Bog Standard

So, I needed to use the toilet because I was in Britain.  If it were the USA I would have opened this piece with I needed to use the bathroom, despite not actually needing a bath.  Anyway I was headed for the loo and confronted with the first of many choices.

Three doors.  One marked with a stick figure of a human, stood face on despite not having an actual face.  A figurine defiantly splaying open both arms and legs.  Or there was another near matching faceless individual but this time with only one fat leg and apparently partially hiding behind a triangle.  Plus another poor soul with a tiny pin head but no arms and seemingly sat down on an exercise ball.

At least the one on the exercise ball gave some clue as to what was in there.  It said accessible toilet.  Presumably indicating that the other two doors were totally inaccessible and therefore not really doors at all.

But I’m educated so was aware that the term accessible is a more delicate and inclusive term for disabled because, presumably, anyone who may need a little mobility assistance is clearly far too mentally sensitive to deal with long held terminology.  Unlike the pointlessly ‘inclusive’ word accessible, which because of its careful curation will obviously never be considered the same way.

But right now I had a pressing need and I decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt to enter one of the rooms to carry out my business.  And I choose to attempt to enter one of the presumably inaccessible rooms.

I chose to venture into the one marked with a twin legged human shaped figure as I wasn’t hiding behind a triangle at the time and it appears that I may have chosen wisely as there were a row of other men doing exactly what I needed to.

They were all standing in a bit of a row, closely facing a wall of steel, steadfastly staring intently at the wall whilst nodding glimpses to the task in hand in a way that implied any sideways diversion may start a contretemps, or nuclear war or something.

For my purposes I had to join them, but deciding which two to slot in between created an anxious moment.  Previous decisions had led to various unsettling outcomes.  From barely concealed harrumphing to enforced banter with complete strangers.  Or unintended splash back from either or both sides or the Niagra scale watering during the automated flush cycle.  Or the awkwardness of suddenly being unable to enact and having to slope away without having ‘performed’ implying that the visitation was nothing more than sightseeing.

Then there is the issue of the order of completion.  Pick badly and you may be left with a decision to be made if nearly all the others complete apart from the guy right next to you, thus presenting a choice on whether to remain standing shoulder to shoulder with a complete stranger whilst the rest of the wall had cleared, or to shuffle sideways as if to suggest the neighbour is in some way undeserved of your proximity.  I tend to just ‘style it out’ and have even been known to shuffle ever closer just to see the effect.  The effect being that they finish before actually finishing and beat a hasty retreat.

And I still had the unenviable task of closely staring at an out of focus wall from short distance interrupted by casual glances downwards to monitor operations whilst noticing the channel below is freshly running past with a dirty orange liquid which nasally is anything but fresh and seemingly sluicing various and peculiar detritus which clearly never emanated from a human appendage.  All whist wondering if someone will arrive on the scene and push you facewards into the steel trough.

I decided to use one of the cubicles instead.

But which one?  There is usually a handy guide to which are vacant.  A green for go or red for wait based on the attitude of the door lock.  In this case too many were apparently occupied, displaying their ‘keep away’ red warning flash.  One was red but the door wasn’t closed fully, hmm?  And one was a bit indecisive, mostly green but a bit of red showing.  Thankfully one was pure unadulterated green.  It became my cubicle of choice.

However, the door was not fully opened so I nudged it carefully to see if there was already an occupant, albeit one who cared less about the intricacies of public cubicle door fastening.

But it swung open.  No one inside but due to the hinge arrangement immediately swung back three quarters shut again.  I made a quick mental note that the green/red cubicle that I had previously discarded may have been a possible venue after all.  But I was here now and once more pushed open the door to reveal my newfound personal peeing point.

I closed, and locked, the door behind me and stared at the ominously closed lid.  It’s at this point I’m always minded to think of the generally accepted polite notion that one should always ‘put down the seat’.  Apparently for the ladies.  Not that any were likely to be passing by this place of gentlemen of course, but nonetheless some well-meaning soul had decided to adopt formality and fully drop the seat and additionally close the lid.  I wish he hadn’t.

The trouble with seats in combined male/female facilities and particularly men only establishments is that those who are prone to overshare their wastage all over the pan, seat and surrounding county are exactly the sort who do not think of others and raise the seat first.  The polite aiming sort, who make attempts to keep splash back to a minimum are the ones who are most likely to raise the plastic ring.  The accepted practice of lowering the seat to assist a future female visitor should be reversed to everyone raising the seat afterwards in case an inconsiderate oaf is the next to arrive.

For there is nothing worse than picking up the edge of a closed pan only to be confronted with a dripping under belly.  You will not be able feel you have fully rinsed that off your fingers for about a month of intent scrubbing.  However, you will have learned a lesson and in future always tear off a wad of toilet paper in order to raise the lid. I am an expert so dutifully spent six minutes trying to extract a bit of tissue paper that didn’t tear off into a fingertip sized sample from the wall mounted dispenser which must have had a bit of a cob on because it steadfastly refused to give up its contents without a battle.

The raising of the seat cover then presented the next issue.  A blocked but still well used bowl of sewage.  No previous indication of such a surprise treasure find.  The loose fitting seat cover, with broken hinge and only two of the four rubber feet still in operation managed to suppress all notion of this hidden swamp and amazingly all associated aroma with the integrity of a spacesuit.

I thought of flushing this horror that had now hit me hard in the nose but reasoned that adding more liquid to this may actually result in a tsunami of effluent all over my trainers.  And I didn’t want that.

I remembered the half-caste green/red cubicle and exited my current position to head off in search of this Eden.

However because of the epic struggle I had with the tissue dispenser I had been in there for a few minutes and now the joint had become more crowded.  The line of reprobates had grown to a full complement and I could hear the harrumphing and muttering had increased exponentially.  The trouble was the ones waiting for a gap in this queue and one immediately shot into my vacated cubicle as I exited.  Before I could even explain why he shouldn’t.  He was turning around and undoing his trousers as he entered and I heard the squish as he crashed down onto the seat without pause.

“Aww, shit!” he audibly exclaimed presumably accurately describing what he sat on.  He then flushed, accompanied this time by the expletive ‘bollocks’ presumably to describe what had just been unintendedly washed.  The seepage slewed gently out past the door.

I washed my hands and left the premises.  After all, actually having a pee didn’t seem all that necessary now.

 


 

Public toilets are a disgrace.  Not always where they are needed, too often closed, unhygienic, badly treated, poorly maintained and seemingly unsafe.  It’s time I took a good look at the loo and sorted something out.

Despite all the above these establishments provide a service we all need at some time.  For some of us many times.  We seem to be getting it all wrong so I wish to propose that we give the industry a big shake and get it to clean up up it’s act.

The first requirement is that they should be there, where you need them.  Too often one cannot find the facilities in a city centre.  We know that they are often within large shopping malls or at rail stations but these obvious places aren’t always available throughout the wide conurbations of our large cities.

Furthermore the smaller the city, or town or village the less likely there is a guarantee of a place to spend the penny.  Legislation should be there dictating the siting of loos where councils or communities are failing to provide these places.

The next requirement of public toilets are that they should be open.  Always.  All the time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.  And twice on Thursdays.  Whatever we do to improve our toilets will be pointless if one is stood outside a locked door with a bladder based imminent pressing need.

Next up on my bullet list is a redesign of our toilets. At present the buildings are often dark, dank intimidating places.  Security can be suspect and the basic Victorian architecture and styles seem to contribute to this.  As a society we still seem to be too culturally sensitive to a basic human need.  We all pee and poo.  Absolutely without exception.

So why are we hiding this function away in dingy facilities?  Let’s build modern, open, light buildings.  I agree the actual place of discharging should have some personal privacy but why is the waiting area hidden from view?  A glass fronted building would provide a greater sense of safety to those who feel vulnerable entering the building.

To achieve a good balance between privacy and security every cubicle should be fully equipped with everything needed when in there.  In other words each should be like a disabled facility, large, spacious, fitted with a pan, sink, mirror, waste disposal bin and hand rails.  An extra advantage of this way would be that there is no need to discriminate between the non able bodied and the not yet non able bodied.

Furthermore the facilities should be entirely gender neutral.  A common place for male, female or any other way folks choose to see themselves, because we are all people.  The advantage of gender neutrality would mean that couples or groups can visit together with the ability to wait for each other in the open glazed frontage area, possibly on provided comfortable seating.

One issue with this new design would be that some may complain that this would be more expensive to construct.  I agree this would be the case but we do not live in a land of such struggling poverty that this couldn’t be done if the will was there.  I agree that lining up men, shoulder to shoulder staring intently down into a common trough is an efficient use of space but it is also de-humanising, subject to splash back from every angle, therefore un-hygienic and frankly embarrassing, particularly for those with abnormal biology or a need to wait patiently for nature to take its course.

Also too many males clearly see the rapid, casual nature of peeing an excuse to speed through the process and therefore skip the important bit of washing their hands afterwards.  This all too common, disgusting habit is one reason many may not wish to share their facilities.  But I have a solution.

The doors to these individual cubicles should only operate once the hand washing equipment is used, or make the toilet door exits only openable by the use of an adjacent hand sanitiser.

On a similar note the toilet flush mechanism should be automated or foot operated, to minimise cross transference of germs.

And we should all ‘leave the lid up’.  In fact it should ‘spring up’ after seating.  Not in an ejector seat kind of approach but a slow elegant rise.

And the hand washing facilities should be controllable, sensor operated affairs and not timed to dispense soap when no water is available, or end up with an inadequate breathless cold air dry that leaves hands still wet afterwards.  I have dry skin and damp hands exacerbate this condition, particularly in winter.

Yes there are now some ‘unisex’ facilities being built and welcome they are too, albeit a bit cramped for my liking but overall we can do better.  And we should.

Let’s improve the loo.

Author: Vince Poynter

Originally posted in my Blog Section within my web site on 13 September 2019

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My First Open Mic Stand Up

The story starts on a Saturday, 15 September 2018.  I was visiting Leigh Road Recreation Ground in Eastleigh, Hampshire, UK because there was an interesting display of World War II memorabilia.  Whilst visiting I wandered over to The Point, a community based entertainment centre, to see if there were any interesting comedians due to perform.

The outstanding comedic performer was Hal Cruttenden, booked for 20 September. However all tickets had been sold but I took a brochure for The Point to see what else may be available.  That evening I saw a piece written about The Comedy Lab, a regular meet up for those interested in comedy both performing and writing including collaboration and on the Sunday I made contact to see what the arrangements were.

it transpired that the group met on Wednesdays but once a month they hosted an open mic evening and as it happened the upcoming Wednesday would be one such night.  I was invited to come along and also offered a slot to perform if I should so desire.

I made a rash decision on the Sunday to have a go despite my complete lack of experience, my complete lack of a set, a full time job to be carried out that week and a day booked off on the Monday to visit the Southampton Boat Show.

I had performed a stand up routine before.  More than seven years before.  Just once, on board a cruise liner during a passenger talent contest.  But I had harboured a desire to try it out properly.  My problem was my distrust of traditional comedy venues which I understood were mainly pubs.  I rarely drink and do not frequent many public houses and was not familiar with those establishments that I discovered over the years which offered comedy.  The ‘safe’ environment of a cruise ship was much more to my liking.  The Point in Eastleigh was both local and generally known for it’s professional, stage performances alongside community style activities and dance routines for young people.  Assurances from the organiser of the Comedy Lab also suggested the crowd would be comedy fans, not overtly fuelled by hops based liquids and, crucially, supportive of new talent.

I needed a routine.  I didn’t figure in the two to three days that I would have time to write and learn something from scratch so had to develop something I had already done. As a first open mic set I wanted to do something related to a first routine so looked to adapt my previously published Podcast 001 – Beginnings.  You can find this within my past feed on this site, dated 6 August 2014.  I figured that at least I would be familiar with the structure and some lines.  Unlike the other 7.3 billion people on this planet that hadn’t downloaded it from iTunes.

I had to edit it down to under five minutes, remove references to it being a podcast and other irrelevant stuff then learn it sufficiently to perform in front of a crowd.  I made a concession by producing a ‘set list’ which, on the night, I placed on the floor in front of me, which explains some of the glancing in that direction.

I asked my wife, Lynda, to record the set which she did on my Apple iPhone X.  I subsequently produced a small, titled movie and uploaded into the Comedy category of YouTube on 25 Oct 2018.

I enjoyed the experience and so carried on doing more, different performances at The Point over the following few months in an attempt to find ‘my comedy voice’ and even did another on board performance recently.  I will chart my progress on these routines on my main web site so please visit this if you are interested.

Author: Vince Poynter

You can view the routine by accessing my YouTube channel, the link being https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHOD1mm16as
My original stand up set was on Queen Elizabeth.  It was also recorded and can be seen on my YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ0bfn4khd4
This article was adapted from my web site entry within the Videos Section section dated 21 August 2019 where a transcript of the set is available
My web site can be found at vinceunlimited.co.uk/index.htm or if you are on a mobile device and want a more suitable reading experience use vinceunlimited.co.uk/mobile.htm

MashTop

In April of this year I posted an article proposing the concept of a novel range of mashed potato based take away outlets, arguing that it was more healthy and offered greater choice than traditional burger, curry and fish & chips franchises.

I even attempted to differentiate my idea by suggested a slight change in the packaging of the take away product by proposing a circular polystyrene container.  However this change is not radical enough.  It still has the unpopular use of a one time wasteful box.  So I set about attempting to find a solution to appease environmentally minded people.

I found a solution to this by merging two traditional take away ideas – Fast food and ice cream.

I propose the uniquely novel idea of a brand new food product which I have called The MashTop.

The Mashtop complete
The original concept for a MashTop showing the edible cone cut away revealing a tasty sweet internal treat

The basic concept is a scoop of mashed potato atop an edible wafer cone.

With the mashed potato top additional elements can be added to complete a tasty meal such as the use of frankfurters shown in the adjacent close up photograph.

Other toppings could include slices of various cooked or processed meats or even fish fingers.  Samples are shown within the banner photograph above.

Carrots, baked beans or sprinklings of peas could be vegetarian options or even be included with the meats.

Toppings could include peppers, gravy or selected sauces.

The other novel concept, which really sets this idea apart from what is already available, is the hidden sweet treat internally held within the cone.

The large photograph shows a filling of red jelly with chunks of dark chocolate and a Malteser plug.  But many other mixes could be added such as illustrated by the banner photograph.

Other sweets could be utilised such as Smarties, Jelly Babies, chocolate raisins or maybe healthier options like apple, orange segments or grapes.

The major benefit of The MashTop is the complete lack of environmental waste because the toppings, internal contents and the ‘container’, the wafer cone itself, are all edible.

Additional benefits include ease of use, convenience, the ability for customers to select their own choice of fillings and being quick enough to prepare to be called fast food.

