Friday, 26 September 2014

A really, really good day

We get, I reckon, perhaps two dozen really, really, really, really good days in our lives.
The day we're born - I guess that's the first really, really, good day we all get.
Then there's the first kiss - oh yeah.
Loss of virginity - without doubt (ooh Matron!)
(I'm not including the first day of work - satisfying for some, maybe, but definitely not something to call 'really, really good)
The first day you lay eyes on the love of your life - most certainly.
Wedding day - naturally.
The days on which your children arrive in the world - I think the very best of days.
Kids' first day at school  - awesome!
Kids graduating some sixteen years later - equally awesome!

So far, I've been fortunate enough to have enjoyed all of these.

And in the future…?
Hopefully I'll be blessed with a few more really, really good days.
Watching the kids get careers they enjoy, fall in love, get married, maybe have kids of their own.
Then there's that last day of work to look forward to.
And maybe one or two unexpected pleasures that suddenly come out of the blue - we can but hope.

But why opine about these really, really good days today?
Could it be because yesterday was one of those really, really good days?
Well, yes it was. Yesterday, my friends, was the day that our house finally became our house, when the 'amount owed' column of the mortgage statement finally reached zero.
Okay, so it's maybe not quite in the same league as some of those other really, really good days I've talked about above, but it's certainly way, way above average and therefore very much worth savouring.
So, I hope you'll join me in raising a glass to one of those select few really, really, really, really good days…

Saturday, 20 September 2014

All's well that ends well…maybe

Well, now that the dust has finally settled over the small matter of Scotland's independence, I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the subject.

  1. A question - was the vote in favour of independence lower than expected because a number of Scots were confused by the absence of 'Aye' as a voting option?
  2. There's a part of me that is glad that I won't have to worry about the Pounds to Poonds exchange rate every time I venture north of the border.
  3. I very much liked Jason Manford's comment posted on the eve of the vote: Just had a bottle of Irn Bru, a Tunnocks teacake and a Scotch egg. Just before they end up on the foreign food aisle at Tesco! 
Personally, I think it is a testament to level-headedness of the people of Scotland and to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole that, firstly, a portion of this nation's population can be given the opportunity to decide whether or not they remain part of a larger state, and secondly, that a decision can be reached without violence.
We only need to look back to the bloody and traumatic break-up of the former Yugoslavia to see how badly these things can turn out. I for one am thankful that we were able to let the question be asked, and the answer heard, without it resulting in the sort of chaos and bloodshed we saw in the Balkans.

Of course, this does mean that the highly secretive work of the The Jacobite Solution (see previous post on 10th September) is no longer necessary.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Project Caledonia Nirvana

The UK Government has today denied reports that, for the last eight months, a secret task-force known as The Jacobite Solution has, amongst other initiatives, been developing plans to 'manage through England' the ever-growing flow of illegal economic migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, attracted by the UK's generous benefits system.
Extracts from a recent highly sensitive progress report to Home Secretary Teresa May by Sir Tristan Bumble, the task-force's strategic head, have allegedly been leaked onto the internet. The report's executive summary states:
'Since our last report (June 2014) on Project Caledonia Nirvana, the TJS Task-Force has continued its work to examine, evaluate, propose and prioritise the mechanisms (including infrastructure) that are likely to be needed in the event of a Yes vote for Scottish independence. Recent successes have been as follows:

  1. the identification of a suitable migrant holding site at Longtown, north of Carlisle (codename Scotia-Sangatte);
  2. confirmation of costs associated with aggressive information dissemination in source regions;
  3. finalisation of information dissemination processes within the UK;
  4. agreement from UK Border Force senior management to the implementation of a policy of 'blind-eye' entry to the UK for migrants able to demonstrate an intention to head for Scotland;
  5. agreement with target train operators of a standard, low-cost price for off-peak 'South-to-North'  tickets to facilitate fast migration through England with minimum disruption.
  6. confirmation from French authorities that, on confirmation of the success of Project Caledonia Nirvana, they will relax migrant controls in Northern France.
Based on these key successes, and on the other areas of progress outlined in detail in the body of this report, it can be confirmed that, with minimal investment (est. £20 million), flow-through of illegal migrants from Europe to an independent Scotland could be managed at 85,000 per annum. In addition, it is anticipated that the actions proposed would result in a net reduction of England & Wales-based migrants in the region of 30-40%.'

