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Hugh Roberts

Hugh Roberts

Geographer, town planner, development surveyor and consulting master planner for new communities worldwide, but also more humanely, inveterate traveller and at times, pilot, mountain walker, amateur jazz pianist and lover of what life throws at me, especially the ridiculous.

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Journeys with Open Eyes

Seeking Empathy With Strangers

I see places differently to most. 40 years of urban planning experience across all 6 continents, gives me an understanding of people and places for and with whom I help shape new communities. Different languages, religion, politics, history, gender and agendas are no barriers if you can empathise with people.

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Manuscript

Professional Geography
90,000 words
100% complete
London, United Kingdom
11 publishers interested

Synopsis

I see places and therefore their people slightly differently to most.

I have participated in and later led development projects all over the world, thus gaining some unusual insights into what makes places work and people tick. Working and living with the people with and for whom you are planning new towns, industrial complexes and major infrastructure such as transport or water supply networks, forces you to understand them on a day to day basis, regardless of language, religion, physical environment, historical or political perspective, gender or agenda.

40 years ago, personal agendas might have been measured in weeks; 2 decades ago that had reduced to days, but now in our time poor digitally focused world, attention span is measured in minutes. People make instant judgments whether you are going to be a help or hindrance to what they want to achieve, so you have to create the right impression fast. Empathy takes a little longer to emerge and it helps to set off on the right foot. My book focuses on connection with the people that make the many diverse places I have lived and worked in.

Most chapters are arranged by areas of the world, except one on learning to fly, and another which looks at islands and their otherness to nearby mainlands and why this might be so. The final chapter considers all my rushing about the world over such a long timeframe, and whether it has made me any smarter in sizing up situations and finding what makes people tick than during those first timid steps walking home from school aged 6.

Empathy found? Most times yes, but not always as I expected it!

Outline

CHAPTER CONTENTS: JOURNEYS WITH OPEN EYES, SEEKING EMPATHY WITH STRANGERS

Preface How on earth did I get to be here?

Why I feel people make places and a summary of some of the extraordinary situations I have found myself in, and what I did about them.

Chapter 1 Journeys through a Child’s Eyes

Learning to size people up away from home from 9 onwards at school, and during early foreign travels.

Chapter 2 Summer of ’69, My Great American Road Trip

My first big trip abroad working and travelling on my own. Realising that a common language delivers varying degrees of understanding, delight and social pitfalls in broadly equal measure.

Chapter 3 Learning to fly

The challenges of learning a practical skill in a new medium. Overcoming the human tendency to lose half your IQ but re-finding your common sense in the occasional emergencies encountered in demanding circumstances

Chapter 4 MMBA: Miles and Miles of Bloody Australia

3 months working with the Geological Survey of West Australia. A hostile dry environment contrasted with warmth, humour and mutual respect, only having passed the time honoured outback tests of 'matemanship'.

Chapter 5 Among Africa’s last white rulers; South Africa and Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe

Working in Johannesburg City Council and Soweto and journeys through SA and Rhodesia, experiencing the bizarre realities of the last period of white rule in Africa.

Chapter 6 Algeria after the French had gone

New town and regional development experience in the years after the independence revolution from France. Connecting with post colonial Algerians from other than a French perspective, though still, in their eyes, European!

Chapter 7 Bolivia and the High Andes

A new industrial city for Bolivia and contrasts with its neighbours. Why Bolivia stays near the bottom of the economic pile in South America despite or perhaps because of its authentic culture and unique geography .

Chapter 8 Four decades of turbulence in the Middle East

Urban developments despite it all, through Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Oman. Balancing modernism with traditional values and observing some of the tensions along the way.

Chapter 9 Eastern Europe during and after Communism

Massive contrasts between Poland and the Soviet Union in the 1970's, and the Czech Republic and Hungary after 2000.

Chapter 10 South Asian Mosaic

Riding the tiger of fast track development projects and the people driving them in India, Thailand, and Malaysia

Chapter 11 Island Postcards

What gives islands their special 'otherness' to their nearby mainlands, from Stack Rocks in Pembrokeshire, west Wales, to L'Ile des Pins in the South Pacific via 6 others worldwide

Chapter 12 France and Spain, my alter ego

More projects, but family life as well through 40 years around France and Spain.

Chapter 13 Back where I started? Not quite!

How do I see the world now? Any different to when walking home from school for the first time?

Audience

The potential readership includes travellers fed up with skimming the surface of their destinations, because they are time poor or have no real opportunities to get to know the people who live there.

This includes:

- Business people 'flying in and flying out' ('FIFO', we used to call it in an implicit criticism of our consulting profession) who only see the same homogenised hotel rooms and offices wherever they are in the world;
- Students doing their gap year travelling the world (but often merely jumping from English-speaking stepping stone to the next); and
- Vacation travellers feeling guilty about lying around on the beach or frustrated by guided sight-seeing that gets them no closer to the locals than if they had never visited.

With any of these groups there is little or no time for connecting with people, and this no opportunity for empathy. The thinking traveller in each category knows this, and realises too that digital connectivity is no substitute for understanding how people relate to the places they inhabit.

This market continues to grow as international travel gets ever more accessible, but empathy with the people who make the places remains as elusive as ever.

Author

I have participated in and latterly directed major urban and industrial development projects throughout the world. My final full time professional role was as Global Practice Leader for Urban Planning with SKM/ Colin Buchanan, part of the Jacobs Group, one of the largest multi-discipline consultancies worldwide, employing over 80,000 people.

Retired from full time consultancy, I still do pro bono work for a few environmental causes + the occasional paid commission at home or overseas. This gives time and a bit of distance for writing and exploring where I have found - or failed to find - empathy among those with whom I lived and worked in all 6 continents over more than 4 decades. The experiences I relate in my new book range from inspirational to mundane, via life threatening and hilarious - sometimes all of them together! Empathy was the route to survival through this kaleidoscope.

My first book "An Urban Profile of the Middle East" published in 1979, sold well through the 80's and 90's. It was re-published in April 2016 and it's selling again! But as the title implies, it was largely academic, addressing key demographic and economic trends and reviewing some of the new towns planned and built across one of the regions where I worked most over my 4+ decades career.
You cannot hope to succeed in planning and development - any more than in life generally, without empathy for the people involved, though sadly a lot of planners try! Connecting with people and the empathy found with them was largely absent from my 1979 title 'Urban Profile'.

My new book 'focuses on these human relationships and what they have done for my perception of place.

I have published and presented on many occasions; 'Middle East Economic Digest', 'The Planner' and 'Town & Country Planning' being the most common journals; while I have contributed papers to conferences organised by such as the the RTPI, RICS, TCPA, and Westminster Briefing over many years.

Language and communication are pivotal to empathy. I know enough to be polite in Arabic or German, but speak French and Spanish fluently enough to read but not write, to present and be understood. I probably make purist linguists in each language wince at my continued grammatical and idiomatic howlers, but I don't mind; having a go is everything and people forgive the errors while recognising the compliment to their culture.

I make no apology for referencing 'soft skills' in this Bio; they are more important than diplomas and degrees, though I hold these in Geography, Urban Planning and People Management from Oxford University, University of Wales and Henley Business School respectively. Listening, wit and humour are critical to empathy, but the wit and humour are often the last things to be learned in your mother tongue and certainly in any other language.

