’a nevím kolík Porschů‘, said Jeremy Clarkson

February 15, 2019

On one of the Czech commercial channels, like on cable/satellite TV in the UK, you can watch repeats of classic Top Gear every day. The Czechs are more up-front than UK broadcasters and always tell you when a film was released or which episode of CSI or Castle you’re watching – such as Episode 6 of Series IV. This Top Gear was from 2010. It referred to a Balearic Rally and Clarkson was listing the participating cars – he had mentioned a Lancia Stratos in the list and was concluding ‘and I don’t know how many Porsches‘.

This got me thinking about how we should treat foreign language dialogue in films and TV.  The Czech television procedure, in Dramas and things like Top Gear, is to completely dub the dialogue, removing all trace of the original. Different actors are used for different characters – no doubt a welcome source of income for Czech actors. At the end in the visual credits, the Czech actors are credited in sound individually, character by character. When in Poland I saw foreign language drama where one could hear the initial foreign phrase and then the dialogue was continued in Polish, but only a single narrator/actor read the dialogue for all characters – definitely less good for the target audience. On our news reports in the UK, on the rare occasion when they get a speaker who won’t use English, following the initial foreign phrase the English translation is spoken, while the original language is faded. Those who understood the original, may find this a bit irritating. Often the original is not faded completely. It can even remain so loud that those who understand both the original and target languages are left in a quandary, because it is hard for them to decide which version they are following.

And then there are subtitles. Designed to provide visual dialogue for foreign language programmes, but they have other uses. Czech television doesn’t use subtitles for foreign language programmes except on the Arts channel.  British TV seems to work on the principle that many viewers dislike them, but does provide them on esteemed foreign films and foreign detective stories on BBC 4 and the Walter Presents label.

As well as their cross-language use they are used to reproduce the spoken word in its original language- introduced for the deaf and hard-of- hearing. But then they have other uses too:   if the TV is in a noisy place or where the sound has to be muted, they allow some to continue to follow the programme. A secondary use for same-language subtitles is for viewers for whom that language is not their first; the written subtitle reinforces what they hear improving their understanding and helping them learn the language.


A year with an electric car

February 15, 2019

In January 2018, I bought a secondhand Renault Zoe. In a year’s use it has done over 3000 miles, and done quite a lot of our family’s local journeys, including collecting people

My 2015 Renault Zoe (bought second-hand January 2018)

from Stansted airport, and trips to Boreham, just beyond Chelmsford. It has also made a number of journeys to Chertsey and Shepperton on the opposite side of London. As that is about the same distance as the practical range (70 miles for a 2015 car), it involves a couple of stops on the overall journey to top up the charge.

A bit of jargon

There’s quite a lot of jargon about EVs – here’s a couple of definitions to start with.

EV or BEV is a (battery) electric vehicle plugged into a source of mains electricity to charge a large battery; it uses an electric motor to drive the wheels and also to help with braking, and doesn’t need a clutch or a multispeed gearbox.

ICE stands for Internal Combustion Engine and means a vehicle powered by liquid fuel – petrol or diesel – the conventional car of the 20th century.

£7k5 means seven thousand five hundred pounds.

Why a Zoe?  Why secondhand?

I was only interested in the plain EV, largely for reasons of cost. The firms in the EV game longest here are Renault (Zoe) and Nissan (Leaf). Renault offer to lease the battery  by monthly payments. The lease also includes recovery and Renault will handle battery disposal, which means re-use or recycling. This reduces the capital cost of purchase (a typical battery costs £6k to £8k). For up to 4.500 miles per annum a 3 year lease costs £49 per month – not much different from the cost of a tank of petrol or diesel. Renault secondhand web site has plenty of Zoes 2 -3 years old for about £7k. The list price of a new Zoe, with leased battery, is around £20k (less UK government grant); a Zoe with a battery owned by the car owner, or a Nissan Leaf is a lot more.

The car cost me £7k5, and updating my home electrics £2k (to be explained later). Because the car was secondhand, I had to pay to have the charging point installed at my home (£500 after government grant). An unforeseen cost was that my comprehensive insurance premium was higher than for my previous car – an eighteen year old Megane. So I reckon I got the Zoe on the road for about £10k5, (which included general improvement to my household electrics!)

