The Unexpected Election

When we moved to Cumbria in the middle of 2015 there had just been a general election. I had noted at the time that living in England and having voted and supported the SNP was an odd mix, especially when they directly affected things that I might have been in favour of. This was to be last general election for five years we were constantly told, thanks to a bit of legislation.

In the truth of the matter it comes as no surprise that I hadn't really considered who I'd vote for if there was another one anytime soon. In the three elections since I have been of voting age (2005, aged 19, 2010 aged 24, and 2015 aged 29) I had voted in order Labour, Liberal Democrat, and then the SNP. My evolution of my voting intentions followed directly the maturation of my own personal politics, and in 2014 and then 2015 I supported the SNP. Laterly, I also still supported them in 2016 but didn't get to vote, because I lived in England. Interestingly, in 2011 I didn't vote - living in Texas - and in early 2012 I vote Green Party in the council elections.

So how the hell am I supposed to vote now, in England? I had only recently started looking into the election stuff for the May 4th stuff that is coming up, and now I have to totally sift my thought process away from the usual Westminster thoughts of Scotland and now, as part of the part of country that decides the next UK Prime Minister (that's because England gets more votes than Scotland, obviously) and Scotland has very rarely voted for the Tory governments that they have had.

The truth is I don't really know in all honesty. I have to dissaociate the Labour of England apart from the haphazard bullshittery of the Scottish Labour party, who are more inept than actually dangerous. It goes without saying there is no way I am voting Tory - you know, the Union suporting, Brexit wreaking, lying upperclass shysters that they are. I could vote Green, if there is a candidate. But the truth is that, for the first time, tactical voting has to be considered. If you think about the UK system, it is winner takes all, first past the post, and that means that if I want to stop the Tories I need to pick the next party that will probably get the most votes, and that's absolutely Labour, as the sitting MP is Labour.

This is a problem as there are lots of things about Labour I realy don't agree with. In fact, a lot. So what to do then? Vote to "Stop the Tories" or vote for the party I might agree with the most (which is possibly the Labour party, but also many others). It's a connundrum I never thought about before - knowing that your vote in Scotland is very unlikely to selecting the next Prime Minister (and, unlike many people would have you believe, not stopping someone rom winning, with the old truth that Labour need Scotland to win and that it cost them the election last time being untrue) it frees you a bit to truly choose who you might think does the best locally.

I really have to think about it.

As a side note, it is hard to understand why someone like Jeremy Corbyn voted for the early election - he could have said No, and then let May sweat it out or self-immolate in the Commons. Instead he voted to let them off the hook, for fear of looking like he was running from an election. The point of the law that the Tories enacted themselves was to stop this kind of stuff outright anyway. It's madness.

And as an another side note, it is impressive to see the media spinning up the narrative that any number of seats less than the current SNP total of 54 (56 won in 2015) will not only be a "lost election", but a setback in the terms of the IndyRef 2 they've already voted in the Scottish Parliament. I'm looking to see how that goes, but it already seems like the Tories will "win" with 18% of the seats that the SNP currently have. Watch that carefully.

The Long Absence

As I posted on the 20th March, I have been off work for quite some time with headaches. After tests and medication and trips to the doctors too many to count I am maybe getting it under control. It marks the longest I have been off work in my life for illness, and marks the longest time I have been home continuously since I was laid off after Wood Group.

I didn't want to be off work. I, infact, was just gathering momentum with a new role, one that energised me. Going back now is daunting and a little hard to deal with, what with the headaches still being sore and all, but I do have to do the job I am paid for at somepoint, and I have started slowly from home, catching up.

The biggest strange feeling in all this was the feeling I couldn't do anything. It wasn't a cold I could whisk away with a Lemsip, nor a bought of fatigue that could be magicked away with some rest - this was prolonged and near enough uncurable from my perspective.

