<![CDATA[Welcome to the website of Robert Cubitt - Bob's Blog]]>Sat, 16 Dec 2017 11:35:14 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[Theresa May's Christmas Round Robin]]>Sat, 16 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/theresa-mays-christmas-round-robin7086114PictureA round robin
It's that time of year that we all dread. You open what appears to be an innocuous Christmas card and out flutters a folded page (or pages) that contains the dreaded 'round robin' news letter. All that bragging about how well the kids have done in school and the new Mercedes and the skiing trip to Saint Moritz.

Well, one has arrived through my letter box recently that I'm pretty sure wasn't intended for me, so I thought I'd share it with you.

PictureMe on one of my better days
Dear friends and family,

Well, what a wonderful year it’s been. The Brexit negotiations are going so well and the economy is booming. I’m more popular than any Prime Minister in living history and the party is headed for a landslide victory at the next general election.
Oh, sorry, did I really write that? I think my medication must be starting to wear off. Let me start again.
I suppose the year could have been worse for both me and the Party, but I really can’t see how. Let me say up front that I recognise that calling that election might not have been the brightest idea that I ever had, but it seemed that the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. With a 20 point lead in the polls, what could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot, as it turned out.

I must admit that when I said I wanted to help those people who were 'just about managing', I didn't expect it to be me that was in need of help.

How could I possibly have known that threatening to remove the pensioners’ Winter Fuel Allowance, and sell their houses to pay for their care in their old age, would be so unpopular amongst voters whose only assets are their houses and who might die of hypothermia if they can’t pay for their heating?
Well, actually we would have been selling their children’s inheritance to pay for the care, but so what? Why should people care about that? I mean, it’s not as if any Conservative MPs have ever inherited any wealth, is it? Ah, Phillip has just kindly pointed out that, actually, quite a lot of Conservative MPs inherit their wealth, but that isn’t the point, is it? I mean, people are just so sensitive about these sorts of things these days. How the heck was I supposed to know that its mainly the elderly that vote Tory? No one tells one these things.

Also no one told me that people actually like to vote for people, not robots, and going around saying ‘strong and stable’ all day, every day, made me sound like my program was stuck in a never ending loop. I’d like to blame Jeremy, but I suppose I could have lied about fixing student debt as well. He didn’t expect to win, so he could have promised everyone a free unicorn and it wouldn’t have made any difference to him. Think how funny it would have been if he’d actually had to deliver on all those promises. Well, maybe not that funny.

PictureHe's not the Messiah ....
Somehow everyone thinks that Labour won the election. It’s true that they did win 30 more seats than last time and we lost 13, but half of those that they won were in Scotland, where they lost them last time out. At least that’s got Nicola off my back for a while.

We actually took 5.5% more of the vote than last time, and on a higher turnout. Angela Merkel actually lost 8.6% of her vote in the German election but everyone seems to have overlooked that and are saying that it would be a shame if she can't form a government. It’s all Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy for some reason. I mean, to quote a line from Monty Python (that will upset John Cleese), “He’s not the Messiah, he’s …” Well, you know how the rest goes.
I must find out what we can do to attract more young voters, like Jeremy did. Perhaps I should have a word with Kenneth Clarke, he seems to have his finger on the youth vibe, as I believe it’s called. At least, he's into jazz and that's the same thing, isn't it? Maybe I should go to Glastonbury next year. Oh, Phillips has just pointed out that it isn’t on next year and by the following year I’ll be toast anyway, if things keep going the way they are.
So here we go, into a brave new future, with a stitched up deal with Satan, sorry, the DUP, that allows us to continue in government, (cheap at half the price, as far as I'm concerned - it makes £40 billion to leave the EU look like very small beer) when I could just have sat on my 12 seat majority until 2020 and waited for Labour to finish imploding and Jeremy finally got kicked out. Instead I made him seem electable. I just wish I could work out how I did it.

It won't last, of course. The longer we remain in government the longer he has to keep his true policies hidden and he can't keep that up forever. Either he or Maccy D will eventually say something that will have the voters rushing back to Nanny. I must make sure to keep the internet chappies in party HQ digging around for old Tweets. We'll need to re-think our social media strategy as well, whatever that is.
As I’m sure you’ve all seen in the papers, Brexit is working out a lot harder than anyone expected. Well, harder than the Brexiteers expected, anyway. Somehow we’ve been saddled with promises that Boris and Co had no right to make during the referendum campaign. They weren’t speaking for anyone other than themselves when they campaigned, but I’ve been stuck with delivering what they promised even though I didn’t say a word during the whole thing. I mean, what’s the point of imitating a submarine if you then get torpedoed? For some reason the voters seem to actually expect us to spend another £350 million a week on the NHS. I mean, how unreasonable is that?

Then, just when we think we've got a deal and can move on, Arlene puts her big foot in it and we have to start again. Maybe we'll need to bribe ... I mean offer more cash for investment in Northern Ireland. Anyway, we got there in the end, even if I did have to get up in the middle of the night to go to Brussels to sign the deal. I did suggest I go over at a civilised time, but apparently they wanted a signature before anyone else weighed in and put the kibosh on it.

As for Junker, Tusk and Barnier, it’s almost as though they don’t want to give us a good deal when we leave the EU. After all we did for them, as well. OK, yes, Phillip has just pointed out that we didn't do anything for them, it was our parents, grandparents and great grandparents, but come on, that must count for something. Of course, sending David over there to do the negotiations was never going to work out. But he insisted that everything was going to be brilliant when we left, so I believed him. I mean, what’s the world coming to when you can’t trust the word of a politician?

PictureDear, sweet Boris
At least Boris seems to be doing a good job. Oh, I don’t mean as Foreign Secretary; he’s a making a complete pig’s ear of that, just as I anticipated when I appointed him. No, I mean in getting the public to dislike him. Once upon a time he was the darling of the man in the street. ‘Good old Boris’, they used to say, ‘he’s such a card.’ But let him loose in front of a microphone and it’s never long before he shoots himself in the foot. Unfortunately the blood spatter tends to cover the rest of the government, but eggs and omelettes, as the saying goes.
Michael Gove is also doing a splendid job plotting his own downfall (again). He just can’t resist plotting and it always goes wrong for him, poor lamb. If either of them actually did the jobs they are paid to do, instead of mucking about the way they do, I’d have had to pack my bags months ago. As it is, the more they mess up the more I look like a safe pair of hands.
That sexual harassment business is all very worrying. I feel slightly left out because no one ever bothered to sexually harass me. It’s hard to play the victim card if you’ve never been a victim. I mean – what’s wrong with me? Anyway, it’s cost me one Minister already and I can’t help feeling that there will be more. Usually Labour would be all over that sort of thing at the Dispatch Box, but thankfully their lot are just as bad as mine, so they have to stay shtum on the subject. Anyway, I've offered the lobby fodder a cross party independent body to look into the whole thing, so that's kicked it into the long grass for now.
Priti was another one that shot herself in the foot, as I’m sure you know. It’s an old dodge, of course; go on holiday and fix up a few ‘political meetings’ while you’re there and you can claim the cost of the whole thing on your Parliamentary expenses. It’s the same dodge that business people have been using for decades to get their companies to pay for their holidays. If she’d just told Boris what she was going to do it would all have worked out fine for her. I should feel sorry for her, but having to re-shuffle the Cabinet for the second time in a week was no joke, so my sympathy tap is firmly turned off.

