nichollsretirementproject

Archive for the month “June, 2016”

What have we done?

I wanted to write this blog entry yesterday but, frankly I was too bewildered, too angry and too depressed to put finger to keyboard.

If you wanted to change the constitution of a tennis club, you would never be allowed to do it on the basis of 52 % of the membership, and yet we seemed to altered the course of our history and our own political direction, not to mention the lives of countless other people in Europe, on the basis of a simple majority of voters, many of whom were misinformed and lied to and are already regretting the votes they cast..  This is madness!

Over the past 24 hours I have received messages from friends in Germany, France and the United States all with the same bewildered message.  One message from Germany read “I am shell-shocked.  What? Why? How?  Good lord, this is scary.”  A friend  from an Anglo-Asian family says she now does not feel that she belongs in this country, since the xenophobes prevailed.

Politically we have turned our backs on our European partners and plunged them and ourselves into years of uncertainty as we seek to unravel all of our laws and links with the countries with whom we have been working very successfully for the last 40 years.  We have lost our Prime Minister, and possibly the leader of our opposition Labour party, we have devalued our currency, the country’s international credit rating has gone from “stable’ to ‘negative’ and we made vast numbers of our own citizens and Europeans living amongst us, many of whom have lived here for many years, question their position in British society, in order to “Take back control into our own hands” as we heard ad nauseam during the campaign.

And into exactly whose hands have been taken back control?  Into the hands of a media savvy, publicity and power-hungry buffoon and a rabble rousing bigot.

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Listening to Boris Johnson’s eulogy, as he praised to David Cameron’s integrity, his honesty and his fine leadership of the country as he quietly removed  his dagger from the PM’s back, was truly nauseating.

And within hours, Farage, or Fromage as he will henceforth be known on my blog, was on television saying that it had been a ‘mistake’ to say, during the campaign, that millions of pounds saved by not contributing to the European Union would be spent on the NHS.  The huge cash rewards that he and the other brexiteers promised might not be quite as automatic as might have been suggested.  When paddling backwards becomes an Olympic sport, Britain will sweep the medals’ board.

Worse still, is this now famous picture of Fromage, standing outside parliament on the morning that the results were announced, telling everyone what a brave new dawn had broken. His gang of his supporters, all men, looked like a praetorian guard surrounding their leader.  All that was missing from the picture was black shirts and armbands.

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If I were a Polish plumber or a Romanian window-cleaner I would not wish to be on the streets of Thanet this weekend.

What has been particularly galling over the past two days is to see people interviewed on TV who voted Leave but who never thought it would actually happen and who are now very worried about what they have done.

They clearly voted to register some kind of protest against the Government, against the ‘establishment’, against austerity , against the bankers, yes, even against the EU, though my guess is that most people had no idea of the workings of the EU before this campaign.  What they have achieved is an economic shock to the country that will probably result in even more cuts to government spending that will weigh most heavily on the poorer sections of society.  There is no going back now.  Saying “Oops, sorry” doesn’t achieve much.

President Putin is delighted with the result.  Trump congratulated the country on its decision. President Obama is shaking his head in disbelief.

Marine Le Pan and Gert Wilders in the Netherlands are jubilant and strengthened.  Both are calling for similar referenda in their own countries.

Scotland is planning for a new independence referendum and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland is saying that now is the time for North Ireland and Eire to be re-united.  A destabilised North Ireland is all we need.

Having taken this crazy decision, Britain now has to trigger a two-year period of disengagement, during which the attention of all of our politicians and civil servants will be focussed on dismantling our existing diplomatic, financial and trading relationships and negotiating new ones.

Politicians in Europe are calling for this process to start as soon as possible in order to reduce the uncertainty and instability.  However, our Prime Minister has just announced his resignation, effective, not from next Monday, but from the Tory party conference in October.  This means that the whole of Britain and all of the rest of the EU have to wait while 150,000 members of the Tory party hold meetings in smoke–filled rooms to decide who their new leader should be.   In effect it means that 27 other countries will have to deal with the fall-out from Brexit, including the turmoil on their respective stock markets, while the British Tories make up their mind to anoint Boris their new messiah.  Not surprisingly, Britain is not exactly “Flavour of the Month” across Europe.

