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30 December 2006

Farewell to the Tyrant

It was difficult to know how to react to the news this morning that Saddam Hussein had been executed, and it was even more difficult to absorb the video footage of him being led to the gallows, watching him refuse a blindfold, then having black cloth tied around his neck. There was a brief view of the trapdoor through which he would fall, but the BBC decided to spare us the final footage of the execution itself.
My own view is that the man should have been kept in solitary confinement for the rest of his life because I am - and have always been - an avowed opponent of Capital Punishment. Even the official view of the UK government, and all governments of the European Union, is similarly equivocal, since all of us have long since abandoned the concept of State Executions, and yet in these particular circumstances we find ourselves as official Allies of the USA, a country that still carries out judicial executions at a rate that outstrips (almost) every other country in the world.
It was of course politically wise of the USA and the UK to distance themselves from this particular judicial process so it could be said that Saddam was tried and executed by his own countrymen. I have little doubt about the man's guilt but have been less than impressed by the farce that passed for a trial. I wonder how many murder trials in the US or the UK would have continued uninterrupted under a succession of three different judges, and how many Appeals against conviction would have been dealt with in such short shrift?

26 December 2006

My Goose was Well and Truly Cooked

It’s the day after Christmas, and I’ve been reflecting on the day before Christmas and Christmas Day itself. Responding to a widespread rumour that Christmas was a religious festival I went to Church on Christmas Eve for the Midnight Eucharist – my first time in Church for ten years (apart from the increasingly frequent funerals of friends). As always, I was able to feel some connection with God, though not on account of the fancy dress or the liturgy or the singing of carols. Indeed at one point I nearly lost all sense of connection – ironically in the process leading up to the taking of Holy Communion. As I read the words on the service sheet my brain was forced to ponder that part of the Christian message that appears to have more to do with cannibalism than remembering Jesus Christ. I balked at the words leaping out at me from the page as I was exhorted to “partake of the flesh” and “drink the blood”. Whoa! Hold up a minute!

My take on the Last Supper is that the bread and wine are wholly symbolic of the person of Christ, i.e., his body and blood, and the exhortation to partake of the bread and wine is to remember Him. We are most certainly not eating His flesh nor drinking His blood. Well, that’s my considered opinion after much thought and prayer with the brain God gave me, and if any person or persons try to convince me otherwise I regret to inform them that they are wasting their time.

I had other problems that night in Church. I noticed that the choir included a man, engaged as a Church Warden, whom I know personally to have acted in a wholly unpleasant (not to say un-Christian) way towards his neighbour over a long period of time.

All these thoughts occupied my mind as I walked back home in the light drizzle of the first hour Christmas Day and retired to bed.

The first half of Christmas Day saw me and wife at the home of our son, his wife, and our delightful 4-year old grandson for an exchange of gifts. The joy on the face of our grandson as he played with his new toys and opened yet more presents was the best Christmas gift that we could have hoped for, and the realisation that we were in the presence of the most special people in our lives was a more spiritually uplifting experience than my Church visit had been some hours earlier.

When we returned home a goose that had been cooking in the oven for some hours had spilled fat over the surface of the oven; the smoke alarms were audible outside the house, and when we entered the house we found every room filled with smoke. We opened windows, turned on extractor fans, and lit scented candles. Our goose was well and truly cooked.

A memorable and stimulating Christmas!

We are still lighting scented candles. The atmosphere in the house should be back to normal by next Christmas. Happy New Year! (And by that I mean a year free from any more mad adventures by the idiots Bush and Blair)

18 December 2006

Ethical Foreign Policy?

A few days ago (5th December) I posted a note about the British Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery and corruption on an arms deal between British Aerospace and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis wanted the investigation stopped (which in my book meant they were as guilty as hell) or else they would cancel the contract and go to the French.

Surprise, surprise! Tony Blair has cancelled the investigation ("in the national interest").

I'm sick to the back teeth with this Government. It is a government in which I and thousands of others had invested so much faith and hope. In the early days I was grateful for the declarations of high standards, ethical foreign policies, removal of interest rate control from the politicians' hands, the national minimum wage, Scottish and Welsh devolution (unfortunately nothing done for the English), winter fuel payments and free local bus travel for pensioners, and so on, but then we had the illegal Iraq fiasco, Blair in bed with Bush, political donations and loans in exchange for honours and peerages, the removal of the married persons' tax allowance, the Pensions crisis, increasing taxation by the back door, and now political interference in international fraud investigations. We are not even going to have the pleasure of kicking out the badly tarnished Blair (Bliar) since he's announced his intention to resign next year and pass on the baton to someone else. For the first time in my life I have no idea how I'm going to vote at the next General Election, and the more I talk to friends and acquaintences about it the more I realise they all feel the same way. Indeed more and more people cannot be bothered to vote at all. It's no surprise.

The Conservative Party under cuddly Dave Cameron (which recently unveiled a new Party Logo consisting of an oak tree apparently drawn by a 3-year old with a green crayon) looks less and less like a government in waiting, and Ming Cambell's Liberal Democrats cannot jump from 60 seats to a large enough number for government under the current voting system.

13 December 2006

One British Soldier's View of Iraq

A friend has a son serving with the British Army in Iraq. Here are some of his recent comments ...

... the country is crazy, dirty and smelly. The place is disgusting and most of the people are filthy dirty and lazy. The day labourers aren't to be trusted; they listen for gossip to report back to the insurgents. In central Baghdad where scores of Iraqis were waiting for job's as day labourers today at least 57 people were wounded or killed.

Nothing is reported about all the soldiers that get injured every day. They are taken to hospitals in Cyprus then returned to England to hospitals for treatment. They are receiving treatment in N.H.S hospitals (not a Military Hospital as we expect). The Military hospitals have specialised staff trained to deal especially with war victims The N.H.S aren't equipped for this - another cut back thanks to Tony Blair. They need trained military staff who understand the nightmares.

Only yesterday one of the soldiers was shot in the eye another was injured by a blast.

Simultaneous explosions occurr daily and we hear of car bombing and trouble caused by the insurgents.

We are not wanted in the country: even the Iraqi soldiers resent our presence. We cant trust anybody. They pretend to be friendly but in the next breath they say "Go home to your own country". The interpreter is always telling us this. It's crazy us being here!

We give small children sweets and treats; they are all bedraggled and brain-washed. The minute we turn away they are throwing stones at us and calling names. It's a no-win situation.

11 December 2006

The End of Pinochet - No Great Loss

Well, another tyrant has bitten the dust, and I'm not shedding any tears. Margaret Thatcher's frequent and public declarations of support and fondness for the old bugger was just one of very many reasons why I have always considered her to be a loathsome woman.

07 December 2006

Iraq Study Group Report

At last! A group of Republican worthies has told President Bush some things that ordinary people with half a brain like you and me already knew: the Iraq policy is wrong and needs a radical new direction.

Tony Bliar is beating about the Bush in Washington today. If he hopes to leave office next summer with anything other than a reputation in tatters he will pull no punches and persuade the Toxic Texan to switch his brain from automatic to manual, pull the humble pie lever, then press the switch that engages constructive thinking.

05 December 2006

Ethical Politics - an Oxymoron?

Saudia Arabia (that beacon of democracy and financial probity in the Middle East) has been putting pressure on the UK Government to put a stop to a Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery and corruption surrounding a proposed huge weapons deal between the Saudis and British Aerospace.

The Saudis are threatening to scupper the deal and go to the French if the investigation continues. Of course, thousands of British jobs depend upon a successful outcome to this filthy trade, so will the government to the decent thing and tell the Saudis where to get off?

Don't hold your breath.