I’m glad I bought it and it’s given me pleasant motoring over the year. As an engineer by profession, actually learning new things is a pleasure in itself. This includes where and how to charge it, the various suppliers one deals with and the different jargon. I’m sure I have material for a few more blog posts.

One way hire?

October 24, 2018

GMC_AcadiaBACKBLOG: August 2018 (and back to the 1990s.)

In August I picked up a hire car in Charlottesville, Virginia arranging to leave it back in Washington Dulles Airport (also in Virginia) a few days later. The hire charge included $75 for ‘One Way Hire’. The hire company was Enterprise, one of the sponsors of the tournament my wife was playing in. (Enterprise have a depot in Harold Wood too!)

It wasn’t quite that simple. We had quite a lot of luggage, which we didn’t want to be visible to passers-by when we parked the car, so I avoided the hirer’s two smallest classes, and went for the next one up, pretty sure It would have a decent sized boot (trunk in the USA). When the time came to collect it, I took the city bus to the route terminus, wended my way through the local shopping mall to the main road, and found, with some difficulty, a safe crossing to the side where the car hire company office is. As I had an internet booking, it all went very slickly, dealt with by two polite and friendly men, using computer terminals and a tablet.

There was one slightly ominous thing: he said: ‘We’ve a lot of demand this weekend.’ I’d been expected something the size of a Ford Focus, rather than a seven-seater estate car or SUV about the size of a Transit van. At least I wasn’t paying extra, so no problem. There wasn’t any cover over luggage loaded through the tailgate, but this wasn’t an issue as the tinted windows hid the luggage anyway. (I’d often wondered what tinted windows are for – now I have an answer.)

It didn’t immediately click with me that the number plates said ‘Ontario’, and it was a little later that I worked out being Canadian meant the speedometer was in kilometres per hour, whereas US speed limits are in mph. As we take a UK car to the Continent most years, we’re pretty used to a bit of mental arithmetic; however in Virginia the speed limit signs are less obvious, being white and rectangular and include limits such as 45, 55 and 65 mph.

Back to One Way Hire charge. On two previous occasions, I’ve been a bit sceptical about them. One family holiday involved collecting a car at Los Angeles airport, driving it to Vancouver and then back to Seattle. Of course there was a one way charge, but what undermined its credibility was that the car was registered in Washington State. It other words, someone had already driven it from Washington to California – no doubt paying a one way charge!  The second occasion was a car hired in Melbourne and left at Sydney airport. It also had a one-way hire charge. It has a Queensland plates; we didn’t drive it all the way home, but half way. (Furthermore, a broken key was wedged in the boot lock, although there was a lever inside the car to open the boot.)

So is a one-way hire charge a scam? I suppose it all depends on the figures. You can work out how much it would cost if the company had to re-position the car themselves – an employee’s time and one way travel plus the fuel. If they charge a lot more than this, and benefit from hirers who actually do the work for them, it could be a nice little earner. To take the simplest example, in this case my start and finish are about a hundred miles apart meaning 2 hours driving (or three and half hours on a coach); so $75 looks reasonable. Of course, most of Enterprise’s depots in Ontario are closer to Washington that they are to Charlottesville, so I was probably bringing the car nearer to its proper base. Nice surprise: I’d hoped to refuel the car before we got to the airport, but we were too short of time for that. At the very smooth handover, we told the man that, but I was never charged for refuelling, or any other extras


New Scientist Live exhibition at ExCel

October 13, 2018

Friday 21st September 2018


Part of Exhibition wristband for 21 Sept 2018

Barbara is a subscriber to New Scientist (it lands on the doormat every Friday) and had planned ahead and booked us both in advance all-day tickets for Friday for the exhibition at ExCel. It didn’t quite work out. I’d been unwell since Tuesday but by Friday morning, I felt able to go out and about again. Going to an exhibition for a whole day is rather taxing. We decided just to spend the afternoon there.

The hall was quite roomy with 5 zones: Engineering, Technology, Humans, Earth and Cosmos.

