Archive for January, 2014

Afternoon in Godalming

January 28, 2014
Paulo Coelho three books

Paulo Coelho three books

The previous night, the weather forecast showed cold, wet and raining for Godalming. I awoke to clear blue sky. I checked the weather forecast, rain was due by mid-afternoon.

But first, a detour to Guildford to visit WHSmith. Following the debacle in WHSmith Farnborough yesterday, two copies of Manuscript Found in Accra were reserved for me to collect on Friday. I decided not to run the risk that offer may no longer apply, then have a hassle trying to buy at the offer price.

I looked in Waterstone’s. Did they have the limited edition of The Alchemist. Not on the shelves, therefore I assume not.

I looked in The Keystone. New landlords and already has gone downhill. Big board outside illegally blocking the footpath on a busy road. Six Nations Rugby. The Keystone had the advantage that it was one of the few pubs without a widescreen TV.

Long wait in the freezing cold for a bus.

I alight from the bus, the other side of the River Wey to walk across the bridge into Godalming. A big mistake, because as I walk across the bridge it starts to rain.

But first, I pop in the little corner shop next to the boarded up Wey Inn. It was due to open as Tesco, which no one wants. Nothing appears to be happening. I suggest two things: Jeremy Hunt MP meets with the boss of Tesco and makes it clear they are not wanted (as Sadiq Khan MP did in Tooting Bec) and that they have it declared under the Localism Act as an Asset of Community Value.

Two other things I suggest: In light of the strong community opposition to the Wey Inn turning into a Tesco, they build on that community support and talk with Steve at Café Mila, and that they watch In Transition 2.0.

Death of the English Pub, would also be of interest.

Cold and wet trudging through Godalming.

In Cook, I pick up two packs of their excellent mince pies, on offer at two packs for £4. I had tried Cook in Farnham on Saturday. They only had one pack left, and refused to sell at £2. Cook Godalming found this unbelievable, and yes, would have sold to me at £2, if only one pack left.

I usually enjoy my lunch at Café Mila. Today not, I think the weather has put me off. Plus, I probably should have remained in Guildford, and not got cold and wet.

I miss two buses, the 71 and 46. I thought I may catch the 1530 No 71, if running late, or if not, the 46, but I had assumed the 46 ran at 1545 (as it is usually 15 minutes after I have been waiting for the 71 to turn up), I was wrong, 1540, and both buses on time.

Nearly an hour to wait in the cold and wet for the next bus.

I walk to Waterstone’s. A very helpful charming young lady who I have not seen before. A pleasant change to the staff in WHSmith. She checks, four copies of the limited edition The Alchemist, she can order if I wish. As unable to obtain anywhere, I say yes. First I order one, then two, then three, then finally all four.

I thought, are we talking about the same book? I will find out. But she said not to worry if I do not want, they do not send them back, will be put out on the shelves, and they hold for six weeks.

No 71 bus is on time. Wonders will never cease.

Last week, catching 1530, the bus was very busy, which is unusual, as usually not busy, but then I do not usually catch at that time. The 1630 is not busy.

Heavy rain passing through the Surrey Hills, the roads flooded, more accurately awash with water. Atrocious driving conditions.

Most of the journey in darkness, with only a handful of passengers, and I think at one time, only me. The journey seemed to last for ever. Like being in a film, on a bus ride to nowhere

At Farnham, someone one I know gets on the bus, which relieves the tedium of the journey.

Finally reach Aldershot. Nearly one hour and forty minutes. Luckily, as the bus pulls in and I alight, the next bus I want, pulls in.

50p tax rate

January 27, 2014
more people pay Bedroom Tax than will pay 50p tax rate

more people pay Bedroom Tax than will pay 50p tax rate

This image says it all, more people pay Bedroom Tax than will pay 50p tax rate proposed by Labour, which is only to restore it to where it was before the ConDem government dropped taxes for the rich and increased taxes for the poor.

From the screams we have heard from the rich, anyone would think the end of the world is nigh they are being asked to pay an extra ten pence in the pound in tax. And that of course is when they pay tax.

They will leave the country. Well let them, are we really going to miss the bankers, who do not generate wealth but simply screw others, Rotten Bank of Scotland is having to set aside yet more money as compensation for the get rich scams it runs.

From Davos, we are hearing bleating that the minimum wage is bad, this coming from of all people Bill Gates, one of the richest people on the planet.

The Koch Brothers, are pouring in millions, to buy the next US election.

The Rich are concentrating ever more of the world’s wealth into their pockets, or to be more exact, their offshore bank accounts to avoid tax.