27 November 2006

Wireless Route to Madness

The two computers in my house connect to the internet via a Belkin wireless router. In the current debate on energy efficiency and reduction of consumption I read that by not leaving the TV on standby each night this saves about £45 per year. This got me thinking about other things that are left on continuously. One of them is my wireless router. The supplier recommended leaving it on all the time, so I went to one of those technical support forums to ask whether it would really matter if I unplugged it each night and rebooted it in the morning.

I got about a dozen replies within hours; half of them said "Keep it switched on" the other half said "Switch if off". One said go into the router settings and disconnect it via the software before unplugging it otherwise it would get confused. Most of the advice came from people who wrote in computer geek speak liberally sprinkled with acronyms and initials such as MAC, SSID, DHCP, IMO AND WPA2.

I am a bear of very little brain, and what there is of it is now thoroughly confused, so I have made an executive decision to keep it switched on and stop worrying about how hot it gets.

21 November 2006

More Nuts

I recently wrote about religious nuts. The other nuts that drive me bonkers are the patriotic nuts. The “my country right or wrong” brigade. There’s nothing wrong with patriotism but the best kind is that which acknowledges faults and endeavours to put them right for the good of the country in which one purports to believe. Personally I believe patriotism runs a persistent danger of over-spilling into pernicious nationalism – an altogether different species of patriotism to the noble kind.

Here is an example – one of those pernicious, smug little messages that circulate around the internet vie e-mail groups. It was sent to me the other day … I was going to copy and paste it here but have just discovered I’ve deleted it. Anyway the gist of it was “I encountered a guy with a ‘I hate America’ kind of placard, and I told him that my grandfather died in the 2nd World War, my father died in Korea, and my brother died in Vietnam. They all died so that you could stand here and protest. If I had an umbrella I’d stick it up your ass and open it. God bless America.”

What struck me about this, and so many other anecdotes like it, is how factually incorrect it is: the bit about the 2nd World War is right – this was the last major conflict in which the USA fought from the moral high ground and helped defeat the odious Nazis. But as for Korea and Vietnam – they are totally irrelevant to this argument. What did all those American deaths achieve? Communist North Korea still exists, and Communist Vietnam still exists. Indeed the Vietnam war ended with an ignominious American retreat. Finally, you have to laugh (or get very angry) at someone who in one phrase wishes to stick un umbrella up someone’s ass, then in the next phrase invokes the name of God. It’s priceless loony stuff!

14 November 2006

"God's Foreign Policy" ?!

The New York Times reported yesterday that as Israeli bombs fell in Lebanon for a second week in July of this year, the Rev John Hague of San Antonio arrived in Washington with 3,500 evangelicals for the first annual conference of his newly founded organization called Christians United for Israel.

In a message to the assembled crowd he called the conflict a "a battle between good and evil" and said that "support for Israel was God's foreign policy".

What preposterous arrogance! God save us from religious nuts.

The sooner we all wake up to the fact that nearly all the major conflicts around the world are perpuated by religious nuts the better.

13 November 2006

After Dubya's Drubbing

It is so refreshing to bask in the sunshine of an America that has suddenly come awake and realised that the Republican Dream was in fact a nightmare. The Democrats new-found strength hands them the opportunity to be part of the solution to current domestic and international problems, but it also gives them the chance of being part of the problem if they do not use their new influence wisely.

It is encouraging to see that a genuine debate on the Iraq debacle seems to be opening up in the USA - unlike in Britain where that huge disappointment known as Tony Blair seems to have effectively closed down the debate, as he heads a government seemingly in denial.

As I have already said to a good American friend, I am sure that the American Democratic Party (like the UK Labour Party) have their fair share of incompetence and corruption (after all, they are members of the human race!) but I take some comfort from the fact that the founding principles which form the basis for their existence are on a higher moral plane than those which form the foundation for the Republican Party (and the UK Conservative Party).

As I grow more cynical in my advancing years the best I can say is that I regard political parties like the American Democrats and the British Labour Party as the lesser of a number of evils.

09 November 2006

Farewell to Arms

And so
Farewell to Don.
He's gone from
This was
One of
Those things
Of which
He didn't know
He didn't know.

08 November 2006

Waking up to Good News

I woke up this morning to news on the radio that put a smile on my face. As a long-term friend of the American people (as opposed to the "America" represented by the intellectually challenged Bush and his "neo-con corporatacrocy" partners in crime) I was happy and relieved to hear that the American voters had awakened from their Republican dream, realised it had been a nightmare, and put the Democrats back in control of the House of Representatives. Furthermore it was just possible that they might pull off the same thing in the Senate, but it was too close to call, and there might be some recounts.

To this interested Brit, however, the whole system is very confusing and I can't get my head round a system which can result in a House majority that is opposed to the executive president. It's a bit like us having the Labour Party's Tony Blair as Prime Minister but with a majority of Conservative MPs in the House of Commons. Such an arrangement would be untenable. If anyone can explain to me the logic behind the American system I'm always happy to learn!

I look forward eagerly to the next Presidential Election.

05 November 2006

Who needs Town Planners?

Last week we had reason to visit Telford in Shropshire. After a 200 mile drive the last thing I needed was the hassle of trying to find our destination in the giant maze that comprises residential Telford (see above for a tiny fraction). It's a nightmare of bendy roads, side turnings, cul-de-sacs, and cul-de-sacs off cul-de-sacs, compounded by a plethora of vicious "traffic calming" speed humps and chicanes. There appears to be no rhyme or reason behind the layout of main roads, minor roads and housing estate roads that, on paper, resemble nothing so much as industrial-scale spaghetti bolognese delivered by cluster bombs.

The place was obviously designed by a committee of lunatics. Who needs town planners? Never mind "modern" towns like Telford. What about those towns and villages that have real architectural merit and display a wide diversity of attractive styles developed over the centuries. Town and country planners seek to maintain these features by the strict imposition of regulations governing how Joe Public may be allowed to make changes to their private houses, down to the shape of gable ends, or the style of windows or the colour and material used for rainwater gutters and downspouts. And yet it has obviously escaped their bureacratic minds that the charming character of the very places they are supposed to be protecting actually grew up in the complete absence of planning controls!! How did our forefathers manage to get things so right without the help of a Council Planning Department?

By contrast every town in the UK has examples of post-war developments undertaken with the approval of Town and Country Planning Departments that are no more than rectangular blocks of concrete, hideous in the extreme, and falling to bits.

30 October 2006

Messing about with Clocks

Well, once again we have performed the twice-yearly ritual of changing the clocks. What a waste of time and a misuse of time! Supposedly there was once some logical reasoning behind this regular disruption to our sleep patterns and the imposition of a seemingly never-ending round of clock adjustments on each occasion. In our own case, what with watches, clocks, ovens, boilers, cars, automatic timers etc., we have to carry out sixteen separated clock adjustments.

It's not as if we actually get any more daylight out of the exercise - it's just shunted from one end of the day to the other. The winter months are made more dangerous on the roads because although we now have lighter mornings, we have darker evenings, and by the time we are well into winter children are coming out of school in the dark, and people are driving home from work, tired and in the dark.

I believe there used to be some benefit to farmers, but today with modern agricultural machinery and buildings it's not uncommon to find farmers ploughing fields in the middle of the night under the glare of powerful headlights.

To get more hours of daylight we would have to slow down the earth's rotation, but I don't think anyone knows where the brake pedal is.

18 October 2006

Wearing of the Full Veil

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has added to the current debate over Muslim women wearing the full veil by supporting Burnley MP Jack Straw's assertion that they cause difficulties with communication and are a visible statement of being separate from mainstream British society.

My own view is that European society has bent over backwards in recent years to avoid "offending" Muslim society, in some cases to ridiculous excesses of "political correctness", e.g., some local authorities avoiding the use of the word "Christmas", and British Airways suspending an employeer for wearing a visible cross (even though items such as head scarves and turbans are permitted). It is about time, perhaps, that the Muslim community returned the compliment and started thinking about whether or not the rest of us are sometimes offended or made to feel uncomfortable, and I do place the wearing of the full veil in that category.

