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Reflections on 2016 and Beyond PDF Printable Version E-mail

Reflections on 2016 and Beyond

A Brief History of Newsletters, Travels, European Borders, Brexit, Taking Back Control, a Personal Housing Crisis, Websites and a Very Courageous Man 

Barry and Margaret Williamson
Aranjuez, Madrid

February 2017

A Brief History of Newsletters 

We have Fouras_(10).JPGbeen writing and circulating end-of-year newsletters most years since 1988. The theme throughout that time has been on independent travel, pure and simple. Not holidays, not tourism, not packages, not cruises, but simply travel on the road by motorhome and by bicycle. 8[1][2][3].jpgWe now ride our second pair of bicycles, built for us by the incomparable Paul Hewitt of Leyland in 2006. We now drive our third motorhome, a 7-metre 3.5-ton Carado (above), bought in 2014 and made near Leipzig in Eastern Germany by the Hymer group. Our previous two American motorhomes (a Four Winds and a Fleetwood Flair) wore out, the first after 13 years. There has also been a period of about 4 years (2010 to 2014) when we tried 3 caravans, a Compass, Bailey (right) and Lunar towed by 2 vans, a Mercedes Sprinter (right) and a VW Crafter, but not all at the same time.


For the first 7 of these 29 years we were still working, albeit with long and regular holidays. The newsletters in those days were duplicated in the print room of Barry's Polytechnic, then stamped and posted by us to a group of friends. The newsletters told stories of Christmases cycling in the Pyrenees, Spain, Morocco, and a tour of India by train; of Easters cycling in Italy, Sardinia, Corsica, Portugal and Tunisia, as well as driving a 7.5 ton truck (loaded to 9 tons) with aid we had collected for orphanages in Moldavia (northeast Romania); of summers cycling to Istanbul, to Tromso in Arctic Norway, behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet era, and across the northern USA; of half-term breaks cycling in the Outer Hebrides, Brittany, Ireland (5 times), France, the Netherlands, and twice more taking aid to Romanian orphanages.

When early retirement came in 1995 it was a relief to buy our first motorhome, overload it with all we needed for travel and cycling, and begin a single journey with no return date and we are still on that same road. The highlight of the last 22 years of full-time travel has been the three round-the-world journeys, each lasting one year; the first by bicycle and two others in a variety of hired cars and motorhomes.

Link to 20 Newsletters and 149 Travel Logs

A Brief History of Travels in 2016

Our completely reliable Carado motorhome, based on a Ford Transit base vehicle, carried us for 10,594 miles (17,000 km) in 2016, starting from a winter hibernation in the southern Greek Peloponnese. These miles form part of the 30,687 (49,100 km), staying in 326 places (average 2.7 days), completed since we bought the motorhome second-hand from Brownhills of Newark in August 2014. Many thanks to the splendid staff at Dick Lane Garage in Bradford for the Carado's servicing and upgrades.

After Greece, we returned to England via two ferries for an Easter in southern Sicily with Dan, Stan and Lidia, then two more ferries for time with John in the southwest of the Republic of Ireland, and just one more ferry into North Wales and so to West Yorkshire. After motorhome and other servicing, we sailed from Harwich to the Hook of Holland in the early summer in order to ride on the excellent networks of dedicated long-distance cycle paths in the Netherlands (fietspads) and in Germany (Radwege).


The 10,594 mile (17,000 km) Journey through Europe during 2016

Tromso_(26).jpgCrossing the border into Poland (see below for more on this), we drove to Gdansk for the ferry from nearby Gdynia across the Baltic to Karlskrona at the southeast corner of Sweden. Immediately feeling at home, we drove 4,000 slow and easy miles over the next 3 months, ranging well into the Arctic North, with a crossing into northern Norway to revisit Tromso (Margaret is seen on the bridge leading to the island on which Tromso stands) and the island of Senja. As we re-entered Sweden, heading south on the Silver Road, we had our magical first experience of the Northern Lights, seen around midnight while camped on the actual Arctic Circle!

In October housing problems (see below!) forced us back into the UK until we could escape again on the ferry from Portsmouth to Ouistreham, the port for Caen. A9[1][2].jpg journey south down the Atlantic coast of France took us into Basque country for a long stay on the northern edge of the French Pyrenees, including a very quiet, indeed almost imperceptible Christmas and New Year. On the right, Margaret is cycling near Pamplona in northern Spain on the pilgrimage route (camino) which leads, eventually (after nearly 450 miles or 700 km) to Santiago de Compostela.

