Gentle lupins and tall hollyhocks


English Country Garden

How many gentle flowers grow in an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now, of some that I know, and those I miss I hope you’ll pardon.
Daffodils, hearts-ease and flocks, meadow sweet and lilies, stocks,
Gentle lupins and tall hollyhocks,
Roses, fox-gloves, snowdrops, forget-me-knots in an English country garden.

How many insects find their home in an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some that I know, and those I miss, I hope you’ll pardon.
Dragonflies, moths and bees, spiders falling from the trees,
Butterflies sway in the mild gentle breeze.
There are hedgehogs that roam and little garden gnomes in an English country garden.

How many song-birds make their nest in an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some that I know, and those I miss, I hope you’ll pardon.
Babbling, coo-cooing doves, robins and the warbling thrush,
Blue birds, lark, finch and nightingale.
We all smile in the spring when the birds all start to sing in an English country garden.

Beautiful back yard

This lovely old song sums up the appeal of gardens in England.  I think there are few countries where people take much pride in the little space around their houses, there is certainly some competition between neighbours and so it was with shame that I sat in my garden and observed that it looked poor compared to next door’s garden.  This is a situation that must be corrected.

As the song says, there is a great wealth of plants found here and the potential for a truly green lawn as well as a refuge for wildlife in our increasingly crowded island.

Britain is a temperate country and this favours gardening.  Gardeners worry about all sorts of things but the most worrying is the collapse of the bee population worldwide.  Bees of course, are not simply the carriers of pollen from one pretty plant to another but a vital conduit of crop fertilization worldwide.  Bee population collapse is no minor agriculture issue and the subject of frantic research that has linked problems to various things including pesticides and climate change.

Historically, gardens were vital sources of food for the rural poor but even in their gardens you would have found the odd lupin or rose.  Many plants such as St John’s Wort, had medical uses before our wonderful free National Health Service was born.     

During the Second World War, gardens were an important source of extra nutrition and almost every inch would be planted with vegetables or fruit which would be preserved for winter in pickles or jams.  The traditional busy country garden is still very popular but of course, is less given over to food production.

Gardens unfortunately, have gradually shrunk lately and the limited space needs careful.  Garden design is quite an industry these days and we might have seaside style gardens, Zen gardens or container based gardens that utilize the smaller space available   Perhaps, private gardens are aspiration of beautiful and safe privacy but even those without gardens can enjoy a public park.

A peacock at Kew Gardens in Autumn

Wishing you well in your beautiful places in the last days of summer.

Rio 2016 Olympic Games


Back to the Starting Blocks 

I doubt there are many places that aren’t following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the moment and in present times only supreme athleticism has surpassed scandals about banned drugs, competition facilities and unsportsman-like behaviour.

The modern world is fiercely competitive, profit-orientated, and deeply ideologically divided but we still love to see the best that humans can physically achieve.

Rio Medal Table on 19 August 2016

The ancient games began in Greece somewhen in the 8th century BC.  It was held in honour of the god Zeus, male only, competed nude and all for an olive tree head-dress.  As the Greek world shrank away so did the games but the memory of them did not.


The first `modern’ Olympics was organised in 1612 by lawyer Robert Dover in the obscure village of Chipping Camden in England and continued for a few decades.  Later, in 1850 the games re-surfaced in the equally small town of Much Wenlock, with more English sports like cricket.   They even sent the large sum of £10 to Athens in 1859 in honour of the ancient Greeks.  In 1890, the Olympic committee was formed by Pierre de Coubertin, the first games organised in 1896 back home in Athens.  The event often looked like disappearing but as the 20th century wore on it gradually became fully entrenched and recognisable to us today.

One of the things most notable is the increasing prestige and the increasing cost.  Many now doubt that such events can ever make economic sense and yet they continue to hold the promise of mass tourism, valuable Euros and Dollars, an enduring facility for future events and the training of a new generation of local athletes.

