World Travel Market 2017: The Long Shadow Of Brexit & Catalonia:

DSC_0293Have you decided yet where you will be going on holiday in 2018? If you have already chosen Italy, then you are among the 60% of UK residents for whom that country will be the preferred destination next year – ahead of the USA (54%), Greece (48%) and Cuba (24%). These statistics were published in the World Travel Market (WTM) 2017 Industry Report to coincide with the opening of WTM at London’s Excel Centre (6th – 8th November), which was attended by around 51,500 senior travel industry professionals, as well as government ministers and the international media.

DSC_0295Several Italian cities – Rome, Milan, Venice & Florence – feature in Euromonitor International’s top 100 Global Rankings 2017 and the country’s “strong tourism performance” is mainly thanks to its wide range of attractions and the fact that it is perceived as being relatively stable compared to many of the other options available elsewhere in the world. For the same reasons, according to the WTM Report, this has been a “bumper year” for Greece and the prospects for 2018 are even better.

DSC_0296Although Spain remains a popular vacation venue, in the opinion of Olivier Jager, Chief Executive Officer of the travel industry analysts ForwardKeys, it could be adversely affected by the current turmoil in Catalonia. The Travel Daily News International correspondent, Tatiana Rokou, on 31st October quoted Jager as emphasizing that “domestic political unrest almost always deters visitors and that is what we are seeing now – a 22% collapse in international flight bookings for Catalonia”. Because many visitors arriving there then proceed to visit and explore other parts of Spain, any further decline “will be of great concern as travel and tourism represents such a large proportion of the Spanish economy, over 14% of GDP”.

DSC_0299During WTM, the staff at the Catalan stand, which was positioned on the corner of the extensive Spanish pavilion, put on a brave face and did their best to conduct “business as usual”, handing out colourful maps of the region and leaflets promising “a top notch programme of activities in Barcelona as part of the Year of Cultural Tourism 2018”. However, their chief tourism official, Patrick Torrent, acknowledged in an interview with Associated Press at WTM that (as depicted by Travel Industry Today) “ the freedom fight come with a price” and that the region will probably see a 10%-12% fall in tourist numbers during the 4th quarter of 2017, a level of decline equating to around 450 million euros, with the large bulk of the fall related to a drop-off in business travel to events such as conventions”.

 

IMG_1551As both The Daily Telegraph and Bloomberg Politics have pointed out, Catalonia – along with the Madrid region, Valencia and the Balearic Islands – is a net contributor to Spain’s tax and spending accounts: “It pays about 8.8 billion euros more than it receives, a longstanding complaint of the separatists”. The Economist magazine noted in its November 4th edition that “more than 1,800 companies, among them CaixaBank, Banco Sabadell and Freixenet, have been prompted to move their legal domicile out of Catalonia since 1st October”– a trend, the deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told Sky News from Brussels on 11th November, that has been encouraged by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is fiercely opposed to the region’s push for independence.

DSC_0304There are, so the Global Risks Insights journalist, Niall Walsh, contended on October 10th, “some striking parallels between the proposal for Catalan independence and the Brexit vote in 2016: An increase in business risk generated by a climate of uncertainty, rising political and social instability and a fresh challenge to the effectiveness of the European Union”. The WTM Industry Report 2017 has concluded that Brexit threatens to undermine London’s dominant position as a place to do business and that “competing cities that have emerged in an attempt to steal it’s crown include Paris, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Dublin and Amsterdam”.

More than half (53%) of all travel trade respondents – states the Report – believe Brexit will have a negative impact on their companies and that it has already damaged the UK’s reputation as a holiday destination. Over 20% of European Union citizens working for British tour operators have apparently already left the UK “because of the long-term uncertainty over their status” and 50% of these organizations are having difficulties recruiting new EU employees. The British Hospitality Association has highlighted “how crucial EU workers are to UK firms, especially because of their language and service skills – and warned that there are not enough British people with the right expertise to replace them”.

DSC_0305An equally gloomy assessment was issued on 6th November by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS). Under the headline “EU businesses say goodbye to UK suppliers as Brexit bites into key relationships”, it asserted that the uncertainty has meant that 20% of UK companies with EU suppliers have found it difficult to secure contracts that run after March 2019 , 8% say they have already lost contracts as a result of Brexit and 35% feel unable to prepare due to the lack of progress on a future trade agreement between the UK and the EU.

The CIPS Chief Executive, Gerry Walsh, considers that “it is already too late for scores of UK businesses who look like they will be deserted by their European partners.” They simply can’t keep their suppliers and customers waiting , he declares, while the negotiators get their act together: “The lack of clarity coming from both sides is already shaping the British economy of the future – and it does not fill businesses with confidence. The clock is ticking”. Yet despite all this apparent despondency, 31% of those questioned by WTM predicted that Brexit will have no prejudicial consequences at all and 16% that, on the contrary, it could prove to be extremely positive.

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Filed under: Travel | Posted on November 14th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Language Show Live 2017: A New Venue, Fewer Visitors & Some Unhappy Exhibitors – So Back To Olympia Next Year:

IMG_1488Would you like to become an interpreter or translator? If this idea appeals to you, then now might be the ideal moment to consider making a career in this sector. As the Financial Times columnist, Michael Skapinker, pointed out on March 22nd, British companies will need to recruit many more linguists if they wish to expand their global trading links after the UK leaves the European Union in March 2019. He cited the results of a survey conducted last year by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the education group Pearson, which indicated that French, German and Spanish are most in demand by British businesses.

But where, he asks, will they find people who speak them? According to a British Council report, the number of students at UK schools learning French has fallen by around 33% and German by nearly 50% – with Spanish being the only one of these three showing an increase. Hence, there are extensive employment opportunities at the disposal of anyone from abroad currently resident in the UK and who is fluent in one or more of these languages. The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) website highlights what it describes as the three main options in this profession: Interpreting at conferences, political events and trade fairs; Translating for business people at company meetings or during negotiations; Working in the public sector – such as translating at police interviews, attending court cases, interpreting for hospital patients or helping people with a limited knowledge of English to access essential educational and housing services.