On these points, more detailed extracts from the report are as follows.
Point 1:
'Of the five potential migrant holding sites proposed in the last report, Option 2 (the disused farm on the northern outskirts of Longtown) has been deemed to be the most suitable in terms of access from key transport routes (Carlisle railway station, the M6 motorway), and is also the most desirable in terms of proximity to the border and potential ease with which migrants could make their way unhindered into Scotland. The holding site is sufficiently distant from the major conurbation of Carlisle itself to minimise any local problems and concerns, and the provision of basic humanitarian aid will ensure it quickly begins to attract the target demographic (note - any aid must be sufficiently basic to encourage migrants to attempt a border crossing at the earliest convenience). As it is likely that Scottish Authorities will take immediate actions to prevent cross-border migration, it is suggested that a small force of suitably trained individuals (probably from the Armed Forces) be encouraged to infiltrate the holding site on a permanent basis to disseminate the latest intel on those parts of the border where Scottish countermeasures are weakest and where the potential for a successful incursion are highest.'

Point 2:
'Appendix A contains detailed costing data associated with the development and maintenance of an aggressive strategy of information dissemination in those countries that currently represent the largest sources of economic migrants attempting to enter the UK (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, etc.). It is proposed to use a variety of media (including social media) to initially create and then to constantly reinforce the concept of Scotland as a new Nirvana in terms of social welfare and job prospects (note - significant use can be made of recordings of television interviews with, and political statements by, Alex Salmond in which he outlines how financially successful an independent Scotland will be).  This will run in parallel with a similar campaign to downplay the desirability of England as a potential migration destination on the basis of austerity cuts, poor healthcare, etc. (again, soundbites from Yes campaign politicians could be used, though there is sufficient material already available to reinforce this particular message). Initial studies suggest that this approach (which as we know has been used by the French for the last fifteen years to promote the UK as the country of choice for economic migration) will, we estimate, ensure that 80-90% of migrants will choose to continue their migration through England towards Scotland.'

Point 3:
'It can be confirmed that all desired information dissemination mechanisms targeting those migrants already in England & Wales are in place and can be initiated as and when required. It is proposed that this information offensive is coupled with a short, sharp, shock approach to perceived illegal migrant support in the remaining parts of the UK, wherein all benefits for migrants are cut quickly and brutally in a short period of time. If undertaken in the winter of 2014-15, this will also have significant political kudos ahead of the 2015 General Election.'

Point 4:
'Following meetings last week with UK Border Force representatives, it has been confirmed that it will be possible to implement a 'blind-eye' policy to those migrants whom border checks are able to confirm intend to 'pass-through' England and head for Scotland. Such individuals will, as a matter of course, be initially housed in either non-secure holding centres in the South-East, or placed into community-based accommodation (as is currently the case in most instances). It is anticipated that this approach will result in the desired outcome of a high level of abscondments.'

Point 5:
'The key stumbling block of how to encourage fast and effective transferral of migrants from the South-East to the Border (see Area of Concern No.3 in June 2014 Report) has now been addressed. An agreement has been reached with a number of targeted train operators whereby they will accommodate the travel of migrants on off-peak trains on the West Coast mainline. It has been agreed that this will be limited to trains whose first stop is Warrington Bank Quay, as it is considered unlikely that any migrants will choose to alight at any stations north of this point (Wigan North Western, Preston, Lancaster), given the choice of doing so - it is the North-West after all! Operators will also increase the number of signs on all Channel Port to London routes and also on The Underground which will direct individuals to northbound West Coast mainline trains at Euston.'

Point 6:
'Following a meeting with representatives of both the French Interior Ministry and the office of the Mayor of Calais, it can be confirmed that, once the UK Government is satisfied with the success of Project Caledonia Nirvana, the authorities in France will ensure the relaxation of controls over migrants attempting to gain access to England. This will include re-introducing their old techniques of holes in security fences, the dissemination of information detailing the best means of crossing the Channel, the provision of pamphlets about what to do when you get the UK (which will suggest heading for Scotland), reducing security in lorry parks near the port, etc.'

In response to the leaking of this report, a UK government spokesman has already been quoted as saying:
'The alleged existence of a task-force whose purpose, amongst others, would be to identify how best to transfer the burden of illegal economic migration from the UK as a whole to Scotland specifically is a complete fabrication. However, we do wish we'd thought of it!!'

That last comment was later withdrawn.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

A new chapter?

