Author Archives: Andrew Pearce

About Andrew Pearce

Husband to Charlotte, dad to two teenagers, university manager, football referee, apprentice sailor

Muddying the waters

The Welsh Assembly Government is reviewing the permission that it has previously granted to allow the dumping of mud from the Severn Estuary near Hinkley Point onto existing mud flats nearer to Cardiff Bay. The review comes following claims that the mud may be highly radioactive following years of exposure to low level waste from the old nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point. The scheme to move the mud now is part of a much larger project to build a new nuclear plant on the same site. The project is being developed by a joint venture of French and Chinese firms, with some direct UK government backing and a contract guaranteeing an eye-watering minimum price for the electricity that will be generated once the plant is operational.

The story is another example of the insidious erosion of trust in science and scientific data that has blighted many areas of life in recent years. Detailed reports by independent expert analysts have shown that the impact of additional radiation exposure to somebody sitting on the foreshore at Cardiff for four hours a day for a year, and eating many kilograms of shellfish harvested from the area, would be the equivalent to eating twenty bananas during that same year. Interestingly, people living in Pembrokeshire are already exposed to higher levels of radiation from naturally occurring radon that leaks from the geology of that county.

We have seen similar attacks on science and the scientific method by climate change deniers; by those who advocate for the efficacy of homeopathic remedies; and by those who claim a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. In every case, the scientific evidence is extensive and compelling; and yet there are still those who willfully choose to ignore it, denigrate it, and launch personal attacks on the scientists. It’s almost as if we are living in a kind of reverse age of enlightenment, where instead of broadening horizons and increasing the frontiers of knowledge, we are instead casting shadows and narrowing the influence of facts, logic and intellect.

It’s in this environment that those with the loudest voices can proclaim that smoking isn’t that bad for you, really; that Britain is some sort of terrorist nirvana; and that reducing the tax burden on the very richest is the best way of helping the poorest. It emasculates public discourse and reduces all debate to the level of the pub bore : “All tbose fancy qualifications are fine and dandy, but I gained all my knowledge from the University of Life.” It’s the mentality that leads people in areas where immigration is negligible to believe that they can’t get an appointment at the doctors because of all those people coming over here, swamping public services and filling all the houses. It’s illogical, irrational and flies in the face of the hard facts, but people believe it.

We have now got to the stage where half-truths, misleading statements and outright lies are given equal billing with objective facts; where the opinions of people who have a platform but no expertise are treated as equal to those who have studied the subject for years and have empirical data to support their conclusions. It’s a form of collective madness that can lead to no good whatsoever.

The old saying goes that empty vessels make most noise. Allowing that noise to drown out the quieter voices of people speaking from positions of authoritative knowledge, simply muddies the waters for everybody.

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That’s it, then

So – that’s it. Another National Blog Post Month complete. 30 consecutive posts throughout November. I’ve really enjoyed it this time, and I hope that you’ve found at least some of the posts interesting, amusing, or otherwise worthwhile.

But if you’ve found it all a bit of a chore (or, god forbid, even a bore) then perhaps this T shirt is the one for you.

Thanks for reading. I promise not to clog up your notifications quite so regularly for at least another eleven months!

My top three Christmas Films

love actuallyThe internet has been getting its knickers in a twist over what constitutes a “Christmas Film“. Does a film need something more than simply being set over the Christmas period to be a Christmas film? The particular focus of the controversy in the article is Die Hard. Set on Christmas Eve it is a classic, all-action, shoot-em-up with a shoeless, bare-chested Bruce Willis single-handedly outwitting the evil gang led by Alan Rickman and saving the hapless hostages, including his wife. Declaration of interest : I love Die Hard and I have no doubt whatsoever that it qualifies as a Christmas film. However, it doesn’t make it into my top three favourites.

For me, number 1 must be Love Actually, the Richard Curtis rom-com that includes practically every half-famous British actor of the past 25 years (including the much-missed Rickman). Tracking the intertwined lives and loves of a group of London residents in the month leading up to the festive season, it always makes me laugh and cry. And its got Keira Knightley in it, so, you know.

wonderful

Just behind Love Actually, my second favourite Christmas film is It’s a Wonderful Life. This classic, starring James Stewart and produced and directed by Frank Capra, is everything that a Christmas film should be. It recounts the tale of a trainee angel sent to earth on a mission to show a local building society owner facing ruin as a result of the accidental loss of depositors’ money, that his worth is greater than any bank balance. It’s the ultimate feel-good movie and generates all the same feelings of warmth and faith in human nature that must surely be essential prerequisites for a Christmas film.

muppetsxmas

Finally, my number 3 on the list. It can only be The Muppets Christmas Carol, with Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, the wizened money-lender who completely reviews his priorities following visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmases yet to come, one fateful Christmas Eve. And all told through the uniquely, Muppet-focused eyes of Gonzo, assisted by Rizzo the Rat. When a cold wind blows, it chills you, chills you to the bone, but there’s nothing in nature that makes you feel better than a Muppet re-telling of a Christmas classic.

So – there’s my top three. Do you agree? What films would you have on your list? I look forward to hearing from you!die hard

God save the Queen, but not as we know it!