Because many airports function 24 hours a day,the UK Visas & Immigration Department is “in constant need of interpreting services”. The majority of the work is “face-to-face”, freelance and with no minimum or maximum requirement in terms of hours. The fees (Monday to Friday) are £48 for the first hour then £16 per hour from 8.01 am – 6 pm and £20 ph 6.01 pm – 8 am; Saturdays: £72 first hour and then £26 ph; Sundays: £72 first hour and then £32 ph. Training for all these types of employment is available in both London and other cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. South Thames College in Wandsworth, for example, runs a 13-week Community Interpreting course (£275 / £380 for international students) and a 15-week part-time Diploma in Police Interpreting course (£450 / £650 for international students).

It was thus no coincidence that this topic provided the main theme for the Seminar Programme during the Language Show Live (LSL) 2017 at the Business Design Centre in Islington from 13th – 15th October. Among the speakers featured were Karen Stokes of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL): “Becoming a Professional Translator – Qualifications, support Network and Success”; Eulalia Pessoa-White, a freelancer with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) – “What It Takes to be a Public Service Interpreter”; Pamela Mayorcas, Chairperson of ITI – “A Day In The Life Of A Translator: Find Out What They Do, How They Spend Their Day, What Helps Them To Be Successful”; Sue Leschen (CIOL) – “Terms & Conditions for Freelance Language Professionals”; Dr Lindsay Bywood (University of Westminster) – “What can I do with my translation qualification?”. Other relevant issues covered were: “Why is it good to learn languages?” (Professors Ludovic Serratrice and Theo Marinis, University of Reading) and “Embracing Brexit and Language Learning for Business” (Michelle Ogbonna, Chief Executive Officer, Museum of Knowledge).

A total of 100 exhibitors had booked stands at this year’s LSL. Although a very wide range of languages, such as Cantonese & Mandarin, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Gujarati, Nepalese, Persian, Vietnamese and Welsh were on offer, 40 of the stands were promoting Spanish courses – either in Spain or Latin America (for example,Don Quijote, Learn Spanish in Mallorca, Sevilla Language Center) or in the UK (including the Universities of Hertfordshire, Portsmouth, Surrey, Kent & Manchester Metropolitan and the Instituto Cervantes London). Not all the exhibitors, however, were convinced by the choice of the Business Design Centre as the location for this year’s event or happy with the position they had been allocated for their stand: It was noticeable that there were far fewer visitors on the Saturday than on the equivalent day in 2016 at Olympia in Kensington, the traditional venue for LSL. A new company called “Evolved Events Ltd” has come to the same conclusion: They have just bought LSL from the previous organisers, Upper Street Events, and will be transferring it back to Olympia in 2018 (9-11 November to avoid coinciding with the Frankfurt Book Fair and Expolingua Berlin): All parts of the Show – stands, seminars and classes – will be on the same floor, which they believe will “work best for exhibitors and visitors alike”.

Aspect Exhibitions, based in Ashton, Northampton, advise anyone thinking of booking a stand at a trade fair to first “obtain a floor plan of the venue, assess the likely flow of visitors, the places they are more likely to gather and the spaces best avoided”. Anecdotal evidence (they say) suggests that the majority of visitors instinctively turn left when they first enter an exhibition hall – in which case, having your stand somewhere to the left of the entrance will “automatically be in a good position to attract customers”. However, being too close to the entrance is not a good idea as it tends to be congested and visitors “are liable to walk straight past your stand” when they come in – and similarly when they head for the exit “as they’ve already seen enough and are ready to leave”. The most beneficial place (asserts Aspect) is probably adjacent to the exhibition’s cafe or restaurant “as long as your stand does nothing to disturb people relaxing or enjoying refreshments” – so no loud multimedia demonstrations, blaring music or light-shows.IMG_1486IMG_1497IMG_1493IMG_1487IMG_1506IMG_1504IMG_1502

Filed under: Society, Travel | Posted on November 1st, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Did You Have A Good Flight? Perhaps Not, If You Used A Low Fares Airline:

You might find this difficult to believe, but travelling by plane used to be fun. At least, that’s according to the AOL Lifestyle columnist, Rebecca Dolan, in an article captioned “Remembering the Good Old Days of Flying”. Once upon a time, she wrote wistfully, flight attendants were dressed in high fashion, leg room was included in the price of a basic ticket and meals were practically restaurant quality. On some Pan American World Airways routes, it seems, passengers would be “served hors d’oeuvres on a silver tray” – something you’re unlikely to experience now unless you are booked into first class on Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad or Singapore Airlines. This didn’t, though, guarantee Pan Am’s survival: The company went bankrupt in December 1991. Doug Murray, a correspondent for “Slice.ca”, has also enthused nostalgically about “how civilized flying used to be”: Air travel was a “glorious thing”, you did it in style: “Today, unless you’ve got a bucket-load of cash, flying is barely a step up from taking the bus”.

Patrick Smith, an American airline pilot who writes about flying at www.askthepilot.com, however, disagrees with both Dolan and Murray. In the New York Times in May, he dismissed as “mythical” the idea that there ever was a “Golden Age” of air travel. He acknowledges that “resentment against the commercial airlines has hit fever pitch” (especially after the forced removal of the Chinese-American Dr David Dao from a United Express plane in April) and that “Yes, things were once a little more comfortable, a bit more special”. He doesn’t deny either that “airlines could and should do a better job – at communicating, at treating their customers with dignity and respect “and that he doesn’t enjoy claustrophobic planes, delays, noisy airports or wasteful security practices”. But he points out as well that, not only are tickets cheaper, we also have a wider range of options: “There are planes going everywhere, all the time”. Furthermore, that the aircraft of past decades were louder, more “gas-guzzling and polluting”, that as recently as the 1990′s, smoking was still permitted on board and that “globally, the last 10 years have been the safest in the history of commercial aviation”.