WHSmith a failing High Street chain

January 27, 2014

Can it get any worse with WHSmith?

Unfortunately, oh yes.

I wanted to give a present each to two sisters. I decided upon Manuscript Found in Accra, pick up now, as on special offer in WHSmith.

Yes, on special offer, but try finding a shop that knows, or has in stock.

Knowing where not in stock, or no more than one, I thought I would try where I had not yet tried.

WHSmith Farnborough had a grand total of one copy in stock.

This was getting to be beyond a sick joke. I sought out the assistance of a member of staff.

What she told me was unbelievable, they had just sent back seven copies.

I pointed out, sticker on book clearly said, Buy One, Get one Half Price, how is this possible when you only have one copy in stock?

A second sticker said book was £3-99, ie half price.

She then bizarrely told me, you do not have to buy the second one of that book, you can buy something else!

I am wishing to buy Manuscript Found in Accra, but I am told maybe I should buy something else!

Books have become commodities, like baked beans, out of stock of one variety, well buy a different variety.

She questions why I wish to buy two copies of the same book, tells me this is not what people usually do. Buying two copies of the same book, is apparently seen as abnormal behaviour.

I ask for the manager.

The manager basically tells me the same thing. They had ten copies, sold two, are sending seven back, leaving one in stock. He too questions why I wish to buy two. At the same time, he tries to tell me it clearly is not selling, but even he concedes, odd to return when on offer.

I was even told it was not an international best seller. Simply not true. And yet the manager conceded, Paulo Coelho does sell.

And why do they have Manuscript Found in Accra, catalogued as a health book?

It does not sell. An international best-seller, from an international best-seller, and it does not sell.

Could this be, because complete failure to promote on special offer? Could it be because not on display in the window? Could it be because all that is ever on display is celebrity crap, which they are bribed to display by the publishers, as the only way to sell celebrity crap is through marketing hype and massive discounting?

It then occurs to me, when do they have deliveries? Thursdays. And when do returns go back? Thursday. Therefore, those going back, have not yet gone back? Correct. They are in store? Yes. Therefore, can go and get?. No, system will not allow, once removed from the system, the boxes are now sealed.

But to be fair to the manager, none of this is his fault, it is the imbeciles at head office, his hands are tied, and he does his best to be helpful. Even he, can see the crass stupidity of the system he is forced to operate under.

He checks on the computer. He confirms what I already knew low stocks in stores, Godalming has three, but Guildford has ten.

He tries Godalming. Same problem as Farnborough, removed to return, only one copy on the shelves. Tries, Guildford, yes, still have. He asks, that they reserve for me two copies. He even offers to drive over and pick them up, but I say no, I will go and collect.

WHSmith has on special offer, Manuscript Found in Accra, an international best-seller, from an international best-selling author, fail to have adequate stocks, fail to display, then do not sell many, then send back what stocks they do have, before the offer expires.

You could not make it up if you tried.

‘Baseless economics’: Lord Stern on David Cameron’s claims that a UK fracking boom can bring down price of gas

January 26, 2014

Respected economist criticises the Government for encouraging rush into fracking without a thorough analysis of all its potential ramifications.

Lord Stern, author of the hugely influential Stern review on the financial implications of climate change, has dismissed David Cameron’s claims that a fracking boom in the UK can bring down the price of gas in the UK as “baseless”.

In an interview with The Independent, the respected economist said he was puzzled by the prime minister’s claim this month that “fracking has real potential to drive energy bills down… gas and electric bills can go down when our home-grown energy supply goes up”.

“I do think it’s a bit odd to say you know that it will bring the price of gas down. That doesn’t look like sound economics to me. It’s baseless economics,” said Lord Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics.

Gas is a commodity that can be traded on the international market, meaning that it will be sold to the highest bidder, whether inside or outside the UK. As a result, any shale gas boom in the UK would be unlikely to have an impact on the world price, Lord Stern said.

Lord Stern also criticised the Government for encouraging a rush into fracking without a thorough analysis of all its potential ramifications.

He says a proper investigation is needed into the environmental threats surrounding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process which releases oil and gas from shale by blasting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into the rock. It has been linked to a series of environmental problems such as earthquakes and water pollution.

“There are major questions around fracking and those questions ought to be explored. We’ve not had a proper discussion on these serious issues,” said Lord Stern.

He is particularly concerned about whether some areas of the UK have enough water for such a water-intensive process, whether the country has enough space for such a space-consuming industry and whether fracking could pollute the water supply.