Jean Claude Junckers, the President of the European Commission has warned that renegotiating new trading arrangements with the EU is not going to be an easy ride.  He said that this was not an amicable divorce.   He then added “It wasn’t exactly a deep love affair anyway.”

This remark probably refers to several things

  • Two years after joining the EEC, as it then was, we had a referendum to decide whether we should stay
  • When the Schengen Agreement was made to get rid of border controls between EU countries, we opted out
  • When the Euro was set up, we opted out
  • When refugees from the Middle East and Africa began flooding in to Europe and the appeal was made for the burden to be shared, we became hard of hearing.

There was an interview on television last night with an old soldier, well into his eighties, with tears in his eyes, so happy with the results of the referendum because his mates had died in the Second World War and now, finally, he was freed from German domination!  Little did he realise that Europe, without Britain at the table, has just become a shakier and, arguably a more dangerous place.  Francois Hollande is not a popular leader in France.  He faces election later this year that he may well not survive.  Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, is growing in strength within France.  She has hailed Brexit as a great victory for freedom and called for an In/Out referendum in that country.

Which leaves Germany, the biggest and most powerful country in Europe.  At the moment it is a benign democracy with a centre right government led by Angela Merkel, a woman who has shown mature leadership and moderation in her years as Chancellor (not sure about her taste in jackets, but that’s another story).

However, Germany is not without its right-wing tensions, which are exacerbated by the country’s decision to take in nearly a million refugees over the past year.  (Britain, by contrast, agreed to take 20,000 refugees over five years, a long enough time scale for everyone to forget about the original promise and not notice if it is never fulfilled.)

So, it’s possible that France will lurch to the right at the end of this year and go for Frexit.  That could lead to the whole EU edifice crumbling and it is not beyond the bounds of imagination to suggest that Germany could shift to the right within the next five to ten years. If our Brexit has served to fragment and destabilise Europe, where will that leave conflict resolution on the European continent?

Gibraltar was the first area to declare its results in the referendum on Thursday night.  They voted 95.9% to remain part of the EU, 4.1% to leave.  Within hours of the announcement of the Brexit vote, the Spanish Foreign Minister reasserted Spain’s claim for sovereignty over Gibraltar. We could find that we have unleashed much more than we thought.

Our old soldier, if he survives into his nineties, might well see a Europe dominated by a Germany that is not benign or a France that has turned in on itself.  But why should we care?  We will not be at any of the European tables, so we can just pursue our dreams of British grandeur sitting on our little island, in our country that might get a lot smaller if and when Scotland leaves.

I’ve never been ‘proud to be British’.  I don’t see how you can be proud of a nationality that you didn’t choose.  Having said that, I’ve always been happy to live here.  I consider Britain to be a pretty decent country to live in.  Like many other countries it has good characteristics and sometimes does stupid things.  It’s been a pretty tolerant place and when the sun shines, the climate is lovely.  I think the country has had the right to hold its head up so far in its dealings with its neighbours.  As Aunt Eller says, in the song “The Farmer and the Cowman” in Oklahoma, “I ain’t saying that I’m better than anybody else, but I’ll be darned if I ain’t just as good.”

However, after the vote on Thursday, I find it hard to be optimistic and even harder to be proud of what my country has done.  I feel we have made a huge mistake that has thrown a whole continent into turmoil and that may well live to regret the weakness of a Prime Minister who gambled with the country’s future in order to instil discipline into his party ranks, and lost.

Difficult to hold your head up today.

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This very ol’house.

Our house was built in 1896, when Queen Victoria was still firmly ensconced on the throne of Great Britain. At that time it was grandly known as Beaconsfield House.

A few years ago, we received from our solicitor a large parcel of documents, some of them dating back to 1883, when an empty plot of land was sold to the man who was to become the house’s first owner.  Enter Mr Albert Bowley, (Gentleman).

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Four years later, Mr Bowley, (Gentleman) sold the newly constructed Beaconsfield House to Mr Frank Potter, (Commercial Traveller).

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Some of our less charitable friends, to whom I have shown these documents, have commented that the house has continued its downward trajectory in the social scale up to the present day!

