Into the Jungle!

It’s Monday evening and we are sitting in a presentation by Rohan, brother of the owner of the Jungle Hut, our home for the next three days. He is showing us pictures of the animals that come through the hotel ‘campus’, captured on motion sensor cameras. We watch an elephant walking by the swimming pool, a pangolin, porcupine and hyena in the grounds, and bears walking past our lodge in the middle of the night. I can feel Sue tensing up.

He goes on to show us pictures of the many colourful bird varieties resident here. She relaxes.

Next it’s snakes. The Russell’s Viper apparently accounts for half the 50,000 annual deaths from snakebite, hissing like an airhose before it strikes. Rohan’s video shows a close up view of a simulated human foot treading on a snake, which responds by sinking it’s fangs into said foot. This is not good.

When we move on to the six-inch long tarantula seen on campus, I’m expecting Sue to be out of here. She braves it out.

The Jungle Hut is laid out with its 16 rooms arranged in lodges dotted around the grounds. On returning to ours for the night we scour the floors, windows and cupboards for signs of snakes and arachnids. Suggesting that at least they’ll be big enough to see doesn’t help.

Our day had begun earlier with breakfast in the luxurious Radisson Blu Hotel, surely the best hotel in Mysore. We check out and hit the road, back into the melee of cars, bikes and cows. As we head out of the city the traffic gradually thins out and becomes less frenetic, although this is still a busy road. The buildings give way to fields of rice, palm trees, sugar cane and many other crops. The occasional hill in the distance reminds us of Wiltshire, except for the palms of course.

The driving style remains one of keeping going regardless of what’s ahead. Biju overtakes as traffic is approaching, and I think he’s maybe cutting it a bit close, until another car appears at my right shoulder overtaking the overtaker. It’s standard practice here, and no wonder Mysore road deaths are 10 times higher than London per head of population.

We stop for a comfort break at a coffee chain restaurant. The cappuccino is first class, although a lot dearer at 150 rupees per cup than the family run stop on our first day here which charged 30, equivalent to less than 30p.

As we continue the hills begin to rise around us, and eventually we enter Bandipur Tiger Reserve with great anticipation. Now the land is mainly forest, a bit like untended woodland in England but denser and very green. Signs give stark warnings about stopping, taking selfies, or getting out of vehicles. They take the conservation of their parks and animals really seriously here, but they have no need to worry. If I see a tiger I certainly won’t be taking a selfie with it.

We cross the state line out of Bandipur Park in Karnataka, and into Mudumalai Park, Tamil Nadu. We’re looking out for elephants and I think I catch a glimpse of one in the distance, but Sue maintains it was a flying pig. This terrain is remarkable for having no habitation and very few pedestrians, other than the occasional uniformed Forest Rangers, until we reach Masinagudi, a busy, frenetic town bursting with activity. Biju stops to ask for directions, and we continue out of town for a mile or two, then turn right up a single track road. A couple of miles further and we pass a colourful temple and then, in front of us, is the sign for the Jungle Hut, our home for the next three nights. We pull up in front of reception, part of the open-fronted main building, and sign in.

Our lodge is only a few yards walk away, and it’s apparent that this is going to be a hugely different experience from the Radisson. As the porter carries our bags to our room, monkeys play on its roof and spotted deer watch us from a few yards away. As we are soon to find out from our host, that’s not all there is here.

So now we sit through Rohan’s presentation with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. Tomorrow we’ve arranged to meet Solomon from Grace Charitable Trust, one of the charities we have come to visit. We hope we make it through the night.

Palaces, Temples and Shopping

We are sitting in the Shoppers Stop centre adjacent to our hotel in Mysore, sharing a McDonald’s burger and fries in the fourth floor food hall (all in the interest of research, you understand). It’s a bright, modern retail complex, rising from floor to floor by twin elevators, with a range of fashion, clothing, homeware and other shops, coffee bars and a fast food range that includes Taco Bell and KFC as well as Indian names. There’s a cinema and modern facilities. We could be back in Leicester.

It’s all quite different from our shopping experience earlier this morning, when we visited the famous Mysore market for the second time. Here, we felt as though we were part of something that hasn’t changed for centuries, with stall after stall of colourful fruit and vegetables, alongside the filth and grime of people subsisting on little. Amongst the noise and bustle we are urged to buy by the traders, although most here are respectful and don’t push hard. There is one though who, sensing a possible sale, pursues us through the market, all the while dropping his price to a fraction of the starting point. We are too polite to be blunt so we do the British thing of trying to ignore him. Even when we emerge back on to the main street he is still behind us, offering discounts at his uncle’s silk shop on the corner. We can’t fault his persistence but manage to resist.