Britain’s shale gas industry is very much in its infancy, but the government is pushing it hard, offering huge tax breaks for producers and financial incentives for communities based near potential fracking sites.

However, many people in the UK are against the practice and a protest against the possibility of fracking in the West Sussex village of Balcombe has just entered its second month.

In a wide-ranging interview, Lord Stern said that evidence for man-made climate change is stronger than ever. He challenged climate sceptics to publish the opposing case in a peer-reviewed journal – where leading experts in the field are required to vouch for the work before it can be published.

“The science just gets stronger – There are going to be lots of oscillations, but there is a very powerful underlying trend and the science is overwhelming,” he said.

“Scientific scepticism is absolutely right, there’s always a role for scientific questioning, but those who wish to irrationally deny the science are not helping. The climate sceptics have been quite successful in terms of media air-time and noise, but not in terms of science. Bar-room chit-chat and graffiti do not help,” he added.

The 700-page Stern review was published in 2006 and is by far the most influential report into the economics of climate change. Its main conclusion was that early action on climate change made good business sense because it would prevent far greater costs further down the line as the impacts of global warming wreaked ever-greater havoc on the global economy.

Asked what he thought of government action since his review, Lord Stern praised the Climate Change Act of 2008, introduced by the previous Labour government. The Act sets a legally-binding target for the UK to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.

However, he has been less impressed by the current government, which he criticises for undermining the confidence of much-needed investors in Britain’s energy infrastructure by frequently changing energy-related targets. These targets are crucial for investors because they help determine the market for any given power source in the years ahead and, in turn, the viability of investing in specific projects.

Lord Stern cites as an example the decision by Chancellor George Osborne to remove a clause from the Energy Bill currently passing through parliament that would have forced Britain’s electricity supply to become almost entirely green by 2030.

The clause, championed by Energy Secretary Ed Davey, signalled a clear commitment to driving down emissions by reducing the amount of power generated from fossil fuels.

However, Mr Osborne overruled the Energy Secretary at the last minute, replaced the so-called decarbonisation target with something far weaker and less certain. The replacement clause grants the government the power, from 2016, to require Britain’s electricity supply to become almost entirely green at some point in the future, show it vote to do so.

“Recent discussions have put some question marks around the degree of commitment [to reducing carbon emissions]….This is a significant deterrent to investment in both clean technology and hydrocarbon [power],”Lord Stern said.

“It is well known that there are divisions between the Treasury and DECC (Department for Energy and Climate Change]. The government is not being clear enough. David Cameron, Ed Davey and George Osborne need to get together and give greater clarity,” he said.

Lord Stern on protests, China and emissions

* Lord Stern welcomed the increased use of gas if it is substituted for coal because it would bring down emissions. However, should the gas be used at the expense of renewable technologies such as wind and solar power “that is really worrying”, he said.

* He believes protests – such as the camp outside the potential fracking site in Balcombe and Greenpeace activists scaling the Shard in protest at Shell’s Arctic drilling plans – are an important part of a functioning democracy.

* Lord Stern says scientists had a lot more potentially alarming findings up their sleeves that they have not fully highlighted because they are particularly difficult to “model”. The problems associated with melting permafrost, or ground ice, in the Antartic are particularly alarming, he said.

* He is greatly encouraged by China’s increasing dedication to combating climate change which has survived the recent change in leadership. Together with a similarly-positive shift in the US, this significantly increases the chance of a global agreement to curb emissions the climate change summit in Paris 2015 because “they will be the leaders” of the crucial negotiations. Nonetheless, he pointed out that it remained “difficult to forecast” whether the hoped-for agreement would be reached.

* Lord Stern is less encouraged by “vacillation” in Europe but hopes that the next German government – which he expects to be a coalition led by Angela Merkel, a figure he greatly respects – could be “more positive”.

* He points out that “whichever way you look at it emissions are way too high” and the world is on course for a long-term increase temperature of 4C, rather than the 2C beyond which the consequences become increasingly devastating.

* Lord Stern says there is a basic contradiction between the supposed 2C target governments around the world have agreed to aim for and the amount of money invested in the fossil fuel industry. This is because to hit the 2C target at least two-thirds of oil, gas and coal reserves held by fossil fuel companies would have to stay in the ground, resulting in trillions of dollars of losses.

What Cameron said

On Monday August 12, David Cameron wrote in the Daily Telegraph:

“Fracking has the real potential to drive energy bills down. …many people are struggling with the cost of living today. Where we can relieve the pressure , we must. It’s simple – gas and electric bills can go down when our home-grown energy supply goes up.”