Nonetheless, as Larry Light, a reporter for CBS News, noted in May, a recent survey carried out by the American Customer Satisfaction Index has found that “consumers rate rate airlines as one of their least-liked industries”. Many passengers, it concludes, are particularly unhappy about excessive “crowding” – caused mainly by cabins being “reconfigured to fit in more seats, legroom shrinking by three inches in recent years and the overbooking strategy that the industry has adopted to ensure that planes are as full as possible.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data quoted by the BBC journalist Adrian Goldberg has shown that the number of “air rage” incidents on UK airlines has quadrupled over the past three years. This is partly because – as the Jet2 Managing Director Phil Ward admitted to the BBC – some passengers drink too much in airport bars before going on board and then become disruptive during the flight. However, it’s also because (declares the refund.me website) both the airlines’ customers and their employees “ are increasingly dissatisfied with how they are being treated”. Charles Leocha, President of Travellers United, feels that passengers are reacting against being regarded simply as “cargo”.

In the UK, the image of the airline industry has undoubtedly been undermined by the attitude of Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s Chief Executive, towards his customers: Among his most notorious remarks: People who forget to print their boarding pass “should pay 60 euros for being so stupid”; “Are we going to say sorry for our lack of customer service? Absolutely not”. “What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand? We don’t want to hear your sob stories”. On this last issue, however, O’Leary has been forced to back down by the “furious” CAA Chief Executive, Andrew Haines, following the cancellation of 50 Ryanair flights a day up to the end of October and (reported in the Guardian on 30th September) the decision to “scrap 18,000 flights on 34 routes between November 2017 and March 2018” – all, contends O’Leary, a consequence of problems with his pilots’ holiday rotas.

Apart from the delays and cancellations, what really annoys airline customers (asserts traveller.com) are: the expensive snacks and drinks, the use of in-flight mobile phones (unless you’re the person making the call), the poor quality of cabin air (a Daily Telegraph investigation has revealed “worrying evidence of toxic fumes contaminating aircraft”) and the “constant stream of announcements offering services and goods such as perfume, cuddly toys, car hire, train tickers and scratch cards” .

By far the most aggravating factor, however, is “the very limited leg room provided in economy class”. Smarter Travel’s “in-flight experience” commentator, Ed Hewitt, has described the available space as “ narrow, cramped and getting worse”. He has observed that, technically, his body does fit into a typical airline seat – as long as he sits up and keeps his hands and arms folded into his lap. A Business Travel Airline Survey has revealed that Ryanair has the narrowest economy seats out of the 32 airlines researched, offering just 16 inches of width, with Air Canada’s seats the widest at 18-18.5 inches. British Airways are 8th in this list for width (between 17’3 – 18.1 inches).

Sometimes (notes Airport World.com) it’s other passengers who can make your journey a misery: For example, putting their elbow firmly on the shared arm rest and leaving no room for yours; constantly getting up to retrieve items from the overhead lockers; people behind you trying to get off the plane first; babies crying throughout the flight; and (the one that causes the most arguments), someone “reclining their seat so far back that they are practically in your lap”.

There’s now a solution to this last problem: A pair of “knee defenders” that you can buy for only $21.95. You just have to clip them to the bottom of the arms of your lowered tray table. They then prevent the seat in front of you from being tilted backwards. This doesn’t contravene any current aviation regulations, so there’s nothing the other person can do about it – except protest vociferously.

 

 

 

Filed under: Travel | Posted on October 2nd, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Revolution In the Fashion World: The Catwalks Face Up To the Social Media Challenge:

IMG_1392Has London Fashion Week (and the ones in New York, Milan and Paris) become an anachronism? The BBC clearly thinks it’s still important: It devoted at least half of its prestigious “Today” morning radio programme on Friday 15th September (the first day of the latest LFW, which finished on Tuesday 19th September) to the event, with one of it’s presenters, Mishal Husain, broadcasting from the venue at The Store Studios in the Strand. As she pointed out, British Fashion Council (BFC) statistics show that the fashion industry is worth around £30 billion pounds to the country’s economy and that it supports 880,000 jobs in the UK.

IMG_1434LFW is thus “ an international event that showcases British fashion and the global brands that choose to exhibit in London because of its reputation for creativity”. However, the industry is all about “big business” and so is evolving rapidly. Nearly 7 out of 10 women (as the BBC’s business reporter, Lucy Burton noted) have bought clothes online. Sian Westerman, the BFC’s President of Business & Investment, acknowledged to Husain that e-commerce has caused “a great fashion revolution”, that it has dramatically changed customers’ expectations in terms of speed, delivery and accessibility to fashion. The “fast fashion brands” now turn to social media platforms as much as to the fashion weeks for an indication of the latest trends.

IMG_1391Richard Christofoli, Debenham’s Marketing Director, likewise accepts that it is “a fluid, dynamic and challenging situation” for the established high-street retailers:  Customers can now shop online and then collect at the store, or browse in the store then use their smartphone to decide what to buy and from whom. Christopher Bailey, formerly Burberry’s chief executive but now it’s chief creative officer, believes that LFW is all about “trying new things, experimenting and innovating, making sure we are talking to customers, media and buyers, pushing ourselves”. He agrees, however, that the rise of social media has created a completely different way of looking at every industry, not just fashion and that it has had a disruptive impact on “the fairly rigid timetable of fashion weeks around the world”.

This view is shared by Jo Ellison, Fashion Editor for the Financial Times, who pointed out to Husain that “the fashion industry has always been a very visual medium for most people, which makes Instagram the perfect platform for people to understand it”. Brands can now deliver their messages to a global audience to whom they didn’t previously have access. People are now able to find out things for themselves – they don’t really need the “ordination” of newspaper or magazine fashion editors anymore. Furthermore, brands are now offering “trans-seasonal” clothes: customers are merely “adding to their wardrobe each time, there’s not an abrupt change each season, there’s much more continuity”.