Enough of my woes; how have you all been? I’d like to wish you all the very happiest of Christmases and a prosperous New Year, but of course we’re still in government so there’s no chance of that happening. Just a word to the wise, if you’ve ever had any off-shore dealings with Bermuda I suggest you cover your tracks now. Something big is about to break on that front. Oh, sorry, dear Phillip’s just told me that the cat’s already out of the bag on that one. Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me anything?????
At least we have one bit of good news. Prince Harry (he's the ginger one) has got engaged to Megan. With that and Kate's new arrival the press will be so busy running multi-page spreads and souvenir editions that there will be no space left over for politics until at least next June!

Anyway, do have the best possible time over Christmas and try not read the newspapers, or watch TV, or listen to the radio, or go on the internet. You don’t want to upset yourself if it can be avoided. Meanwhile, there’s a farmer in Sussex I have to apologise to for ruining his crops.
Your affectionate friend

Author's note: For legal reasons I am obliged to state that all of the above has been made up for comedic effect and satirical purposes, except for the verifiable facts.
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<![CDATA[Gift Trapping]]>Sat, 09 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/gift-trappingIt is that time of year again, and no matter how hard I may try to avoid it, it’s not going to go away. So, if I have to address the subject at all, I may as well make this blog useful. If you are one of those gift givers that has a natural talent for choosing the right thing, then this blog may not be of much use to you – but if you find present buying a nightmare, you may find it useful.
Oh, by the way, just because the recipient said ‘Thank, it’s just what I wanted” it doesn’t mean they meant it. They may have just been trying not to hurt your feelings. Look at the eyes – are they smiling as much as the mouth?
As a male, this list tends to focus on what men like or don’t like to receive, but I’ve added a special section at the end that hard won experience tells me women don’t like.

PictureThe World's Most hated Christmas Present
The Top Eleven Worst Christmas Presents

1. Anything that the giver would not appreciate if they received it themselves.

2. Handkerchiefs – come on people, where’s your imagination? 

3. Socks – see item 2.

4. Underpants – See items 2 and 3. Unless you are volunteering to return later and remove them from the recipient’s nether regions don’t bother, but see item 5 re suspicious wife. 

5. After shave lotion (and other scented liquids) – Usually only given by people who have never stood close to the recipient and therefore don’t know he doesn’t wear it. I even know of men with luxurious beards who have received aftershave lotion. If you haven’t been that close then don’t give it. Otherwise it’s an insult as it suggests that the recipient has an odour that needs masking and therefore the gift isn’t in the spirit of Christmas. Especially don’t give it if it’s your favourite scent on a man. It will make his wife suspicious. 

6. Kitchen utensils/equipment – Unless It’s for someone who is setting up their first home and they’ve specifically asked for these things. Any person that has lived away from home for more than a couple of years has probably got all they need already. I’ll make an exception for wine glasses as these tend to fall victim to late night excesses and parties.

PictureThe joys of self assembly
7. Anything that needs assembling – This is an OK gift for children as their Mum/Dad will be delighted to spend hours putting it together (tee hee). But for adults, they would prefer that whatever it is comes ready to use.

8. Anything that is given ‘just for a laugh’ – this will seem like a bah humbug sort of reaction, but unless you are very familiar with the recipient’s sense of humour you can’t know that they will find it funny, and therefore they may be more offended than amused. 

9. Gift cards - While they are practical and the person that you give it too will probably end up with exactly what they wanted, it says "I couldn't be bothered thinking about what you might like, so you do the thinking instead." It's the thought that counts, and gift cards don't require any thought.

10. Religious memorabilia/music/books  - You have the right to believe in whatever you wish, but you don’t have the right to impose your beliefs on anyone else – even if you thinks it’s for their spiritual well being. Actually that makes it worse because you’re being judgmental as well. 

11. Anything to do with astrology, feng shui and other “ancient wisdom” – See also item 10. Come on people, we live in the 21st century.  The reason people believed in this stuff in the past was because they knew no better. We do know better.  It doesn’t work and never worked.  Events will happen or they won’t happen. They can’t be predicted and they will still happen or not happen no matter how you arrange your furniture, place crystals around the room or make things smell. If you dance naked in the moonlight on Mid-Summer’s eve and then win the lottery the next day then it’s a coincidence. You would still have won the lottery if you’d stayed fully clothed and gone to bed instead. The only people whose fortunes improve through belief in this stuff are the people who make, sell or publish the garbage that perpetuates this superstitious mumbo jumbo.

Sorry, I'm not sure what came over me then. When men stop believing in God, it isn't that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything (Umberto Eco or possibly G K Chesterton – the jury’s still out).

PictureKnow the recipient of your gifts
My Top One Best Christmas Present.
A gift that suggests that the giver has spent some time thinking about the recipient’s personality, their hobbies and pastimes, their lifestyle and other character related traits. It might not be what they wanted, but it will show that you cared enough to think about it and, as I mentioned above, it’s the thought that counts.  It will also show that you read this list.

PictureMaybe not
Things to avoid when giving presents to women.
1. Sexy underwear or lingerie. I’m not being politically correct here, it’s just that men usually get it so wrong. They buy what they think is sexy, or imagine is sexy, not what the woman will feel comfortable wearing. The woman receiving it is likely to cringe. Best to stay away from that whole lingerie area – and probably night attire as well. The reverse is also true, of course. Give a woman a pair of practical pyjamas or big pants and she’ll think you’ve gone off her.
2. Perfume. Of course, many women love perfume and it is actually a good gift – if you buy the right perfume. Women are very fussy about their preferences, so buying the perfume that has the most pretentious advertising campaign rarely works. If you want to buy perfume, do some research. Ask her best friend what she wears, ask her Mum, her sister, ask just about anyone who knows her. If you live with the woman in question, or have access to her bedroom (not in a creepy way) then check out the dressing table. The favourite perfume will almost certainly be in pride of place and the bottle will probably be almost empty because it is used so much. Memorise the name. Write it down. Have it tattooed on your arm if necessary.
3. Kitchen or household goods or appliances. Already mentioned above, but this is a particular no-no for husbands and boyfriends. A quick way to spend Christmas Day in frosty silence is to buy your loved one a set of matching bath towels or, even worse, kitchen towels.

PictureMisery - or an opportunity to listen?
How to get it right
Listen! Since the beginning of November, possibly earlier, the woman in your life has probably been dropping hints about what she would like for Christmas. If she’s been stopping next to jeweller’s shop windows, in the perfume departments of department stores, asking you if you like such and such a dress in a shop window, she hasn’t just been making idle conversation, she has been telling you this is what she really, really wants. If she said she’s always wanted to drive a Formula One racing car, then she wasn’t just fantasising, so get her an Experience Day so she can live her dream.

PictureHer dream? Or her worst nightmare?
With regard to Experience Days, do be careful. Thinking ‘she’ll love this’ is dangerous. It’s also dangerous to assume that she’ll enjoy doing something as a couple. Just because you want to jump out of an aeroplane it doesn’t mean that she does.
If your beloved hasn’t been quite so forthcoming, then ask her to make a list and e-mail it to you, with links to web pages where you can see the items for yourself. Make sure you pick one item from the list and you can’t go wrong. It isn’t romantic, but it works. The surprise element comes from her not knowing which item from the list you will choose. And if you want to receive a present that you will also enjoy, then that works both ways.
And if you love her, make sure that your Christmas present to her tells her so.

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<![CDATA[The Safer We Feel, The More Danger We're In]]>Sat, 02 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/the-safer-we-feel-the-more-danger-were-inTechnology is supposed to make our lives easier and, usually, it does. However, sometimes it makes it harder and, just occasionally, it makes it very dangerous.PictureThe dreaded MOT
I refer to some of the technology that comes installed in our cars. I’ve just bought a new car. I’m not bragging, the old one was going to cost a fortune to get it through its MOT test this year (for my non-British readers, that’s a mandatory road worthiness test for the car) so it was more economical to bite the bullet and go for something new.