I love the elusive challenge! Body language is a good place to start when you have little idea what else is going on; very few people can make body language lie. To the keen observer, there is lots to tell you what is going on even when you don't understand one word!

Promotion

My sales campaign to date has been circulated as email shots via a mailmerge platform among 450 friends, family and ex business colleagues. Within the allotted timescale, it achieved the necessary 250 advance sales target following a series of succinct weekly bulletins on progress coupled with half a story and a suitable illustration from different chapters of the book, but never the punch line! Feedback from my subscribers and the pattern of sales indicated that people got more engaged as the campaign progressed. I had only 10 'Unsubscribers' or 2% over a total of 8 email drops.

Adverts in key Alumni (Oxford Today) and professional (RTPI monthly digest) journals in the middle of my advance sales campaign contributed to the successful pitch and can be deployed again, once the book is available. The Urban Land Institute of whose UK Infrastructure Council I am co-Chair and with worldwide membership over 100,000, is another potential source of book promotion

Joint presentations at Book Fairs or Lit. Festivals with likes of Reedsy or Byte the Book, (two London based author and book promotion and networking platforms) are now being planned, ideally in conjunction with the right publisher's guidance to promote sales post publication. Specifically, I am working with Reedsy to propose 'Publishing in the digital age' at the Oxford Literary Festival in April 2017, with my current campaign as the main illustrative example. If successful this could be repeated at subsequent book fairs and festivals through 2017/18

My twin professions of Urban planning and Development Surveying are represented by professional bodies such as RTPI and RICS in UK, the AAP in the US, and the PIA in Australia. These are in excess of 200,000 fellow professionals many of whom work internationally and could be a ready audience for the way one of their number has connected with the people with whom he has worked over 40+ years. Their journals and conferences might well be vehicles for book promotion if the exposure can be conducted in the right way.

My Linked In account has been active for several years and my Bio could be adapted to further sales promotion.

Facebook and Twitter accounts have been opened recently and platforms are ready to build, though I believe they may serve only to raise awareness but not to generate sales.

All of the above needs close collaboration with the right publisher. I would hope that sales and marketing of my title can be directed by the right publishing promoter, but as a life long presenter of my work as a Town Planner, I have no qualms about being able to pitch my work at suitable audiences given the right opportunities!

Competition

In embarking on my own writing of a travelogue with a strong theme of Mindfulness especially about connecting with people, I have been inspired by several authors whose work, though different contextually to my own, is worth learning from. The best travel writers avoid sequential itineraries, showing rather than telling readers about the impressions that made the biggest impacts on them. But cultural impressions remain elusive even to the most perceptive traveler/observer because of context.

The following books are in different manners compatible with 'Journeys With Open Eyes'

Kate Adie - 'The Kindness of Strangers'
- In both her book authorship and broadcasting career Kate brings places alive through the people she encounters in every conceivable circumstance. Her description of the BBC as a pulsating chameleon, ‘constantly changing, but never managing to get its camouflage quite right’ at the beginning of the book is just a delicious taster of what is to follow.

Ben Rawlence - 'City of Thorns'
- Ben Rawlence's book ‘City of Thorns’ shows an exceptional level of empathy with strangers by recording day by day their challenges merely to exist in the highly stressed environment of Dadaab, Kenya's largest refugee camp for homeless Somalis fleeing from Al Shabaab fundamentalists from the north. . It is a brilliant expose of the difficulties of life as a war refugee and how each was overcome, unimaginable to us who mainly live relatively safe and secure lives. But it never loses sight of the essential humanity behind the story and allows the reader to draw the currently unfashionable view that far from being parasites on society, refugees of this sort are among the highest of achievers that any society could wish to have among their own people.

Gillian Tett - 'Saving the Sun' AND 'The Silo Effect'
- Through the eyes of several key players, Gillian weaves a much more human story to which we can relate whether or not we have the requisite economic or financial training. By juxtaposing the approaches of two men from contrasting cultures, she makes it clear that at base, all financial and economic systems are about the people who work within them, and it is the cultural elements that are both the problems and solutions to apparently intractable problems.

From the failures of the Chicago Police Department to the ultimately failed introduction of the Sony Walkman, Gillian has produced an analysis of complexity that is highly readable and understandable as to why things go wrong and how people put them right.

In addition, the following Travel writers:

Paul Theroux - 'The Tao of Travel'
Selects excerpts from some of the best travel writers but tops and tails it with perceptive analysis about why people travel and what they gain from the experience. I especially like his reference to the Buddhist saying ‘You cannot travel the path before you have become the path itself’ which goes some way to answer how and why we travel and what can we gain from the experience.

The works of writers like Dervla Murphy, Eric Newby or Paul Thubron come in additions.

Finding a way to write a travelogue as something other than a traveler, and learning the timing, wit and brevity to tell tales about places visited, (tall or otherwise but always based in fact!), is for me the essence of good writing when seeking to combine the genres of Travel and Mindfulness through empathy. These categories encapsulate my book's subject matter.

Samples

Preface: What on earth am I doing here and why?

I have lived and worked in all 6 continents, planning for new towns, industries and urban infrastructure through 5 decades and meeting many wonderful and a few less appealing people on the way. My work has been as much social as technical, requiring at least a quest for, if not a guarantee to find, empathy with the people and places encountered.
As a Geographer and Town Planner, I suppose I see towns and cities a bit differently to most people. I am immediately drawn to how they work and sometimes why they don’t. There is always an explanation for either state, but it is sometimes quite hard to find, because things grow up in a particular way over centuries, then they suddenly change for one particular reason such as a new transport system or direction of new growth which becomes the new determinant of overall function whether good or bad. The saddest factors when a place is declining in fortunes are invariably economic, when a town's reason for being there dies, through changes in agricultural practice, the end of coal mining or shipbuilding, or these days climate change and susceptibility to drought or floods.

It is always difficult to tell the inhabitants of a place why things may not be working or how they could be improved. They have lived with the problems far longer and have strong opinions based on lots of day to day evidence. Who is this newcomer and what are these theories of function and form he brings to tell us any better than we already know?

Harder still is the blank canvas, where a new community is to be built, or rather the superimposition of new land uses on old ones, because in our overcrowded world, there is never really a blank canvas. But lots of people including we planners some times, treat new communities as blank canvases, as if the climate, physical features, relative positions of other settlements, places of employment and most influential of all, value systems with which the new inhabitants will inhabit, were not critical to success or failure.

The abiding appeal of geography and planning is that every urban situation is unique and there is never a justification for 'one size fits all'; we should only do ' bespoke'. Trouble is, and what gets planners a bad name sometimes, is that we do often apply the opposite ‘one size fits all’ approach even when not intending to, because bespoke is too complex or long-winded a solution and its implementation too expensive in a cash and time-strapped world.

But this book is not only about the theories of planning, and what makes places work or not. There is a bit of that in most chapters but it is more about what makes people work, together, apart or not at all, and only from my totally subjective viewpoint. I focus on individual relations in whatever part of the world I was working, though I sometimes stray into generalisations about societies as a whole just to be controversial and stimulate a response which might range from quiet agreement to its usually more vocal opposite. The result is an eclectic mix of journeys with open eyes that have taught me a lot about the world almost all of it positive and therefore uplifting. See how you feel when you have read through to the end.