As the original designer and so first user of this concept I am uniquely qualified to report on the success or otherwise of this concept.

For the purpose of this article I simply used products that are easily available at large supermarkets and I used no more ‘cooking’ than boiling a kettle.

I used a freeze dried potato mash option and warmed the frankfurters by emptying the water from a tin and adding boiled water.

With more effort in a full kitchen fresh potatoes could be peeled, boiled and mashed but the end result would look little different.

Because I like the way I prepared the food I was personally satisfied with the taste and texture of the mash based topping.

It was as easy to eat as a classic ice cream and didn’t spill anywhere.

The interaction between the mash, frankfurters and the room temperature cone was admittedly a bit unusual because this is not the normal way of consuming food.  However it was perfectly acceptable.

The only change I would make is a thicker wafer cone as the moisture from the mashed potato was easily absorbed around the cone perimeter.  This would be less likely the quicker the product was consumed.  Alternate thicker, stronger cones were not available in the supermarket that I used.

The internal treats were lovely as expected and no such differentiation between the cone and sweet filling was experienced.

When reselecting a different more substantial cone I would also seek a larger size.  The standard small cone wasn’t able to accommodate much filling and the mashed potato based topping was only a small meal.  Ideal for a snack between meals or for children but probably not enough for a main lunchtime meal.  Maybe cone size options could be offered at the retail outlet.

Overall I feel the product has serious potential as a new fast food option.

A complete meal in a take away cone.  Two courses, no waste

Do you like this idea?  Perhaps you have some comments.  The idea is not patented and therefore free to use.  Try it.  Enjoy it.  Sell it.  Sell millions.  Make millions.  Thank me later.

And finally if you think I haven’t also thought of serving other fast food meals such as burgers in a wafer box then you really don’t understand the breadth of my inventiveness.  Another great idea, just dropped in as an afterthought?  You’re welcome.

Author: Vince Poynter

The header image is a compilation of eleven photographs showing the concept of the MashTop product, along with the author holding one of the cones, taken by the author and his wife on 23 Sep 2017
The additional image is a close up of a cutaway MashTop, taken by the author on 23 Sep 2017
I had the idea of mashed potato based fast food outlets a few years ago but only publicly posted this as an idea in April 2019
The idea of the MashTop was fully developed by me by 2017, as can be seen from the date of the photographs. This article is the first WordPress airing of the idea, it was initially published on my web site under http://vinceunlimited.co.uk/mashtop.htm on 11 July 2019. Had I created the article immediately and not spent ages updating my web site as a vehicle for such thoughts I suspect that by now there would have been a sea change of fast food container use and as a result there would be no plastics found in our environment, Polar Bears would have been brought back from near extinction and David Attenborough would be having a nice quiet retirement. For this delay Mr Attenborough and all Polar Bears I am sorry

Autonomous Vehicles

Part One – An Introduction

The latest news in driving is that driving is to expire.  For us mortals at least.  Soon the only thing driving our cars will be the cars themselves.  Yes, all over the news we hear of self driving cars.  Just use a common search engine to see who is big in this field and you’ll instantly get the idea.  I suggest the search engine Bing.

Some vehicles already have lane departure systems that bleep at you or shake your steering wheel if you dare to cross the line markings without first advising the car.  Many more have cruise control to avoid us having to make the effort to maintain a speed, sometimes enhanced with additional radar control to keep us from accidentally bumping into the vehicle ahead.  We have self parking systems to get us into a gap and detailed mapping to get us out of holes.  Although to map out all the actual potholes encountered may take another 30 years.

This is all big news and for those that follow my every word across all the social media platforms that I use, yes you two, you will be well aware that I have a great fascination in this sort of technology with the development of autonomous vehicles being of the most interest to me.  In fact I have been picking at this subject for a few years now, as I shall demonstrate.

My first ever public comment on any aspect of autonomous driving was made on the Twitter platform back on 1 June 2014 when I posted the thought ‘Can’t wait for these driverless Google cars.  Will make my border drug running business a lot less risky’.  And if you think I have blown a cover on an illicit controlled substance operation then you haven’t been following my Twitter stream very carefully.

Then, after reading about a potential development on a Honda Accord car that would use ‘radar, cruise control and the ability to follow white line markings whilst steering to effectively allow the car to drive itself’ I posted a blog on my web site on 14 June 2006 entitled ‘According To Me’ [link below].  In this I mused over a potential dispute between various interested parties in the event of a collision of an autonomous vehicle.

I continued within Twitter on 17 June 2014 publishing another tongue-in-cheek tweet writing ‘Love the internet technology on new cars.  Just emailed my brakes.  Now waiting for a reply’ with another post a month later on 17 July 2014 wherein I wryly mused ‘If spell check gets in the way, in the future will Google produce self driving cats?’

By 3 September 2014 I had more to say on related matters in this field which I literally did within my fifth podcast subtitled Lanserguided [link below].  Please feel free to check out the whole aural experience but if you find the idea of my voice droning on then in essence I raised an idea about potential laser projections on the front of cars to map out a stopping distance ahead of a moving vehicle.  Then I considered whether future autonomous cars would actually allow us to get into them or consider driving away completely if sent off to seek a parking space.  I also predicted a simpler future driving test.  Plus I concluded that the take up of autonomous technology would be inevitable.  I did offer a caveat that despite all the promise of automation there will always be human skills needed to maintain and service broken vehicles.

In addition to this early sporadic public commentary on the subject I had many other thoughts on this developing and fascinating technology but the next tranche of public comments came again on Twitter in a series of tweet posts over a year later on 26 October 2015 as follows:

  • If I bought a driverless car and sent it to park while I was at work, what’s to stop it starting it’s own taxi service?
  • Of course the wealthy already have driverless cars.  Or as they call them, chauffeurs
  • Personally I’m waiting for the first fight between driverless cars over a parking spot.  That may sort out the Android vs iOS argument
  • I bought a driverless car last year.  It read roads, maps, the Internet & communicated.  It went straight to the High Court & claimed freedom

Using a different medium, this year I tried some stand up comedy and for one performance I wrote a routine about driverless technology which I performed at The Studio within The Point at Eastleigh, Hampshire on 20 February 2019.  It was a deliberately light hearted slant on the subject but did cover many interesting points within this field.  You can view the performance on YouTube [link below] but I have extracted some of the ideas here for information whilst simultaneously extracting the humour because this is a serious article and nothing even remotely amusing must colour the tone.  Ever.

  • Autonomous cars, driving around with no apparent attention being paid at all.  Is that taxi drivers?
  • How do you operate a driverless car?  If you’re wealthy, use voice commands.  It lets the chauffeur know where you want to go.  For the rest of us you’re no more than a dog.  Open the hatch of your Rover, get in and it takes you to your destination
  • Future driving tests will be so much easier.  “Show me your car.  Get in.  Seatbelt on.  Good, that’s a pass”
  • Cars will be able to communicate to work anything out as a group.  At a traffic light on the illumination of green they all move off at the same time and on red they all stop as one
  • All controlled within parameters of the users choosing a priority mode of travel – Tourist mode, in a hurry or even declaration of an emergency.  Enhanced by the cars choosing priority based on types of occupant
  • On the open road cars will be able to go really quickly with future motorways packed tight full of high speed cars, all talking to each other
  • Are our current cars going to be scrapped being no longer useful?
  • Are we are going to have to fit our present cars with similar cameras, lasers, radars and sensors similar to those needed for the autonomous ones?
  • What if we have super smart self driving robots that can get into our current cars whilst still quickly communicating with the new tranche of driverless vehicles?  These to connect with all the other cars, fitted with multiple ‘limbs’ for steering, gear changes, handbrake, wipers, lights etc.  Plus being plugged into the car’s on-board computer and fitted with all necessary cameras, lasers, radars and sensors all over to simultaneously look out the front, the back, see the traffic, see every single mirror, check the speed, revs and fuel gauge etc.
  • And my latest public commentary on the subject came on 27 March 2019 when I tweeted ‘If my car camera automatically reads speed limit plates to restrict my progress I may need to tape a photo of a national speed limit sign onto the end of a fishing rod and hang it out the front’

So below I expand on these thoughts posing a number of ideas, questions and ideas on this subject to summarise my position, as follows:

  • Autonomous Vehicles – A Transitional Period
  • Autonomous Vehicles – Issues and Scenarios
  • Autonomous Vehicles – The Future
  • Autonomous Vehicles – Interesting Questions and Considerations

Part Two – A Transitional Period

This section will look at my thoughts on the transitional period between full driver control and full autonomous control.  But before we proceed too far what is meant by an autonomous vehicle?

According to Wikipedia, which is the best source I can suggest if you wish to know more, automated driving systems were first trialled as early as the 1920s.  However autonomous driving as we know it now with greater control by electronic means was worked on in the 1980s but it wasn’t until the 2010s and the development of more powerful and cheaper computer systems that modern recognised autonomy tests were being carried out.

For information the most accepted standard of defining autonomous control is from SAE International, an automotive standardisation body, which defines levels of driving automation as follows:

  • Level 0 – Basic – Automated warnings and momentarily intervention but no sustained vehicle control
  • Level 1 – Hands on – The driver and the automated system share control.  Examples include Cruise Control, Adaptive Course Control, Parking Assistance and Lane Keeping Assist.  The driver must be ready to retake full control at any time
  • Level 2 – Hands off – The automated system takes full control of the vehicle with the driver monitoring and regularly demonstrating this and fully ready to intervene immediately at any time if the automated system fails to respond properly
  • Level 3 – Eyes off – The driver can safely turn their attention away from the automated driving but be prepared to intervene within some limited time
  • Level 4 – Mind off – As level 3, but no driver attention is ever required for safety and could sleep or leave the driving seat.  The vehicle must be able to safely abort the trip if the driver does not retake control
  • Level 5 – Steering wheel optional – No human intervention is required at all

There are problems transitioning between these various levels of autonomy, particularly from levels 2 and 3 and major car manufacturer Ford announced in February 2017 that they gave up attempting to develop a level 3 stage opting for working on the safer level 4.

Well, that’s the vital but soulless bit out of the way so I can now concentrate on my own related thoughts.

This may surprise some but we already have a great deal of autonomy in our cars, in fact every driver who has ever driven has experienced some form of autonomy because some aspects actually go back to the earliest days of motorised transport.

benzpatentmotorwagen
The Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the very first automobile with some partial automation arguably making it technically the first level 1 autonomous vehicle

For example the very first motor car, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen required a considerable amount of driver input control.  Speed, braking and steering were all completely operated by the person in the driver’s seat.  However some of the mechanical operation had been automated, for instance the trembler-coil ignition system.  This was technically an automated device to avoid the driver having to manually open and close an ignition switch for each stroke of the engine.

If you feel that I am stretching a definition of autonomy then where do you put your line?  On the subject of ignition again is it an autonomous function for a car to adjust advance and retard on a car without electronic ignition?  Cars used to have advance and retard for their ignition to be manually selected by the driver dependant on the incline and thus load on the engine.  Now it’s the car that works all this out and only a retard would dismiss this advance.  This function used to be manually operated and is now an automated function, with a great deal further development in the electronic ignition systems of modern vehicles.

Perhaps your ‘line’ is drawn at automated gearboxes.  These are fairly usual nowadays particularly as manufacturers have improved the efficiency of auto gearboxes.  I ask, why choose the manual option if not for cost?  Nowadays I’d much rather drive virtually any auto than a fiddly manual because I just can’t be bothered with all that awkward left leg clutch balancing stuff, particularly in our congested, traffic jammed streets.  And if I really want to drop down a gear for added oomph, or preselect a cog for better downhill control I can always flip the flappy paddle.

Now gearboxes have gone beyond just selecting gears based on engine pre-selected power [revs] and speed.  The Volkswagon Group DSG type gearboxes are designed to pre-select gears based on assumed future driver requirement and Rolls-Royce provide a gearbox in their latest Phantom VIII model which means it can preselect a gear based on GPS receiver and terrain information drawn from a map system.

And even if you don’t accept these gearbox functions as autonomous features then surely many will have driven a car with cruise control fitted, which is a defined level 1 stage of autonomy.  And some may even have had a go at successfully operating it.

I personally have experience of driving vehicles to at least level 2 autonomy which are now often fitted with technology to level 3 but restricted in use due to legislation.  This level is not uncommon on modern vehicles with adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, automated lane changing and automatic braking.  Although I accept at present these systems are often unreliable in some circumstances, such as when the road lines fade away or within the confines of supermarket car parks.

I have no experience of driving to level 4 known as ‘Mind Off’, but I reckon many have.  Usually just before they crash!

So, as you can see we are already accepting the partial automation of our driving.  The transitional period is already here with us.

So how will we actually ‘drive’ a true self-driving car?  What will be the process?

I have already suggested that operating a level 5 autonomous car would be so simple that a future driving test would be almost completely pointless.  However, we would need to show some control, after all the car would need to be summoned, opened and told where to go so manufacturers should make these basic steps as simple as possible to enable maximise occupancy use, for occupants such as the old, infirm, children or dogs that wish to go walkies while their owner watches the snooker on TV.

However when in the interior space it won’t be a free-for-all, at least not for now.  You will not be able to meander around a vehicle making tea and dancing to Reggae music.  The laws of physics still apply so when the vehicle accelerates, brakes and corners you need to be securely strapped in to avoid spilling that tea or turning your Jamaican moves into an impromptu break dance.  Whether we get to the stage where accidents are so rare and driving so smooth that full freedom of movement will be allowed in the vehicle is yet to be proved.

So what are the level 5 control systems likely to include?  A reasonable guess is that within cities the vehicle may not be where you are when you first summon it.  There is a high likelihood of car sharing in the future and possibly the common use of tightly packed, remote storage.  If cars can operate autonomously why would they need to remain outside your property getting in the way of the rest of your life?  They are more likely to drive themselves off to a charging point or park in a remote car park, possibly automatically stacked several cars high or at least packed in nose to tail with no room between them to open doors.  For this reason to get in your car you will first need to summon it and this will in all probability be an application on your mobile device.  By then we would have to be accustomed to summoning a ride in good time and if it was a genuine emergency the system will just divert a closer ‘common use’ vehicle.

Just before the vehicle arrives it will probably be sending out a message for you to let you be aware of when it will get there and once at your location will be linked to your mobile device so that it is open as soon as you are ready.  A quick, bluetooth style, electronic ‘handshake’ between you and the vehicle and it will be ready for instructions on where to go next.

Of course it won’t move off until all occupants are secured into a seat, so no racing starts to beat your neighbour to the end of the Close.  The seats will then probably be able to determine who is sat there and make suitable adjustments that the occupant has used before, whether it be facing ahead, in a face to face group gathering or prone for a sleepy ride.

