Category Archives: Laws, licences, quotas and registration

Learning to fish

So by now the boat’s good, the weather’s good and the fishing’s good. It’s just the catching that’s the problem… It’s not just what we can catch in terms of our fishing abilities (or lack thereof!) but also what we can catch without being locked up for gross shellfish embezzlement and lobster lifting.

Kensa near Killigerran

Every time we’ve been out on Kensa in the last couple of weeks, it’s been to test out a new arrangement of rigging, or the ballast tank, or to practise using a new bit of kit. While we’ve been out we’ve been fishing with hand lines in a ‘might as well try for some fish while we’re out here’ sort of way. Kensa’s moored up the Percuil River at the moment, so getting out to decent spots to fish takes a while. Without an engine, we have to tack up or down the river at least once and there’s reasonably strong tide to contend with too. We’ve caught a few mackerel and pollock on these trips, but we’re talking enough for a very tasty dinner or two. Not enough to sell. So although it’s possible to fish like this, it’s certainly not profitable. Had we sold the mackerel we caught the other day when we went out to test out the pollock board (it did not catch any pollocks but worked as a marvellous sea anchor!), it would have been the most expensive fish ever sold once we’d taken into account the three hours spent getting back in from the lighthouse against a strong ebb tide and a gusty northerly.

Simon and Stella

None of this is a great surprise to us, and to an extent such is the nature of fishing. We were never planning to base our business around fishing from Percuil, even if we’d hoped the weather might have allowed us to have made some more trips from there with a greater return by now. There’s a lot we can do to improve on this.

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Firstly, as we’d always planned, we’re moving Kensa round to Portscatho as soon as possible. The weather is much more settled, strong easterlies are unlikely (although not impossible) in the summer months and we should be able to work in Gerrans Bay from a mooring in the pit from now until the autumn. We will probably need to pull her out for any strong east sector weather that comes our way, but that’s to be expected. So on that front we’ve been getting together all the kit we need to lay a mooring here and we’ll do that as soon as we get a day with light enough conditions to do so. It’ll make a real difference to us to be able to get to fishing grounds almost as soon as we leave the harbour and we’ll learn a lot quicker when we’ve got plenty of space and fishing areas to play in.

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So what are we going to do to catch more fish?! Clearly experience is not on our side, but this is all part and parcel of what we’re doing. We need to find ourselves good fishing marks and learn how to target the right species with the right kit. We’ve been identifying as many established and known marks as possible and every time we go out we’ll find more places that are good for catching fish. Or we’ll find more places that aren’t good for catching fish….either way we’ll build up our knowledge over time. Here’s a mark we found the other day. It’s called Shit Rock.

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So this brings us to our choice of tools for the job and the vast possibilities that lie ahead for blaming them if we don’t catch any fish… The first thing we’ll be using is a pollock board. This was recommended to us by a friend fishing from a similarly sized boat in Newlyn, who really rates his and uses it often. It’s basically a rig of lures which you troll for pollock with, along with a small plastic dive board which is attached nearest the boat and designed to sink until you’ve caught fish or are going too slowly, at which point it bobs to the surface. We may have had limited (no) success with this so far, but this is likely to be because weather conditions and time constraints meant we could only get far enough to try it out over predominantly sandy ground. This is not ideal for catching pollocks, who are like the emos of the fish world and prefer to hang out in dark rocky wrecky places, listening to depressive soft punk.

Setting the pollock board

Secondly, hand lines. Or a variation thereof. We’ll continue to use basic hand lines and spinners or feathers for catching mackerel but we’ll upgrade a bit for everything else. We’ve been setting up poles that we can use for catching bass that will fix to the boat and extend outwards like big fishing rods; the idea being that you can have four lines with lures fishing at one time while moving along without them tangling with each other or getting in your way. This is used quite a bit by inshore fishing boats and should suit our set up well. We’re making these up at the moment and will try them out soon. If you don’t hear much about them for a while we probably haven’t got the hang of them yet. If, however, we catch a monster bass using them I will shamelessly post photos on every social media network available.

