Ever heard of Georges Nagelmackers?

I certainly hadn’t until yesterday. Come to that, I doubt many outside his native Belgium have either. But like me you will all be familiar with Georges’ lasting legacy, the most famous train the world has ever known – the Orient Express.
Georges was born in Liège into a wealthy banking family in 1845 and died in 1905. In the 1860’s he travelled extensively in the USA, marvelling at the luxury Pullman carriages, sleeping-cars and restaurant-cars used for long distance railway travel across the American continent. 
When he returned to Europe, he determined to do something similar to improve the lot of the wealthy European train traveller. In 1874 he founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits.
Georges had a fleet of luxury carriages built. His company soon became a huge success.
Luxury trains like The Orient-Express (Paris-Istanbul), Nord-Express (Paris-St Petersburg) and Sud-Express (Paris-Lisbon), all utilized Georges’ luxury carriages. He also built carriages for the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia. In addition, over the years many luxury hotels including the Pera Palace in Istanbul, the Terminus Hotels in Bordeaux and Marseilles, the Hotel de la Plage in Ostend and the Grand Hotel in Beijing were built by his company for his travel weary passengers.
The publication of Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, a frequent traveller on the train and guest at the Pera Palace Hotel was probably the best free advertising Georges could ever have hoped for, had he lived to see it.
So, when you mention his name in conversation and someone replies Georges who, you will be able to tell them Georges Nagelmackers – the man who built the Orient Express, that’s who.

Your Internet Connection

Who supplies your internet connection? Have you ever thought about how much you pay each month?
Most people connect to the internet via a telephone line or by cable, some by the satellite dish for their television reception. While having a home hub in your house may give you the ability to take your laptop with you to any room in the house, it’s not necessarily the cheapest option.
Why not consider a mobile dongle?
If you live in an area where you get good mobile phone coverage, purchasing a monthly contract and a dongle makes financial sense. All a dongle uses is a card, similar to that in your mobile phone. In effect your dongle is a mobile phone.
Yes, most IP’s, dependant on using telephone lines, do offer you free phone calls etc, etc. But are you getting value for money?
All IP contracts have their plusses and minuses. If you are dependent on a phone line or a cable for your connection, you are also paying some form of line charge plus your monthly IP bill.
The only real drawback to using a dongle is that if you exceed your allotted amount of use, they will simply charge you an extra month’s worth. It is daylight robbery, but, the dongle still works out far cheaper in the long run than any other form of IP mechanism at this present moment in time.
Take a moment to seriously think about it. Most of us use our mobile phones far more than the old land line reliant ones. Our disposable income is shrinking daily. So finding a cheaper alternative is not only logical, but also financially sound.
Remember the Bond movie “You Only Live Twice”? Well sign up to using a dongle and you will “Only Pay Once”.
You know it makes sense.

The high cost of energy supply

Have you ever thought about that exorbitant power bill you receive from your energy provider?  What exactly are you paying for?
We are all being browbeaten into reducing the amount of electricity we use in our homes, and yet the bills keep on rising – why?
Couldn’t be mere greed on the part of our suppliers could it?
Oh silly old cynical me.
Governments seem hell bent on spending millions on nuclear powered electricity generation despite knowing just how dangerous it is – think Fukushima.  They advertise nuclear under the banner “clean energy for all”. At the same time we are still buying gas supplies from the other countries at a ridiculous cost.
Anything nuclear is not clean, it’s downright dirty. And as for gas, it’s slowly but surely running out!
Solar, wind, hydro and wave generation are clean, each of these harvesting a totally renewable resource. 
Regarding the first two alternatives, especially here in the UK, there is a growing number of total dimwits who take up the cry – “not in my back yard” whenever a wind or solar farm is proposed nearby!
Quite frankly I’d rather have a giant windmill spinning overhead, or have the south side of the roof above me covered in solar panels, than be subjected to the very real scenario of being irradiated when a cheaply constructed and poorly maintained nuclear plant melts down wouldn’t you? Regarding the whole solar panel alternative, most local councils refuse planning permission stating the old chestnut – solar panels are not aesthetically pleasing; god give me strength!
What makes me really choke is when despite us being told to limit our use of electricity, we see car manufacturers churning out their latest electrically driven automobile, enthusiastically backed by our governments, claiming that electrically driven cars are far greener than the old combustion engine powered ones.
If electricity for those self same vehicles is being generated by either nuclear, coal or gas driven power stations, how can it be seen as green? Unless the electricity generated is purely wave, wind, hydro or solar driven, it is far from being clean or green.
Now back to those over the top power bills I mentioned earlier. If our power supply was still state run instead of being privatised, the cost to you and I would be much lower.
Have you ever wondered who actually does own your home energy needs? It ain’t your energy provider – Bloggs Power Co. They merely lease the product off the government owned National Grid.
In all cases these days your energy provider consists of a set of offices spread across the country, farming out the office work to people like you and I who sit working away at home on their personal tax deductable work stations, churning out your exorbitant bills, adding a percentage to cover the cost of their home office space, also tax deductable.
“Aha,” I hear you cry.  “But when something goes wrong they send someone out to fix the problem.”
Yes they do, but it will be a subcontractor operating under their umbrella logo working on a percentage.
Don’t believe me? Try phoning your supplier or even emailing them. I bet you anything you like you will not communicate with the same person twice, nor will they be in the same geographical location as the previous person. If your energy bill comes through your mailbox, check the senders address as opposed to the head office address, not once, but every time it arrives. A few years back I swapped energy providers – why, because the former one had overestimated my energy use to the tune of £1500. A protracted argument with them finally ended in them having to return the money back to my bank account.
By the by, when did you last see a meter reader on your street? All of today’s energy providers guestimate how much you use. So why bother listening to them when they tell you to cut back on how much you use while presenting you with an energy bill based purely on guess work on their part?
Is it any wonder we are all being taken to the financial cleaners by these leeches – I think not?
“Save energy to reduce your energy intake and lower your bills, saving the world at the same time”.  
Yeh right, pull the other one, it’s got bells on.
Mr Politician, be brave and re-nationalise our energy supply. You all bleat on about the current fiscal deficit. Just think how much money you are not currently collecting from the sale of energy to us, which could have been put towards repaying the national debt incurred, not by us, but by greedy investment bankers. You get high energy bills to, just like the rest of us.
It’s time for common sense to rule rather than pandering to the money hungry methinks.

