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.

Sunday
Mar132011

Nuclear Knicker Twist

To describe myself as hugely conflicted regarding nuclear power is the wet liberal understatement of the decade. I almost physically writhe with inner conflict.

I have said on many occasions if I had a choice between a coal powered or nuclear powered generating station in my back yard, I’d go for the nuclear option every time.

There is no doubt that the new generation of nuclear power stations are much safer and cleaner than the ones I grew up with, they produce zero carbon and truly gargantuan amounts of electricity.

Although in the UK we have fallen way behind with our power generating infrastructure, we do use a lot of electricity generated by nuclear power. At peak times, up to 20% of our total consumption comes from France, all nuclear. All the Nuclear power stations in France have been running for years, they have a very good safety record and it’s all tres bien.

So just as I’m starting to become confident and relaxed about the coming nuclear age, what’s happening in Japan brings back the nightmares, the contradictions, the regret and confusion.

For arguments sake, imagine that just off the coast of Sendai province there were 5,000 wind turbines. (The equivalent number to produce the same power output as the Fukushima nuclear power plant)

Just imagine you’d watched aerial footage of a massive tsunami toppling them one after another. Total devastation, billions of dollars worth of damage.

And that’s it.

The story would not get another smidgeon of news coverage, it would all be focussed on the tragic loss of life and damage to a huge area of Japan. Over the next few years the turbines would be repaired or replaced and that would be an end to it. Wind nerds like me might be aware of it, but no one else.

No matter what your opinion of nuclear power, we are going to be hearing about this story for a long time to come.

It’s going to join the short but frightening list of massive nuclear accidents. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima Daiichi.

We may not be able to pronounce it very well yet, but I predict we will all learn. Fukushima will enter the lexicon.

I still believe that modern nuclear power stations are safe, until something goes wrong. Cars are safe, until something goes wrong and then you and maybe a few other people can die. Terrible, but the long term, global damage is negligible. Same for planes, ships, coal fired power stations, oil refineries, petro-chemical works etc, etc.

They can all have really nasty things go wrong that get on the news, kill even 100’s of people and cost billions to sort out. They can pollute and despoil the environment, but after a while we clear them up, learn from our mistakes and try and improve them.

But when nuclear power stations go wrong, they really go the whole hog. They go wrong for a long, long time. We don’t think about Chernobyl now, but that happened in 1986 and still no one’s able to live nearer than a few hundred miles from the giant, slowly decaying concrete sarcophagus.

Incidentally the Russians have just asked for some serious dosh to help shore up the crumbling concrete because what is going on inside isn’t going to stop for, well, a few thousand years.

Hardly anyone remembers 3 Mile Island, a nuclear power station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that suffered a partial core meltdown back in 1979. It took 20 years and a government figure of $975 million to clean up the highly dangerous waste. The concrete structure, contaminated with radioactive water, is still there today, still dangerous. No one goes there, 32 years later. It is doubtful that human beings will ever remove it, the human race probably won’t last that long. Maybe an advanced species of cockroach will have a technology far in advance of our own and will work out what to do.

I predict a big upsurge in opposition to nuclear power as a result of what’s just happened in Japan, the fear, at the end of the day, is not irrational, it is a fear based on very real evidence.

But we need the power and we can’t carry on burning shit like coal, gas and oil, many people tell me nuclear is the answer and only silly hippies believe in renewables.

But we have barely started to build a renewable infrastructure, my argument is still, it could be done, a combination of wind, tidal and geo thermal. It could be done, we could build a power generating capacity in the UK which required maintenance but no fuel, ever.

If you had to have either a 100 meter high wind turbine in your back yard, or a small nuclear power station, which would you chose?

 

Thursday
Mar102011

#twitrelief carpool

When the Emma’s Kennedy and Freud got in touch with me a month or so ago and asked me to join this #twitrelief thing, I said yes but it did feel, as many have commented on the twitters today, a bit awkward.

I will follow whoever bids the highest on e-bay

http://bit.ly/h9PNE1

and re-tweet them and all that business.

That’s fine but it didn’t feel like that much of a big deal.

So then I had a think. What little extra thing could I do which felt right, wasn’t too naff, required a bit of commitment from me and was in keeping with what I do.

So, this is what is happening. 

On Thursday March 31st I will fit a car with state of the art video cameras and give someone a gentle ride around London, (it has to be Lndon as that’s where the cars are) recording a sort of carpool thing. No, not even a sort of carpool thing. An episode of carpool.

But it’s not just any car, it’s the cutting edge, ground breaking Tesla Roadster Sport. 

