#117 What if the UK monarchy was abolished?

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According to a 2018 poll, most people in the UK are in favour of the monarchy with only a minority wishing to abolish it and these figures are only slightly different to a similar poll taken in 2012.

Recent scandals involving Prince Andrew and Harry and Meghan’s Megxit have been predicted as the end of the monarchy by some quarters of the media but, given that the abolition of the monarchy would require a clear majority in a referendum, it would require more than an annus horriblis to unseat the crown.

There are those who believe that the love for the monarchy is actually a love for the Queen and that, when the Queen dies, the monarchy might not enjoy the same support when Prince Charles becomes king. These people would do well to remember that King Edward VII was involved in many scandals while Queen Victoria was alive but that when she died he became a very popular monarch.

The popularity of the Queen in in part due to her refusal to get involved in politics, the very reason for criticism of Prince Charles. However, it is not impossible to imagine situations in which a monarch could be criticised for either meddling in politics or not meddling in politics. In any case, Charles insists that he will not meddle so one would have to assume a situation in which the Government attempted to pass a piece of legislation which was universally unpopular but which nevertheless had been passed by parluament and therefore, constitutionally, required Royal assent, the monarch, performing their constitutional duty could inadvertently align themselves with an unpopular Government and it is not unimaginable that both could then be removed, remember King Charles I. It would be ironic if the only times in British history a monarch was removed was under a monarch named Charles, though I do hope they don’t behead him this time.

Another factor in the likelihood of the UK becomming a republic is the monarchy’s willingness to fulfill their role. In 2017, Prince Harry told Newsweek: “Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.” George VI famously did not want to be King but had little option when his brother abdicated. This thrust the current Queen into the line of succession, something that she, no doubt, had not desired.

The difference between these previous monarchs performing their duties and potential future monarchs doing the same would be if there was an increasing sympathy with the republican cause, this has let to reveal itself.

A big barrier to republicanism is the thought of who might become president. Tony Blair? Nigel Farage? Another accelerant would be if Scotland or even Northern Ireland successfully devolved.

And then there is the question of the Commonwealth. Many members of the Commonwealth might welcome the abolition of the monarchy but there is also the possibility that the UK could vote to abolish the monarchy while some Commonwealth nations opt to retain the monarch as their head of state. What would happen in that situation?

In my current work in progress, a prequel to my dystopian novel, WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY, an increasingly authoritarian government takes the death of the King as an opportunity to transfer the monarch’s powers to the Prime Minister who becomes defacto president. The move follows a decades long political slide to right but is not unimaginable.

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#116 Trying to get a Brazilian driving license

People from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are allowed to drive in Brazil using their UK driving license for 80 days, counting from the day they enter the country, as far as they have their original passport and original valid driving licence with them.

I’ve now been in Brazil for 8 years, around 2,920 days, give or take a leap year, and so I thought it might be prudent to get the appropriate permission to burn fossil fuels in a speeding hunk of metal, legally.

To be fair to myself, I had started the process a couple of years ago by getting my driving license translated into Portuguese by a notarised translator, as opposed to a notorious translator like Ronnie Biggs.

I did very little with the notarised translation except occasionally take it out of the envelope to admire it so, six months ago, I decided to do something about it and went along to DETRAN, the Sao Paulo department of transport, to put an end to this business once and for all.

Unfortunately, as I had just moved house, I had no proof of address and, they said, I would need either a toxicology report or a declaration to say I only wanted to drive category B vehicles – cars.

I spent six months searching the DETRAN website for a declaration template. This is not true, I actually spent six months doing nothing until my next holiday and then, following a brief and unsuccessful search of the site, I decided to try and create my own, or rather ask my wife to create one.

This proved unnecessary because, when I arrived for my new appointment at DETRAN, the clerk immediately handed me two forms which, had they been handed to me on my previous visit six months earlier, would have resolved my immediate issues and allowed me to proceed with my application.

Nevertheless, I had proceeded to the next square on the great DETRAN board game. The next steps were to supply my face and fingers for photo and fingerprint records and then pay the fee R$92 ($23). All that remained was a medical exam and Bob would be my uncle.

There are many medical exam suppliers surrounding DETRAN so I went to the nearest, parted with another $23 (R$92) and waited to be called. The doctor, being a bright spark, spotted I had a pair of glasses hanging around my neck and asked me what they were for. I told him I used them for reading so he asked me to sit on a chair at one side of the room and read three lines of letters on a poster on the other side. I always hesitate during this kind of exams, not because I can see the letters, but because I can’t remember what they are called in Portuguese.

He seemed satisfied with my answers and  I glanced around the room at a variety of medical apparatus which he was presumably going to deploy in the duration of the exam. What actually happened was that he thanked me for coming and his assistant printed off a medical report complete with blood pressure measurements he hadn’t taken but nevertheless pronounced me healthier than I probably am.

