Category Archives: United Kingdom

New EU Order


I just can’t leave you guys alone, can I?  I mean, I go away for a weekend holiday and BREXIT happens!  I mean, really!!

Anyway, the squirrel is now back and as a public service to those who are still stunned and confused over what happened, here is “Brexit for Dummies”.

#1.  The British held a referendum where they could vote to Remain or to Leave the EU.

#2. Guess what the Brits chose!

#3 The result was a shock to many around the world and gave many politicians, leaders, captains of industry, financiers and ordinary citizens a BIG, BIG headache.

#4. It would seem to me that Britain would be poorer for leaving the EU.

#5.  What followed has been precipitous drops in the value of the British currency and stocks, downgrading of the country’s credit rating and England’s soccer team being knocked out of the Euro 2016 by lowly Iceland.  It has been a bad week all around.

#6.  Finally, as the early impact of the decision is being felt and some Vote Leave politicians backtracking on what the promised could be achieved by leaving the EU, more than 3.5 million Brits have signed a petition asking for a second referendum in what can only be described  as BREGRET.

Aye or Naw


Well today is a truly historic day as Scotland goes to the polls to vote on the question; “Should Scotland be an independent country?”   Will it be a vote for independence – an “AYE” or “YES” vote?  Or will it be a vote to remain in the United Kingdom – a “NAW” or “NO” vote?

Recent opinion polls show this to be a very tight race and no one is willing to give a firm prediction on the outcome.

As I have some Scottish relatives so I have to tread a little carefully when posting on this issue.

My Red Squirrel cousins (distant cousins, I might add), consider Scotland to be part of their home domain and have been showing up in droves to support the vote for Scottish independence.

The Feorag as they are known in Scottish gaelic are all about their traditions and clans and claim to trace their ancestry back to the ancient warrior tribe of red-haired Picts that used to live in these parts.  Below is a picture of the Reds rallying for a “YES” vote.

sqwerl-invasion

Grey Squirrels on the other hand tend to have a different political view.    Truth be told, Greys don’t hold our cousins the Reds in very high esteem.  Their official scientific name is Sciurus vulgaris.  Doesn’t the name just say it all?

Gary-red-squirrel-sign

As you can see from the picture above, red squirrels drive slowly.  Actually, Greys think Reds are generally a bit slow.  Enough said.

While I can understand the aspirations of many Scottish folks and Red Squirrels for an independent Scotland, us Grey Squirrels are generally for keeping the union.

In an age of globalisation, the world is a smaller place and our fates seem to be completely intertwined.  We think that strength and prosperity comes from unity and population size.  Take China and India, for example, they are expected to become the largest global economies but that won’t happen if they fracture into smaller independent nations.

Scots are better educated than most in the UK.  They also have lots of oil and let’s not forget the whiskey.  They may fare well as an independent nation but the UK as a whole will definitely be poorer.

If everyone just looked at their own economic interests, then might California or Alaska seceded from the USA?  Hong Kong from China?  Alberta from Canada? Barcelona from Spain?  Disneyland from all the countries they are in?

No!  Grey Squirrels say “No”.  We are for union. Vote for union!

rexsquirrel

But anyway, it won’t make any difference as we Grey Squirrels intend to conquer the world and rule it as one.  So enjoy your freedoms and you referendums while you can.

MWahahahaha! (evil laugh)

Who’s Been Punked by Virginia Woolf?


It was 1910 and the sun did not set on the British Empire which stretched around the globe.  It’s navy was held to be the most powerful in the world and it’s most powerful battleship was the HMS Dreadnought;   the first of the Dreadnoughts, a new class of battleship that was considered very revolutionary design and at the cutting edge of military technology.

However it’s reputation and that of the proud  British Navy took a torpedo in the bows when it was targeted by a group of pacifist intellectuals.

On the 10th of February, the trap was sprung.  A telegram was sent to the Commander of HMS Dreadnought, purportedly from a very senior official of the Foreign Office.  He was informed that the Prince of Abyssinia and his entourage wished to be given a tour of the Royal Navy’s best ship and that he was to accord them every courtesy.

The Commander duly received the party with much pomp and circumstance.  The royal party was greeted by an honour guard with the band playing the anthem of Zanzibar (near enough as they did not have the music for the Abyssinian anthem) and shown round the ship by the Commander himself.  As they were shown all the amazing features of the ship, the royals gave appreciative exclamations of “Bunga Bunga” during their 40 minute tour.