For those of you who don’t know, the Tesla Roadster Sport is a 2 seater electric sports car that costs around £100,000. It will go from zero to 60 miles an hour in 3.7 seconds. The lovely folks at Tesla have kindly agreed to let me do this because contrary to speculation, I don’t own one myself.

I will then post the recording on the carpool feed and then donate a penny for every view it gets to comic relief. Yes, that’s a penny of my own, bloated self important micro-celebrity dosh from the vast, overstuffed llew-coffers.

If it gets 2,000 views I’m sorted, that’s just £20. Mwaaa haa haa, I can keep bathing in gubby banknotes like I do every day. 

If, as they usually do, it gets between 30,- 40,000 views I’ll be well miffed. That’s three to four hundred blinkin’ quid. Damn!

You can bid for this unique 100% electric carpool experience here

http://bit.ly/eX8M6C

 

 

 

Tuesday
Mar082011

Heads, Sand and a bit of Regret

There are days I wish I had just been reading Hello magazine and seen if Katie Price is happy now she’s left her boyfriend, or got back with him or which ever she’s done.

So relaxing. All is well with the world.

But I don’t. I’m a fool to myself. I’m somehow drawn to try and find out what is going on in the actual world. Stupid, stupid mistake.

I'd be the first to admit that if we all suddenly drove electric cars then all the problems besetting the world would be instantly solved. It’s obviously just a small part of a much larger change that needs to take place.

Unlike environmental evangelists I’m actually rather good at burying my head in the sand. I know some terrible things are happening, I try to do my bit but it all seems a bit too enormous and what can I possibly do to make a difference? Better not to think about it to much and stumble on as best as possible.

We can look back at our parents and think, well, it was tough for them, but it’s got much better for us.

They in turn could look at their parents and realise things had improved, electric lights, mains sewerage, gas cookers. My grandparents could look back at their parents, in my case peasant farmers in the Welsh borders, and think they had a better life in the city.

However we are the first generation in a few centuries who can look at our kids and think, ‘Oh Lordy, it’s going to be so much tougher for them than it has been for us.’

The scale of the problems building up for all of us is truly enormous, I still believe they are not impossible to overcome with ingenuity, sacrifice and effort, but it’s not going to be easy.

Having just listened to an interview with a man called Lester Brown, it was hard not to end up being a little anxious. Brown is a long term environmentalist, I say long term, he started working in this area when even I was a little baby, so he’s been studying the subject for some time.

I feel ashamed I haven’t heard of him before, although I now realise I have heard a lot about his work.

He is the founder of the Worldwatch Institute (http://www.worldwatch.org/) and he’s published dozens of books on agriculture, the environment and population. 

What he says is at once chilling and encouraging. Everything I had a vague feeling of disquiet about he clarifies and explains.

We’re not just running out of oil, we’re running out of water and land that can sustain crops. There is now ample evidence from around the world that climate change is having an effect on our ability to produce food in the amounts we need to.

Rain patterns are changing and land that once used to supply food starts to fail.

I have read about the possibility of a drought in China, I thought it was a possibility, it's not. It's already happening right now.

China is using water from fossil aquifers to irrigate their fields. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. A fossil aquifer is a water source that is finite, water that’s been resting in the depths of the earth for millions of years. When it runs out, like oil, there’s no replenishment, the crops fail. And as we all know, China needs to grow a fairly chunky amount of food.

So the Chinese will need to start importing grain, the price will go up, the exporting nations start to restrict the exports, the world gets a little tense.

The USA is a major grain exporter but if they start shipping truly gargantuan amounts to China, everything gets thrown out of whack. And the USA can’t really say no because China owns most of the USA’s debt, and that is a lot of money. Trillions of dollars. So to say our present day head in the sand, borrow the money and we’ll sort it later attitude is a little head in the sand-ish is a bit of an understatement.

As Mr Brown so aptly put it,  "we're doing exactly the same thing as Enron, leaving costs off the books. Consuming today with no concern for tomorrow is not a winning philosophy."

As for electric cars, the sooner the better no doubt. The price of oil is clearly going to go up further and faster than even I expected, but I now feel we really should have been doing so much more for so much longer. Back in the 1970‘s when I first because aware that our habit of ravaging the planet was probably a bit short term, I really tried to live differently. However events and habits meant I did less and less until a few years ago. I’m not an environmentalist, I’m not preaching from some position of knowledge. There’s a big chunk of landfill with my name on it. I have behaved just like 99% of people in the developed world in the last 30 years and made a right mess. I’ve had a great time, travelled the world, eaten wonderful food, slept in amazing houses, used well stocked and cheap supermarkets, driven powerful, oil thirsty cars. I don’t even have a leg hair to stand on, let alone a leg. The only possible difference now is that I can see my behavior wasn’t very enlightened, I accept that I have to change. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to change that much this soon, but it looks like I’m in for a shock. Probably not as much shock as some though.