However, the world of motoring technology has moved on considerably since I bought my last car and the new one came loaded with all sorts of buzzers and bells, which are supposed to make my driving experience more pleasurable and, importantly, safer.

PictureI wish
While the pleasure side is OK, the safety side is not. I have a very strong feeling that the potential to rely on the new safety features could, in due course, kill me.
The danger lies in the way that technology changes people’s behaviour.

How long was it after the e-mail was invented, before people stopped walking across the office to talk to their colleagues and started sending them e-mails instead? How long after the ‘smart phone’ came into existence before people started to ignore the company they were in and started immersing themselves in their phones instead? That is how technology affects behaviour and it often happens without us even realising it is happening.
This reliance on technology is what makes the technology installed in cars more dangerous, not less. My new car comes with a range of built in ‘safety features', most of which I’ve now worked out how to use. However, a couple of them, at some time over the last few weeks, have failed me. Fortunately it hasn’t led to an accident, but no one knows what the next time will bring.

PictureBlind Spot Detection
Let’s start off with the ‘blind spot detector’. As we all know, between our interior rear view mirror and our external wing mirrors, there is often that little spot just at the right or left hand corner of the car that isn’t quite visible. If there is another car tucked in there when you change lanes then it’s going to end badly. So, the manufacturer of my car has added a ‘blind spot detector’. Hooray.
This is a sensor, presumably in the wing mirror, that senses any vehicle in the danger zone and lets me know about it. A little symbol (two cars side by side, one slightly ahead of the other – though they actually look like a set of footprints) on the wing mirror lights up. If my indicator is selected while the symbol is lit up I also get an audible warning. So far so good. Er, actually, it isn’t. Because if I don’t look in the mirrors I don’t see the symbol and if I don’t use the indicator then I won’t hear the beeps.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. On one recent journey I noticed that the little indicator light on the passenger side mirror wasn’t showing something in the blind spot, when I could quite clearly see it (it was pretty big) just by turning my head a little. OK, I thought, back to the dealer with you to get that fixed. But then, later, after I had stopped the car and restarted it, it started working again. I’m guessing that the computer that controls these things hadn’t set up correctly earlier in the day, but now it was all OK. So, what I actually have is a safety feature that can’t be relied on. Sometimes it will work and sometimes it won’t and I have to know which is which if I don’t want to die.
Now, if I was the sort of driver that depends on those sorts of things, and there are many who do, I would have taken the absence of the little symbol to tell me that it was OK to change lanes right in front of the 38 tonnes of lorry that had been in my blind spot. Fortunately, I have developed the habit of always looking over my shoulder before changing lanes, therefore taking care of my safety far more effectively than the manufacturer of this car.
We already know that there are many drivers who change lanes without indicating (you know who you are) and, given their proximity to other vehicles, the drivers don’t appear to use their wing mirrors either, let alone look over their shoulders. What happens if these people now rely heavily on the technology as well? And what happens if the technology fails?

They say that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Here, the manufacturers haven't built a better mousetrap, they've actually built a worse one.

PictureEmergency Braking Systems
Next is the emergency braking system. This is a camera fitted somewhere up front that detects if I’m just about to have a collision with the vehicle in front of me and slams the brakes on, thereby saving my life. Except that it doesn’t work in the rain.
Forgive me for making this assumption, but I reckon the time I’m going to need that system the most is in bad weather. What actually happens is that rainwater gets on the camera lens and prevents the system from working. Instead, I get a warning that the system is disabled. It beeps at me to attract my attention and gives me an error message (quite a long one) on the dashboard display.
OK, that’s not so bad, I’m supposed to be watching out in front of me anyway, aren’t I? OK, but of course the rainwater then rolls off the lens and the system starts working again. The warning light goes out - then comes on again when the next drop of rain obscures the lens and it beeps at me again.
Last week, while travelling in rainy weather, it beeped at me no less than thirty times in the space of about an hour and each time it beeped I looked down at the dashboard to see what the beep meant. Because it is exactly the same sort of beep that every other system in the car makes, so I don’t know what else may not be working, so I have to look.
Now, if that isn’t distracting me from my main job as a driver, keeping a lookout for danger, then I don’t know what is. What I actually have is a safety system that is more dangerous than the thing it is trying to prevent happening. Because I am human I may, one day, fail to see the looming danger of something in front of me; that is a matter of probability. But every time the emergency braking system goes beep I take my eyes off the road, which actually increases the probability of just that event from occurring. It’s madness!
Just don’t get me started on ‘lane assist’! If you can’t keep a car in the the middle of the lane, you shouldn’t be on the road. This is a device aimed purely at people who phone or text while driving - which is illegal in the UK. It is illegal because its dangerous. I suspect that 'emergency braking' is also aimed at these lawbreakers.

PictureThe best 'safety device' ever
A friend of mine once observed that all safety features on cars actually increased the risk of accidents. The theory has been the subject of psychological studies.

The psychology of it is that the safer the driver feels, the faster they will drive and the more damage will be done if there’s an accident.

It has actually been proposed (in jest I assume) that instead of having seat belts on the driver’s side of the car, you actually have a big metal spike fitted in the centre of the steering wheel. The driver will then be aware that if they have an accident the spike will go straight through their chest, so they will drive with greater care. I wouldn’t like to put that idea to the test, but the psychology is probably sound.
Instead we are all wrapped up in safety cages, cushioned by airbags and surrounded by things that go beep and, I suspect, we are probably less safe than we have ever been before. In terms of actual deaths in road traffic accidents, we are safer now than at any time since statistics started to be gathered in the 1920s. However, the actual number of accidents per year isn’t falling and death is only one of the things that can happen to you when you’re in a crash. There are also injuries that will change your life forever, and not in a good way. Do you still feel safe?

PictureMy new pride and joy - the Hyundai i30
What is very worrying is that the driverless cars that are currently being trialled use all the same technology, which presumably has the same inherent flaws. If it doesn’t work now, in my car, how can I have faith that it will work in the future, in someone else's?
In the meantime, Hyundai, can I at least appeal to you to make sure that the emergency breaking system on the i30 works regardless of the weather conditions.

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<![CDATA[Fizzles Rather Than Fizzes]]>Sat, 25 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/fizzles-rather-than-fizzes
Robert Harris is the author of a number of bestselling books. When it comes to a review of his collected work, however, I doubt that Munich will be regarded as one of his better efforts.
The story is set against the backdrop of a significant event in British and world history. It should be full of drama and tension, but what we have here is a story that plods along on leaden feet. The life seems to have been sucked out of the events to leave us with just the cold historical facts.
There are, in fact, two stories being told within this book. The first is the factual account of the historical events. Most of the major participants have written their memoires, which means that Harris has plenty of material with which to create his account.
The second story is a fictional one, and should be what gives the whole book some drama and tension. Unfortunately, it fails to do that.
It is October 1938 and Europe is once again on the brink of war as Hitler seeks to fulfil his promise to the German people to bring ethnic Germans back into the fold of the Fatherland. This he plans to do by invading Czechoslovakia, a country that has only been in existence since the end of the First World War. In order to avert war, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, has been involved in shuttle diplomacy, trying to curb Hitler’s ambitions.
As the clock ticks down to the expiry of Hitler’s ultimatum to Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain, with the help of Mussolini, manages to persuade Hitler to attend one last peace conference, the one from which Chamberlain will famously return waving a piece of paper and claiming "Peace in our time". It is the prelude to that conference and the conference itself, in Munich, that forms the basis for this book.

PictureHitler greets Chamberlain in Munich 1938
These factual events are viewed as though watching the TV with the sound muted. We can see the participants, but get no sense of what anyone is saying.