Our day had begun earlier with a visit to the famous Mysore Palace. This being Sunday the crowds were already amassing as we entered the car park at around 10.30 am, and we braved the obligatory vendors and passed through the metal detector at the Palace entrance, pinging away merrily as it did with every other visitor. No-one took any notice.

We weren’t quite prepared for the next stage, when we realised that we were required to surrender our shoes and socks before entering the Palace. Our driver, Biju, obtained a carry bag from the busy desk and we deposited our footwear, hoping they had a good system for tracking the thousands of pairs in their care. They did.

We dutifully joined the river of people as we meandered through the Palace barefoot, it’s splendour still evident despite the passing of time. Six million visitors come here every year, making the Palace second only to the Taj Mahal in popularity. They come to see a hugely opulent monument to the wealth and power of the King of Mysore, and it’s massive colonnaded halls, once used as meeting places for the ‘Durbars’ – members of the Royal Court – are rich in colour and fine painted detail. The long front facade of the Palace is laid out with tiered rows and galleries like a giant grandstand, and paintings display representations of the gatherings, ceremonies and processions that have taken place here in the large area laid out before us, watched by Royals and dignitaries. It must have been an amazing sight.

Mysore has a long and chequered history, and it is easy to see why the building draws so many visitors, playing as it does a significant role in the history, culture and religion of the people.

In the afternoon, after our market visit, Biju drives us up the winding road to the Chamundi Temple, or Chamundeshwari Temple to give it it’s proper name. This is one of the ten most sacred hills in India, and is a place of huge significance to the thousands of Hindus who visit. A recently built multistorey car park indicates the popularity of the place, although like most of India it seems half finished as we walk out over newly paved paths mixed with dirt track, piles of blocks stacked alongside waiting to be laid.

There’s a line of souvenir shops and stalls, most selling Hindu religious items, mementos and offerings to be made once inside the Temple. As non-Hindus we aren’t allowed in, but the long queues snaking around the building suggest worshippers could be here for some time.

We return back down the hill and stop at the roadside to enjoy the view over Mysore and the plains beyond. Despite having twice the population of Leicester, Mysore is a small city in Indian terms, and we are struck by how much green there is below. Our hotel and Mysore racecourse immediately below us, and the Palace near the city centre are obvious landmarks.

Later in the evening we are back in the Palace grounds to witness the turning on of the lights. Apparently the city was one of the first to install electricity, and the King arranged for nearly 100,000 bulbs to be strung around the Palace and its adjacent walls and buildings. In true Royal opulent tradition, the original bulbs used silver filaments, but these proved too tempting to light fingered visitors. Nowadays all of the bulbs are made by a local company using a special screw fitting that is incompatible with standard Indian lights. Most of the bulbs seem to have remained in place, and they are switched on for 45 minutes every Sunday evening. A brass band plays stirring music on the Palace forecourt, and thousands of visitors come to see the show. It’s all very good-natured, and there is a collective chorus of delight as the lights come on. It’s quite a spectacle.

As we wend our way through the throng enjoying the atmosphere, we are accosted by a young man. “I have very good offer for you” he promises. Sue does a double-take and says, “Oh, it’s you!” She’s recognised our persistent vendor from the market. He is taken by surprise and gives us a big sheepish grin before moving on. We think he’s finally got the message.

We retire for the evening after a day of contrasts and having had a sumptuous taste of this fascinating place. Tomorrow, the jungle!

Stopping the Traffickers and Building Love

Yesterday Nikhil, our guide for the morning, took us to the centre of Mysore and the gates to the famous Palace, as well as the huge Market. Here traders sell a huge range of fruit, vegetables, spices and flowers as well as everything else in the world you can imagine. It’s a frenetic, noisy, colourful, smelly (in a good and bad way!) place that overwhelms the senses.

Especially prominent are the long, dark aisles devoted to bananas. Nikhil explained that there were over 300 varieties of banana, and many of them must have been on sale here. Every part of the banana plant is used, and he showed us the stacks of shiny green leaves that people use as plates. They are not only bio-degradable (no washing up!), but they apparently give off a substance that enhances the flavour of the food. Little did we know that, less than 24 hours later, we would be eating from banana leaves ourselves.