Nevertheless, as Christopher Bailey emphasizes, London continues to be “a creative hub for the creative industries”. That’s because we have “the best creative art schools in the world, which attract people who want to be educated here and then set up their businesses here”. Bailey argues that this provides enormous potential for post-Brexit Britain, that “Britishness” resonates globally due to the combination of the country’s “beautiful, historic, almost Victorian values” with its island culture, eccentricity and self-expression and that “street style”, which began here, is still “the strongest than anywhere else around the world” . He desperately hopes, though, that the current “anti-immigration climate” doesn’t undermine the openness with the rest of the world or inhibit “the collaboration with people of different cultures which is fundamental to any creative business”.

Bailey’s assertion that London is ideally placed to enhance its leading role in the global fashion industry is fully supported by the BFCs statistics: More than 5000 guests, including “the international press, buyers, broadcasters, influencers and industry insiders from 70 countries” attended the latest LFW. There were 85 catwalk shows and presentations and 33 other events. Burberry presented its new collection, as did Versace’s VERSUS, Fashion East and House of Holland. New participants were Tommy Hilfiger (USA), Nicopanda (USA), Emporio Armani (Italy) and Ralph & Russo (UK). Also featuring prominently were “internationally celebrated British designers” such as Emilia Wickstead, Fyodor Golan, Margaret Howell, Pringle of Scotland and Temperley London. The BFC described the diversity of the LFW schedule as “ a testament to the inclusive and innovative British fashion industry on display in London”.

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Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on September 18th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

“Bags For Life”: Less Plastic & Much Better For The Environment?

Which supermarket do you use: Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose or one of the discount chains such as Aldi? Your choice is probably influenced by a range of factors, especially price, proximity to where you live or work, the layout of the store, the brand style, habit, familiarity and whether you’ve signed up for one of the “loyalty schemes” such as Sainsbury’s “Nectar” or the Tesco Club Card. Whichever one you prefer, do you take a shopping bag with you or do you pay for one at the cash desk?

If it tends to be the latter and you’re a Tesco customer, you might already be aware that the organisation has recently changed its plastic bag policy. After conducting a ten-week trial in three of its stores, in Aberdeen and Dundee (Scotland) and Norwich (East Anglia), it has decided that, from August 28th, it will no longer sell “single use” 5p plastic bags and will replace them instead with “thicker, re-usable bags for life”. These will be made from 94% recycled plastic and cost between 8p – 10p. They will also fall outside the provisions of the plastic bag regulations introduced by the Government on 5th October 2015 and hence mean that the company will not be obliged to pass any of this new income on to “good causes”. Nevertheless, so Tesco insisted to the Daily Telegraph’s Consumer Affairs Editor, Kate Morley, on May 24, it “would not profit from the bags and would continue to support environmental charities”.

In effect, Tesco is following the example of Sainsburys who, after the new law was implemented – as the Independent correspondent, Hazel Sheffield, has pointed out – “did away with single-use plastic bags in favour of a sturdier orange bag that can be recycled and exchanged for a new one when it becomes damaged”. This costs 5p and – as with Tesco’s new “bag for life” – is not covered by the 5th October 2015 regulations. The Guardian has reported that just 1p of the 5p goes to charity (“lower than some other retailers”) and that Sainsburys say they can’t confirm how much they give to charity because the information is “commercially sensitive”.

As the Gov.UK website emphasises, the regulations apply to all retailers (not only to supermarkets) who have 250 or more employees: “Smaller businesses can also charge on a voluntary basis if they wish”. The levy does not apply to shops in airports, on board trains, airplanes or ships, if the bag contains items such as raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, uncovered razor blades, seeds, bulbs and flowers or if it is made of paper. Furthermore, as The Independent commented with some scepticism when the scheme was first introduced, “Despite government guidance that the money raised should be donated to good causes, there is no legal requirement for stores to hand over the cash to charities. Retailers can deduct costs for administration and staff training from the money they collect”.

On 21st July, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) released statistics showing that “the seven main retailers issued 83% fewer plastic bags in 2016-2017 compared to the calendar year 2014”. This works out (estimates letsrecycle.com) as a reduction from 7 billion to 2 billion , equivalent to each person in the UK population using around 25 bags during 2016, compared to around 140 bags a year before the charge was applied”.

According to the DEFRA survey, the 168 retailers who provided data had donated over £66 million to good causes. However, the Sunday Times journalists Helen Croydon and Jonathan Leake indicated, in an article on 13th August titled “Charities Barely See 5p Carrier Bag Cash”, that they were unconvinced by these figures. On the contrary, that although “the 5p charge on plastic bags cost shoppers £105 million last year, only £25 million went to named charities”. They noted that fifty firms , among them Iceland, Argos, Halfords and River Island, all declared that that net proceeds did go to charity but opted not to disclose specific details.

Also, that others deduct substantial costs: For example, in the year ending April 2017, the music chain HMV earned £135,000 from the sale of 3.2 million bags but kept £60,000 in costs; WH Smith raised £206,000 from 4 million bags but retained £76,000. More generously: Tescos- £32 million from 637 million bags, donated £23 million; Sainsburys- £2.6 million from 52 million bags,donated £2.1 million. The main problem with a “bag for life”, Dominic Hogg of the environmental consultancy Eunomia told the journalists, is that it weighs three times as much as a single use bag “ which means using three times as much plastic”.

Sarah Coles, a commentator for AOL UK Money, has been more inclined to believe in the retailers’ good intentions: On 18th July, she asserted that Iceland, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose now all “tend to focus their charitable giving on local or environmental causes”. Among others: “B&Q passes on the full 5p to “Children in Need”; M&S sends half the 5p to local charities and community causes chosen by individual stores and the other 50% to national charities such as the Marine Conservation Society and Macmillan Cancer Support; Aldi donates money from the sale of its carrier bags to an educational partnership with the RSPB (Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds”).

On 29th August, The Guardian reported that, the previous day “the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution” had come into effect in Kenya, where supermarkets have been handing out an estimated 100 million bags each year: Anyone producing,selling or even using plastic bags risks imprisonment of up to four years or fines of £31,000. The justification for such an extreme measure, in the opinion of Habib el-Habrir, who works for UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) in Kenya, is that “If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the oceans than fish”.