After each negotiating session there are comments from various characters about how difficult the negotiations have been, but we aren’t allowed inside the conference room to listen in. This lack of first hand viewing becomes very frustrating and detracts from the story. Hearing Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Deladier negotiate in person would have added so much life to the book.
Against this background is the fictional story. Hugh Legat and Paul Hartmann are old friends from their student days at Oxford, who have drifted apart. It  comes as no surprise when we later discover that the reason for that drift is a girl. They are both now junior diplomats, Legat with the British Foreign Office, on loan to Number 10, and Hartmann with the German Foreign Ministry.

PictureThe Fuhererbau - venue for the conference
Hartmann is involved in a plot to depose Hitler, but for that to succeed the Munich negotiations must fail, so that the German Army will join the plot against Hitler rather than go to war. To me, that in itself seems unlikely, but maybe that was a realistic expectation at the time.

When sensitive documents, outlining Hitler’s real plans for Europe, are handed to Hartmann he sees the opportunity to sabotage the peace talks, but how to get the documents into British hands? His former friend Legat seems to provide the only channel.
This story-within-a-story should provide drama and tension. Hartmann soon falls under suspicion, but the tension from that suspicion fails to materialise. A minor twist in the tale towards the end of the book doesn’t even inject the tension that it should have done. In the end the story just limps to a conclusion that felt unsatisfactory both in dramatic and historical terms.

PictureChamberlain's speech - "'Peace In Our Time"
With regard to the characters of Legat and Hartmann, I never felt that I got to know either of them. I didn’t see the idealism in Hartmann that would lead him to risk his life by getting involved in a plot against Hitler. I saw even less in the character of Legat. He was a cartoon drawing of a career civil servant, no more. It was as though he had no past, only a present.
There are a few historical insights within the book that I was unaware of, and I’m sure that the account of the conference that Harris gives is historically accurate, but it certainly doesn’t carry the same degree of tension that the people of Britain and Germany must have been feeling in October 1938. Peace was hanging by a thread, but I never felt that the outcome of the conference would be anything other than that which history describes. That is one of the problems of writing books about known events, which is why the fictional plot must carry the story far better than Harris allows in this book.
It's an easy to read if you want to know more about Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement and how it came about, but not exciting if that’s what you’re looking for.

To find out more about this book, or to buy a copy, please click here.

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<![CDATA[Things You Don't Know That You Don't Know]]>Sat, 18 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/things-you-dont-know-that-you-dont-knowPicture
Once upon a time life was very simple. You cried and you got fed. You cried and you got your nappy changed. You cried and someone picked you up and said soothing things to you. You cried and Mum changed channels from Eastenders to The Big Bang Theory. Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.

Then everything changed and it is easy to spot the very minute when it changed.
It changed when you said your first word. From that very moment on you were supposed to know things, and you were expected to know them whether anyone taught you them or not.

Simple example, you were expected to know that it was good to kiss your Mum and tell her that you loved her, just like the kids did on TV, but it was bad to wrap the dog in toilet paper, just like the kids did on TV.
Of course, it didn’t stop there. There are a million things that are good for you to do and another million that it’s bad for you to do, but people only tell you the ones they think are important; the ones that might get you killed if you don’t know them. The rest you have to find out for yourself, usually the hard way. And then there’s all the other learning you have to do.

PictureGraduation Day
After 12 years at school, working hard and passing all your exams, you emerge at the other end to find that you are almost totally unemployable. There’s a whole load of new learning you have to do before you can become vaguely employable.

You can learn on the job for minimum wage, you can do an apprenticeship, or you can go to university, but whatever path you choose you’ve got a lot to learn before you’ll be let loose on any sort of work that provides any sense of satisfaction or a half decent wage. No one tells you this while you’re actually at school. It’s assumed that you’ll work it out for yourself.
But if you’re the sort of person that didn’t pay much attention at school anyway, it comes as something of a shock to find that there is only one job you are qualified to do: Member of Parliament.

Yes, there are no entry qualifications to become an MP. All you have to do is apply, then sit in front of a selection committee (if you want to represent a specific party) and tell them what they want to hear and you, too, can stand for election. Then all you have to do is tell the voters what they want to hear and you can get elected.

It isn’t guaranteed, of course. There’s a whole load of background stuff, like party manifestoes and national campaigns and local electoral demographics, none of which you have any control over, but hey – you’ve got a shot and you didn’t have to pass any exams to get your chance. It certainly accounts for the quality of some of our elected representatives.

It's either that House or the Big Brother House!

But there’s more that you’re expected to know, but which no one teaches you. You have to know how to buy a house, for example. That means having to deal with the satanic trinity: the estate agents, the banks and the solicitors.

This is a triangle of vested interests that have formed an unholy alliance in order to extract the maximum amount of money from the smallest possible group of people: the house buyer and the house seller.
Oh sure, in theory you can do it all yourself, if you have private funds and the determination to learn how to do all your own conveyancing, but in the end they’ll get you, one way or another. The amount of jargon that has to be overcome is enormous, and no one prepared you for the shark like smile that should have told you to run for your life.
One of the biggest ironies is that you can’t even sue your solicitor if they fail to discover that the route of HS2 is going to pass through what will become your spare bedroom! It’s in their terms and conditions. You could hire another solicitor to sue the first solicitor for you, but that way madness lies.

Then there’s dating. No one ever teaches you about that. It’s something you definitely find out about the hard way. If you’re male, don’t expect any help from the object of your desire, because they will almost never help you out.
Ask where they want to go on a date and they’ll smile coyly and say "I don’t mind". It’s a trap; they do mind. Settle on something safe, like the cinema, and you still have problems, because if you ask what film they want to see they’ll smile coyly again and say "I don’t mind, you choose". Do not, under any circumstances, choose; you are bound to get it wrong. Enter the cinema, look up at the programme board and um and ah for a bit. Eventually your date will make a suggestion, if only by looking constantly at the one title. Follow her eyeline if you want to get it right.
Even the most ardent radical feminist will take this same approach. It’s a test, you see. Pass the test and you might be granted a second date. Get it wrong and, in her eyes, you will cease to exist.

Of course, the second date is no easier. Let’s say you suggest going out for a meal. Wow, the possibilities for getting it wrong are now endless.

Fast food is definitely out – even if she says she likes it you’ll just look like a cheapskate. Choose a fish restaurant and she may be allergic to fish. Choose a spicy type of food and she may not like spicy food. Choose something safe and traditional, such as a carvery or steakhouse, well, she’ll turn out to be vegan, but just forgot to mention it.

This is everything you need to know about dating. You can’t win, you can only hope to make a lucky guess.
And when the date is over, can you move in for a goodnight kiss, or will that make you appear like a sex pest? You’ll get no helpful hints, I can assure you.
The rules aren’t even consistent. You may find yourself out on a date with a girl who’s all over you, but the next date, with a different girl, sometimes even with the same girl, and the rules have all changed but no one told you. It’s like being thrown blindfold into a room full of sports equipment and trying to work out what sport you’re supposed to be playing. Oh, and no touching the equipment until you’ve got the right answer!

You would think that as you get older there would be nothing much left to learn. You would be wrong.

PictureIf only it were that easy!
Grandchildren, in particular, are something else you are supposed to know all about, but won't.

Your child, the parent of said grandchild, will try to help. They’ll compile a timetable of activities that covers every eventuality from sunrise to bedtime; they’ll tell you all about favourite foods, toys, activities and clothes. As soon as the door has shut behind the parent and you are on your own – just tear up the list. It has become meaningless.