Today we had arranged to visit Stanly and Parashu, who between them run the Seva Odanadi Trust, an Indian charity that works with girls and boys who have been victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. This morning we drove to the girls house in Mysore and were welcomed by Stanly, who showed us to his office where Parashu greeted us too.

House mother and staff of Odanadi Girls house

House mother and staff of Odanadi Girls House

These two ‘men on a mission’ began their activities together when, as young journalists, they chanced upon a young prostituted woman who asked “Do you think any woman would choose this life?” They discovered that many women were trading sex for a bowl of rice to feed their children. They helped her, lifting her out of prostitution to become a woman’s rights campaigner, before she sadly died of AIDS. However the roots for Odanadi had been formed and the organisation has grown over nearly three decades to its current form.

That form encompasses a girls home and a separate boys home with a range of facilities and projects linked to them. What we hadn’t realised is that Stanly and his team are actively involved in trying to stop the traffickers by raiding their lodges, houses and brothels to release girls who have been lured or kidnapped into a world of sexual exploitation. Stanly’s team showed us videos of raids on properties in Mysore and elsewhere, all carefully planned to be able to capture and convict underworld bosses and ringleaders to take them out of circulation. They showed us the meticulous lengths to which criminals go to avoid capture and to protect their ‘stock’ of girls, by creating almost invisible ‘caves’ behind walls and wardrobes, above toilet cisterns, and in drains in which people can be hidden during such a raid. This is dangerous work, and Stanly showed pictures of a ledger from one of the brothels that had been raided detailing payments to police officers as bribes, equivalent to a months salary each time. They can’t always rely on support from the authorities.

A main focus of the work of Odanadi is to rehabilitate, train and educate girls who have been through these experiences. Most are traumatised, often under 16, and without education or qualifications. It is a sad fact that, having been torn from their families, these girls are often rejected by their parents on being subsequently freed because of the stigma attached to them, whilst for others their families are themselves the perpetrators. Odanadi provides a safe place for them to live where they can regain confidence, go to school and rebuild their lives.

The home has a range of facilities built into it, which have been expanded over the years. We were taken on a tour of the building by some of the staff and residents, visiting the library, gymnasium, art room, and meeting rooms. They also proudly showed us the beauty parlour training area, where girls can receive training in becoming a beautician, and work in the separate beauty parlour adjacent to the main building which is also open to the public, providing valuable training experience as well as a service to the community. There is also a bakery which also provides training and experience in cakemaking and cooking skills, and we were given mouth-watering slices of cake that they had made for us.

It was clear that the Odanadi girls house was not only a safe place, but also a happy one. Everyone was pleased to show us around, and to share their enthusiasm for this special place. We couldn’t fail to be impressed by the work they are doing here.

After lots of photos we followed Stanly and Parashu across town to the boys house. On arrival, Stanly explained that some of the boys who live here are themselves victims of trafficking or sexual exploitation, or they are the children of girls who are involved. One boy came at the age of 3 months when his mother was rescued in an operation, and has lived at Odanadi ever since.

The boys presented us with a delightful flower bouquet that they had made, and then we sat down for lunch on long steel tables in the large, open building that doubles as their canteen. We received our banana leaf, and enjoyed a delightful meal of fish, chicken, rice and bread with the boys. We were a bit unsure about Indian dining etiquette in the absence of the cutlery we’re used to, but we followed the lead of our hosts and soon felt at home.

After lunch the boys started to open up to us, and their warmth and sense of fun started to shine through. We were taken by the hand on a tour of their house, and proudly shown their dormitories, the gym that they obviously enjoyed using, their library and offices. The ‘house mother’ was on hand to guide us and the boys, and we had a lovely time getting to know them better.

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One of the boys wanted to show us his dancing skills, and we were treated to an impromptu cabaret as his breakdance routine, all to lively Indian music, stole the show.

Later, Stanly took us a few yards in to the grounds to show us the new building that will house their mechanics workshop. He explained that they expect to get under way in January, offering basic training in carpentry and cycle and motorcycle maintenance. The aim is to be able to offer boys a qualification in these skills, and to be able to offer a repair and servicing facility for the local community in order to bring in revenue.

Adventure Ashram has played a huge part in the construction of the new boys house and the workshop building, and there are details on their website. We are delighted that some of the funds that we have raised on behalf of the Ted Jervis Fund will be used to provide toolkits for the students, which will help them in their training and to be able to gain a trade thereafter.