The most brilliant con game ever devised

Further to my piece on bogus mission statements comes the equally bogus notion of your personal carbon footprint.

Once well meaning, but sadly deluded scientists, had convinced their respective governments of their mistaken belief that somehow man was responsible for global warming, governments and big business immediately began devising ways of making money by praying on your ignorance and gullibility.
While it is undeniably true the Earth is experiencing a period of warming, what is totally unpalatable is that big business, backed by devious politicians, looking for a new election platform across the world are making money out of it.
What a brilliant scheme carbon footprint offsetting has turned out to be. You have to take your hat off to whoever it was who came up with this latest licence to print money.
It’s sheer business genius!
Pray on a gullible nation’s conscience long enough by conning them into believing that the increased amount of carbon in the upper atmosphere is somehow their fault, and they will pay for it through the nose, feeling guilty for something that is not their fault!
What a totally brilliant con game.
In recent years, companies have been set up purely to make money from the whole global warming fallacy. Stock markets trade on it making gazillions. Airlines pay vast amounts of money to displace the miniscule amount of carbon they create each time they take to the air, carrying you to your holiday destination.  
Hallo! Paying money for purportedly creating tiny amounts of extra carbon, won’t eliminate that self same carbon – sorry! There is no magical industrial vacuum cleaner up in the stratosphere sucking it all up!
All that paying money to ease your conscience does is to line the pockets of a whole new money making industry created around the mythical carbon concept.
Fact – the Earth periodically shifts from cold periods to warm. It has done for millions of years. It will carry on doing so long after humankind has died out and been replaced by a new dominant species.
Fallacy – It has nothing to do with you.
For God’s sake folks – WAKE UP!

Mission statements, are they all they’re cracked up to be?

I watched with great fascination a programme on television last night about so-called ‘ethical’ gold mining, its use and sale. A great majority of the jewellers and gold dealers here in the UK have signed up to an unworkable and unenforceable ethical agreement over the use of child miners of gold in countries where there are no laws covering child labour.
It turns out that practically none of those signed up actually abide by the agreement – no real surprise there. Profit first last and always over human rights, seems to be their motto.
The programme went on to explore what happens to so called second hand gold, old gold re-melted and reused without any need to place anyone in danger. For some quite frankly illogical reason, all of the jewellers interviewed claimed that second hand gold was more expensive due to – and this is the most pathetic reason of all time – serious problems in the supply chain! When asked how much a piece of jewellery made from second hand gold was in relation to a piece made from freshly mined, the jewellers claimed the old gold product was more expensive because of the supply chain excuse referred to above.
The interviewer travelled to a supplier of old gold in Paris and found out that what the jewellers were telling her was just so much bunkum. The supplier ran through the cost of buying, melting down and reselling the end product bars of gold to jewellers. Guess what, its far cheaper! Any fool can understand and appreciate that fact. Seemingly the manufacturing jewellers can’t.
Each of the jewellers and gold suppliers who had signed up to the totally unenforceable ethical agreement had produced mission statements where they lied through their teeth, paying lip service to ethical mining, even stamping their product with the ethical mining logo.
The interviewer then went out onto a typical UK high street and showed two pieces of gold jewellery to potential buyers – one made of new gold, the other old. She asked the simple question, “If given the choice between the new or old gold, now knowing what I’ve just told you, which would you choose?” With the exception of one young woman, all said they would purchase the item made with old gold. When she told them that according to most manufacturing jewellers, the old gold was more expensive, they were totally astounded!
It appears that a lot of so-called company mission statements are not worth the paper they are printed on.
Buyer beware! Demand to know where your gold comes from.