Once you open one of these documents, you are transported into a world where lawyers grew fat, (nothing new there!), by charging clients not for the work carried out, but by the length of the documents used to accomplish that work.

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The result of this extortionate method of charging for services resulted in some of the finest examples of completely incomprehensible gobbledegook ever to flow from the dribbling nib of a lawyer’s gold-plated quill-pen.

Witness this first page.  P1060251

For those with limited ability for reading small print, I have transcribed the first part of this fearsome document.  If you can work out what it’s all about, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

“This Indenture made the Seventh day of December one thousand nine hundred Between Albert Bowley of Fairhaven Dyke Road Avenue Patcham in the County of Sussex Gentleman (hereinafter called “the Vendor”) of the one part and Frank Potter of 11 Liverpool Street in the County Borough of Brighton Commercial Traveller (hereinafter called “the Purchaser”) of the other part

Whereas the Vendor being seised of the hereditaments hereinafter described and hereby conveyed for an estate of inheritance in fee simple in possession free from incumbrances but subject to the restrictive and other covenants hereinafter mentioned had agreed with the Purchaser for the absolute sale to him of the said hereditaments for an estate of inheritance in fee simple in possession free from incumbrances but subject to the said restrictive and other covenant  for the sum of Five hundred pounds Now this Indenture witnesseth that in pursuance of the said Agreement and in consideration of the sum of Five hundred pounds this day paid by the Purchaser to the Vendor (the receipt whereof the Vendor doth hereby acknowledge) the Vendor as beneficial owner doth hereby convey unto the Purchaser All that piece of land situate on the North West side of Hampstead Road Preston in the said County Borough of Brighton containing from North East to South West both in front and at the rear thereof Twenty feet and from the North West to South East both on the North East and South West sides thereof ninety feet be the said dimensions respectively little more or less bounded by the North East by other premises of the Vendor known as Stanhope House Hampstead Road aforesaid on the South West by premises known as Glendale House Hampstead Road aforesaid on the North West by land and premises fronting to Tivoli Crescent and on the South East by Hampstead Road aforesaid and howsoever otherwise bounded Together with the messuage and buildings erected on the said piece of land or on some part thereof and known as Beaconsfield House  Hampstead Road Preston aforesaid the separating walls  on the North East and South West sides thereof being party walls To Hold the said premises unto and to the use of the Purchaser …”

It was at this point that  I lost the will to live.

I think that what the document is trying to say is something like, “This is to certify that Albert Bowley is selling Beaconsfield House to Frank Potter for Five hundred pounds”  But, hey, I’m not a lawyer, so what do I know?

By the way, I don’t want any complaints from faithful blog followers about the lack of commas and full stops in this transcription.  Looking at the original document, I can only assume that, in 1900,  you had to pay extra if you wanted punctuation!

Also ‘messuage’ is not a misprint.  My dictionary defines it “a dwelling place with the adjoining lands appropriated to the household; a mansion house and grounds.”

Posh, eh?

Curiosity is killing this cat.

When you write blog with WordPress, the WordPress statistics monkeys give you a daily, weekly, monthly and annual analysis of the number of people who logged in to read your latest article and where those people are located.  I could tell, for example, when one of my most regular ‘Commenters’ moved back to the UK from the US  – just in time to vote in the EU referendum.

I have a couple of other readers in the US and I am pretty sure I know who they are, which is fine.

What is driving me to distraction is the fact that, for months now, someone in Brazil has been logging in to the blog almost every single day.  The Brazilian flag has been a very welcome addition to my stats list, but the trouble is that I don’t know anyone who lives in Brazil!  So who is this person who is rapidly achieving the status of “Most Faithful Follower’ of the blog.

If you are that person, why not send me a ‘Comment’ and let me know how you came across my blog.  I’d love to know!

This ol’ house

Regular followers of this blog will have realised that I have been something less than assiduous in posting articles over the past couple of months.  Indeed if it hadn’t been for the looming danger of brexit, which is currently robbing me of my rest, the blog would have been at a virtual standstill since we got back from our sojourns abroad and our extended trip home.