Each zone had a stage and there was also a separate main stage. Each stage had a dais, a big screen and enough seats for spectators. On each stage four lectures (of 40 mins. to 1 hour) were given per day. This and the fact that there was catering with seating meant that there was always somewhere to sit, and sort out one’s thoughts (and papers). This is in marked contrast s to some exhibitions I’ve been to in Olympia and suchlike places, where it seems one is prevented from  sitting down at all costs.

Stalls ranged from large ones from big organisations to tiny ones for a single research team. It was good to see many young people, including secondary school pupils, visiting the exhibition. Here’s hoping that this reinforces their enthusiasm for the fascinating and creative world of science, technology and engineering.

For some of the stands the only way to understand them what they were about was to actually ask the people on them, who were usually a research team. For someone deeply involved in a subject  pitching the explanations at exactly the right level  a bit of a challenge; some of the visitors will have some knowledge of the relevant science; some may have a general scientific knowledge (me!) and some will have to start from very little knowledge. How does the person on the stand work out where the visitor is starting from?  Fortunately, the teams I talked to were up to the challenge.

I also took in a couple of the lectures. One that appealed to me was an account of how a major fraud was planned on the Bangladesh Bank (the central bank) in 2016. (My great-uncle and father both spent their working lives in banking.)  At the nub of this was misuse of the SWIFT system and timing of the operations over 4 days which were holidays in the relevant countries. There was also a quick review about how malware had been planted.  By good luck, the damage done by the robbers was limited because they hadn’t got some of the details right. It was a good example of how a scientific lecture could be delivered to a general audience, with a strong narrative, accessible explanations and graphics.

By the time the exhibition closed at 5 pm, I was aware that maybe my recovery wasn’t as complete as I’d hoped and was very tired. Definitely worth going back to visit next year, and spending a full day.

The western end of ExCel  is by Custom House DLR station; inside the building is a mall,

Custom House Station

Crossrail line and platform, Custom House Station. Sept. 2018. DLR to right.

accessible to the public, running east. So at the eastern end is Prince Regent Station. For some months Custom House station was shut while the Crossrail platforms and tracks were built. The DLR is now backing in action and I was able to snatch a view of the Crossrail part.

During the summer a number of Crossrail stations held public Open Days and, of course, railway buff Geoff Marshall went along. You can see his Custom House video from March 2018 on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcH_INj74s8


‘Home, I’m Darling’ Or is it about Brexit?

September 6, 2018

5th September 2018

We went to the National Theatre to see this new play by Laura Wade, a co-production with Theatre Clwyd. At the start, Judy, played by Katharine Parkinson, and her husband Johnny appear to be living the life of a very conventional middle class couple in the 1950s – he works as an estate agent and she is a full-time housewife. The Dorfman Theatre, the most recent and unconventional of the National’s three auditoria, has a complete house on the stage, with rooms on two floors fully open to the audience – the lounge, stairs and bedroom (also the bathroom can be partly seen through a window); when the action first requires it, the front wall of the kitchen is fully opened up. The minimal scenery changes needed are done by the cast, balletically, to the accompaniment of fifties pop music.

Two or three times in the first scene there are subtle hints that the fifties time-frame is false, and then we twig that Judy and Johnny have decided to create a pastiche of the fifties life-style, but in the present day. We meet another couple – their friends who share this choice – and also Judy’s mother and Johnny’s boss. Having set the scene, the play explores the background to Judy’s choice, and the difficulties of sustaining it. Having established that Judy’s choice was influenced by reaction to her unconventional upbringing (in the 1980s or so) leading to nostalgia for the 1950s – a time she never knew – her mother has opportunities to correct her perceptions, culminating in a speech denouncing the 1950s – the audience applauded, they almost cheered.

During the interval, I said to Barbara that I saw the play as about Brexit. After the play ended, she said I had a point. Support of Brexit has a nostalgia for a hopeful, more ordered world, which the 1950s embodies to those who memories have turned it into a golden age, and to those, who like Judy, not having been there, see it as an opportunity to re-act against what has happened since. To me, and many who lived through that decade, it was a time of racism, sexism, cruelty and unthinking nationalism. It was a time when restrictions on travel had the British looking inwards and back to past exaggerated glories. Thanks are due to visionaries like Jo Grimond and Harold Macmillan and later to the government of Harold Wilson. We started pulling us out of that in the 1960s.