However, the royal Abyssinians really consisted of 6 friends which included Virginia Woolf and her brother, Adrian Stephen.   They had darkened their skins with makeup and wore flowing robes and turbans.  Virginia Woolf even sported a luxurious beard.

Virginia Woolf is at the extreme left
Virginia Woolf is at the extreme left

The next day, the leader of the group sent the story complete with photos of the Royal party on the ship to the newspapers and before long the Royal Navy became the laughing stock of the nation.  People were saluting sailors with the cry of “Bunga bunga”!  The Royal Navy was deeply embarrassed and more so because of the pacifist views of the group.

The Navy decided not to prosecute the hoaxers for fear of further adverse publicity and attention.  And so, this has become one of the most well known hoax and one that was extremely successful in its objective of sticking its tongue out at the military and imperialistic establishments.

And so we salute this merry band of anarchists on this April Fool’s Day.

(Warning:  Do not attempt this yourself.  These days you will probably be snatched by a security team and sent to Guantanamo.)

Surviving Thatcher


This week we heard news of the passing of Baroness Thatcher – Britain’s first and so far only female former Prime Minister.  Even as Britain prepares to hold a state funeral to honor her, opinions have been mixed.  For as many have heaped praises on Margaret Thatcher and her time in office, just as many celebrated her passing with gladness as they still harbored bitterness against her and her policies.

I am not British but I did experience Thatcher’s Britain as I was a student there at that time.  So what is my opinion of her?   Well, I generally follow the adage “don’t speak ill of the dead” but recently, a fellow blogger did point out that to do that would really be an act of hypocrisy.  So here goes.

At a personal level, Margaret Thatcher and her policies made life difficult for me.  To start with, my University tuition fees would go up by as much as 300% and made my life difficult.  I was very upset too when I arrived at my college in the University of London and was told on that first day that my college was being forced to merge with two other colleges.  I chose my college carefully for its strengths and character and felt let down by this merger.  Furthermore, this merger was being carried out on the basis of consolidation and weeding out the weaker economic performers.  Yet my college which was both financially sound and visionary was sacrificed to pay off the debts of a more prestigious college – a bastion of the aristocratic classes.

But as i said, I am not British and so Thatcher’s impact on me may not be of much consequence to the average Briton.  But I did see many consequences of Thatcher’s actions.  Many of my fellow students lacked adequate housing.  I had friends who ended up squatting in council housing that had been condemned.  Many were stressed by the need to repay study loans.

I was there when the city streets of Brixton erupted into race related riots.  I remember listening in on police radio transmissions and the panicked voices of police dispatchers as they tried to keep contact with their various police cruisers and units in the midst of the ebb and tides of the running street battles.  You could hear the fear in the voices when one or another of the units failed to respond to the radio calls.  I had friends who lived in those battlefield streets.

Many of my friends were studying nursing so I readily sided and supported those health workers striking against the closing of hospitals and cuts affecting the beloved National Health Service.

I was studying biomedical science and  I know many of us were appalled when she unilaterally dismissed the scientific council that gave advice to the government and replaced them with just one scientific appointee of her choice.  As I remember, this guy was an expert in geology or some earth science and he now gave advice of diverse scientific disciplines.  No wonder, he would wrongly advise that the CAT Scan would not be of much importance to medicine. This was a pattern that we would witness again and again; she would dismiss those whose opinions or advice were contrary to her own beliefs.  Her supporters say this showed her strength of conviction and confidence in her own beliefs.  I tend to look at it as arrogance and pride and the lack of respect for opposing opinions.

I did not really directly experience the life and death struggles of mining communities as Thatcher fought the power of the Unions , although the violent clashes between the miners and the police were very disturbing to see on TV.  However I recall that there was an overall sense of despondency amongst the general public.  My memory of Britain at that time was a country that was rich in history and tradition – a great place for a student like me to explore and enjoy but not a great place to live and to build a life.  Hope and optimism was on the wane.

Those are my own personal thoughts and memories about living in Thatcher’s Britain.   Her conviction that she was always right is perhaps what I thought was her greatest failing which led her to implement her beliefs in a most divisive manner.  Were those painful periods necessary to turn a declining Britain around?  I will leave that to the historians to decide.  As for me, I would not have voted for her then and I do not now.

thatcher

Oh, and she did inspire a revival in political satire like the puppets of “Spitting Image”.

Playing the Scot in Windermere


Windermere lake with Bowness-on-Windermere to the right. Aerial photo by Simon Ledingham.