One person will then probably state a destination requirement, such as “Hey car, take us to The Dog & Duck, via Barry’s place.”  This will prompt the car to respond such as “You wish to go to Kentucky to buy some milk, please confirm.”  Or at least it will do if voice command doesn’t get any better.  But in any case the vehicle will have a tablet device slotted in somewhere so that more precise directions can be commanded.

But where can these vehicles operate in this transitional period?

At first driverless vehicles will be at level 3, with the ‘I’m busy, I can’t get to the controls at the moment’ mode not yet an option.  The driver will still be sat behind a steering wheel and actually using it in most cases.  The first autonomy will likely be allowed on main roads in good conditions in the beginning with driver control on local streets.  This could happen now as many makes of cars already have the technology fitted to do this but are restricted only by local laws.  This may mean the learning of new motorway and A-road signs permitting such autonomy.

 

avplate
A suggestion for an illuminated plate to be attached to the rear of a vehicle to indicate to following vehicles that autonomous operations are in use

I foresee from this an interim period when autonomous vehicles have to display some sort of external evidence of potential auto control, probably backed up by an electronic ‘black box’ of trickery to meet certain criteria.  Could there eventually be lanes designated only for autonomous cars, the outer lanes, geofenced to prevent access until you select autonomous mode?  You might try to join in but the system just won’t let you.  But when you can join in you could be cruising with cars travelling along at near to 200mph.

So does this mean that wise purchasers should be ticking these level 2/3 autonomous options on their vehicle builds now?  Note to self when ordering that car, choose adaptive cruise control, lane departure and speed limit recognition camera option on the next build.  It’s only another £4k after all.  And when LIDAR becomes available I’m sure this will be just as, ahem, competitively priced.

This will all have to be developed in conjunction with the latest 5G mobile networking systems.  This new high speed, high capacity internet will be needed to do the physical geofencing and authorisation along with the various car to car [v2v] and car to surroundings [v2b – b for base/infrastructure] communications needed for safe use of packed roads and high speeds.

In time it will be these same main roads where eventually all lanes introduce compulsory autonomous operation and older ill equipped vehicles will be barred.

And you can be certain that at all these stages governments and authorities will meet resistance from some, so expect a considerable amount of discussion and opinions.  Mainly by me.

All this as we head towards full level 4 and 5 autonomy.  But as I am considering the transitional period proceeding this then what else can we expect?  And in particular what about the transition of our current cars.

At present the driverless mule cars being developed by manufacturers, the big tech giants and tech start ups resemble our current vehicles but splattered with an ugly array of cameras, radars, LIDAR, other sensors and devices all over them.  In time this technology will be miniaturised and so seamlessly integrated into our current saloon, estate, SUV and lorry shapes.

It is also reasonable to assume that the developers of this technology will also want to sell it as aftermarket accessories to vehicles that don’t sport such stuff at present.

But this may not be the only offering because I predict the self driving robot.  I discussed this in my comedy piece in February this year.

I foresee the introduction of approximately human sized self driving robots with the ability and technology to lock onto the necessary 5G systems and other relevant networks, connect to our cars using their inbuilt OBD socket then accurately survey and assess their surroundings.  These robots would be able to actually clamber into our current cars and quickly communicate with the new tranche of driverless vehicles around them.  Within they would have powerful computers and externally cameras, sensors and multiple ‘limbs’ to operate all the various functions of our current vehicles wherever the switches, seats, foot pedals, handbrakes, dials and controls are fitted.  They may even be able to get out to change a wheel, check the tyres and even set the clock to British Summer Time as well.  So clearly better than us.

I predict these robots will come before stage 6 autonomous cars are universally widespread, with licenses to roam wherever other autonomous vehicles may go.

Mind you there should always be a need to retain our own manual driving skills.  I don’t foresee most cars without any antiquated steering, speed or braking controls, even if they are usually tucked away out of sight.  We’ll need these to go where the maps don’t map, such as into the wilderness, through temporary road diversions or into the depths of Morrisons’ car parks.

And some specialists will still be needed to drive these auto-cars when things go wrong.  I’m assuming the car will work out itself when to drive off to the garage for an oil service or get a flat tyre sorted but someone will have to pick up the ones that have faults reading something like error 404 bad sector.  So don’t put that Highway Code in the bin just yet.

Part Three – Issues and Scenarios

Within this third section I highlight just some of the issues surrounding this fascinating and complex subject.

One frightening aspect of autonomous control is the question of how a vehicle automatically relates to making life or death decisions.  This is something we as humans already do when driving.

For example if you are driving along past some parked cars and a person, previously unseen, steps out from between two high sided vehicles in front of the car most of us would brake heavily to avoid contact.  It’s natural.  Usually before we can reassess whether our braking may affect any following driver.

Make that person stepping into the road your own child and you are likely to alter your decision, even swerving into the path of an oncoming vehicle with a chance of potentially killing yourself rather than the child.  All without any thought to the opposing driver or occupants.

If asked to assess this in a calm and controlled manner, with enough time to work out all the permutations a different scenario may present itself.  If you knew that hard braking would avoid your child’s death but knock them over without any major or long term repercussions, plus any following car was astute enough to brake behind you in time and the opposing vehicle had a number of other children on board who would all escape injury then your decision may change.  To knock your little offspring over to teach them a lesson for being so cavalier in their attitude to road safety.

The trouble is we humans can’t work all this out quick enough.  But we are building machines that can.  So these machines have to have these sort of morals programmed into them.

There are many examples of these ethical decisions already out there in Internet Land so I won’t be repetitive here suffice to say they mostly base around speeding trains and pulling levers to decide which sub-branch line is selected thereby rendering different groupings of people being hit.  The concluding moral usually being, choose to hit less people, select killing the elderly over the young and save people rather than cats.  However, the true lesson to be learnt should be stop hanging around highly dangerous train sidings, particularly if you are an elderly singleton with your pet.

So let me propose some novel but more real world driving scenarios.

You are travelling in lane one at the legal speed limit on a multiple lane high speed road and arrive upon a joining junction. You notice two cars driving slowly up the slip road who will want to join your lane.  They have not yet got up to the speed you are maintaining and you have plenty of room to pass by before they join the stream.  You are also aware that no one is travelling along in the lane behind you but a fast moving [read speeding] vehicle is behind you coming up fast in the lane outside of you.

Suddenly, despite the adequately long slip road the first car joining the traffic makes a sudden and poorly executed swerve manoeuvre straight into your path right in front of you, seriously impeding your position and rendering you unable to brake in time.  At the same time the speeding car in the outer lane is now blocking your escape route into any outer lane and the second car joining the traffic is blocking your escape route back onto the slip road.

You have no choice but to collide with one or another.  Which car should you hit?

Take the opportunity to craft your thoughts as a comment.  Take your time to consider all the implications.  But if you are an autonomous vehicle you have 15 milliseconds.

Let’s try another.  A little simpler this time and with no potential death.

An autonomous car is joining a motorway.  A car, already on the motorway on the inside lane moves out to the centre lane to allow the autonomous car to join.  They are now both on the motorway doing the legal top speed but travelling along next to each other.  Should the autonomous car slow to allow the car already on the motorway to move back to lane one?  And if it did and the other car did not move back to lane one what action should be taken by the autonomous one?

Again please feel free to comment.

A third scenario.  Two autonomous cars, each equipped with v2v, approach a roundabout to arrive at the same time.  Normal yielding rules apply on roundabouts but what if the one who has to yield has to wait a long time because the other has a long train of vehicles behind them?  Logic may dictate via the v2v system to slow the approaching car with priority to allow all to progress the most efficiently.  Or should the car with priority consider the stream of vehicles behind, who all technically have priority over the other.

Remember to consider all general occupants and the environmental impacts of your choices.

Now, add in a priority level.  If one were an emergency vehicle or even if an emergency vehicle was in the train of following ones surely they would command full priority, no matter how much any other vehicles are impeded.

So, with priority level a consideration could the collective computers start addressing occupant needs?  Is one occupant late for work?  Is one just shopping [you can tell from my biased terminology that I am probably male. I am]?  Do more occupants increase an individual vehicles’ priority?  Or even, has one driver had the benefit of more priority decisions this month?

And will autonomous vehicles make overtaking decisions based on all this?  Deliberately slowing or stopping cars to allow others to proceed.

If all this is so, I think I’m registering my occupation as a Heart Surgeon and then filling my mobile phone’s calendar with fictitious operation appointments.

And so far I haven’t really touched on the subject of goods vehicles.  These classes are the most likely to be fitted with this autonomous technology at first.  After all the big lorries tend to travel major routes and often visit the same tightly controlled distribution depots.

So let’s set a scenario involving a number of autonomous heavy goods vehicles, all in an effective convoy, possibly cruising along, slipstreaming each other inches apart in order to travel the most economically.

What happens when you are cruising along in lane 2 in your non-autonomous car passing this effective wall of trucks on the inside lane but you need to exit a slip road ahead?  What could you do?  Should legislation determine convoys have to leave a gap between every, say, 5 lorries?  Or should legislation dictate that ‘convoys’ completely break apart on approaching junctions to prevent last minute exiteers* attempting to fight for the same limited space?  Or will we need a different road engineered solution, such as ‘convoys’ being restricted to outer lanes?  So will we eventually have new junctions that pass over the carriageway and join from the other side?

As you can see there are a number of issues that are currently going through the minds of the programmers and engineers who are active in the field of autonomous vehicle operation and the more scenarios like this that we can imagine the better the autonomy will become.

Part Four – The Future

I have already addressed priority mode, particularly in relation to emergency priority, but what about our future day to day journeying?

I foresee an important setting to be made at offset is your own, settable, priority mode.   Unless the car is singing the same tune as your calendar of appointments within your connected mobile device it will need to know the urgency of your journey.  After all at times we are in no particular hurry and don’t mind a leisurely drive.  During other times economy may be our main driver, as it were.  Maybe you wish to avoid tolls, or motorways.  Then on some occasions you may be running a bit late and want to get on with things.  Or there may be an emergency which you need to attend to and the vehicle would be instructed to travel as fast as is safe to do so.

In a sense we already have similar basic options on our current cars, or at least those sensible ones fitted with automatic gearboxes, although admittedly the actual speed is more dependent on the angle of your right foot.  That is what the E-S-M [or similar] switch does in your car, it chooses your selected priority mode and adjusts the car engine and possibly suspension characteristics to suit.  Typically, E for economy, S for Strewth this car can shift a bit and M for Memories wherin I remember when we had to actually choose the gears ourselves.

This of course means that when the autonomous vehicles are trundling around those cars set on the more leisurely settings should prioritise those on a speedier setting so every traveller is satisfied.  Overtaking will occur in this future but only with the ‘permission’ of other vehicles.  In fact you may notice that in some cases all cars going in opposite directions stop to allow another to overtake a whole queue.  Even if you don’t spot this happening because you are resting in a catatonic state in your car, or perhaps reading the latest Rom-com, which amounts to much the same thing.

Also at junctions those cars set to economy or leisurely may wait for those with more urgent settings to pass by first.

This automated priority could be abused by some so don’t be surprised if future legislation limits instances of hurrying to create a fairer system.

However, in time we shall become accustomed to this sort of behaviour without entertaining jealous thoughts of others.

But whatever mode we preselect all will be prioritised over the autonomous goods vehicles trundling around, looking for somewhere safe to drop their cargo.

Then there is the case of money.  Isn’t this always the case?  Could wealthy individuals purchase priority?  Maybe self appointed ‘celebrities’ will demand progress to avoid being caught up in a queue with the rest of us?  And perhaps the most interesting question of all, what about the old geezer with a classic car?

By classic car I am thinking maybe a 2019 model.  You know the sort.  One that is not really autonomous at all.  This ancient relic has no way of interacting with the then contemporary tranche of autonomous vehicles and will struggle to merge into a gap of fast travelling auto-vehicles seemingly joined nose to tail at high speed on the major roads.  Well, fear not.  For the rules of autonomy mean that autonomous vehicles have to do all they can to avoid accidents, so even a rogue, manually controlled one will have carte blanche to proceed as they wish and all the driverless ones will just jolly well have to get out of their way.

Now when the majority of vehicles are fully automated and controlled under a vast database of v2v and v2b systems, will we no longer need visible, plated speed control signs?  After all the vehicles will know what speed to travel according to legislation and the road type.  So, will top speed be effectively unlimited?

I think not.  For a start there are consequences of potential accidents being more dangerous at higher speeds.  Autonomy, whilst highly likely to reduce accidents, could not work to prevent them altogether.  Mechanical failure, physics and build quality could all still play a part.  Road traffic accidents can be minimised by risk management but no matter how much effort is put in they can still happen.

Finally, unlimited top speeds present questions from an ecological standpoint.  Even if we have entered an age of unlimited free solar energy, because wear and tear on components would still apply.

So these are a few things we will probably have to look out for in a world of common autonomy amongst vehicles.

Part Five – Interesting Questions and Considerations

Let me ask a question that may seem silly at first but bear with me because it has a serious undertone.  Will our vehicles eventually let us get into them in the first place?

After all we will programme them to protect us from ourselves.  We will demand that these cars can take us to the pub and return us home when we ourselves are incapable of doing so without risk to ourselves or others.  We will ask them to transport our nearest and dearest in the safest way possible.  We will use them to transport our goods to destinations of our choice reliably and efficiently, without additional supervision.  And the elderly and infirm will need to be able to fully trust these machines to protect them when they are unable to do this themselves.

To ensure the highest standards of safety we will programme them with the ability to self learn from errors made and their experience will be put to common use in vast databases to ensure the errors of one can be learnt by the many.  In time this self learning will be more efficient within the databases than within human programmers so in essence the learning will supersede human ability.  Some characterise this learning curve as becoming ‘self aware’.

This could be a frightening issue for those that construct their mindset based on dramatic science fiction stories and who may foresee a future when these advance vehicles refuse to transport their owners because they judge their safety to be more important than the journey.  And no journey can guarantee safety.

Or if we send them off to find a parking space will they definitely return to us when summoned back?  Or will they consider the effort just too much to bother with?  Or possibly will they be too busy picking up a more ‘deserving’ passenger?

This is all of course something that will not happen because we can, or at least I can, foresee this potential issue.

There is a fear amongst the pre-mentioned sci-fi followers to assume that a robotic future means that mankind will be made irrelevant upon machine self awareness.  After all, some argue, if the machines are ‘better’ than us then why we would we needed?  The answer to this is actually simple.  Machines are made by mankind, for mankind and without mankind what is the purpose of said machines?  I can work this out so I am sure robotic vehicle version 935.8.487 can figure this out as well.  Even if it has to find and read this article first.

The above arguments raise another issue.  Should we be able to trust future autonomous vehicles to transport our children and therefore at what age?

I believe this is no more complex than consulting current standards of childcare.  In other words it is fine to send the car off to take your child to middle school but not send your new born baby fifty miles alone to be greeted by the grandparents.

