Sunday, 10 December 2017

Brexit Arguments Resume. Snow Chaos Hits England and Wales.

It was a short breather for Prime Minister Theresa May after the Brussels meeting on Friday. Knives put away for the day after were now being sharpened again. The first comments came from Brussels, trying to quash expectations that the UK could get a unique deal. The report was  that international pressure was being exerted by other treaty countries outside of the EU, to deny Britain special treatment.

David Davis, our chief negotiator, was in a far more positive mood, telling Andrew Marr that he wanted a Canada Plus Plus Plus deal, including services. Furthermore, he stated that if we did not get the deal we wanted, we would not pay the £39 bn to the EU. The DUP was concerned about his comments that the deal made was not legally binding.

Keir Starmer, Labour, on the other hand, wanted the UK to adopt a more Norway style model, paying to benefit from the EU but not bound to it.

And all of this before the actual EU meeting that will confirm that the EU and UK can progress onto the next stage of negotiations.

We woke up to a white blanket of snow, as forecast. Approximately 5cm had fallen here but elsewhere, had more, with some areas under 32 cm or more. Also as predicted, this unleashed chaos on the UK's roads, Stansted and Luton airports closed temporarily and train services were disrupted.

After clearing the snow from our drive and path, it was back inside for the afternoon. Jane baked the first home made mince pies of the season and we enjoyed three each by the end of the day.

Santa Run. Microscopy Quiz. The Grant Museum Talk. Crossword pen.

Saturday 9th December: For most of the day, the conservative truce between soft and hard brexiteers stood and there was no significant news from across the pond.

I cycled to Cambridge North today, arriving 10 minutes before my train for London Kings Cross was due to leave. I only needed to pick up my ticket. unfortunately, lots of other people had the same idea. I missed the 11:11 train but caught the 11:15 to London Liverpool Street. Arriving, there seemed to be a mass herding of Santas, in occasional clumps or purposefully moving individuals. i later found out that they were all streaming towards Battersea Park for the 5km Santa Run.

With a Smith's meal deal, I munched my sandwiches on the Circle Line, heading for South Kensington. The last few stops I chatted with a grandmother on her way to visit her daughters to go out shopping for the nine grandchildren. The queue at the Natural History Museum wasn't too long, so I made my way to the central cafe to buy a tea, passing the 2.6 billion year old rock slab from Australia which showed the shift in the earths atmosphere to producing oxygen. The increase on oxygen meant that any iron in the oceans turned rust red and precipitated, creating layered mud that turned to rock over billions of years.

The event was the last meeting of the Quekett Microscopical Club, with a quiz, mince pies and other nibbles, and an interesting talk by Hannah Cornish, now working at the Grant Museum of Zoology UCL as the Curatorial Assistant. The Museum is open to the public Monday to Saturdays 1 pm - 5 pm - https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/grant-museum-zoology. Hannah had brought along a slide of Diatoms made by a famous German Victorian slide maker, Johann Diedrich Möller, 1844-1907 (http://microscopist.net/MollerJD.html)

The two hours went by quickly and at 4:20, I set off to join the Christmas crush on the Piccadilly line to Kings Cross for the journey home. Settling down to do a crossword to pass the time, I realised I hadn't got a pen as today's shirt lacked a pocket to put one into. Asking the lady opposite me sporting a voluminous handbag if she could lend me a pen, an older gentleman from across the gangway leapt over and offered me his to borrow, a lovely 0.7mm drawing pen - to be returned! Managed to finish the concise crossword but stumped by the cryptic one after 4 clues. Pen returned.

Friday, 8 December 2017

UK and EU Agree Move to Phase II of Talks. Snakes and Ladders in Politics and A14 Networking.

With a quick early morning dash across the Channel to Brussels, Prime Minister Theresa May's turn at Brexit Snakes and Ladders took a significant step forward.

The EU and the UK have agreed 'Joint report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom's orderly withdrawal from the European Union.'

See: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/joint_report.pdf

There had been movement by the UK on the question of the 'divorce payment'. Both the UK and EU moved slightly on the question of EU citizens rights in the UK. The DUP, whilst still in talks with the government, did not put any stumbling blocks in the Prime Minister's way when she decided to set off on the early morning trip to meet with Jean-Claude Juncker. The UK had committed to aspiring for an open border between North and Southern Ireland

The result was the announcement from the President of the European Commission that “sufficient progress” had been made in the first phase of negotiations to allow movement to the next phase.