I know it seems strange but I have actually been asked on two separate occasions as to whether I was Scottish.  Now regular readers will know that under all this grey fur hides a slightly paunchy middle-aged Chinese Malaysian.  So you might be wondering if these two persons were escapees from the mad house or were inebriated by a few wee drams of Scotland’s best Scotch Whiskey.  But no.  The reason for their puzzled faces and curious question is that at one time I spoke as if  Ah was born a wee bairn oan th’ windswept scottish highlands“.  “Still dornt kin? Ah cannae make it clearer than thes……Ah spick loch scottie th’ wee engineer frae Star Trek”.  Okay before I go overboard …… let’s go on with my tale.

There is a reason for this strange phenomena …….. when one enters the “Dark Hole of Bowness-on-Windermere”, one does not come out of it unaffected.  But more about this at the end of the post.

I spent 5 years in United Kingdom leading up to my completion of my degree in Biochemistry.  Before going there, I was your typical country bumpkin who had never even been out of the country before …… not even to neighboring Singapore.  I did get some pre-conceptions about life in UK from reading books and novels.  From those readings, the things that stuck in my mind most was the bleak and windswept  Yorkshire Moors of  Wuthering Heights; the gentle hills and lakes of the Lake District which was home to Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit and the remote Scottish coast near the Isle of Skye which was the location of Camusfearna from the book “Ring of Bright Water“.

So during my second summer there, when looking for some work to help pay the bills, I suddenly had the idea of combining my work quest with my hopes of visiting one of these iconic places.  Together with my friend, James, also from Malaysia, we got a job as housekeeping staff at a guest house in the Lake District.

In those days, there were no super highways reaching that part of England and many went there by train, arriving at Windermere station which is still quite a distance from Windermere Lake.  The town is actually Bowness-on- Windermere (Windermere  is actually the name of the lake).  We walked the entire distance down to the  lake and then followed the lakeside trail out of town and past the line of cars waiting to catch the small ferry across the lake and a few minutes later, we arrived at a wonderfully quaint guest house which was called Meadowcroft.  There is still a guest house in Windermere by that name but I do not believe that it is the same one.

The place was really an old farmer’s home which had been converted into the guest house with about 8 rooms.  It was run by a young couple who had a 5 year old son.  Apart from ourselves, who were basically the summer reinforcements, the only other person was this middle-aged Scottish woman named Agnes.

Our typical day consisted of waking up at about 6.30 in the morning so that we could assist in getting the breakfast ready as well as packed lunches for guests that had requested it.  Breakfast was served between 7.30 and 9.30 am and then we helped clean up in the eating area and also cleaning the common areas.  Later in the morning, we would either help clean the rooms and make the beds or do the washing of plates and cutlery.  The place was also a working farm although it was small scale and so we would also then help on the farm.  If we were lucky, some days, the boss would let us off by about 2.30 pm after lunch and we would not be required back until 5.30 pm and so we would cram in as much hiking and sightseeing that we could.   We were also given a day off once a week which was so precious and highly anticipated.  Work resumed at night with the evening meal and washing up and then the nightcap of coffee, tea or hot chocolate and then washing up.  We’d finally crawl into bed all tired out at about 11pm.

Having to walk everywhere meant that we did not get to go very far from Meadowcroft but we could follow the lakeside to the south, we could climb the Fell immediately behind and to the east, we managed to take the ferry across the lake and tramp around Beatrix Potter’s house in Far Sawrey, we even managed to catch a bus to quaint town of Keswick on Derwentwater Lake.  It’s strange that I have few vivid images of all these places in my head but my memory is instead, more of  a feeling of  general and complete wellness and of being alive.

But, I do have vivid memories of the “Dark Hole of Bowness-on-Windermere”!   One of the least popular of all the chores was doing the washing up.  The dirty dishes were brought in and the organic wastes had to be separated form the rest (for food for farm animals).  Next, they were rinsed and then placed into a large scale dishwasher.  We then had to run the dishwasher which sprayed the plates and cutlery with hot soapy water and then rinse it with hot clean water.  Both times, steam fills this tiny room and the place gets really uncomfortably hot and incredibly humid.  We then had to  dry the dishes and cutlery in that hot humid environment.   It was inhumane conditions which brought to mind the story of the Dark Hole of Calcutta when in 1756, the Nawab of Bengal had British prisoners (including women and children) placed into a tiny prison with only a couple of small barred windows for ventilation.  It is believed that 146 prisoners was placed into a cell intended for just 4-5 people and as a result of the heat, humidity and lack of air, 123 were dead by the next day.