As we write, we are in Central Spain, just south of Madrid in a micro-climate of calm weather, remote from the unseasonable storms and snow that have hit Spain's Mediterranean coast and wrecked its major market garden industry. Oddly, the local market hall has plenty of salads and greens on sale and Lidl have a special offer on broccoli this week!

A Brief History of Opening Borders

We use the troubled 20th century history of a border crossing between Poland and Germany to illustrate what has happened on international borders throughout the mainland of Europe. The border between France and Belgium (now non-existent) was for centuries the scene of bloody battles, involving the English and later the British: from the battle of Crecy (1346), Agincourt (1415) and Waterloo (1815) to the mass killing fields of trench warfare between 1914 and 1918, and our fortunate escape through Dunkirk in 1940.

Oder_3.jpgLess known is the border between Germany and Poland, which was only settled on its present line by the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945. The River Oder, emptying into the Baltic, now forms the north-south border for 120 miles; the River Neisse forms the remaining 123 miles to the south. Like all the rivers of Germany, the Oder-Neisse has its own dedicated bicycle path, freely changing sides of the river/border.

In the first 3 months of 1945 the Soviet army made rapid advances across Poland before pausing on the River Oder to build up its forces for the final push on Berlin, only 40 miles away. Zhukov and Konev had 163 divisions for the operation with a total of 2,203,000 infantry, 4,529 tanks, 2,513 assault guns, 13,763 pieces of field artillery (76 mm or more), 14,812 mortars, 4,936 anti-tank guns, 2,198 Katyusha multiple rocket launchers, and 5,000 aircraft (thanks Wikipedia). The Germans were outnumbered 5 to 1.

The Russians jumped off from lines on the Oder on 16 April 1945; the occupation of Berlin followed, leading to victory and the end of World War II in Europe by 8 May 1945 (9 May in the Soviet Union). Meanwhile, the Americans had waited patiently on the line of the River Elbe to the west, stopping the further advance of the Russians. Who else and what else could have stopped them but the Americans with their soon-to-be revealed atomic bomb? And held they were, on the line of the Iron Curtain for 45 years until the USSR collapsed.

In the Summer of 1989 we cycled from the UK to Istanbul, aiming to ride through all 7 countries that lay behind the Iron Curtain: East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. There were weeks of preparation obtaining visas, arranging currency and planning routes. For Poland, we each had to pay US$10 in advance for every day we would be in the country (total $260), in return for which we were given Polish Government Certificates to obtain Zlotys at a very poor exchange rate. Staying in the best hotels they had along the way and eating as well as we could in restaurants, we still had Zlotys to be confiscated as we left the country!  

Having discovered that we weren't allowed to ride our bicycles in Eastern Germany (the DDR), our route from Hamburg to Poland involved a ferry to southern Denmark, a ferry to Sweden and a ferry from Ystad to Swinoujscie in Poland, at the Baltic mouth of the River Oder. No crossing the Oder for us, strictly Verboten! We had to omit the DDR from the itinerary but did add the two extra countries in Scandinavia. We cycled 2,500 miles to Istanbul in 7 weeks, with time in hand to visit Gallipoli and Ancient Troy (scenes of other great battles), returning by air to the UK in 4 hours ready to start a new term.

In the Summer of 1990 we cycled from the UK to Tromso in the far north of the Norwegian Arctic, travelling via Helsinki and Leningrad (as was): a sponsored ride raising money to buy medical supplies for our third trip to the orphanages of Romania. By now the Iron Curtain was coming down and we rode through Berlin as the 2-Souvenirs_of_the_Iron_Curtain.JPGWall was being chipped away to make souvenirs (we still carry with us a chunk of the True Wall and a Russian army hat bought from a stall by the Brandenburg Gate, seen here with Paddington who refused to stay in a Romanian Orphanage in 1990 and has travelled with us ever since). We cycled through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin and then 40 miles of mainly cobbled roads in the former DDR to Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, where our map marked a bridge across the river into Poland. Only when we rode up to the bridge did the border guard tell us that it was closed to all but Poles and East Germans! The alternative was to catch the Paris-Bonn-Berlin-Warsaw-Moscow Express, which stopped in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder and again (we were assured) just over the frontier. We talked to a passenger from Hollywood whilst our bikes blocked the corridor for the seven-mile journey to Kunowice, a tiny village just inside Poland where the train paused briefly, apparently just for us.