Rather than jubilation, there was more an air of relief. Both hard line brexiteers and remainers in the Tory cabinet made positive noises about Theresa May's achievement. The only real sour grapes came from Nigel Farage, who saw the event as a humiliating capitulation by the UK to the EU's terms. In a sense he is right in that the EU has had the upper hand throughout, setting the direction and pace of the talks. It just took much longer for the government to get to a stage where they could actually present today's decisions and offers.

The text of the entire document has been described as a masterpiece of bureaucratic wording, allowing all sides to give their positive spin on the agreement. The immediate next stage is to negotiate the transition period beyond the UK leaving the EU in March 2019. Then the talks on the actual trade deal can begin. These difficult negotiations are likely to be like the slide down a snake on the game board as they re-expose the cracks between brexiteers and remainers again.

I arrived early at the Tap room in St ives for the A14 networking and discovered a basket of games. Taking out the snakes and ladders board, Natasha dn Karen joined in the game as gradually everyone else arrived and the conversation began to flow. Natasha Won!

Spent a couple of hours at the Norris helping convert photos of three walls of painting on display into a pictorial guide with another volunteer. Dashed off after 12 to catch bus to Huntingdon, meeting a group of HBNers for lunch in the Wetherspoons there. I like the combination of being able to order from your table via the Wetherspoon app and the clear listing of the calories in the different dishes. My baked potato with chilli con carne came in at just under 500 kcal.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Post Trump Jerusalem Protests. Hectic Irish Border Negotiations. Camilla, Artists and Craftists.

Following President Trumps recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Palestinians on the West bank went on strike and demonstrations began. Predictably this led to 31 Palestinians injured, rockets fired at Israel, and Israeli retaliation.

Negotiations are continuing into the night on the EU - UK solutions to the Irish border. UK and EU sounding more positive, apparently wording agreed that Westminster DUP team finds acceptable. This still needs to be confirmed with the DUP in Belfast.

New multi-billion pound aircraft giant carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth commissioned by the Queen. The fighter jets  promised for the ship are getting more expensive by the day, due to the pound's devaluation - they are bought in dollars.

Camilla sourdough had been languishing in the fridge for a fortnight and therefore in danger of dying. Last night, refreshed the culture, placed half in the fridge and another half weighing 300 g was allowed to recover overnight at room temperature (about 17 deg C). Today, made the culture up to a 500 g mixed wholemeal and white bread flour, placed in a bread tin and allowed to rise over the next 8 h till doubled in size. Baked and cooled, had two slices of this delicious, tasty, moist sourdough loaf.

Otherwise spent the morning taking photos of photo prints for a family history in production and the afternoon on final edits on a children's book. Went to the Milton Artists and Craftists meeting. A small select group today with Minoan dolphins being painted on one side of the table, cross stitch started on another and mosaics rounding off the set. I've been working on an alphabet in pen and ink and managed to complete C.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Modern Fairy Tale of the Cabinet's New Clothes. Trumpeted Jerusalem. Toastmasters' Xmas.

Remarkable news today as David Davis reveals to the Exiting the EU Committee that the 57 Brexit impact assessments don't actually exist, that some of the material submitted to the committee was of a poor standard, and anyway, most of the information was in the public domain. In fact, David Davis thought that it wasn't even worth conducting economic impact assessments because Brexit was such a great paradigm shift that predictions were useless.

This seems to confirm that Brexit has more of the nature of an ideology than a rational, evidence based action.

The difficulties in the Cabinet were further revealed when the Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed that the cabinet had not yet had discussions on the final target for Brexit negotiations.

Prime Minister Theresa May has a bit of a challenge on her hands. There's an intransigent DUP and Barnier has set a Friday deadline for submitting a proposal that can actually be reviewed by the other EU states before the critical meeting next week.

A plot to kill the Prime Minister was foiled late November, but the news only emerged overnight.. The attacker wanted to plant a bomb outside the gates of Downing Street and use the ensuing confusion to penetrate into 10 Downing Street armed with an explosive vest and knives to assassinate Theresa May.

President Trump has broken the 50 year old consensus on the status of Jerusalem. Since annexing East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, Israel has declared Jerusalem its capital, whilst the Palestinians still regard East Jerusalem as theirs, although it is in Israeli control. Because of the special nature of Jerusalem for the three Abrahamic religions, sacred to the Jews, Muslims and Christians, most nations have avoided placing their embassies there, awaiting a political solution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

The US has had a nuanced approach to date, acknowledging Jerusalem as the Israeli capital but deferring moving their embassy there.