So who or what is to blame for this shameful neglect of my scribbling duties?  Well, the culprit is pictured below:

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This is our house in Brighton. We bought it in 1992 and in a demonstration of financial nous which was unprecedented in our entire domestic history, we took the decision not to sell it when we moved to Northampton in 2004.  It has been let out to tenants ever since  –  but more of that in the coming postings.

When we came back from West Africa in 1991, I managed to get a job with the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind, (now better known as Sightsavers International), in Haywards Heath near Brighton.  Now, I don’t want to unkind about Haywards Heath, so let’s just say that  once you have weighed up all the pros and cons of living in Haywards Heath, – and that doesn’t take very long, –  you soon realise that, well,  it isn’t Brighton, is it?  So the decision was taken to move to the seaside.

At this point, we had a boy who was ready to go to secondary school and a girl who needed a place in a decent primary school.  Fortunately I remembered that a former colleague of mine from the days when I worked for OXFAM in the UK was still living in Brighton and, more to the point, he had kids of school age and his wife was a teacher.  So where better to get advice on local schools?  We shamelessly engineered an invitation to tea and cake.  The first of many, I’m pleased to say.

They lived at No 33.  As we were leaving, having got the low-down on the education scene in Brighton, we saw a “For Sale” board outside No 30. We asked our friends what they knew about the house.  They told us that their neighbours, Frank and Jean, had lived there for over 30 years and had looked after the place very well.  We went to the estate agent and got the details.

“How much?!  No way!  Not a chance!  Way above our upper limit! There’s no way we could raise that kind of money.  A pity. I agree it looks like a lovely house but we have done the sums, we’ve set our financial limit and that’s that!  End of story!   Let’s look somewhere else.”

“Well, why don’t we just go and have a look around the house?  We don’t have to make an offer just for looking.”

Well, what harm could it do, just to take a look?  Frank and Jean showed us around and when we reached the top bedroom, this was the view that greeted us.

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That was it.

Game over.

We made the best investment of our lives.

 

 

Turn sharp right at the brexit.

This is going to be a nervous week. On Thursday we go to the polls to decide whether the UK should stay as part of the European Union or go its own way and seek its fortune outside.

Following the tragic death of MP Jo Cox this week there was a temporary cessation of campaigning but now both sides are back on the road trying to convince the electorate to support their respective positions.  Apparently, a significant number of potential voters are still declaring themselves as ‘undecided.’  So the battle buses roll on.

This whole referendum campaign has been a tedious exercise that has convinced me that the use of referenda is no way for a country to make important decisions.  We elect politicians to do that for us and we should trust them to keep a level head and make wise judgements.  If enough of us feel that they are failing in that duty, then we can get rid of them at the next election.

The brexiteers talk a lot about taking back control into British hands, oblivious to the fact that if Britain’s future membership of the EU were put to a vote in the duly elected British parliament, there is no way that the brexit argument would prevail.

The problem with ‘government by referendum’ is that the facts of the matter under discussion can easily get lost, or be deliberately mislaid, amid the competing claims of the respective campaigns.

We often see people interviewed on television saying “I need someone to tell me the facts.  I need the data.”  The problem is that as soon as one side comes forward with ‘facts’ or even expert opinions, the other side declares that the ‘facts’ are fallacious and the data is dodgy.  And that means that people are thrown back on their basic ‘gut feeling’ about the issue, which is often not a good basis for a far-reaching decision like brexit that will have implications for generations to come.

For example, as a nation, we have decided that the death penalty has no place in the judicial system of a civilised country.  However, I am completely convinced that if we were to have a referendum on this issue tomorrow, gallows would start to be erected all over the UK.

Similarly with the Brexit vote, the spectre of mass inward migration has been put out there in the public consciousness. We were told that 85 million Turks could have the right to come to the UK, even though Turkey is not a member of the EU nor likely to be so in any foreseeable future.  Nevertheless the idea is planted and it feeds on the genuine concerns of otherwise rational people about levels of immigration.

And once an idea like that is planted, no amount of reassurance or argument about the benefits of immigration to the country can have any impact.  Massive UKIP posters showing hordes of dangerous-looking foreigners obviously preparing to storm the ramparts of the United Kingdom unless we come out of the EU, just stoke the fear and eat away at the basis of any rational debate.