The strangest thing is that being at home hasn't been the cake walk you'd imagine - I loved getting extra time with my kids and wife at home and not going to work was a gift, of course, and a nessecity, but also having them around was hard when I was literally screaming with pain at times. It's hard to explain to uyour toddler why you can't play with them when you're home.

In the gap though a few things have came into focus and in time they will end up on these pages; health, life and mindfulness are going to be big changes in the future, and along with Con and the girls (and Frank) we are going to move forward into 2017 with big strides now that the Absence is behind us, hopegfully.


A&E 4

Obviously I have things I want to write about about Scottish Independence. Obviously. A lot has happened. But... 

To stop this becoming just another Indy blog, how about I write about my recent adventures with a chronic headache, a trip to A&E in an ambulance, and a CT scan? 

The story begins about two weeks ago when out of the blue my head starts to hurt. Not a usual headache either, but a hall of white light in behind my eye. It is probably the worst headache I'd ever had, but I shrugged it off thinking it would go away like most of my head aches. However, two weeks later it is still here, so that's worrying. 

The next day I call the doctor to see if they could sort me out. This was fine - did a few tests on my cognition and eyesight but was told to see if anything got worse. That night, I was slurring my words and foggy, so Connie argued that it could be much worse so I spoke with the GP again and arranged for some hard core pain medication and a scan of my brainbox to confirm that I was truly mental. 

The pain killers took the edge off (thanks codine) but at the weekend things took a turn for the worse, so I called the out of hours service to see if I could see the on-call GP. After a few questions they say they are sending an ambulance.  

That's right - I got a trip to the West Cumberland in an ambulance for headaches. It was because they couldn't discharge me once if been seen, not being doctors, and my blood pressure was elevated. After waiting three hours alone Connie joined me with Etta and I was finally seen, to be told it was probably fine.  

The next morning I was in a lot of pain again, so forced my scan through and was seen on Wednesday. CT scan are comically quick and quite painless - I was in the department for probably 2 minutes total. I'm still waiting on the results from this, however, and my headaches are still as strong.  

So basically that's the story of my first brush with the NHS having to deal with a sick me, not anyone else, and I have been impressed. Obviously I'm still worried there is something more serious up with my brain, but I'm still to see the GP about the scan.  

What it does remind me how much I take for granted my pain-free and illness free life for granted - I'm floored by headaches! Connie has gone through pain like it every day of her life basically, and I can't even handle a few weeks of pain. I need to start taking better care of myself and, hopefully, this isn't a life or death thing and just undiagnoseable headaches, but it still has reminded me it doesn't take much to get sick and get pulled down.  

Adventures in Hire Cars - Technology

After driving in the past few months more cars that I had in the past few years, and buying a new car last year, it has become quite clear that there has been a massive step change in the technology that a car has on the inside, some of which is quite impressive, but other less so. I thought it interesting to discuss the ones that have made an impression.

Autonomous Driving
We are quite a bit away from the autonomous driving future that the big car companies are look at, but I can see a few steps here and there on the way to that destination. Connie and I are ddivided ivived over this = she doesn't think a car will ever be able to safely drive itself. I'm more positive that it'll happen at somepoint and almost believe that Joni and Etta may live in a world where buses and trucks drive themselves, but the humble private car might be a while away.

I was thinking about this when drving two cars - the Infiniti Q30 and my most recent hire, the Kia Sportage (the 308 died, but that's a different story). These cars had bits of technology in them that appeared to be beta tests for some features that an autonomous car needs. The first in sign recognition - both cars "read" road signs, pulling speed limits out off signs and putting them onto the dashboard. It's not like the old way of doing it - taking it from the classicification of the road, but they "see" the signs - noted by the fact that they picked up the temporary speed limits on the roadworks on the M6, and the 10 mph in the office car park.

The second is the impressive feature of the Kia to do "Active Lane Keep Assist", which basically means it'll keep the car between the two white lines of the road on it's own. I tried this out along with the cruise control and the car basically was, for a few seconds, "driving" it's self. I mean, it'd lose the lane every so often, and it would also not see any other cars (other bits of kit do that, that being said) but it was impressive just how well it worked.