The same would be for transporting your animals.  By all means send Fluffy to the vet, provided the surgery is prepared to accept the consignment and Fluffy is secured in the vehicle with sufficient fresh air and water.

And on the subject of transporting goods this will become commonplace, with the vehicles secured at offset and only accessible by the appropriate person on arrival.

All of which is ideal for drug running businesses across the border.  The authorities never suspecting this, mainly as they will rightly assume all the drug transport will be via autonomous drones.  But what if the drug vehicle carriers are impounded?  Who is deemed legally responsible, the vehicle owner but it could have been stolen, the manufacturer or the software engineer?

Sorry, I have swayed into story time again.  Anyway it’s fun so let’s continue with some other radical thoughts.

What about a future where autonomous cars, who’s owners have died or abandoned their vehicles, still roam the streets?  After all that is their raison d’être.  Forever left to search for electric charging points, heading off to get serviced and driving around with no passengers aimlessly searching for a reason to exist?  If this isn’t a side feature in the next Ridley Scott movie I will be extremely disappointed.

And finally, could self driving cars communicating together end up doing formation patterns, just for the sheer fun of it all?  I hope the programmers include this possibility.  Look out for future photographs of busy motorways from above wherein the cars are precisely positioned to spell out ‘vinceunlimited’.

And that’s neatly back to where we started off.  So, while you still can, drive safely** Vince

I’m sure I will return to this fascinating and developing subject in the future so keep following me on this web site, on WordPress, Twitter and in an appropriate lane on the A31 for more insightful commentary.

Author: Vince Poynter

Originally posted on my web site, version 5.267 http://www.vinceunlimited.co.uk/autonomous.htm during the five days of week commencing 24 June 2019
Also available as a mobile version at vinceunlimited.co.uk/autonomousm.htm
The aforementioned blog post ‘According To Me‘ is also on this WordPress site dated 1 June 2018
The aforementioned podcast ‘Pod 005 – Lanserguided‘ is also on this WordPress site dated 3 September 2014
My short stand up routine about driverless cars was performed on 20 Feb 2019 and can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7g5UuzeIm-M
Wikipedia Autonomous Driving Information Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_car\
The photograph is of a Benz Patent-Motorwagen and was taken by the author at the Beaulieu Motor Museum, Hampshire on 10 November 2013
The Autonomous Vehicle Plate was designed and drawn by the author. It was created by adding the text into a Keynote slide, then printing and hand drawing the lines and graphics
* Note: This is not a Brexit reference
** Message also addressed to all future autonomous vehicles

What If… I Was The Next PM?

What If…I was the next Prime Minister?

Let’s first clear up a few perhaps obvious points.  Firstly I am unlikely to be.  It’s not completely impossible of course but highly unlikely.  The greater likelihood being that following Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation today the next British PM will be a Conservative member of Parliament, chosen by the national registered Conservative Party Membership from a whittled down list of two candidates who emerge following a public bun flinging contest on Newsnight.  Apologies if I haven’t quite got the grip of the contest rules exactly accurately.

But if I were how would I proceed with the main agendas we face at the moment?

Well firstly, and when I say firstly it means firstly after appointing all the cabinet postings, getting a new key for Number 10, thinking up a secure password for the Nuke buttons and popping over to see The Queen etc.  Firstly, I would need to do something about the most pressing issue of the day.  Brexit.

I would immediately appoint two very senior Ministerial positions.  A Brexit one and another to handle everything else.  With overall responsibility remaining with myself, like all good leaders.

The one handling everything else would have to coordinate the economy, education issues, defence, security, work, pensions, foreign relationships etc just like a normal PM but crucially not concern themselves overtly with Brexit.  That would be the sole job of the other one.  Each having equal rank and status, both reporting to me.

This way Brexit, whilst crucial to our situation, would not dominate everything else but still be ranked as highly important.

On the subject of Brexit the clock is ticking away with the latest date being the end of October when France et all will apparently cut loose the chains that bind us to Europe and we will float off to a Neverland of uncertainty.  Theresa May’s departure shows that getting agreement on a deal to stop all this happening in an uncontrolled way is extremely difficult.

To resolve this issue I would immediately revoke the current deal and start again.  This will need some time so to do this I would revoke Article 50 with a note that it is not over yet backed up by waving a new yet to be signed Withdrawal Notice at the EU saying that this is still the direction to go.

This would give time to freshly recommence the negotiations and they would start on the premise of a simple No Deal.

In truth nobody wants No Deal but the general public understand what this means and delivers on many of the concerns that drove the albeit marginal victory result of the June 2016 Election.

Because neither the EU nor the UK want a sterile No Deal I would be able to add back in the less controversial issues such as retaining cooperation on security issues such as continuing support of defence and international policing, on international ecological and climate issues, on medical and technological research projects, on food and industry standards, and on human rights and minimum wages issues.

There would be no legal precedent issues on any of these, to avoid UK Sovereignty being undermined.  Just good old common sense adoption of common standards and regulations to keep things aligned.

The EU may be minded to set about these fresh negotiations with an agenda of their own choosing, notably once more wanting to agree a ‘divorce bill’ first but this would not be acceptable.  The value of the ‘divorce’ would be considered but it would be a calculation based on fairness when all else is ready to go.  And the threat of a stark No Deal would remain to concentrate their minds if they get all bossy again.

I think the above would be a great way to start as a PM.  And don’t forget the other senior Minister would be immediately free to set to work on the other pressing issues of the day from debt reduction and the economy to Health and Food Banks.

And if you want to know what I would do on the second day as PM you will just have to get me elected.

Author: Vince Poynter

An original post for this site dated 24 May 2019
To be added to the Political Section section of my web site in due course
For more Political and Brexit commentary choose vinceunlimited.co.uk/political or  if you are on a mobile device and want a more suitable reading experience use vinceunlimited.co.uk/politicalm

Ring-o-Mash

I seem to come up with several ideas including many for businesses across many sectors.  Occasionally my mind has to bat them off because they come at me so furiously at times.

And they appear suited to a variety of places but the best need to be sustainable.  After all, in commerce, why sell one of something to someone when there are options to sell and resell and resell all over again to customers.

The best business example of this is of course the food industry.

But the food industry is as mature as a stock of forgotten Stilton.  And often as impenetrable as a stock of forgotten Edam.  However I must stop these silly cheese based analogies to concentrate my best business brain cell on finding a chink in this already well developed market.

So let’s take a look at who does best here.

The most successful must be the high volume, massive turnover, big brand supermarkets.  Unfortunately to take on these giants would take a lifetime of hard work originating from a small base and this is where my forte falls unfortunately short.  By about thirtee-nyne.

The next most successful food based businesses must be the big brand burger and chicken establishments and it is here I see a possible way to sneak a crack into the firmament.

You see these fast food emporiums concentrate mainly on the meat part of the meat and two veg combo.  A burger outlet will mainly offer burger and fries or burger with salad or even burger alone.  The chicken outlets do the same only replacing the term burger with the phrase fried chicken.  And the Asian variants do the same this time invariably leading with the curried meat.  Even the original fast food outlet in this country leads with fish and whatever.

What is missing is the option in these places to vary the ‘meaty’ or ‘fishy’ bit.  So, I think it’s time to lead with the chips.

I could propose a chips shop, offering chips with fish, chips with burger or chips with chicken, all within one establishment.  But chips are as unhealthy as fries so let’s drop the whole frying thing and offer a simpler, basic potato option.

My proposal is to start a chain of take away food outlets with the emphasis on the potato.  And as jacket potato outlets already exist and new potatos are inconsistent and have a habit of rolling all over the place I suggest trying the mashed potato option.

Imagine a smart new food outlet headlined by a healthy, tasty mashed potato choice.  With a variety of additional side extras from meats like burgers and chops, via sausages to curries and stews.  Plus a variety of vegatable choices such as peas, carrots, beans etc.  All topped as desired with butter, black pepper, gravy or sauces.

Mashed potato is simple to produce, there are automated potato peeling machines, and cooking is a simple boiling and mechanised mashing procedure.  The product can even be mass produced in a remote location, freeze dried, easily stored and transported then enlivened by simply adding boiling water.

To further identify this idea from other more established branding and presentation I envisage that mashed potato based take aways should be offered on a circular platter with the non-mash options added within the circle.

Ring o Mash take away
An illustration to show how a take away serving of a Ring-o-Mash, served with sausages and peas, might look.  Note the unique circular design of the polysterene container

This design would help with containment of any looser items such as peas and for liquids such as gravy during transit.

Additionally the design has some familiarity, resembling the classic rice and curry presentation and allows for simple mixing prior to consumption.  In fact the brand Ring-o-Mash was inspired by such a take away design concept.

This concept would be unique, tasty, healthy and could be marketed as suitable for vegetarians, vegans, followers of halal choices or those with allergies.

Setting up a business like this would be relatively simple.  As a basic cottage industry it could be started from home, providing you have a working kitchen.  And on a more industrial scale the concept could be expanded or franchised.

And the best bit is that it is premiered right here.

So are you looking for a new business idea?  Do you have the skills to set this up?  The necessary food hygine certification?  The kettle?  If so please feel free to go for it.

I only ask that you show credit where credit is due by acknowledging me as the person who came up with this idea.  And for about 3% of turnover when you are established in more than three counties.

And a free lunch on Wednesdays.  Because I love mash.  Covered in sprinkled cheese.

Author: Vince Poynter

From the Ideas and Food sections of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 16 Apr 2019
The header image is an original sketch drawn by the author to illustrate how a new mashed potato outlet might look on the high street
The additional image is an original sketch drawn by the author to illustrate how a ‘ring of mash’ take away meal comprising mashed potato, sausages and peas might look if presented in a uniquely designed circular polystyrene take away box

G&T

Gastroenteritis and Tartrazine – A serious warning about this article.  The subject matter may be considered uncomfortable for those of a weak disposition.  This article contains a graphic description of a bout of food poisoning and I strongly suggest that you think carefully before fully opening and reading this piece.

It is not intended to be sensational and is written with thought and honestly but for reasons of descriptive accuracy does explain the processes and results of the illness.

Blogs are about real life experiences and not all are akin to fluffy bunnies ambling on a hillside in the sunshine.  So proceed only if you are ready for some realism.  No offence will be taken if you do not read this one of my articles.  I would think carefully myself if you were to post something similar yourself.

It started on a Thursday.  My wife, Lynda and I eat out a lot and usually choose a pub offering a good meal deal.  This particular one has been a recent favourite and we have had many reasonable meals there.

We understand that post Christmas January eating out is the rarest time of the year.  It is why establishments make offers during the busy December month to entice punters back into the practice of eating out in the new year.  However, we regulars need no such enticement as the process of eating out is a common habit.

In fact in the December run up to Christmas we share the same thoughts that alcoholics do about seasonal drinkers invading their space at festive times.  With our annoyance focussed on some food based pubs taking away their usual offers in the run up.

All of which is just an explanation of why we had no concerns about visiting this unusually quiet pub on this evening for our main meal of the day.

We ordered a fairly normal menu choice, me the gammon with egg, Lynda with the chicken.  We did comment to each other that it was delivered surprisingly quickly but we had said it was quiet that evening.

The food was as unremarkable as ever and expected for the price but I did note that the Jacket Potatoes were cold to the touch.  Well perhaps not technically cold but certainly far from steaming hot.  But it didn’t ring bells and we ate up and left as usual.

Later that evening I needed to use the toilet.  Again, not normally remarkable but the beginning of a story this time.  It was a standard episode but had to be repeated about an hour later.  It was then that mild stomach cramps became evident.

The third visit in as many half hours included some diarrhoea and increasing tummy tightening.  By the fourth time I was only jettisoning fluid and feeling a good throw up might bring things to a conclusion.

It was now well into the night, I was feeling increasingly weak and weary, freezing cold out of the bed and unable to lie comfortably in it, my torso demanding all my attention.

I announced to Lynda that this was serious and I had to abandon thoughts of working on the Friday.  She wasn’t really convinced until I actually vomited.  The drama of this act enough to convince the most skeptical wife that her husband wasn’t angling for a free pass.  She agreed to make the necessary arrangements leaving me free to wallow in my misery.

Being violently sick is a strange phenomenon.  For most of us a rare occurrence, frightening as a thought during build up but often strangely a sudden and fantastic release when over.

In this case thankfully it wasn’t accompanied by the often body shaking, full-on fast, sweaty, disablement that sees one writhing on the floor, virtually unable to lift oneself to a place of hygienic projection whilst feeling genuine thoughts of considered demise as a pathetic release from the perceived torture.

In my case I just suffered the intense torso trauma necessary for the body to do what it needed, which is to eject the foreign body as efficiently and fast as possible.

The reason for my coldness and feelings of weakness is explained by the total denial of any unnecessary energy allowed to the limbs and head.  All blood circulation and glucose available being required for the central body area.

Then a fantastic and impressive contortion occurs.  My stomach seized suddenly to a fraction of its normal size and caused a quickly repeating wave form heading up to the chest.  Such was the intensity I felt my skin tighten over the hips and ribs.

This was accompanied by the enlargement and straitening of my whole mouth and throat all the way down to my stomach.  It was as if you could put a whole arm down into my stomach without touching the sides.

My face contorted to maximise the final opening with my lips pulled back over the teeth as if I was reenacting the classic scene from An American Werewolf In London.

All of which pathetically resulted in just a tiny few specks of semi-digested food.

A second episode and this time all the drama with sadly none of the result.  The earlier diarrhoea having stolen all the moisture from my system.

But finally a third and more intense session and I ejected partial evidence of the suspected interloping poison.

It is only when this finally occurs that the inbuilt detective in oneself can finally hone in on the suspect.  I’ll save you from the more salacious details [surprisingly considering my attempts at detailing up to now] but I blame the gammon and suspect it had been stupidly reheated.

My misery didn’t finish there.  The body cramps hadn’t finished, the diarrhoea continued the next couple of days and I was pretty well bed bound for 36 hours in a state of uncomfortableness.

A further trio of vomiting occurred the next day, Friday, and my unexpected dieting continued as I had no desire to add anything into the cauldron of gloop festering in my innards.

All I wanted was to sleep but this was distracted by my tummy pains and frequent visits to discharge the small remaining vestiges of fluid in my system.  And flushing through an overheating anus is not ideal.

In fact it was the Saturday before I was persuaded by Lynda to allow anything other than water to pass my lips and I chose first to take on a sugary liquid.

She had kindly purchased a couple of litres of one of my favourite juices, Cranberry and Raspberry.  I considered this quite innocuous so ventured a sip or three.

I attempted to properly rehydrate whilst giving me a sugary boost to aid the feelings of extreme tiredness.  And I guess it worked.

During the day I felt better, less exhausted and only had the remaining tummy cramps to dispel, which I knew wouldn’t go until my body had satisfied itself that all badness was gone and once again offered feelings of hunger to replenish itself.