There are also security implications. We are not allowed to walk into a bank wearing a motor cycle crash helmet because we would be unidentifiable. The full veil is an equally good disguise for anyone bent on committing serious crime.

15 October 2006

Large Airline - Tiny Brains

I think I am in the company of a very large number of people who are incandescent with rage at British Airways for suspending a member of their check-in staff because she insisted on wearing a small cross. The official line is that it's OK to wear the cross so long as it's hidden beneath the uniform. How petty is that? Apparently other religious apparel such as turbans, veils and head scarves are OK because there is no practical way of concealing them.

I have e-mailed British Airways to tell them I am amazed that such a large airline can be run by such tiny brains, and also that I shall make a special point of never flying with them until or unless they inject themselves with a dose of common sense.

13 October 2006

My Brain Hurts!

I recently enrolled in a course of adult education classes to learn how a computer works, how to dismantle one, assemble one, load and configure any of the Windows operating systems, and troubleshoot faults. At this stage in my life it's important to keep the brain alive.

I now know how to convert decimal numbers into binary numbers, binary numbers into hexadecimal numbers, and vice versa. I can answer the question: will an electrical input into a series of Logic Gates expressed as 1 AND NOT {[0 OR (1 OR 0)] NOR [1 AND NOT (0)]} result in an output of 1 or 0.

I am sure this is stuff that most of us have always wanted to know!

The other evening we were presented with an empty computer case and a pile of small boxes containing brand new mother boards, disk drives, processors, fans, and ribbon cabling so that we could spend a riotous two hours putting the whole lot together and bolting it to the case so that it looked something like the computer we all know and love. One of my fellow classmates actually got his up and running, but I took comfort from the fact that he already had a knowledge of electronics. My own effort looks credible, but has yet to be properly wired up, so its current situation is being in a situation without current.

In Tune with the Chief of the British Army

I do not know General Sir Richard Dunnatt, the new Chief of the British Army, and he does not know me, but I am encouraged to learn that we share the same views on Iraq! Yesterday he said the following ...

"As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren't invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time. The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in. Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance."

He thinks that we are part of the problem and that we should be looking for an exit, and soon.

07 October 2006

Representative Mark Foley

I imagine it is now time for the erstwhile Congressional Representative Mark Foley to turn over a new page in his life.

04 October 2006

Testing the Amish

A terrible evil has been visited upon the Amish people of Nickel Mines, PA. No words adequately describe my feelings towards a man who can walk into a school, take children hostage, then systematically shoot ten little girls. Five have died.

If there is any test of the power of the Amish to practice the philosophy of forgiveness then this is surely the test to end all tests. I cannot imagine how they will cope with this.

Apparently Charles C Roberts had no previous history of mental illness of criminal activity and has been described by his wife as a loving and caring person. It is said that the loss of his newborn baby nearly ten years ago made him feel bitter and angry towards God and life in general. Well, he's not the first person to have lost a child, and you have to be pretty damned twisted to think that because you've lost one it would be a good idea if several others sets of parents should experience the same thing. There has also been mention of some abuse he committed against a family member when he was twelve, though the police have been unable to corroborate this.

In any event it must be the case that here was a man who was unbelievably bitter, mentally disturbed, or evil, or all three and yet managed to conceal these characteristics to those all around him.

I hope and pray that this Amish community can find it within themselves to come through this ordeal with their core beliefs intact.

29 September 2006

Bush still in Denial

The other day we were told (through a report by a group of American security people) what Mr & Mrs Joe Public already knew ... that the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq had made the threat of terrorism infinitely worse than it already was. The Iraq situation is an effective recruiting sergeant for terrorists. Still it was good to be told by the people that should know these things. President Bush, of course, completely disagrees with the analysis. One can't help wondering why he employs security sspecialists if he disagrees with what they say.
* * * * *
It was good to see a more intelligent President the other day, when Bill Clinton addressed the UK Labour Party Conference.
* * * * *
Another breath of fresh air at the Conference when Home Secretary John Reid made a humorous and barnstorming speech that raised his profile as a potential successor to Tony Blair (i.e., a strong challenger to Gordon Brown). I liked his opening remarks about the ex-Deputy Leader Roy Hattersly's contribution to harmony in the Party by stating that he would shoot himself if John Reid ever became Leader. Reid said, "Up until now I had not really thought of a good reason for standing!"

23 September 2006

When your Hard Drive crashes.

It’s really quite scary how dependant one becomes on the computer, and it is not until it turns up its toes and goes to cyber-heaven (or should that be hell?) that the dependency really hits home.

About a year ago I read an article by David Pogue of the New York Times and he made it clear that it was not so much a case of IF your hard drive crashes, but WHEN. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. The sobering fact is that although the computer is basically a solid-state box of electronic circuitry, it’s weakest link is a device which relies on moving mechanical parts, i.e., the hard disk drive.

If your computer dies or is seriously past its use-by date, take it to bits, then apply a small screwdriver to the hard disk drive cover and you’ll find inside a little pile of shiny discs with a small gap between each, all spinning on a common spindle. So there’s one set of moving parts for you. Then there’s a set of arms pivoting near the perimeter of the discs, resembling nothing so much as a group of gramophone record pick-up arms (for those of you who can remember such things!) that swing backwards and forward across the surface of the discs a hair’s breadth from the surface. The potential for wear and tear and physical damage to the surface of the discs is clear to see.

As a result of reading that article I made the decision to purchase an external hard drive and I kept all my important files backed up to it. The final demise of my 6-year old computer the other week caused high levels of stress, but the existence of my external hard drive at least reduced the likelihood of a complete nervous breakdown!

Getting the new machine up and running was not all sweetness and light, however, since I was switching from Windows 98 to Windows XP, and I found that my accounts program – which happily runs on either of the operating systems – was unable to open any of my accounts files that it had created and saved whilst running in Windows 98 mode. It was quite happy to start creating new files for me in Windows XP but now I was faced with the loss of six years personal financial data, and I had to go through the painstaking process of setting up all my accounts again, and accessing the various current and savings accounts (fortunately available online) to get some balances to start the new files with.

The other little glitch was the loss of all my incoming and outgoing e-mails, and the e-mail address book from my e-mail client program. These are not easy to locate and backup and I had forgotten that programs like Outlook Express and Thunderbird (I use the latter) have an “Export” function that you can use to export all this data to a text file. I recovered some of my addresses by going to my BT web mail, but it had not been kept so up-to-date.

So – if you don’t want to lose your window on the world, your financial documents, your precious writing, your spreadsheets and databases, and your sanity, learn the lesson the easy way, not the hard way: make regular backups to CD-ROM disks or to an external hard drive. Don’t forget … it’s not IF but WHEN your hard drive crashes. Don’t come crying to me when it happens!

A final thought: there have been stories of data recovered from discarded computers turning up in Africa and providing access to online bank accounts. You might like to follow my lead here ... remove the hard drive and take a sledgehammer to it!

20 September 2006

A Bumper Year for Stickers. A Bad Year for my Computer.

Grateful thanks to Marcia Rinner of Ohio for sending me this, recently seen on a bumper sticker: Bush: Premature Iraq Elation.

There's been a bit of a gap in my blogging verbiage recently following the tragic death of my computer. It was six years of age, which I suppose made it quite old, and it was running good old Windows 98 SE. It became very crotchety in recent weeks and then suddenly felt unable to do anything at all for more than 5 minutes without locking up. I took the poor thing to the local computer hospital where it was put to bed, connected to wires and monitors, and lay under a notice saying NIL BY A-DRIVE. There was no viral infection. The hard disk drive had turned up its toes and was beyond repair. This was a case of death by slipped disc. The computer doctors got me to agree to a "Do not resuscitate" instruction, and I placed an order for a new machine.