So, yes, I am very nervous about the result of Thursday’s vote.  I can only hope that common sense will prevail.  Roll on, Friday morning.

Ah, finally I understand!

Ever since we got back to Britain, the public discussion has all been about whether or not the UK should leave the EU or remain as a member of this group of nations.  The decision will be taken on 23rd June.

To declare an interest here, I should say that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Remainer. The idea of having to explain to friends in France and Germany that Britain has turned its back on Europe to sit alone on its little island fills me with horror.  That’s not why I ran endless school trips to Germany during my years as a teacher.

The discussion between the two campaigns has been fierce and ultimately unresolvable.  Every time one side comes out with an argument, the other side says that it’s rubbish.  The views of outsiders, be they Barack Obama, the Head of the IMF, the World Bank or Angela Merkel, are dismissed as unwarranted interference and much heat, and very little light, is generated.

One of the main arguments of the Brexiteers is that Britain should regain the sovereignty that it has given up to the ‘unelected bureaucrats’ of the EU.  We are a proud country and we should make our own decisions.  We can stand alone against everything that the world can throw at it.  We did it in 1945.  We can do it again, etc, etc.

I am reminded that, in my profession as a teacher, it was the faceless European bureaucrats who took away my right to beat small children with sticks, as I had been beaten at school.  The British parliament never passed legislation to ban corporal punishment and was only obliged to do so when it was banned throughout the EU.

When I pointed out to a former colleague that the fact that I am the first generation of my family for as long as anyone can remember that has not had to go to war in Europe is due in no small part to the EU, he countered that it has been NATO that as assured our safety since 1945.

I pointed out that NATO is another group of decision makers that we do not elect and to whom we have given up part of our sovereignty, but no-one is arguing for  a Brexit from that alliance.

And then it hit me.  The Brexit campaign, which is doing very well at the moment, is dominated by the right wing of the Conservative Party.  If they are successful, and our Prime Minister, David Cameron, is forced to resign, as many people think he will be, then the Brexiteers will take over the Government.

Since the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Scotland, the Labour Party in Scotland has been eliminated.  That means that they have lost nearly 50 seats in the national parliament.  So the likelihood of Conservatives losing the next election are very slim indeed.

So no wonder the Brexiteers are calling for all decision making to come back to Westminster.  It means, effectively, that the total power over all matters of policy in Britain will be in the hands of the right wing of the Conservative party and their friends in UKIP.  That is a truly terrifying prospect.

If anyone thinks that the employment  rights and protections that we enjoy in this country would continue under such a regime, then they are engaging in wishful thinking.

If anyone thinks that the National Health Service, free at the point of delivery,  would survive under Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, they are deluding themselves.

No wonder the right wing of the Conservative Party wants decision making power brought back to the British parliament.  If Britain leaves the EU on 23rd June, they will control everything for as long as anyone can see into the future.

Is there any chance I could get my job back in Papua New Guinea?

 

 

A Fairy Story for our Times.

Once upon a time there was a Great Big Country with lots and lots of people, who ate rice and wore hats that looked like lampshades. The country was called the Middle Kingdom, even though it didn’t have a King.  The people in this country liked partying and having a good time, so they had one big party, called the Communist Party, which made all their decisions for them, so that they could concentrate on having fun. 

The Rulers of this country were not very democratic, but they were Very Wise and they knew that in a very few years’ time, their Great Big Country would not have enough land to feed its rapidly growing population.  The Wise Rulers therefore decided that they had to find more places to rule, so they set out to spread their power and influence around the world.

The Middle Kingdom was called the ‘Middle Kingdom’ because, as the Wise Rulers and their mapmakers saw it, it was in the middle of the world surrounded by several other big lands.  Some of these lands were called Continents;

To the north there was a very cold land where it snowed a lot and there were lots of scary people who wore big winter coats and beards and furry hats and drank vodka.  The Wise Rulers of the Middle Kingdom decided that these people were too scary and their country too big and cold to bother with, so they left them alone.