Sometime in the last few days, I have heard someone say that nostalgia is not benevolent or neutral but a syndrome, an affliction, and, in the past, was viewed as such. Perhaps, overstated, but a thought to be borne in mind.

If you were trying to remember who Katharine Parkinson is, she played the manager Jen who tried to manage the two geeks in Channel 4’s ‘The IT Crowd’.



Proposed EU Standard that is missing the point?

June 17, 2018

Have a look at this story from the Observer a few weeks ago, which was referenced in my last post       https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/06/new-law-combats-silent-menace-electric-cars

(Please disregard the picture of an obselete G-Wiz, which they foolishly chose to illustrate it with.)

This raises several questions:

1) are electric cars dangerously quiet?

2) are, they, in fact, quieter than other modern cars?

3) is the solution to make them noisier and so increase the noise polution in our towns and cities?

Are electric cars dangerously quiet? I have been driving a 2015 Renault Zoe since January. I hope to write a fuller account of what this has taught me, but two things stand out: it is very nippy around town and it is NOT silent. It has fans to cool the motor and battery and also for the air-conditioning, so it makes audible fan noise much of the time; also the motor contributes a whining noise and tyre noise is quite noticeable too. (A few weeks ago I caught a Formula E race on television; the whining noise from these electric racing cars was deafening. (Incidentally, one of the drivers was former Formula 1 ace Nelson Picquet.) )

I have watched very carefully for pedestrians dangerously unaware of my approach, but I haven’t seen any. If I had, I would have sounded my horn. As a pedestrian myself, as all motorists are sometimes, I have been ‘crept up on’ only twice ever; the first was in Harold Wood Park, when walking on a footpath, not a road, and the car was a Toyota Prius, a hybrid which doesn’t need to run its petrol engine at low speeds; the occupants of the car were the local police, who had been given an extended loan of the Prius by the local dealer (and they hooted me)! The second occasion was when I was delivering something to a friend’s letterbox at 7 am and I was surprised when her neighbour backed out his Nissan Leaf.

Are they quieter than other modern cars? Not a lot, in any; with many modern petrol or diesel cars have very similar noise levels, with fan and tyre noise exceeding engine noise. My wife, whose car is a 2016 diesel Clio, has had the experience of a pedestrian being clearly unaware of its approach. If we are to make cars noisier to warn the unaware, we need to classify them by their base noise levels rather than by their engine fuel.

Is the solution to make them noisier? I doubt it. The nearest example is the bleepers added by law to reversing lorries. Adding noise to a normally driving car is a big further step in noise polution. All vehicles already have a horn for when the drivers needs to sound a warning.

And for any Brexiters that think this is an EU matter that the UK can resolve on its own – don’t hold your breath! Cars made elsewhere in the EU for the British market will conform, as will cars made in the UK for export; no manufacturer is going to want different specifications in both parts of the market, nor will any motorist who makes cross-border journeys.


No more G-Wiz

June 11, 2018

My 2015 Renault Zoe (bought second-hand January 2018)

A couple a months ago the Romford Recorder did a welcome story on the increase in electric car ownership in Havering (February 23rd, p6) (http://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/environment/havering-one-of-the-fastest-areas-in-the-country-to-adopt-electric-cars-1-5411530)

( Posted February 25th ).

What wound me up about this was they illustrated it with a picture of G-Wiz being charged at the kerbside. One problem with this is that, as far as I know, there are NO public kerbside chargers in Havering, more’s the pity.

The second and larger problem is that the G-Wiz – last sold in 2012, in NOT representative of present day electric cars. It is tiny and lacks the safety refinements needed by a car in the EU. It can only be on the road in the UK as a quadricycle, not a car.

Typical modern electric cars share the refinement and safety standards of small diesel or petrol 5-door saloons. Their performance on urban and suburban roads is much the same.

