Taking a plunge

blog Plunge

Whatever happens in the UK’s current tumultuous parliament, it is more likely than not that the UK will leave the European Union (‘EU’). Whether this happens on the 31st of October 2019 or later, the UK is certainly taking a plunge into a possibly frightening unknown. When a majority of the British people voted in favour of leaving the EU, nobody could foresee the problems that we are now facing and will face as time moves on. Sadly, many of those who voted (largely without understanding what is involved and often for xenophobic reasons) for ‘Brexit’ will suffer the consequences more than many who voted not to leave the EU. Our present Prime Minister is optimistic about the future of the UK outside the EU, but as Boris Johnson’s hero Winston Churchill wrote:

There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. The . . . people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.”

(Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. 3 [1951])

Hard currency

currency

Back in 1983, I visited Bulgaria. I had been advised that it was very unwise to exchange currency in the country any other way than by using the state’s official foreign exchange desks. So, as soon as I disembarked at the railway station at Sofia, I changed some of my UK Pounds into Bulgarian Leva. Even at the official exchange rate, one Pound had a more than adequate spending power.

My friend and I took  a taxi to the city centre. When we arrived, the meter , I asked the driver how much we needed to pay. He answered:

“One Deutschmark, One Dollar, One Swiss Franc, or one Pound.”

I said that I wanted to pay in Bulgarian Leva. He said:

“Two Leva”

But, I protested:

“The meter says only one Leva”

The driver turned around and said:

“Two people: two Leva”

I repeat this true tale to emphasise how little local money was valued in comparison with so-called ‘hard currency’. Also, in a few months when the UK leaves the European Union, probably without a trade deal, the Pound, which is already sinking in value, might cease to be a hard currency. Who knows, but here in the UK we might prefer to be paid not in our own currency but in one of the harder currencies such as the US Dollar or the Euro.

Olives in London

I love olives, especially the black Kalamata and Amphissa varieties. These are imported from countries which are members of the EU (European Union), which the UK is destined to leave at the end of October 2019.

It is becoming increasingly likely that the UK will leave the EU without a trade deal. If this happens, supplies of olives may become restricted for some time. Also, the falling value of the Pound Sterling will increase the cost of those olives that make their way into the UK retail market. Gloomy as this seems, there might be light at the end of the tunnel coming from a much feared source.

The UK, like the rest of the world, is affected by climate change, which includes global warming. As I write this, I am sitting in front of a fan, something we would not have considered purchasing, even in summer, 25 to 30 years ago.

A result of global warming struck me today whilst walking in Kensington Gardens. I passed a south facing tree with greyish leaves. It was an olive tree, usually planted in gardens in the UK to provide visual contrasts. However, this particular olive tree was rich in young olives ripening in the sun (see photo above).

Seeing this richly fruited olive tree gives me hope for the future. Maybe, I will be buying British olives as well as those from southern Europe (if import duties and exchange rates do not make them unaffordable).

Common sense

Common sense is one of the least common traits found amongst human beings. It is uncommon to chance upon someone with common sense. There are plenty of intelligent and very bright people around, but most of them lack common sense and often wisdom also.

When I was a pupil at Highgate School in north London between 1965 and ’70, all of the teachers except one had degrees from either Oxford or Cambridge. The exception, Mr B, had been at a training college just east of the City of London. Mr B taught an unacademic but practical subject: woodwork. I was not any good at his craft and luckily I missed most of the classes on account of my having broken my arm during the woodwork term. Amongst all of the teachers at Highgate, Mr B had the most common sense, in fact more common sense than all of the rest of the staff combined.

Another person, who was brim-full of common sense, was one of my aunts. For various reasons, probably not completely unrelated to losing her father at a young age, she did not shine at school. Yet, throughout her long life she approached everything with straighforward down-to-earth common sense.

I am not sure whether the following anecdote was a manifestation of my aunt’s common sense, but I will relate it anyway. Once when she was at a party, a stranger introduced himself to my aunt as follows:

I am a neo-Platonist. What do you do?

Cool as a cucumber my aunt answered:

I am a cabbage.”

Thus, she put pay to her pretentious new acquaintance, and ended what might have become a tedious conversation.

My photograph (above) shows a well-known London landmark. For those who are unfamiliar with London, the picture depicts the Houses of Parliament, which contains the House of Commons. During the current discussions regarding the UK’s future relationship with the EU, many intelligent Members of the House of Commons are demonstrating a worrying shortage of common sense.

Over the counter

The French philosopher Voltaire is believed to have written:

Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, for human beings of which they know nothing.”

