Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The last queen of England

If I had a pound for every time I've heard Kate Middleton referred to as "the future queen of England", I'd have about 8 or 9 pounds by now which is 8 or 9 too many as it's a ghastly solecism - it's about as absurd as referring to Barack Obama as the President of Florida.

The last queen (in the K Middleton sense of being queen-consort, i.e. wife of the king as opposed to sovereign in her own right) of England - a role which can never now be reprised since the kingdom of England ceased to exist in 1707 - was this lady:-

Mary of Modena. She was the second wife of King James II who was the king of England (and of Scotland - of which he was James VII - and Ireland) from 1685 to 1688.

Her main claim to fame is having been the mother of the king's eldest son. That's normally a good thing where queens are concerned except this king and queen were Roman Catholic in Protestant countries and the birth of a son - and the threat of a Catholic dynasty - led to James II (VII) being deposed in favour of his Protestant daughter and son-in-law. They ruled as the only example in British history of joint monarchs, William and Mary. (This was William III, better known as William of Orange. He was Dutch and it's not a coincidence the Dutch national football team plays in orange to this day.) Being childless, W&M were succeeded in 1701 by Mary's sister, Queen Anne, and she was still the queen in 1707 when England and Scotland merged to form the United Kingdom. Thus, there would never again be a "Queen of England". (Ireland joined the UK in 1801 but a chunk of it seceeded again in 1922 and became a republic in 1949 - traitors: they needn't think we'll be bailing them out.)

For non-native English speakers, that cartoon involves jokes about how the Queen speaks - she pronounces proud as "pride", horse as "hawce", girl as "gel" and how as "high". Kate is, in fact, so common, her mother was an airline stewardess: the Royal Family's upper crust friends snigger and whisper "Doors to Automatic" behind her back.

There's been some speculation as to which dukedom William will be given when he marries. They'll have to sift the traditional royal dukedoms which are not already taken (i.e. Edinburgh, York, Kent, Gloucester) carefully to make sure there's no chance of an embarrassment due to the last incumbent having been one of Queen Victoria's numerous offspring who became a serial killer or worse.

 Pictured sitting next to the Fuhrer is the last Duke of Albany, grandson of Queen Victoria. It's a pity because the dukedom of Albany was the Scottish equivalent of the dukedom of York, i.e. the second son of the sovereign. The awkwardness over the last incumbent (above) was likely why the present Queen's second son, Prince Andrew, wasn't created Duke of Albany simultaneously with being created Duke of York when he got married in 1986. Just goes to show sensitive these things are. Perhaps they'd be safest making Prince William Duke of Heathrow, Earl of Gatwick and Viscount Stansted - Kate's lot would appreciate that.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Unsustainable sustainability #1

If there's one thing that gets on my wick ... I'll rephrase that ... Of the numerous things that get on my wick, one is government documents which could be a page and a half of foolscap but are actually 50+ pages of forewords, executive summaries, vision statements, overarching strategies underpinned by horizontal themes (can something which overarches be underpinned - abutted, perhaps, but not underpinned, I think?) outcomes, aspirations and general meaningless SHITE piled on in shovelfuls to disguise mother and apple pie platitudes as actual content.

Like police marksmen laying bets on how many song titles you can get into evidence to an inquest, I'm convinced civil servants these days have lines on how many times they can get the s-word (sustainable) into a consultation. Therefore, from time to time in these columns, I intend to expose some more egregious examples which come to my attention of what I call "unsustainable sustainability" - i.e. general government and public sector wank-speak.

The first offering is the following extract from Western Isles Council's "Main Issues Report". This is a document to "encourage early engagement in" the process of preparing its Local Development Plan (the document against which applications for planning permission (building licence) are judged). The culprit is the reminder on page 4 that:-

Scottish planning policy indicates Plans should:

  • facilitate sustainable development of area, supporting increasing sustainable economic growth;
  • contribute to high quality sustainable places; and
  • protect and enhance environmental quality as an asset for that growth.
A couple of observations about that matchless prose: leaving aside the issue of whether there's an article, definite or indefinite, missing before the word "area" in the first bullet, I can understand the concept of sustainable economic growth but is increasing economic growth not, by its very nature, unsustainable? But that's a mere quibble in face of the question: what in the name of friggery is a "sustainable place"?

"Places" are fixed, marshy, have nice views, expensive, far away, enclosed, dangerous, dark or they're parking or birth places or even (and this was Carol's contribution when really pressed for things places could be) where otters breed. That came out of left field, right enough, but it only serves to underline that the one thing places are not is sustainable. Later in the WIC document there's reference to "a 'place-making' vision". These people are speaking a different dialect of English from the one I speak.

A place-making vision of a sustainable place near Stornoway
Actually, it's not all Western Isles Council's fault and a lot of the blame for this nonsense lies at the door of their political masters in Edinburgh, the Scottish soi disant Government. Remember what I was saying in Vende Se about planning being a bureaucratic nightmare in Scotland? Below are the hoops the SsdG makes WIC jump through to prepare its Local Development Plan - click to see it large:-

I like the injunction in the second column of the last row "Engage as necessary". Is that not the order between "Fix bayonets" and "Fire at will"?

