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24 December 2007

More on the Killers of Christmas

Soon after posting my thoughts on celebrating Christmas in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society that we have here in the UK, I picked up a newspaper and read the following, written by a British Parliamentarian (Sayeeda Warsi) ...

"...Now some left-wing think tank has suggested we downgrade Christmas for fear of offending religious minorities. As a Muslim, I take offence at a secular think tank that presumes to know what offends me. ... As a British Muslim, let me clearly state that we approve of the public recongnition of the sacred that is inherent in festivals such as Christmas. That a left-wing think tank should say that I, and my community, think otherwise is deeply offensive and wrong. The annual campaigns to downgrade Christmas are rarely spearheaded, or even supported, by Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or other religious groups; they usually have a secular base."

I rest my case.

Why do these knuckle-heads worry their tiny little brains about offending minority Faiths whilst at the same time feeling comfortable with the idea of offending Christians?

23 December 2007

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

This is especially for the benefit of all those bureaucrats, school governors, head teachers and councillors who have a myopic and ignorant belief that celebrating Christmas causes offence to other Faiths ...

I would like to wish all Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists a Very Happy Christmas and a New Year filled with peace and love.

Let us forgive those with only half a brain (for they know not what they do) who believe you will be offended.

I have not yet heard any leading figure of any leading Faith say publicly that the Christian celebration of Christmas offends them. If anyone of another Faith would like to put me right on this, then please free to click the Comments link below!

19 December 2007

Yet another Leader for Liberal Democrats

Yesterday saw yet another new Leader elected for the Liberal Democrats. The election was triggered by the resignation of "Ming the Merciless" Sir Menzies Campbell a few weeks ago. As far as I was concerned "Ming" was Prime Minister material, with a great deal of experience under his belt, especially on foreign affairs, but he was pushed out because he had two things against him: he was not perceived as a strong performer at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, and the tabloid press never gave up banging on about his age (in his sixties). This says a lot about our pathetic view of politicians these days .. its all about glamour and image.

Now we have Nick Clegg (left), elected yesterday by Party Members.

During his leadership campaign I have been totally underwhelmed by his lack of anything original or interesting to say, delivered in a voice that does not command attention.

He is, I believe, going to be perceived as "David Cameron Lite".

I shall of course be happy to be proved wrong.

He managed to obtain only about 500 more votes than his rival leadership contender, Chris Huhne (left).
Chris Huhne also managed to be equally uninteresting during his leadership campaign, and I am not surprised that the Party Membership had such a hard time deciding which one to go for.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is now up against a couple of identikit young men.

It remains to be seen whether Brown's maturity and experience will see them off, or whether by comparison he will be made to look like the grumpy old man of the House of Commons.

16 December 2007

Seven Decades

Well - blogger me! I've reached the age of 70!

Where did it all go? What did I do with my life? What's it all about, Alfie?

"You're as young as the woman you feel." She's 64 - so that's how old I am!

I've had a great birthday weekend with my family. This morning I went for a country walk with my two sisters and their husbands. There was quite a lot of uphill slogging, and I was forging ahead of them. They are all younger than me, and were puffing and panting. I therefore concluded that I still had a quite a bit of life left in me, and I have been fortified through all my good friends telling me I don't look my age, "70 is the new 50" and so on. I have also been very grateful for all the wonderful gifts from friends and family.

Birthdays are good for you - the more you have the longer you live, and so I intend to have many more.

Back to work in the morning. Onwards and upwards.

08 December 2007

Christmas Lights

There's a fortune awaiting the first person to invent a string of Christmas lights that doesn't tie itself into a thousand knots during the eleven months it sleeps in a box in the loft - even though it was packed ever so neatly after last Christmas.

What happens? Does the string of lights wake up some time during the summer months and do some kind of war dance inside its box?

Merry Christmas to my two readers.

30 November 2007

Religious Bullshit

Gillian Reynolds is a teacher working in Sudan. Her class has a teddy bear. She asked the children what they would like to call it. One of her pupils was called Mohammed. The children elected to call the teddy bear Mohammed.

She was then arrested and prosecuted for this act, and is now serving a prison sentence. Under the Sudanese law she could have been given 40 lashes in public, so I suppose she's got off lightly. Thousands of people have demonstrated in the streets of the capital actually calling for her to be shot. Can you believe that?!