Favourite foods are spat out, favourite toys are thrown away in disgust and the child will rip the house apart looking for a toy that has never even been mentioned. That favourite tee-shirt will now bring on a crying fit and the child will only want to dress in wellington boots and a sun hat (and that's all - nothing else, no matter how much you try to persuade them to put on underwear). A trip to the park is now a gamble, as apparently, he/she doesn’t like the slide anymore and will burst into tears if you attempt to go anywhere near a swing.

You will mention none of this when the parents get home, of course. You had loads of fun and he/she was a joy to be with and was no trouble at all.

There is, however, a happy ending. Pretty soon you’ll be back where you started. Cry and someone will feed you; cry and you’ll get your nappy changed and maybe, you’ll finally get to stop watching Eastenders and get to watch The Big Bang Theory instead.

The only thing that will really change is that now, when you really know stuff, no one will want to hear what it is that you know.

What goes around, comes around, as they say.

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<![CDATA[Lest We Forget]]>Sat, 11 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/lest-we-forgetPicture
Today, Saturday 11th November, marks Armistice Day. In 1918, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent around the world and World War I came to an end.
You would expect that, with the armistice having already been signed, the soldiers would stop fighting, but they didn’t. At about 9.30 a.m. the last British soldier died. Pvt George Edwin Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers was killed while scouting the road on the outskirts of the Belgian town of Mons. At 10.45 French soldier Augustin Trebuchon died while carrying a message to troops stationed along the river Meuse, telling them that soup would be served 30 minutes after the Armistice started.

Just minutes before the Armistice started, Canadian soldier Pvt George Lawrence Price was shot and killed leaving a cottage, through which he had just followed some retreating German soldiers.
In the very last minute of the war, Pvt Henry Gunther of the United States Army was killed when American soldiers made a surprise attack on a group of German soldiers who were waiting for the Armistice to take effect.
It isn’t absolutely clear who was the last German soldier killed, but it may have been Leutnant Tomas, who died after the war had officially ended. He approached a group of American soldiers to inform them that, as the war had ended, he and his men would vacate the house they were occupying so that the Americans could take possession. The news of the end of the war hadn’t reached the American soldiers and they shot the German.
On the day the war ended, even as the news reached the front line that it was to end at 11 o'clock, there were 11,000 casualties on all sides, 2,700 of whom were killed. This was actually a higher number than the daily average for the entire war. The High Commands of both sides, when they signed the Armistice documents at 5 a.m. that morning, had neglected to make arrangements for a truce or cease fire to fill the intervening time.

In Britain we mark the end of that war each year at 11.00 a.m. with 2 minutes of silence to remember the dead. Not just the dead of that war, but the dead of all the wars, large and small, in which Britain has been involved since then.
At least we try to do that. The reality is that if the 11th falls on a working day, a lot of people just go on with their lives. So instead, on the nearest Sunday to the 11th, we hold Remembrance Sunday. In churches up and down the country, special services are held, then the congregations make their way to the local war memorial to lay wreaths of poppies in an act of remembrance.
To mark this season of remembrance, we Brits wear a replica poppy as a symbol, to show that we haven’t forgotten those who died to keep us free. The poppy was chosen as a symbol because it is blood red, and also because it grew in great numbers across the battlefields of France, because the poppy grows best in ground that has been churned up, as it was by the exploding of a billion artillery shells.

PictureThe Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance.
Every year a special memorial event is held in the Royal Albert Hall, called the Festival of Remembrance. The Queen attends, as do senior politicians and those members of the Royal British Legion (RBL) who can get tickets. I’ll talk more about the RBL a little later on.
During the Festival there are displays from the current members of the armed forces, bands play and songs and hymns are sung. At the end there is a short religious service, the Act of Remembrance, followed by 2 minutes silence during which poppy petals fall from the ceiling. The whole thing is televised on the BBC. It is a very moving event and it is a very hard heart that doesn’t allow a tear to be shed as the poppies drift down to settle gently on the heads of the service personnel standing in silence below. You can watch the 2015 Festival Of Remembrance here.

PictureWreaths Laid at The Cenotaph
On Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph, the national war memorial in Whitehall, the Queen lays a wreath on behalf of the nation, followed by the other members of the Royal Family, leading politicians and the heads of the Armed Services. This is followed by a march past of former members of the armed forces, gathered to remember their fallen comrades. Thousands of former soldiers, sailors and airmen join the march. You can watch some of the ceremony here.
The last of those to have served in World War I died many years ago and most of those who march will be too young to have served in World War II. Their wars will have been in Korea, Kenya, Malaya, Aden, Northern Ireland, the Falkland Islands, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and a hundred other small places where British soldiers, sailors and airmen have shed their blood over the last 70 odd years. It is another very moving scene.
This year our Queen won’t lay her wreath in person. Age is taking its toll on her, so instead she will look on from the balcony of Horse Guards as a family member lays her wreath on her behalf. She will be one of only a handful of people present who actually served in the Second World War, along with her husband, Prince Philip.

But these acts of remembrance are only a small part of what the poppy represents.

People make a donation to the Royal British Legion when they buy their commemorative poppy, and that money is used to help former service personnel and their families. They help those who have fallen on hard times. They help those who have been injured to battle back to fitness, or at least to battle against their disabilities. They give people hope. The stories that can be told about the work of the RBL are many, but you can read some of them on their website as well as read the stories of some of the people who fought in our wars.
If you are moved by any of those stories, you can also make a donation through the website if you wish.

PictureThe Menin Gate, Belgium
Ten years after the end of World War I, in August 1928, many soldiers who fought returned to the Front Line in France in an act of remembrance for their fallen comrades. It was called the Great Pilgrimage.

Next year, in August 2018, the 90th anniversary of the Great Pilgrimage, the RBL is holding GP90, returning once again to Flanders in the largest memorial parade to be held there since that date in 1928. I am proud to say that I will be representing my local RBL branch, along with our Standard Bearer, laying a wreath at the Menin Gate. You can find out more about this event here.  Each branch is raising funds its own way to send its representatives, so the money isn’t coming from the Poppy Appeal. Do, please, support your local RBL branch so that they can send someone along.
And tomorrow, Sunday 12th November, at 11 a.m. please stay silent for just 2 minutes to remember those that gave their lives so that you can live yours in peace.

Before the 2 minutes silence, these words from the poem “For The Fallen” by Robert Lawrence Binyon are said:
PictureThe Kohima War Memorial
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

And when the two minutes silence is over, we say the words of poet John Maxwell Edmonds, which are inscribed on the Kohima War Memorial in Burma:
“When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow we gave our today.”

<![CDATA[Remember, Remember The 5th Of November]]>Sat, 04 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/remember-remember-the-5th-of-novemberPictureThomas Knyvet Discovers The Plotters
In the early hours of the morning of 5th November, 1605, Thomas Knyvet searched the Palace of Westminster, looking for evidence of a plot to blow up King James I (James VI of Scotland). A search the previous day, by the Earl of Suffolk, had revealed nothing except a heap of what appeared to be firewood, guarded by a rather scruffy servant who gave his name as John Johnson but, in fact, was Guy Fawkes, one of 15 men who were plotting to blow up the King.
Word of the plot had reached Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of  Salisbury, the Secretary of State, who had informed the King. The King took the threat seriously enough to order Suffolk’s search. When he was questioned, Fawkes gave the name of his ‘master’, the owner of the firewood, as being Thomas Percy, a known Catholic plotter. When this was revealed to the King it prompted the second search, led by Knyvet.

This time 36 barrels of gunpowder were found beneath the firewood, Fawkes was arrested and a search for the remaining conspirators was set in motion. Eventually they were all killed or captured. Those who were captured were put on trial and sentenced to death by being hung, drawn and quartered. Fawkes escaped this grizzly fate because he fell off the scaffold and broke his neck. Whether it was an accident or a deliberate suicide was never clear.

