockpiles of ‘kit’ to cope with whatever contingency it faced, be it providing aid to a hurricane-devastated country, coping with heavy snowfalls or managing a health pandemic for instance. In the same vein I used to imagine, in my youth, that my National Insurance contributions were going into an account with my name on it, the government would match them and it was this money, with compound interest added of course, that would pay my state pension when I got to 65 or whenever. Sadly these are just myths!

I have a somewhat jaundiced view that politicians and civil servants often put off making decisions …… until Friday. That afternoon they look at their desk, thinking they should clear some of the stuff before the new week starts and by 1600 they have done so – having no thought to the on-going consequences of those decisions. When I worked in an Army headquarters in Salisbury back at the beginning of the 1980s, we reinforced the British contingent in Belize once and upped the troop numbers in Northern Ireland twice – the decision in each case coming on a Friday afternoon. As we laboured all weekend on the logistics needed to action the plan, the cynic might believe that the decision-maker was enjoying a glass of Pimms in his or her deckchair!

There is obviously a lot of planning within the Army, at all sorts of levels, but it’s widely recognised that at the very basic level, all planning goes out of the window when the first shot is fired. Fortunately individual and unit training kicks in as soon as the battle starts.

I planned to stay in the British Army for ever, but by the time I was 39 I felt I had had the most fun I was going to have; then I was offered a sales role with Short Brothers. Flattered by being asked without any attempt to solicit an offer, I made no effort to check what the alternatives were; no plan! Short Brothers was an interesting company. Founded in circa 1898 by three brothers who in addition to having the surname Short were all vertically challenged, they claimed the first global contract to build six aeroplanes for the Wright Brothers in 1906. Mr Rolls and Mr Royce were chums! During the interwar years Shorts built flying boats, for the government wanted to open up the empire and saw air travel as the way to do it. During the Second World War Shackleton and Stirling bombers came off the production line from their Belfast-based manufacturing facility. By the time I joined they were making short-haul aircraft for the commuter market, huge aircraft composite wing and tail assemblies and SAM missiles. I always thought it ironic that they made things that could fly and things that could destroy things that flew!

Working on the sales side out of a suitcase and the London Office, I took over the ‘India and the Far East’ patch. I planned to stay until I retired! What I hadn’t planned for was the 1991 recession, which was vicious and deep. Turning down the option to work at head office in Belfast, I took redundancy. Emotionally it’s like being punched in the face; in an open-plan office the ‘return to your desk and clear your things’ was accompanied by the awkward glances of those remaining. Even the rational me couldn’t uncouple the fact that it was the role that had been reorganised and I took it personally. How we handle change defines us and like all situations, there are pluses and minuses.

This recession was the first time companies here in the UK wanted to support their departing employees by giving them ‘Outplacement’. (Note 1) So I joined Morgan & Banks that, inter alia, provided this service, helping people repackage themselves, giving them the tools and techniques necessary to find new employment. I have Varina who ran the London office to thank for this opportunity, one I grasped wholeheartedly! I sense I grew from a rather dried wrinkled chrysalis into a butterfly; not an exotic one like a Red Admiral, more a Cabbage White – I felt I had found my ‘Element’ (Note 2)! Of the many successes, two will illustrate what made me smile. Carol had left a senior role in an animal healthcare company. After working with her for a few sessions, I asked her who she would like to work for, be it a company or an individual. There was no hesitation; “John Manners” (not his real name!) – and she went on to tell me why. So we hatched a plan for her to meet him …… and her enthusiasm got her a role that hadn’t been advertised.

Andrew came out of the financial services sector, one of thousands ‘let go’ in early 1993. “More of the same please” was his response, but given the lack of roles available, I suggested he explore alternatives. He had a passion for wine, for its production, for the whole viticulture world.

“So do you see yourself working in the industry?”

“If I could, of course! I’d work for Tony Laithwaite (note 2) like a shot!”