What is it with these people? They are an obscenity. They are a throwback to the Middle Ages. I'm fed up to the back teeth with these religious fanatics. I was pleased to note that British Muslim groups have condemned the treatment given to Gillian Reynolds, and have stated it was wholly out of proportion.

25 November 2007

A day trip to Manchester

Yesterday we had a day out in Manchester, and it says something for the way in which our public transport systems appear to have improved somewhat that we were able to forsake our car (except for the 8 miles to the train Station), take the Trans-Pennine Express to Manchester, use Manchester’s Metro-Link “super tram” system to reach the new Lowry Theatre and Arts complex on the newly developed Manchester Ship Canal waterfront, have lunch, take in an afternoon play, and be home again by 8.30 p.m., having completed a round trip of 220 miles.

The first pleasant surprise was our train pulling into the station just 20 seconds later than the stated time. So, whilst not exactly of Swiss Railways standards (by which the train would have arrived on the dot) a 20 second discrepancy, by my reckoning, was pretty darned good! In fact it could even have been explained away by the fact that the station clock might have been incorrectly set. There was a similar lack of absolute precision on reaching Manchester Piccadilly, but forgivable in that we arrived 3 minutes early!

Then, for the princely sum of £2 each we purchased our return tickets for the 25 minute ride on the Metro-Link tram to the Lowry Centre. The trams were pulling into Piccadilly approximately every 3 minutes, though for different destinations. For our route they were coming in about every 10 minutes.

We arrived at the new Lowry development (named, of course, after the famous painter who depicted Manchester’s earlier industrial life using hundreds of human figures sometimes described as “Matchstick Men and Women”), having braved a bitterly cold driving wind in our faces for the 10 minute walk from the tram stop.

The theatre and associated buildings were spectacular in their bold denial of all things conventional. Walls, windows and floors went every which way, and strong primary colours abounded. But it was all supremely functional, spacious, and comfortable. The theatre auditorium was one of the largest and most comfortable we have experienced. The development was part of Manchester’s Millennium Project, and so is only seven years old.

We enjoyed a play called “Whipping it up”, starring Richard Wilson (well known for his role in the TV series “One foot in the grave”) – a political comedy set in the Westminster office of the Conservative Party’s “Chief Whip” and with a newly elected Conservative Government trying to survive on a House of Commons majority of 3 seats.

Other unexpected pleasures associated with the day was the discovery of so many names in the newly developed waterfront that reminded us of our 2003 visit to Canada and the USA .. “Anchorage”, “Ontario Basin”, “Erie Basin”, “Huron Basin”, “Michigan Avenue”, “Broadway”, and “Ohio Avenue”.

Our train home was crowded: when we stopped at Huddersfield a crowd of football fans who had come all the way up from London to watch their team (Leyton Orient, I believe) playing away. Judging by their mood they must have won. They were loud but well behaved, and amusing. One young lady from Dagenham in Essex sat across the gangway from us and immediately engaged in friendly banter with two guys from Newcastle (judging by the Geordie accents) who were already on the train. One of these guys had been boring the pants of everyone else by pontificating in a loud voice about the meaning of life to his mate, and moving swiftly on to a discussion on the various preferable ways of dying. At one point it briefly crossed my mind that being thrown from a fast-moving train might be one method he might like to try.

Anyway the Essex Girl diverted him on to discussions about regional accents. She herself had an East London-cum-Essex accent that the average “Essex Girl” is known for, assaulting one’s auditory senses with all the finesse of a chain saw, but interestingly she avowed that she didn’t have an accent – she spoke “normally”. The Geordie – who spoke with the Newcastle version of the chain saw – thought that the Essex Girl’s speech was delightful and put forward the proposition that her accent was “very cultured” (at which point it was fortunate that I was not in the middle of sipping a hot cup of coffee).

They all got off at York, to catch their respective trains – one going north, one going south. For the rest of our journey we had the carriage to ourselves apart from a mother and her little boy who provided a small diversion by locking himself into the toilet, then pushing the emergency button instead of the one that flushed the toilet, causing the train conductor to come rushing down the train to open up the toilet with his master key, to deliver the boy back to his embarrassed mother.

It was a day that we should try to repeat when the weather is better.

Finally I have no hesitation in recommending the Lowry complex to anyone wanting a good day out.