Meanwhile, Andrew Pendleton, Head of Campaigns at Friends of The Earth, has endorsed the attention “now being given to the millions of non-recyclable coffee cups that go to landfills as well as to the oversized boxes and excess packaging which are the by-products of online shopping”.

 

 

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on September 4th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The “Silly Season” Is No More: It’s Been Replaced By Something Much Worse:

Have you ever heard about “Nessie”? If yes, then you’ll know that it’s a monster that reputedly lives beneath the waters of Loch Ness in Scotland. On 11th May, The Scottish Mirror journalist, Natalie Evans, reported that a video taken by a tourist from Wales, Robb Jones, suggested that “the world famous mythical creature may have returned – 9 months after a previous reported sighting”. Evans also quoted the reason given by Gary Campbell – the “keeper of the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register” – as to why “Nessie” is invariably seen more in the summer than at other times of the year: “There are more people around, there are much longer daylight hours and the weather is usually better”.

However,the many sceptics who doubt whether “Nessie” exists at all offer a somewhat different explanation – namely, that the print media tends to be a little short of news stories during the peak vacation period, so the apparent re-emergence of a popular monster helps fill the gaps. The Conservative MP for South Dorset, Richard Drax, has pointed out on his website that throughout his 17 years working as a journalist, the month of August was always referred to as “the silly season” – and indeed, that it still is, due to Parliament being in recess, schools closed until September and many people on holiday. Hence, “items that would normally attract little attention are elevated to the front pages”.

Suzi Christie, the owner of Blueberry Public Relations Ltd in East Sussex, has noted that some editors can be so desperate for input that they will give prominence to “ludicrous” reports such as one that featured in The Independent about “squirrels addicted to crack” and a claim by a group of residents in St Osyth, Essex, that a “large lion” had been seen prowling the surrounding countryside. The Daily Mirror concluded that the culprit was probably not “the king of the jungle” but more likely “ a 12-year-old ginger tomcat named Tom who lived in a nearby old people’s home”.

The controversial Daily Mail commentator, Richard Littlejohn, acknowledged on 15th August that “hacks” like him often have to “scratch around to find something to write about when “real” news is in short supply. He then highlighted several stories that he considered farcical – for example, a sheep race in Scotland which had been “abandoned after a campaign by animal rights fundamentalists” and the decision by the organisers of the Frome Carnival, Somerset, to replace their traditional carnival queen with five “carnival ambassadors” – on the basis (so they told the Sunday Times) that “ a beauty pageant is out of step with 21st century values”.

There have been a number of other stories that have appeared in rival newspapers during August that their editors presumably judged as newsworthy but of which Littlejohn may have disapproved: In the Sunday Times on 6th August, Roland White revealed in his “Atticus” column that the Labour MP, Paul Flynn, is calling for cannabis users “to descend on Parliament for a mass smoke-in as a token act of civil disobedience”. The same publication that day devoted half a page to an article by White’s colleague, Robin Henry, about dog walkers on the beach at Llandudno, north Wales, who claim they are at risk of a £75 fine if they are caught with their pets off their lead and that they are “being watched through binoculars, covertly filmed and followed by intimidating black-uniformed security officers working for Conwy Council” when they take their dogs across the sand dunes.

The previous week, the Sunday Times had described as “not so savvy” the pink linen dress which Prime Minister Theresa May was photographed wearing while she was on holiday in Lake Garda, Italy and which can be bought online from Next for £26. Both the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times gave space to rumours that the divorce between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie may be off or at least postponed “after he gave up boozing to win her back”. Meanwhile, the Observer correspondent Nish Kumar focused on the sale of the Brazilian player Neymar by Barcelona to Paris St Germain “ for a head-exploding sum of £198 million, a figure almost eight times larger than the GDP of the island nation of Tuvalu”.

n the opinion of the Stir PR Ltd website, the description “silly season” no longer applies either to August or any other time of the year. It emphasizes that “with the rise of social and digital media, consumers now get their news fed to them on their smart phones, linking them in lightning-quick fashion to their favourite website, blog or influencer. It doesn’t matter if the reader is at work or lounging by the swimming pool, these channels don’t slow down over summer and they don’t change how they report”.

In what has become a sombre August 2017, media editors have not needed to resort to fabricated stories: On 1st August , British Gas raised its prices for its 3.1 million customers by 12.5%, effective as from 15th September. The Government then did likewise for rail passengers: a 3.6% increase in January 2018. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un threatened each other with nuclear war. Europe was hit by a “Lucifer heatwave”, with Sicily suffering the highest temperature, 46%. Many survivors from the June 14th Grenfell Tower fire are still awaiting alternative accommodation and financial help. White supremacists clashed with protesters in Charlotteville, Virginia.

And then: The attacks in Barcelona & Cambrils, in Spain and the Finnish coastal city of Turku. The “silly season” is no more. It’s been replaced by something much worse.

Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on August 21st, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Don’Take Me To A Cattery! What To Do With Your Pet When You Go On Holiday:

According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) – quoted in The Guardian on 22nd July – a record of 2.4 million British holidaymakers will go abroad this year. This means that over the weekend of 21st – 23rd July, more than 500,000 passengers were expected to fly from Heathrow airport, 335,000 from Gatwick and 136,000 from Stansted. They were going off to enjoy their summer vacation – but what happens to the pets that many of them left behind?

The statista.com website has estimated that there are 54 million pets in the UK: Dogs are the most popular at 24%, followed by cats (17%), indoor fish (5%), rabbits (2%),  reptiles (1.5%) and hamsters (1.4%). The majority of dog owners tend to either leave their animal with friends or family or (if they are travelling by car) take it with them. This is not, however, an option usually available to cat owners, 54% of whom ask their neighbours to go into their house to feed their pet and 16% of whom leave it with a cattery.