“Do you know him?”


So we talked around how he might get to meet him; he rang me a few days later to say that he was going to a wine tasting evening and he’d been told Tony Laithwaite would be there. We met to rehearse that initial chat – this we planned! The long and the short of this tale is that he got invited to their Head Office for an interview.

So working one-on-one with individuals in a business coaching capacity became my next career …… one that lasted over twenty years ……. and one  certainly not planned!


Richard 24th July 2020

Note 1: It was such a hideous term but it stuck; I preferred Career Transition.

Note 2: Ken Robinson’s excellent book ‘The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything’ is a ‘must read’, particularly for those who haven’t found their element.

Note 3: Tony Laithwaite had become extremely successful at selling wine in the UK.



PC 187 Numbers (3)

My first two postcards about numbers (PCs 176 and 177) were written in April this year and I still have more thoughts about numbers running around inside my skull. For the past two weeks I have been engaged in a little creative constructive DIY. The result has been very pleasing even if I say so myself, but my mind has been full of numbers, for instance the measurements of bits of wood, both lengths and of cross-sectional size and of numbers and sizes of screws.

When engaged in some form of carpentry, there is a saying that you need to keep at the forefront of your mind: “Measure three times and cut once” and I was reminded of something that happened way back last century; a classic example of miscommunication if ever there was. My first wife and I had bought a marble-topped table in a second-hand shop and we both recognised it was too tall for where we wanted to put it. We ‘agreed’ to cut something off the legs, except she meant the finished height should be 70 cms from the top, whereas I thought it would be a low coffee table and took 70 cms off the bottom!!

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Map reading skills are a delight to acquire and we are lucky here in the UK that the Ordnance Survey produces maps with amazing detail; a glance as some other countries’ maps will make the difference obvious. Reading a map well gives you confidence moving across the country, although I appreciate that electronic maps and Global Positioning Systems can give you good accuracy without the romance of an old-fashioned map. Navigating using a map over land or a chart at sea requires taking a bearing and converting it to ‘magnetic’ for use with a compass, whose needle is affected by the earth’s magnetic field. When I was doing my military service or sailing offshore, the mnemonic ‘grid to mag add, mag to grid get rid’ served us well as the variation was some 4 degrees ……. and mistakes happened!

The tour of the French beaches and hinterland of Normandy was a highlight of my Staff College course, as those who had fought on D-Day on both sides recounted their stories at the very spot where the action had happened. For some of us it was an opportunity to sail the 60 miles from Gosport to Trouville on the north coast of France. I skippered a Nicholson 43 and we had an easy and safe passage. An hour after our arrival one of the other skippers, who I knew well, took me aside up on the harbour wall and quietly questioned whether you added the magnetic variation or not, as they had missed the channel entrance!! (Note 1)

But I now read that in September 2019 ‘magnetic’ north and ‘true’ north aligned, in Greenwich, London at least, for the first time in 360 years and will remain so for some years to come. A relief for some no doubt!

Some years ago I was sufficiently anal to record all the sunrise and sunset times over one year in London. I was keen to find out why and when it was noticeable that the days were getting longer/shorter. Then I plotted the results (times are GMT) thus:

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At this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere we are currently enjoying longer evenings as the sun had reached its northerly point on 21st June, the ‘summer solstice’, and that gives us here in Hove 16 ½ hours of daylight. At the top of the curve it appears as though the sun just hangs there before it starts its long descent towards the shorter days of winter. Actually the numbers support this. For a week after the longest day the sunset time doesn’t change (BST 21:18) and the sunrise time only by a mere 3 minutes (from 04:46 to 04:49). Now almost three weeks into the second half of the year we have lost 15 minutes of daylight.

I am sure you’re bored about my fascination and addiction to the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercise sequence, practised at 40°C (before Covid!), put together by Bikram Choudhury that was known as Bikram Hot Yoga. Now, because of Choudhury’s behaviour, the sequence has taken on the term 26-2 Hot Yoga. It’s coincidental that the distance of a modern marathon run is 26.2 miles.

