Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Bury F C

Man is a tribal animal, and as Desmond Morris tells us, (“The Soccer Tribe”), football is an expression of that tribalism. I am quite old, but I can still remember my Dad taking me to Hillsborough when I was very young. I expect a great many football supporters all over the country have similar fond memories. It’s part of who we are.

I remember being among a crowd of people who all identified with their local football club in the way that any tribe, anywhere identifies with an outward and visible totem: we all need a symbol that says, ‘This is who we are, and we are proud of it and it’s something that can’t be taken away from us.’ I didn’t know the people among whom I stood and cheered, but they all belonged to the same tribe as me, and that meant they were not strangers.

We were a community; a community that supported each other as much as it supported a football team; a community that permitted rare moments of aspiration to ordinary people who had recently come through very dark times and whose daily lives mostly involved a lot of hard work, few luxuries and not much prospect that things would ever be any different. Traditionally that was what football clubs did. They were the tribal totems that lay at the heart of working-class communities, the intangible social glue that bound people together.

Now I am not foolish enough to believe the world could have stayed the same, or even naive enough, looking back more than half a century with obviously rose-tinted spectacles, even to wish things had stayed the same. But though TV cash and the internationalisation of playing squads have altered both the nature of football clubs and the nature of the game, I do still believe that for those born to membership of a particular football tribe, the tribal totem is still something priceless. These are not mercenary fans who follow big-name teams that are always at the top; these are ordinary people with their hearts invested in their local clubs.

As it happens, the President of Bury FC (NB not the owner) is a recently-made friend of mine. I met this fine gentleman on holiday this year, and even  then he expressed great concern for the future of his club due to forces outside his community’s control. When I last saw him we still hoped that our cup match would be played. This week I sadly had to write to him offering my sympathy and hopes that his club could be rebuilt as others have been.

Like a pit village when its coal mine closes, more so perhaps, because people rarely loved the coal mine they just valued it, the loss of a community football club is a huge psychological blow to a town or city. Those responsible have sacrificed much more than just livelihoods, important though these are. They have undermined a tribal identity that means so much to its members.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

What About This EU Leaving Fee?

There are several ways of looking at the so-called EU divorce bill or leaving fee but, firstly, we should note that the sum of £39 billion was predicated upon a March departure. Since the UK is still paying its regular membership dues until October 31st, the residue will be about £33 billion (give or take a little for exchange rate variation).

The Lisbon Treaty says EU law ceases to apply to a leaving state on the day of its departure. A House of Lords report has suggested that on this basis the UK’s residual liability could be zero unless there is an agreement.

However, Mrs. May unilaterally guaranteed the UK’s annual contributions to the EU up to the end of the latter’s current financial planning period (2014-2020). The amount remaining to be paid under this heading as of 31 October will be around £12 billion (net). This sum would also be paid in the event of the UK remaining in the EU. It is less clear whether it has to be paid if the UK leaves without a deal.

I don’t know whether Mrs. May intended her guarantee to cover the anticipated transition period, when for all practical purposes the UK would have remained a non-voting member of the EU. Some people argue that if we leave without an agreement and hence without a transition period this amount is not payable. Other people say we should pay it anyway ex gratia. I expect the latter as the most likely outcome.

The remaining £20 billion mostly represents reste à liquider, which doesn't seem to translate very well into English. It is an amorphous block of EU undertakings, some of which may not even have started yet, and it is a controversial amount, not least because it represents an attempt to load part of the liabilities of a continuing organisation on to a departing member which is receiving no comparable share of the organisation’s assets and which is already being denied a share in various benefits acquired by use of these assets.

Now, rather in the sense that someday the national debt may theoretically be paid off, likewise someday the EU debt may theoretically be paid off, but nobody is expecting it any day soon. So it is not the case that most of this sum would have to be paid (at least in the foreseeable future) if the UK remained in the EU. To that extent, requiring a leaving member to pay what a remaining member would not pay may, I think, be considered a leaving fee.

It must be dubious whether there is any court in the world in which the EU could pursue a claim for this, although they might make a financial settlement a condition of any future trade deal. As I recall, it was only agreed in the first place in order to open up discussion of a trade deal that never happened because a separate leaving deal could not be agreed, so perhaps we shall eventually come full circle.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Aonach Mòr

Going towards Victoria View 
A bus from Fort William deposited us at the base station of the Nevis Range Gondola. From the upper station at a height of 2100 feet, we turned left and walked along the ridge to the Victoria View Point.

Westward you look towards Loch Eil and Glenfinnan. Northwards lie Spean Bridge and Loch Lochy. Towards the north-east rises the bulk of The Grey Corries while the 4,000-foot summit of Aonach Mòr itself blocks the view east and south towards Aonach Beag and Ben Nevis.

The views are spectacular.

Loch Eil from Victoria View Point on Aonach Mor
Looking north towards Spean Bridge
Ben Nevis from Torlundy

Although we were nowhere near the top and hadn’t climbed much anyway, it felt like a worthwhile achievement and a suitable high point (pun intended) of our cruise aboard Hebridean Princess.

Friday, 2 August 2019


Tobermory Distillery
Tobermory waterfront, Hebridean Princess in port
The town of Tobermory is really famous for being famous. Founded as a fishing port as late as 1788, it has latterly become very well known for its picturesque waterfront, with a rainbow miscellany of buildings looking out over the bay. I have a sneaking suspicion this variety of colour schemes is not accidental!

Nevertheless, it makes an idyllic location for film sets, television series and the like, as well as being a comfortable base from which to explore the fascinating islands of the Inner Hebrides.

After the destruction of the Armada in 1588, one of the surviving galleons anchored in Tobermory Bay to repair and provision. (There was no town on the shore at the time). The San Juan de Sicilia carried troops, though, of course, later tradition has made her a treasure ship.
Tobermory waterfront after dark
The soldiers on board served as mercenaries for Lachlan Mór Maclean of Duart in his feud with the local MacDonalds of Eigg, Muck, Rhum and Canna. Having no local connections and being frustrated of their true purpose (invading England), they apparently behaved very cruelly during this campaign.

However the MacDonalds were aiding Irish rebels at the time, whilst The Maclean was in league with Elizabeth I. With his local enemies smashed, Maclean had no further use for the ship, which conveniently blew up and sank, leaving fifty soldiers who were ashore at the time to serve him for another year, just to be on the safe side.

Salvage attempts have never found any treasure, probably because there wasn’t any, but the legend of sunken gold is always more fun than a wrecked troopship. It all adds to the romance of Tobermory.