In the course of my journeys, I have been in all sorts of situations both good and bad, from inspiring to downright dangerous and I have learned something from them all. Many times I have asked myself ‘How on earth did you get yourself into this predicament? More to the point, how are you going to get out of it?‘

The predicaments vary enormously, but a lack of familiarity with an environment is always a risk. You stand out like a sore thumb and your persona probably lights up in the crowd to the beady eye of those intent on mischief. To pick one situation at random, that is how my nightmare in Delhi started after losing my passport and mobile phone to a professional pick-pocket routine. I would have admired the choreographed professionalism of it all, if it had not caused me such bureaucratic grief.

Getting off the train from Chandigarh, the eager porters were grabbing bags from the luggage racks to lift them down to the platform. Chasing anxiously after them, my attention focused away from my little backpack where resided most of my precious possessions suitably zipped up as I thought. All except my wallet that is – that was down my underpants and hopefully thus a no go area. The bags were safely returned to us on the platform, so after the compulsory tipping, we relaxed into a taxi for the journey to our hotel. Only on check in at hotel reception did the critical disappearances from my backpack reveal themselves – passport and mobile phone gone!.

Absence of identity documentation, together with their all important entry and exit visas, without which you are almost literally non existent, together with the absence of a means to communicate about it by phone, are not a good combination in India. With a tightly defined itinerary abandoned, the next day was re-scheduled for queuing at the British High Commission for a temporary (cheap cream cardboard) passport, then the Indian Interior Immigration department for new Entry and Exit visas. While the former offered limited tea and sympathy and a wait of merely an hour, the latter did not. Indian Immigration departments are not for the fainthearted or those of an impatient disposition. I had 8 long hours in which to savour aspects of the many human frailties on show.

I may not have liked it much at the time, but the experience taught me so much about human nature, now stored in my memory for future use. There was after all little else to do during the interminable and otherwise mindless waiting times, other than to watch, listen and learn from my fellow sufferers and those 'in charge', as we all endured the process of identity re-instatement. Of course, the objective was keeping India safe from illicit entry and exit and the terrorism that doubtless lurked beneath its surface, all lost if bureaucratic vigilance was not being observed. Vigilance was minutely observed as only the Indian Civil Service knows how.

Name anywhere I have lived or worked throughout the world and there has been time enough for a bizarre situation – life threatening sometimes, mildly dangerous more often, but almost always revelatory. Let me list a few.
- Left on a sand spit in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with the tide coming in, while our boatman disappeared over the horizon ‘in search of a better island for our picnic!’.
- In the middle of the 1970’s Rhodesian/ Zimbabwean Bush War, left at passport control on the South African border by my gun-running mercenary driver, hoping he would remember to come back and pick me up.
- Lost on my first cross-country solo flight over the English Midlands with a line squall obliterating all visibility and no radio contact to seek help or direction.
- 2 months before the revolution against the Shah of Iran, questioned in Isfahan Airport by the Iranian secret police about having someone else’s airline ticket.
- Failing to prevent my Algerian driver from picking up a wounded gazelle he had hit in the Sahara, despite draconian regulations concerning the illegality of domesticating the wildlife.
- After hitting a 2 metre kangaroo in the dark, 100 miles from the nearest town in West Australia’s remote Hamersley Range, fixing the tyre blow out and wreckage, before…..
- the next morning and a couple of hundred miles further south, walking through dry desert bush and coming one pace from treading on a deadly poisonous Tiger snake.
- In Kuwait’s Al Wufrah Desert with car wheels stuck in soft sand in mid August at over 50 degrees Centigrade.
- "Helping the Peruvian police with their enquiries" just off the Lake Titicaca overnight ferry from Bolivia after an attempted murder in the next-door cabin
- Just 18 months after the 1968 ‘Prague Spring’ in Czechoslovakia, retracing steps through a minefield at the German/ Czech border crossing having been refused entry by Russian soldiers .
- In a San Francisco apartment with a drug-crazed Hindu nationalist brandishing a knife, threatening “Death to the British Imperialist!".
- Despite British citizenship, receiving call up papers from the New York State draft board for the US military; ‘Status 1A’ = Boot Camp then straight to Viet Nam.
- Invited by its patron into a La Paz brothel, asking some of the girls what they were doing with their lives, and being assured they, their boyfriends and husbands were all happy they were their families’ main money earners. And would I like to go upstairs with one of them?

These delicate predicaments help me now, in some cases many years later, to remember a particular journey bringing one of its unique features to life again. A lot of self-survival instinct was in play, providing a vivid backdrop to a place and its people. But building lasting impressions takes more time. Deeper feelings about people and places are constructed from experience that reveals itself more gently; the kindness or otherwise of strangers, familiar or unfamiliar reactions to an unexpected situation, and the humour - always the humour - with which people cope with every day life, from the tragic to mundane by way of the downright farcical.

That is what this book is really about; wondrous impressions of the world through lots of long journeys with a purpose, learning something from each particularly about empathy with strangers, and either finding it which is heart warming, or not finding it, which is disappointing but often more insightful about what makes people tick. We glean as much from negatives as positives; learning from mistakes perhaps. Much of what we are evolves from what we are not.

The enduring appeal of empathy is that there are no rules about when, where or how you will find it. My 8 hours with the Indian Immigration officials was comparatively relaxed and friendly from their point of view, contrasting with the behaviour of many of the stressed-out supplicants in front of them, owing something to there being a cricket match on the wall-mounted TV, and India were winning. This revealed more about Indian culture than the foreigners in front of them. Officials rarely raise their voices or lose their calm exterior despite many provocations. But the victims like most people anywhere, revealed much more of themselves under stress, and the stories I heard about how people had lost their passports put my Delhi based robbery into focus.

There had been violent muggings, people left stranded hundreds of miles from the capital, who had to beg borrow or steal their way to Immigration in Delhi, some of them rendered destitute and who just wanted desperately to get out of India and resume a normal existence back home. For them no amount of a calm bureaucrat’s demeanour would ever be sufficient compensation for their misfortune, and they were not going to let off lightly anyone deemed responsible by association for the sad state in which they found themselves. The result was a fascinating exercise in human psychology at work through which I had the rare experience of nothing better to do but study and learn. I ended up feeling enriched by the experience of the loss of my passport. Strange world!

Chapters are arranged geographically, though not to imply similarity between national or cultural neighbours. Understanding and empathy is more elusive than that. Most explore my work as a planner across a variety of major development project over more than 40 years, providing a mix of social and anthropological observation about people and communities for whom I through my firm, had been commissioned to implement new towns, industrial complexes and/ or urban infrastructure generally.

There are a couple of exceptions to this geographical separation. One chapter deals with learning to fly - a mental as well as physical journey covering a lot of ground fast, learning about one's ability to operate in a strange environment, spurred by others on the same learning journey. Another chapter Island Postcards looks at the geographical individuality of offshore places, chosen from all over the world to compare them with nearby 'main lands'. There is a special 'otherness' about islands and they share insular characteristics regardless of location. Being microcosms of the human state, they were nice to catalogue in a collective way on their own.

The book probes human behaviour governed as much by moods as by the physical or social environments I wrote about at the start of this preface. Gaining something with which to enrich my life experience as a visitor passing through as well as a planner, owed a lot to good fortune, but it has also been testimony that a smile or laughter will likely get you through strange situations or out of trouble more often than not. There is always more gained through sugar than vinegar. Despite so many mishaps - no, because of them! – and because of my fascination in the work I have done over more than 40 years, the world remains for me a beautiful place and its people worthy of it.