But it was an 18 hour period of living with just an empty shell filled only with a sticky juice.  And a strange phenomenon started to occur.

It started when I closed my eyes to attempt rest.  Normally on first closing eyes I see temporary visions of the intense light sources I had been seeing.  Such as dark patches where lights had been on or more recently dark square patches where I had been looking at my phone.  These recede over a short time to be replaced by the swirling out of focus cells and miniature hairs naturally floating across the eyeball.  Distinct and highly contrasting, particularly evident when the room light source is lit or daylight as it was during this time.

However, now I was experiencing something new.  Fuzzy grey, indistinct large patches with highly jagged and darker detailed edges.

These sights, through closed eyes, were the first different thing but soon my mind’s thoughts, unusually quiet during my previous sickness, had now turned quite crazy.  Crazy in the sense of all over the place.

Song snippets, earworms, raced repeatedly around.  Thoughts jumped from one subject to another at an unbelievable and frightening speed, perhaps six to ten a second and when I did finally ‘sleep’ for a few minutes vivid dreams featuring regressive situations coupled with modern characters in my life filled my imagination.

I concluded I was suffering the alleged fate of small children with underdeveloped minds reacting to what I understand as an excess of Tartrazine in their diet.  In their case often accompanied by random, uncontrollable, disruptive actions.

Thankfully as I proceeded to rid myself of the sickness and tentatively returned to normal eating the effects wore off, the only permanent result being this scripted article penned in lieu of a good nights sleep.

I hope I haven’t laboured too much on the murky details in my story, having only included what I felt needed to get to the interesting aspects of violent sickness and my personal thoughts on ‘Tartrazine’.  I am aware that the subject matter has been intense and appreciate any reader who has come this far with me.

I include this as blogging stories are nearly always about the good and positive in life and the more realistic aspects are usually less well documented.

Maybe someone someday might be interested in how food sometimes affected us in the early twenty first century.

In stating this I assume it is the year 2743 or something.  By which time I shall have fully recovered.

A few final thoughts.

Firstly, I have no intention of naming or shaming the establishment which I believe caused my distress.  I have eaten there on perhaps dozens of occasions and believe there was no ill intent or lack of hygiene practice to cause this problem on this occasion.  It is part and parcel of regular eating out.  If they made a mistake on this day then this is unfortunate.

I do not plan to ostracise the establishment and whilst won’t immediately rush back will probably be tempted back eventually by the enticing offers which lead us there in the first place.

I do not seek compensation as I have lost nothing really except an unscheduled holiday date.

The cost to me was temporary the pain a fading memory save for this piece but we all got a blog from it, so some positive.

The anxiety and additional work imposed on Lynda was accepted unequivocally as one does for a lifetime partner.  And she did get a virtually uninterrupted day of Netflix out of it.

I have not studied the phenomenon of Tartrazine, have no proof of this chemical in my drink and do not in any way cite myself as an expert in this field with only general circumstantial and hearsay stories leading me to the conclusions above.  Further, I have no particular interest in pursuing knowledge in this field and do have access to Wikipedia should I change my thoughts on this.

I particularly have no interest in children with ‘behavioural difficulties’ and again my thoughts above are as far as I personally wish to explore such matters.

I know there are blogs out there that deal with much more severe trauma, sickness and even death.  Probably with greater humanity, thought and compassion but please don’t assume I need a list of such places to view.  I can use search myself if I wish to go down this route.

Any comments are welcome but if you wish to espouse views on diarrhoea, vomit or children please try to maintain an understanding that not everyone wants to know every tiny detail, particularly about the two most icky subjects.  Obviously one being children.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Blog section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 13 Feb 2019
Originally written but not published  on 15 Jan 2018

Brexit

Thoughts, Corrections and Ideas By Vince Poynter

It’s no good.  I can wait no longer.  I need to pitch in with some thoughts about the most important political machinations in my lifetime.  Brexit.

The trouble is it happened at all the wrong time for me.  I’ve been far too busy sorting out my web site and you know, priorities.

Thankfully Brexit is not simple so it’s still a thing and here is my take on it all.

UK and EU

The United Kingdom is a proud body of nations.  Worldwide we punch well above our weight, commanding respect around the planet.  Our language is as close to universal as you can get.  Our values and democracy are widely exported and we were the last peoples to have a substantial empire.  One which we voluntarily deconstructed and ceremonially maintain.

We have an enviable military record which has transformed from a successful conquering nation to a force for good and as a result have built long standing worldwide trading partners.

Our past inventions and current skills are shared everywhere and we are a go to place for education, research and financial stability.

Yet despite all this as a people we are considered modest, liberal and welcoming, which is why we share in our continent’s modern European collective dream of peace and trade with ever diminishing borders.

Europe itself continued to fuse together politically and as modern world technology allowed closer shared values and industry the borders and differences have become less relevant.  Previous warring nations had matured so learned to live peacefully alongside each other and area distinctions became less relevant.  The European dream was a winning formula and adjacent nations queue to participate.

But we were never all in with Europe.  We kept our own currency, limited our acceptance of full borderless movement of peoples, negotiated discounts on our share of the costs of the union and crucially never really considered ourselves as truly European.

There remains a slight skepticism about the ultimate European Dream and where this all may lead and discussions about closer integration were pitched against loss of true national identity, political control and power.  Europe was always seen as somewhere else despite ever closer ties, shared values, integration and the geographical physical closeness.

Meanwhile, Elsewhere

Whilst all the above is happening there is a rest of the world and the Brexit story is linked to this as well.

Just like Europe the rest of the world had been benefiting from better ties between nations through improved communications technology.  A new dawn of international understanding and cooperation is sweeping the globe and through shared information and values we can all now have a deeper and more comprehensive understanding and appreciation of each other’s cultural differences.

Genocides, greed and corruption are no longer globally tolerated and thankfully no longer buried within local knowledge.  Poverty, climate change, population expansion and hunger are common shared concerns which are being tackled on a world-wide basis.

But there are a few areas and conflicts that remain a concern to world stability and in some cases religious intolerance is preventing full neighbourly acceptance.

These modern war zones have displaced citizens who migrate to safety elsewhere.  Mostly to their geographical neighbourhood but sometimes further afield and in general Western European democracies have tried to assist by offering shelter to those that most need it.

This assistance has partly inspired economic migrants as well who see opportunities abroad to better their own lifestyles and those of their families and the migration is often heralded by young male members of families, strong and determined enough to suffer the long, dangerous and arduous journey.

In fact in 2015 German Chancellor Angela Merkel positively encouraged such migration with a call out for a million new refugees to bolster the younger demographic of her country, in part to support an ageing population, a common issue for developed western cultures.

Repercussions of all of the above meant that many people around the Middle East and North Africa decided that it was time to migrate to a wealthier life.

And amongst these souls were a handful of ne’er-do-wells, often fresh from a losing conflict intent on bringing terrorism direct into the heart of their perceived foes.

And just for good measure all this happened at a time of global recession.

Farage The Architect

In many western democracies the success of liberal centrist parties was being questioned.

Although apparently modern and inclusive the soft approach failed to meet the full needs of all within the constraints of a free market, capitalist society.

This meant the gap between the rich and the poor was growing ever wider with seemingly little control.

Furthermore the valued concept of free speech was being questioned at a time when more and more rights were being bestowed on ever specific minorities, often to prevent perceived if not actual discrimination.

Plus due to increased racial integration some communities began to look physically different from the photographs and memories of older generations.  It sometimes looked as if some places in the UK even appeared to be excluding traditionally native Britons even though those accused were often multi-generational British.

To counter this a new wave of right of centre political parties emerged here and was mirrored across many other countries.

Many were radical and borderline offensive but some were just highly patriotic dreamers and in the UK this was best embodied in the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP, under their charismatic leader Nigel Farage.

UKIP wanted a return to unspecified, classic, British traditional values by putting restrictions on immigration to allegedly bolster wages, particularly in the lowest paid, along with reducing unemployment.  Alongside a return to full UK sovereignty with complete independence from Europe.  And the message resonated well with many, particularly with those who would traditionally be Conservative Party voters.

The incumbent Conservative political party, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, had for a long time suffered from split opinions over Europe and many previous leaders before him had fallen foul of such disagreements.

The rise of Farage’s UKIP threatened to further split the party rendering it potentially vulnerable to a dormant and previously ineffective opposition in Labour with a part popular, new, radical left wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

So David Cameron decided it was time to bury the European debate once and for all by offering the country a referendum on our European membership.  Presumably figuring that it was a simple case of demonstrating how dumb it was to split from a successful and strong long standing political and trading arrangement.  And to teach the pesky Farage and his cohorts a lesson.

All these political machinations were played out and analysed on news and political shows but rarely strayed far beyond these specialist programmes so the general populace continued their contented ignorance of such matters.

Reasoned Vote

Despite much general apathy on political matters beforehand Cameron called a national referendum on the subject to be held on 23 June 2016, which due to the rarity of such events spiked some interest outside of those normally following political and economic news stories and as a result Brexit became a thing.

Posing a referendum question is fraught with complications.  The question has to be simple to understand and present an opportunity for a simple answer.  This dumbing down of complex issues can summarise but can also smear an otherwise complex issue.

The question put was simply:

‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’

No further explanation was offered.

A few points here.  Firstly, one has to question, were all the participants able to understand the complex decision?  Even two years of fierce debate later by every conceivable specialist very little agreement can be made between those seeing the same situation in differing lights.

Secondly, the question could be considered flawed as the only options were to leave the Union or the Status Quo.  This implies a choice between a thrilling voyage of new discovery or more of the same old boring stuff.  If, for any reason anyone has any disillusion about any matter even remotely associated with the subject they may believe change is the better course.  And a third option of closer integration, with full and complete EU membership, which may offer some people similar excitement was not included.

Thirdly, no limits were set on interpretation of the vote.  One side could effectively ‘win’ with just a single vote differential.  No statistical significance would be considered, for instance requiring a two thirds majority to trigger change or to claim the result as inconclusive if there was less than a 2-3% margin.

Voting Reasons

Many commentators claim to know why people voted one way or another but considered voices should conclude that there were several possible reasons people made their choice. For clarity I think these can be broken down into four broad categories.

Constitution
Legal
Independence
Power
Security [From terrorism]

Political
Anti-Government
Change
Distrust
Message clarity
Recession
Subversion

Xenophobia
Degradation
Immigration
Pride
Racism
Societal shifting

Other
Desire for change
Fear of change
Intrigue
Cost
Uneuropean

Let’s explore these in more detail.

Constitution

For many the loss of constitutional power to the EU from the UK was a paramount factor in their decision making.  Many stories had emerged where UK High Court judgements were subsequently overturned by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Judgements such as the 12 year dispute between the UK and EU Court of Human Rights regarding the rights of voting for prisoners.

Many believe the UK should be able to decide who in the UK can vote.

This is essentially an independence issue, which is why UKIP were so named.

The loss of the highest supreme court is seen as a loss of power, particularly if one dismisses the actual nature of being in a shared union whilst being a key member of it.

The security issue is a concern because without European membership the UK could control their own immigration and this can be perceived as a safer way of keeping baddies out in the first place.  However this argument never considers the proportion of internal ‘home grown’ risk compared to external sources.  In truth security is nearly always improved with a closer union with others.

Political

Almost certainly some voted based on political assumptions.  Rarely, nowadays, do you hear political commentators mentioning the attempts to overthrow the government by removing the incumbent Prime Minister.  However, whenever a national question is posed and defended in one particular way by the PM some sections of the community look beyond logical reasons and use the vote to make a protest against whatever it is that the PM is advocating.

This attitude was not helped because the opposition Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who seemed at best indifferent on the subject of continued membership of the EU, point blank refused to share a platform with Cameron nudging it more toward being a party political issue.  This was a key decision as Corbyn’s fanatical following were vociferous and determined to share their views on various influential Social Media platforms.

So, some votes were probably cast based on anti-government consideration, subversion or wanting a change of political control.

It should be remembered that the majority of campaigners within the government and opposition wanted to stay part of the union so it appeared that our appointed parliamentarians were at odds with the general population.  This enhanced further distrust of the political establishment.

Here we have to also consider the effect of the overwhelming number of skilled commentators who passionately pleaded with the public to not make a backwards leap into a modern untested break with Europe.  Politicians of all parties, economic experts, business leaders and political commentators lined up to suggest Brexit would be a bad thing for the economy, trade, security, employment and the standing of the UK.

Despite all this, or more probably because of this, there was a growing groundswell of thought that maybe the ‘establishment’ were just pleading to maintain the status quo because this helped a perceived subjugation of the people.  Why were they so passionate?  Ergo they had something to hide.

The disorganised Brexiteers, in contrast, may have been a rag tag mix of different party politicians appearing under different group names but they had key media savvy names in Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Conservatives particularly appeared to be arguing on both sides with Gove and Johnson emerging to become key Brexiteers, primarily I believe to avoid Farage becoming a main player.  Because if that had happened and the general population chose to leave the Union all Brexiteer politicians could have to have fallen under the control of Mr Farage who could then potentially have a legitimate claim to be the next Prime Minister.  Admittedly a large leap of circumstances considering he isn’t even a Member of Parliament.

And between all the Brexiteers they conveyed simple messages such as ‘Take Back Control’, the infamous bus plastered with a future £350m saving for our use on the NHS and posters of queues of apparently foreign nationals which attempted to suggest our country was soon to be dealing with an unlimited number of incomers.

Whilst we are here let’s be clear that the £350m per week saving ‘bus’ message was not presented without context, despite the way some current media outlets portray this.  There were contemporaneous discussions with Boris Johnson explaining the figure was actually a gross number and was subject to deductions for return spend to the UK but nevertheless the message was that free of the EU the UK could choose how to spend their money themselves and the NHS was a prime example of a choice that could be made.

Despite this in many subsequent debates about the ‘bus logo’ the media allowed persistent incorrect reporting that the ‘leave’ campaigners disingenuously splashed a misleading exaggerated figure without thought.  Yes it was provocatively chosen but that’s their prerogative.  And whilst we are at it, it was nothing to do with Nigel Farage even though he was often associated with the idea and as a result personally suffered a loss of trust because of the claim.

Add all this to the fact that parliamentarians in some quarters were seen as perpetrators of the [actually global] recession or at least contributing to the continuation of it.

Xenophobia

Immigration concerns had been around for decades.  Older people particularly had fond childhood memories of their home towns and villages populated by people that looked just the same as they did.  Their own memories were backed by photographic and film evidence and the changed look of modern society implied an altered environment.  Particularly when entire communities and schools were being depicted clearly demonstrating a differing skin tone or maybe dress sense with traditionally white faces a minority.