Thirdly, we’ve got pots. I mentioned a bit about these last time. Everything’s going well with getting all the kit together and we’ve got great places for catching crab and lobster in Gerrans Bay, but we hit a bit of a snag with these today. Basically, the rules are that unless you have a shellfish permit (free to obtain for anyone fishing commercially) you aren’t permitted to land more than two crabs or lobsters in total in any one day.  Once you get a permit, you can land as many as you like (provided they aren’t berried females (pregnant) or undersized). So we went about getting a permit as we’d always planned and discovered that only registered boats are eligible. This is a problem for us; as you probably know by now, we fit into a strange niche in fishing legislation, being under 10 metres and unpowered other than by sail and oar. This means that we don’t need to be registered and therefore don’t need to fish with a licence or quota. This is brilliant on most levels, but scuppers us when it comes to obtaining shellfish permits and funding for useful things like insulated fish boxes amongst others. We spoke to the lovely people at Cornwall IFCA (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority) to clarify our position and they confirmed that unfortunately despite operating formally, openly and within the law, they will not be able to issue us with a permit. So this season at least, we will be selling crab and lobster but no more than two a day. They will be priced at £150 each, on a first come first served basis.*

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On the subject of licensing, it is now pretty much definite that licensing will be brought in shortly for our category. It is not certain exactly when this will be or how it will work, but from what we understand it is likely to be akin to the process of obtaining a tax disc for an old car that is exempt; you fill in the paperwork and get a tax disc but you don’t pay anything. It shouldn’t change much in practice, but everyone fishing from an unpowered sub-ten boat will be accounted for and able to be monitored. As IFCA explained, once this happens we will be able to get a permit for shellfish. So the future is bright and lobster coloured.

Kensa at sea

Finally, we’ll be using nets. This is likely to be our bread and butter and should bring in more fish than any other method. There are lots of different types of nets of different sizes and shapes available depending on what you’re trying to catch, but the type we’ll be using are called gill nets. These are vertical panel nets that you set in a straight line, weighted at the bottom and anchored to the sea bed and secured at the top with floats. Essentially an underwater tennis net. Nets, and gill nets in particular, are controversial and we’re aware of this. The controversy stems from the high efficiency of gill nets, which means they are associated with a high incidence of bycatch. Gill nets work by trapping fish in the mesh as they try to swim through the net and historically this has meant that both protected species and undersized fish have been needlessly caught using this method. However, gill netting is now much more closely monitored and there are regulations in place regarding minimum mesh size and location. Furthermore, it is the case that gill nets that are set correctly with the right mesh size are not only highly effective but also highly selective. We’ve taken all this into consideration when deciding to use nets and when buying them and we’ve also gone to several authorities and individuals for advice. We’ll be using two different gill nets with different mesh sizes, both designed to catch only larger fish. One will target bass and the other mainly pollock and cod. Both have mesh sizes well over the minimum measurement and have been proven to fish with very little bycatch (small fish just swim through the mesh) and environmental impact. We want to use the most sustainable methods practicable and we’re happy that this set up meets our aims.

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We also spoke to IFCA about the issue of outboards. This is something we’ve been pondering for a while. Clearly we are neither allowed nor intending to use an outboard as a means of propulsion while fishing or travelling to and from fishing. That’s fine; we have no desire to do this and are not about to spend all this time designing and building a boat and business around unpowered fishing only to slap an outboard on the transom and try to get away with it. It goes against everything we’re working to do. But it’s been niggling us that working from a boat with only sails and oars poses a safety issue. We would far rather be able to get an outboard out of a locker and attach it to Kensa to motor ourselves out of difficulty in the (ideally only ever hypothetical) case of adverse weather or gear failure than to have to call the lifeboat out. Similarly, we don’t ever want to be in the position of being able to get someone else out of danger but for an engine that we had decided not to carry onboard.  We feel it would be irresponsible to ourselves and others not to, so we’re telling you and everyone now that that’s what we’ll be doing!

Stella and the mackerel head

Our final, high risk fishing method involves the dog. She’s been mightily interested in fishing and boats so far, loves being out on the water and jumps in the punt before we can get a look in. The only things we’ve come home to find destroyed so far are the covers of two books; one about boat design and the other about fishing. So she’s clearly a clever discerning dog. She’s also a massive fan of fish. She saw us catch a mackerel the other day and was very interested in it indeed. We gave her the head to eat while we were barbecuing the rest of it and she loved it. So our plan is to train her up to sniff out the shoals for us. In the best case scenario we’ve just given her a taste for fishing and for mackerel; in the worst case we’ve just given her a taste for sitting on a boat and trying to eat everything we catch. Either way training a mackerel hound is worth a try. Frankly we need all the help we can get!

