jeudi 24 janvier 2013

Snow tyres in the UK?

With all the snow that Blighty has suffered in recent weeks, I wonder why snow tyres aren't yet a legal requirement in winter in the UK as they are in France and Switzerland.
There's no doubt that snow tyres can give as much grip as that experienced  in a 4*4 and there would be a significant saving on salt needed to grit the roads whenever snow is forecast.
'But we're not as cold as France or Switzerland?' I hear you cry.
Generally, the cold in the UK is damper than in northern parts of continental Europe and melts quicker but in recent years - 2011, in particular - the snow lay on the ground for at least a week at the end of November.
Driving in the snow is frightening enough with snow tyres, especially when descending a steep hill, which may also be icy.  You just have to forget your brake!
Any measures to make the use of the roads safer in winter  should be adopted and made a legal requirement. Driving on summer tyres in winter is madness...

lundi 20 février 2012


If you're a Chelsea FC or Arsenal fan, there's not much to celebrate at present.

Chelsea should fare better in Napoli tonight than their north London rivals in Milan last week. A friend who went to the match said that at the end only 4 Arsenal players came to applaud the Arsenal faithful. Perhaps the others were too embarassed to show their faces or were just oblivious of the time and money fans invested in getting to the venue.

Why does the top flight of English football fall so short of the European game? Spoiled brats are playing the game who will only perform on their terms , some would say.
The European Football Championships fast approach and it will take a miracle for Harry to get England to the knockout stages.

Football, tennis, rugby - a sure recipe for disappointment. The ludicrous act of flying the Ensign on the bonnet of your car won't help the cause either.

Except for rowing, one-day cricket and cycling, at which GB excels, I always prefer watching sporting events where there is no British interest as then there's no room for utter deflation.

How to banish those winter blues?

Think of all those who are worse off than you!

Greece has survived yet again and the whole Euro currency débacle hasn't imploded; it's -31 C in Moscow; the start of British summertime is only five weeks away; or you could just curl up infront of the fire with a good book and forget about watching England failures.

lundi 16 janvier 2012


It's good, from time to time, to abstain from alcohol. The UK medical profession now claims that it's better to have two alcohol-free days per week. I have no problem with that as, except when we have visitors, I don't drink alcohol in the week.

But I wondered whether it's now becoming fashionable to abstain from alcohol? In moderation, it's fine but when you can't do without it then you have a problem. Since 2008, I have abstained from alcohol in Lent and have to say that the 46 day slog becomes a joy after a week or so. The sleep is amazing and sampling a glass of beer on Easter Sunday is well worth the wait. The marriage of malt and hops seems to dance on the palate.

Can a former dedicated real ale home brewer really be saying this? I hear you ask.

One of my best friends from Tisbury, who used to frequent my garage in the 1990s for a pint or two of my real ale, has just stopped patronising a hostelry in the said Wiltshire village with colleagues after work to plan the next day's business . When he realised that it was costing him £21 a night he knew that this couldn't be justified.

Times may indeed be tough in pub land as last week he received a phone call from the landlady asking if he was okay!

Not before time, the writing may be on the wall for many pubs in the UK where the beer quality doesn't reflect the care taken in its brewing. Too often I've paid through the nose for a poor pint in a UK pub.

But what's the answer?

Home brewing really is a great hobby and with a 56lb bag of malt and 2 lbs of hops (costing roughly £35-00) you can brew at least 320 pints. Hygiene and patience are the key as the brew is an all-day process but 4 weeks afterwards you have 40 pints of real ale, as good as any pub pint and costing a fifteenth of the price. You'll also be the most popular resident in your street! At least with the beer-drinking fraternity.

At any one time in the 1990s I used to have at least 200 pints of real ale maturing in my garage. Work commitments meant I never touched it in the week, but for me the real fun was in the brewing process.

To this day, I love English ales and Alsace beers and wines (the best in France!), but thankfully can also do without them from time to time.

mercredi 15 juin 2011


Last Thursday, 09 June, was a great day. Jerome, a friend from church who is also a corporate pilot working out of Geneva, invited me to accompany him on a day-trip to Alsace.

From Geneva, the 330km-long road to Colmar in Alsace is pretty straight and runs parallel with the sloping vineyards that flank Lake Léman. After 170 km the Bernese Oberland, which has to rank amongst some of the world’s most stunning mountain scenery, is visible in the far distance over to the right. Make sure you open your window when you pass the NESPRESSO factory just before Berne (coming from the south) for some delightful aromas, which should also wake you up. As you're on a Swiss road, you just need the vignette costing CHF 40 a year, which entitles you to use all of the Swiss motorway network. So no expensive toll roads, which you encounter from here on the road to the Ardèche via Lyon.

'Bah the Ardèche! Best thing to do is drive through it!' Jerome remarked as we sat back and marvelled at the beauty of God’s creation whilst listening to a lifetime's collection of Genesis and Peter Gabriel CDs.