I had managed to back up most of my important files on an external hard drive, but for reasons that are beyond me I no longer have my e-mail address book, nor any of the e-mails I have sent or received over the past few years. So if there is anyone out there who's been wondering why I haven't been in touch lately it's because I don't know "where you live" any more.

I am now finding my way around a sparkling new machine running supercalifragilisticWindowsXPalidoshus.


My wife and I have just returned from celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary by cruising the Cambridgeshire Fens in a small cabin cruiser. On a visit to the city of Ely I visited the public toilets. I have to say they were a model of sanitary excellence but I couldn't help noticing a large notice on the wall. It was a guide on How to Wash your Hands in eight photographically illustrated steps.

10 September 2006

Dropped Connection

My daughter-in-law has dropped her mobile phone into the dog's water bowl.

All is not lost - I should now be able to call her up on the dog and bone.

07 September 2006

"To Engage is not to Endorse"

...So said a Jordanian intelligence officer on a comprehensive documentary shown on BBC television last Sunday entitled Al Qaeda - Time to Talk?

This in-depth study of Islamic extremism, terrorism, and the West's so-called War on Terror, gave us a little insight into the minds and thoughts of those who are prepared to kill themselves and others. There was considerable coverage on what is really going on inside Iraq - not just what the politicians want to show us.

It was suggested that it might be time to talk to some of these people, and the Jordanian security officer made a fair point in saying that to ENGAGE is not to ENDORSE. Clearly all other efforts being made so far have failed miserably.

I feel it is worth remembering that although, officially, we "do not talk to terrorists" there are plenty of precedents. The first Prime Minister of the newly born state of Israel was a Zionist terrorist. Nelson Mandela was an ANC terrorist. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were IRA terrorists. Oh, and going further back in time, if I've got my history right, America (Land of the Free) was not exactly created by peaceful means!

To my mind, what was made abundantly clear by the BBC program is how efficiently the Bush/Blair axis of testosterone is acting as a recruiting sergeant for young disaffected and disillusioned Muslim men. Bush said a little while ago that he was conducting a Crusade. He later back-tracked from that terminology. More recently he announced that he was fighting "Islamic Fascism". This attempt at evoking 2nd World War flash-backs is puerile. There is no comparison.

I now read that he is trying to introduce into Law methods of interrogation that are bordering on (if not actually) torture.

If you are fighting a war of ideas and principles, and trying to uphold decent values against those who live entirely by hate or religious fundamentalism or both, then how do we uphold our values or even make them slightly attractive by resorting to barbarism ourselves?

The most worrying thing about all this, of course, is that we are not just confronting a foreign enemy: we are producing our own, right here in our midst. There are almost certainly "sleeper cells" in the UK., the USA., and most major European countries.

It's about time our so-called leaders gave some serious thought about what is causing all this, otherwise we are in for a very long haul.

02 September 2006

Good News for Steam Loco Buffs

It was a joy to be on Pickering Station the other day and watch a train of restored LNER teak coaches being pulled in by the A4 Pacific locomotive Sir Nigel Gresley. Pickering is at the southern end of the 18 miles of heritage railway between Pickering and Grosmont (linking there with the national network for the old fishing town of Whitby). The line was salvaged back in the late 1960s after the Beeching Report had taken an axe to swathes of branch lines the length and breadth of Britain. Originally purchased, renovated and operated by an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers, the line is now run by a successful heritage railway company licensed to run scheduled passenger services using restored steam locos from as far as back as 1905 up to end of British Rail steam services in the mid-1960s; there are also restored diesels from the period of changeover from steam to diesel and electric.

The North York Moors Railway brings in thousands of enthusiastic tourists to the line, and the Sir Nigel Gresley has always been the pride and joy of the line. It's "identical twin" the Mallard (which broke the world steam loco speed record at 125 mph) can be seen at the National Railway Museum in York. The Gresley has also been no mean performer in the speed stakes, having clocked up an impressive 112 mph in the mid-1950s.

It has made a welcome return to the line after a total strip down and re-build necessary for a renewal of it's 10-year operating licence. The renovation took three years of dedicated hard labour by people with railway mechanical and engineering expertise.

I always get a bit of thrill when I see this loco in full steam, not only because most steam locos have the ability to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, but because as a young boy back in the early 1950s I played with a Hornby Dublo electric train set. I had two passenger trains: (1) an LMS train pulled by the Duchess of Hamilton and (2) an LNER train pulled by the Sir Nigel Gresley.

Long may little boys aged between 7 and 70 continue to be captivated by steam trains!

27 August 2006

Falling Polls and Rising Poles

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has returned from his summer vacation to problems with the polls and the Poles.

The Labour Government's popularity (and especially that of Blair himself) has plummeted to a level not experienced since before they came to power in 1997. I predict that this decline will continue until or unless he comes up with a date for his handing over the reins to (presumably) Gordon Brown. He also needs to drop the messianic zeal which drives his policies and pronouncements on the Middle East.

As for the Poles, they are causing big problems, not because we don't like the Poles (on the whole we do) but because they are suddenly here in such astonishing numbers. Once again the Government has not been able to do its sums properly. When the first batch of Eastern European countries swelled the membership of the European Union a couple of years ago, most of the existing members introduced (legal) controls on the rights of the new Member States to cross borders to work. But not Britain - oh no! We are so stupid that we decided controls were unnecessary, and some ministerial nincompoop calculated that there would be an influx of roughly 15,000 workers from the new Member States. The reality is that half of Poland seems to have taken up residence here. The figure is somewhere nearer half a million workers already here and/or applying to work here.

The result is huge pressure on public services and housing, and a growing resentment regarding availability of jobs for the Brits. Places like Slough, to the south west of London, now have increasing numbers of Polish shops and there are posters and notices all over the place in Polish.

All this could have been avoided if we had displayed the same common sense approach of other EU Member States who opened their borders only under strict controls. I don't think there is anything wrong with immigration, because much of it benefits our society, but like anything else you can have "too much of a good thing". Anything good taken in excess becomes bad.

So, for Labour, the polls are a problem and the Poles are a problem, and yet strangely the Opposition Parties are not cashing in on the Government's woes. One would have expected the re-branded Conservatives under the leadership of David Cameron to be riding high and looking like the next Government, but they are not. (Perhaps David Cameron looks, talks and acts a little too much like Tony Blair?!) The Liberal Democrats are doing no better either. What appears to be happening is that people are just deserting all the Parties in droves.

A bad omen for democracy.

23 August 2006

Encouraging American Poll Results

In a recent New York Times/CBS Poll 53% of the Americans polled were against the Iraq operation, 62% thought it was going badly, and 51% considered Iraq to be an issue which is separate from the "War on Terror".

You see? There's nothing wrong with Americans. It's just their government that's a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic.

21 August 2006


We went into Iraq on the grounds that we were being threatened with weapons of mass destruction. It turned out that no such threat existed. The occupation then became part of the "War on Terror" even though "9/11" had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein or anyone operating inside Iraq. Then it became an exercise in imposing Democracy and was therefore "A Good Thing".

Our friendly accomplice in the "War on Terror" is Pakistan. Pakistan is a military dictatorship. Excuse me, but wasn't Iraq a military dictatorship? Why are we not going into Pakistan with all guns blazing?

Zimbabwe is being ruled by a tyrant who has destroyed his country's economy, rigged elections, bulldozed thousands of homes, and has banned any access by the BBC. Why are we not going to Zimbabwe with all guns blazing?

Do our politicians take us for complete fools when they feed us with all the garbage in defence of their stupid actions? Evidently they do.

18 August 2006

Telling it like it is

John Prescott MP
Three cheers for John Prescott!