21 November 2007

Move over Darling

A major government department - HM Revenue & Customs - has lost two CDs containing the confidential data of 25 million people in receipt of child benefits, including dates of birth, National Insurance Number, and bank account details.

In an act of unbelievable stupidity their offices in the north east of England decided to send the data to London by CD using a Courier Service (TNT). One wonders how a department such as this could even contemplate such an obvious breach of security rules. Surely the Government has an "Intranet" over which data can be transmitted in encrypted form over a secure line?!

The Head of HM Revenue & Customs has fallen on his sword - an increasingly rare act of honour these days - and I can't help thinking that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling (see photo) might usefully do the same, since this is not the first act of incompetence by departments for which he is responsible since the transfer of power from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown. In fact government departments seem to be so good at making a complete hash of major IT schemes that one wonders how anyone can believe they could bring to fruition their stated policy of bringing in National ID Cards.

16 November 2007

Advice on Health Advice

There used to be a time when one could rely on certain basic tenets of health, for example, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” or “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases - cover your mouth”, or “Wash your hands after using the toilet”.

These days, however, whilst the above still holds true, we are bombarded almost every month with some new piece of so-called research concerning what we eat, how we exercise, how heavy we are, etc. that results in a new set of “rules” for healthy living as each month goes by. That would be fine but for the fact that the rules have a nasty habit of contracting each other with each new “discovery” from some university research project or other.

Coffee is good for you and helps you start the day.
Coffee turns you into a caffeine addict and gives you the shakes.

Tea is good for the heart.
Tea contains caffeine.

Red wine is good for the heart.
Red wine contains alcohol.

Alcohol helps you relax and unwind.
Alcohol causes social breakdown, and also destroys the liver.

Smoking Cannabis has no long-lasting effects on your health.
Smoking Cannabis causes severe psychosis in later life.

Some life-long smokers live to be a hundred or more.
Cigarettes cause poor circulation, heart disease and lung cancer.

Fat people are happier than thin people.
Overweight people are more prone to heart disease and diabetes.

If you are overweight go on a special diet.
There are a thousand and one special diets, they all fail in the end, except in the matter of making money for the people who sell you the system and the products.

Exercise is good for you.
Exercise is bad for you.

Stress is an essential part of being alive.
Stress causes mental breakdown and shortens your life.

Brush your teeth after every meal.
Brush your teeth before eating.

Oily fish, e.g., tuna, contains something called Omega 3 and is good for you
Too much tuna should be avoided because you may get mercury poisoning.

Fish and chips clog the arteries and makes you fat.
Fish and chips contain all the nutrients you need for a healthy life.

Milk and cheese are a good source of calcium, good for the bones.
Dairy products are bad for the circulation and the heart.

Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and lowers blood pressure.
Milk chocolate is bad for you and leads to overweight.

Chocolate is as good as sex for some people.
Chocolate is more expensive than sex (unless you are using professional services).

Fats are good for you.
Fats are bad for you.

Some bottled water has taken 150 years to reach us after filtering through volcanic rock.
There is a “Use by” date on the bottle.

Tap water in modern civilised countries is as good as bottled water and is cheaper.
Tap water in modern civilised countries often tastes of chlorophenols.

Gardening is good exercise.
Gardening exposes you to pollens and fungal spores and gives you hay fever.

Writing Blogs on a computer allows you to share your opinions with the whole world.
Writing Blogs on a computer increases stress, strains the eyes, and leads to repetitive strain injury.

My conclusion is that Health Advice is bad for the Health.

10 November 2007

Death of Common Sense hits my Village this Christmas

Every year my North Yorkshire village puts on a good display of Christmas lights. They are painstakingly erected over a period of weeks by enthusiastic volunteers. They are funded by public donations. Visitors from other towns and villages in the area come to admire the display.

The switch-on involves a bit of fun on the village green, with Father Christmas entertaining the children, and there's plenty to eat and drink from the stalls provided by local shopkeepers.

The green is a triangular patch of ground adjacent to the crossroads at the centre of the village, and so for this bit of Christmas fun a very short length of road separating the green from the main shopping area has, hitherto, been closed off with permission, so that the green, the road and the pavement outside the shops become integrated as a pedestrian area. In no way does this impede the flow of any traffic since the triangle has a road on all three sides. Therefore after the road closure, two sides remain for traffic going in any direction. The Police and the Highway Authority don't want to help.