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As we leave the boys home and travel back to our hotel, we both confess to having a huge range of thoughts and mixed emotions. Our experience visiting the two Odanadi houses, meeting their residents and staff, and hearing about their history, work, and future aspirations has been humbling, inspiring and saddening in equal measure. Our sadness is due to the reality of the need for this type of project in today’s modern world, and the cruel, avaricious attitudes of the people who can inflict such suffering on others in the name of financial gain. Our inspiration is that people like Stanly and Parashu are prepared to make a stand against such evil, and to create such loving places as the Odanadi houses as a sanctuary for the victims of such heinous crimes.

There is so much we can do to help, from simple items to make the lives of the residents easier, to bigger ideas like developing the sites further and helping to improve the facilities that they enjoy. We’ll be liaising with Stanly and Adventure Ashram to come up with a list of ideas.

You’ll be hearing more from us about Odanadi soon!

 

Meeting a man with a chisel

One the the great things about being a member of Rotary is that there are Clubs in most cities in the world at which you are made to feel welcome, and Mysore is no different. Last night we joined with the members of the Rotary Club of Mysore at their weekly meeting in their building on Krishna Vilas Road.

We met Club President Chetan Vishwanath and were introduced to Secretary Ravi and other members before enjoying a simple but enjoyable meal served outside. The Club sponsors a school in the adjacent building, and has a long and illustrious history of service to the local community, having been formed in 1944. We were warmly welcomed by everyone, and several members shared their experiences of visiting the UK to holiday, work and study.

We also met the speaker for the evening, Arun Yogiraj. When the meeting convened, Arun told us about his work as a sculptor, having learned his trade from his grandfather. Arun has gained much recognition for his work, including a visit from former Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, to his workshop in Mysore.

Arun’s slideshow gave us an idea of the range and scope of his work, and we were amazed by the skill of this modest but hugely successful man. Arun had brought an example of one of his smaller sculptures, a detailed representation of a gentleman who had passed away last year aged 107. Arun showed a photo of him with the man, adopting the pose he had portrayed in his statue. Some of his larger works can take several months of sustained effort with a hammer and chisel, often for 12-14 hours a day. He is clearly a master of his craft.

I told Arun how much our members in Loughborough would appreciate knowing about his work, and he kindly shared his presentation with me to use when we’re home.

The meeting closed with the traditional gift of a Club banner to me from Chetan, although I was unable to reciprocate having been unprepared with a banner from Loughborough. Good reason for another visit?

I thanked the members present for their hospitality, and mentioned the reason for our trip to Mysore, being our intention to visit the Odanadi Trust as mentioned in an earlier blog. Rotary can achieve great things when Clubs work together, and possibly there may be scope to do so in the future. I was pleased to have been able to meet Chetan and his members and enjoy their friendship.

It had been a very long day, having arrived at Bangalore at 4.50 am in the morning before making the 4 hour journey to Mysore. In all we’ve had about 2 hours sleep in the last 40. We gratefully climb into bed back at our hotel and are oblivious until morning, having had a fascinating introduction to this unique country.

Look out, there’s a cow in the road!

In fact there are two of them, emerging from a side road without stopping, pulling a cart laden with sugar canes like miniature lumber. They join the goats and dogs wandering in the verges, adding to the melee of cars, lorries, tractors, trailers, buses, wagons, bicycles, pedestrians, motorcycles, scooters, step-thru’s and the ubiquitous tuk-tuk 3 wheelers that must breed here, there are so many of them. All of these come from every direction as we navigate the Bangalore ring road on our way to Mysore, horns tooting and engines revving around us. It’s utterly bonkers to behold.

Our driver, Biju, seems completely unfazed by it all. Indeed, despite the utter confusion of the street scene and everyone’s determination to stake their claim to their piece of road, they all seem quite good-natured – or maybe totally resigned – to the situation. Unlike the UK where horns are mainly used as a sign of anger or annoyance, here it seems to mean ‘I’m warning you I’m here, please make space’. No-one takes offence.

That warning is very necessary as we all squeeze into every available space. Lane markings seem to be an advisory only, largely to be ignored, and even the direction of travel seems up for grabs. If you can’t get through this way just go the other way against the flow of traffic. When motorbikes decide to go the wrong way half up the verge it’s one thing, but when tractors and buses do the same it’s quite another. We have no idea whether this is supposed to be a two-way road, but we’re pretty sure it’s not.