PicturePalace of Westminster circa 1605
You may wonder how the plotters were able to get into a cellar beneath Parliament, to which the answer is ‘quite easily’. Unlike the modern Parliament building, which wasn’t completed until 1870, the old Palace of Westminster was a warren of buildings which included private houses and storage cellars beneath the Parliament building itself. It was one of those cellars that the plotters had rented, quite openly. It even had its own river access, which was how the plotters got the barrels of gunpowder and heaps of firewood in.
What I have always wondered was what would have happened if the plot hadn’t been uncovered? What, in historical terms, would now be different if the King had been killed on 5th November 1605, as planned?

PictureThe Young Charles
With the King dead he would have been succeeded by his eldest son, Charles. But Charles was only five years old at the time. That would have meant someone being appointed Regent, to rule in his place until he came of age.
The most likely candidate for that would have been one of the men who had been Regent when James himself had still been a child. He came to the throne of Scotland in 1567 when he was only 1 year old. Unfortunately, all four of his Regents were dead by 1605. James had no siblings, so his councillors would have had to find a suitable candidate, assuming that they, too, hadn’t perished in the explosion. The Scottish faction at court would have wanted a member of the Stewart family to hold the office, while the English would have wanted an English aristocrat. Relations would no doubt have been strained.

PictureKing James I
The plot had come about because James, having been raised a protestant, had been baptised a Catholic in infancy. The Catholics in England therefore assumed that he had some sympathy for the Catholic cause.

James, on the other hand, understood how paranoid the political establishment in England was about Catholicism, and refused to restore Catholic rights of worship and, in fact, wanted a more restrictive regime for English Catholics. While individual Catholics (known as recusants) weren’t persecuted for their religion, they were heavily fined if they didn’t attend the Anglican church for worship, while Catholic priests were still being hunted as it was believed that they were agents of the Pope, sent to foment treason.
Across the English Channel, in the Spanish Netherlands, the Spanish were engaged in a lengthy war against the Protestant Dutch. It was where Guy Fawkes had served, on the Spanish side, and gained his military experience. It was still a theoretical possibility that the Spanish might make another attempt to invade England, as they had done during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, just 17 years earlier. Perhaps the English political establishment had a right to be worried.
So, with a child King on the throne and a Regent ruling in his place, would the Regent have been more, or less, sympathetic to the Catholic cause?

PictureA Grizzly Death
I think that it is easy to argue that the Regent would be far less sympathetic. The ‘Catholics’ would have just killed the King. Retribution could be expected. Assuming the plotters were all captured anyway, other prominent Catholics would have been rounded up and it’s even possible that charges, real or trumped up, would have been laid against them. There would have been imprisonments and possibly even more executions.
But what effect would this have had on the infant Charles? Having seen his father killed would he have been as favourable to Catholics as he was perceived to have been when he came to the throne in 1625. He was married to the Catholic Henrietta Marie of France, but would that marriage have been allowed if James had been killed? Might the Regent not have found a nice Protestant Princess for him to marry? Or, if there were no suitable candidates, perhaps a member of the English or Scottish aristocracy?
These are important questions, because they would affect Charles’s behaviour in later life. Events such as those could well have made him more favourably disposed towards the changes that Parliament demanded, his refusal of which led to the English Civil War in 1642 and ultimately to Charles’s own execution in 1649.

PictureOliver Cromwell, Warts And All
The rise of Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War and his eventual direct rule of England as a dictator, shaped a lot of our country’s political thinking from the 17th century onwards.

Without a Civil War, Parliament wouldn’t have been so powerful and many laws that changed the way we were governed might never have been passed. Those same laws can be traced through history to our present day Constitutional Monarchy. It might even be argued that the American War of Independence (1775 – 1783) and the French Revolution (1789) might never have taken place when they did, had the English Parliament not already challenged the Divine Right of Kings.
I’m not saying that they wouldn’t have happened at all, merely that they might have been delayed by some period of time as the rate of change in British and European politics might have been slowed.

And as for us, how would our world look today? How similar, or different, would it look right now? We can't know the answer to that, so much of the rest of the world's history is bound into ours that it's difficult to trace the threads of our past. But Catholic churches in this country were pretty much non-existent until the mid 19th century.  Would there be so many today if we still harboured resentment for the Catholics who had murdered our King?

All that is speculation, however much fun it might be to speculate. The plot was discovered, Guy Fawkes died and on 5th November each year we light bonfires and set off fireworks to remember the foiling of the plot. How the republicans in England must hate this time of year, as everyone celebrates the saving of the monarchy.

Just as an aside, the TV series Gunpowder, which has aired on the BBC over the last 3 weeks, had a scene in it which showed Robert Catesby, the leader of the plot, sitting at the side of a broad river running through his estate at Ashby St Ledger in Northamptonshire. There is a picturesque stone arched bridge in the background. Unfortunately, as someone who lives in that local area, I can tell you that there is no river there and definitely no bridge of that style. Even the closest rivers, the Nene (to the South) and the Avon (to the North), are mere trickles as they pass through that part of the county.

There are a couple of small streams, a couple of ponds and there is a bridge, but not the one shown on TV. OK, poetic licence if you like, but it ain’t history, or even geography.

It makes me wonder what else the programme makers got wrong!

You can find out more about the manor house and grounds at Ashby St Ledgers by clicking the link.

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<![CDATA[A Very British Halloween]]>Fri, 27 Oct 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/a-very-british-halloweenPicture
So it’s Halloween once again, the time of year when the days are getting shorter, the heating has been turned on and everything tells us winter isn’t far away.
A lot of my fellow country men and women get a bit sniffy about Halloween, saying that it’s an American holiday, imported into Britain. It isn’t a holiday we’ve ever celebrated.
I beg to differ.

Halloween is very old. It goes back over 2,000 years to the Celtic feast of Samhain (possibly earlier), when pagan ceremonies were held to protect against the spirits of the dead. So it’s as British as warm beer, fog, queueing and Yorkshire pudding. Knowing that people would still celebrate this feast despite converting to Christianity, the early church adopted it into its calendar as All Souls Day.
Ah, but we never celebrated Halloween after that. Oh yes we did.
Back in the 50s and 60s, when I was still a child, I can remember going to Halloween parties. OK, there was none of the dressing up that there is today. Money was tight, so there was nothing to be spared for costumes. There were plenty of games played, though. Most of them seemed to involve apples, if I recall correctly. Well, apples are plentiful in October, which makes them cheap.
First off was eating an apple suspended on a length of string. This was traditionally played with two children sitting or standing opposite each other, one boy, one girl, hands held behind the back so they couldn’t be used. The game was to see who could eat most of the apple. Of course the apple swung around and slipped out of the way of small children’s mouths making it inevitable that, at some point, the two mouths would meet in an apple juice tasting kiss.
Interestingly, if the party was being given by a church group, the two contestants would be of the same sex. There would be none of that boys kissing girls stuff at church of parties, oh no. So you would end up with boys kissing boys and girls kissing girls. I wonder if anyone ever saw the irony in that?

Another favourite was ‘bobbing for apples’. In this, apples were floated in a big bowl of water, the competitor would sit with his head over the bowl, hands once again behind their back, and try and grab an apple with their teeth. Water would, of course, soak them, shoot up the child’s nose and down their throat and nearly drown them. It was a childhood form of water boarding. Hilarious.
A variation on this was to put bury the apples in a bowl of flour. This time the flour would shoot up the nose and down the throat, threatening to choke the child. Even more hilarious.
I always wondered if these games were some ploy to reduce the nation’s population of children, especially in larger families.