Auto-stop/start and Gliding mode
The recent raft of emissions rules that the EU have put out has challenged car makers to make changes to their eingines, and these two features are designed to help with that. The car stopping it's engine when stationary is not new - in fact, I vivildy remember a demonstration of this technology on Blue Peter on a Nissan Micra back in the early 1990s before it has become the staple of today. I do wonder if sparking the engine up after one second of being off whilst at a giveway makes any sense, but the engine does it fine in most cars.

The other is a Mercedes Benz feature I liked - when driving, if you took your foot off the accelerator it'd enter Gliding Mode, which would slip the car out of drive and into the nuetral coasting feature. it was really impressive when it engaged it, and the slip back into drive was perfectly seamless, but it did feel weird on hills when the lack of engine braking (the turn over of the engine actually slows the car down when there is no power) and you had to pay attention that you weren't speeding up too much.

Keyless Entry
The dogshit 500X has this, but as soon as I got used to it, I missed it from my normal life. It was fun just walking away from the car knowing it'd lock and open when I approached it. The best moment was when I realised that I'd left the keys in the office, but the car was parked under my window, so I could open it even without the keys being on me. That was quickly replaced by the horror that anyone could enter my car and start it and maytbe drive it away just because I was sitting in my office close enough to it. Wierd.

Our Yeti has a resistive touchscreen - one that recognises the input from the pressure, not like your smartphone. That's not amazing for a car, as it requires your eyes to leave the road. In fact, almost all touchscreens do, which is why the Peugeot 308's buttonless dash was fancy, but it just meant to change anything I was looking away from the road. The biggest issue with the touchscreens is a slow response. The Insignia's touchscreen was fast, but the 500X's was like treacle. It is very noticable when driving when there's a delay in switching on the radio.

Auto... everything else
Automatic lights, windscreen wipers, parking cameras, automatic full beams (I really like this), automatic beeps when you leave lanes without signalling... cars are mountains of tech. These are all pretty neat features, but all feel like the small baby steps towards cars becoming random pointless things we don't need to own.

That's righlt; I'm of the school of thought that Joni and Etta will not own cars, but own memberships to car clubs that means when they need to drive you tap your smart[whatever they invent] and a car appears, takes you there, and then disappears. The idea of ownership is going to change.

And no one will die in a car. That's the key; Connie feels like cars driven by people are safer than auto-driving cars, but that's not only not ture, it's demonstrably not true. Hundreds of people die around the world on roads every single day, if not every hour, and the next generation will look back as say "Dad, you actually drove your cars... yourself? At 70mph!? That's insane! And, wait, they didn't automatically link up and avoid each other? That's just mental!" in the same way we laugh today about those people who walked out in front of the first cars with red flags, or when our parents used to drive around in cars without seatbelts, or when I was a kid and cars didn't have crumple zones, air bags, or ABS.

It's a matter of time.

2014 (Again)

In 2016 the Scottish elections were held with a raft of manifesto pledges within them, one key one in the SNP's being the following:

"We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will."

There has been plenty written about the possibility of a Scottish IndyRef2 in the wake of the Brexit vote, not just from me (Politics Next - Politics Next: After the Storm - The Death of the United KingdomA Plan - The Independence of Scotland). However, the biggest argument against a second IndyRef was the phrase "that's it settled" - simply that the 2014 vote still stands because we've already had our say.

That's not true. Everything has changed.

In my three post series in 2014 about my voting intentions, I wrote If It Is a No in which I stated a simple fact: "...and then things will start all over again. Those who wanted better control for Scotland will still want better control. Those who wanted better powers will still want better powers. Those who wanted a fairer government will still want a fairer government. So it won't stop - the framing will have just changed slightly" and "The question might have been answered, but the topic is still up for discussion".