Okay, there were usually only two of us but it was still quite unpleasant.  Eventually, James took to dodging dishwashing duty by volunteering to do almost anything else which resulted in myself and Agnes being incarcerated repeatedly in our Bowness torture chamber.  Yet, it was in those times of enforced confinement and mutual suffering that Agnes and I had some really wonderful and open conversations about ourselves, our hopes and our beliefs.   I don’t remember much of what we shared but I have a strong almost physical memory of the heat, the humidity, the smell of soapy water and a sense of a rare and wonderful connection with a fellow human being.

Now Agnes had a very, very broad and infectious Scottish accent and so with the repeated subjection together to the Dark Hole of Bowness, I finally emerged not only with dishpan hands, a soap induced itch and possibly ringworm but I was speaking Scottish to boot.

Remembering a Broken Heart


Once in awhile, I come across a singer-songwriter that just knocks my socks off and makes me take notice.  A strong, distinctive and emotive voice together with a unique style are of course part of a winning hand for a singer.  I much prefer singers who perform well “live” and unplugged and do not rely on gimmicks or near nudity to sell themselves.   But my greatest respect and admiration go to those who write and perform their own original music. And once in awhile, there comes someone whose lyrics are just outstanding.

My recent “discovery” is Adele.  This British singer (full name is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins) has already come out with two best selling albums, “19” and “21”.  Her relatively new and short career thus far has been strewn with awards and recognitions.  In 2008, she was named the Critics’ Choice at the BRIT Awards.  In 2009, she won “Best New Artist” and “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance” at the 51st Grammy Awards.  She is the first living artiste since the Beatles to achieve a top five hit in both the Singles and the Album charts at the same time.  Yet, I have not heard her get any airtime on Malaysian radio or TV – maybe they don’t “get” her music.

In the video below which features her singing her song at the recent 2011 BRIT Awards, the host presenter says that “she is able to describe exactly how you felt a certain point in your life and she is able to do that time and time again……….if you have ever had a broken heart, you are about to remember it now.”  I think it is quite an accurate description of her songs.  Are you ready to remember your broken heart?  Below are the amazing lyrics and song.

Someone Like You by Adele

I heard that you’re settled down,
That you found a girl and you’re married now,
I heard that your dreams came true,
Guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you,
Old friend, why are you so shy?
Ain’t like you to hold back or hide from the light,I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited,
But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it,
I had hoped you’d see my face,
And that you’d be reminded that for me it isn’t over,

Never mind, I’ll find someone like you,
I wish nothing but the best for you, too,
Don’t forget me, I beg,
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love,
But sometimes it hurts instead,”
Sometimes it lasts in love,
But sometimes it hurts instead, yeah,

You know how the time flies,
Only yesterday was the time of our lives,
We were born and raised in a summer haze,
Bound by the surprise of our glory days,

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited,
But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it,
I had hoped you’d see my face,
And that you’d be reminded that for me it isn’t over,

Never mind, I’ll find someone like you,
I wish nothing but the best for you, too,
Don’t forget me, I beg,
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love,
But sometimes it hurts instead,”

Nothing compares,
No worries or cares,
Regrets and mistakes, they’re memories made,
Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?

Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you,
I wish nothing but the best for you,
Don’t forget me, I beg,
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love,
But sometimes it hurts instead,”

Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you,
I wish nothing but the best for you, too,
Don’t forget me, I beg,
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love,
But sometimes it hurts instead,”
Sometimes it lasts in love,
But sometimes it hurts instead.

 
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Ga Ga or Gag Gag


Dear Ladies,  here is a business opportunity for you.  If any of you are perchance free ranging and organic, you might be interested to know that a certain ice cream maker in Covent Garden, London, England is keen to purchase your breast milk.  I kid you not.  The Ice Creamists are using breast milk to produce their line of Baby Gaga human breast milk ice creams.

Dear gentlemen, please replace drooling tongues into mouth.

Seriously though, do you think that the public will go Ga Ga over human breast milk ice cream or will they Gag Gag.  Let me know what you think.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In the spirit of revolution that seems to be sweeping the world of late, the Lone Grey Squirrel brings to you once again (Mad Cows and Angry Chickens), a video highlighting the plight of animals in modern battery farms and a call for a return to all that is free ranging and organic.  (Some women in the ice cream business might want to join this union).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Post Script:  Apparently Lady Gaga is not Goo-goo about Baby Gaga and is going to court to stop the use of that name.