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*Not really. They will be normally priced, but we will take bribes.

Seafish 3 Week Introduction to Fishing Course in Newlyn

Si finished his Seafish 3 week Introduction to Fishing course down in Newlyn last Friday and is now the proud holder of a shiny new certificate! The course was delivered by Seafood Cornwall Training and Simon was one of a dozen people to be the first batch of candidates to be fully funded to do this course in Cornwall.

The course provided a general overview of the fishing industry and was a mixture of practical and theoretical elements, broken up with trips down to the harbour and to the market to demonstrate what was being talked about in practice. There was also opportunity to talk to people on different fishing boats and chat to them about how they worked.

The course content focussed on a wide variety of subjects from gear construction and navigation to basic engineering and health and safety. By the end of the three weeks, as well as having had the opportunity to use the tools and techniques to make and rig nets, handle and maintain boats and their systems, everyone also left with up to date qualifications in first aid, food hygiene, sea survival and fire fighting.

The teaching was all of a very high standard; without exception the course was taught by industry professionals, and each day was filled to capacity. Si’s found there’s been a lot to take in! Throughout the course there was a strong focus on sustainability, highlighting technical observation methods to produce better productivity and selectivity in fishing. It was clear to Si that Seafish are trying to change the ethos of how people get into fishing and to change working practice for the better.

Si feels a lot more confident now knowing there are other young people choosing to go into fishing, and is extremely grateful to everyone at Seafood Cornwall Training for providing the opportunity and organising the course so well. Having had a chance to talk to people in the business about what they perceive the industry to be, he’s also come away with a strong feeling that there are a lot of public misconceptions about the fishing industry.

Simon was surprised by how easily people talked to him and the other candidates, despite being total newcomers to the industry. Everyone was very ready to answer questions and give opinions and advice freely. Newlyn is good example of one of the few remaining British communities devoted to one industry; almost every person Si met in Newlyn had something to do with fishing, whether it was crewing, delivering, marketing or processing. There are five fish shops in Newlyn, and other than a few small food shops, every other business is related to fishing supplies or support. It was a reminder that unless an industry is supported you can easily lose a whole community. Changes in legislation have a huge bearing on a situation like this and this was a topic which came up again and again.

There seems to be a general feeling that although fishing policies of the past have been frustrating they have also led to the rebuilding of stocks that were quite seriously endangered before. So although legislation is by no means all seen as negative, there is understandable frustration about those regulations still in force that penalise fishermen unnecessarily and lead to high fuel costs, discards and non-sustainable fishing. For example, the perception amongst fishermen based on the fish they are catching is that cod is currently booming. However, the figures for available cod given in scientists’ data and that which is reflected in practice are produced are often collected years apart, and so fishermen experience considerable delay before the MMO (Marine Management Organisation) can address the discrepancies and increase the cod quota accordingly (by 150% in January).

In our experience, public perception of the fishing industry tends to view fishermen using higher impact forms of fishing such as beam trawling as destructive and indifferent to the environmental consequences of their activities. However, as we understand it, things are by no means as simple as this. Although it would be ideal if everyone was fishing sustainably from small boats using hook and line this is not currently practical or viable on the large commercial scale of demand that Britain’s reduced offshore fleet is expected to meet, and without better support it is not possible for them to implement lower impact sustainable methods of fishing.

Si would definitely say that the fishermen he spoke to are more than aware of stocks that are and aren’t safe. They have a very good understanding of sustainability in fishing but lack investment from the government to implement it. Si was shocked by how incredibly expensive commercial fishing boats are and what they cost to run. For example, a set of chain mats for a trawl costing in the thousands will last about four months and then they’ll wear out. Gear has to be replaced on a regular basis and it doesn’t come cheaply; wreck netters have a guy employed ashore permanently who gets a share of the catch because they get destroyed so frequently. So to keep trying new things to improve the situation with regard to sustainability is costly. Every innovation is expensive and fishermen are having to fund it, while often being painted in the media as the villains of the piece.