We sometimes like to make fun of Britain's Deputy Prime Minister for his bluff manner, his indiscretions with his secretary, and his tendency to mangle the English Language, but the fact remains that he has a better brain than we give him credit for. One of his great assets is his willingness to tell it like it is; he is refreshingly free from the effects of the government's spin machine. Blair's government has made such an art of "spin" that hardly a single person can believe anything he or any of his ministers says these days, so that is why Prescott is a breath of fresh air.

His latest assertion made in a private meeting with Labour MPs (but in the knowledge that the Press were waiting outside) is ... "The Bush administration is 'crap' on the Middle East process."

Some British newspapers have come out in favour of Prescott's refreshing (if uncouth) description of the Bush regime, and here are some quotable quotes from some of his fellow MPs ...

Ian Davidson - Glasgow South West MP
"I think that John Prescott is to be commended for the quality of his political analsysis. His comment on American policy is brief and accurate. Brtain has got to ensure that it is no longer seen as simply being the glove puppet of the United States."

Peter Kilfoyle - Liverpool Walton MP
"What he is reported to have said reflects the views of many people in the Labour Party. It may not go down well in international diplomacy - but in the Labour Party it will be welcomed as a rare flash of honesty from a senior member of the government."

Ken Livingstone - Mayor London
"I have no idea what John Prescott did or did not say since it was a private conversation, but the current US administration has been a disaster for the American people and has done untold damage not only to international relations but to the environment."

Jon Trickett - Hemsworth MP
"The actions and language of the British Government are actively hindering the prospects for peace in the Middle East; simultaneously enhancing the threat from terrorism, our historic influence with Arab countries has been squandered."

Glenda Jackson - Hampstead & Highgate MP
"I entirely endorse his view. This is why Parliament should be recalled. This government is failing miserable as far as our approach towards the Middle East is concerned. We are simply bag carriers for Bush and all his policies have been a disaster."

Martin Salter - Reading West MP
"It is abundantly clear that the Bush administration has been less than enthusiastic in pursuing the Middle East road map, and indeed many of its policies have actually inflamed the situation rather than sought to resolve this long-standing conflict."

From my own point view, there is nothing outlined above with which I disagree, and there is plenty to suggest, from recent polls, that most of the British people hold a similar view to John Prescott.

The White House has responded by saying that Bush has been called worse things. (Ain't that the truth!)

17 August 2006

Overcharged and Remote Controlled!

My house is full of battery chargers. There's one for my mobile phone, one for my wife's mobile phone, one for my wife's second mobile phone used on another network, one for my Bluetooth earpiece, one for my digital camera, one for my wife's camcorder. Then there's all the old chargers that went with older equipment that cannot be used with new equipment. Why can't I be bothered to dispose of them? None of these devices can be used other than on the specified piece of equipment, because they are either different voltages, or have different connectors, or both. It's a nightmare. First you have to find a suitable storage place, then remember which charger fits which device. I can already hear you shouting "Why don't you label them?" Oh, OK - I suppose I'll have to.

Isn't modern technology wonderful? It enriches your life with more clutter.

Now I'm done complaining about all these non-compatible battery chargers, I can move on to Remote Controls. Sometimes they are so remote you can't find them.

There's a remote control for analogue television, one for digital television, one for the hi-fi unit, and another for the VHS/DVD player/recorder. Then there's the small hi-fi unit in the kitchen and another in the dining room, and there's the kitchen TV, so that's another three remote controls.

Is anyone else remotely interested or emotionally charged up about this? It matters not - I've got it out of my system!

15 August 2006

A Note to British Muslims

You and I have different Faiths but we share the same Country.

One of the so-called "Muslim Community Leaders" (by the way, who are they and how do they become "leaders"?) was on television the other day expounding the peaceful nature of the Islamic message. He deplored the radicalisation of a minority of Islamic youth and the fact that anyone born and brought up in this Country could contemplate blowing up aircraft in mid-flight and killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children (some of whom, incidentally, would be Muslims).

He somewhat diminished the quality of his statement, however, by drawing attention to the fact that American and British foreign policy was likely to be providing ammunition to those who wanted to think in this perverted way.

Excuse me, but we live in a democracy, and if we disagree with our country's foreign policy (and I, for one, do) we kick the government out at the earliest opportunity. We do not display our displeasure by going out and blowing up our fellow citizens on the London Underground, nor do we decide to send airliners hurtling into the Atlantic Ocean.

In short, disagreeing with government policy is not a reason for mass murder.

I listened on BBC radio last week to a man born in this country of Pakistani parents. He gave an eloquent and intelligent summary of his own views which ran roughly along the lines of my own argument outlined above. He also asked the question, "Who are these so-called Community Leaders? Nobody has ever asked me to vote for one? How do they become leaders?"

If anyone has the answer to that question, or wishes to comment on anything I have written here, please click the "Comment" link below.

12 August 2006


When I became "Blogger Beck" I decided that I wanted to avoid a single theme or mood. Instead, I would try to present a multi-faceted, eclectic mix of subjects and moods. The news at the moment is almost universally gloomy, be it the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, the discovery of a terrorist plot to blow up airliners in mid-Atlantic, or the fact that David Beckham has been dropped from the England Football Team by the new Coach Steve McLaren. Even worse - one of my socks has gone missing again.

I have always hoped that I could reach a readership that understood the meaning of words like multi-faceted and eclectic (if for no other reason that they might drop me a line to explain them to me). Obviously I've been pulling the wool over some people's eyes as I seem to have picked up a couple of readers who run Knitting blogs. They are generally complimentary, for which I am grateful, since they could so easily have just knit-picked my posts. The last time I looked at a knitting pattern it struck me as being a great deal more complicated than a page of HTML code, and possibly even more baffling than Javascript. I am full of admiration for anyone who can make sense of them (and that includes my dear wife).

Wondering how to lighten the mood, albeit for a short time, I was rooting through some old files on my computer and was pleased to come across a collection of slogans for car bumper stickers. (I believe for readers on the far side of the herring pond that should read "car fender stickers". I could be wrong: my position on U.S. English is still somewhere half way up the learning curve.) I have no idea where they came from, but I freely give acknowledgment and credit to whomsoever collected them in the first place. So, here are some of them, to lighten your day ...
  • I love cats...they taste just like chicken
  • Out of my mind. Back in five minutes.
  • Born Free. . . . .Taxed to Death
  • Cover me. I'm changing lanes.
  • As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in public schools
  • The more people I meet, the more I like my dog.
  • Laugh alone and the world thinks you're an idiot.
  • Conserve toilet paper, use both sides.
  • Sometimes I wake up grumpy; Other times I let her sleep
  • SAVE A TREE: Eat a beaver
  • I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather ... not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.
  • According to my calculations the problem doesn't exist.
  • Some people are only alive because it is illegal to kill.
  • Pride is what we have. Vanity is what others have.
  • A bartender is just a pharmacist with a limited inventory.
  • He who laughs last thinks slowest
  • Always remember you're unique, just like everyone else.
  • Very funny, Scotty. Now beam down my clothes.
  • Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.
  • Consciousness: that annoying time between naps.
  • i souport publik edekasion
  • Be nice to your kids. They'll choose your nursing home.
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder...
  • 3 kinds of people: those who can count & those who can't.
  • "Auntie Em: Hate you, Hate Kansas, Taking the dog." - Dorothy.
  • "Ever stop to think, and forget to start again?"
"i souport publik edekasion" is a familiar kind of language, because in recent weeks I have been subscribing to a community question-and-answer site called Yahoo! Answers, and there is a disturbingly high proportion of contributors who actually write like this. There are some very good questions covering complex subjects in politics, chemistry, physics, philosophy, etc., but a high proportion of questions are mind-blowingly dumb, such as, "Can I get pregnant by masturbating?" and "How can I get a girl to like me?"

It's all very reassuring because I can answer those questions.

Onward and upward - keep smiling!