At busy junctions it’s utter chaos. Vehicles of all types fly in all directions, the bikes thread through any gap they can find, and the people walk out into the middle of it all.

A tuk-tuk sheds it’s load in front of us and bags of something looking like garden waste bounce along the road, causing the traffic to part in waves around it. A scooter sails serenely past, driver choosing his course, gaily saronged wife looking laid back as she sits side saddle behind, and child squashed between the two of them, resplendent in his school uniform.

All of this sounds really scary, but actually we don’t feel rattled at all, just fascinated. It all happens at a fairly modest pace, and we are able to watch our journey unfold. It’s nothing like the taxi ride we took in Italy where we rarely dropped below 70, through toll booths and all, swerving violently across other traffic. Now that was scary.

Eventually we reach our hotel, the Radisson Blu in Mysore. It’s a well appointed place with an impressive lobby area, and the staff are anxious to please. We sit and enjoy excellent bowls of soup in the light and modern restaurant whilst we wait for our room to be ready, it’s still only 11.30 am.

When we are shown to our room we’re told we’ve been upgraded. It’s a lovely space with a view over the city, the Mysore Palace, and the road outside. And there, as we watch, is a cow wandering along the central grass strip between the two traffic lanes, helping itself to the choicest mouthfuls. The cow doesn’t notice the traffic, and the traffic pays no regard to the cow.

They are all as mad as each other. It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

An assault on the senses

The streets are thronged with people of all shapes and sizes, many speaking in foreign tongues. We are surrounded by multi-coloured messages and glorious images, and our nostrils are assailed by the scents of rich spices, elaborate perfumes, and sweet confections. Our taste buds are tempted by a mouth watering choice of street food, beers and beverages. It’s a fascinating experience for the uninitiated. And we haven’t even left for India yet.

Terminal 5 at Heathrow is a huge metropolis in its own right. We arrive in good time and wait patiently in the security queues amongst the multitude. I am picked out for closer inspection and suffer the ignominy of having to empty my bag so that the lady can thrust her security probe into its innermost recesses. If it keeps us safe then it’s a price worth paying.

We opt for the walkway to the C gates in preference to the train, and travel down in the lifts to find ourselves in a deserted world of endless corridors, the travelator humming beside us. It’s like a scene from Star Wars as we encounter BA flight crew coming the opposite way in full uniform. They chuckle as I ask whether they are lost too?

Eventually we emerge into the natural light, and look out over a forest of red white and blue tailfins. Which one is ours, we wonder?

Our holiday has started as we hope it will go on.MVIMG_20191106_112349

 

Looking forward to an Indian Adventure

The idea of a trip to India began 10 years ago, when my Dad asked me if I’d like to join him on an Enduro India adventure. This 1500 km motorcycle ride across the sub-continent had captured his imagination, and as he was already in his 80’s at the time, maybe he needed a chaperone. I didn’t go with him then, or on any of the several other similar trips he did in subsequent years. Along the way he gathered quite a fan club of fellow adventurers, and it seemed he was chaperoning them rather than the other way around. 20150712_163616

Out of the India trips had arisen Adventure Ashram, a UK charity that helped support work in India that had been touched by the adventurers. When Dad passed away in 2017 (see my separate blog post) the members of Adventure Ashram proposed a new fund in his name, and you can read about it here. Adventure Ashram holds a UK Rally for cars and bikes each year, and money is raised towards Dad’s fund.

When Sue and I celebrated our Ruby Wedding Anniversary earlier this year, we suggested that guests make a donation towards the fund instead of gifts. We were delighted by everyone’s generosity, and we’ve ended up with over £3,000 to use for the charity in India.

What better excuse, then, for our first trip to India? We’re looking forward to a great holiday, and along the way we’ll be visiting two of the projects that Adventure Ashram supports. We’ve been planning our trip for several weeks, and as I write this we’re an hour away from setting off to catch the train to Heathrow, where we’ll be staying overnight.

I’m planning to keep a record of our experiences, and if you would like to know what we’re up to you can follow my blog and you’ll be notified of any new posts.

If you’d like to help boost the fund we’d be honoured to receive your donation. We can promise you the money will be put to good use.

Next stop Heathrow!

 

Canal Trip: 1 – Rainy City Delights

The rain is pattering down outside, and judging by the look of the skies it seems there is more water above us than below, even though we’re already afloat. One of the joys of holidaying in the UK is the unpredictability of the weather, which brings another unknown dimension to the experience we’re having.