When I was at school numbers were I, 2, 3, up to 9, essentially the decimal or Base 10 system. Other systems are the Binary, Octal and Hexadecimal. We have become familiar with the binary system, Base 2, as the basis for computer language, where 0 represents ‘off’ and 1 represents ‘on’. For example 348 becomes 101011100 – if you divide 348 successively by 2 you get a zero if it’s even and if odd you get a 1. Not sure why the bottle of scent by eccentric is called 01100101 but looks very modern – and smells wonderful!! And equates to 101 in the decimal system

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Of course the visible sign of the binary system is the barcode attached to every manufactured item – and actually even on non-manufactured items, like the weight-ticket from my online-bought bananas.

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Many years ago I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, written in 1932 about life on earth in 2540. I don’t remember whether he imagined we would all have barcodes on our skin or a simple chip embedded in our shoulder but I can sense some benefits!

Some numbers are easy to understand, to assimilate, others just so mind-boggling they simply become ‘a number’. We are all vaguely aware that the earth revolves around the sun, along with a host of other planets, but do you have any concept of the scale of these rocks? Because I think this is a fascinating set of photos, I thought I should share them (Note 2) They don’t need any numbers, or indeed any commentary; the comparison of scale is just extraordinary.

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And to bring you back to earth (!), remember that it’s only thirty seconds that stands between a soft or a hard-boiled egg or is the difference between catching one’s train or standing puffing at the barrier!

Richard 10th July 2020

Note 1 Each degree of variation over a distance of 60 miles will result in one nautical mile off course. A 4 degree variation would give you 4 nautical miles off course …… and the entrance to Trouville was a narrow dredged channel you approached on a transit and accessible only for a two hours either side of high water.

Note 2 Quoted by Ken Robinson in his excellent book ‘The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.’ ….. a MUST READ for those who don’t enjoy the work they do, for they haven’t found their element.


You might think that rubbish with an exclamation mark is simply the shout of the drunk at an onstage comedian trying to earn their crust, or maybe a cry of derision at an attempted goal in some crucial football match. In either case the owner of the exclamation probably wouldn’t have the guts to be the individual on the receiving end. Hey! Ho!

But rubbish, without that exclamation mark, has become one of the most important issues of our time, how to change our habits, how to deal with the detritus of our throw-away society and how to improve the environment. This PC is prompted by what happened in the last full week of June, here in Brighton & Hove. The weather that week was actually quite warm, about 30°C, and the pandemic lockdown was easing. It also coincided with the end of the virtual term exams for our 16 year olds. Hundreds of teenagers descended on the seafront, intent on ‘having a good time’. The mess they left should have shamed everyone who created it, but ownership and responsibility are sadly lacking. Plastic containers, beer bottles, coke cans, Nitrous Oxide gas canisters (note 1), cardboard pizza boxes smeared with tomato paste and grease, portable BBQs, soiled nappies etc.

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At the moment the Co-Op, an average UK supermarket, is offering two pizzas and four Budweiser beers for £5 – with no thought to how the pizza boxes and bottles will be disposed of. I know this because the distinctive blue bags that were part of the rubbish on the promenade!

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The local seafront rubbish bins are frequent but far too small for the summer season; designed to look good but they are not fit-for-purpose. On an average June day the council refuse staff remove 3 tonnes of rubbish from the seafront; on Thursday 25th June 2020 they picked up a staggering 11 tonnes. Social Media went into overdrive, everyone moaning about the appalling lack of this and disgusting lack of that, ‘what’s our society coming to?’ sort of thoughts. The advent of the ‘take out’ and ‘take-away’ has created habits which need changing: if you use a ‘take-away’, take away your rubbish to a bin large enough to receive it or take it home!