11 August 2006


Don't listen to the politicians talking about Iraq. Get the inside story from someone who is living there! Check out my link in the left-hand panel - "Girl inside Iraq" (or just click the heading above this post).

10 August 2006

Critical Security Alert

The first item I hear on the news at 7 o'clock this morning is that the US and the UK are on the highest security alert following the arrest of 21 British citizens in connection with a plot to blow up a number of air liners in mid-flight. All our airports are now in chaos. Whilst all remain open, passengers are no longer being allowed to take any hand luggage on board. They are being restricted to travel documents, passport and prescription medicines. No newspapers, books, children's toys, laptops. The consequent delays are causing aircraft to back up on the ground, and further incoming flights have had to be diverted.

I am thankful for a couple of things: (1) I'm not proposing to fly anywhere right now, and (2) these bastards have been identified and arrested by the security forces.

I hope everyone has noticed how the Bush/Blair Axis of Testosterone joint foreign policies, military actions, the so-called War on Terror, and political reactions to events in the Middle East over the past two or three years has made the world so much safer!!(?)

09 August 2006

Israel and Lebanon

We are getting nowhere fast, and if Israel can't accept that in order for a ceasefire to be workable they will need to withdraw from Lebanese territory as part of the deal, then there is no hope.

I am also a little tired of hearing about Iran's provision of weaponry for Hizbollah when we all know that the USA is the principle provider of weaponry for Israel.

07 August 2006

Bedroom Bat

I received a phone call late Sunday evening from a distressed neighbour. She had a bat whizzing around in her bedroom. She couldn't persuade it to go anywhere near the open windows, and having a strong dislike of flying creatures (especially in the bedroom) asked for assistance. By the time I got round next door the bat had flown downstairs and was now doing arial acrobatics in the kitchen and dining room. The neighbour's cat, whilst perfectly used to chasing birds, took one look at the cavorting bat and beat a hasty retreat.

Meanwhile, my neighbour had produced a fishing net. I noticed the bat coming straight at me, and took a wild swing with the net with more desperation than accurancy, but was astounded to find that the net now contained the bat. I covered the top of the net with a large envelope and walked my catch down the road before releasing it (so nobody could acuse me of taking my bat home!)

Job done, I wished my neighbour a good night and retired to my own (bat-free) bed to dream of big game hunting.

05 August 2006

Plum Target?

Have the Israelis totally lost the plot? Not content with bombing a UN observation post and killing UN pesonnel (in spite of being repeatedly told of their existence) they have now bombed a fruit farm.

How to win hearts and minds!

Hizbollah are now increasingly supported by the general population of Lebanon. Even the Christian community there is allying itself with Hizbollah.

Madness, total and utter madness.

03 August 2006

Fundamental Beliefs

There are creationists and there are evolutionists. They are at opposite ends of a belief spectrum.

I have never understood their problem. If you believe in God as the creator of the universe and this world, then what is wrong with regarding the evolutionary process as part of that creation?

To those people who get hung up on the 6 days of creation and a 7th day of rest as written in the Bible, this too is no problem. A "day" as we know it could not have existed before the creation of the earth and its place in the solar system. References to periods of time in the Old Testament appear to be very shaky; people apparently reached ages measured in hundreds of years. How credible is that?

I interpret the story of the creation as an allegorical description of a 6-stage process; the exact timing is not important. A black and white interpretation of anything is usually faulty. The creationists and evolutionists should make their way towards the middle of the belief spectrum and see how much they have in common.

02 August 2006

A Question of Perspective

Apparently George W Bush's close affinity with Israel (not, incidentally, shared by Bush Senior) goes back to his time as Texas Governor; on a visit to Israel he was taken on a helicopter trip by Arial Sharon. George is reported to be have been shocked by how small and vulnerable the country looked, and said they had driveways in Texas that were bigger.

Somebody needs to take Dubya on one side and explain to him that when you are very high up, things tend to look a bit smaller.

01 August 2006

My Patience with Israel is Severely Stretched

Israel has the right to feel secure within its borders and has a right to defend itself against attack. The problem with the concept of an Israeli border is that it has been something of a moveable feast over the years. The long-term occupation of other peoples' territories, confounded by a deliberate policy of building permanent settlements within them, is a sure-fire recipe for the existence of "resistance forces" or "terrorist organisations" (pick a description that fits your viewpoint).

Lebanon's big problem has been the existence of "Hisbollah" virtually as a State within a State, and when they decide to fire rockets into Israel, or kidnap their soldiers, independently of the Lebanese Government, then they run the risk of bringing down the wrath of Israel on the whole of Lebanon, and this is what is happening now.

Unfortunately, Israel's response has been so hugely disproportionate that they are now wrecking (physically and economically) all the good that has been done in Lebanon over the past twenty years. They set out to destroy Hisbollah, but their tactics have not been very well thought out, since what they have achieved is the exact opposite. Hisbollah are now regarded as heroes by more and more of the Lebanese population, and they are even now drawing support from moderate Arab governments who had hitherto been critical of of them.

Much has been said about Iran and Syria conducting a war against Israel by Proxy, and maybe this is true, but I wonder if it could also said that the U.S.A. is conducting a war by Proxy through the provision of sophisticated weaponry to Israel and by displaying an extremely equivocal attitude to the matter of the much-needed cease-fire. I don't believe that Condo Peas 'n Rice has yet displayed a convincing role on the Peace front. Meanwhile, Israel talks about easing up on the aggression whilst at the same stepping up the air attacks.

The only way to remove Hisbollah as a military force is to remove all causes for its existence, and this is a political and diplomatic process, not a military one. The military process has been proved to be counterproductive.

30 July 2006

A Breath of Fresh Air

"America wasn’t founded as a theocracy; America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state." - Rev. Gregory A Boyd, Pastor of Woodlands Hill Church, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. (July 2006)

Amen to that!!

29 July 2006

Political Correctness Lunacy

I want to encourage as many people as possible to rise up and rebel against the rising tide of "Political Correctness".

This morning I came across another example of it in - would you believe - my local baker's shop. Do you remember growing up in a world where there was a story about a Gingerbread Man who escaped from the oven and ran away? How many times have you baked, or eaten gingerbread men?

Oh my goodness! We can't be having that kind of thing nowadays can we?! It's offensive (to whom, I am not quite sure. Women? Why?) The North Yorkshire company that runs a chain of bakeries in my part of the world now sells - wait for it - "GINGER PERSONS"!

"A jam doughnut and a ginger person please". I don't think so!

I steadfastly refuse to accept the idea that one day some idiot with no brains can suddenly decide that a phrase or a word that we have used for generations will offend someone and we should therefore invent another word or phrase.

Please support my revolution by promising yourself that you will use whatever words or phrases you know to be correct, or those with which you are comfortable, and not words or phrases that some (to used a North of England word) barmpot has decided you must use.

27 July 2006

The Challenge

On the weekend of 16th September 2006, two men (one of them my friend John Baverstock) will attempt to travel from Sheffield to Land's End to John O'Groats then back to Sheffield - in 48 hours.

They will only have £40 for expenses, and allowed to use only train, bus, car, lorry, van, bike, legs.

By doing this they hope to raise £25,000 for St Luke's Hospice, Sheffield Childrens Hospital, and Cricket in the Community (Shiregreen Cricket Club).

You can help: sponsor the effort by estimating how long it will take to complete the trek. You could win a prize! If you are in business, you can sponsor the event, donate prizes or help pay for postage or T-shirts.

Contact JOHN BAVERSTOCK for more information and/or sponsorship forms.
E-mail John
Tel: +44 (0)114 242 2728.
Mobile: 07789 664 384.