If we’re going to tackle the inclement weather head-on there’s probably no better way to do it than from the helm of our narrowboat. We’re not far from Lymm on the approach to Manchester, in a surprisingly rural spot in our green and lovely countryside. The city beckons ahead.

As always on our canal system, surprises are a regular occurrence. If you have any interest in our industrial heritage, or even if you don’t, you can’t fail to be impressed by the engineering skills that helped to create the system in the first place. From our 21st century perspective the canals are a quaint anachronism of a bygone age, green corridors through a verdant land. At their inception, though, they were a bold and highly innovative solution to moving goods and produce around the country in bulk and at speed. When Josiah Wedgewood first starting shipping his valuable pottery, the only way was by pack horse. If you think canals are slow, try taking one of those from Stoke to London laden with china.

Rainy City Delights

This innovation resulted in wonders such as the mile and three-quarter long Harecastle Tunnel which we tackled on Sunday, and the amazing Anderton Lift yesterday (Tuesday). Although strictly we didn’t ‘tackle’ Anderton so much as visit it, a special licence being required to navigate the River Weaver to which the Lift transports boats and their cargo from the Trent & Mersey canal above.

Like so many features of the waterways, when it was first built in 1875 people came from miles around to see the Anderton Lift in operation. After falling into neglect it was brought back to its former glory as a result of a preservation campaign in the 1980’s, and now the site hosts a lively and instructive visitor centre which offers an excellent fried breakfast along with boat trips between the two levels on their resident narrow boats. If you’re in this part of the world an excursion here is highly recommended. Make time to do the trip and you’ll have a very enjoyable and informative day out. You can find out all about it on the Canal & River Trust Website here.

Sunday evening offered one of those magical Summer evenings that are special to England, with no wind, a balmy temperature and the sun casting deep pink and golden hues across the sky. Chugging along gently on not much more than tickover, watching the world go by and feeling connected with it all, was about as good an experience as there is.

So if we have to put up with a few drops of rain today, so be it. At least Manchester is living up to its ‘Rainy City’ moniker. Who knows what further delights are in store?

End of the Road….?

dad-india

Grief is like toothache, many people have experienced it and they have an idea of what you’re feeling, but the pain is personal to you and they will never really know what it’s like. It comes and goes in waves, you think you’re over it but then something happens to set it off again. You have no idea how long it’s going to go on for, and there’s not much you can do to stop it.

That’s how I feel after the death of my dad last week. He went into hospital on 23rd January for a routine hip operation, and we all expected that this week we would be needing to find ways to keep him in his chair resting, knowing that he would want to be up and about at the earliest opportunity. Instead, the operation caused a blood clot which went on to his lung and lead to further complications. He passed away on the morning of 26th Jan.

Dad was a citizen of the world. He spent his life travelling, firstly in the Army, then through his work designing, selling and installing quarry and asphalt plant, and latterly as a motorcycling adventurer. We lost count of the number of countries he had visited in his lifetime, and his Facebook page includes contacts from across the globe. We’ve been overwhelmed by the many tributes and anecdotes from his friends, many of whom experienced his enthusiasm, inspiration and spirit of adventure as he took part in numerous organised runs across India and the Himalaya by Enfield motorcycle, forming links with an amazing group of people who obviously held him in high regard. My own experiences travelling with him to Germany are the subject of a previous blog.

Dad was a modest man but he was secretly proud to be showing the younger guys how it should be done, especially when many of those younger guys were well into retirement themselves. To be riding the highest roads in the world across rough terrain, rockfalls and heavy fords was a great achievement in itself, to be doing it in your mid-80s is pretty special.

I learned a lot from my father over his lifetime, and I’ll pick up on some of the key things in a future post. For now, it’s enough to record that he is no longer with us and that our family is in mourning. His funeral is on Tuesday 14th February in Loughborough, and there’s a lot to do before then to make sure we give him a great send-off.

Why This Rebel Is Keen To Remain In Europe

I’m on a narrowboat this week and not paying much attention to the news, but when an MP is murdered in cold blood it’s an event that can’t be ignored.

It seems as though the perpetrator was suffering his own mental health problems, but such extreme action has to have some underlying trigger. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to guess that the Brexit campaign could have been it. I can’t be the only one to have become thoroughly disenchanted with the way in which the campaigns have descended from at least some semblance of intelligent debate to bickering, personal attacks and name calling. It seems that this has to be the way of modern politics.