Empathy found? I think so but not always as expected!

First part of Chapter 1, Journeys through a Child's Eyes

Chapter 1 Journeys through a Child’s Eyes

In a small Welsh country town like Haverfordwest in the 1950's, 6 and 7 year olds usually walked home from school; unusual today, normal back then. The walk was about a mile and a half, the first part through town along Bridge Street, with the chance to look in Toms’ Toyshop window with its range of model cars and planes to marvel at and wish for at Christmas. The second half through Cartlett, passed Mr Ellis’s grocery emporium (telephone Haverfordwest 7) where, with enough pennies, we could buy a sherbert fountain, then up the hill over the New Road railway bridge. If we were lucky, the 4.30 to Milford Haven would be leaving the station and enveloping the bridge with steam. After watching it over the river and out of sight round the curve to Merlin’s Bridge, we could go home, smelling sweetly of coal smuts.

The last half-mile passed detached houses and bungalows set in neat little gardens with names like The Lindens (boring) St. Saëns (a French composer, very posh), or Crud y Gwynt (Cradle the wind) – suburbia Welsh style and described as ‘tidy’ in the soft lilting west Wales vernacular. This last part of the walk offered two contrasts. On Tuesday and Friday market days, we might catch up with Old Stevo with his horse and cart. If you were quick you could jump up behind and ride on the large white sack of grain for the last part of the journey. The cart had wooden wheels as tall as the cart itself and I recall the rusty red colour of its peeling paint, already by the late 1950’s a relic of a bye gone age. Old Stevo seemed not to mind our intrusion but he never spoke to us. People said he lived at a small place called Old Ovens, but we never went there. Nearly 60 years later on the Google Earth image, I can only make out a small cluster of ruined buildings in trees a field away down an overgrown track off the Rhos Road.

The place must have died with Stevo a few years later. He did not seem to have to drive the horse; it knew its way slowly homeward. The two of them seemed to live in perfect harmony – Stevo went down to town twice a week to get grain for the horse and the horse pulled the cart back home. I doubt much farming took place at Old Ovens, but I never knew.

The second possibility homeward bound from school was confrontation with the two neighbour 'hoods' - 9 year old JD, and his bigger, more menacing friend NJ must have been 10 'if he was a day' as they like to say in Wales. At first they just offered mild harassment, but one winter, after NJ hit my big sister with a snowball containing a stone, things got a bit worse. It still only amounted to harsh words and a bit of pushing around, but with Shân, my next door neighbour and school contemporary, 1950’s gender stereotypes were no barrier; she would give as good as me in the oral reply stakes usually around what our Dads would do to them if JD and NJ ‘carried on’.

One day JD was on his own, so we invited him home to see my new train set. Then with the added courage of walking down my own driveway, I bashed him - just once and not really very hard – more of a shove really. Away from the familiar ground outside his own front gate, he ran home crying. While we got a severe talking to, the harassment stopped after that. Little country towns, are no safeguard to having to learn how to deal with bullies - on your own, wherever you are.

Excerpts from Chapter 11, Island Postcards

I am fascinated by islands. Not just their physical separation from 'mainlands' (a relative term) by various distances of sea, but the isolation in various forms that they manifest in their flora, fauna and most subtle of all, human inhabitants. My travels about the world have included a variety of islands in different settings, and I do not forget that in relation to the world's largest contiguous landmass, as a citizen of Great Britain, I am an islander myself.

This chapter deals with some of the islands I have visited, from a first one of boyhood dreams, off Pembrokeshire's coast, to one of the world's remotest, the Ile des Pins off Nouvelle Caledonie in the South Pacific nearly 1,000 miles east of Brisbane, Australia. Also to be found here are some large and autonomous outliers of nearby land masses as well as tiny cameos of natural independence from their bigger neighbours; a whimsical selection perhaps, but some common themes emerge from them all.

STACK ROCK, PEMBROKESHIRE
My birthplace county is surrounded on three sides by sea with an indented coastline and the most diverse physical and historical structures found in any single county of Britain. The whole geological table from Pre Cambrian to the Paleontological Age is represented here, and the place names reference Welsh, Norse, Flemish, French and most recently English as the languages of choice.

Surprisingly, given nearly 150 miles of indented coastline Pembrokeshire has only a handful of islands, some inhabited such as Caldey off the little Regency town of Tenby, where Cistercian monks and a few farmers still live off the balmy southern climate growing flowers to make perfumes, Skomer with its bird sanctuary including the county's National Park symbol, the humorous Puffin, and Ramsey with one farm accessed by a wild crossing from the St Justinian’s lifeboat station near St David's. But the uninhabited ones - Skokholm, Grassholm, and the Smalls with their lonely automatic light, 20 miles out into the Atlantic, are more fascinating - the remoter the better.

For a 14 year old with occasional pubescent dreams of inhabiting his own private space, there was one smaller one within reach, and one warm summer day in 1965, I persuaded my elder cousin Doug, with his small boat Lucy with her 3 hp outboard 2 stroke engine, to mount an exhibition to Stack Rock. Situated about a mile off the coast and 2 miles from our favourite seaside village of Little Haven, this was an hour’s sailing time at Lucy's maximum speed, The sun was high, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and the sea was unusually millpond calm. Time to go!

I had prepared a flag declaring UDI (Unilateral Declarations of Independence were 'in fashion' that year, after the style of Rhodesia) for ‘my’ Republic of Stack. Human Population: occasional; Seabird Population: too numerous to count (and v aggressive); source of Gross National Product: guano. Stack is two blocks of rock about 40 metres high connected by a lower causeway, all of it about 100 metres long and 50 metres at its widest, so not really big enough to sustain independence, but big enough for dreams!

We landed on the modest high tide swell in the one small sea inlet and tying Lucy fore and aft we climbed up through thick plantains to the island's summit. We planted my flag with due ceremony, watched by some puzzled seals in the sea below and the island's entire colony of disturbed seagulls, cormorants and gannets. Gannets were so common off the Welsh coasts at that time, that the ‘Min of Ag and Fish’ as they were known, would pay you a shilling for each one you killed, as they ate their own weight in fish every day. Doubtless gannets are now protected, but mackerel have no voice in Parliament.

Views were long and clear in all directions; 30 km to the north across St Brides Bay to the St David's peninsula, south to the nearby St Brides village 2 km away with its then derelict Kensington isolation hospital (now a high end spa resort), and 4km eastwards back to Little Haven where we would soon be regaling the locals with tales of derring-do. But out to the west there was almost nothing except the seaward horizon, the western Atlantic in its most benign state, with Grassholm 18 km west and the remotest of all Trinity House lighthouses on the Smalls (still manned in the 1960's) a further 12 km west again and just visible on this clearest of days.

At times like this, I tended to daydream of what was to come; storms lashing the coast, the wind so strong as to carry foam off the top of each wave and the seagulls driven before it like so much flying flotsam; no weather for venturing out in small boats such as ours. But this was high summer and warm weather, so why could I not continue being a will o' the wisp dreamer, listening to the waves lapping the rocks, the seagulls' call with the soft warm wind ruffling the thin grass on the summit? My own special island.