In fact, everyone Si spoke to was gutted (excuse the pun…) about the issue of discards. It costs fishermen money to catch fish they can’t land; they’ve still had to pay for these fish to be towed along in a net, killed and thrown back over. Imagine if you spent all day doing a supermarket shop; spent hours picking up products, stacking your trolley and pushing it around the store, queuing at the till, spending your money then packing your bags and car boot. Imagine you then get home and unpack it and are forced to throw half of it in the bin knowing it could be eaten. You’d be pretty angry about it.

The issue of discards and quotas was highlighted last year by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Fish Fight. In one episode Hugh looks at discard on a North Sea trawler, and cooks a meal using some of the fish caught that cannot be landed because it is over quota. The rest of the bycatch is thrown away, and they calculate that the fish could have fed two thousand people. You can see a clip here or watch all the episodes here.

There is a sense that the British fishing industry should be better supported by the government in terms of better education and support for boats. It is sometimes seen as a career that you do if you’ve got nothing else and it shouldn’t be. There are extremely skilled people working in fishing and this is underappreciated. Hopefully courses like these will go some way to changing this.

Fishing under sail and government legislation: UPDATE

A quick update regarding the situation with government legislation and fishing under sail. I’ve just had a very interesting and informative conversation with Nick Wright, the District Marine Officer for the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) in Plymouth. I explained our situation to him and our plans, and he made the following points:

1. Currently all commercial fishing vessels are required to have a licence AND to be registered as fishing vessels. This two part process is jointly managed and authorised by the RSS (Registry of Shipping and Seamen) in Cardiff– an MCA agency – and by the MMO.

2. However, current legislation does not allow licences to be issued to under 10 metre unpowered boats. In view of this, vessels with NO POWER UNITS on board are currently not required to hold a licence or to be registered and may proceed with commercial fishing. (Conversely, vessels with any engine on board – whether in use or not – are required to be registered and licensed).

3. Despite this, current legislation is set to change ‘in the fairly near future’ so that ALL VESSELS including the above exception will have to have a licence and be registered.

Mr Wright advised me to put our plans in writing to him at the MMO, in order to formally register an expression of commitment to such an activity or business. It sounds as though there is some possibility that as and when the legislation changes preferential consideration may be given to those parties who have already declared an interest. This could come in the form of licence entitlement but there is no decision or information about this as yet. By all accounts, an announcement will be made imminently about the planned changes. In the meantime, I’m off to write an email. Many thanks to Nick Wright for his time and advice.

Fishing under Sail

I found out about the early day motion mentioning Classic Boat’s Eco Fishing Boat Design Competition while I was looking around to find out more about other people fishing under sail. The St Ives Jumbo Association is an organisation devoted to the revival of the small wooden lug rigged beach boats that used to work out of St Ives, called Jumbos, and their website was one of the first I visited. Local boatbuilder Johnny Nance has been instrumental in using old documentation, pictures and sketches to build two new Jumbos, and in fact the Jumbo was featured in the original brief for the Classic Boat design competition. The first, Celeste, was launched in 2007 and was followed in 2010 by William Paynter. The page on the Association’s website dedicated to fishing under sail goes some way to explaining the difficulties facing those trying to fish commercially from an unpowered boat, and provides excellent links to reactions from MPs, including the early day motion. You can find more information here.  We’ve been trying to get in contact with the Association with a view to sharing our progress, given that we’ll be aiming to achieve the same outcome from what are in essence very similar boats.

Fish for the Future is another project I came across; a cruising catamaran refitted as a fishing boat and operating under sail from Devon by John Pedersen. It was very helpful to read about his experiences of dealing with licensing and MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) inspections on his page about commercial fishing under sail and the law. I have since gathered from his latest blog post that he has decided to stop fishing, on the basis that he was simply not catching enough fish. This was mainly due to the need for a crew member at all times and the restrictions of operating solely under sail, mainly due to reduced manoeuvrability. We really hope that by designing a smaller boat that can operate under sail and oar we should be able to embrace more fishing techniques and still be able to manoeuvre efficiently.

We’ve also come across Revival of Working Sail Ltd, a non-profit making company based in Cornwall and aiming to restore and use traditional sailing working vessels.  In addition, and very encouragingly, we’ve been contacted by a Looe based fisherman who fishes under sail on a Yealm crabber.