We have now received notice from the Christmas Lights Committee that because of new regulations the act of physically blocking off two ends of this short stretch of road can only be done under the supervision of someone fully qualified in Traffic Management! It has therefore been necessary to hire a Traffic Management Consultant this year at a cost of about £2,000.

In future, apparently, it will be necessary to train up one of the volunteers in the black art of traffic management so that by Christmas 2008 we shall have our own tame qualified person.

As part of society's downward slide towards such a degree of over-protection that we shall soon require a certificate in the art of sneezing safely, there are rumours that in future we shall also have to employ qualified electricians rather than intelligent volunteers to string up these lights.

Up and down the UK towns and villages are giving up many of these festive activities because they are overburdened by Health and Safety legislation and attendant prohibitive costs. In some areas the use of ladders to string up lights has been banned by local council officials who will only be able to sleep at night in the knowledge that volunteers are hiring the services of lorries fitted with hydraulic lifts.

When are we going start fighting this rising tide of interfering bureacracy and regulation? I'm sick of it. I'm off for a stiff whisky before someone makes a regulation requiring me to have some suitable qualified person check the strength and stability of my pouring arm and my knowledge of the optimal dilution factor when adding water.

03 November 2007

Spammers are invading my Blog

In the past few days my e-mail inbox has been flooded with messages from this system notifying me of new comments made on this or that post. (There were 51 in 6 hours just today, and I've wasted a great deal of my time locating them on the Blog and deleting them.) They are all rubbish comments, e.g., "Great Blog", "Nice writing", or "I'll pass this on" and they all link to some website or other of doubtful provenance trying to sell you stuff.

I've had enough! These people are a waste of space, a blot on society, a bloody nuisance, sad gits, and they should crawl back underneath the slimy stone from which they came.

Since it is highly unlikely that we shall be rid of these online parasites I am forced to re-introduce "comment moderation". In this way, when the next 50 so-called comments are passed to my inbox I can go to the "moderated comments" page and zap them all at once and prevent them from being published. I know that some regular and genuine contributors don't like this system too much, preferring to see their comments go straight to publication, and so I apologise to them and hope they will not be discouraged from making comments.

I can assure any genuine contributor that his or her comments will be passed for publication as soon as I see them. I am interested only in separating proper comments from the automated garbage.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

30 October 2007

Death of a fine teacher - Ken Cripps

I took this rather fuzzy photograph surreptitiously from the back of the classroom when I was in the 6th Form of Kingston Grammar School back in the mid-1950s.

Mr Cripps (or "Sir" as we were obliged to call him) was one of the finest teachers I ever encountered in the whole of my schooldays. He taught English and Latin. He was small in stature and quietly spoken and yet had an innate ability to maintain discipline. I knew of none of my classmates who would dare challenge his authority, or even say anything bad about him in private.

I was therefore saddened to learn from yesterday that Ken Cripps had died .. at the age of 98! I shall always remember him with affection and gratitude. Nicotine addicts will no doubt rejoice in the knowledge that Ken lived to be 98 as a regular smoker (he gave up the habit when he was 83!)

Here are few points from an obituary appearing on the website:

* * *

'Uncle' Ken Cripps, arguably Kingston Grammar School's best-loved teacher, died on October 23 at the ripe old age of 98. He taught for 27 years at KGS, finally hanging up his mortarboard in 1971, but his legend grew in his long retirement, when he kept up with scores of former pupils.

He also maintained his links with the school, becoming one of its principal benefactors. A new staff common room was named after him, to recognise his “major and enduring contribution to the school”. It features a bronze bust of Ken.

John Elvidge, chairman of the school governors, explained: “Of the many former teachers at KGS who live on in the memories of past pupils, students and parents, we do not know of anyone who is held in higher esteem by so many.”

Ken Cripps, who lived in Anglesea Road, Kingston, was born on April 27, 1909, in Horley, Sussex, where his father, the Rev Henry Cripps, had been pastor of the Baptist church since the start of the century.

After attending grammar school in Hertford, Ken went on to teacher training college, eventually joining the staff at KGS during the Second World War, where one of his early tasks was taking charge of the evacuation of pupils as Kingston – home of the Hurricane fighter plane – had become one of Hitler’s key targets.