Adults used to join in, too, with some of the games. One involved an orange (must have been at a rich person’s house) which was held under the chin and had to be passed to the next person in line without the use of the hands; boy – girl, boy - girl, naturally. Unless of course it was a church event … you get the idea.
Similar in nature was the balloon game, where a balloon was held between the knees and passed down the line, once again without the use of hands. What was it with this era where they had such a big thing against using the hands, but were quite happy for people to make contact with almost every other body part?
These games couldn’t be played today, of course. Too much risk of being accused of sexual harassment. We lived in far more innocent times, where a boy could ‘accidently’ kiss another boy on the pretext of trying to eat an apple.

Picturesmelly turnip lantern
In Britain we didn’t hollow out pumpkins to make jack o’ lanterns. Pumpkins were almost unknown to us at that time. They weren’t grown here and even if someone were to import them they would have been hideously expensive. So, instead, we hollowed out a large swede (the vegetable, not the person of Nordic origin) or turnip. Because swedes and turnips are so much smaller than a pumpkin the candle inside would start to cook them. The smell was horrible. And then every meal for the next week would be served with a swede or turnip accompaniment.

Pumpkins are now plentiful, so there’s lots of pumpkin soup and pie on the menu these days, but at least we’ve got rid of the horrible smell of burning swede.

The thing we didn’t have, until far more recently and which is an American import, is Trick Or Treat.
This always amuses me. For years we lecture our children, telling them not to talk to strangers and not to take sweets from them. Then, one night each year, we let them go from door to door harassing strangers into giving them sweets.
And then we wonder why our children grow up so confused.
Despite some of my childhood Halloween parties being hosted by church groups, the church in Britain really didn’t hold with the celebration. It was far too pagan for their liking. Instead, they encouraged a different celebration, held a week later. This is “Bonfire Night”.

PictureGuy Fawkes
For my non-British readers, this is the commemoration of the foiling of a Catholic plot to assassinate King James I, by blowing him up when he went to open Parliament on 5th November 1605. Our present Queen still does this each year - open Parliament, I mean, not try to blow up King James I.

The plot was discovered in the nick of time and the perpetrators were hunted down and executed. Although he wasn’t the originator of the plot, that was Robert Catesby, Guy (or Guido) Fawkes was the explosives expert, so it is his death that is commemorated.
The plotters were all hung, drawn and quartered; a grizzly death that I’m not going to describe, but you can read about it here if you are that curious.

How this execution turned into an annual re-enactment I’m not sure, but I’m guessing it was promoted by the puritan faction of the English church as a discouragement of Catholic plots.

Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to re-create hanging, drawing and quartering in the back garden, so instead the early celebrants decided to revert to the more traditional way of disposing of Catholic plotters and burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes at the stake. This was a popular pastime during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but its most famous victim was French teenager Joan Of Arc, who was burnt to death as a heretic by the English, in 1431.
Later, fireworks were added to the burning of the effigy of Guy Fawkes, to make the event even more festive. And we still hold this ceremony every year on 5th November, in back gardens and open spaces up and down the country.

In the town of Lewes, East Sussex, a comical twist is added by making the effigy that of a current politician. But this isn’t a hate crime, it’s just a bit of a laugh.
So, on no account must good Christian folk celebrate a pagan festival, but by all means commemorate the times when we burnt people at the stake for holding religious beliefs that were different from those of the general population. Guy Fawkes masks and fireworks are available in most shops to help things go with a bang.
However you are spending Halloween do enjoy yourself, and remember children, never take sweets from strangers. Instead, offer to play the orange game or the balloon game with them. Such fun.

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<![CDATA[You May End Up Wishing For Death]]>Fri, 20 Oct 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/you-may-end-up-wishing-for-death
Note: Since posting this blog, the Amazon listing for this box set of books has been removed. However, the individual books in the set are still listed, should you wish to read any of them. The book titles are all linked to the relevant pages.
Death Lies & Duct Tape is a box set of books by 14 different authors. What connects the stories is their genre, which is murder, mystery and thrillers. The star rating I have given the set as a whole is a rounded aggregate of the ratings for the individual books; some were pretty good while others were lacking in some way.
The problem with a compilation of this sort is that the quality of the work is not of a consistent standard. In a blog in July 2017 I suggested that an author who had his work included in a box set such as this risked having his work tarnished by the poor writing of others. The novels are arranged in alphabetical order of the author’s names, Bailey first and Sutherland last. This is a real risk for Mr Sutherland, because his book may never be read because the reader may have given up on the set long before then. That would be a great pity because his book is, in my opinion, the best one.
To do all the books justice would take too long for what is meant to be a blog, so I’ve kept my reviews as short as possible. However, if you want to read a longer version, with more detail, there’s a downloadable file at the end of the blog.

Bone Maker, by D. F. Bailey
3 Stars. This was a rather predictable thriller set in Oregon. Will Finch is a damaged reporter for an on-line San Francisco newspaper, who returns from a period of absence to take up an old case relating to a financial scandal involving a Senator.
Not a bad book in itself, but very predictable. I had worked out who the killer was by about half way through.

True Deceit, by AJ Carella
2 Stars. I’m afraid the standard of both writing and editing of this book lets it down from the start. I can get past the odd punctuation error and the odd missing word or scrambled sentence, but when the author refers to a missing woman by her sister’s name, I ended up looking for the next howler, rather than enjoying the story.

The plot sort of works, but it didn't grip me.

The Cleaner, by Mark Dawson
3 Stars. This book could easily have had a 4* review, if it weren’t for some carelessness on behalf of the author.
The story is believable, the characters have depth and authenticity and the quality of writing is first class. Most of the story works and it moves along at a good pace.
Unfortunately, the book is filled with the sort of errors that made me say “That’s not right” and go searching back through earlier pages to see what the author had written previously.  Such poor editing is very frustrating.

The DCI Jones Casebook: Sean Freeman, by Kerry Donovan
2 Stars. B movie characters and a plot to match, all delivered in a style that’s so achingly ‘right-on’ that at times I thought I was reading an essay by a sixth form sociology student. Padded out with irrelevant sub plots. The ending is a mess. I have no idea what was going on.
Discerning readers of crime fiction may want to give this one a miss.

Mark of the Loon, by Molly Greene
1 star. A pretentious and overblown prologue followed by chapter after chapter about someone buying a house. Boring. Hints of a mystery to come, but it took so long to get anywhere that I couldn’t be bothered reading any more, so I went on to the next story.

3 Lies, by Helen Hanson
2 stars. There is a general rule in writing that you write about what you know. If you can’t do that, you write about things that people can’t contest, such as fantasy or sci-fi. Unfortunately, this author doesn’t seem to know that rule and the result is a spy story that is more Austin Powers (without the comedy) than George Smiley.
The writing style is fine, but the plot is both unbelievable and slow to develop. The lack of substance and authority soon told.

Havana Lost, by Libby Fletcher Hellman
4 Stars. Quite what this book is doing in a collection of murder thrillers and spy stories I’m not sure, but it shines like a rhinestone in the dust compared to some of the work it sits alongside. It’s mainly a romance, with a bit of action adventure thrown in.
A well written story with characters I cared about. The passages set in Cuba were very atmospheric.

The Geneva Decision, by Seeley James
1 Star. Enthusiastic amateur thinks she knows better than the cops, saves the Western World using Daddy’s money. Lost interest after the first chapter and stopped reading after the third.

Don't look for a longer review in the file at the end - that's all I have to say about this book.

Dark Heart, by Catherine Lee
3 Stars. The idea behind this book is a good one, but the story lacks any tension.
While the writing as a whole was of a good standard, the pace was so pedestrian it deserved its own school crossing patrol and the twist in the tail could be seen from outer space.