We waited half an hour for the Air Sea rescue helicopter from RNAS Brawdy to come and check us out, perhaps accompanied by Interpol to arrest us for the treasonous act of independence. But eventually growing bored at the world's indifference, we made our way home to Little Haven trailing a mackerel line unrequited by an evening catch. The next year 1966, I went back and there was of course no sign of my flag, blown away landward on the first winter gales to where someone would wonder at its strange incomprehensible message But amazingly my bamboo flag pole was still there, slightly chewed by a curious bird but just about upright offering little resistance to the wind. I was proud of that.

Thus ended my first island love affair, leaving me with fascination for remote places, most of which have offered slightly more human stimulus than Stack. Motivated by pure nostalgia and boyhood memories, I have been back there in recent years. Not much has changed; thicker vegetation, smellier guano, fewer cormorants (the fish must be pleased) and no seals to be seen, but no flag pole either after nearly 40 years. My Republic rests merely in memory and imagination.


CRETE
My only visit to Crete was shamefully short; in and out on the same day. The Minotaur would have been disappointed but I hope Hercules was impressed.

Working out of our Athens office for the Greek Cadaster (a.k.a. the Greek Ordnance Survey) we had been commissioned through a European Union grant, to map property plot boundaries and ownerships so the authorities would know for certain which occupants wholly owned their land or, who else might be a landlord or other claimant to development rights. Of course the Greek tax authorities would also quite like to know who in far flung Melbourne, Malmo, Manchester or Milwaukee might be good for some absentee property owner taxes. Only that in Greece, inheritance is, by default, split evenly between all sons and daughters of a deceased owner. With multiple previous diasporas world-wide, to the U.S., Australia, Latin America and so on, claimants were hard to find and in some cases deceased.

First off, map the assumed titles. The town we were surveying that day was Episkopi to the west of Crete’s capital Heraklion, requiring an onward flight to Chania and a drive up into the hills over-looking the Mediterranean. Our surveyors were locally contracted students from Heraklion University supervised by a young British GIS surveyor harassed by the complexity of his task and very little Greek.

A recipe for extensive confusion then. The students were loving it - bright, talkative and fully understanding the problems - while every property occupier also had a lot to say, either claiming sole ownership and thus unfettered rights over the property, or where they feared extra taxes, their tribulations with absentee part owners, comprising their distant relatives living in Sydney, New York or Buenos Aires. Mapping this was becoming a nightmare and a 6 month exercise to record ownerships throughout the whole town of Episkopi was falling way behind schedule.

I flew in to review the situation on the morning flight from Athens, but the supervision budget restricted me to one day only, returning to the mainland on the last flight. After a frustrating morning, we retired to a local Taverna, as is the Greek custom, to discuss the problem with the student surveyors, trailing some of the more aggrieved occupiers in our wake. The problem was quite obviously intractable. Even when we had mapped and registered ownerships, the appeals process would take months especially as the Cadaster insisted on appeals in person; a bit difficult if you were a subsequent generation living on another continent with no deeds of part ownership and your Greek might now be rusty.

Sadly I forget the year - maybe mid 1990’s - but time seems infinite in parts of Greece, and Crete in early April was beautiful, with wild flowers everywhere and that pale blue sky which reflects a landscape whose luminosity seems to strike you physically coming from Northern Europe and the recent darkness of winter months. On returning to Athens, I wrote my report on project 'progress', declaring that there was very little of it. Not for the first or last time, the EU's money was not being well spent, and I forget what the outcome of this optimistic attempt at order out of chaos was. We had started a similar survey process in the north, near Alexandropli close to the Turkish border, but I had no need to visit; I could probably have written my 'progress' report location unseen.

So I can claim no real knowledge of the physical attributes of the beautiful island of Crete, but I was instead able to glimpse the labyrinth that is Greek property ownership - especially that which applied to this independently minded island community. It will take an 8th Labour of Hercules to sort it all out.

PHI PHI ISLAND OFF AO NANG, THAILAND
Phi Phi is immortalised in one of Leonardo di Caprio's first films - The Beach. It is a paradise island by any visual standards bathed in the tropical warmth of the East Indian Ocean and detached from its more prosaic populated neighbouring settlements on the Thai mainland of Phuket and Ao Nang.

Just as in the film however, where di Caprio's character has an unlikely escape from a shark attack, every paradise has a reverse side. I was lucky enough merely to hear second hand about Phi Phi's dark side, rather an experience it myself. We visited in early 2005, merely 3 weeks after the infamous Tsunami on 26 December 2004. In fact our ferry captain out from Ao Nang only some 4 weeks later was making his first visit back to Phi Phi having been shipwrecked there when the tidal wave struck.

He described in vivid detail how he had carried about 30 sightseers and snorkel divers out to the islands on 26 December, and that the sea seemed unnaturally calm and the sky a peculiar purple blue. His boat was in one of the sheltered bays when the massive wave washed without warning out of nowhere across the island. He had landed some tourists to collect things from their hotel while others were sunning themselves or swimming in the quiet waters of the lagoon. The boat was lifted with the wave and driven several hundred meters into the dense tree foliage rising steeply up from the beaches. He remembers nothing except regaining consciousness maybe several hours or perhaps days later, stuck in the branch of a tree but feeling no pain. For a time in the silence, he wondered whether he was actually dead or still alive. His boat had disappeared and nothing was moving, until he heard helicopters approaching from the mainland to start the search for survivors. He was still not sure only 4 weeks later how long he had lain unconscious. Maybe it was days, because the destruction and toll on human life was so enormous that rescue resources had taken a long time to arrive.

He got lifted back to the mainland where he later learned that none of his passengers who had returned to their two storey hotel had survived, trapped by rising waters, while those on board his boat or on the beach had miraculously survived. They had been thrown into the sea and like himself after a doubtlessly terrifying washing machine tumble, they were caught up in trees as the tidal water receded. He did what most would do after such an out of body experience in a devastated country; he went home to his family, hitching a lift northwards to Chiang Mai in the country's far north, through the national emergency impacting all of Thailand, and just stayed there for several weeks until he felt it time to return. In typical resilient Thai fashion, he had only three weeks later been allocated captaincy of a new boat and was making his first trip out to the islands again. Little had we suspected what dark and recent memories hid behind his confident air of competence displayed towards his passengers that first day back.

Amazingly, the islands seemed almost unaffected by the damage, trees were mostly still standing and the underwater marine flora, so spectacular at the best of times had also survived the worst of times. Perhaps the famous lagoon that features so prominently in The Beach, had reduced the physical impact of the huge wave. We swam and snorkelled in clear blue water as if there were no cares in the world or tragedies in very recent memory. Phi Phi Island remained a most magical place even only 4 weeks after one of the biggest natural disasters to have befallen it since its peculiar karst landscape was formed from the surrounding limestone. Perhaps that was the best epitaph - affirmation that life goes on even in the most remote and vulnerable places.