Ken specialised in English and Latin, developing a teaching style which Bernard Pratt described as “combining a friendly, non-intimidating approach with an ability to keep order”.

However, it was his enthusiasm for overseas trips and London outings which really endeared him to pupils. Visits to West End plays gave many boys (the school was male-only in his day) their first experience of theatre.

He led annual trips to Paris for more than a decade, and took charge of an ambitious rail expedition to Leningrad and Moscow during which, in an obscure Soviet station, he left the train on which the group was travelling to buy everyone sandwiches from a snack bar, only to discover that the locomotive had left the platform without him.

He had to take an express to catch it up later in the day.

* * *
I was a self-obsessed, neurotic, depressive teenager in my final years at school, and I remember once Ken Cripps set our class the task of writing an essay about our present lives and how we saw our future. Mine was pessimistic to such a degree that Ken Cripps took the 5-mile bus ride to my home one evening and had a long conversation with my father about my state of mind. (Incidentally my life turned out very differently to the one I had foreseen in my essay.) I mention this little incident as a small example of the degree to which Ken actually cared about his pupils.

God bless you Ken.

27 October 2007

Remembering Spike Milligan

Instead of writing today about things that make me angry or sad or excited, I feel like indulging in something that just gives me simple pleasure. One of those things is reading to my five-year old grandson.

Yesterday I found myself reading a story for children written by the late, great, Spike Milligan. Spike was my comedy hero from the days when he introduced British radio listeners in the stilted and austere 1950s to a totally new, anarchic and surrealistic form of humour with The Goon Show.

Spike had many faults as a husband and father (how many of us are any better?) and suffered throughout his life from bouts of incapacitating depression. He was a manic depressive, or - as we like to say these days - suffering from bi-polar disorder. But I think his illness contributed to his genius.

The story that held my grandson's attention yesterday (and made him laugh frequently) was the story of the Bald Twit Lion. How can one improve on the opening paragraph to this story ..

Once, twice and thrice upon a time there lived a Jungle. It started at the bottom and went upwards till it reached the monkeys, who had been waiting years for the trees to reach them, and as soon as they did the monkeys invented climbing down. Most trees were made of wood, and so were the rest. Trees never spoke, not even to each other, so they never said much (actually one tree did once say 'much' but nobody believed him), they never said 'fish' either, not even on Fridays. It was a really good Jungle: great scarlet lilies, yellow irises, thousands of grasses all grew very happily, and this Jungle was always on time. Some people are always late, like the late King George V. But not this Jungle.

The story continues with the account of Mr Gronk, the lion who roared so hard all his hairs fell out, and his own flea had to leave on account of there being nowhere to hide. All the other lions laughed at him, until a crow suggested to Mr Gronk that he should get all the other lions to shave off their hair so they would all look the same. They were persuaded by the assertion that if they didn't shave, their legs would fall off. Unfortunately this made all the other animals laugh. (One monkey laughed so much he fell out of his tree and krupled his blutzon.)

To cut a 12-page story short, the lions were saved by a holy man called Daniel who came along and explained he could be trusted because he was once locked in a den of lions and none of them bit him and the audience asked for their money back. He made wigs for the lions by snipping hair from sleeping gorillas, sticking them to pieces of rag, then glueing them to the lions' heads with nails. Because Mr Gronk had caused all the trouble in the first place he was left out, cried for 40 days and 40 nights and suffered from lakes on the knees; to make things worse there were ducks on the lakes who kept him awake at night. Their quacking drove his knees deaf. In the end, God came to Mr Gronk, proved he was God by knowing that 2 x 2 = 4 and gave him back his beautiful black mane. He was so happy he married a Roman Catholic giraffe and lived happily ever after until the next day.

Spike Milligan said the following in an author's note: "I am of the opinion that children are not just small homo sapiens - they are an entirely different species, with a secret world that only very perceptive adults have any real knowledge of. I have. Lucky me."

If you stumbled across this Blog today, I hope it raised a smile or three.

21 October 2007

Beaten but still proud

Well, we got to the Final but last night we didn't manage to hold on to the Cup. South Africa, the team that gave us a good drubbing a few weeks ago, beat us again and walked off with the Cup.

But this time our meeting with the South Africans was different. When they beat us in the preliminary stages with a colossal 36-Nil score we were a ramshackle bunch that deserved to be beaten.