In the Autumn of 1999 travelling from Poland into Germany, a roughly surfaced Hitler-era Autobahn led our motorhome to a 45-minute queue for passport and customs control at the border over the River Oder: time enough to make and eat lunch. The 10th anniversary of the breach of the Berlin Wall was on 9 November and we arrived in Berlin in time to join the celebrations, cycling for the second time through Checkpoint Charlie, now a museum surrounded by high-rise offices and apartments. The Wall had all but gone, leaving just memories and a line on the ground.

In the Summer of 2016 we motorhomed and cycled through the Netherlands and Germany, heading for Gdynia near Gdansk on the Polish Baltic coast for a ferry to Sweden. The German network of smooth toll-free Autobahns took us onto the German A12, which simply becomes the Polish A2 motorway at a seamless and barely perceptible crossing of the River Oder.

These stories clearly illustrate the emergence and achievement of the European dream and ambition, painfully sought and not to be relinquished: from the horrors of war to free and open borders, facilitating the easy movement of people, goods and services, melding cultures, languages, friendships everything the Little Englanders in power tell us that 'the British People' have rejected.

A Brief History of the Horrors of 'Brexit' 

For the thinking people of the UK, 2016 was a year divided into two halves; the dividing line fell somewhere in the early hours of Friday 24 June. We were in the Netherlands at that time, on our way to Germany, Poland, Sweden and the far north of Scandinavia. At one moment, Europe was the free and open continent it always hoped to be after centuries of conflict. An hour later the whole magnificent project was thrown up in the air, ready to come down again in pieces. And all on the spin of a crooked coin!

Dominic Cummings, a former adviser to Michael Gove, was the campaign director for the Leave side in the referendum. A Guardian article by Peter Walker summarises the 20,000-word blog post in which Cummings dismisses the idea that the Brexit vote was caused by an unstoppable tide of populist feeling. In fact Cummings writes that if only one of a series of very variable circumstances had gone differently, the result would have changed.

According to Cummings, who ran the Leave campaign, they won because:

1.    Three big forces (the immigration crisis, the financial crisis and the euro crisis) created conditions in which the contest was competitive.

2.    Vote Leave exploited the situation imperfectly but effectively.

3.    Cameron/Osborne made big mistakes.

He argues that if just one of these had been different, it is very likely Remain would have won.

There are other ways in which Leave might have lost:

4.    If fewer lies had been told on the Leave side.

5.    If the media had been more balanced in its reporting and the BBC less gagged.

6.    If fewer false news stories had circulated in social media.

7.    If more young people had ensured that they were on the electoral register and that they actually voted.

8.    If 16-year olds had been able to vote, as in the Scottish independence referendum.

9.    If over 700,000 British expats living outside the UK for over 15 years had been eligible to vote.

10. If the result was expressed as a percentage of the voting age population: only 17.4 million out of 51.3 million of voting age (or 34%) voted Leave.

11. If the Referendum Act had set a threshold for the result (say 60%) or for a minimum turnout (say 80% or more).

12. If it had been clear whether the Referendum was advisory or legally binding.

13. etc

The result of the referendum was on the narrow margin of 52/48%, with only 37% voting Leave out of the total number of registered voters. This cannot possibly be regarded as the 'will of the British people'. In Australia, which has held 44 referenda since 1901, it is compulsory to vote, the vote is on a detailed proposal which has already gone through parliament (not just Yes/No to a vague proposal), and a majority of states have to agree with the overall majority vote. How different it would be if rules such as these had been applied in the UK.

The result of the referendum has been used by lunatics to take over the parliamentary asylum and establish a delusional Tudor court. Mrs May as Henry VIII wielding a Royal Prerogative (only I and the Queen can decide), David Davies as Cromwell and Boris Johnson as the Court Jester, although there is nothing to laugh about except he himself. Nor is there anything amusing about the treacherous Nigel Farage playing the part of a latter day Lord Haw-Haw. And Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, reminds us of the Greek civil servants in a newly set-up department, who went on strike when they found there was no work for the department that wasn't already being done by lots of other departments! Who would know whether or not Fox was really working from home, with his friend Adam Werritty?

So far, we have counted about a hundred negative effects of Brexit, the latest being the loss of registration and certification for our nuclear energy industry by leaving Euratom, UK citizens continuing to pay mobile phone roaming charges after they are banned in the EU next June, and concern by the Ulster police about being unable to cope if the Northern Ireland border were re-established. There are no positives other than the vainglorious claims of the ultra-right wing nationalists, interested simply in the survival of their narrow world view, defined only by power and money.