What Really Matters?

With me, its friendship to all and common decency – qualities that sadly gets brushed aside in today’s uncaring world.

It seems to me that the basic human traits which separate us from the rest on this planet are rapidly being sacrificed. The great god Mammon rules as it always has closely followed by inflated egos, delusions of self-worth and ruthless ambition at the expense of everything and everyone else.
As the western world fast tracks itself towards become one giant corporation at the expense of, and on the backs of, its own populations, countries outside the west become mere statistics, at best a nuisance, often regarded as a resource to be exploited at all costs, or worse – totally ignored.
All around me on a daily basis I hear, read or see news stories that quite frankly make me shed a tear.
Millions lay starving and dying of thirst. Yet more millions are now making themselves stateless, leaving everything and everyone they know behind to journey to the west, convinced they will find streets paved with gold. They won’t. All they will find is intolerance, racism and anger.
What do we do when they present themselves on our borders, or somehow manage to enter our countries illegally hidden aboard a cargo or container ship or a truck? Western society throws its arms up in horror, crying out loudly “Send them back where they came from, we don’t want them here!” The west doesn’t want them. It never did.
While I agree with the notion that a country should take care of its own first, these people need our help to, don’t they?
Our governments continually pay millions in ‘overseas aid’, deluding themselves that they are earning credits in the ‘look how benevolent I am stakes’. None of it actually gets to the poor and starving. But when those self same people turn up on our doorstep our governments won’t lift a finger to help them.
In reality the average western government wants all non western nations held at arm’s length. But where does that leave the stateless economic migrant and those escaping from war torn countries? Nowhere is the short answer.  
Whatever happened to man’s humanity to man I wonder?

Details, details

I had an interesting exchange of views earlier today with a good friend of mine, whose opinion I greatly respect, regarding just how much detail is necessary within a storyline. While the friend who I had the conversation with will possibly disagree with me on this, I firmly believe it all depends on the storyline itself.
Take romance for instance.
In a romantic novel, minute details become necessary to emphasize emotion and the developing relationships within the story.
In a short story, unless a great majority of the detail is eliminated, it will fast become a novella. But equally within a short story often a lot of detail works well.
However I believe the same arguments cannot always be applied within a longer storyline, especially where the whole storyline is built around pace and urgency.
I have recently written a fast paced Sci-Fi manuscript about a “Race against Time”. The whole point of the story is just that – it is a race, and so by definition it cannot be bogged down with detail.
My friend made a fair point when he said that some of the locations within the story lacked enough detail. But I argue that if the protagonists merely pass through the location, not stopping to admire the scenery, is a great deal of detail necessary in describing the place?
Despite our disagreeing over whether or not added detail must be inserted, ultimately it is the story itself which dictates just how much detail should be included. At the same time I also see and respect his point of view – pace without a modicum of detail may not be enough for the reader either.
Do you increase the amount of detail at the expense of pace to please others, or as the author do you stand firm? Who can say?
One thing is sure, as long as there are two people on the planet, there will always be differing opinions on whatever subject you care to name. Everybody has a different opinion and gets something different from their reading of a story.
I value our friendship far too much my friend to argue with you over mere details.

Storylines, how original are they really?

Ever since our ancestors began telling stories over the fire at night, different storytellers have tended to repeat the same storyline, believing their version to be original. 

Over the last few weeks I have come across at least two examples while trawling the blogosphere. One that immediately springs to mind concerns a fantasy storyline about a pack of rats who live beneath a city. As far as I’m aware this particular story idea was first realized by Hilary Wagner in her excellent tale “Nightshade City”, published last year. Imagine my surprise when a similar rat tale appeared this year by another author based in Scotland.
Yesterday, while once again trawling, I saw a new Sci-Fi novel being advertised called “Green Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson which bore a remarkable resemblance to a short story I had recently written in the last couple of weeks called Beta 1.
Both my story and Robinson’s spoke of the same basic premise, Earth becoming one giant corporation, people being sent, in my case, or people in Robinson’s case volunteering to colonise Mars etc, etc. Both Robinson and myself explored the same story idea, each of us unaware of the other.  
Is there such a thing as an original story idea these days? I believe the answer is no.