This is Robert Llewellyn's personal blog. The views contained in here are mine alone and do not reflect the views or opinions of anyone else I work with or for. Just thought I ought to make that clear.

Friday
May302014

A visit to the centre of Discworld

This week, during our gentle Tesla road trip across South West England we dropped in to a wonderful house belonging to the legendary Sir Terry Pratchett.
We were there to witness Sir Terry receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the University of South Australia in Adelaide, home town of my mate Simon Hackett 
As many of you know, Sir Terry is rather frail but he was in fine form on the day of our visit, his eyes sparking with gentle mischief and although it was a noisy gathering he coped with the attention like a pro.
What a dude, a great honour to see him again.

 

Friday
May232014

The Last Day

Today is one of those little family mileposts for us.

It’s my daughter’s very last day at school.

Okay, she’s got to go back every now and then to do a few more A level exams but this is officially her last day at school.

It all started back in 1998 when my son started at our local primary school and that’s really when our life changed.

Up until that point we had lived life more or less as we pleased as regards the calendar.

We were very privileged as parents of pre school children due to the fact that my wife is Australian. We spent a great deal of time in Queensland during British winters living very cheaply and feeling more than a little smug.

When you have babies and toddlers drastically reduces the amount of time and effort you spend dressing your children.

They didn’t need to wear much with daytime temperatures hovering around 30c. My son never wore shoes from the moment he got off the plane at Brisbane airport and ran to see Grandma who’d always be waiting for us.

My wife and I have never had regular jobs, I’ve never done a 9 to 5 five days a week job. It’s either flat out, shooting TV series, working at weekends and travelling all over the place, or I’m working at home and walking 10 meters to my office.

We never went on holidays during ‘holiday times’ and we always arranged our travel plans around cheap tickets and low crowds.

But when my son started school that all changed. Suddenly we had to be around every day at specific times to get them to school and be ready when they came home. We had to have holidays when everyone else had holidays; we suddenly couldn’t spend 3 or 4 months in Australia over the winter, we suddenly had to travel at peak times.

I suddenly became more stressed.

This picture was taken in Paris when we had a 'weekend break' hyper rushed visit in 2000.

 

So although today is a sad day in some ways, there’s definitely an up side. My son has already left home, he now at University in Bristol and my daughter is off to Australia this summer for an unspecified time.

We’ve had empty nest anxiety for a while and we’ll soon discover what it really means. My children have been such an integral part of my life for the last 20 years the change seems very sudden and permanent.

Okay, we are now much more flexible in our arrangements, it’s only dogs and chickens that rely on us but I know I will miss my wonderful babies for the rest of my life.

Friday
May022014

I'm a bit racist and....

How many times have we heard the clichéd phrase ‘I’m not racist but….’

It is only used by people who are blatantly racist and go on to make some crass generalization about a group of people who are a bit different to them.

I just want to remind myself what the term ‘racist’ actually means because it’s bandied about so liberally it’s true meaning has become obscured.

My simple definition would be judging someone on their genetic heritage, not their character.

We see someone with different skin colour, or different clothes, different beards and different outlooks and because we assume we are normal, then they are, by definition, a bit weird.

We all do it, it’s called being human.

Black people do it about white people, Asian people do it about Caucasian people and of course, white people do it about… just about everyone who isn’t white. And we have to acknowledge that when white people do it about anyone who isn't white, due to the power structures and history we live with, it has a bit of extra impact.

So, instead of saying, ‘I’m not racist but’ we should maybe modify the cliché to being, ‘I am a bit racist and’

As in, ‘I am a bit racist and I can see that it isn’t very helpful.’

‘I am a bit racist and I also accept that not every immigrant in the UK comes here to sponge of the state and get a free council house.’

‘I am a bit racist and I am trying to develop a wider view of humanity that doesn’t categorize people according to skin colour or culture, I fail at this every day but I can see the long term benefits of the internal struggle I’m putting myself through.’

If we all admitted to being a bit racist, when we read yet another pro UKIP headline in some tatty old right-wing rag screaming about immigration, we could see beyond the nationalist nonsense and question just how accurate the journalism is.

Here’s a clue.

It’s not very accurate.

It’s an opinion, an opinion from a racist who says ‘I’m not racist but.’

So lovely Mister Clarkson, who I genuinely feel sorry for at the moment, has made a bit of a boo-boo by reciting an old nursery rhyme from his childhood while on camera.

We are roughly the same age and I remember my grandma reciting the same lines to me over 45 years ago.

It’s a racist nursery rhyme, no question about it, my grandma was racist, pretty much everyone from her generation was.

I learned as a young man that using the offending word was wrong not because of the word, but because of the power relationships involved, the long and uncomfortable history white people of the UK have with Africans going back 100’s of years.