I was as horrified as the rest of us but I was certainly not blameless in the past!! Back in the 1970s, when I went sailing we always dumped our rubbish overboard – sans plastic bag (the boiled egg empty shells were, tradition had it, for Davey Jones’ locker!). Empty bottles of gin were thrown high into the air and used tonic bottles were aimed to intersect; the broken glass ended in the sea, without a thought to any harm it might have done.

A house I brought in Battersea in 2000 had a World War Two air-raid shelter with walls two feet thick and a reinforced concrete roof. One weekend, with the aid of a jackhammer and a chum, it was demolished.

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Before, with Tony sizing up the task


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Didn’t take that long – but there was a lot of rubbish!

Most of the rubble ended up in a skip; the balance was put into sacks, fifteen in all, and stacked in the very small front garden to be disposed of later in the week. That night the doorbell rang. “Ev’ning Guv” said Paddy, his broad Irish brogue betraying his traveller roots, “Would yer like me to remove yer rubbish? £65?” I was shamed the next day to find the bags tucked away in other people’s skips only a street or two away!

In the first decade of this century, in company with scores of other dog owners, I walked my Labrador Tom on Wandsworth Common, London, a wide-open patch of grass, copses, lakes, paths etc, bisected with the London-to-Brighton railway line. The common was large enough for the local football league to lay out three pitches and these were well used during the weekends. Traditionally oranges have always been provided at half-time to provide some nourishment and moisture for parched mouths. There was no precedent for leaving the used orange peel, empty plastic water bottles and other player paraphernalia. I asked the referee whether they could take their rubbish home; one of the teams’ Captains came across and told me the Common had council workers who would clear it up! We had a few more words and I continued my walk, shaking my head in sheer disbelief.

Because of Covid 19, the five-day music event called the Glastonbury Festival that started at Worthy Farm in September 1970 is not happening. Last year over 200,000 people attended; the amount of rubbish, brand new tents, wellingtons, sleeping mats, cool boxes, old food etc covering the fields of the site took an army of volunteers a whole week to clear. How could you throw away a perfectly good tent????????

Jetsam and flotsam come to mind when thinking about rubbish: the former items jettisoned overboard to lighten a vessel in distress that have subsequently washed ashore, often to the benefit of the local communities! The latter is simply debris in the water that was not deliberately thrown overboard; an example would be a shipping container half-afloat and a real danger to yachts. I was scribbling some notes for this PC, flotsam included, and that very morning the word ‘flotsam’ came up in one of the word puzzles I complete. You may recall that a number of code words used in the planning for the invasion of northern France in June 1944 appeared in crossword clues in the week before D-Day. Just one of these strange coincidences.

There is often a circular motion to our lives and it simply takes a little observation to notice it. In Wandsworth in London the council ‘tip’ where you could take your old mattress, kitchen carcases, garden rubbish, old broken ironing boards, bottles and other recyclable and non-recyclable stuff was located in Smugglers Way. It was a busy place, particularly at the weekend and queues would form. Immediately opposite was the huge car park of B&Q (originally Block & Quayle) a British multinational DIY and home improvement retailing company. You could watch as drivers left the tip, having disposed of their rubbish, and went straight into the car park to shop for more ‘stuff’ which in a few years would no doubt end up in the tip and ……

I have no space to scribble about oceans of plastic, of fly-tipping, of the buying and selling of rubbish …… but it’s ironic that the generation who protest so much about the need for a cleaner, more environmentally friendly existence don’t care that much on an individual level. Responsibility begins with oneself!


Richard 3rd July 2020

Note 1 Nitrous Oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is often used to fill balloons which are then exhausted causing those near to feel euphoric and relaxed. Currently it is illegal in the UK for ‘human consumption’ – although you can buy them on eBay! If Nitrous oxide is inhaled through the mouth from a pressurised gas canister or in a confined space it can cause sudden death through a lack of oxygen!