Any guilt complex these owners may feel about apparently abandoning their animals will not have been alleviated by an article in the Daily Mail by columnist Caroline McGuire captioned “ Take me too! Upset pets look the picture of misery as they watch their owners pack for their holidays”. This was accompanied by photos of cats and dogs with sad faces sitting in their owners’ suitcases and refusing to move.  The Telegraph’s science editor, Sarah Knapton, however, seems to regard this as something of an exaggeration. She has noted that research conducted by the University of Lincoln has concluded that “cats, unlike dogs, do not need humans to feel protected, preferring to look after themselves”. Furthermore – and especially relevant in the summer vacation context – that “Although owners might worry that their pet is nervously pining for their return, in fact cats show no sign of separation anxiety”. As a consolation for cat owners “despairing about their aloof house guests”, Knapton also highlighted the opinion of animal behaviourists that “if a cat stays around, it shows it really wants to be there”.

A report on “pet translators” by the Guardian journalists Sarah Butler and Hannah Devlin  on 22nd July cited the author of “Learning The Language of Animals”, Con Slobodchikoff, Professor  Emeritus with the Northern Arizona University’s Department of Biological Sciences, who told them that many people would dearly love to find out what their dog or cat is trying to communicate. He suspected, however, that a lot of times, the cat would just want to say “You idiot, just feed me and leave me alone”. Christopher Hitchens, the English-born American author, journalist and literary author, was similarly sceptical about feline attitudes, pointing out that “ If you provide dogs with food, water , shelter and affection, they will think you are god. If you do the same with cats, they draw the conclusion that they are gods”.

Meanwhile: If cat owners who are going on holiday don’t want to bother their neighbours, what’s the solution? The “Home Loving Cats” website is adamant that “most cats really hate catteries” and that when they are “forcibly taken away from their familiar home environment (their central territory) they will often become stressed, unhappy, sometimes stop eating and are quite unable to adjust to their new surroundings”. It’s not so much the fact that they don’t want to be taken to a cattery, but more “that they don’t want to be taken anywhere”. If, however, a cat owner really has no alternative, they should “be careful to exercise appropriate care and due diligence when choosing a cattery”.

David Fellingham, the proprietor of the West Wimbledon Cattery, concurs with the view that “dogs need people, cats don’t”. He’s been running his business, authorized by Merton Council, for almost 25 years, works from 7 am – 8 pm seven days a week looking after around 24 cats on site and another six based in houses in the area. He says there are no seasonal fluctuations, that he is busy all the year round. Some cats will be left with him for just a couple of weeks, others for much longer, such as two years in the case of a cat from America. He charges £13 per day for one cat and £17 per day for two, though they have to be from the same household.

The Animal Boarding Establishment Act 1963 requires anyone operating a cattery or kennel to acquire a license from their local authority, which will also specify the number of animals that can be accommodated. As the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) has emphasized, the facilities have to meet specified minimum standards: The enclosure, for example, must “provide sufficient space to allow each cat to turn freely and to easily stand, sit and lie in a comfortable position”. It should also be maintained in good repair to protect the cats, contain them, keep other animals out and enable them to remain dry and clean.

There is a considerable variation of prices, depending on the cattery: Silverdale Kennels in Feltham charge £11.83 + vat per cat and £20.66 + vat for two cats sharing; The “Cat’s Whiskers”, on the Middlesex / Surrey border, £15 per day for one, £20 per day for two sharing. By contrast, a suite in the West Wing of the Pawchester “five star luxury cat hotel” in Fulham SW6 costs a minimum of £45 per night. It also has two bungalows (£30 per night) and ten “high rise” suites (£25 per night): “Relaxing classical music is played throughout the premises, premium food is used for all the guests and there is Cats TV in every room”. For anyone interested, the Pawchester is now being offered for sale.

 

 

Filed under: Society, Travel | Posted on July 24th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Cashless Society Postponed: The True Value Of The Money In Your Pockets:

What do you think of the new one pound coin? Even if you like the design, your priority is probably that it should be worth the same as the old version when you do your shopping. Since it was first introduced on 28th March, however, there have been what the Guardian journalists Rebecca Smithers and Julia Kollewe have described as “a few teething problems”: Not all ticket machines at railway stations, vending machines, launderette tumble dryers and parking meters (for example) were adapted in time for the launch – and many of them around the UK still don’t accept the 12-sided £1 coin. Tescos had to temporarily unlock 100,000 of its coin-operated supermarket trolleys and when the Guardian journalists tried to use the coins in a phone booth, “they fell straight through”.

So why did the Royal Mint in Llantristant, South Wales (whose employees have been unable to use the coin in the vending machines of their local pub) produce it? According to the MBNA Banking Corporation, “over half the UK population thinks cash could be on its way out, is being replaced by contactless card payments and a third of us have days when we don’t carry any cash at all”. On June 30th, the Daily Express columnist, David Maddox, revealed that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Cameron Government, George Osborne (now editor of the London Evening Standard) wanted to “scrap 1p and 2p coins and phase out cash altogether by 2020”.

The Guardian article has taken a different view, pointing out that “Despite the rise of card and contactless payments, coins remain popular: There are currently nearly 29 billion of them of all denominations circulating in the UK, with a value of more than £4 billion”. It also notes that the new £1 coin has been given a deliberately complex shape to make it harder to manufacture and counterfeit: Apparently, an estimated one in 30 of the original round pound coins are fake. Even the genuine ones – as Dan King, head of Nationwide’s current accounts department has emphasized – will cease to be legal tender on 15th October, so we should all start checking to see if we can find any down the back of our sofas. The “hubpages.com” website has suggested several other places you might find “lost coins”: Check all coat and trouser pockets, they advise. Also, zippered compartments in purses and shopping bags, behind furniture and in the drawers, under the bed, inside washing machines and tumble dryers, in “piggy banks” and wherever you keep your keys.

Coins can be notoriously difficult to locate, especially in poor lighting, which is perhaps why – as the Guardian reported on 21st June – the Royal Canadian Mint has unveiled “the world’s first glow-in-the-dark coin”: There are now 3 million of these, worth $2 Canadian dollars, in circulation. A luminescent UK equivalent would have been of definite advantage to the BBC TV Breakfast Show on March 27th. While one of the presenters, Dan Walker, was demonstrating to viewers what the new £1 coin looked like, he dropped it down the studio’s big red sofa and spent several minutes scrambling to retrieve it while the programme continued live.