Ile des Pins New Caledonia, central South Pacific Ocean
So, to the remotest of islands visited, deep in the South Pacific Ocean and even then set apart from its mother island of New Caledonia (NC) to the north, the Ile des Pins. Reached by a rickety half hour plane ride, from Noumea capital of NC, the Island of Pines is a recent tourist resort if the single modern hotel qualifies it as such. Previous visitors had experienced a very different provenance, as the Isle of Pines was a former penal colony a hundred years ago, to the unyielding justice system of the faraway French Republic. There are various ways of encouraging immigration to one's overseas possessions, but this would have been among the most brutal. As the sad war memorial in the single urban settlement on the island testified, there was one way back to the French homeland in 1914, to join the army, and probably die in a trench at Verdun probably as part of a punishment battalion. Were any of those who volunteered or later drafted survivors of the war? If so, were they then either granted their freedom or sent back to the penal colony? Those were much harsher unforgiving days, but penal servitude ceased there soon after in the 1920’s.

The island is almost circular and about 20 km in diameter, so big enough to support cultivation and its own subsistence farming. The native population are Melanesian Kanak people with a separate language to those in Vanuatu or the Solomon Islands to the north, and Samoa and Tonga far away to the east, their nearest island neighbours hundreds of miles away across the trackless Pacific. Some within the local Kanak independence movement protested violently against their perception of French suppression as recently as 1988, but while a major hostage incident at the Ouvea Caves was eventually settled, the great majority of the population now seek an amicable relationship with France, especially while the Gallic Metropole continues paying substantial grants to maintain the local economy in return for minimal increases in local productivity. Independence movements come at a price.

Sylvie and I took several trips round the island by ancient taxi, then on our last day, out to desert islands and tidal sand cays way to the south. Exotic sea birds including sea eagles nested on rocky promontories and huge skuas which glide for hundreds of miles across the ocean vastness, were especially invocative of the remoteness, So too were the sea turtles, tame enough to swim up close to our boat, going nose to nose with those who dived to swim with them.

The boat’s captain and his crew comprising his wife and lively 6 year old daughter, decided without consulting us, to drop us on a tidal sand cay about half a mile long and a few yards wide to go to another island and prepare a barbecue. WE were out of sight of other land and the width of the sand cay seemed to be getting narrower still as the tide encroached. As their boat disappeared over the horizon, I wondered idly whether we would see them again, but we had not paid them anything yet and had our money and cameras with us, so we assumed all would be well. There were a few dried out and long dead trees clinging to the higher parts of the cay, but not even enough to afford a sun-shade canopy - just the sound of the small wavelets edging the brilliant turquoise sea and the brightest of white sand in the clearest air imaginable so far from man made pollutants. It is strange what warm sun and lapping seawater can do to your general sense of wellbeing.

The boat duly returned after half an hour and the smiling boatman and his small crew sensing our relief, took us on to a larger island about 2km long and 100 metres wide with dense vegetation and convenient shade across its middle. They had prepared the promised barbecue of delicious fish with rice and salad, shared with a small group of Japanese honeymooners who had arrived on another boat - as you do these tourist driven days - in the middle of the Pacific. Sylvie was presented with the largest lobster we had ever seen over a metre long and over 10 kilos in weight – known locally as a porcelaine because of its brilliant bone china colouring. It was apparently dead and pronounced too old and tough to eat, so likely to become a trophy on the boatman’s wall at home. We were horrified when it went back into a very large bucket and started moving around lightly flipping its enormous tail.

The boatman’s little girl scampered off into the undergrowth and came back holding by the tail a small black and white striped snake called a tricotier because of its resemblance to one of those pullovers from far away France. She seemed completely fearless as she swung it round. They have poison in their bite, but have such small teeth and jaws they can only do you damage if they bite you in the soft webbing between the fingers. So that was all right then. Luckily the little girl’s mother also thought her behaviour with the snake was at least disrespectful, and persuaded her to let it go. It slithered off into the low vegetation, on which we kept a close eye for the rest of the meal.

Returning from that boat trip seemed like returning from the very ends of the earth with the sea breeze and bright sunlight sustaining a warm sense of wellbeing. However remoteness has a peculiar quality of melancholy because of the sense that you will never go back. Parting even from places as well as people is a sweet sorrow.

Additional Excerpt from Chapter 11, Islands: Great Britain before and after Brexit.

Great Britain
I never forget that GB is an island. Growing up in the 1950’s, we were educated to the virtues of island status, our parents and other grown ups having only a decade before, survived the worst onslaught on our freedom and way of life in living or written history. As youngsters, we were taught how important it was to be separate both militarily and - applying a substantial leap of logic – culturally. There was, through those post war years, a deal of reluctance to embrace our near neighbours in Europe, largely seen inaccurately but collectively, as responsible for bringing us so close to disaster only a few years previously. This prejudice lives on among some.

However I still needed some of the benefits of this island status spelling out for me. A Jewish friend at Oxford in 1969, whose father had escaped Nazi Germany in 1936, was the first to point out to me, that most countries of Europe would have given anything to have Britain's island status. Taking Shakespeare as his inspiration, he pointed to our island status as the reason for absence of effective invasion and occupation for exactly nine hundred and three years since the Norman Conquest. This provided the welcome vaccination against political and social extremes. No fascists (except a few ridiculous ones thanks to our innate capacity to laugh at demagogues), no real diehard communists, (at any rate the sort who had any real influence), and a ('Glorious') revolution in the 17th century, to curb monarchic influence one hundred years before that of France. But this shift of power to Parliament retained the king as head of state with significant limits on his previous divine right to rule, the better to safeguard national loyalties above and beyond the temporary approval or otherwise of our current set of chosen politicians. How civilised!

This posts a very benign picture of our history over the last 350 years, but if you count up how few are the countries in the world to have avoided major social upheavals of civil war or unrest, together with the absence of militarised foreign occupation, you come to realise that Britain’s homeland has had a pretty easy ride through recent history, contributions to foreign wars being huge but with the fighting mainly on foreign soil. One down side of all this is that we tend to take it all for granted and assume that it owes more to good judgment than good fortune; complacency by any other name.

Some now mourn the parting of a more tranquil and respectful way of life where everything seemed … well, so British, naturally assumed in the 1950’s to also mean ‘best’. But by the 1970’s our island – not to say siege – mentality had reached such a state of complacency and loss of confidence as to render us incapable of keeping the lights on during yet more industrial (in) action and strikes. Quite apart from the details of each dispute - job demarcation, wage rates, terms and conditions etc. etc, - there was an underlying class tension, a febrile ‘us’ against ‘them’ atmosphere, felt as deeply by either side whether you considered yourself ‘one of the workers’ or ‘part of the management’. As I was preparing to leave University, in the early 1970’s, our island race seemed ready to tear itself apart socially.

Since Britain has become tangibly and mentally more cosmopolitan, things have evolved from a former assumption that 'British is best'. Depending on the newspaper you read, this entry of people, material goods and more important values from foreign parts has either been a disaster for our way of life, or generally beneficial as different ways of doing things have been good for our more diverse society, economy and future prospects. There are as always, a certain proportion of society cut off through poverty from the generally greater prosperity enjoyed by the majority, but we are broadly speaking immeasurably better off than we were in the mid 1970’s. Of course, news media of all persuasions rarely espouse optimistic views, as this tends not to sell copy as well as doom and gloom.

After the 1970's, the British seemed to pull themselves together and wake up to the fact that the world does not owe us a living. While we are, like so many others a less caring society, the deep seated mistrust of each other which I recall from the early 1970’s has melted a bit. Despite the referendum result of mid 2016, to choose by a narrow margin to leave the European Union, and the underlying motives behind it, we seem to be more tolerant and probably more welcoming of recent newcomers than was the case 4 decades back, a little less inclined to racist or other unfounded branding of the bad habits of others. More of this to follow, because of course, it is not universally true.