“The reservoir of untapped energy will help people across the country who work hard and want to get on: not just families but businesses, too, who are really struggling with the high cost of energy. Just look at the United States: they’ve got 10,000 fracking wells opening up each year and their gas prices are three-and-a-half times lower than here.”

These comments came just days after Mr Cameron told staff on a visit to Craft Paint, in Darwen, Lancashire, on Thursday August 8:

“I think we would be making a big mistake if we did not think hard about how to encourage fracking and cheaper prices right here in the UK. If you look at what’s happening in America with the advent of shale gas and fracking, their energy costs in business and their gas prices are half the level of ours… The EU has about three-quarters as much shale gas as the US, so we are missing out big time at the moment and I want to make sure that Britain does not miss out.”

Economic analysis of Cameron’s claim

Mr Cameron’s claim that fracking would probably bring down UK energy prices is mostly based on the fact that the fracking revolution in the US had substantially brought down prices. However, there is a huge difference between the way the US and the UK gas markets operated.

The US has essentially been an isolated market, which has meant that increases in supply have pushed down prices because gas producers have had limited scope to export to a higher bidder.

By contrast, the UK is plugged into an integrated European market through a series of giant gas interconnectors meaning that even a huge increase in domestic gas production – an eventually that is far from certain and at least a decade away – would be unlikely to dent the prevailing price for the continent.

Furthermore, the phenomenal growth in the fledgling liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry is rapidly turning gas into a global market, making any contribution from UK production even less influential on the price.

LNG is created by liquefying the gas at minus 60C, shrinking it to 1/600 of its original size and making it easier to transport over long distance to gas-thirsty economies in Asia.

The growth of LNG is also likely to push prices up in the US, allowing the country to export its surplus gas outside of Canada and Mexico. This means that David Cameron’s comments about how the shale gas revolution has driven down prices in the US will also be less valid in the future for the US.

Huge question marks also remain over how much shale gas actually exists in UK rocks and, more importantly, how much can be commercially extracted in a country that is far more densely populated than the US and is generally far more opposed to local oil and gas developments. This is because the UK does not share America’s history and culture of onshore oil and gas production. Furthermore, in the US the landowner owns the mineral rights which in Britain belong to the government, providing a relative disincentive to allow fracking.

Published in The Independent.

The Journey Begins

January 26, 2014

WynnAlice had a dream, she was to walk for six moons, shod only in a pair of worn red flip flops from Brazil and only wearing what she could carry on her back.

Six moons in the planning, WynnAlice now sets off on her journey of six moons, shod only in a pair of worn red flip flops from Brazil and only wearing what she could carry on her back. Six moons she will tell stories, collect stories, then write them in a great big book know as Tales of Our Times, a book of thirteen chapters representing the thirteen moons in a year, a book of only thirteen copies.

It was spring, only no one seemed to have told the weather it was spring. WynnAlice sets of in rain, hail and sleet from the town that was not too big and not too small.

Like Santiago in The Alchemist, told by the great storyteller Paulo Coelho, WynnAlice was not going to be deterred from following her dream.

How different do places look, when we enter on foot, with time to look around, time to experience, not view as through a widescreen TV.

At the first town she reaches, WynnAlice encounters a man who clearly has little, as measured by worldly wealth, who clearly has other riches. He presses a coin into her hand.

It is from those who have nothing, who give freely, expecting nothing in return.

The encounter with the man who had riches, not measured as worldly riches, set the tone for the journey.

Paulo Coelho: ‘I had an enormous amount of fun being a hippy’

January 26, 2014

Paulo Coelho on life, the universe, everything.

It took me years to realise that writing was what I needed to do full time. --  Paulo Coelho

It took me years to realise that writing was what I needed to do full time. — Paulo Coelho

Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions. I discovered very early in life that the best way for me to communicate is through my writing, but it took me years to realise that it’s what I needed to do full time.

I remember the moments after I was born. Someone entered the room, and I said to myself: “This is my grandmother.” Nobody believes me. I’ve asked doctors if it’s possible – the answer is always no, but I know what I saw that day.

Writing is a solitary experience. I’m extremely superstitious. If I talk about the book or name the title out loud before finishing, I feel the energy I need to write will be drained. It’s so intimate I can’t even share it with my wife.

My connection with Brazil is so abstract. My blood and my way of thinking is Brazilian, but that’s it. I don’t tend to go back to the past and, although I have an apartment there, I rarely visit. When I move, I really move.