Finally, there is the Falmouth oyster fishery. Every year between October and April, several boats work around the Carrick Roads under sail and oar to harvest the native wild oysters that are protected by law. The boats are a mixture of tow punts which work under oar, and larger gaff rigged boat which work under sail. Due to laws made in the mid-nineteenth century to protect the oyster beds from over-fishing, the oyster boats are obliged to keep to this season and unpowered method of fishing. Of course, the inefficiency of fishing under sail rather than under power assures limited dredging, which in turn assures the survival of the oyster stocks. As a result, these laws have provided for the conservation of the wild Fal oysters for centuries, and allowed the survival of the last working sailing fishing fleet in Europe. You can find out more about Falmouth oysters and oyster boats from the Falmouth Oyster FestivalCornish Native Oysters and Cornish Shellfish.

There are also other people out there who are using sail power to propel their boats, even if not as a primary source of propulsion. Powered fishing boats have continued to use mizzens (a small sail at the back of the boat) as a means of stabilising long after the end of the era of sail. However, there are also a few commercial fishing boats looking at using sails to reduce fuel costs, especially on downwind legs of trips to or from fishing grounds, including our friends at Filmer’s Fish. It was also interesting to see an article in this week’s Fishing News talking about using kite type sails on powered commercial fishing boats and other power boats up to 65ft.

The kites mentioned in the article are being manufactured by a French company Omega Sails. A similar method has also been used by Skysails who supply large kites deployed at an altitude of several hundred feet from cargo ships. The fuel saving calculations offered by these companies are fairly staggering.  Skysails suggests that in optimal conditions, fuel consumption can be halved. It’ll be interesting to see how these develop in the future.

Classic Boat Design Competition 2010

In November 2009 Classic Boat magazine launched a competition to design an inshore fishing boat under 10m using only sail or oars, with a deadline of 28th February 2010. The brief encouraged the incorporation of targeting sustainable fishing methods into the design, and it caught our attention. You can read it here: Classic Boat Design Competition Brief

Unfortunately (or not!), in November 2009 Simon and I were in the middle of France, making our way through the canal system to the Med on our boat Planet. It wasn’t until about two weeks before the deadline, when Simon’s parents came to see us bearing gifts of sailing magazines that we found out about the competition at all. Si debated whether to enter or not, but decided that even with minimal time and resources for research (dial-up speed internet at 5 euros an hour being all that was available where we were by then) it was worth a try.

It might seem a bit of an obvious progression now, but at the time we weren’t thinking of any connection between this and what we’d do when we got home. Si managed by the skin of his teeth to get a design sent off by the deadline, resolved to go back  and make several changes he had not had time to incorporate at a later date and we thought little more about it, knowing that it would be another few months before results were published. We were more concerned with getting from Marseille to Greece in that time, so any design work got shelved for the time being as we spent most of our time sailing. It wasn’t until we got a phone call from a friend while we were anchored in a lovely bay in the Northern Sporades sometime in the June or July of 2010 that we found out that Simon had been given joint third place. You can read the results in Classic Boat‘s July 2010 edition.

The feedback Si got from the competition judges was mixed, but ultimately encouraging, and has been very useful when revising the design more recently. When Simon sat down to design our fishing boat a couple of months ago, his sketches and the brief from Classic Boat were obvious places to start. The judges’ principal criticisms of Si’s design and any subsequent changes or comments he has made are as follows:

1. The amidships sections are too round. Fair comment. Si has since adjusted these to provide better initial stability and flatter mid sections.

2. The sheer is too straight. Traditional Cornish boats have always tended to be relatively flat sheered for reasons of economy and because of building constraints. Lines plans of old designs confirm this. Si has kept this in his latest design for both aesthetic and practical reasons.

3. The bilge keels are too deep. Simon’s design is no longer bilge keeled; despite being a practical keel profile for a beach boat, it is less appropriate for fishing as from what we have gathered bilge keels have a tendency to snag fish when handlining. Furthermore, they are a more costly option to build.

4. A self-draining working deck is unrealistic given the design submitted. Also fair comment. Latest design does not specify a self-draining working area in any case as the overall length has been reduced and this is no longer practical or necessary.