Manchester University Wind Orchestra’s (MUWO) latest concert was held on Saturday 25th November 2017 in the wonderful Cosmo Rodewald hall in the university’s Music School. MUWO is one of a number of ensembles managed under the banner of the University’s Music Society. Musicians, conductors, orchestra managers and front of house staff are all drawn from the student body and learn a whole set of transferable skills from their involvement. Players gain performance experience under a range of different conductors and conducting styles; conductors have the chance to hone their skills with ensembles that may be new to the music being performed; and ensemble managers and front of house staff pick up all sorts of organization and management skills that are highly transferable into almost any workplace post-graduation.

The concert on Saturday featured three American composers, and one Englishman whose inspiration came from the east coast of the US, whose works spanned the whole of the 20th century. The opening piece “Watchman, Tell us of the Night” by Mark Camphouse is a tribute to the survivors of child abuse, and fluctuates between the frailty and discordance of the survivors stories, and the soaring, harmonious themes of hope and future possibilities.

Nigel Hess took the geography and people of the US east coast as the inspiration for his East Coast Pictures. On Saturday, MUWO performed the Pictures beautifully, effortlessly capturing the coastal solitude of Shelter Island, the grandeur of the soaring Catskills Mountains, and the vibrant energy of Manhattan.

Charles Ives “Variations on America” was a tour de force. Written in 1891 and based on the then popular American tune “My country, tis of thee”, it is more popularly known in the UK as the melody for the UK national anthem, “God Save the Queen”. There was something almost prophetic in the way that the melody was set to some deep south, New Orleans-style orchestration that conjured an image of a jazz funeral procession. Somehow, the image of the UK’s funeral being played out in a US jazz style seemed entirely appropriate in these days of Brexit and Trump! Have a listen to a version of the piece here and see what you think.

Eric Whitacre’s piece Cloudburst was originally written for voices, but was later transposed for performance by wind orchestra. It charts the development and climax of a mid-western storm, including audience participation involving random finger clicking in the final movement to replicate the sound of the falling rain.

The concert finished (as all wind orchestra concerts focusing on American and America-themed music must) with a piece by Bernstein. This series of excerpts from On the Town gave each section of the orchestra the chance to show their virtuosity, and they didn’t disappoint. The little girl sat just in front of us, who danced all the way through, was the litmus test to how enjoyable this piece (and indeed the whole concert) was.

Well done to everybody involved. I can only hope that you enjoyed being part of it as much as I enjoyed listening.

 

 

A day of firsts for this blog

This is my first blog post written entirely on my iPhone and also my first post written mainly from the waiting room of a busy Accident & Emergency Department of an NHS hospital.

I’m here because my sore knee (have I mentioned that before?) has become very swollen and painful. We arrived at 9am and it’s 11.28 am as I type this. I’ve seen two nurse practitioners, had X-rays and bloods taken, and I’m now back waiting for results.

The waiting room in A&E is a fascinating place to spend time. As I look around now, there are people aged 7 to 80 plus. A number have very obvious injuries and quite dramatic appearances (facial injuries and bloodied clothing); others are in obvious pain and distress; and some (including me) seem fine until they get called into a treatment room and hobble off awkwardly.

There is a kind of resigned acceptance that we are grist to the mill of a system that operates at its own speed and according to rhythms and processes that are both mysterious and unknowable. For the most part, people are patient and understanding of the pressures that staff are working under. What is amazing is that at this time on a sunny Sunday there are upwards of 50 people in the waiting room, and probably at least that number again in various treatment rooms and diagnostic services around the Department.

This truly is the sharp end of the National Health Service. We are so incredibly lucky to have it. We may complain about waits; about the uncomfortable metal chairs; about being passed from practitioner to practitioner; but ultimately, we should be incredibly proud that we live in a country where world-class healthcare is available when we need it.

A bit of inconvenience is a fantastically small price to pay for that.

It’s clearly a matter of common sense

Air travel is statistically very safe. The chances of death on a commercial flight run by a European or North American airline are incredibly remote – somewhere in excess of 1 in 7 million. That’s very reassuring and is a tribute to years of research and advances in engineering, training and safety procedures at airline manufacturers, airports and air traffic control centres. Admittedly, very large aircraft still look as though the last place they should possibly be is 35,000 feet up in the air, but that’s just our feeble, emotional, irrational anxieties overcoming our logical, scientific, reasoning intellect.

And then a story like this one hits the news. To summarise, US fighter jets based at UK airbases were involved in 19 near misses with non-military planes in the past 5 years, and the main recommendation for ensuring future safety is……

…… to keep the glass in the aircraft cockpit clean!

aircraft

Now, I don’t know about you, but I get really twitchy if the windscreen on my car gets a bit smeary. I hate it if I allow the washer reservoir to run dry and I can’t clean the windscreen as I drive along. In fairness, though, it’s rare for that to ever get to the point where my vision is so compromised that I can’t see everything around in perfect clarity. And my car doesn’t travel at 500 miles per hour 1200 feet off the ground.

I get that these fighter jets are equipped with all sorts of digitally enhanced displays and that radar and other devices keep the pilot aware of her/his position at all times. But I’ve got sensors on the back of my car that tell me if I’m getting too close when parking. It doesn’t mean that I don’t also look where I’m going!

I guess the serious point is that no matter how good the technology is, sometimes there is no substitute for human reactions and the application of common sense. Maybe something that we will need to bear in mind as we spend the Chancellor’s £500m developing driverless cars as well.