President Trump has now officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital and initiated the US embassy move there. He claimed it was acknowledging the status quo. Israel was delighted by the decision, The Palestinians are upset at an apparently partisan move. Most of the rest of the worlds nations disapprove as it could be a trigger for renewed violence in the region.

What a relief to be able to go to the Toastmasters' Christmas Event for a light-hearted evening of preposterous hats (puddings, presents, reindeer) and jumpers. With a floppy hat on my head and brightly coloured scarf around my neck, I went as a earlier version of Dr Who. Lots of laughter and a turkey free meal, though fortunately there were mince pies! Discovered a Dalek app for the smartphone that simply calls out "Exterminate" when tapped.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Did Chivers Silver Plate Its Jam Making Vessels to Decrease or Enhance Taste of Sugar?

President Trump to move US embassy to Jerusalem. Prime Minister Theresa May to come up with a new solution acceptable to Brexiteers, the EU and the DUP.

David Oakley from the Histon Village Society gave a talk to the Milton Local History Group tonight, on the 'Chivers' Jam Factory from 1873 to 1960'. Apparently, you could tell which jam or marmalade was being made by the smell emanating from the factory. The greatest pride of the founder and later his sons, was the number of local men and women that they employed.

The company was founded by fruit farmers who exported to the North of England and added making preserves of all forms to their skills. The company started with one factory on site and then expanded. Fruit was not just sourced locally, but as far afield as Scotland. They also diversified into canning and dried foods.

One of Chivers' claims to high quality and fame was the silver plating of their copper vessels used in making jams. Whilst recent studies have shown that silver can have antibacterial properties, there is also the fact that it can impart a strong flavour to some foods. However, metals such as copper and zinc can actually make sugar taste sweeter. The question therefore is, was the silver plating of copper vessels for jam making aiming to reduce the sweetening effect of copper? Or was it to ensure that there was a metal induced flavour enhancement of the sweet preserves (as well as giving an extra aura of novelty/aspiration)?

Monday, 4 December 2017

UK-EU Talks Fail after DUP Intervention. Trump Travel Ban Active. Trump lies?

Prime Minister Theresa May is in an impossible situation. She thought that the UK and the EU were on the verge of being able to agree that sufficient progress. Jean Claude Juncker thought that they were on the verge of an agreement. There had been progress on payments by Britain to the EU. There were constructive proposals on treatment of EU citizens in the UK. May thought that there was a wording to show progress on keeping the Irish border open between North and South.

Then there was a leak from an EU representative and from the Irish Taoiseach that this might mean a special arrangement for relationships between the different parts of Ireland.

Hearing of this, the DUP leadership stepped up to the cameras and Leader Arlene Foster said her party would not accept a Brexit deal that "separates" Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon acerbically commented that they, as Remainers, would also like to have a special deal allowing them to have free borders/trade with the EU.

Bang! Lunch halted as the government has to reiterate that the UK, including Northern Ireland will exit from the EU united. Negotiations now to continue later in the week in the hope of finding an acceptable phrasing in time for the EU meeting next week.

President Trump has another cause for celebration as the Supreme Court allows his travel ban against citizens of eight mainly Muslim countries to come into effect - at least for now. On top of this, his lawyer suggests that the President cannot 'obstruct justice' because he is the country's top law enforcement officer. (An assertion made by President Nixon before he was pressured to resign.)

President Trump came out strongly for Michael Flynn, claiming that the latter is being penalised for lying to the FBI whilst his former opponent Hillary Clinton lied to the FBI and was  not punished for this. Specifically he publicly said "Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it's a shame. Hillary Clinton, on the Fourth of July weekend, went to the FBI, not under oath. It was the most incredible thing anyone's ever seen. She lied many times; nothing happened to her. Flynn lied, and it's like, they ruined his life. It’s very unfair." See https://news.sky.com/video/trump-fbi-ruined-sacked-advisers-life-11156541.

I searched Reality Checks online to find then-FBI Director James Comey testifying under oath to the House of Representatives in July 2016, about Clinton's handling of classified information on a private email server. "We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.""I have no basis for concluding that she was untruthful with us." (from NBC https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/fact-check-trump-accused-clinton-lying-fbi-said-she-did-n826361). "The FBI also did not find that Clinton lied to the FBI, contrary to Trump’s claim." according to FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org/2017/12/factchecking-trumps-criticism-fbi/.

I spent the morning visiting a local artist as we catalogued historical material for a book project. Sold the first Milton Calendar and left copies at the Post Office for sale. Late in the afternoon, it was off to drill some holes in a wall at S & L's to put up a curtain.