However, instead of choosing to embrace such diversity many saw this as an erosion of purity, a degradation, with attendant lessening of pride.  Plus closer unions and communication with near and far neighbours who usually spoke in a different tongue indicated a future continuation of societal shifting.  This despite the fact that proportionally the overwhelming majority of UK citizens are still predominantly unchanged.

Another key factor was the fact that during the prelude to the referendum the weather and circumstances favoured sea crossing for migrants into Southern Europe.  The media relished the dramatic images of survival or loss with equal glee along with colourful images implying a greater mass transit than was actually occurring.  And it was thought that if they could come from south west Europe and be welcomed then will the next contingent come from further afield?

To really drive home this issue the public could recall a recent heart wrenching personal story with pictures of a 3 year old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdî, on 2 September 2015.  He had drowned and washed ashore but looked less like a foreign migrant and more like a typical little boy.  The memorable photos showed he was tenderly carried up the beach by a local, captured on film by Turkish journalist Nilüfer Demir.  Sympathy appeared almost universal for this little child and to his family but didn’t quite extend fully to others who risked similar fates.  In some ways the public seemed to desire less migration just so they were saved the discomfort of facing the reality of actual humanity.

Finally, racism may be a strong term with many unpleasant overtones but the inability of our language to separate true unfair and spiteful racism from misjudged xenophobia and also from a desire to maintain tradition and from genuine heartfelt concerns can lead to deep division.  Certainly deep enough to affect a key referendum on foreign union.

Other

Another reason to vote one way or another is a simple desire for change, albeit to clutch desperately onto a notion of optimism, or perhaps to seek alternatives due to boredom or maybe even just to see what happens.  Undoubtedly, the whole process can be seen as fascinating or intriguing as well as frightening.

Some may have had concerns over the costs or benefits from either remaining or leaving.  Here experts lined up to give assurances or perhaps cast doubt about how much it will all cost.  And it may be fair to consider at this point that Nigel Farage did accept that there may be a cost to the economy following a Brexit but on further interrogation claimed it was a price worth paying.

Add to this many flippant but entertaining tabloid stories of European rules which allegedly forced alterations to commonly known foodstuffs such as requirements about the curvature of fruit made many see the idea of further integration with Europe as bananas.

The EU has rarely benefitted from positive information. Our lazy media, quick to exploit and simplify a story, has tended to concentrate on bearing bad news.  This attitude is amplified further by amateur commentators on Social Media platforms.

Stories such as criticising the cost of the EU administration without considering that some of that money is used to employ UK nationals.

Or to be generally silent on the excellent work that has been achieved in political cooperation, improving our food and manufacturing standards, standardising products to enable simpler market access to a much wider audience and security cooperation to make us all safer.

Remember the UK is/was/has been [depends on when you read this] a member state and has/had votes and about 10% of the MEPs

And finally but quite importantly a large majority of UK citizens just don’t really see themselves as European at all, except maybe geographically.

The Verdict

The referendum result came in and shocked many political commentators and news outlets as the leave campaigners were generally expected to win.

From the 46.5m eligible to vote there was a high turnout of over 72%.

Of these 33.5m people just under 17.5m voted to leave the EU and just over 16m voted to remain.  A percentage split of 52% leave to 48% remain.

It can be read that if just 634,751 voted differently the result would have changed. In percentage terms this is just under 1.4% of the electorate.

Region splits showed differing breakdowns and these will be discussed later but in general England and Wales voted to leave and Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted to stay.

In England, a split became apparent between populous metropolitan areas who favoured remaining whilst other areas wanted to leave. Other studies pointed to a variation in voting amongst the older and younger generations with a tendency to prefer a leave option the older one became.

The results sent a shock wave through the political community, with the result catching many unaware. Those who had campaigned to remain were surprised that their message had not been more adhered to and those that wanted to leave appeared to be even more shocked at their victory.  In fact in early discussions soon after the result showed that the leave campaign were a long way from even having properly thought through the dramatic implications.

Political Fallout

The result particularly shocked the political establishment with an almost instant resignation of the Prime Minister.  Cameron had led the campaign to remain but in failure decided he could not reasonably lead the nation in another direction.  Many have criticised this decision but it was an honest and reasonable one in the circumstances.

As a result political chaos broke out with a Tory party leadership election called on 9 September 2016.  It wouldn’t take this time because expected front runners dropped out for various reasons.  Former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, was too close to Cameron and the remain campaign so was the first to be discounted.  Boris Johnson was the next major player to dissolve when his former ‘Vote Leave’ colleague Michael Gove publicly stated Johnson could not lead the team.  However Gove himself got voted out of the election after passing two ballots but being eliminated during the members’ vote stage.

This left Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May.  However, an inappropriate comment on motherhood in The Times forced her to withdraw leaving the leadership open to the now unopposed, new, Prime Minister Theresa May who took office on 13 July 2016.

Brexwhat?

But what exactly is Brexit?

Early on many asked what does Brexit mean? Theresa May famously said “Brexit means Brexit”.  Most understood what she meant even if they found it hard to articulate but some were confused.

Unfortunately we haven’t the language to respond effectively.  However before being too critical consider whether it is possible to describe what remaining in the EU looks like.  Remain means remain.

So, what should Brexit mean?

The basics should be:

The UK should have ultimate legal jurisdiction over its subjects, citizens and visitors

The UK decides who can live or be here in the UK

The UK decides the currency used here

The UK decides who it can trade with

The UK decides which standards should be applied in food, health and business

The 50th Article

The first formal act to set off the Brexit process is to lodge a formal document of intent to leave with the EU, specifically Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.  This was issued by the Prime Minister on 29 March 2017.  It was the first time a sovereign member state had issued such a document.

The Article states that the withdrawing state ends its obligations with Europe two years after the issuing of the document, unless the European Council agrees to an extension.  This set the actual leaving date to be set in stone at 29 March 2019.  Unless the European Council agrees to an extension.

Two years to negotiate the terms of withdrawal.  Two years to untangle all the legal documentation formed and agreed over 40 years of close cooperation.  Two years to set up new replacement UK legal documentation.  Two years for international businesses to make the necessary adjustments . Two years of uncertainty whilst all the above is enacted.

It was clearly a lot to do and at the time many commentated that the UK lacked the required number of skilled negotiators compared to the EU and did not have enough to do all the work in time, although I never saw any indication of recruitment of an army of people to do this.

Very little discussion was held after the initial issue of Article 50 about the potential extension of time allowed?  This focussed negotiations and could be considered as a good thing as one of the biggest issues raised since has been the uncertainty and a delay to the exit date would just prolong such uncertainty.

Two years to do all this and the EU were not really able to commence their side of negotiations until the French and German political elections were completed.  This meant that meaningful negotiations didn’t start until June 2017.  However, just one thing seemed to be on the EU’s agenda before that date…

Money

In a previous section above entitled ‘The Vote’ you may have noticed a major omission in the lists and that is the issue of the ‘divorce bill’.

If you have read this article so far you could have rightly assumed that I had an above average interest in this whole subject.  As a result I watched much of the pre-referendum debate and analysis so consider myself to have been as reasonably informed as any non professional in the matters at hand but not once, in all the political programmes, news reports or social media tidbits did I hear anything about having to pay a lump sum to Europe as compensation for leaving.

But it was the first thing that the European negotiating team jumped on.  Almost selfishly insisting that unless a substantial sum was agreed to be paid in compensation then all negotiations would stall.  This effectively reduced the remaining time to negotiate the far more complex trade and legal issues substantially.

This ‘divorce bill’ as it became known, now seems actually based on logical fairness even if the initial estimates demanded by the EU were excessively greedy, up to over €100m [£88bn], partly to discourage other member states from following the UK’s lead and seeking their own ‘Brexit’.

The sum, which currently stands at an estimated £39bn, is designed to cover current UK agreements and obligations up to the end of 2020.  It includes such requirements as UK citizen pension liabilities.  It excludes any liabilities during the withdrawal procedure up to 29 March 2019, which remain unchanged from previous years agreements as if the UK had never issued Article 50.  So no sign of that ‘£350m/week’ yet.

Plus the final sum will not be finally agreed until the UK Parliament approves the whole withdrawal agreement.  Currently forecast as the month of sometiuary in the year 20andSomethingBig.

Negotiations

Negotiations seemed to have followed a pattern since.  With much reporting of what the UK should offer and compromise on then the EU curtly dismissing things and asking the UK to come up with some fresh ideas.

This reflects badly on the EU negotiating team and therefore appears less like a joint negotiation and more like a series of pleas.

Even on the subject of foreign nationals within each area, the UK have promised reasonable stability to those already here but the EU have made no such parallel promises to UK citizens in the EU.

Theresa May and her team must take responsibility for allowing the EU to take such a stance, which is partially caused because the major negotiation factor for the UK was the valuation of the divorce bill as currently the UK are such a generous funder of the EU.  When the UK allowed the EU to railroad this issue before any other was discussed it lost control of the talks and have been on the back foot since.

However I do applaud one aspect of the negotiation and that is the agreement on all the entangled legal documents which were trailed as a major factor.  Most had envisaged long tough meetings taking all of the time and considerable resources.  But one smart arse came up with the fantastic idea of The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.  A brilliantly simple piece of legislation which singlehandedly extracts ourselves from many listed previous European legislations and replaces them with what accounts to ‘We still abide by each and every one until we can be bothered to rewrite them to exclude the French etc.’

However, as it has all been hastily compiled and at present most new legislation is far from complete would it be a good idea if we put together a legal footing to ensure no one can benefit from any unconverted EU to UK legislation?

Regions

Scotland

Scotland has a troubled relationship with the rest of the UK.  For centuries there were disputes between the English and Scottish but the Union was formed in 1707 after King James 6 of Scotland inherited England and Ireland, becoming James 1 of England.  Although more than 300 years has since passed many Scottish people still feel too isolated from England to feel part of the same team.

Other than history this could be due to geographic distance, separation of regional and national identities, not sharing identical monies and quite importantly the separation of nationality for sports events.  For example during the Olympics both the Scottish and English are team mates competing under one flag but in the far more important sports of football and rugby the teams are competitors.

Scotland, although occupying a third of the UK land mass has much less than 10% of the population probably due to having nine tenths of the weather.  Therefore if they feel separate then thoughts could harbour feelings of inferiority to their larger neighbour and this is often manifested in what is said north of the border.  I have heard many Scots claiming to dislike or even hate the English, even whilst resident in England, but cannot recall any time hearing such sentiment about the Scottish within England.  The sentiment of many Englishfolk is confusion and sadness on why Scotland wishes such independence.

In 1997 Scottish nationalism secured under a referendum an independent Scottish Parliament which perpetuated a perception that the UK government did not have the needs of the Scottish people in their heart, equal to the rest.  And since then Scottish nationalism has further grown in popularity, particularly under the skilled leadership of the charismatic leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon.

For a few years now the SNP has run a strong, supported campaign for Scotland to become a fully independent nation.

Although when put to the test in a referendum in September 2014 the majority voted against a split from the UK.

In the Brexit referendum the majority also expressed a wish to remain in the EU.  Although these particular voters may not necessarily be the same people of course.

The average Scot therefore appears to like the Status Quo and likes being part of a strong SNP, despite the SNP reasoning that a Brexit may be the impetus to reignite the desire for an independence split from the UK.  Ironically to join another union with the EU.  The people’s at odds with the politicians, just like south of the border.

It’s all very confusing. Unless you compare things to Northern Ireland.

Personally whether we Brexit, remain or fly off to Mars I would hope the Scottish remain part of the UK.  Hey guys, why keep speaking as if not part of the Union, our Union?  And please media and commentators stop elucidating as if this was the case.

Wales

The majority of Welsh people voted to leave the EU.  In this respect the Welsh are just like the English outside of big metropolitan areas.  Which is a way of describing the majority of Wales anyway.

Although, like Scotland, the Welsh have their own devolved parliament and similar potential reasons for feeling subjugated in comparison to the English.  However the people there do not harbour such thoughts.  Wales, unique, in language and tradition still clearly accept membership of the same team. Nationally speaking, not sporting of course.

Northern Ireland

Despite the sounding off of some commentators the peculiar circumstances relating to any impact Brexit would have on Northern Ireland was mentioned before the vote.  Many forecasted the issues that this most unique part of the UK would face.

Geographically it is the only part that shares a substantial border with another member state of the EU.  And this adjacency has caused issues since its inception in 1921 and the people’s either side of the border have been unable to contain their strong opposing opinions for as long as anyone can remember.

In particular the 1970s were a recently memorable period when such opposing views were highlighted in a period of extreme violence.

In essence the island of Ireland, naturally geologically a single entity, is mostly taken up by Ireland but the north-east corner is part of the UK.  Some from Northern Ireland believe Ireland should be reunited as one but more want to remain British.  Unsurprisingly religious difference underlies these two opposing factions which never seems to calm down a stressful situation.

Despite this turbulent history since 1998 and the signatories to the Good Friday Agreement the island seemed to have come to a sensible peace so trade, community and communications have blossomed meaning the underlying differences are now recognised and debated in an a mature manner.

Then Brexit and with it the potential opening of old concerns about segregation.  No one appeared to want a return to the days of solid borders so the majority of the Northern Irish people voted to remain in the EU.

For about a year the peculiar difficulties surrounding Northern Ireland and Brexit were barely mentioned but intensity increased in the later months and suddenly media and commentators started bleating on about how no one had foreseen the problems and nothing had been mentioned.  This is patently not true and an insult to those in Northern Ireland who had obviously considered their own predicament from the outset.

My main point here is that neither Ireland nor Northern Ireland should fear a Brexit because if it is the will of the people to not have a physical border then just don’t have one by policing any trade border and discouraging any who seek to flout the situation.

Gibraltar

Northern Ireland hasn’t the only joint UK/EU border.  Gibraltar shares a strip of land with Spain and historically Spain are not happy about this.  Not only thinking they should have the strip but also the rest of the island as well.  Gibraltarians disagree as they remain firm members of the UK.

This upsets the Spanish because they want the natural resources associated with the land and surrounding waters along with the strategic location at the pinch point between Europe, Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

And just like I mentioned about border issues with Ireland, Gibraltar was mentioned before the vote so please desist in commentating that this was never discussed before.

The Territory voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining, as could have been expected from a community attached to mainland Europe where most residents are English/Spanish bilingual.

January 2019

This story has yet to be played out.  At the time of writing there are about two and a half months before the exit date.  It could be extended but at present most are working toward avoiding that.

Parliament is at odds with the Government and with itself.  Not really knowing which way to go.

An unpopular Brexit Deal made with Europe and yet to be voted on by Parliament looks like a fudge.  With all the sugar removed.  It fails to address anyones actual requirements and is highly compromised.  Such a deal could always have been foreseen as a compromise.  That is how negotiations work but the deal seems to offer Brexit but with key features requiring continued close cooperation and the subsequent stifling of state limits.  Or as many Brexiteers may put it.  Not actually Brexit.