We can’t deny that history, we can’t make it go away simply by not saying a word.

We can only live with the fact that we are a bit racist but we’re trying not to be, which, to give Mister Clarkson his due, I believe he’s trying to do.

On the other hand, he did bloody say it, well he mumbled it.

He could have substituted the offending word with 'cyclist' or 'teacher' or 'social worker' or 'beardy weirdy environmentalist' or 'feminist' or any number of people he can't stand.

As Mister James May stated on Twitter, ‘what a bell end.’

 

Thursday
Apr172014

Dump it in the Sea

I am very grateful to @Mr__Gus on Twitter who sent me this YouTube link.

This fascinating and very disturbing documentary, shown in Germany and France but very worryingly not in the UK has made me reappraise my attitude to nuclear power.

It’s a fairly comprehensive history of marine nuclear waste dumping, banned in 1995 after a prolonged campaign by Greenpeace.

Just in case you don’t watch the whole thing, nuclear waste was put into steel barrels, yes, steel barrels.

These barrels were loaded onto ships.

The ships ‘went out to sea’ and the crew then pushed the barrels into the sea.

The captain knew that the levels of radioactivity were so high he only had limited time to dump the highly toxic waste, so if the weather was bad or the ships progress was slow, they would dump the barrels as soon as they could.

Not one or two barrels, not a couple of hundred, but thousands and thousands.

When this insane practice was finally banned, the nuclear reprocessing plants in the UK at Sellafield and in France at Le Hague built nuclear waste pipes running out to sea to ‘dilute low level waste in the sea.’

So, I will say it again. Id be quite happy to have a nuclear power plant in my back yard, they have a very good safety record.

I would not want a nuclear waste reprocessing plant or a nuclear waste storage facility in my back yard, or my country, or even on my planet.

I expect to hear arguments saying this documentary is biased, or out of date or the science depicted is flawed.

But we all know that the people who run Sellafield thought it was a perfectly sensible solution to put radioactive material in steel barrels and dump it in the sea.

We should never forget or forgive such greed based, short sighted and pig ignorant decision making.

Wednesday
Apr162014

Years of Living Dangerously

Until I saw the Showtime documentary Years of Living Dangerously I never knew there had been a terrible drought in Syria for 4 years running up to the current brutal civil war.

No one suggests that this was the only reason for the unrest but only a fool would say it had no effect on the problems there.

I also realised a couple of things that relate to writing dystopian or utopian fiction, a thing I am battling with on a daily basis.

Making a documentary series about climate chaos and the socio-political upheaval that will follow, showing horrendous images of human stupidity and waste is easy.

I’m not saying the producers of this brilliant documentary series have done a poor job, far from it, it’s very well put together, the presenters are heartfelt and serious and what they are questioning and challenging is vitally important.

They confront public attitudes with a torrent of peer-reviewed information about the devastating effects of man-made climate change.

Even now the majority of people in the developed world don’t want to accept the screamingly bloody obvious, but ‘Years of Living Dangerously’ shows tiny rays of hope in this otherwise ‘up shit creek without a paddle in a barbed wire canoe’ scenario.

However the struggle I have fallen into is to try and throw light on the fact that there is already perfectly viable alternative technology being developed all over the world at such a heady pace it’s impossible for any one individual to keep up.

There is another story to be told here the picture above illustrates dramatically. This is the biggest solar and wind farm.... in the world. Where is it? Germany? California? Australia?

No, it's in China, and remember, all we hear from Daily Mail mor... sorry, readers is 'what's the point of us doing anything when China is building 3 new coal burning power stations a week!'

True, China is burning a shit ton of coal but they are also hell bent on doing something else, they have the largest and fastest growing wind and solar generation of any country and it's set to increase ever faster.

So yes, we are pumping ever-increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, yes we are devastating what’s left of our rainforests, emptying our seas of life, melting our icecaps like it’s going out of fashion.

However we are entering a tremendously exciting, and yes terrifying period of transition, the next 40-50 years will transform our planet in ways none of us can imagine.

It could easily get much worse, it could also get much better.

I won’t live to see most of that but I am driven above all else to politely suggest that the sooner and the more profoundly we change some of our habits, the sooner we adopt new technologies, with all their drawbacks and early-adopter hazards, the better.

It’s not about guilt and redemption, it’s not about re-cycling plastic bottles, it’s actually about economic sense and sustainability.

Not using plastic bottles at all, not cutting down trees and burning them, not fracking for the last pathetic remnants of fossil fuel, not burning crude oil but using it to make useful things like pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, plastics we don’t throw away, harvesting energy as well as crops, using energy and raw materials sensibly and making that normal is the best hope we have.