I can only agree and as Jerome is a Frenchman he must be in a position to judge!

Last September, we drove to the Ardèche for a two-night stay. When we arrived at the hotel at about 2.30 pm on the Sunday, everything was mysteriously locked up! Mein host, who later strutted around the restaurant with the mischievous half-grin of Basil Fawlty, arrived at 5.45 pm after his Sunday lunch and siesta. Too bad for the unfortunate French chap who'd been walking all day and had left his belongings in the hotel after breakfast as he subsequently missed his connection to Paris.

As in Fawlty Towers, the wines on offer were appalling - yet we were a stone's throw from Tain l'Hermitage where the excellent Crozes Hermitage is grown!! – and the food was decidedly canteen/ school dinners.

Personally, I don't think you can compare the Ardèche with Alsace, where you'll always find a warm welcome.

After arriving in Bergheim at noon, we had lunch at Chez Norbert, where the service and food were excellent and I’ve never seen such a varied collection of 150 cl bottles of eau-de-vie – there must have been sixty! Three courses for two with wine, beers and coffees came to just €69 so top quality at bargain basement prices, which just about sums up Alsace!

Not wanting to imbibe too much before a visiting a favourite vintner, Koeberlé-Kreyer in nearby Rodern,, we declined the lemon sorbet accompanied by a glass of marc de Gewurtztraminer for arrosage purposes and opted for the non-alcoholic rhubarb and raspberry sorbet. Alas, these arrived with two small glasses of 45 % kircsh. Well, when in Alsace do like the ........

But Alsace isn't really French or German, though some Alsacians may claim to be French. It has the best of both countries, which is perhaps why it is so unique. When I first visited le val de Villé,, for a two-week holiday in July 1982 I never wanted to leave.

Certainly returning to work in London on the smelly, overcrowded 7.47 from Ascot after this trip wasn't easy. So, thanks Dad – it was your idea that we went to Alsace in the first place.

Now, almost 30 years later I'm hooked on Alsace. It just has everything: great people, superb wines, flavoursome beers - producing half of France's beer, and fairytale scenery. The climate in Colmar is the second hottest in France, after Bordeaux. Any one of its picturesque Medieval villages with half-timbered houses nestling amidst a sea of vines would be a great place in which to retire.

Hence the necessity of regular visits!

jeudi 26 mai 2011


So what is actually being done about malaria? I hear you ask.

Well, quite a lot actually. Especially as winning the fight against malaria is crucial to achieving six of the eight Millennium Development Goals. Since 1998, efforts to defeat malaria, which is both preventable and treatable, have been coordinated by the Roll Back Malaria partnership (RBM) in Geneva. Comprising malaria-endemic countries, their bilateral and multilateral development partners, the private sector, non-governmental and community-based organisations, research and academic institutions and foundations, RBM exemplifies the cross-sectoral collaboration needed to defeat malaria. Its structures guide and facilitate every step in effective global malaria control.

After the first World Malaria Day in April 2008 and Ban Ki-Moon’s prioritising of malaria control as a global public health issue, world leaders and the global malaria community launched the ambitious Global Malaria Action Plan – GMAP - at the September 2008 MDG Malaria Summit in New York.

The GMAP, a global framework for action around which partners can coordinate their efforts, presents: (i) a comprehensive overview of the global malaria landscape ; (ii) an evidence-based approach to deliver effective prevention and treatment to all people at risk ; and (iii) an estimate of the annual funding needs to achieve the goals of the RBM Partnership for 2010, 2015 and beyond.

The GMAP outlines RBM's vision for a substantial and sustained reduction in the burden of malaria in the near and mid-term, and the eventual global eradication of malaria in the long term, when new tools, such as a vaccine, make eradication possible.

Anyway, the targets of the GMAP are to:

Achieve universal coverage (of anti-malarials such as insecticide-treated bednets etc.);

Reduce global malaria cases from 2000 levels by 50% in 2010 and by 75% in 2015;

Reduce global malaria deaths from 2000 levels by 50% in 2010 and to near zero preventable deaths in 2015;

Eliminate malaria in 8-10 countries by 2015 and afterwards in all countries in the pre-elimination phase today; and

In the long term, eradicate malaria world-wide by reducing the global incidence to zero through progressive elimination in countries.

To achieve these targets, the GMAP outlines a three-part global strategy:

control malaria to reduce the current burden and sustain control as long as necessary;

eliminate malaria over time country by country; and

research new tools and approaches to support global control and elimination efforts.

Barriers to the implementation of GMAP are resource gaps : to scale up interventions; produce and deliver nets and treatments; and develop endemic countries' capacity to control malaria. Promotion of new initiatives and solutions and assessment of their impact by monitoring malaria cases is also crucial.

The GMAP is the universal roadmap to ensure nationwide malaria control and elimination.