To the west they found another continent where the people were very poor, didn’t wear hats and mostly had black skin.  The Wise Rulers decided to make friends with the black-skinned people and offered to build them shiny new sports stadia, so that they too could have a good time.  The people in that continent were very happy with their stadia and were even happier when the Middle Kingdomers offered to build roads and railways and all sorts of other things that the people didn’t have. 

Gradually, the Wise Rulers became very powerful and influential in the land of the black people.  Lots of Middle Kingdomers moved to these countries and little townships sprang up in all the big towns, where the shop-fronts and signs were all written in the Middle Kingdomers’ strange secret language.

Then the Middle Kingdomers found another land, another continent, to the east, where the people wore bright colours and very big hats and played strange wind instruments made of little pieces of bamboo.  Here again, the Middle Kingdomers made friends and built things.  They also bought lots of minerals that they needed to expand their country.  Sometimes they dismantled whole mountains full of precious ores and shipped them right around the world, back to the Middle Kingdom.

Having bought up large parts of the Continent of the People with Big Hats, the Wise Rulers turned their attention to another Continent to the North that was made up of many different countries, where people spoke lots of different languages. 

In one of these countries the people wore berets and striped jerseys and ate cheese with loaves of bread that were as long as your arm.

In another, people wore leather shorts with bracers and hats with feathers in.  They ate lots of sausages and drank lots of beer.  They also made very good cars.

And then there was another country where the people wore bowler hats, drank tea and ate fried potato pieces with vinegar.  This country called itself the United Kingdom, although it wasn’t really very united. It didn’t have a King either, but it did have a very old Queen, whom the people loved.

In the northern part of this not-very-United Kingdom there was another smaller country where it rained a lot and the people drank whiskey and were often quite grumpy.  This was a very cold part of the country, where the winters were long and harsh, but despite this, the people wore skirts instead of trousers, which probably explained why they were so grumpy.  They didn’t really want to be part of the United Kingdom at all.

Indeed, the United Kingdom itself also wasn’t sure whether or not it wanted to belong to the big Continent to the North with the people who made cars and ate long loaves of bread. Some people thought that, because many years ago it ruled over a great empire,  it didn’t need to be part of any bigger group and that it was powerful enough and important enough to sit on its small island and be independent of everyone.

The rulers of the United Kingdom were not very wise and decided that they couldn’t decide whether their country should remain part of the bigger Continent or to leave it, so they arranged for there to be ‘referendum’, which involved many months of discussions, confusion, argument and conflicting opinions, from which the people were supposed to gather all of the information about the benefits of remaining or leaving the Continent to the North and then the people would decide.

The grumpy people in the skirts were not at all convinced about all this.  They just wanted to be a separate mini-country on their own and to remain part of the bigger Continent

Meanwhile, back in the Middle Kingdom, the population continued to grow and grow, and many of the rulers in the other countries started to get  worried that the Wise Rulers of the Middle Kingdom were trying to increase their power and influence over the whole world.  Middle Kingdom factories were making things much more cheaply than the factories in other countries and continents and many people in those areas were unable to find work.

As the Middle Kingdom became more and more unpopular, the Wise Leaders decided that they would export all the goods that they made in their factories into the Continent to the North at prices that were so low that the factories in that Continent would not be able to compete and then everyone would lose their jobs.  Then the countries would become poor again and the Middle Kingdom could come and make friends and build sports stadia for them and increase their influence.

At the same time, the Middle Kingdom began occupying small islands and coral outcrops around its coastline and turning them into military bases and airfields, just in case the other countries, who were seeing their industries being destroyed and their people put out of work, got angry and wanted to start a fight.

Seeing the danger approaching, the countries who made up the Continent to the North started to think of ways of protecting themselves from the relentless competition and growing power of the Middle Kingdom.

And it was just at this point that the United Kingdom had to decide whether to stay as part of the big Continent to the North or to break away from the rest of the Continent and to row its own boat, all by itself, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“What happened next?’, I hear you cry.

Did the Wise Rulers succeed in their attempts to destroy the economies of the countries in the Continent to the North and increase its power and influence?  Did the United Kingdom, with its respected old Queen, prosper after its decision about being part of the large Continent?

Well, after the 23rd June, we will be able to start to write the next episode of the Fairy Story.

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