Well, folks, this is the first of my 'infrequent' blogposts and it unfortunately has to start with some sad news. The latest post on one of the blogs that I have been following - 'Who the hell does he think he is' - related the distressing news that Eamonn, the man behind the blog, had lost his long battle with stage III pleural mesothelioma. It puts into perspective, doesn't it, the triviality of some of the things which we all allow ourselves to become upset by and immersed in. I can only applaud and admire Eamonn and those like him who face the shattering knowledge of their own, inevitable demise with such courage, fortitude and positivity.

I didn't know what sort of picture to put up with this blogpost, so I decided to share this photo I took a few months ago of Glenshiel from Loch Duich. Nice, isn't it? Check out other photos of mine at
As for myself, what's new in Andy's Universe?
Well, quite a lot, actually.
If I was to use the much-laboured 'Life is a Book' metaphor, then I'd be saying that one particular chapter of my life was drawing slowly to a close but was, in its passing, opening up an exciting (and maybe just a little bit scary) new one.
For those of you out there in the big, bad world who weren't aware, my current employer has decided to dispense with my services after 7 years (though they are paying me quite a tidy sum in the process). But, not one to be down in the dumps for long, I'm using this as an opportunity to spend more time writing - hopefully up to 2 days a week more than I was able to commit when I was working full-time (the other three days will still have to be used to put sufficient bread on the proverbial table!)
That means I can hopefully increase my writing output from one book a year to maybe two or three books a year, depending on how favourably the winds of creativity blow.

So where am I now?
Well, firstly, I've developed chronic pain in the index and middle fingers of my right hand from having them permanently crossed in the hope of positive news from the agents who are currently casting their critical eyes over Fractured Time. I am, on an almost daily basis, sacrificing small animals to the writing gods in the hope that this will convince them to pass favourable judgement on my efforts.
Secondly, I'm hoping to be able to move the children's rhyming book, 'Callum's Quest', forward in the next month or so (if the illustrator has recovered from his shoulder operation - hope you're feeling better, John!!).
And thirdly, I'm steadily immersing myself in my latest piece of work - The Curious Case of God vs Pratt - which is really starting (I think, anyway) to develop into something good.
Of course, if those same writing gods should suddenly decide to look favourably on 'The Book That THEY…' and push sales upwards into double-figures per month, then there's always the sequel, 'The Book That IT…', waiting in the wings; and I already have the outline story for another 'Fractured Time' novel sitting on my desk (working title - The Silent Child). And then there's another, half-written rhyming story - Minstrel Yan and the Mist from the Well - to finish!
So, folks, all in all there's a lot to throw myself into. Hopefully, (and yes, those fingers are still crossed) that long-held dream of walking around Waterstones in Bolton (or Preston, I'm not fussy) and waving a copy of a book I've written will be realised in the very near future :)

As for the rest of the world in general, what are my thoughts on that?

  • In the Ukraine, President Putin needs to stop being such a tit.
  • In Syria and Iraq, the beheading of another US citizen just underlines how important it is to make sure that the brutal madness of ISIS (or whatever they're calling themselves today) needs to be dealt with.
  • In Scotland, I'm feeling more and more sorry for the people up there whose heads must be close to exploding from the never-ending bombardment of claim and counter-claim on the economy, the NHS, EU membership, cross-border control with England, whether midges can be exported, etc, etc, etc. - whatever their decision on the 18th September, we'll still be holidaying there (though what the exchange rate between Sterling and 'The Poond' will be, I have no idea.).
  • And finally - ebola. Now I don't want to sound harsh here, but am I the only one who was just a bit concerned about the idea of transporting someone infected with a virus that kills 60% of its victims from West Africa into the heart of one of the most crowded cities in the world? Yeah, it's great that William Pooley has managed to make a full recovery (thanks to a new and very expensive treatment), but I've seen way too many apocalyptic sci-fi movies about deadly viruses to not think to myself 'Wait a minute, what if someone who's treating him gets infected, then goes home on a bus and pops into the local Spar, then someone else who they've brushed up against in a queue goes to a rave where they rub up against a dozen more people…' Of course, the key thing must be to try to contain and eradicate this terrible disease at source, but I guess the general view is that 'It's only Africa' and there's much bigger things to deal with…like a Russian President who seems to think it's time for another Cold War (or a hot one, for that matter), or caliphate-demanding Islamic fanatics who work on the principle that the only good non-believer is a dead non-believer.

Oh joy!