Hey ho. Have a lovely day.

 

 

 

Thursday
Feb242011

Finding It

I spent a lot of my early life looking for male role models, I wanted to meet someone and think, 'I want to be like him.' I had little idea how to be a man, possibly due to coming from a home with a very distant father and a very strong, dominating mother.

Last night I watched two remarkable men enter a theatre together. One, even if you don't know his face, you'd know his voice. His name is Harry Shearer and he is the voice of Mr Burns (among others) In The Simpsons. The other was my first ever passenger in Carpool, Ed Bye.

They were walking into the theatre to watch their respective wives perform on stage. For Harry, his wife Judith Owen, for Ed, his wife, Ruby Wax.

It was a__gala evening performance of Ruby Wax and Judith Owen's show 'Losing it' and if you get the chance, go and see it. I feel confident in predicting you will not be dissappointed.

I have worked with Ruby as a writer, spending many hours in their home in London creating scripts and characters that, in the various turns of events that beset such projects, never made it to the screen. In that time I got to know Ruby a little, laughed myself almost sick, often left the house with a half written script and my brains feeling like they'd been whisked, but always uplifted, a smile on my face.

So to say I had no idea what she was going through is more testament to my insensitivity, heightened self regard and general ignorance than anything Ruby did or did not impart to me._I knew she was at times extreme, unpredictable, loud, insightful, charming and occassioanlly a little scary, but the revelations she makes on stage are at once shocking and clarifying.

I must have seen just about every show Ruby has ever done but this one is very different. I'd_never seen Judith Owen before, but she sings and plays piano almost continuously through the performance and is an incredible and very funny foil for Ruby.

I once spent the day with Ruby and she was wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan 'I scream because I care' printed on it in big letters. 'It's for my children' she says. 'Just so they know mommy knows.' She flashed that legenary smile and I laughed.

What Ruby explains with such simple clarity is that depression is an illness, like cancer, like kidney stones. It's not something that besets a particular type of person, it's not something 'celebs' get or lazy, overprivileged West Londoners suffer from when pilates and fresh organic yogurt just don't cut it anyn more. It can affect anyone from any walk of life, and it's something I am very happy to say I have never experienced._

Oh, I've been down, I've sulked, I've been 'miserable' and badly behaved because of it, but I've never been laid out flat for weeks. I am also guilty of judging people who have had clinical depression, I may not have said it out loud, but I've thought it, 'pull your socks up,' and 'what have you got to be depressed about, you're okay' and 'what about women in Somalia with 3 dead kids, they've got a right to be depressed.' I'm sure we've all done it._

Ruby started doing the show in The Priory, which as any tabloid consumer will know is the high end nut house (Ruby's description) where many celebs go to clean up their act, but she has been touring the show in psychiatric hospitals and drop in centres around the country, and in so doing raising awareness of this debilitating illness. Hats off to her.

However, and not wishing to distract from Ruby's copious talent and brave honesty, as I watched the show last night, my already high regard for her husband Ed grew even more. He is an extraordinary man, charming, funny, thoughtful, yes, but also resilient, strong and constant. The show wasn't about him, although he was referred to every now and again in Ruby's often hysterically funny diatribes, but he was always in the background.

Ruby and Ed have three children, they are bright, aware of their mothers problems and on the occassions I have witnessed them at home, well balanced and, I don't know what other term to use, normal. Ed has been an incredible father to them and has somehow managed to steer what is obviously not a normal, run of the mill family through the rigours of parenting._

I won't regail you with the stories Ed has told me about life with Ruby, they are often very funny but after seeing the show they have taken on another hue. However what I came away with last night was not something I expected at all. Now I am rapidly approaching my mid 50's_I believe I have finally found a male role model I can aspire to. I know I can never be like him, but I can use him as a guidepost. 'What would Ed do?' could be my internal question. I'm not in the same position with my wife, although she drives me mad occassionally she has not suffered the same debilitating illness that Ruby has. But raising kids, staying together, working shit through is not easy. It doesn't even get any easier as the years pass, but I have found it is worth the effort and seeing Ed last night confirmed that beyond doubt. 