And note how the whole process takes 3+ years and no sooner has it been completed than they've got to start monitoring and reviewing it again. Talk about the Forth Bridge. In the good old days, the Council left a deposit draft in the local library for 6 weeks, which nobody looked at, then it was sent down to London to be rubber stamped by the Secretary of State. An old man in a red cardy could do it in his lunch hour whereas, nowadays, the holders are likely to have impaled themselves on their own stakes before the end of Year 2.

"Is that Western Isles Council? I'm phoning to engage with your Local Development Plan ..." 

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Entente Incordial

I hear we've concluded a Defence Treaty with France.


Everyone knows that Italian tanks have four reverse gears and one forward (in case the enemy attacks from behind) but we also know that France's sole contribution to the defeat of the Third Reich was to scuttle their own fleet.

So while our chaps on HMS Hood were getting strafed from arsehole to breakfast table in the Denmark Strait by the Prinz Eugen and the Scharnhorst, the cheese-eating surrender monkeys were wading ashore at Algiers for a pastis before dinner and legging it to Vichy.

Apparently a key element of the new deal is that Royal Air Force planes will be operating off the aircraft carrier Charle de Gaulle. I trust there's a clause in the treaty whereby, in the event of the ballon going up again, we're given notice to get our planes off before they sink it themselves.

A quote from the communique on the 10 Downing Street (British equivalent of the White House) website is:-

"We will establish a bilateral Joint User Group to facilitate co-operation on the development of A400M training to inform operating techniques and procedures as well as exploring opportunities for synthetic and live training."

Which roughly translates as "Keep your eye on the bastards or they'll be down opening the sea-cocks before you can say Aboukir Bay."

As a friend of mine says "Arc de Triomphe? - which triumph would that be, exactly?"


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Vende Se

I'm obliged to regular reader Marisa for drawing my attention to an advertisement for apartments for sale on the sea-front at Faja Grande.

As Marisa is natural das Flores but presently resident elsewhere (too bad!), she'll be interested to know there's also a big banner on the wall of the developers', Castanheira & Soares, building in the Boqueirao industrial estate in Santa Cruz which I noticed for the first time the other day when we were shopping at Braga's.

Looks pretty cool doesn't it? This little slice of paradise is being offered for €245,000 (£215k/$345k). As someone said in a comment on the Forum Ilha das Flores blog, quite pithily (Cicely), I thought: "Is that €245k for all of them or each apartment?" 

Whatever the value for money, the fact these apartments are now being marketed is good news because it means - doesn't it? - that C&S will come under some pressure to finish them. (For the avoidance of doubt - as we lawyers are wont to say when actually we're causing lots of it - these apartments aren't finished yet.) They were started more than two years ago and progress on the construction has been leisurely to put it mildly and caused a right eye-sore along the sea-front of Europe's west-most village.

They'll have nice views when finished, though:-

And perhaps completion may also encourage the Camara Municipal of Lajes das Flores to tarmac the Avenida Marginal (which sounds like one of those great sea-fronts of the world like Nice's Promenade des Anglais or Havana's Malecon) to access these new apartments. The Camara was at pains to advertise before the election last year that it was going to be doing the Avenida muito em breve but then seemed to lose interest shortly after they won the election.

O progresso acabou ...

And on the subject of holiday apartments with nice views, no sooner have they not finished one lot than they've started on another:-

That would just be so not allowed where I come from!

In Scotland, that site would be in a National Scenic Area, Conservation Area, Croftland (protected agricultural smallholdings), Site of Special Scientific Interest, Ramsar Site (did you know that Ramsar, as in "site", is not an acronym but the name of a place in Iran?), Natura 2000 Site, Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Area, Limestone Pavement, Smokeless Zone, Inside Leg, you name it - it would be easier to get planning permission to stick up a chalet on the lawn of Buckingham Palace. The site in the picture above is probably within all these designations on Flores (it's definitely within a UN Biosphere Reserve), it's just that the authorities here have a more flexible interpretation of "local subsidiarity" and "regional adaptability" than we do in Britain.

Both of these developments are being built by the same contractor who also happens to be doing our neighbours' extension:-

Now I don't want to sound like some awful NIMBY ("Not In My Back Yard") incomer telling people round here how they should run their island. (That's what all awful incoming NIMBY's say, isn't it?) In fact I remember, a while back, getting quite ventilated with a local telling her I thought it was great that round here you could build with little obstruction from the powers-that-be compared with how it works in Scotland where it's practically impossible to get permission to build outside the zones decreed by the powers-that-be (and not that easy even within them). A couple of years on, I've moderated my views somewhat and would say that there's a balance that's not being struck either on Flores or in Scotland.

So there. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.