Following that, we got our act together, and became a team to be reckoned with. Nobody suspected a few weeks back that we would ever get to the Final, but we did, and last night we gave the Springboks a run for their money, losing by just 9 points (15-6). We left France disappointed, but with our heads held high.

14 October 2007

Rugby World Cup

Last night had me sitting on the edge of my seat in front of the TV as England defeated the "old enemy" France. What a game!

Who would have thought a month ago when we were trashed by South Africa (36-Nil) that the squad would have pulled themselves together so spectacularly that we would find ourselves in the Semi-finals.

And now we are in the Final, with a chance to hang on to that World Cup that we won back in 2003. At the time of writing we don't yet know who we'll be up against - Argentina or South Africa.

Can we expect to see Jonny Wilkinson's left boot on e-Bay some time soon?

03 October 2007

Inside Bush's Brain - not a nice place

George W Bush has vetoed a Bill aimed at increasing health care for children in the USA. It had bipartisan support in Congress, but Bush has said, "I happen to believe that what you're seeing when you expand eligibility for federal programs is the desire by some in Washington, D.C. to federalize health care. I don't think that's good for the country."

Representative Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat of Illinois, said "Today the president showed the nation his true priorities: $700 billion for a war in Iraq, but no health care for low-income kids."

I agree with Emanuel. Moreover, I should like to ask - precisely what is so wrong with the concept of Federal Health Care?!

The man is a disgrace. Thank God the American people have only got to put up with him for another 16 months.

27 September 2007


How typical of Russia and China to block moves by the UN Security Council to condemn the evil Burmese military regime! What kind of message are they trying to disseminate? In refusing to do anything (even say anything) about a brutal dictatorship - that employs military force against its own people, suppresses all forms of democracy, and utilises forced labour for the construction of its projects - the Russian and Chinese authorities merely confirm that their relatively recent apparent conversion to the notion of a more open society and free trade is no more than a veneer - a facade - concealing an inbuilt disregard for democracy as we understand it.

Since they refuse to impose sanctions against the Burmah Junta it is my opinion that it falls to us, the people of the Western democracies, to impose our own sanctions against Russia and China. I realise of course that refusing to buy Chinese made goods is extremely difficult because it seems that every other thing you pick up in the shops these days has been made in China. But I for one will make the effort.

17 September 2007

At last - Some Competition on the East Coast Main Line

With the ill-fated GNER being replaced by National Express in December on the London-Scotland main line, I was pleased to learn that there will soon be some competition on at least part of the route. A new train company called Grand Central will later this month be commencing a high-speed service between Sunderland and London, via York.

If it lives up to the promises on its Website the service will be worth a try. Time will tell, but I wish them well.

09 September 2007


Marmite .. "Love it or hate it" they say. Well for me it's "Love it .. hate the pot".


Just at the time we are all talking more and more about reducing waste and doing our best to recycle our garbage, food producers seem to be marching in the opposite direction and selling us stuff that we cannot recycle.

Sauces, condiments, drinks, etc. used to come in glass bottles and jars that could be recycled. Now they are coming in plastic bottles. And now Marmite has joined the Sqeezy Brigade.

Let's face it - it's not the consumer causing the mountains of environmentally unfriendly waste; it's the food producers and retailers. Why do vegetables have to be wrapped in cling-film?

It's not just the food producers: why does a new computer USB flash drive (or "memory stick") have to be encapsulated in an inpenetrable plastic casing ten times the size of the actual product?

We will not start making inroads into proper recycling and a reduction in waste until the manufacturers, producers and retailer play their part. This is where government pressure should be applied instead of constantly nagging the poor old consumer, i.e., you and me. We're doing our best but "progress" keeps knocking us back!

01 September 2007

Blog-free Zone

This is a blog-free zone for the next week - I'm off to Wales, clearing my throat and carrying a spitoon ready for all those unpronouncable place names. For the benefit of blogging burglars my house is fully occupied for the duration.

22 August 2007

Great North Eastern Railway (GNER)

On 17th August my wife and I travelled by GNER from York to Edinburgh for the Festival and the Military Tattoo.

It was a fast, smooth and near-silent journey. It arrived in York (from London) on time, and it arrived in Edinburgh on time.

The onboard staff were brilliant: helpful, amusing, polite.