I was at a party in Athens, Greece, in the early 1980s when I suddenly became aware of bilateral back pain and nausea. Luckily, there was a medical doctor amongst the guests. He diagnosed a kidney or bladder infection and wrote a prescription for bactrim. The tablets were very effective and rapid acting.

A year or so later, I was flying to Greece via Rome in Italy when I experienced a recurrence of the symptoms. As I had quite a long stopover in Rome, I took the opportunity to visit a pharmacy, but this time without a prescription. To my great surprise and relief, the pharmacist sold me some bactrim without requiring a prescription.

In the UK, it is not possible to obtain antibiotics and most other medications without a prescription. There are also rules determining how much non prescription medication can be bought at any one time.

In India, which I visit often, I have never been asked for a prescription to obtain any kind of medication. One just asks for the medicine or tablets required, and then following payment they are handed over the counter. Quite a few of the medications I have needed in India have been clearly marked as prescription only medicines, but these words are ignored by the pharmacy salespeople.

Having been trained as a dentist I have some knowledge of pharmacology. So, I feel that I am unlikely to abuse the ease of obtaining medicines in India, but I worry about others with less knowledge than me.

The freedom of being able to obtain medications without having to first get a prescription has mixed blessings. On the one hand, if you are certain that you need a particular drug or simply need a repeat of what you have been taking, not needing a prescription can save you time and money that visiting a doctor entails. On the other hand, self diagnosis and self treatment is not without risk.

What Voltaire wrote many years ago is less true today than it was then. But, still, even after so many advances have been made in medical science , a great deal of ignorance about the human body remains.

Mad cow

we don’t see ev’rything

that we consume:

might be germs with any bite

 

Bovine_500

From time to time, the United Kingdom is subject to agricultural diseases that need to be accompanied by nation-wide restrictions to limit spreading. A frequently occurring example of this is so-called foot-and-mouth disease. During such epidemics, those not involved in agricultural activities, such as hikers and tourists, are confined to roads, told to keep out of fields where traces of the disease may be lying.

During one outbreak of foot-and-mouth, we were spending a holiday in Wales. Wherever we went, we saw signs and barriers that prevented free movement across the countryside. What with the incessant rain, it made our trip rather dreary. We stopped for lunch in an ugly little town in central Wales. The most attractive looking eatery was a dowdy pub, devoid of any architectural merit. We sat down in its ageing dining room, trying to avert our eyes from the peeling wallpaper and a horrible worn carpet that badly needed to be replaced. Things looked up when the inn-keeper arrived to take our food order. We were attracted to beef steaks. There was a bewildering range of options for this on the menu.  Our host patiently explained the differences between the different types of beefsteak, explaining how the tastiness of the meat itself was related to its fat content and distribution within the cut. Fillet steak, for example, has little fat, not much taste without sauces, but wonderful texture. He recommended rib-eye as being the cut with just the right amount and distribution of fat to be tasty on its own. He was quite right, we discovered in that unattractive dining room in rainy Wales.

bovine

Some years later, Mad Cow disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) became a concern in the UK. One evening, when we were going to a theatre near St Martins Lane in London, there were large headlines about the disease on the front page of the latest issue of the Evening Standard newspaper. Before the performance, we entered a branch of McDonalds for a quick snack. Almost everyone in the café was eating beef burgers, despite the headlines on the newspapers that some of the customers were reading!

Shortly after this, we went on a driving trip through France. In one small town, we walked passed a small restaurant with a sign hanging in its glass-fronted door. It read (in French): “We might be mad, but our beef is not.”

While the Mad Cow scare was at its height, we were invited to stay with some friends in Belgium. We had stayed with them often before. We asked them what they would like us to bring from London. They said they would love a home-made curry, enough for about twelve people. Although I am married to an Indian, it is I who makes the meat curries in our family. I prepared and cooked a huge lamb curry. As it is only a few hours’ drive between London and Belgium and the curry would have to be re-heated before being served, we thought it safe to transport the casserole containing it without refrigeration.

There were more security checks than usual at the English end of the Channel Tunnel. After our car had been examined, and the engine checked for hidden items including explosives, we were asked if we were carrying any meat products across the English Channel. We mentioned that we were transporting a casserole of cooked lamb curry. The security officials looked puzzled, told us not to move, and then walked away towards an office. One of them returned, and asked:

“It’s lamb, not beef is it?”

We confirmed that it was not beef.

“And thoroughly cooked?”

“Yes.”

“Well, what with all those spices, we’ll let you take it through the tunnel.”

Nobody asked us about meat when we arrived in France. We drove through a bath containing disinfected, and then headed for our destination.