That attitude rightly pissed a lot of people off. There had been a narrow escape for those who supported the Union and they were relieved, only to find out that those who were arguing against them were still as angry and ready to put their case forward. Why? The question had been asswered! It was a No, come on everyone, let's knuckle down. The thing is that it is a belief. I believe that Scotland will serve itself better outside of the UK and on it's own, and with a slight majority of folk disagreeing with me isn't going to change that. Is that a blind bit of faith? I don't know - I am sure that I could have been convinced if the actions of the UK government had been more "equal" than dismissive following almost everything that happened from 19th of September 2014 to... the 17th February 2017.

Now, however, the question is quite different. We know that the question asked in 2014 isn't valid anymore and the contextual basis for the question was entirely wiped out when the UK government lost the EU Referendum vote. Now, I respect that vote. I live in the England, don't forget, so my fellow country-persons voted against me and went to leave. In fact, the area I live in voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU. That feeling of having lost against was hard to take, but that's not what I'm aruguing - Brexit is happening to England no matter what, it is the terms of the arrangement that is up for debate there.

Scotland, on the other hand, has no say. They voted to Remain and they're getting taken out of the EU without their consent. That's a disaster scenario for those who voted No but also voted Remain. It's the hard choice of British nationalism versus outward global reach. No longer is the Scottish Independence vote the rejection of collaboration that many painted it as in 2014. In fact, it is the exact opposite scenario now, a Yes vote being for a EU membership, not the other way round.

So no matter who says it, when they say it, or when they believe it, this is not a re-run of 2014. It isn't for a lot of reasons.

  1. Scotland voted to Remain, and is being taken out without it's consent.
  2. That's actually true, even if you say it's a UK decision - the Scottish Parliament says no overwhelmingly, yet it being disregarded. That's not a partnership of equals.
  3. The previous IndyRef was on the basis that a No guaranteedEU membership. Now, it's guaranteeing an EU exit.
  4. The powers promised have been watered down.
  5. Scotland is being ignored in a magnitude that hasn't happened in decades.

So the next step - convincing those who voted Yes but are now a No, or those who voted No but might change to a Yes.

Adventures in Hire Cars

Quite a few years ago now I wrote about the hire cars that I had used during my time in North America. It felt like a fun thing to do, seeing as I'd managed to squeeze in a raft of models in a short space of time. Long time reader Jonathan (and precursor to this very blog) noted that he was glad I hadn't reviewed his car.

I have a new role within work, and it's meaning a lot more travel than any other time in my working life. This is a good thing - the new role, the subject of which is coming up in a coming post, is interesting, but the travel can be tiresome. I'm trying to get it all out of the way at the start, so I can move to a more remote role.

Because of the location of my house and the office transport links are woeful. Last year I took the train to the head office and it was a long and difficult journey with three trains on the way down (of which I missed them all due to a late first train of the morning) and then on the way back it was busy and didn't get a seat. Then there's problem that the train station it's self is a 25 minute drive away. Instead, hiring a car is quicker, more cost efficient, and is far more felexible.

There have been a lot of cars since. Recently, loads of them. Let's try and begin with the last ones I remember. I'm excluding all of the Canada hires - the VW Passat, Kia Optima, Ford Escape, Buick Verano, VW Jetta.  Actually, let's indulge one Canada hire.



Dodge RAM 1500
As usual with weddings Connie and I's went a little pear shaped a few times along the way to a successful series of nuptials. One was the day that everyone was getting into town for the wedding our hire car wasn't returned to the place it was supposed to, in time for us to obtain it. We were due to do some running, meeting friends and later family. Dan, the manager of the branch of Enterprise, who has become a close friend with all the coin we drop anytime we go home, has always done me solids - giving me a choice of car, upgrading almost everytime - this time, he gave us a loan of the Ram 1500 truck for the day until our car arrived, for free, free of gas usage too. It was fun having my friends rocking up in a big truck.