The cost of the London Olympics in 2012 was estimated at nine billion Pounds (£9 bn), the precise figure is unclear because of the complex funding issues but most of it came from the public purse.  The Sochi Olympics in 2014 was thought to have reached a world-record breaking 51 billion Dollars ($51 bn).   Typically, the event is way over-budget.

What is less clear is the long term benefit to the host country.  This will depend on the positive image the world receives and the ongoing use of facilities.  It is often the case that the purpose built facilities can only partially be re-habilitated for a new use.    We can only hope that future hosts look and learn and give a prize worth having to their own people.

Written by Lin Petrie

Meanwhile on August 20th, 2016, a Brookings Newsletter introduced a bunch of articles on the soon to shut down Rio Oluympics  as follows:

From water pollution and the Zika virus to security and logistics issues, the 2016 Summer Olympics have been no stranger to controversy. While these concerns have dominated news headlines worldwide, there are more long-term questions surrounding Brazil’s future on the global stage.

In a selection of content below, Brookings experts break down the economics of hosting the Olympics, provide analysis on the state of Brazil’s government, and discuss where the country goes from here.

For more, visit our Brazil topic page on

Travel between Real World and Virtual Reality


The New Augmented World . . .

A lot of people probably haven’t heard of the company Niantic and that is understandable given that until recently it employed only 41 people.  Almost everyone in the developed world, however, has heard of its primary product, Pokemon Go.  This is the latest technology craze; a game of Travel between Real World and Virtual Reality ?

Where is it ?

You can see people worldwide walking round huddled over their phones looking for cute creatures who have been etched onto real surroundings, often at points of cultural interest.

The inventor was motivated by the dichotomy that whilst children sit watch TV shows featuring children travelling outdoors having adventures they themselves spend most of their time in the house watching TV or playing computer games.

The game has drastically increased the number of children and adults outdoors getting exercise and vital sunlight.  The potential drawbacks are that people could be so focused on the game that they might be left vulnerable, at risk of accident or simply failing to see much of the world.

Virtual reality (VR) glasses, which are in the pipeline, might eliminate much of these issues.  Bigger problems are that there are always bugs in any program and there are already the inevitable hackers, at present merely cheating on the game but perhaps we will have more sinister interlopers in the future.

A Virtual Image

VR has certainly well and truly hit the mainstream market and everyone is looking for the next step.  For Pokemon Go, it seems that the creatures will soon interact with their environment.  Outside of the gaming world the possibilities are almost endless.  E-commerce development would allow you to virtually try on dozens of outfits using your size and image, for example.  Alas of course, the shopper could be bombarded with adverts as they progress along the High Street.  On a positive note, geolocation will help you find highly detailed information on businesses you are looking for, this feature is already available at some level, but the improvements are going to be huge.

Educational uses could transform the classroom; people and objects can appear in 3-D right in the room.  You might see them in action, dissected or watch an evolutionary progression.  It will aid surgery, allowing for a doctor to see a 3-D image of the patient.  Military uses will include giving for 3-D maps and this is likely to be an application seized upon as war seems to be for ever profitable.

Everyday life is going to be transformed and it is going to be an interesting journey.

Held up on the M25 Stuck in a Jam


Stuck in a Jam ?

Yesterday a loose horse held up traffic on the M25, the London orbital road and some people were stuck for as long as nine hours.  Even without the aid of a horse, traffic can be held up on the M25 stuck in a Jam and queues of traffic are a common experience countrywide.  In my small town, I’ve been stuck in a traffic Jam for two hours travelling two miles.

Of course, busy roads mean that there is a thriving economy because people are travelling to jobs and more goods are arriving and leaving indicating more wealth.  There is a tipping point however and it is now widely agreed that delays don’t just exasperate the unfortunate road traveller, who spends around 224 days in queues per annum.

In 2014 INRIX used data from 2013 to predict traffic costs to the economy up to 2030.  The costs will steadily escalate to an alarming £21 billion in 2030.  This is down to increased population, increased Gross Domestic Product and better fuel efficiency and other factors that cheapen car ownership.  Against this is the backdrop of a shrinking public transport network, increased fares and delays that are sometimes comparable to those on the road.  It is generally cheaper to travel by car, especially if there is a group travelling together.