Terminal Agenda, by Mark McKay
2 Stars. A ponderously recounted plot with more holes in it than Swiss cheese. An incompetent cop whose incompetence gets people killed. Most of the other characters are two dimensional and don’t behave in a rational manner.
This is the first book of a trilogy. I think you can guess whether or not I’ll be reading the other two.

For Your Sins, by Joe McNally
3 Stars. I’m not a horse racing fan, so I’m not attracted much by horse racing fiction, but I was drawn into this story by a mystery posed in its early pages. Sadly, the book as a whole didn’t live up to this early promise.
I can’t say that this is a bad book, but it was very disappointing.

AT Bay, by John W. Mefford
2 Stars. FBI agent Alex Giordano wakes up in hospital after a car crash. She is suffering from amnesia and doesn’t recognise her husband, her children or her colleagues. We get hints early on that she is a bad team worker, a poor wife and a worse mother. So, yet another maverick cop with a dysfunctional family life.
An unbelievable plot with unbelievable characters.  At the end of the book the author provides 4 chapters from the sequel, for free. I couldn’t be bothered reading them.

Stiff Arm Steal, by A. J. Stewart

2 Stars. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but if it isn’t a good imitation then it becomes more of an insult. In this case, we have an author who has read a lot of Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett novels and thinks that he can imitate their wise-cracking styles. He can’t.
Instead we get embarrassing descriptions that use a hundred words when twenty would do and meaningless, unfunny  conversations that take the plot nowhere, while failing to entertain. The protagonist has an ego that can be seen from space - very unlikable.

Social Engineer, by Ian Sutherland
4 Stars. It was on the strength of this book that I bought the box set. I had read this some time ago and was impressed by Ian Sutherland’s writing style and the originality of his plots. As well as reading this book I’ve also read the next two in the series: Invasion Of Privacy and Taking Up Serpents.
The only reason for a 4* rather than a 5* review of this book is that Sutherland occasionally gets carried away with “tech speak”. That’s fine if you understand it, but not so good if, like me, you don’t.
This is essentially a prequel to the next two books, and is shorter than a full-length novel. You can find out more here.
At the end of the day any review is just a matter of opinion. Other readers may find more merit in the majority of these books than I did. Like me, these writers are trying to make their mark on the literary world, but if you want to be a bestselling author, you must first write a book worthy of becoming a best seller. Sadly, and for a variety of reasons, the majority of these books just don’t make the grade.
It makes me wonder what the authors of these books would say about my own humble efforts, but I’ll probably never find out. You can only have an opinion on a book once you have read it. Yes, that is a challenge.
Here’s the link to buy the box set of Sex Lies & Duct Tape and here’s the downloadable file that contains the full length reviews.

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<![CDATA[It Only Hurts When I Laugh]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/it-only-hurts-when-i-laugh5587061PictureNothing is that funny!
When it comes to reading the ‘blurbs’ on book covers, the words that most fill me with dread are “funny”, “hilarious” and “humorous”, or their many synonyms.
It isn’t that I don’t have a sense of humour, it’s that humour is so subjective. Try this joke:
‘A man walks into a bar. He says “Ouch!”
It was an iron bar.’
(Courtesy of the late, great, Tommy Cooper).
Did you find that funny? Are you, as you read, rolling around on the floor, slapping your thighs, with tears of mirth running down your cheeks? Are you smiling indulgently? Or are you saying, “what’s funny about that?”

PictureTommy Cooper
Somewhere, out there in the Twitterverse, someone may have raised a slight smile at that joke, but that’s about it. For the rest, tumbleweed rolled across the scene.

Even though Tommy Cooper was one of the funniest comedians ever to grace our TV sets, he wouldn’t have expected a big laugh from that rather weak joke. It was a throwaway line, put in to pad out the act and distract the audience while he did something else, which was probably a lot funnier.
We’ve all been in the pub, or at a party, or even at work, when one of our companions has spent 5 minutes telling us what they thought was the funniest joke ever, and we’ve ended up thinking “well, that’s 5 minutes of my life I’ll never get back”, then looked on in puzzlement as other companions split their sides laughing.

But when an author, or their publisher, describes their work as funny etc they EXPECT you to laugh, whether it is really funny or not. And if “funny” is its biggest selling point, then that is high risk.
And this is why I get so worried when I see those words on a book blurb that says that the contents are going to make ME split my sides laughing. Bitter experience tells me that this is not going to happen, at least, not every time.

PictureWilliam Shakespeare
If you think that I’m being very grudging, then I need mention none greater than the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. Take these examples of wit from his plays:
"For defect of judgment Is oft the cure of fear." 
--Belarius, "Cymbeline," Act. IV, Sc. II
"Where's hourly trouble for a minute's ease."
--Helicanus, "Pericles, Prince of Tyre," Act II, Sc. IV
"Most spend their mouths when what they seem Runs far before them."
--Dauphin, "King Henry V," Act II, Sc. IV
"Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall..."
--Escalus, "Measure for Measure," Act II, Sc. I
Oh, please stop me, foresooth there goes another rib! (Robert Cubitt)
“Ah,” I hear you say, “but the use of language was different then. The audiences of the day would have been rolling in the aisles.”
Somehow, I doubt it. Having said that, the groundlings no doubt enjoyed Shakespeare’s frequent dirty jokes. Here are a couple.

PictureHamming it up.
Twelfth Night: Act 1, Scene 3
SIR ANDREW But it becomes me well enough, does ’t not?

SIR TOBY BELCH Excellent; it hangs like flax on a distaff; and I hope to see a housewife take thee between her legs and spin it off.
Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 2
HAMLET Lady, shall I lie in your lap?

OPHELIA No, my lord.

HAMLET I mean, my head upon your lap?

OPHELIA Ay, my lord.
HAMLET Do you think I meant country matters?

OPHELIA I think nothing, my lord.

HAMLET That’s a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.

OPHELIA What is, my lord?

HAMLET Nothing.
Boom tish!

I have to admit, they aren’t the dirtiest jokes I’ve ever heard, if jokes they are, but maybe the groundlings were a little less sophisticated in those days.
Did Shakespeare describe his comedies as such? I don’t know, but someone did, somewhere along the way.  By and large, whoever it was was wrong.

PictureUncritical critics
It’s fine for the author’s family and friends to say that a book is funny, but the author should remember, family and friends tend to be kind. Books require the far more objective view of dissociated readers before they can be called funny.
Just because your partner laughs at you, it doesn’t make you a comedian and just because an author’s partner chuckles at the jokes in a book (which they may have heard before anyway) it doesn’t mean that a book is funny. Let others be the judge of that.
Of course, it could be worse. Having spent months writing what the author thought was a literary masterpiece, describing the highs and lows of human existence, it could be something of a smack in the mouth for a reviewer to call it “hilarious”. But at least the author will know that the humour was accidental. It is far worse for them to find out that intentional humour has fallen as flat as a pancake.

Being funny for money, I believe, is one of the hardest jobs in the entertainment world.

If a singer or musician offers a halfway passable rendition of a song, they will probably get a round of applause, even if only out of sympathy. And here’s the thing, they’ll get the applause even if the audience has heard the song before - even many times before.
But if a comedian tells jokes that don’t make the audience laugh, or which the audience has heard before, they’ll walk off the stage to the sound of their own footsteps.
The author of a “comedy” may never hear their book hit the wall, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t thrown.

As for my own books, I would never describe them as being funny. If you read them and think something is amusing, or even funny, then I'll claim the credit for making you laugh. But if you don't laugh, don't worry, you weren't meant to.

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