Seat Exeo estate
This one car was nice enough, and I used it to go across the country on a camping weekend, but it really made us want a large estate car, which lead us to getting the Passat. In turn, this meant that my UK hiring days were over until 2016. It was a nice car if a bit dated, but the loading space was impressive.

Vauxhall Astra
Back in July 2015, whilst the world around me was blowing up, someone crashed into the Passat. In order, I had a telephone interview on the Tuesday, was offered a face to face interview on the Wednesday, was made redundant on the Thursday, was crashed into on the Friday, had a hire car on the Saturday and drove to the office I now work in on the Monday, with a job offer that afternoon, and we had selected a new house by the Thursday. The insurers, who knew it was a no fault claim, told me not to drive and got me an Astra estate. It was a massive boon - we put around 1500 miles on that guy between the trips up and down to Cumbria over the two weeks our car was away, and it gave me a nice story to tell the team once I started.

Hyundai Santa Fe
When hiring a car for work they offer you an Astra as standard, but I prefer automatics so I've yet to have an Astra. The first car I got was this massive SUV and it was simply insane - one of the biggest cars I've driven but was very nice inside and was quite easy to park thanks to all the cameras. I don't know if it was a nice car, as it was pretty unwieldly despite all the assistance, but it looked smart.

Infiniti Q30
I didn't know that you could get Infiniti's in the UK and when this car was dropped off I was surprised. It was until very recently the worst car I'd driven as a hire since the Chevy Spark, as it was heavy, low, dark, difficult to see out of, and generally just underpowered. It was a dark car to drive down south in, and I was happy to give it back.

Mercedes Benz C200
When this showed up I was amazed - it was the smartest car I'd ever driven. I had this for two weeks to so it wasn't a quick hire. It was amazing on the motorway and went like the clappers when you put your foot down, but as a saloon model it had a terribly unuseful boot, and there just wasn't that much space in the rear due to the bucket seats. Additionally, the infotainment system (all the media and stanav stuff) was pretty useless, controlled by a big dial and touch pad area, that even after two weeks I still didn't know how to use fully. Still, I was sad to give it back.

Vauxhall Insignia
My dad owned an Insignia for a few years and even loaned it to us when the Passat had it's Great Brakes Failure of 2013. We also had hired an estate version at one point too. Anyway, the car was low and big and pretty boring bar two very impressive features - one, was the tank. I had it filled up before I left and travelled around 270 miles in it with barely denting a quarter of the tank. When I filled it back up the trip computer said I had 800 miles in the tank ready to go, making it perfect for pulling on the motorway. Secondly, it was the first time I'd came across Android Auto. I plugged my phone into the car to charge and it offered me an amazing series of interfaces for using Spotify, Google Play Music, Tunein Radio, Google Maps, and even read my WhatsApp messages back to me. Very impressive.

Fiat 500X
Holy shit. I thought the Spark was bad, but this was just terrible. It had a tiny touchscreen, an even worse set of controls for the heating, sounded like a van under the hood, rattled on the motorway, and had no space in the front for me to find a good position to sit. And to top it all off, this was meant to be my semi-permanent car! I drove it down south and an enginer management light came on, which meant I had to trade it in. Thank christ.

Peugeot 308
My sister bought a new 208 last year and I remember thinking I liked the look but it was just too small for my tastes, which means the similar but larger 308 should do the trick - and it does! It has a nice ride, great fuel economy, nice driving position, good technology built in, and has a pretty enourmous boot. There are three major draw backs though - the dash controls are non-existent, and replaced with a touch screen for everything. That's fine, but only if the screen was fast, well designed, and easy to use, all of which it isn't. There are afew neat tricks, but not enough to make up for the fact that I have to take my eyes off the road to change the temperature of the AC. The second is that it is blooming tiny in the back, with barely space for car seats never mind an adult. And thirdly, since I've got it the additive management system light has been on, something that has yet to be sorted out by the hire company.