Localised reasons for queues are various; crashes that are often many miles away, roadworks on overused roads, huge volumes of traffic or poor road aggravated by selfish driving.  The latter is interesting because it surmises the issues that caused the very word to first occur.  This was not in the UK but in New York.

New York traffic with the iconic Yellow Cabs

Traffic engineers in 1980 had to deal with dreadful traffic problems due to a strike.  It was worked out at that time that since the roads were laid out in a grid it was quite possible for traffic to block all four corners of the grid.  People selfishly drove into the box junction at the corners and blocked everyone in to gain their own advantage.  There are now strict rules about blocking box junctions but road design is a crucial issue in many UK towns.  Our roads are comparatively narrow within in high density urban settings so it is difficult re-route roads.  Even the biggest roads like the M25 are often simply full, it sometimes jokingly called the London carpark, and if there is a problem there, traffic spills out in all directions into small towns beyond.

The solutions look difficult but possible.  Current use of SatNavs allows people to find better routes and avoid some very long queues.  Self-drive cars are being developed, not much so because they allow people to play Pokemon Go more easily, but so that roads can be used in an optimum way and traffic can flow more easily.

Public transport can be improved and in many countries it can be incredibly fast, perhaps Britain will one day have its own Bullet Train like Japan.  There are some ways of dealing with the problem and there is hope.

Have a good journey this weekend.

The much dreamt-of open road


Here comes the Sun


Off on our hols . . .

Here comes the Sun. Just as it finally turned its face to Britain, I and many of my fellow Britons, will be off on our summer holidays overseas. Most of the trips are organised by travel companies although it is increasing easy to book the elements yourself, thanks to Google Translate.

Here Comes the Sun” is a song written by George Harrison that was first released on the Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road.

Holidays (or vacations) where you actually leave home for fun are a comparatively recent phenomenon.  The word `holiday’ is an English contraction of `Holy Day’, a religious occasion when even the most hard-pressed serfs could expect a rest.

Prior to the existence of efficient mass-transport the journey to a desired destination would be no fun at all unless you were rich enough to travel in opulence with servants.  As late as the nineteenth century there are records of people drowning in potholes on the poor-quality roads.

Rapid improvements in transportation spurred on by industrialisation improved turnpike roads, canals and most importantly railways which equally benefitted individuals who fancied a day out.  The first known mass tourist venture was led by temperance campaigner Thomas Cook in 1841 taking a massive 500 people twelve miles along the railway line for a shilling a head.  Finding the idea a great success he organised many other trips for large groups and branched out overseas.  Church groups often took hundreds of people on day trips using the new railways and organised tea-parties at the other end.

A tourist industry grew up and many towns such as Blackpool found that their whole economies revolved around tourism.  It became a highly competitive business. The picture above shows Blackpool by night.  It is a seaside resort on England’s northwest coast in Lancashire.  It had an estimated population of 142,065 at the 2011 Census.

In Britain, however, the tourist industry had one great drawback and that was the British weather.  Tourist towns became ghost towns in winter or even on dull summer days and still do somewhat.  Blackpool hit upon the idea of the `illuminations’ in 1879 which come on in November and attract tourists in the darkest days of winter.  Other towns have cultural or historical attractions that draw in tourists all year round, some places seem at their best in winter.

In the same way as the trains changed the face of tourism so did the advent of cheap flights from the 1960’s.  Large numbers of Britons began to fly abroad for guaranteed sunshine utterly changing the appearance and economies of regions such as Mediterranean Spain.

Tourism, whilst adding revenue, can also have devastating ecological effects.  For example, the delicate ecosystem that supports the beautiful, vulnerable city of Venice is harmed by the presence of enormous cruise-ships full of enthusiastic tourists desperate to enjoy the city.   People have all sorts of reasons for holidays nowadays, some like a retreat, some like party-venues and some like myself want to get closer to the past and places you studied and read about.

Bon Voyage.