We returned from Edinburgh by the same service, and all the above comments still hold true for the return journey.

It was therefore all the more saddening to reflect on the fact that GNER have had to relinquish their franchise for the East Coast Main Line service from London to Edinburgh and beyond, since their parent company (Sea Containers) got into financial difficulty. From December this line's franchise will be transferred to National Express (the intercity bus company).

I shall miss GNER, since it is probably the only train service since British Railways were privatised to have retained some semblance of dignity and connection with the great days of this prestigious line. It didn't give itself a fancy modern meaningless name, it didn't tart up its rolling stock to look as if a mad graffiti artist had been let loose on it. It also designed itself an old-style railway style coat of arms, and maintained a smart but dignified external and interior decor. It didn't pretend to be some johnny-come-lately airline on tracks. All its trains had inscribed in discreet letters on the side of each coach "Route of the Flying Scotsman" and the train we travelled on the other day was named "Mallard".

I hope that National Express will take on all the GNER staff, and will find it in their heart to maintain some of this line's heritage.

Pigeons living dangerously

This is Part II of the pigeon story.

Our August weather has been doing a passable impression of mid-November. This morning the wind is howling and the fir tree containing our nesting pigeon(s) is waving about like a thing possessed; the branch on which the pigeon nest (if one can dignify it with that name!) is precariously perched is bouncing up and down alarmingly.

The pigeon currently "on duty" is, however, clinging on for dear life (and probably suffering with the bird equivalent of sea sickness), and although there is another little pile of sticks underneath the tree the nest appears to be just about intact. I understand the incubation period is about 18 days, so we must be getting very near to hatching.

11 August 2007

Wood Pigeons - Birds Living Dangerously

This is a pigeon that is one of a pair which has constructed a nest in a tree standing in my front garden.

The trouble is, pigeons are rubbish at building nests, and I marvel that so many of this species actually exist.

They just chuck a few small dead sticks together in an untidy pile and hope for the best.

In the case of the pigeons currently domiciled at my address their house-building skills are made even more questionable by the fact that what is laughingly referred to as their nest is balanced precariously half way along a single branch without any other visible means of support or stabilisation.

On the grass beneath the tree is a scattering of sticks that presumably were once part and parcel of a construction that is rapidly taking on the attributes of a Minnesota road bridge.

A few weeks ago pigeons were observed building a nest in a tree in my back garden. Soon after they completed the job there were scrambled pigeon eggs all over my garden steps, baked hard by the sunshine.

As for the current attempts - somewhat late in the year, (but the birds are not the only creatures confused by our changing climate) - I was recently privileged to watch at close hand the "Changing of the Guard". The pigeon's mate alighted on the end of the branch near the tree trunk and turned to face in the direction of the nest. Both birds were now looking at each other about 18 inches apart. The bird on the nest then nodded its head half a dozen or so times. Its mate repeated the nodding action, after which it slowly walked along the branch and eased itself on to the nest whilst its erstwhile occupant simultaneously vacated it, walked to the far end of the branch and flew off.

I hope that this crazy nest will fulfill its proper function for long enough to ensure survival of the next generation, though I have to admit that the incessant and monotonous cry of wood pigeons at 5 a.m. outside my bedroom window is just a little irksome.

I will report developments.

30 July 2007

GB meets GB

George W Bush
Gordon Brown
As I write this UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is meeting with US President George W Bush at Camp David.

It has been said that the only thing these two men have in common is their initials!

It is to be hoped that they find something more in common than just this. Whatever one thinks of the US President (and anyone who has met me or has read my garbage knows that I don't think much of him) the relationship between Great Britain and the USA is important. Any British Prime Minister should seek to maintain a good working relationship with whoever is the US President, but it is also important that it is not the kind of relationship enjoyed (if that is the right word) between "Dubya" and erstwhile Prime Minister Tony Blair.

To assert that Blair was Bush's "poodle" would be an understatement, and Blair's anxiety to please and to blend in with the Bush style (including the blue jeans and the cowboy swagger) was positively cringe-making.

I was amused the other day to read one journalist's view that Brown would certainly adopt a different style, including that of dress, in that he only had two Prime Ministerial modes of dress -
1. A suit.
2. A suit without a tie.
He was in mode No.1 in the Camp David golf buggy today, and so, in fact, was George Bush.