I thought that was it, but apparently, I had to go for a ‘psicotecnico’ test and should go to the medical exam place on the next corner. I asked them whether they were sure I needed this but they seemed insistent. The  place on the corner said they had reached their limit for these kinds of tests at the moment and that I should try another place across the road and down a side street.

I was about to cross the road, thinking I shouldn’t have my phone out texting on the street, when a man rushed up to me and asked if  I could help him. As he talked, I assumed he was just after commission from the testing centre for having taken me there. I agreed to be shown the way but always had the nagging fear in the back of my mind that he was leading me down a side street to mug me. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded and R$100 ($25) later I was sat in an exam room with a peculiar intelligence test in front of me.

The test had 40 multiple-choice questions. Question one, above, seems pretty simple, right? But, question 40 was beyond even my enormous intelligence. If anyone has the answer, please let me know.

In the second test, we had a limited amount of time to go through a sheet, similar to that above, and cross off every time a symbol in the little box at the top appeared.

The third test involved marking little…marks on a piece of paper until the examiner gave a signal at which point I was supposed to make a dash and then continue to make little marks. The most disturbing part of this test was the sound of the pencil of the woman next to me which was moving much faster than mine. Maybe that makes me a careful driver.

As far as I could tell, none of the tests was actually marked. I got the impression that as long as I could walk into the test centre, not make a complete fool of myself, and walk out again, then I had passed.

I returned to DETRAN with the completed test certificates and was told my license would be ready within 30 to 60 days.

I plan to go back at easter and see if it’s ready. Keeps me busy when I would only otherwise be writing.

 

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#115 Reading The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver

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Lionel Shriver  is probably best known for her novel We need to talk about Kevin which was adapted for film with Tilda Swinton playing the mother of Kevin. The Mandibles: A Family,  2029 – 2047 begins, unsurprisingly, in 2029 during the middle of a debt crisis which causes the collapse of the US economy. The Mandible family is particularly affected and must go to extraordinary lengths to survive.

As I was listening to the book, I imagined that Shriver must have used the example of what happened in Germany during the depression years in the 1920’s as a model for her ideas but I don’t think this is the case. The Mandibles is like a futuristic Grapes of Wrath and expounds Shriver’s economic politics.

The book started me thinking. I’m a firm believer that the past tends to repeat itself and that, given the evidence of humanity’s inability to deal with the challenges of climate change and resource depletion the prospect of this current civilisation going the same way as so many others through the ages as Jared Diamond explores in his book, A New Green History of the World.

I wrote WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY with this idea in mind that as societies learn to deal with less energy and resources that, without proper management, they would regress to the same uncivilised states from which they emerged.

After listening to The Mandibles, after seeing the terrible state countries are getting themselves into voting for right wing governments in the UK, the US and Brazil, and contemplating the worst things that could happen following Brexit, the desire to write some kind of prequel to WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY grabbed hold of me.

Still stimulated by this idea of history repeating itself, I decided to do some research into Germany in the first third of the 20th Century and the circumstances which led to the tragedies surrounding the Second World War.

One of the best diarists of the period was a German, Victor Klemperer. His books, Munich 1919 and I Will Bear Witness, give a valuable insight into the revolution at the end for the First World War and the build up to the Second World War, respectively. To fill the missing years in between I turned to Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada which is a great reflection of every day German life during this period.

If we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past then we must learn from history. However, judging by the knee jerk reactions in the US and Europe over what is a relatively small number of immigrants, imagine how these societies will react when the real climate and resource refugees start to arrive.

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#114 Why democracy does not work

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

You must have heard the statistic that the wealth of the richest 1% in the world is equal to the combined wealth of the other 99%. It doesn’t sound very equitable does it?

Almost half the world’s population live in some form of democracy so why don’t they do something to change this inequitable situation? Well, unsurprisingly, the world’s media tends to be owned by the wealthy who, having become rich under the current system, would like to keep things that way, thank you very much.

It therefore makes perfect sense to assume that those in control of the media are going to favour candidates who are more likely to maintain the status quo. But how capable is the population at reading between the lines and understanding for themselves what is really going on? A study of world intelligence shows a not conclusive but arguable link between intelligence and the amount that country spends on education.

It makes sense why those parties of a right leaning are supported by big businesses and media giants and tend to be more reluctant to invest in education for the masses but it’s more insidious than that. The programming of these media giants glamorises the 1% making their lifestyles something to aspire to. So, there’s another reason why the 99% chose to maintain the status quo, it’s because they believe that if the system stays as it is they might one day become part of that elite.

Of course, this is not new. Back in 2011, the Occupy movement started in Wall Street and spread to over 951 cities across 82 countries, and in over 600 communities in the United States.

It’s time to destroy the myth that giving tax breaks to the rich will somehow help the poor. This video by Britain’s Labour Party explains why this simply is not the most effective way to stimulate an economy.

Come on. We are the 99%, let’s take back control of our lives.

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#113 Watching and reading His Dark Materials

My first encounter with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was when I downloaded the first book, Northern Lights, onto my audible app as part of a 2 for 1 deal. The first book in the trilogy is now being marketed as The Golden Compass because of the film of the same name which was based on the book.