I’ve made a lot of money. It’s nice to be able to wear a very good coat in the Geneva winter [where Coelho now lives], but I feel I’ve always been rich. I could afford my greatest pleasures even when I wasn’t wealthy. Travel, archery, writing and reading don’t cost a lot.

I can control my destiny, but not my fate. Destiny means there are opportunities to turn right or left, but fate is a one-way street. I believe we all have the choice as to whether we fulfil our destiny, but our fate is sealed.

A lot of people feel intimidated by me. There are usually two ways they deal with my fame: they either become very shy and I have to do all the talking, which bores me, or they start name dropping and boasting about how much money they have.

I don’t miss being a hippy. I had an enormous amount of fun and I travelled the world on a shoestring. But I couldn’t stay in that state forever, totally stoned, wandering across the planet.

Humans are not monogamous by nature. For the sake of the preservation of our species, we are not meant to be. But I do believe in marriage. I’ve been married for 34 years. Love is the most important thing in my life.

In anger, I react like an animal. My temper is Latin. If I’m in a bad mood, you’ll know about it. I’d be a terrible politician as I always say what I think.

A lot of people want to be vampires. Fighting against the ageing process is futile. I’m thrilled that I haven’t died young and that I’m getting older without bitterness. It’s a joy.

I have a lot of free time. There is this idea that when you’re a successful writer you’re always so busy, but I’m not. I spend a lot of time walking around and having coffee with strangers.

I visit obscure book shops just to check that my work is still stocked.

Published in The Observer.

The Alchemist, has today marked two hundred and eighty-seven weeks in New York Times best-seller list. Not bad for a book first published twenty six years ago.

Manuscript found in Accra, the latest from Paulo Coelho, set in Jerusalem on the eve of the attack by the Crusaders, is currently on special offer in WHSmith.

The Alchemist: two hundred and eighty-seven weeks in New York Times best-seller list

January 26, 2014
The Alchemist two hundred and eighty-seven weeks New York Times best-seller list

The Alchemist two hundred and eighty-seven weeks New York Times best-seller list

Today, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho has notched up two hundred and eighty-seven consecutive weeks in the New York Times best-seller list.

Not bad for a book that was first published twenty six years ago.

Relaxing and Opening

January 26, 2014
Relaxing and Opening

Relaxing and Opening

Beautiful, haunting piano music from Christoffer de Graal with Surahbhi McMellahn.

Serendipity: Steph Bradley plays an extract from Relaxing and Opening in The Calling.

The Calling

January 26, 2014

Storyteller and scribe WynnAlice had a dream. She was to spend six moons, walking from town to village, village to town, telling stories, collecting stories, then, upon her return, she was to collect these tales in a great book of thirteen chapters, to represent the thirteen moons in a year, the great book to be known as Tales of Our Times, and there was to be thirteen copies of the great book, the book known as Tales of Our Times.

And so it was WynnAlice, as with Santiago in The Alchemist, a tale told by the great storyteller from foreign lands Paulo Coelho, who was to be her inspiration, WynnAlice had the courage to take the risk to follow her dreams.

And so it was, six moons in the planning, WynnAlice set off upon her epic journey, shod on her feet with only a pair of red flip flops from Brazil, and wearing only that which she could carry on her back, and for a bed for the night, the hospitality of those she met on her epic journey.

Caffe Piccolo

January 25, 2014
Caffe Piccolo - stuffed mushroom

Caffe Piccolo – stuffed mushroom

Caffe Piccolo - steak and chips

Caffe Piccolo – steak and chips

The intention had been to eat at The Barn, myself and two sisters, but when we got there, we found it was booked for a private party. We retraced our steps to Caffe Piccolo, an Italian restaurant that we had passed earlier.

Had we booked a table. No. As though doing us a favour, we were led upstairs, where there was plenty of empty tables.

A lovely old building. Would the food match?

Yes, the food was good.

We had stuffed mushroom as starters, followed by steak and an Italian dish.

The steak was accompanied in a separate bowl by chips. The steak was good, the chips less so. The steak was covered in a hot spicy sauce. But no vegetables.

The service was very poor. Problems understanding us when we ordered, I had problems understanding the waitress. When we were ready to leave, we must have had to ask for the bill about five times before the bill arrived.

Above and behind our table was a speaker. Music loud, restaurant noisy, making conversation difficult. Why the music? If I wanted music, I would go somewhere for quality live music. Nothing worse than awful background musak.

Lunchtime, prices reasonable, night time, pricey.