In April 2009 an exciting initiative, the Affordable Medicine Facility for malaria, the AMFm, was launched in Oslo. One of the main building blocks of GMAP, the AMFm will put affordable life-saving malaria drugs within reach of millions of people, especially children, in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Industry on the African continent, where malaria costs businesses and economies $12 billion annually in lost productivity and accounts for almost 20% of all child deaths, is also getting its act together and playing a crucial role in malaria control.

The report Business Investing in Malaria Control: Economic Returns and a Healthy Workforce for Africa – authored and published by RBM and launched at the World Economic Forum Africa in Cape Town on May 5th, 2011 – examined evidence from case studies in Zambia, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana and Mozambique. It revealed that the benefits to companies of implementing effective malaria control programs for their workers are significant.

In Zambia, for example, combined data from Zambia Sugar, Mopani Copper Mines and Konkola Copper Mines showed that spending an average of just $34 per employee per year over the period from 2000-2009 on malaria control, resulted in a 94% drop in malaria related lost work days per year. The economic return for these companies was very significant. Investing in malaria control brought these companies an internal rate of return (IRR) of 28% annually (IRR is a rate to measure and compare the profitability of investments).

So, the future of the malaria landscape looks a lot brighter than it did 10 years ago and it's all to play for!

Sources: Roll Back Malaria partnership, WHO, Geneva

mardi 24 mai 2011


Sadly today, bad news and gossip sells newspapers!

It's almost unbelievable that this week the British tabloids are full of the story of an overpaid, oversexed footballer who has cheated on his wife. I bet he regrets his dalliant actions now! But, does the average man in the street, who works hard to provide for his family, really care about a celebrity's infidelity? It is sad if he does!

World poverty and disease certainly put everything into perspective. Last year, 881,000 people died of malaria. Just imagine, almost a million people dying from a preventable, treatable disease. Alarmingly, far more die from hunger each year.

At least 24-hour fasting gives one a sense of what it 's like to go to bed on an empty stomach. But tragically, children in Africa often go to bed without having eaten anything for days.

Perhaps we in the West could curb our oppulent lifestyles to correct this woeful imbalance.

'It's not my problem!' I hear you protest.

I know these are difficult times in which there are bankruptcies and redundancy, but if you have spare change in your pocket then you're richer than the world's 3 billion people who eake out an existense on the meagre $2.50 they earn each day. Imagine trying to prepare two daily meals for four with £1.80!

But it doesn't have to be this way. You can do something about it!

We only get one crack at this life. Wouldn't it be great to know, at the end of your life, that you'd made a difference to the world's poorest people. After all, we're only really fulfilled when we're helping those less fortunate than ourselves.

The money you saved by not buying a daily newspaper (yes, just 80p.!) could support a child in the Third World and transform his/her life with the provision of a coveted education, the ticket out of the poverty trap.

Somebody once said that when you transform a child's life you transform a community. If enough people in the affluent West sponsored children overseas with charities like Compassion, Toybox, Unicef and World Vision, then lives, communities and nations could be lifted from poverty once and for all and allowed to flourish.

On my travels to south Asia in the year 2000 as Editor of The Leprosy Mission (TLM), I saw the amazing difference that micro-credit finance schemes made to leprosy victims' lives.

When one lady in Bangladesh told her husband she had lepsrosy, he kicked her out of the family home warning that he never wanted to see her gain as she'd disgraced the family name. With nowhere to go, she then went to a TLM hospital where she was cured of her leprosy and then given a loan, after some training in a marketable skill, to set up a small business.

When her business started to thrive and she became a respected member of her community, even more so than before she had leprosy, her husband begged her to take him back!

I would even buy a paper if it featured true stories of people who have overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles and appalling disabilitiess to transform their communities in the Third World !

mardi 19 avril 2011


I was just wondering when it's going to rain? Here in southeastern France, we have had little rain this winter.

The brewers must be tearing their hair out at the lack of rain as it takes 7 pints of water to make 1 pint. 'How come?' I hear you cry. Cleaning and sterilising the brewing kit out after brewing is a lengthy process, which consumes much of the water. Then there's the rain needed for the barley and hops to grow, but that's sent from above anyway.

I don't believe all this global warming nonsense because there is one person who's in charge, the Creator God, and He knows what He's doing. However, the winters don't seem to be as harsh as say in the 1990s.

I remember rinsing a fermenting bin next to my drain in late November, 1996. When the water from the hose hit the concrete slabs of my front path it froze instantly. Real weather then!

The next day, I started early and set the water to reach 65 C, which took about 45 minutes. I shouldn't have rinsed the fermenting bin then as a neighbour tore around the Close on his motorbike and skidded on the ice that resulted from my rinsing water. Thank goodness he didn't come off and wasn't hurt - he would have sued me had it beeen 15 years later!!

Sorry Alien (that was his nickname), I totally forgot about water and ice!