It is furthermore tied in with something called a ‘back stop’.  An ugly, undemonstrative term which basically means if we continue to fail to address the Irish issue Northern Ireland only will stay part of the EU, possibly ad infinitum.  The Northern Irish are rightly not happy about this and quietly neither are the rest of us as it seems Brexit is held hostage to the needs of just a few.

Other subjects confusing the issue are the ideas of further referendum and calling a General Election.

The problem with going for a further referendum on the subject is a tacit admission of failure by the politicians to have acted on the result of the last one.  Is the New Referendum Question to be?:

‘The UK Government, who have struggled to get a consensus agreement on how to leave the EU despite being highly knowledgeable on the subject ask you, the people, who consistently claim to have not been informed despite much opportunity to be so, to advise how we should now act even though you do not have the opportunity to discuss this with the EU yourselves like we have during the past two years and have failed to get a good agreement on anything, much like you do when gathered together amongst yourselves in any case.  Vote now.’

A new referendum would delay the process, upset many who thought that their clear simple views had already been ordained and it may all end up in more turmoil.

I believe the act of wanting another referendum has two purposes.  To delay the inevitable and to attempt to overturn the public vote.

If politicians want to defy the public why don’t they do their job which is to be better informed and know more than we do on such subjects.  So tell us we were misinformed and voted incorrectly, keep us in the EU, apologise for the whole messy state of things and then all resign as a matter of integrity.  They won’t do this of course because too many are selfish and reliant on their careers.  This is harsh but I have not heard one single politician express such a radical view.

Labour has adopted a ‘nothing to do with us attitude’.  Criticising where they can gain political oneupmanship and avoid giving clear guidance as much as possible.  This could be an inspired tactic.  Let the Tories mess up the whole shebang and glide in afterwards to sort it all out.  The problem is that this attitude is difficult to maintain over a long period of constant debate.

As a result Labour calls for a General Election have increased in recent weeks.  However, as the prospect of having to do the Brexit themselves is not desired Labour are actually cunningly both calling for an immediate election but conversely prefacing it with all sorts of conditions to smear the message.

The main thing Labour realise that right now a General Election would really serve little good at all.  What would people be voting on?  Yes many may switch away from the Conservative Party as a signal to demonstrate their anger at the inefficiencies so far but just as many would revolt against other party representatives because right now the population are losing faith with established political incumbents.

Possibly there may be a large exodus to independent candidates, who have no party baggage.  We could end up with a new Government of unknown history, picked from local celebrities and snake oil salespeople. All led by Nigel Farage. Now, that would be interesting.  And tragic.

Unaddressed

If we Brexit, and it all goes bad who will the masses blame?  The political establishment?  The media?  Each other?  Or the EU?  If the EU are perceived as causing a poor deal Brexit will the UK population stop using European products?  Is even more, unimagined fiscal turmoil to be expected?

And if we crash out of Europe with a hard Brexit and no deal will the UK be sued by the European Parliament?  Could the UK be sued for any minor matter relating to trade, security, unexpected contingencies etc.?

And finally, for now, after Brexit are we all going to have to start thinking about what happens next?  After all nearly half of the population didn’t want to change so are these people waiting patiently to let Brexit occur and immediately start a call for Brentrance?

The story will continue.  Watch this space.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Political section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 14 Jan 2019

Remastered

Yes, I’m calling it.  I have now completed the remastering of my web site.  The foundations of version 5 are done.

It’s taken some major commitment from me over the past 15 months and I’ve managed it all in less time than a Brexit.

From now on it will be all new content never before seen on any previous versions of the site.

Yes, I will still need to spend a little time finally tweaking some pages and entries but perfection always needs a bit of polish so that’s just an ongoing chore.

So, tell your friends, inform your colleagues and update your associates vinceunlimited is in business.  The future can begin.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Web section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 11 Dec 2018

Redacted

You may have noticed that I have not been posting much on this blog lately.  Don’t panic my typing finger hasn’t dropped off.  It’s just that I am continuing with the time consuming update of my web site, page by page on a near daily basis and I have reached 2014, the date that I started my WordPress blog.

Obviously there is no point in recreating these ancient WordPress blogs back onto this site as they already reside here, albeit from many moons back.  However I was using other forms of communication at the time, such as FaceBook and this is one post that I only shared on my FB site [albeit availably publicly at the time] and can share with you all now.

A FaceBook status update originally posted on 8 Nov 2014

Redacted

Hi guys, I’ve been lax in my post updates lately.  I really ought to let you all know what I’ve been up to lately.  Hopefully this post will get you all up to speed.

Just one note before I start though.  I hope you don’t mind but I’ve had to redact some of the more personal data as I don’t want FaceBook to have too much personal information on record.

Firstly work.  I used to [redacted] but just recently, in fact just [redacted] years ago I decided to have a change and now I [redacted].

I am really enjoying doing this partly because I get to [redacted].

On a personal basis I’m still with [redacted] despite [redacted] and the incident with the large mole.

Health wise my doctor said my enormous [redacted] even though I use the cream daily.

I had a falling out with [redacted] so don’t expect a Christmas Card this year.  But at least I made a new friend when the [redacted] [redacted].

Now for the most important bit.  I had a great bit of fortune recently on the [redacted] and won nearly [redacted].  I am going to share this all with my FaceBook friends.  All you need to do is turn up at [redacted] on the [redacted] at [redacted] o’clock.  All those that read my messages will now know this and be able to share in this.  So see you on the [redacted].

Bye for now.

And remember if you don’t share this post you will [redacted].

Author: Vince [Redacted]
From the Social Media section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 5 Nov 2018
First published as a FaceBook status update on 8 Nov 2014

Wishes

A FaceBook status update originally posted on 24 May 2014

Wishes

Please pass on this message to get four wishes just for sharing.

If you SHARE today you get granted four special wishes.

If you LIKE this post you will receive a special bonus wish.  Your wishes will come true within a week.

If you don’t pass this message on you will turn into a goat.

Terms and conditions: The author of this post cannot guarantee you will receive four wishes, or indeed any number up to the arbitrary value of four that is mentioned.  To be honest it’s unlikely you will get any.  And it will make pigging all difference whether you like or share.  The author is only looking for cheap link bait from gullible people.  Although the timescales indicate you should act quickly you will get the same effect whether you do this now or twenty years in the future.  In other words, fuddle all.  It’s just a proven fact that if you think you can ignore something at the moment you are unlikely to return again.  And it’s only suggested that something may happen in a week because loads of things happen in your week so there’s a fair chance that you may find association where there wasn’t any in the first place.  If, in the unlikely event that you do make a wish and it comes true do you really think that reading, liking or sharing some bit of make believe nonsense had any effect on it?  Really?  Do you?  And, seriously, do you think the mild threat is really going to turn you into a goat?  Unless you are a goat foetus this is a highly improbable outcome so ignore this mild threat.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Social Media section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 2 Oct 2018
First published as a FaceBook status update on 24 May 2014

Dear FaceBook

A FaceBook status update originally posted on 18 May 2014 showing a growing discontent about the way the site was working for me.

Dear FaceBook,

I don’t know if you remember me.  It’s been a while so I hope you don’t mind me writing to you out of the blue like this.

You may recall we used to be together when we were much younger.  We were dreamers then.  Me with my life and you with your incessant thirst for knowledge.  We shared good times.  We exchanged ideas, thoughts and sometimes the odd laugh.

But we grew apart.  I heard rumours that you would spread our little secrets to all and sundry, no matter how many times I’d ask you not to.  And you did have a nasty habit of constantly asking to play that awful FarmVille all the time.

So we stopped seeing each other.  I moved on, particularly with my new best friend, Twitter.  But I always kept you in my thoughts, observing you from afar.

Thankfully your FarmVille obsession seems to have rescinded, although sadly replaced by the frankly much worse Candy Crush Saga.  How disappointing you are.

Despite this I think we can be friends again, even though I know deep in my heart you will still splash our private thoughts all around the place even if I continue to ask you not to.  I’ll just have to watch what I say.  A technique I have learned from seeing how others patently do the opposite.

However, I am wiling to give us a go again.  No promises.  You know me.  But let’s hang out again.  Although not with that Google crowd, I’m not that weird.

I’ll probably start slow.  Maybe the odd comment on our shared timelines.  In time I may post some proper updates.  Maybe even the occasional photograph.  We’ll see.

I think this will work, providing you stop asking me where I work, the school I attended more than three decades ago and what my inside leg measurement is.  Some secrets a man must keep to himself.  And some a man should just share with his old mate FriendsReunited.

And whilst we’re at it stop suggesting I might know a load of people who clearly look like a frightful bunch of potential petty criminals.  Yes I admit I may have shared my past with some of them but the fact that I have had little to do with them in the past forty odd years must tell you something.

And whilst we are on the new rules, don’t start trying to find out where I go all the time.  I don’t share that sort of stuff with anyone.  Except my friend FourSquare that is.

Despite all this I’m up for giving it another go.

Your old friend, Vince

P.S. Don’t tell MySpace.  I’m not reigniting that flame and he’s already sad enough, it could tip him over the edge.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Social Media section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 1 Oct 2018
First published as a FaceBook status update on 18 May 2014

Ingreedyents

From the vinceunlimited Blog dated 16 Mar 2011

I have to read things.  It’s part of my make up, who I am.  I am curious and love gathering knowledge.  And a great source of detailed information is plastered all over our products and the most enlightening and interesting is the ingredients list on seemingly simple products.  I’ll give an example just to see if you can guess the product before the end reveal.

The first ingredient listed is always the largest component and in this particular case is Aqua.  Now if you were paying attention in double Latin you will know that this comes from the old English word meaning Akker, short for Acker Bilk a clarinetist who became famous for being the only clarinetist anyone could name.  The Akker term was used to describe the spittle and dribble emanating from the business end of his instrument.  Later this ‘Akker’ became Aqua during the Latinisation of old English words during the 1950’s when certain Oxbridge elements wanted to seem more clever than the general populous.  In other words Aqua just means water and no one except Stephen Fry can understand why they just don’t say that.

The second most common element is a compound, which is really two elements so by combining have jumped up the list unfairly.  This compound is Sodium Chloride.  As any chemistry student knows this is actually just salt so why the pretentious ingredient listers bother with fourteen letters and a space when four will do can only lead one to suspect that they are in it up to their necks with the Ink Printing Association and frankly the Government should look into this rather than wasting all that time on the Hutton Enquiry.

Coming in in third place is the second Sodium collaboration, this time with Benzoate.  Why Sodium wants a second billing is as strange as the word ‘in’ wanting a second billing at the head of this paragraph [I bet you five pounds you had to check].  What is even stranger is that Benzoate is a common misspelling of the term Benz 08, the eighth car produced by Mercedes.  We all know that Sodium and old cars don’t really mix so this ingredient actually just refers to rust.  Or as the aforementioned Ink Printers & Affiliates Association would put it Ferrous Oxide.

The next listed ingredient is Polysorbate 20.  Clearly the manufacturers of this product had to undergo years of testing just to establish that Polysorbate 20 was clearly better/cheaper/more environmentally friendly [delete as appropriate] than Polysorbate 19 or any other number less or indeed more than this.  For the technically minded amongst you you may like to know that Polysorbate 1 is the amount of liquid you can mop up using a single Standard Unit parrot.

Next up is the old familiar Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate or SLGC for short.  Again Sodium has chosen to get in a mix with other products rather than stand out on it’s own.  In fact if it did it would probably rate above Aqua so one must conclude that Sodium is inherently shy.  In this case hiding amongst Lauryl, Glucose and Carboxylate, an unknown comedy trio who’s fortunes turned around when Carboxylate left them to join another team.  Lauryl and Glucose re-branded themselves Laurel and Hardy and Carbo, as he became known, joined the other Marx Brothers.

The next listed ingredient is Malic Acid.  This is obtained from the Hollywood actor Art Malik so is very expensive.  It is a well kept industry secret that after his work on ‘The Jewel In The Crown’ and ‘A Passage To India’ he was ground down using a large Mortar and Pestle for use in various products and his appearance in True Lies was actually done by Ronnie Corbett on a pair of stilts with some clever post production work and Ronni Ancona’s voice-over.

Next up, according to the list is Lauryl Glucoside.  But I think this is just a lie because I had a very close look using a quite big magnifying glass and I couldn’t see any.

Nearing the end now and we come across Parfum.  Now many think this is just a smug way of saying perfume intimating this to be a pleasant thing.  Again this fallacy must be redressed and if broken down into it’s constituent parts of Parf and Um you will see it’s true meaning is a fart.

The next ingredient is the most difficult to explain.  Not because it is a complex compound it’s just so darned difficult to spell.  It’s the trips off the tongue, old familiar, we all know it as Methylisothiazolinone.  A long word that scientists use when they haven’t really got a clue what they found but without it the Ingredients Standards & Ink Printing Affiliates Association Incorporated will not sign off the packaging [Has that Hutton Enquiry finished yet?]

Third from last is Aloe Barbadensis Extract.  This is a passage from the Hawaiian novel ‘Hello Barber Dentist’.  A short story about a young girl who hooks up with a hairdresser who has a secret life as a doctor.  I believe the word for doctor and dentist is the same in Hawaiian which might seem odd but not as odd as the six-hundred and fourteen words they have for podiatrist.

The penultimate ingredient is Propylene Glycol.  As opposed to Impropylene Glycol.  Glycol is a fancy word for antifreeze and in this case is proper lean.  In other words weak antifreeze.

The final ingredient of this mysterious product is Tocopherol Acetate and let’s face it as it is the final ingredient it hardly features at all so is not really worth considering.  In fact given there are ten other more copious compounds one wonders whether the actual product would be substantially altered by it’s omission.  In fact let’s start a campaign here and now to reduce the number of products in our products by leaving out the least included.  Except in the case of salt of course which will otherwise just revert to Sodium, which as we have already established wants none of the attention.

So, have you guessed the product yet?  I’ll give you a reminder of what’s in it:- Sodium, Water, Salt [i.e. more Sodium], Rust, Slapstick, essence of Art Malik, a bit of fart, some paragraphs, a spot of weak antifreeze and a teenie bit of something not really needed.  Which all makes it much clearer than the arse-wipe list on the actual packet as insisted by the Ink Printers & Bankers Bonus Society Corporation Of America, Honduras & Affiliated Offshore Accounts PLC.

So would you eat this only good for flushing straight down the loo stuff?

I hope not because it’s actually a real arse-wipe list.  Check out the back of your next packet of bottie wipes and you’ll see what I mean.