I dashed off a letter to the Recorder making these points, published March 2nd, pp24-25:

Ian Sanderson, Liberal Democrat Candidate for Romford in 2015 & 2017 General Elections; writes: 

I welcome the article in the Recorder (23rd February. p.6) on electric cars in Havering, but sadly the picture shows an obsolete quadricycle rather than a normal modern small hatchback, such as the best-selling British-made Nissan Leaf. We’re in a time of rapid development in the technology of electric cars and the infrastructure to support them.

I have recently bought a secondhand electric car, to do local journeys formerly done in petrol or diesel cars. It performs that role well. Being an engineer, I’m having fun sussing out the technology and infrastructure. It’s good to have zero tail-pipe emissions and thus cut local pollution.

Home or work-place charging would suit many local drivers and commuters, but what Havering really lacks is public charge points for people on longer journeys or without their own driveways. Some stores, notably ASDA and IKEA have them in their car parks. I look forward to other superstores following suit. Some other London Boroughs provide kerbside charge points.  It’s time for Havering to plan its own charging network in car parks and kerbside.

The Council and others who run fleets of vehicles for short local journeys should be reviewing whether they should be including more electric vehicles in the mix.’

A few weeks later, the Observer, a national newspaper, did exactly the same – illustrated an article on electric cars with an out-of-date picture of a G-Wiz.  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/06/new-law-combats-silent-menace-electric-cars

I was too busy that week to write to them!

For the record, the best selling battery electric car in Europe as a whole is the Renault Zoe (see picture) made in Flins near Paris. (The same Renault factory makes Clios and Nissan Micras.)

The best selling one in the UK is the Nissan Leaf, made in Sunderland.

Romford lies almost exactly half way between Sunderland and Flins!

Third in Europe is the BMW i3, made in Leipzig in the former East Germany.

Please newspapers, get some CURRENT pictures of electric cars in your libraries!




Remembrance Sunday 2017

November 10, 2017

In 2011 we changed the time of our Sunday morning service at Nelmes, because we wanted to allow the same minister or preacher to be able to take services the same morning at Upminster and Nelmes. This meant that the Nelmes service was now at 11.15. This was a problem on Remembrance Sunday with respect to the Two Minutes Silence which had previously fitted into the order of a 10.30 am service. So in 2011, the Scout Group held a short ceremony in the car park, including the Two Minutes Silence at the right time before we went into church. I wrote what follows for that ceremony but it was never used in full, but I think it’s worth posting in full here. It is deliberately simple and assumes no historical knowledge.   I have changed only the numbers of years in the first and tenth paragraph to bring it up to date to 2017.

Since 2012, Nelmes United Reformed Church holds its Remembrance Day service at 10.45.

103 years ago in the summer of 1914 there was a great quarrel in Europe, started by the murder of an Austrian prince in Bosnia. Countries declared war on each other.

The German army had a plan to beat France quickly by going through Belgium.

Britain was an ally of France and had promised to defend Belgium if it was attacked, so also declared war on Germany.

The German plan didn’t work and the French army dug in helped by a British army in the north. So the Western Front was born – a system of trenches, where soldiers lived and watched. It went for 500 miles from the Channel coast to Switzerland through Belgium and France, and a little bit in the south in Germany.

The Allied soldiers on the Western Front were French, British, and Belgian. Later they were joined by Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders; by South Africans, Indians and Portuguese; and eventually by Americans.

The Front was two continuous lines of trenches – Allied and German. Behind them were big guns. Between the front lines was no-mans-land. If you went into no-mans-land you would probably be shot. No-mans-land was torn up by the shooting and had big holes in it made the shells from the big guns. In disturbed land, as in corn-fields in the spring, the tiny seeds of poppies sprouted and little red flowers appeared in no-mans-land.

Generals on both sides organised attacks, always hoping for a great victory, but for four years this never happened. The attacks might gain a little ground, but afterwards there were new front lines not far away from the old ones. Many, many soldiers died in these attacks, but very little changed.

The country of Britain changed so that every effort could be put into winning the war. The Army was bigger than ever before and everyone knew people in the army. As time went on, everyone knew people who had died or been wounded in the fighting. Men and women who couldn’t fight took jobs to support the war effort and the soldiers. The Western Front was very close to here; it started only a hundred miles from London – closer to London than Birmingham or Manchester are.