Unexpectedly I became an agent for reducing Britain’s island status in 1986, when I joined the growing team planning for, designing and building the Channel Tunnel. My employer, the large development consultancy WS Atkins were an integral part of the winning technical bidder submission from Eurotunnel to the French and British governments, to construct two rail tunnels and associated service tunnel and cross passages, connecting Britain to mainland Europe for the first time since the last Ice Age. This became known at the time as ‘le Grand Twin Bore’, in a famous poster depicting PM Margaret Thatcher and President François Mitterand.

I initially joined the project for 6 months but stayed 6 years, all through the statutory procedures of the Hybrid Bill in the UK Parliament and the equivalent D.U.P. legislation in France and early delivery of many of their statutory commitments. I finally left after the tunnels met up in mid Channel in 1992, but went back for the grand opening ceremony in Folkestone in 1994. I was lucky enough all through that period to observe the changing attitudes among my fellow islanders because, with Peter Middleton, my boss in the Maitre d’Oeuvre (technical audit) team and best leader I ever worked under, I ranged around Britain and parts of mainland Europe presenting about the project to a huge range of audiences as part of a concerted hearts and minds campaign to promote the project.

Our presentations were necessarily pretty technical, describing tunneling methods, signal controlled ‘train paths’, and methods of evacuation and escape in the event of train breakdown or fire, but audiences seemed to like that. My own interest as a planner was the economic benefits of regional connectivity between Kent and the Pas de Calais, but these impacts were longer in gestation so less noticeable. The human side of things – how did the French and British workers get on across the project, and how would it all work operationally - were the repeated questions with which we were faced. Younger people, particularly school children were our most incisive interrogators. They also demonstrated the greatest enthusiasm for the project’s potential, though the well-off children of one school in Perthshire, Scotland, seemed not to care less for the possibilities. Understandable perhaps, given the call of the grouse moors nearer home.

Looking back, it now seems unimaginable that we would not have a terrestrial connection with our near mainland, as most of over 20 million passengers a year now carried by the Eurostar trains and Eurotunnel shuttles would agree. Less than 3 hours between London and Paris or Brussels has contributed hugely to why we have become so much more cosmopolitan in outlook. After all you can buy olive oil in the supermarket now, rather than, as in 1970, at the chemists… progress!

But in 2016, we have once again been beset with a renewed strain of Little Englander mentality, understandably, if sometimes unpalatably, presented under an anti-immigration banner. In mid year it created the first of several shocks to a worldwide connectedness agenda with the referendum decision to leave the European Union – ‘Brexit’ now being a part of every day vocabulary, though no better understood as to its implications, than before the term was first minted.

Later in the year Donald Trump was elected against pollsters predictions as the USA’s next President, on a self-styled ‘Brexit ++’ ticket without any previous experience of government, and precisely for that reason. This rise in populist politics will not stop there, and the threat that other EU members might be similarly skeptical about our economic and political unions – almost anti-politics given their rejection of the preceding liberal political elites – is said to be as momentous as any industrialization or revolutionary upheaval. The rise of extreme parties of ‘right’ or ‘left’ (sometimes both together, as they care little for old ideologies) now espouse protectionist policies and a style of communication with voters capturing the need for instant even simplistic problem solving. (“Too many immigrants? We’ll build a wall”!)

I agree with neither these simplistic solutions, nor on the other hand, the direst predictions of the dumbing-down of how we will be governed. The so-called thinking media of written and broadcast journalism, (I do not count the Twitter sphere as ‘thinking media’) have now gone too far in their recent desire to correct previous myopia about what the man in the street thinks. Now every news item about changing political directions seeks the common man view preferably from middle-England, middle-America or wherever, to reflect new media sensitivity to views that even the pollsters had misjudged or ignored previously as of no consequence. It is as if the avowedly metropolitan scribblers and talkers had lost sight of the plight of the common man or woman, (views which might have reflected their own non metropolitan roots in some cases) and were now atoning for their sins of elitist thinking.

Starting during University days and countless times since, I have listened to some of my more academic colleagues declaiming on anything other than their own specialism, quietly thinking to myself, you are the most intelligent idiot I have ever met – since the last one! There seems to be a common if not universal principle that the more you know, the less you retain the ability to make sound judgments and take appropriate action. That is the root of the new populism: stop worrying over the information over load and get something done!

The loss of faith in a government class and the people who had come to inhabit it is guttural. It is the reaction of people too often bathed in the soft soap of undeliverable promises and the sophistry surrounding excuses later as to why promises remained undelivered. What does worry me is that the plain speakers who espouse the new populist cult have no more ability to deliver than those they are rapidly replacing. I fear for their supporters’ reactions when they find that out. Governing is predominantly coping with events rather than maintaining a tight course towards a pre-defined long-term strategy. As a planner this might sound like indictment of my craft, but I hold the view that we tinker at the edges of change, rarely influencing social or economic trends that are bigger than any one country’s means of governance. We will see!

What has all this commentary on recent political events got to do with Islands and Empathy, you may ask. Well, to my mind quite a lot. It tells me that Channel Tunnel or no, the days of our island status are long past. In the last years of my career, I spent as much time dealing with people elsewhere in the world than in the same office or meeting room with me, not only by phone, but by Email, Text, WhatsApp, Conference Call, Skype, Webinar and other systems. This was regular fare, communicating across the globe and thus in differing time zones. We now talk but do not perhaps connect, with people worldwide and are expected to build empathy and understanding – trust would be a better word in business terms - on the basis of blurry images on screen and a half hour of chat on a Monday morning…. sorry Monday night in Australia, and still Sunday night on the US west coast. Technology delivers us a tough call compared with business only 40 years ago!

Much of this ignores human nature. It takes time to relate to other people – whether as business colleagues or neighbours down the street – but the vast majority of us still seek ways to get along, build positive relations with each other and eventually find time to understand a different and sometimes conflicting point of view. People remain essentially decent citizens and know that they have to get along, but they struggle to do so using electronic communications rather than the face to face real thing.

Despite recent and probably temporary evidence to the contrary, it is good to remind ourselves that Britain has a history of embracing foreign influences. A bit different to welcoming it with open arms perhaps, more a begrudging acceptance that foreigners can sometimes do things better and teach us a thing or two. Whether it was the 16th century Italian influence on our architecture, the 17th century Dutch impact on marine and flood control systems, the 18th century French Huguenot skills with silver and gold or the 19th century Jewish expertise in the London clothing industry, Britain has always eventually made the best of its foreign influences. Immigrants are usually by definition enterprising and filled with energy to justify their presence in a foreign land. Mercifully for our future welfare, such people of enterprise continue to want to come here and long may it be encouraged!

I am an optimist and expect that we will slowly come to accept the 20th century cultures to have joined our society from the West Indies and Africa, India and Pakistan and from the current and 21st century, Russia, China and the Middle East. Of course, this is putting pressure on our towns and cities while our housing shortage seems rarely to get better. But if you doubt me as regards assimilation, compare the way West Indians were originally received in the late 1950’s in west London or Birmingham and consider how they are now accepted by the great majority of the 'indigenous' population, if such a category still exists. Not perfect by any stretch, there is still ugly racism under many surfaces, but accepted as near neighbours by the vast majority of a white population who trace their ‘British’ ancestry through centuries rather than decades.