Well what do you expect me to do whilst sat here waiting?  I have to read something.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Blog section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 30 Aug 2018
If you want to hear me read this Blog post to you I adapted it for my sixteenth blog post, Pod 16 – Ingreedyents, posted in iTunes and here on my WordPress site dated 19 Nov 2014
First published within the Blog on 16 Mar 2011

Cucumber Campaign

From the vinceunlimited Blog dated 6 Feb 2011

At first all the cucumber aficionados reading this will be salivating at the thought that there is to be a Cucumber campaign.  No doubt the thought of selfless promotion of their favourite green cylindrical vegetable will drive them wild with excitement.  But this campaign is to reduce their use.  I hate the things and I am fed up with them turning up uninvited in my sandwich rolls.

For the last few years we have been constantly droned on at to eat more healthily and my relatively recent contribution is to engage full on with the salad world.  Well, when I say full on I don’t mean the whole banana.  I don’t relish radishes, crave cress or press for peppers but I have taught myself the art of enjoying a little bit of lettuce, providing it’s not masquerading as that rocket/garden weed nonsense.  And I have always liked tomato and egg so with a bit of proper food [i.e. meat] I can handle a salad sandwich from time to time.

The trouble is the purveyors of such delicatessen insist on chucking as much ingredients into their wares as possible and this usually includes an obligatory slice of Cucumis Sativus.  No doubt using two thin slices of this cheap creeping vine pod appeals to their sense of value but for me it’s strong flavour just stains the rest of the sandwich and puts me off purchase.  And don’t go telling me that they hardly taste of anything as they are 90% water because if that is the case don’t bother adding them in the first place.

My main issue is that nobody really likes these things.  My misses claims to like cucumber but not once have I seen her purchase one for snack consumption.  Despite the easy natural packaging no one eats a cucumber in the street, such as happens with apples and bananas for instance.

You may think why pick on the cucumber?  After all in a similar way the tomato is not universally appreciated yet this is added to salad rolls for presumably the same reason and people don’t eat them in the street.  The answer is in the design of the tomato.  It may have the same convenient outer packaging as a cucumber but it packs a surprise squish inside rendering it impossible to eat anywhere except leaning over a sink.  So totally unsuitable for street snacking.  And to reinforce the positives of a tomato it adds a new and exciting colour to a salad sandwich.  Cucumber’s just ape the green of the lettuce that’s already there.  Plus I like tomatoes.

So lets ditch the cucumber.  The most pointless addition to a sandwich ever.

Apart from sweetcorn of course.  That nasty little cancer gets everywhere.  Try buying a salad or pasta snack in your local supermarket and there it is.  Little yellow bits of stinking pus-pebbles ruining every dish and impossible to remove without tweezers and a sieve.  Tastes even stronger and twice as sickly than crappy cucumber.  And for some reason always added to otherwise delicious tuna offerings.  What is this stupid fish/corn-cob relationship based on?  As far as I know nothing in the natural world that David Attenborough has ever enlightened us about despite an almost obsessive annual BBC series on the subject.  I adore tuna.  Tuna is good for me.  Sweetcorn makes me puke.  Why stop at Tunacorn?  Why not just go the whole hog and pointlessly insist on adding dandelion leaves to every smoked salmon slice?

Or better still why not make things simpler?  Sandwiches, rolls, baps, tacos, submarines and pittas should only contain one ingredient.  An obvious main ingredient, such as the meat, or for those vaginatarians say an egg.  Then also on display at the same point should be the personal add ons, such as lettuce, tomato and [if you really insist] cucumber, sweetcorn and dandelion.  The user could add these extras at will and build a sarnie to their precise taste and health requirements.

Yes, I am aware that the Subway sandwich chain already take this approach but why not our local supermarket, corner shop or garage forecourt?

Lettuce start the Cucumber Campaign today.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Opinions section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 29 Aug 2018
First published within the Blog on 6 Feb 2011

A Dream Come True

A short story by Vince, written 1982

The heat from the ground rose defiantly, shimmering above the winding road, the distortions playing havoc with the clear cut edge of the tarmac strip.

A feint roar could be heard from the distant horizon.  The noise grew louder and louder, now heard well above the relentless chanting of the birds and insects.  A glint of light was caught in the distance and as the rumble drew closer it could be observed that a motorcyclist, resplendent in his white leather jacket, was riding his mount rapidly towards the ancient monument half a mile away.

As the rider rode faster into the foreground it could be observed that this was no ordinary day tripper.  The open megaphone type exhausts echoed a note reminiscent of track racers, the rapid acceleration shattered only by the tortuously hard braking for his next corner belayed an experienced street racer.  Each gear change was just a flick from his right boot just a fraction of momentum lost.  At every corner the hot black rubber of the tyres scrabbled for grip, the footrests causing sparks to be flown from the tarmac.  Then again the rider pulled upright rapidly towards the next bend in an ecstasy of speed and tormented delight.

This frantic moment of riding soon came to a close.  The rider having pulled out of a sweeping right hander screwed open the throttle, laid on the tank and watched the long straight unfurl in front of him.  The speedometer needle indicated seventy, eighty, …ninety passed as his right foot forced the next gear into operation.  The black chromed exhausts bleated out in beautiful harmony as one-hundred and ten showed.  Ton-twenty and the motor screamed for more, the airstream battling with the rider for control of the machine.

The needle peaked at one-hundred and twenty-five as the next bend loomed into the distance. Within a split second the rider’s right hand was gripping the brake lever.  The motion abruptly spoiled as the black calipers grabbed the shining twin front discs.  The front end dropped as the weight fell on the front wheel, the forks diving in pain as ninety, seventy, fifty passed.  Then a quick gear change and the bike cruised gently round the next bend.

Now that the riding was more sedate the details of man and machine could be seen.  The rider wearing his black crash helmet, bearing the mark of a Greek God painted delicately in gold, faded blue jeans and studded leather boots was haunched over a mainly black bike.

The heart of the bike, a mighty V-twin motor, thumped it’s power through a huge chain and was converted to power by a massive oversize rear tyre.  The front end, braced by two powerful looking forks, boasted a huge tyre, twin discs and rather unsubstantial but neat looking mudguard.  Above, the double headlights were gripped in a small nose fairing suggesting night racing but were taped over as it was a sunny afternoon.

Above the unburstable black motor lay a shiny, glimmering petrol tank.  As with the rest of the machine it was gloss black and only the golden letters broke the monotony.  The name reminiscent of by-gone days where the engine once ruled the roads, now emblazoned on the most beautiful bike in the world, read…VINCENT.

vincentconcept
The Vincent motorcycle concept I envisaged for this story in the early eighties.  The café racer is influenced by the Vincent Black Shadow, the Moto-Martin CBX and Ogri

Vince was proud of his bike.  Very proud.  He had read how customers spend hundreds of pounds and thousands of hours churning out visually appealing machines, only to be torn to pieces and then re-built in time for the next custom show.  Also, like it as not, they don’t run, or can’t because they have sixty-nine carat gold plate on the rear sprocket or something.

But Vince’s bike ran, and it ran well.  He remembered how his old CX500 used to bounce and weave along this, his favourite stretch of road.  Even the Suzuki GS750 seemed to wallow above eighty on these curves.  But his Vincent, that he was riding now, seemed to eat potholes and white lines as though it were stood still on a bowling green.  Most bikes seemed like a roller-coaster on speed compared to this machine.

And what a machine it was.  A speed machine, an accelerating machine, an enthusiast’s machine, a reliable machine…?  Vince pondered on this for a while as the shining black beauty purred slowly into town, the passers-by admiring the immaculate lines and enviously noticing the smug look of it’s pleased rider.  The reliability, he thought, was probably the machine’s weakest point, although this would probably be complimenting it’s other features.  The speed was electrifying, the finish superb, the handling perfect.  Even the fuel consumption was favourable compared to the modern multis.

In reality, Vince thought, nothing should go wrong with his bike.  After all he had built the engine and bike from scratch, so he knew it inside out.  He remembered how his grandfather had nearly thrown out the old engine.  Now neatly restored, painted black and brightly polished it looked like it had been brought just yesterday.  It’s one-thousand cc’s of sheer muscle seemed to ooze character as it fired it’s cylinders in turn after every second lamppost on the pavement.  Beautiful, Vince thought.

Up ahead were traffic lights.  They were about forty yards away by now and Vince knew that if he opened the throttle the black sensation would roar easily through before the red, even if the amber showed up now, but he was in no hurry.  Vince used to scream along at fifty or sixty in town on the Suzuki thinking he was a king, but on this machine he knew he was and therefore had no need to prove it.  He casually glanced down at the large Smiths speedo and read twenty-seven miles an hour.

Sure enough the lights turned red and Vince pulled up resting his front wheel just short of the white line.  The traffic system was a slow one so Vince knew he would be able to look around, revelling in the fame this bike seemed to bring him.  When he stopped in the street it was almost as if every male over the age of fifty had owned one when they were young.  So strange that there was only one other Vincent in the country now.

He noticed his reflection in the mirrored glass of a shop front, the bike’s weight resting gently on his left boot.  Vince placed his right foot down and raised his left, seeing his reflection as though he were riding.  He crouched low over the tank and smiled as he imagined Brands Hatch wind around in front of him, the chequered flag waving as he passed the finishing line well ahead of the competition.

Today however, the only competition was the buzzing RD250 that had pulled up right next to him.

The Yamaha was the usual two-fifty seen around suburban streets.  Vince himself had owned something similar when he had started motorcycling just a few years ago.  This model, being about two years old now, and obviously thrashed, was naturally tatty.  The scratches, twisted footrests and bent handlebar levers seemed to compliment the Vincent perfectly.

The rider too was the standard eighteen-year old Vince had been three years back, with his painted polycarbonate hat and Foster-Grants.  A wry smile told the message Vince was expecting.  The rider rocked backwards and forwards revving his engine and grinning widely.  This guy wanted a race.

Vince casually clicked the gear-lever into first and gave a quick blat of the motor to show the competition that he meant business.  The revolutions died down to it’s normal thumping tick-over as he held in the clutch and watched the ominous red light.

The Yam owner was now sweating.  He loved racing cars and bikes away from the lights and considered himself good at the ‘sport’.  After all he had only been beaten once and that was because he had missed a gear.  A criminal act in the unwritten law of street racing.  And today he was challenging no ordinary Escort.  This black monster next to him seemed to ooze power, even stood still.  His eyes locked onto the lights, only blinking to remove the sweat gathering on his eyelids.

Suddenly the red light was joined by the amber.  The Yamaha owner dropped his clutch holding five-thousand revs.  The front wheel pawed the air, nearly sending the rider off the back.  Seven-thousand on the clock and the rider plucked his next gear from the box, the front wheel again falling to the ground.  Another seven-thousand was showing and again the front tyre was losing traction with the tarmac as the rider flicked a higher ratio into operation in a frantic dash for victory.

The red and amber had now dissolved and had been replaced by green and Vince knew he could now start.  He had not been tempted to jump the lights with his opponent, after all he did have the capacity advantage over the Yamaha.  He noticed that the other rider was across the other side of the junction and was only about fifty yards away from the narrowing gap, caused by the parked cars, which they were racing for.

The huge motor only showed two-and-a-half thousand on the tachometer when he slipped the light clutch away from the left handlebar.  He knew that he had over seventy miles an hour in this gear so it was now down to his right hand.  Vince preferred to release clutches gently and let the motor do the work rather than lose valuable forward motion trying to control senseless wheelies.

The tachometer was showing four thousand now and the scorching black rubber of the rear tyre was acting like a clutch as a plume of white smoke emitted from the back.  Vince leaned forward onto his forearms to prevent the aerobatics of the front end and watched as the little Yamaha appeared to be coming back towards him.

It was now only twenty yards to that gap and the Yam had the best line, with the rider obviously happy as he seemed well ahead.  Having jumped the lights and gained that extra twenty or thirty yards he was confident that it would take something pretty special to beat him past that red Cortina parked ahead.  The juggernaut approaching the other way prevented any alternative route and as his front wheel was way ahead of any competition, which was the only thing that mattered, he guessed that the other rider was braking fiercely.

The competition, however, was something pretty special and Vince wasn’t going to loose easily.  The gap may have been only fifteen yards away and they may have been travelling well above fifty by now but Vince knew that his bike only needed a gap of about nine feet to get through and saw that his front wheel was in line with the Yamaha’s rear and he was accelerating like he had never experienced before.

With the throttle against the stop and the motor now screaming in delight he was being physically stretched by the power.  His arms seemed to be pulling from their sockets and his eyes watered with the pain at the tremendous G-force, pushing him against the moulded seat hump.

The bikes were level now and the red Cortina seemed all too near.  With his acceleration Vince knew that if he were to back off now he would have no time to stop or swerve.  It was now or never.  His right hand forced the throttle harder against it’s stop causing the rubber to twist painfully, as the bikes edged closer together, the gap drawing nearer.  Now even the Vincent’s front end lifted as the two battled for first place.

Luckily for Vince his front wheel was now ahead, but the Cortina was very close, however, rules are rules and he decided to swerve towards the gap, just missing the car by a few inches.  The Yamaha rider sensed this and threw his right fist forward, shutting off the throttle and grabbing the brake lever.  The tiny black caliper clutched it’s shining disc and sent a thin black run of rubber down the tarmac.

Vince had won, but only just.

Further on down the road the mighty Vincent pulled up at another set of traffic lights.  It burbled away on tick-over as it’s last competitor silently drew up next to it.

Vince looked at the Yamaha’s owner and smiled confidently.  The rider gave a return nod.

“Nice Motor.”

“Thanks.”  Replied Vince.

“Quick…”  he continued “…isn’t it?”

“Quick enough.”  Confirmed Vince.

“What is it?”  Asked the Yam owner, as the lights turned to green.

“A dream come true.” Vince replied, dumping the clutch.  The mighty motor again responded and he roared off into the distance…

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Fiction section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 17 Aug 2018
Written in the early eighties but first published in Mar 2010
The first half written in 1982 for an article in Southampton and District Motorcycle Club magazine under the title The Ultimate Ride with the remaining penned to fit the requirements of Bike magazine, but sadly never published meaning the writer had to get a proper job
At the time of writing the Southampton and District Motorcycle Club was based in Woodside Avenue in Eastleigh.  It can now be found via sdmcc.net
The header photograph shows the author squatting next to an immaculate Vincent Rapide motorcycle.  The Rapide was produced between 1936 and 1955 and remains a collectable bike.  The more famous, faster Black Shadow model had black enamelled engine casings.  The photo was taken by the author’s wife in Skegness in April 1996
The sketch was drawn by the author to demonstrate the bike envisaged in the story.  It was influenced by the Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle’s V-twin motor sat in a frame similar to the eighties Moto-Martin CBX1000.  Also there is just a bit of Ogri in it.  Orgi was a cartoon character drawn by Paul Sample for Bike Magazine between 1972 and 2009.  Ogri actually rode a Norvin, a Vincent engined Norton café racer.  Actually he didn’t as he was just an ink drawn character.  Ogri continued in motorcycle magazine Back Street Heroes until 2012