Both for those who fought and for those who didn’t it was a very emotional time. Out of the war came many important books and poems.

When the war was over, it was known as the Great War, but we now call it the First World War. People felt that we must remember those who had fought, especially those who hadn’t come back; we must look after those who had come back wounded in body or mind; and that such a war should not happen again.

So war memorials were built in many places; each town or village had one, as did most churches, and many schools and work-places. You’ll find memorials in the back of this church to those from the church who served in both World Wars. Former soldiers who were wounded and couldn’t go back to their old jobs worked in factories to make cloth poppies which were sold to raise money for those permanently damaged by the war. The poppies recall the flowers that grew in no-mans-land and the blood that was spilt there. And, at 11 in the morning on the 11th of November, at the time when firing ceased on the Western Front in 1918, two minutes Silence were observed every year at ceremonies all over the Kingdom. Work stopped, traffic and trains stopped and the whole country remembered those who had been lost.

We still do this, though not as rigorously as nearly a hundred years ago, and we also, as we do today, remember on Remembrance Sunday, the nearest Sunday to the 11th of November. Nowadays, we remember also those who suffered in wars and conflicts since, including conflicts that are still going on.

If you go to Emerson Park School, you may be able to go on one of the study tours of the Western Front they run for their pupils. If you go to Royal Liberty School, you should know that part of it was an army training camp in the Great War, where the War Poet Edward Thomas worked for while. Like the most famous War Poet Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas died as a soldier on the Western Front.

Just before the two minutes silence, I will read a verse from the another War Poet, Laurence Binyon. He was older, and he wasn’t a soldier, but he worked in France taking care of wounded soldiers. After I say it, I’ll ask you all to repeat the last line with me. At the end of the two minutes silence, I will say those words again.

(Group Alert

 Lower Flag)

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

All: We will remember them.

Two Minutes Silence

We will remember them.

Raise flag

Let us pray


Dear Lord,

We thank you that we live in more peaceful times than the times of World War.

We give thanks for the selflessness and devotion to duty of those who have served in war.

We remember those who died, those who returned wounded in body or mind and those who loved them. We ask that you continue to comfort the survivors and their loved ones.



112000 miles – BACKBLOG from 2014

May 7, 2017

14th November 2014 7.30 pm; M25 between Junction 29 and Dartford Crossing

My most expensive purchase ever was a new Renault Megane in May 1999. (House prices were a lot lower when we bought our house!) It replaced a 10 year old Renault 19 which had been my wife’s company car for 4 years when we bought it. It’s now the oldest car we’ve ever owned. Apart from my wife’s very first car, which we sold at 13 and half years old, all its predecessors had been sold or scrapped between 9 and 12 years old. Compared to the cars we had made in 1950s, 60s and 70s, it’s very durable and economical. THEY used much more petrol and burnt oil; they needed replacement water pumps and clutches every 30,000 miles; they rusted more and several had manufacturing or design faults. The Renault 4 my wife bought in 1976 was a revelation; it still rusted, and its roof had to be repainted, paid for by Renault, but its parts lasted much better. It was very unconventional, but that wasn’t a problem. Two examples: the headlights could be changed from RHD to LHD very easily without extra parts and I replaced the entire exhaust system without going under the car. The back wheels had a wider track than the front wheels and the two back wheels weren’t exactly opposite each other; but it worked.
Back to the Megane: Every summer for the last 15 years we’ve driven it from Harold Wood to Brno in the Czech Republic, where our granddaughter lives. The outward journey involves a couple of nights stop in Metz, eastern France, where my sister lives. That is less than a days drive from Harold Wood. Metz to Brno is just under 1000km and can also be driven in a day, with 2 drivers taking turns. One arrives in Brno in the mid-evening. It’s easier to do it on a Sunday, when long-distance lorry traffic is banned from the German autobahns. Lots of foreign lorries are parked up in service stations for Sunday. Sometimes we make extra stops and try to see more towns when we do so. We’ve stopped as Ansbach, Ulm and Amberg in Germany. Stops in France have included St. Avold, Rheims, St Quentin, Cambrai, Laon and Bethune. I reckon the car has done about 30% of its mileage on the right hand side of the road. We’ve got pretty used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
I also got pretty good at finding my way around Brno and Metz. For a couple of years in Metz this was a particular challenge. Added to the usual problems of two motorways, railways and multiple branches of the Moselle, they were building a BRT system, where very long tram-like busses run on reserved tracks. One evening we found that we had to make a very long detour round several suburbs where the main roads were closed for construction work.
In 2009-10 Alastair Darling introduced the scrappage scheme to encourage purchase of new cars. My Megane would have qualified but it had plenty of life left in it, so I really didn’t want to lose it. Also having to put down more than £10k of my own money to benefit from a £2k grant didn’t seem to make much sense.
Conventional wisdom is that you keep a new car for three years. It doesn’t go wrong and you benefit from other sweeteners that were given to a new car owner. I think there is another way. You keep it for much longer; you will have to pay for some repairs but the depreciation is less that £1k per year – down to the same level as annual tax + insurance.