Up against the Wal-Mart

I was pleased to read in my online copy of the New York Times that Chicago City Council has ordered large stores such as Wal-Mart to pay its employees a minimum of $10 per hour by 2010, and simultaneously astonished to learn that the Federal Statutory Minimum Wage has been kept at $5.15 per hour since 1997. That's only 60% of today's Statutory Minimum Wage in the UK, and the UK minimum wage is going to be increased again in October of this year to £5.05 (approx $8.50) per hour for people over 21. Britain's nine-year experience with the introduction of a National Minimum Wage has totally disproved the original assertion by Conservatives and the Business Community that it would close down businesses and lead to unemployment. The opposite has happened.

25 July 2006

Still between Iraq and a Hard Place

Three years after the illegal invasion of Iraq by the Bush/Blair Axis of Testosterone all we've got there is a bloody mess, and it is getting messier by the day. There is (belatedly) some kind of democratic government, but it appears to have little authority, and the population is gradually splitting into two warring groups - the Shias and the Sunnis - who seem content to continue blowing each other up as a kind of side-show to the other source of trouble, the "imported" terrorists who just want to create mayhem for the Iraqi government and the U.S./British forces.

Many Iraqis are scared to join the Police for fear of being assassinated. Sunnis and Shia communities are using their own militia to protect them. There is even talk by the Iraqi government about the need to divide Baghdad into two separated communites.

Why are we still there? Why are our servicemen and women being put at risk for no good reason? It's an utter disgrace and so far as I am concerned the UK government has lost all credibility and respect over joining this ridiculous American operation; and as far as I can see the American people are also having severe doubts about this Bush adventure. Of course, there are still some diehards whose level of debate on this issue seriously undermines their claim to be in possession of any IQ, such as one comment I saw on a website the other day which advocated "Bombing the hell out any country run by towel-heads". God protect us from that kind of mentality!

23 July 2006

Hot News - Blog Entry Changes Weather

Soon after I had posted yesterday's entry concerning the unrelenting heat and generally arid conditions my part of country received two prolonged drenchings accompanied by displays of lightning and thunder. This surfeit of H2O from the heavens not only washed out the neighbour's proposed barbecue to which we had been invited, but also amply demonstrated that one of my downpipes was seriously blocked and in need of urgent attention, requiring complete dismantling to remove the blockage. I did the job between the two electrical storms, just in time for the second storm to put the system to the test - which I am pleased to say it passed.

I read today that the Chief Constable of the North Wales Police maintains a Blog, from which it transpires that his favourite way of "taking a day off" is to get back into uniform again and go to a particular stretch of highway to spend the day doing speed checks on vehicles. How sad is that?!

21 July 2006

A Colourful Life

The relentless heat continues.

We are in the 30s celsius.

My lawns are brown, which makes me blue.

Some water companies (not Yorkshire Water so far) have banned garden hosepipes and car washing, whilst notwithstanding obscene profits they are losing a third of their water through leakage. This makes me see red.

A few bits of the UK had some rain yesterday, which makes me green with envy.

It's a colourful life, and our next Prime Minister is probably going to be Brown.

The schools broke up for summer today, and so I've completed my last school minibus run for six weeks. One girl wished me a happy holiday, and said "Thanks for taking me this year". That made me feel like all the colours of the rainbow.

19 July 2006

Yo, Blair!

"Yo, Blair! How are ya doing?" ...
... Thus the leader of the most powerful nation on earth greets the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the G8 summit in St Petersburg the other day. Blair has come across to Bush's place at the dinner table to exchange thoughts on the grim battle being waged between Israel and the Hizbollah based in Lebanon. A key microphone had not been switched off so it was possible to hear some of the high-level debate between these two world leaders (and between Bush's chomping of bread rolls). Bush says (someone) is "sweet", and Blair replies he is "honey". Blair offers to go to the region and prepare the way for a visit by Condoleeza Rice, and Bush responds by saying "What they need to do is get Syria make Hizbollah stop doing all that shit".
It's good to know that our future is safe in the hands of these two intellectual giants.

18 July 2006

Second Chance

This bright sunny morning will be made even brighter by the presence of my four-year old grandson on one of his regular half-day visits to us whilst his mother is at work. It never fails to remind me what a privilege and blessing it is to be a grandparent. It is a second chance at "parenting", a chance to make up for all the mistakes you made the first time round.

16 July 2006

Sick Society

Last week a vicar was told to resign as a primary school governor and have nothing further to do with the school. Why? Because at a school prize giving ceremony after presenting a little girl with a certificate for outstanding work in mathematics he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

What have we come to when a universally recognised form of greeting or affection is turned into a criminal act? The complaint against the vicar was made by the girl's mother. This stupid, stupid woman - who clearly is unfit to be a mother - saw this as some kind of assault on her child.

The Police and the Church Authorities investigated and concluded there was no case to answer, but nevertheless advised the vicar to sever all connections with the school. This makes me incandescent with rage. For God's sake, this action took place in front of a hall full of people, not in the potting shed behind the vicarage. I'm sick of the brainless 'thought police', the 'PC brigade', the sad idiots who see paedophilia wherever they look.

14 July 2006


Israel's response to the capture of three of their soldiers has been totally disproportionate - as usual. Surely this called for a Special Forces operation and/or negotiation, not the indiscrimate punishment of Lebanon and the Palestinian people; the killing and maiming of women and children. The UK for many many years suffered terrorist attacks from the I.R.A., causing mayhem, death and destruction in London and other major cities. These murderers operated out of both the UK province of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Did the UK respond by bombing the hell out Dublin? No, because that would have been disproportionate and wholly unfair. Israel's current strategy will lead to nowhere except wider and worse conflict - the fast track towards turning the clock back twenty years. The U.S.A. will not - as usual - condemn Israel.

10 July 2006

World Cup Football Final - The French Connection

Although England were long gone from the tournament, I had to watch the final between France and Italy. I was (sort of) rooting for France because I thought it would it make a great weekend for them after winning the Womens' singles at Wimbledon. But in the final 10 minutes of Extra Time - with a 1 - 1 score - French team captain Zinadine Zidane did something quite extraordinary; he ran past the Italian Materazzi, then turned to face him and head-butted him in the chest, knocking him to the ground. Neither player, incidentally, was in possession of the ball. Deservedly, Zidane got the Red Card and was sent off. From that point on I thought the French deserved to lose. They did - during a penalty shoot-out which decided the game in favour of the Italy. Zidane claims Materazzi made some offensive comment about him, but won't say what. Even if he did, was that the correct response, with the World Cup about to be decided, not to mention this was to be Zidane's last ever game, after a long and distinguished football career. What a way to end it.

07 July 2006


Today is the first anniversary of the London bombings in which a group of terrorist bastards blew themselves up on tube trains and a bus, killing over 50 innocent people and injuring many more.

It is a sober reminder that the Bush/Blair Axis of Testosterone has not made the world a safer place.

05 July 2006

Pathetic Politicans

Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer people are bothering to turn out for elections? All they get for their trouble is a bunch of self-serving characters, some of whom rise to the giddy heights of local, national and international “leadership” apparently without the necessary skills in leadership, judgement, or an appreciation of history.

Their effectiveness can be seen on our own doorstep and on the world stage. Here’s an example of the dumbness on our own doorstep: in 1997 Tony Blair’s new Labour government promised us an Integrated Transport Policy. In 2006 we now have train companies raising fares as a means of preventing overcrowding, and trains also seems to work in a different universe to that of the buses. The other week I sat inside a long-distance bus at Malton Bus Station as it awaited the due departure time. Malton Bus Station is opposite the train station. A train from York pulled into the station; as it set off again, so did our bus. Then, as we proceeded down the road, a train from Scarborough also arrived; all this within the space of about three minutes, and yet neither bus nor trains were destined to exchange passengers. So where’s the integrated transport, Mr Blair? You’ve had nine years to show us your policy in action.

