31 October 2011

Passage to India

One more sleep then I'll be in India, or at least on my way.  Then I'll spend a good few days trying to work out what time it is before I realise it doesn't matter, I'm still tired.

Today, I need to complete my packing.  I have decided to take one suitcase and a rucksack.  The idea of the rucksack is to keep at least one hand free for swatting things as I drag my suitcase behind me like a gypsy caravan.

Packing to date has resulted in a case half full of medical items.  I have bug cream, bug spray, bug repellant, bug bite soother, bug bite antiseptic cream and anti-itch lotion.  I am expecting there to be insects.  Just a hunch of mine.  We don't have many insects in England, they must all be somewhere hot and crowded.  My bet is India.

There are also tablets of various kinds, just in case I feel a bit woozy.  I've got more or less everything bar laxatives.  I have another hunch that constipation might not be one of the higher risk conditions.

There seems little room for clothes, but I'm only there for a couple of weeks and it's reputed to be hot so I'll not really need much in the way of clothes.  Of course I'll take a warm coat and a jumper, there's no point being foolhardy.

It has been suggested that I might do well to take a hat.  Now, I did have one but I gave it to my son.  It lit up so you could find your way in the dark.  Perfect for pub toilets, according to my son.  I have no idea of the prevalence of street lamps where I'm going.

That's the great thing about this adventure.  I have only a very vague idea of what to expect.  My need to have everything safe and predictable is being sorely tested.  I am way outside my comfort zone.

That's the whole point.

21 October 2011

The Economic Future of Europe

There are more euros in circulation than any other currency, including the US dollar.  About 900 billion.

There was once a suggestion that it would be adopted by the UK, but we sensibly decided that it wouldn't work and decided to opt out.  Unfortunately, we are inextricably linked into the EU economy and so to the unfortunate consequences of this piece of arrogant stupidity.

Now, I must make it clear that I am not an economist.  I am a writer.  Yet how is it that I could anticipate the inevitable disaster from the moment the prospects of the euro were first announced?  Surely, much cleverer people than I were involved in the euro's creation?

It appears not.

My limited understanding of these matters is as follows:

Currency is important to a country because it has a controlling effect on its economy. As an economy strengthens, the value of its currency rises.  More people want to hold it and deal in it.  As it rises, the cost of exports effectively rises as well.  This makes exports less competitive but has the benefit of reducing the cost of imports.  By manipulating interest rates, a government can fine tune the situation and find a balance.

Someone managed to persuade rather alot of people that having the same currency as Germany would be good for them.  It wasn't.  It has only been good for Germany.

The currency weakness created by having Greece, Portugal and Italy in the same economic zone has allowed Germany to export lots of Porsches, Mercs, Audis and VW's and other stuff.  Now they are faced with a request from the rest of Europe to share some of their gains and they aren't keen to do that.

The consequencies of a eurozone break up may well be better than to paper over the cracks with newly printed banknotes.  The alternative would be to make europe one big ungovernable country.  Either way, there's going to be lots of civil unrest and uncertainty.

The idea that growth is the way out of this mess is also not tenable.  Buying stuff with money we have borrowed is exactly the reason we are now financially insecure and suffering huge cutbacks in employment.  Consumption is how we arrived in this parlous state.  Buying things we don't need with other people's money can't be a good thing, even if your country is leading by example.

There's no easy solution to our economic plight.  My policy is to think carefully about everything I consume.  Do I really need it?  Can I afford it? What effect am I having on the world?

Reducing consumption will save the world even if done a tiny bit at a time.  It's not hopeless, far from it.  It can be a joyful experience, deciding what really matters in my life and realising how much I can easily let go.

7 October 2011

Blind Alleys

I am indebted to the estimable Bernard Cornwell and the interview he gave recently to the Telegraph. In it, he described his job as putting doors in blind alleys. He would have his hero, Sharpe, up a blind alley with no means of escape then, hey presto, a door appears and he is saved. The clever bit is that his readers already know about the door because he casually mentioned it a few chapters before. The even cleverer bit is that Bernard stuck this information in only after he realised he needed it.

So, to someone like me who writes chronologically, without plotting anything in advance, this has come as a bit of an eye opener. What's written already can be changed, modified, added to or even deleted! I use the exclamation mark to denote the sharp intake of breath I was forced to make when I realised the implications.

I am putting what I fondly imagine will be the final touches to the second draft of Due Diligence. The first draft ended a little too abruptly, I have to admit. The magic 75,000 words had been reached and, well, there was a decent novel's worth there already. So I rather skimped on the ending, leaving a few items unclear. Mainly because I was unsure about them myself, after all when I write in first person, I can't be expected to have all the answers.

Now Bernard has come to the rescue. A couple of lines added to Chapter 1 and suddenly it all makes more sense.

The ending is much more satisfying, I feel good about it now. My readers will certainly get their money's worth and will not have to guess or speculate.

Thanks, Bernard.

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