Overall conclusion: if you want to enjoy the freedom to roam over this wonderful continent with its unparalleled mix of languages, cultures, religions, cuisine, history, architecture, art, music, landscape etc (and yet, despite the diversity, working at peace together), then go and do it soon!

A Brief History of Taking Back Control

On 27 January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order restricting people from 7 countries entering the USA. A week later, US Federal Judge James Robart of Seattle issued a nationwide restraining order blocking the travel ban.

In the UK, Mrs May following her unelected rise to power, proposed using the Royal Prerogative (an Anglo-Norman noun) to trigger article 50 without reference to parliament. The issue changed from parliament taking back control from the EU to parliament taking back control from the Queen and the Prime Minister. But how?

By the end of September 2016, step forward the unlikely combination of London businesswoman Gina Miller, born in Guyana, and her co-campaigner, London-based Spanish hairdresser Deir Tozetti Dos Santos, supported by crowd funding and the People's Challenge group set up by Grahame Pigney, a UK citizen who lives in France.

It took a High Court Hearing before 3 judges, then a Supreme Court hearing before the 11 most eminent judges in the land, to consider the matter. The final ruling came on 24 January 2017, about 4 months after the legal process began.

What was the result? A very short bill giving Mrs May power to trigger Article 50 was passed with no amendment by a large parliamentary majority, with the 'Opposition' three-line-whipped to support it. The House of Lords is threatened with closure if it dares amend or slow the passage of the bill. Self-interest rules.

After 3 days of debate, parliament voted on the second reading of the bill and then went on a week's half-term holiday! They voted for the unamended bill 498 for, 114 against, giving a majority in favour of 384. If they had voted in the same ratio as the referendum (52/48), the majority would have been only 26 (319 versus 293): much nearer to the Tory majority and as finely balanced as the referendum was.

Here is the bill (with our italics):

Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and
consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present
Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

(1) The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European
Union, the United Kingdom's intention to withdraw from the EU.

(2) This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European
Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.

So this is democracy at work, taking back control!

Why the difference in reaction times: 1 week verses 4 months? Thinking people left England for the Americas from early in the 17th century, determined to set up their own secular democracy with a splendid written constitution. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, countries throughout Europe overthrew their ruling classes, banishing the remnants of monarchic power and the lords of the feudal system. Better for us if there had been a successful civil war in England, rather than a war of independence across the Atlantic.

A Brief History of a Personal Housing Crisis

Another more personal matter divided the year for us. On 6 July we issued a polite notice to our tenants under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, giving them the required whole two months to vacate our house. The notice expired on 11 September, and only then did the tenants first declare that they were not moving out. Over the next 4 months we had to approach the County Court three times: for a Possession Order, followed by a Possession Warrant, followed by the employment of bailiffs. Each of these orders came with a cost to us and a period of notice for the tenants within which they could appeal. The total court and other costs have been over a thousand pounds. Meanwhile, the tenants stopped paying the rent, requiring a fourth County Court Order, this time in the vain but ongoing demand for rent arrears!

What was this all about? The tenants had indicated in June that they wanted to move, to downsize now the elder children had left home, but they then discovered that a family can get into a higher band on the local authority's housing register if they have been forcibly evicted! This is called being 'unintentionally homeless'. The tenant always wins and we lose! Who would be a landlord? Answers on a postcard, please.

A Brief History of Websites

Over the last 11 years, we have been involved in the development, editing and content of the following websites:



Huddersfield College of Education (Technical) aka 'Holly Bank'

Memorial to Murdoch MacKenzie

The Collected Works of the Macdonald Sisters

The Too-Brief History of a Very Courageous Man

4-Jeff_(21).JPGSadly, our 2017 began with news of the death of Jeff Mason, a very old friend of ours who was paralysed from the neck downwards in a minor cycling accident in 1987. After working in Sheffield's steel industry, he was at that time a student of Barry's at Huddersfield Polytechnic, training for a qualification to teach sport and outdoor activities in the further education sector. We have dedicated a page of stories, condolences and photographs on our website: 'In Memory of Jeff Mason'.

The picture shows Margaret with Jeff in the garden of his house. All the work of Jeff's sister Audrey, it gave him great pleasure and a place to enjoy the open air.

An inspiration to all who knew him, our personal hero, Jeff was the very epitome of how to remain active when you can't even move.

How are you using your freedom of movement, while it still exists?