Sunday
Feb202011

Wet Towels on the Floor

 

Before I start I want to state one thing very clearly. Although I have at times been ‘an angry dad’ I have never used physical violence against my children. I’ve never hit them or shoved them or even threatened to do so. 

But....

I’ve been a parent for 17 years and I am rubbish at it. No, I’m not fishing for compliments by being falsely self deprecating, I truly am rubbish.

One of the key things you need to be in order to succeed at parenting is maturity. I believe you also need a sense of fun and immense reserves of energy but in order for this to have any effect, you need to be mature.

I’m not universally panning my parenting skills, but as the years have passed I’ve come to see that because our culture favours youth to such an extent, there is little encouragement in the world around us to be mature.

I don’t mean by that being boring,wearing grey shoes and reading the Daily Mail, I mean not behaving like a child. Not sulking when things don’t go your way, or not expressing anger when your children don’t do as you’ve asked them, being able to see the big picture, the long term, basically being a grown up.

I am very good at being a child among children, showing off, making them laugh. This isn’t altogether negative; complex word play, long running games and in jokes and the joy of laughter are a very important aspect of parenting, but it’s when the chips are down that I fail. 

Rising above the petty torments and grievances that teenage children shower you with has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced. I’ve almost got there now but it’s been a slow and painful journey full of doubt and self criticism.

Raising children is in my case a joint effort, my kids do have one mature parent, their mother. We have raised them together, like, according to the whole conservative obsession with ‘family’ being the bedrock of society, we are meant to.

But, and I say this with massive respect to my wife, it is often easier to tend to the children alone. Okay, I admit that I do this in the knowledge that their mother is in the background, but the complexities of the relationships in a family are so tightly woven that there is something simplified when only dad is there, and I get asked a question and the answer is no. No, you cannot go to the all night rave party because you are only 14. It’s simple, there is no discussion, no argument. You hate me, fine, hate away.

Whenever I have done this with clarity and without anger or malice, the anger directed at me dissolves very quickly and we carry on happily together.

When there are two of us there our children are now grand masters at divide and rule. Mum said I could have a new puppy. Dad said it was fine for me to set fire to my room etc.

We don’t always agree on how to bring them up, but when it comes to the crunch, when the difficult decisions have to be made which I would rather ignore in the vain hope that they will go away, she has been a rock. 

At the start it was easy. Babies are delightful, they don’t argue back and their demands, though taxing, are simple and predictable. Although I was older than many parents when I started (I was 37 and 40 when my kids were born) I was still utterly unprepared. Most of my peer group had much older children when I had babies, I’d even looked after some of those children occasionally, but having my own was a massive step up.

There’s no need to go on about the sheer joy and wonder my children bestowed on me, tiny moments I’ll never forget. Walking across a Welsh car park in the rain with my three year old son when he said out of the blue ‘I love you dad.’ Unbelievable, it stopped me breathing, it made all the lack of sleep, the restrictions on my time, the stress, all of it melted away.

Watching my daughter thread beads in the shade of an Italian garden, he tongue just sticking out of her mouth as she concentrated on making her tiny fingers complete the complex task. Silencing moments.

But looking back now as I am starting to get more time to myself, I see a trail of regrets, of missed opportunities, of pointless frustration and anger that damaged me and my children. Once I managed to reach a place where I didn’t get angry with my children (about 3 years ago) I noticed something very profound. 

Nothing changed. 

They didn’t behave any better, they still left lights on, wet towels on the floor, but far more importantly, they didn’t get any worse. In fact, the communication between us became more frequent and far more enjoyable. I wish I had learned how not to get angry before I had children, I wish I had talked about how angry my mother was and how I picked up on that and passed it on. Sadly it’s too late and now, unless they are supremely sensible, my children will no doubt pass this anger inheritance on to their children. 

However they will have seen that dad changed, that dad managed to stop being angry and they might therefore see that it is possible to change the way they behave in quite fundamental ways. 

Sadly my own mother never found that, she was popular and charming with her peers, a very loving and attentive mother to her children but due to her own upbringing, a very angry woman to her dying day. 

As the generations pass, all we can do is try and make one step. My father couldn’t swim, I learned to swim as an adult before my son was born. My son swims like a dolphin, it’s a joy to watch. My mum was angry, so was I. I have managed to stop, not by suppressing the anger and finding it leak out somewhere else in my life, but by discovering the source of the anger and understanding it and moving on. 

Now, when I find another wet towel on the floor, I pick it up. I just don’t get angry. I still say, ‘guys, pick your towels up after you’ve had a shower, hang them over the towel rail or put them in the laundry basket.’

In the last few months, they actually started doing it without being asked. Extraordinary break through.