5. The main mast is too far forward. The main mast would be too far forward if it was going to be built out of a solid spar. However, Si is planning to use hollow spars and has filled out the forward waterlines so the weight distribution will work well with this arrangement.

Simon is confident that the majority of issues raised are either no longer relevant or have since been resolved, and in any case the design is taking on more of its own direction the more we find out about the parameters within which we’ll be working.

The eventual winner of the competition, James Wharram, is actually based near us at Devoran and has been a successful yacht designer for over fifty years. We were delighted to find the other day that he has now launched the first example of his winning design, Amatasi 27. She is a 27ft sprit rigged catamaran yawl based on the traditional canoe boats found in the Pacific.  Amatasi is designed to be built either in ply and epoxy, or in timber planking. From the sounds of things there is quite a bit of interest in the design already, and we hope this continues to go well.

The Classic Boat Eco Fishing Boat Design Competition also led to various MPs proposing an early day motion praising the magazine for launching the competition. An early day motion (for those who like me had no idea what this was when they first read about it) is a formal motion that is submitted for debate in the House of Commons. Very few are ever actually debated, but  individual MPs can sign these motions to pledge their support and raise awareness of an issue. Basically, as far as I can tell, they are the ‘like’ button on Facebook or the car windscreen sticker equivalent of the world of Parliament. More about this and fishing under sail and oar in the next post…

The Rules: registration, licensing and quotas

I mentioned in our introduction that current legislation permits unpowered (i.e. propelled by sail and/or oar only) vessels under 10m in length to fish without a licence, and therefore without a quota. However, having both spent the last few months talking to people and researching the regulations, it seems that there is a fair amount of dissent and confusion about the situation. I’m going to try to work out why, and to get a definitive answer and explanation of the situation. If anyone has any more information we would love to hear from you.

As far as I understand it, ordinarily a new fishing boat has to go through the following process before it can legally be used to catch and land fish commercially:

1. Register the vessel

2. Obtain a licence entitlement

3. License the vessel

4. Adhere to the conditions of the licence by fishing under relevant quota

5. Register as a seller of first sale fish

6. Sell fish to registered buyers

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO: the government body responsible for fisheries legislation) gives details of the above. Seafish also has some helpful information here.

Firstly, the MMO clearly states here that Step 1 is unnecessary for unpowered sub 10 metre boats:

“Before obtaining a fishing vessel licence, your vessel must be registered with the Registry of Shipping and Seamen (RSS). This applies unless the vessel:
• is a salmon coble;
• has an overall length of 10 metres and under and is not propelled by an engine (for example the vessel only has oars or a sail);
• has an overall length of 10 metres and under and will only be used to fish for common eels.”

The MMO’s guidance leaflet “Fishing Vessel Licensing – An Introduction” clearly states that Steps 2, 3 and therefore 4 are also unnecessary, as shown in this flowchart: Fishing Vessel Licensing – An introduction flowchart

So far so good. No registration, no licence, no quota. But can you legally sell the fish you catch? According to the 2005 Registration of Fish Buyers and Sellers and Designation of Fish Auction Sites legislation,  you need to register as a seller only if you operate as a trader at a designated auction site. We won’t be doing that, so this means Step 5 is no problem.

Finally, Step 6. The MMO explains in its guidance notes that buyers do not need to be registered if the fish is for private consumption and under a daily maximum of 25kg. So, restaurants and pubs would need to be registered buyers to legally buy from us, but this is standard for their industry in any case.

Finding all this was a mission of research and frustration if ever there was one. Many government bodies, countless advisory websites, representative groups and several quangos later, I managed to dredge up the necessary information. I will say this. The government websites are rubbish; hard to navigate, often hard to find in the first place and full of frequently out of date information. It’s like someone’s taken the laws of fishing, shredded them into bits and then distributed those bits to a number of close friends with whom they have since lost touch. Parliament, if I tell six of my mates that I am doing a sponsored silence, ask them to put up posters and spread the word, then spend the next months and years changing the date, making small get-out clauses and rescheduling at the last minute, it is not the same as actually doing it. I am still talking.

Now to get all of the above (possibly not the last paragraph) on a piece of paper, acknowledged and signed by somebody in authority to do so. Should be easy…..