The company which produces the £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes for the Bank Of England – De La Rue, whose headquarters are in Basingstoke, Hampshire – similarly considers that the predictions of the demise of cash “have been greatly exaggerated”. In it’s 2017 Report, it highlights the fact that 38% of the global population (1.8 billion people) don’t have bank accounts, that cash “is the world’s most socially inclusive payment method” – and that (in their opinion), it will remain so for the foreseeable future”. Furthermore (it states), “In December 2016, more cash was withdrawn from ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) in the UK than any month in history and even Sweden, probably the most cashless society in the world, has had to backtrack on its policy of removing ATMs, due to public outcry”.

The Daily Telegraph’s Industry Editor, Alan Towey, has categorised De La Rue as the world’s biggest commercial printer of banknotes: It produced 7.1 billion of them in 2016/17 and its 27% market share provides 70% of its £472 million annual revenue. As the De La Rue Chief Executive, Martin Sutherland, told Towey: “If you’re going on holiday, you will have notes we printed in your wallet, the passport you use to get out of the country was manufactured by us and when you get off the plane the currency you will use is either designed or printed by us or has some of our security features in it”. The company is coy about identifying the 140 countries for whom it designs banknotes – though Venezuela, Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Samoa, and Mauritius are reputed to feature on the list. The company has many competitors – among them Giesecke & Devrient (Munich & Leipzig, Germany) and Royal Joh Enschede (Haarlem, Holland) who both print Euro banknotes and The Royal Canadian Mint, who “make coins for countries from Indonesia to the United Arab Emirates”.

Traditionally, banknotes have been “printed on a substrate that consists of pure cotton or a mix of 75% cotton and 25% linen”. (prepressure.com). Now, though, there is a trend towards using polypropylene, mainly because plastic banknotes (such as the new UK £5) are more durable, they repel dirt and moisture, are twice as expensive to produce but last much longer and they can be recycled, so there’s an ecological advantage.

The main consideration, however, is undoubtedly that they are far more difficult to counterfeit. Bank of England statistics show that around 347,000 false banknotes with a “face value of £7.5 million” were taken out of circulation in the UK during 2016.

Filed under: Society | Posted on July 11th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Comida Fest 2017: A Project That Aspires To Embody The Spirit Of London’s Latin American Community:

Have you any idea how many Latin Americans are currently resident in the UK? As the “Latino Life” website has pointed out, no-one is really sure of the numbers, mainly because “On British Government documentation, “Latin American” is not given as an ethnic group”, so anyone from that part of the world filling in a form has to tick the box marked simply “Other”. In London, nevertheless, the “Latin American Recognition Campaign UK (LARC) has managed to persuade the local authorities in Southwark, Lambeth, Islington and Hackney to officially acknowledge the existence of the community, thereby “fostering its inclusion at all levels from access to services to political representation.

The latest estimate of the UK population by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) – reported in the Guardian on 23rd June – is 65,648,000, an addition of 538,000 over the previous year. London “accounts for a significant chunk of this increase” – indeed, as the London Evening Standard noted on 22nd June, the capital’s population has “surged to an all-time high of 8.8 million, with a growth rate of 1.3%, more than twice that of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the North of England”. According to the Daily Mail, “White Britons now constitute just 44.9% of London’s inhabitants, with more than 600,000 of them having “fled” the capital over the past decade to rural areas such as South Derbyshire, Mid Suffolk and South Norfolk.

In their place, “residents originally from India dominate ten of the capital’s 32 boroughs while Londoners born in Nigeria, Poland, Turkey and Bangladesh have the highest numbers in at least three areas each”. The Mail has produced a map showing where the different ethnic groups are concentrated: For instance Haringey and Hackney (Turkish), Bromley (Indian), Merton (Polish), Kensington & Chelsea (French), Wandsworth (South African), Lambeth (Jamaican).

This map, however, makes no reference at all to the Latin American community – despite the fact that (as Queen Mary University of London has pointed out in its survey titled “Towards Visibility”) “it is one of the fastest growing migrant populations in the capital, with two-thirds having arrived since 2000”. The survey calculates that there are around 250,000 Latin Americans in the UK, of which 145,000 live in London, especially in Lambeth, Southwark, Newham, Haringey, Westminster, Brent and Barnet.”Brazilians are the largest national group, followed by Colombians, Ecuadorians, Argentinians, Venezuelans, Mexicans, Peruvians. Chileans and Bolivians”.

The Independent journalist, Sarah Morrison, in an article captioned “Caramba! Latin America Takes A Hold On London”, has quoted the Mexican Chef, Fernando Stovell (who has appeared on the BBC’s “Saturday Kitchen”), as pointing out that “People are starting to interact with what Latin American culture is all about: We tend to be very happy – maybe that’s what they want to discover”. Morrison has highlighted the fact that “the community’s cultural presence can be felt all over the capital. There are now Latin American music, film and dance festivals, as well as an abundance of Latin clubs, eateries and art exhibitions”.

It is this Latin American “spirit” that the three Brazilian founders of “Comida Fest – Alicia Bastos, Simone Ruotolo and Gizane Campos – believe they can capture and build upon. Last year (the first), it took place in just one location, on the South Bank behind the ITV studios. This year, they are being even more ambitious, holding it in three different parts of London during the summer “to promote the brand”: In Greenwich (Cutty Sark Gardens, 8th & 9th July), Potters Field Park (Southwest of Tower Bridge, 12th & 13th August) and Bishops Park (Putney Bridge, Fulham, 16th & 17th September). Although “some people will come to all three events”, they acknowledge that Greenwich is a bit far for many who live elsewhere in London and expect the largest crowd to be at Potters Fields Park. They are anticipating an attendance of around 50,000 over the six days, though are well aware that this will depend on the weather and what else is happening on those dates.