On the world stage our puny politicians learn nothing from previous experience. The Korean War was supposed to halt the advance of Communism. It didn’t - and we still have a Communist North Korea that is more dangerous now than ever before. The Vietnam War was supposed to halt the advance of Communism. It didn’t - a so-called civilised democracy unleashed chemical warfare on an unprecedented scale and after thousands of Vietnamese and American deaths and casualties the USA was driven into a humiliating defeat and their seriously scarred war veterans returned home to a less than enthusiastic welcome.

Following the disgusting “9/11” attack on the “Twin Towers”, instead of instituting an intelligent program of seriously undermining the foundations of “Al Quaeda” the Bush regime felt it had to show the American people that something readily identifiable (like a country) should be bombed - and so the Afghanistan adventure began. In 2006 the elected Afghan President has no control outside the confines of NATO protection, and the Taliban are back in force. Heroin production from the poppy fields is on the increase, and street prices for heroin are at an all-time low. British soldiers are now in the Helmand Province, supposedly in a non-combatant role - a role that appears to involve a lot of military casualties and deaths! So, what’s been achieved? Bugger all.

Then the Bush regime (with Tony Blair’s willing involvement, to his everlasting shame) decided that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a threat to us all. Not many of us (non-politicians) felt this to be the case, and any fool knew that Iraq had nothing to do with the “9/11” incident or “Al Quaeda”. Far from the world being a safer place as a result of our joint attack and occupation, the world is now a more dangerous place. Thousands more Iraqis, Americans, British and other nationals have died or been injured, and now “Al Quaeda” is definitely involved in Iraq. So, what’s been achieved? Bugger all.

When are these power-crazed and corrupt politicians going to realise that it’s about time they stopped stomping around the world and throwing their weight around? It’s time they tried something more constructive.

Telling the truth would be a good start.I feel better now. (I think.)

30 June 2006

Guantanamo Bay

It brightened my day when I heard that the United States Supreme Court had judged the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals to be unlawful. Bush says that the people held here are murderers and some of the most dangerous people on the planet. If he has no evidence to this end that would not stand up in an American court of justice, then they are only the most dangerous people on the planet because Bush says so. Not good enough! No doubt he will be busy trying to legislate his way out of the Supreme Court decision. Thank heavens this is his last term of office.

28 June 2006

Peter - from the Daily Telegraph 28th June

DICKIN - PETER NEIL died peacefully on June 23rd 2006 aged 68. Beloved husband of Anne and darling father of Judy and Emma. Funeral at St Giles Church, Coldwaltham, on Monday 3rd July at 2 p.m. Family and close friends only please. No flowers but donations to Leukaemia Research or St Giles Church can be made to Bryder & Sons, Tillington, Petworth, West Sussex 01798 342 174. Memorial Service to be held at a future date to be announced.

25 June 2006

A Stark Reminder of my (our) Mortality

One of my oldest and dearest friends, Peter (see left), died suddenly and unexpectedly this weekend.

Peter, Eric, Derek, John, Michael and I played together as small boys on the same housing estate in Kingston Vale, S.W. London. Most of us went to the same schools.

John and Michael disappeared from our radar on reaching adulthood, but the rest of the "gang" kept in touch throughout our lives, in spite of being dispersed to various far-flung parts of the UK.

Eric was suddenly taken from us six years ago at the age of 62. Now Peter has gone at the age of 68 (my age) ... only me and Derek left. It's a sad and sobering thought, and I'm having a pretty bad weekend.

Peter was a decent man with a great sense of humour, and a good friend. My heart goes out to his wife Ann. When we were teenagers I lusted after the gorgeous Ann, but with Peter around I stood no chance. She made the right choice and they had a long and happy marriage, and were blessed with two daughters. Ann can be assured that my wife and I will always be there for her.

23 June 2006

World Cup Football

Well it looks as though the Americans are out of the World Cup, having been beaten by Ghana. I'm sorry they are going. Although, naturally, I am an England supporter I was watching the American team with interest and enthusiasm because I have some good friends in America (via the internet) and have visited the country twice to meet up with them. Sorry about your team folks!

21 June 2006

Any gardening experts out there?

My unidentified shrubA couple of years ago a small shrub appeared in one of our patio plant pots. By the following year it had grown to 6ft in height, as a single stem. Early this year I removed it from the pot and planted it in a shrubbery. It is still mainly a single stem (though now dividing at the top) and is 8ft in height. It has almost-black leaves and pinkish flower displays (see left). The flowers look nice but they smell disgusting. Does anyone know what the hell this is?
Update 22nd June: OK - I've consulted the web and can now answer my own question - this is Sambucus Nigra - a variation on the common Elder.

20 June 2006

Blogger's Learning Curve

Wow! It's a good job I've been slaving over a hot HTML book these last couple of years! I've just discovered that to put anything into the left-hand column of this Blog I've got go into the template HTML and edit the raw code. A couple of years ago I would have shut up shop at first sight of all that gobbledook, but now I can almost understand what's going on.

I've been practising my HTML and CSS on a new Website. My first site - created some years ago - used all the templates, WYSIWIG editors, images, bells and whistles provided by "Maxpages", but I've now closed that site (I was annoyed by "spam" entries in my guestbook, and also a charging policy based not only an annual fee but 5,000 page views maximum, which resulted in frequent requests for subscription renewal because of a whole host of flying robots landing on my site and being called "page views" though no human had seen it!)

So I purchased myself a domain name with a new web hosting company and learned some HTML and CSS the hard way - by trial and error (and the big thick book).

Click here to see if I've learned anything!

19 June 2006

Exams really are getting easier!

I know I'm not alone in thinking that in recent years GCSE exams have been getting progressively easier, resulting in an impressive pass rate and a Government able to gloat that Tony Blair's 1997 three priorities "Education, Education and Education" have been fulfilled. Of course teachers and the Education authorities like to tell us that the kids are just working much harder and the exams are not getting easier. I was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I have just had the opportunity of speaking to a girl who has been taking GCSEs and she is astounded at how easy they are, and in no way representative of the intensity of work she has had to put in during the lead up to the exams. She feels she is not being tested in any meaningful way, and that any certificates gained will not be worth the paper they are written on. So there you are ... if the students are saying they are getting too easy, then they are! What is the point?

18 June 2006

World Cup Football

Having studiously avoided football for most of my life, I now find myself curiously drawn to watching international matches. I never watch games between home teams, and know little about them, but bring on a European Cup or World Cup competition and I get excited by watching any two countries slogging it out. To my inexperienced eye the England team looks a bit lacklustre, but I got a kick (pardon the pun) out of watching them beat Paraguay 1-nil and again beating Trinidad 2-nil.

Considering soccer is a minority sport in the USA I am constantly surprised by the high quality of the teams they send to events like the World Cup. Yesterday I watched them play Italy, and they spent most of the game running the Italians (supposedly a crack team) ragged. The game was also remarkable in that three men were sent off - one Italian (for elbowing the USA's McBride in the eye, causing bloodshed), and two Americans (for doubtful and obscure reasons in my opinion). As a result, the second half of the game was between 10 Italians playing against 9 Americans, instead of 11 versus 11. All the more surprise, then that the result was Italy 1 - USA 1. The Americans have their goalkeeper to thank for some superb saves which contributed to the USA staying in the competition instead of the expected next flight home. A close shave.

Talking of Close Shaves ...

I've spend my life using an electric razor - can't stand all that messing about with brushes, foam, scraping, rinsing and drying. Mostly I've used a Phillishave rotary action shaver, but recently I noticed Remington had started making a rotary action shaver, with double cutters on each of the three heads. I bought one the other day, shaved enthusiastically and nearly took my face off!

I'd got used to the pressure required by the Phillishave and had applied the same pressure with the Remington. I started using a "powder stick" before shaving and became less enthusiastic about applying pressure. Now I'm getting my face back and can show it in public. (Unlucky public).