After all, as I sometimes point out to my English friends, we Welsh have just about come to accept them, now they have clocked up some 1500 years on ‘our’ island! Tolerance and empathy but above all humour will always remain the vital ingredients of getting along with the neighbours. Lest we forget, almost everyone in the world moved from where they were born to somewhere else, so really, we are all migrants. No man is an island.

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  • Mercè Bassedas Ballús on Sept. 29, 2016, 7:11 p.m.

    Molta sort i èxits Hugh! Mercè i Andreu

  • Faiz Nassiri on Sept. 30, 2016, 10:23 a.m.

    I can't wait till I read the book, I am sure it will be a great read and will learn a lot from it. Regards, Faiz

  • Lee Constantine on Sept. 30, 2016, 6:08 p.m.

    Thanks! Got m copy! Good luck Hugh

  • Phillip Roos on Oct. 1, 2016, 12:48 a.m.

    Hugh - Hope you are well!. Congratulations and I am looking forward in reading the book. Best regards from Phillip Roos, in the land Down Under!

  • QUtaiba AlShaheen on Oct. 1, 2016, 8:53 p.m.

    Congratulations ... I am eager to read the book ...Many Thanks

  • Guy Vincent on Oct. 3, 2016, 4:52 p.m.

    Go Hugh! With a degree in urban planning, I'm looking forward to reading Journeys With Open Eyes. Keep sharing your campaign towards the pre-orders goal, and you'll make it!

  • maria camille on Oct. 5, 2016, 5:21 p.m.

    Look forward to your book

  • Shahram Hemmati on Oct. 6, 2016, 8:55 a.m.

    What a great achievement Hugh! look forward to reading all your stories

  • ERic et Sophie de BrAnche on Oct. 8, 2016, 4:53 p.m.

    Hello Hugh, we have ordered our copy, I hope it works! Meilleurs souvenirs and wish you a lot of success! Sophie and ERic de Branche

  • gwyn morgan on Oct. 10, 2016, 11:47 a.m.

    A truly empthetic writing style, the very essence of the author and the narrative.

  • Andrew Campbell on Oct. 12, 2016, 7:35 a.m.

    It's a pleasure Hugh!

  • Chris Braithwaite on Oct. 15, 2016, 2:27 p.m.

    Wishing you well with this Hugh. Can't wait for a good read - despite that fact that I have heard the audio version!! Cheers, Chris B

  • Nuria Roca on Oct. 16, 2016, 6:48 p.m.

    Many su ceses Hugh!!!

  • Tim Scarbrough on Oct. 16, 2016, 10:38 p.m.

    Got it!!

  • Jon Herbert on Oct. 18, 2016, 8:30 p.m.

    Good luck Hugh. Look forward to reading this and catching up soon!

  • David Quarmby on Oct. 19, 2016, 11:50 a.m.

    well done Hugh, look forward to reading the book! David

  • Philip & Nathalie Van Overberghe on Oct. 19, 2016, 4:58 p.m.

    Good luck in hgetting published, Hugh! Best wishes, Philip & Nathalie

  • Jocelyn Edmondstone on Oct. 21, 2016, 7:45 p.m.

    Hope I get my copy for Christmas as it is a present!

  • Jarl Whist on Oct. 24, 2016, 9:24 a.m.

    I really hope you will succeed
    Patron Jarl

  • Hugh Roberts on Oct. 24, 2016, 9:53 p.m.

    Bought on behalf of subscribers who have paid me for the purchase.

  • Peter Marsden on Oct. 25, 2016, 3:10 p.m.

    Good Luck, Hugh - I look forward to reading of your travels

  • Rob Blackwood on Oct. 25, 2016, 3:46 p.m.

    Well done Hugh.....I look forward to sending you a copy for your Xmas present!

  • Andrew Edkins on Oct. 25, 2016, 4:09 p.m.

    I did it, I did it!!!

  • Jennifer and Sean Tai on Oct. 26, 2016, 8 p.m.

    We are looking forward to reading Journey With Open Eyes! Congratulations Hugh

  • Nigel C Lewis on Oct. 27, 2016, 8 a.m.

    Bonne chance!

  • Yaritza Sojo Foucaud on Oct. 31, 2016, 9:32 p.m.

    Hugh, I am thrilled to follow you on this new journey.

  • Hugh Roberts on Nov. 1, 2016, 9:15 p.m.

    Good luck with the campaign

  • Hugh Roberts on Nov. 1, 2016, 9:21 p.m.

    Good luck and looking forward to the new book!

  • Hugh Roberts on Nov. 1, 2016, 9:24 p.m.

    Looking forward to the chapters about Pembrokeshire!

  • Hugh Roberts on Nov. 1, 2016, 9:26 p.m.

    Better late than never, good luck!

  • Hugh Roberts on Nov. 1, 2016, 9:32 p.m.

    Maybe a book about Kosovo next?!

  • Hugh Roberts on Nov. 1, 2016, 9:34 p.m.

    Sorry for delay, Cheque in the post!

  • Rachel Smyth on Nov. 2, 2016, 1:53 p.m.

    Great work Hugh, I look forward to reading the final published book! Best of luck getting it published. Rachel (Horler)

  • gwyn morgan on Nov. 2, 2016, 8:06 p.m.

    Hugh, I so much hope the final push will be successful Gwyn

  • Hugh Roberts on Nov. 5, 2016, 10:38 p.m.

    Bought for another 10 subscribers who want to avoid PayPal

  • joanna house on Nov. 6, 2016, 8:49 a.m.

    Have finally ordered a copy

  • Laura Micalizzi on Nov. 6, 2016, 10:32 a.m.

    In bocca lupo!!

  • Edgar Einhorn on Nov. 6, 2016, 10:04 p.m.

    Gwynn Morgan has become a new & close friend . When he mentioned you as a dear old friend, I knew I wanted to read more about you. Hope you reach your goal. Good luck.
    Bobbie & Edgar
    Philadelphia

  • Fiona Butler on Nov. 6, 2016, 10:53 p.m.

    Good Luck with this exciting adventure Hugh! Can't wait to read it once it's published !

  • Frances Gray on Nov. 8, 2016, 10:04 a.m.

    Order made...at last!

  • Jonathan Wright on Nov. 9, 2016, 10 a.m.

    Hey Hugh,

    Hope you are well?

    This looks amazing! Good luck with it all!

    Take care

    Jonathan

  • Roger Gilmore on Nov. 9, 2016, 3:16 p.m.

    Good luck Hugh. Look forward to the launch. Best Wishes Roger

  • Mark Roberts on Nov. 11, 2016, 3:43 p.m.

    Bought for cash purchasers

  • Jordi Roca on Nov. 14, 2016, 12:09 p.m.

    I'll really like to read the book

  • Martine REPETTO on Dec. 13, 2016, 7:12 p.m.

    Bonsoir Hugh,
    Me voilà devenue une future lectrice de ta future publication!
    Bisous à toute la familia. Martine

  • Anneke Muller on Jan. 14, 2017, 12:28 p.m.

    Hello Hugh.

    It was great meeting you today. I enjoyed our conversation and look forward to reading your book.

    Hope you found your phone.

    Regards, Anneke

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