My daughter went on to listen to it and when she finished, I downloaded book 2, The Subtle Knife, for her to listen to. I had enjoyed the first book and the film and was very excited when I heard that the BBC had made a television series of the whole trilogy and decided to listen to The Subtle Knife as well.  By the time I’d watch the first two episodes of the TV series I’d finished The Subtle Knife and downloaded the third book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, which I am listening to now.

The themes within the trilogy are not made explicit until the end of the second book, but having studied John Milton and William Blake for my Masters Degree I was interested to see how this aspect of the story developed and am interested in how it might conclude in the third book.

The TV series has introduced elements from The Subtle Knife surprisingly early in the series but I imagine that this is to help the viewers understand how the story develops and has not detracted from the enjoyment of the series at all, so far.

I am enjoying the series so much that I even bought a hardback version of La Belle Sauvage, which was on special offer at one of my local bookshops. This is the first book in a prequel trilogy called The Book of Dust which begins 12 years before His Dark Materials. The second book in this trilogy, The Secret Commonwealthwhich was published this year, is set 20 years after La Belle Sauvage and seven years after The Amber Spyglass and follows the life of the protagonist of both series, Lyra, as she becomes an undergraduate. There doesn’t seem to be any news on when the third book in this trilogy will be released but I, for one will be waiting for it eagerly.

(all paid links)

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#112 Reading The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

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The Memory Book is a Sunday Times bestseller and was a Richard and Judy Autumn Book Club pick. It follows the fortunes of Claire, a mother who is struggling to come to terms with early onset Alzheimer.

The book, told from various perspectives, gives a sense of the frustrations and confusion which a sufferer must experience as well as the effects the condition has on those around.

It is an emotional journey, not just for Claire but also for her eldest daughter who goes in search of her father and for Claire’s husband who finds himself in an awkward position.

If found the book deeply engaging and even the slightly predictable twist was still very rewarding. Readers who like LIVING WITH SACI or LIVING WITH THE HEADLESS MULE will probably like The Memory Book .

Rowan has now written twelve novels including The Day we Met, The Accidental Mother and The Runaway Wife. I listened to The Memory Book on Audible where it was brilliantly read by Robert BlackwoodClare Corbett and Anna Bentinck

(all paid links)

 

 

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#111 Wondering what could be the worst thing that could happen after Brexit.

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The whole Brexit debate has already polarised the country but while I’ve been writing my dystopian prequel to WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY, I’ve been wondering about what’s the worse thing that could happen, how bad could it get?

Regardless of who wins the General Election on December 12th, we could be in for a rough ride. If Labour wins and organises a second referendum we could see a rash of right wing riots which have already been promised by Boris Johnson in a remark reminiscent of the National Socialists in Germany in the 1930s. Corbyn himself was in favour of leaving the EU and there is no guarantee that the peoples vote would not end in the same result, with the UK leaving the EU, albeit perhaps within the customs union.

The negative effect on the UK economy, combined with excessive divorce payments to the EU could see widespread disatisfaction with whatever government is in power. If you combine this with fake news campaigns promoted by foreign powers, the increasing number of refugees that will inevitably attempt to enter the country, the increasing failure of infrastructure to deal with the demands of climate change and the rising costs of the effects of climate change and a potentially volatile situation could develop. We also might see Svotland demand devolution and regions like the north demanding not just a manifesto but their own assemblies. Could we see a complete break up of the union with Northern Ireland ceded to avoid being the wrong side of the border and igniting further troubles  Could that be the last nail in the coffin for the monarchy?

Both of the major parties have promised huge spending programmes. The Conservative plans don’t return the UK to pre 2010 levels and both parties ignore the national defecit which apparently doesn’t matter any more. Labour plans to use a method is measuring investment which has never been used in a major economy.

Let’s take the pessimistic view of the possible outcomes. Widespread discontentment leaves the path open for the right wing to promise a return to a golden era which never really existed. We have seen this already in the first Brexit votes and in the presidential elections in the US and Brazil where nationalism is thinly disquised as patriotism and used as an excuse to implement right wing policies.

The population can so easily be manipulated as was cleverly demonstrated in the Netflix documentary, The Great Hack. And with social media giants so far refusing to apply their fact checking software to political ads or to ban micro targetted political ads altogether, the stage is set for more election interference.

And why are so many leading politicians so eager to leave the EU so quickly? I would recomend watching the film, The Laundromat, also on Netflix, in which a stella cast explains the system of tax avoidance. The EU intends to implement tighter laws which would prevent the rich from using offshore shell companies to avoid paying tax. So it should come as no surprise then that leading Brexit campaigner and CEO of fracking company Ineos is planning to live in Monaco to avoid paying £4bn in tax in the UK which could be used for hospitals, schools, public transport and policing. Why to we listen to people that only have the good their own pockets in mind, rather than the good of the country.

Make sure you vote on December 12th and vote for the good of the country not the good of the rich.

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