(FILES) This file photo taken on August

image from metro.co.uk

What depresses me further is that the debate seems to have become about nationalism and whether you are ‘for’ or ‘against’ Britain and her continued existence. To even suggest that a vote to Remain is anti-British has to be the ultimate in distortion of reality.

I’m as passionate about this country – by which I mean the United Kingdom in its entirety – as anyone, and it’s because of this very belief that I am so strongly in favour of staying in.

That doesn’t mean I’m happy with the status quo, far from it. Europe is by no means perfect, and if it is to succeed in the long term it has to change. I think that the idea of ever closer political union in Europe is wrong, and that the EU has made some significant errors of economic policy that haven’t helped the lives of its citizens.

Red Tape Can Be Good

But despite the rhetoric there is a lot of good to being a member of the European ‘Club’. A lot of the so-called ‘red tape’ that comes out of Brussels is aimed at harmonising trade, and that requires regulations to be proposed, drafted, debated and accepted. In return our businesses can sell their goods right across Europe with no further restrictions, and this has been a boost to trade over the years. In my own field, financial services, it has taken a long time to get this harmonisation in place and there is still a way to go, but Britain has been a significant winner in its areas of expertise, with 30% of the European banking market, half of Europe’s fund management business, and well over 80% of hedge fund activity, a major money-spinner for the City. Leaving the EU would definitely put this major trade at risk, and it could take years to recover our position. Surely if rules are being drafted for the pan-European market that we will have to conform to anyway, it makes sense to have a place at the negotiating table?

Immigration

Arrivals from the European Union customs channel at Stansted Airport, England, Britain UK

image from viewsbank.com

Perhaps the greatest area of concern for many people is that of immigration. On this one I’m probably of a different view to many, because I’m all in favour of open borders. In my idealistic world it would be possible for anyone to travel anywhere without hindrance, and it would be great to think that, one day in the future that might happen. I do accept that the world isn’t ideal, of course, and in reality controls are required, but free movement of goods, services and people within the EU seems to me to be a laudable objective. This doesn’t mean free access to all services the state provides, of course, and it’s here that the debate should focus in my view. David Cameron has already gained acknowledgement of this within Europe and the Government’s policy has for some time been aimed at limiting benefits for migrants.

There’s a well-proven economic case for such free movement. At a time when Western economies are facing the prospect of ageing populations as the 1950’s baby boomers’ move into retirement, we need younger workers to be able to grow. It’s also true that many new businesses are started by immigrants seeking a better life for their families. Ultimately the way to resolve the pressure of immigration is to help make the countries from which the people come to be stable and prosperous, and here the EU has a role.

If we were to exit the Union I really can’t see how things would change much on this front, either. A large proportion of immigrants are from non-EU countries already, and we couldn’t hope for much tighter controls whilst enjoying unfettered movement of our own goods, services and citizens. It’s folly to believe otherwise.

Change is already happening

There is evidence that the EU is already changing. Its politicians are getting the message that, right across Europe, there is disenchantment with its opaqueness and remoteness from the people whose lives it affects. The influx of smaller nations who have joined in recent years

Eu Flags

image from guardian.co.uk

aren’t interested in ever closer political union, they want better access to Europe’s markets, stability, and protection against aggressors, notably Russia. Britain, with its emphasis on defence (on which we spend more than most other Euro nations) and trade is seen as a strong and consistent voice with the scale and economic clout to be a positive leader in Europe. The very intensity of the UK Brexit debate has made politicians across Europe sit up and take notice. We aren’t the only ones who aren’t entirely happy, as evidenced by rising nationalistic voices in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and many other countries. Something must be done.

Agitate from within

I’ve always seen myself as something of a rebel. I’m all in favour of shaking things up and agitating for change. But I came to realise a long time ago that crusading through the streets holding placards and chanting slogans is nothing like as effective as being on the inside and influencing things with the people who hold the power. Attractive as it might feel to make a protest against Europe and ‘stand up for Britain,’ let’s not throw away years of negotiations and effort that could set us back 10 years or more and leave us with less influence and no real gains.

Instead, let’s create the necessary change from within with a strong voice and firm principles. Let’s stand up for Britain as a negotiating partner and not a truculent absentee.

In my humble opinion, a vote for Britain is a vote to Remain.

Andy Jervis

19-06-2016