In their advance publicity, they describe Comida Fest as “the newest trend in the London street food scene”. In addition to the “experienced traders showcasing the diversity and uniqueness of Latin American countries” by providing “delicious food and drink”, the three events will also offer “ a rich cultural programme with dance, music, literature,special performances and workshops for adults and kids”. No-one else, they say, has attempted what they are now doing. Yes, there are different Venezuelan and Argentinian food traders, but Comida Fest “is putting it all together”. There will be no “repeat menu” – in other words, only one stall selling, for example, arepas or tapas, so “ you can come to all six days and have a wide range of different food”.

The organisers accept that the logistics involved in this enterprise are formidable and that they have to prove that they can make a success of it. There’s no funding from the Arts Council or the Lottery, so they have to raise around £140,000 to cover the cost of issues such as Health & Safety, Insurance, Security and musical entertainment” as well as dealing with the owners (local council, landlord, trustees) of the spaces they are using. When you don’t have money, you have to shrink your budget and maximize your income” , which is why it’s not cheap for traders to participate.

The three girls know full well that they are taking financial risks and quote a Brazilian proverb proclaiming “You have to dance according to the music”, but are convinced they are creating something worthwhile. They are amused by the fact that they are already perceived as millionaires and are being asked to sponsor or fund other activities. Their real situation, though, “is quite the opposite”. They will welcome anyone who wants to take part with open arms: “Get in touch. We need volunteers. Come along”.

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Music & Dance | Posted on June 29th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Price Of Failure: Northern Ireland’s Protestants Throw British Politics Into Turmoil:

Have you ever heard of the expression “The Luck Of The Irish”? This “peculiar phrase” (states WiseGeek.com) has often been interpreted as simply meaning that (despite their turbulent history), the Irish are “inherently fortunate” and seem to be able to land on their feet when bad circumstances occur. It has also, however, been attributed to the large number of Irish miners who became rich by taking part in the gold & silver rush in the American west in the second half of the 19th century.

For Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the results of the UK General Election on June 8th has become their version of discovering “a pot of gold”. As the Huffington Post pointed out the following day, the DUP “might be about to take on a pivotal role in British politics”. Since 9th June, international attention has been focused on whether the ten DUP Members of Parliament will “prop up” the Conservative Government and so keep Theresa May in power as Prime Minister.

Although Theresa May has been excoriated by the British media (especially the many newspapers that supported her) for having conducted “a disastrous campaign” and thus winning far fewer constituencies than expected, she will still outnumber the combined opposition parties in the House of Commons if she has the support of the DUP. This would probably – so the Guardian has concluded – be on the basis of a “confidence & supply arrangement”, whereby the DUP would support the Conservatives’ main legislative programme rather than establishing a formal coalition. Despite the Government in theory needing 326 MP s in the 650-seat House of Commons to achieve a basic majority, in reality the required number is smaller: The Speaker and his three deputies don’t vote and the seven elected Sinn Fein MPs won’t attend because, as Republicans, they consider the institution to be “illegitimate” and refuse to swear an oath to the Queen. “This means a working majority actually needs 315 MPs” – which would be exceeded by the 318 Conservative and 10 DUP MPs.

The drawback with these calculations is that the DUP of course will want substantial rewards in exchange,such as (contends the BBC’s Parliamentary correspondent, Mark D’Arcy)“extra funding for all things Northern Ireland, localised tax concessions, more powers for the NI executive and the continuance of the open border with the Republic of Ireland (a member of the European Union)” – hence no checkpoints or customs controls, which “could arouse the anger of the hardline Conservative Brexiteers”.

The Guardian has similarly highlighted the “clear blue water” between the two parties, especially the DUP’s anti-abortion attitudes, its climate change scepticism, its disapproval of the Conservatives’ plans to change the welfare system for pensioners and its opposition to same-sex marriage – which has led the Scottish Conservative Leader, Ruth Davidson to demand reassurance from Theresa May that LGBT rights will not be eroded in return for DUP support. It is highly unlikely that the DUP would ever enter into any deal with the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, mainly because of “his past links with Sinn Fein and his sympathy with the IRA (Irish Republican Army)”.

Ireland is also known as “The Emerald Isle – mainly, according to “Irish Central.com”, because the description is “synonymous with the country’s rolling hills and resplendent green valleys”, though it was first portrayed as such in a poem by the 19th-century Belfast political radical William Drennan. The current population of the Republic – which became independent from Britain in 1922 – is estimated at 4,7748,513, of whom 84% are Catholic In the six counties of Northern Ireland, which remained with the UK, the figure is around 1.85 million. In the view of Pauline Hadaway, a writer with “Spiked”magazine, the partition of the island was designed precisely to maintain the supremacy of the Protestants/ Unionists/Loyalists in the north.

The “Good Friday” peace agreement of 10th April 1998 included a guarantee that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland would not be changed without the consent of the majority of its people. The big problem now for the DUP – which, as its name indicates, represents the Unionist community – is that the Protestant population in the province has dropped below 50%, down to 48%, whereas the number of Catholics has risen to 45% and is continuing to increase. In the capital city of Belfast, the Catholics (who tend to be younger) comprise 49% of residents, whereas the “ageing” Protestant community has declined to 42%.

The new leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, has declared that Brexit will be a “disaster” for the province and that there should be a referendum on joining the Republic “as soon as possible”. For the moment, reports the Independent, opinion polls show that “a firm majority of NI residents, Catholics as well as Protestants, favour remaining in the UK. Nonetheless, Peter Shirlow, head of the Institute of Irish Studies at Liverpool University, considers that “if Brexit makes the Catholic support for staying with Britain slip away, a future referendum on Irish unification could be very, very tight”.

The decisive factor could be what happens to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It now exists, notes the BBC’s Business Presenter, Dominic O’Connell, virtually in name only and runs through farms,roads, hedges and even houses: “The only visible indication when crossing between the two countries is the change in speed limit signs from miles per hour to kilometres”. A reinstatement of a “hard border” could have “deep implications for the Northern Irish economy” as well as potentially undermining the peace process. In May, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, met business owners based near the border who could be negatively affected if trade tariffs are imposed between the UK and the EU. “If there is a will (he asserted) there is a way to resolve the Irish border situation”.

 

Filed under: Politics | Posted on June 10th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

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