Printed (distributed) by Automattic Inc. 132 Hawthorne St. San Francisco, CA 94107. Published and promoted by G.R.Potter on behalf of I.V.Sanderson (Liberal Democrats),both at 11 Cedric Avenue,ROMFORD, RM1 4JL.

Henning Mankell’s ‘Firewall’

May 7, 2017

Henning Mankell’s ‘Firewall’

From time to time I re-read detective novels that I enjoyed in the past. This is quite distinct from a second read just after the first. In the first read, we are carried along by the momentum of the story and miss subtleties in the way the story is told. A second read allows many of the details and the craftsmanship of the author to be appreciated.

Ystad Railway Station building

Only a small part of building is now used by the Railways. Much of the rest is now a bed and breakfast. It was one of three buildings used on TV to represent the Police Station.

‘Firewall’ was the last of 8 original Kurt Wallandar novels, based in Ystad, written by Mankell in the 1990s. There were films of them made in Swedish starring Rolf Lassgård, starting in the mid-1990s. These films were mostly shot around Stockholm. A later development was the Swedish TV films starring Krister Henriksson and the English language ones starring Kenneth Branagh. The shooting of all these were based in Ystad Studios and used Ystad locations extensively. The Henriksson ones go far beyond the original books, though Mankell was involved and suggested original story lines. Mankell did write several more books which either extended Wallandar’s story or included characters from it. He died in 2015.

‘Firewall’ was written about 20 years ago, and is revealed to be about a global computer cracking conspiracy, and by implication, how much we depend upon computers for our daily lives. The remarkable thing is how little it shows its age. The references to backing up or moving data using diskettes is archaic; nowadays this would be done copying data to thumb drive or an external hard disk drive or sending it to a server, either on a local network or by the internet – using The Cloud. The other slightly false note it strikes is descriptions of blocks of characters scrolling rapidly up the screen, which is a visual convention in films and TV programmes about computer cracking. I doubt if it happens much nowadays, or even did all that much in the past. Mankell, after all, was a man of the theatre.

This time I also followed much of the geography of the story, using Google Maps to follow up street names. I spent a day in Ystad in August 2015, helped by location maps provided by the tourist office; so much of the layout of the town was familiar to me. The maps show not only the locations mentioned in the books, but also other locations using in filming the stories. For instance three different buildings were used to represent the police station – none of them the actual police station! So even when a location in the book was not findable in Google Maps, I still had a rough idea of where it was.

The ideas in the book remain up to date. We are very aware that we have a globally interdependent finance and banking system, and this was brought home to us in 2008. The idea of cyber warfare and interference with other countries electoral systems emerged again in 2016, and was in the news on Friday in France. The driving idea of the villains that international finance and politics were so corrupt that the whole system had to be rebooted is almost exactly what Al Qaeda would say.

Televised interviews with Mankell shows him speaking very thoughtfully in perfect English, with perhaps the mildest hint of what might be a Dublin accent. I can almost hear him, when some new cyber outrage occurs, saying ‘I told you so.’

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