My hope is that Brown will pursue a tough line on a constructive Iraq exit policy. An Oxfam report out today states that hunger and disease are spreading in Iraq as violence masks a deepening humanitarian crisis. The charity said 28 percent of Iraqi children are malnourished, 15 percent of Iraqis regularly cannot afford enough to eat and 70 percent lack clean drinking water, all sharp increases since 2003.

"The terrible violence in Iraq has masked the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Malnutrition amongst children has dramatically increased and basic services, ruined by years of war and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people," Oxfam director Jeremy Hobbs said.
"The fighting and weak Iraqi institutions mean there are severe limits on what humanitarian work can be carried out. Nevertheless more can and should be done to help the Iraqi people," he said.

Two million Iraqis have been forced to flee the country since 2003, and at least as many have been displaced within Iraq. So much for deposing an evil dictator and rebuilding the country.

It ain't happening.

23 July 2007


The UK is struggling to deal with the most serious flooding in living memory; the other week it was South and East Yorkshire suffering, now it is Shropshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, and Oxfordshire. Thousands of homes are under water, and ironically many of them are without water to drink because a water treatment plant has also gone under. The submersion of an electricity sub-station has compounded the misery for those who now find themselves without either water or power. The rivers Severn and Thames are still rising, with the worst to come, and many people near or in Oxford have been evacuated to a sports stadium. South-west London is said to be the next in line, as the Thames continues to rise. More heavy rain is forecast for the London area, exacerbating the situation, and this is set to combine with high tides.

All this coincides with a government announcement that they will still be going ahead with the planned development of hundreds of thousands of new homes in the south east to meet demand, many of which will be build in known flood plains. Of course it is now stated that building will only take place if proper flood defences and adequate drainage can be put in place.

Surely one solution when building in such areas would be to build higher footings, i.e., up to the damp course, say about 3 or 4 feet higher than is current practice. Why do our houses have to sit at ground level? Is this such an obvious and simple solution that nobody will put it into practice? Probably.

19 July 2007

Anglo-American Special Relationship

I have just had the pleasure of entertaining two American friends for a few days and showing them some of the features of life in England. As I had been under the impression that we had become a more brutish and uncivilised society in recent years it was gratifying to be told by my American friends that in their opinion the opposite was the case. It was also good to know (considering the bad reputation we used to have) that our food and drink were quite acceptable!

I was brought up short one day with the question, "What, mainly, does Britain make?" Thinking about this I was faced with the unpalatable realisation that these days the answer to that question is "Not much".

In this connection it dawned on me when I took my friends to York that only a few years ago in this great City there was a beet sugar processing factory, three major confectionary factories, a railway engineering and carriage works, and a factory manufacturing glass bottles from recycled glass. All these have now closed. In other parts of the country we have watched coal mining all but disappear. The same goes with iron and steel production, and the small amount of steel manufacturing we still have is now owned by an Indian company. The British car industry has collapsed. We are still making good cars, but for companies owned by the Japanese or the Germans.

I wonder, therefore, in what way is our economy "booming" (terrorist bombs aside, that is) for apparently it is "booming". Have we just turned into a successful giant "Theme Park" for tourists? Apart from that, then the rest of our success seems to be mostly down to financial services.

Anyway, this is all depressing me, and I want to be optimistic about the future, and remind myself that the two Americans who came to see us, and who gave us such a memorable and pleasurable time, enjoyed their experience of my country.

07 July 2007

Khalil Ahmed - should he burn in hell?

Khalil Ahmed, one of the two men who tried to drive a mobile bomb into Glasgow Airport's terminal building, and then set fire to himself, is now in hospital suffering from a life-threatening level of burns. Some might say serve him right if he dies, but in my opinion It is devoutly to be wished that his life can be saved.

He (and others like him) want to die, therefore I want him to live and suffer the consequences of his actions.

29 June 2007

UK Floods

Flooding in June 2007The horrific flooding experienced this week in South Yorkshire, the Midlands, and other parts of Britain has been described by some as an "Act of God". It is no such thing. It is an Act of Man.

For decades we encouraged farmers (with financial grants and subsidies) to rip out hedgerows to make bigger fields, and to put in subsoil land drainage systems.

Result? Faster rainwater run-off.

At the same time the River Boards of the 1960s and 1970s went on a mad spree of environmental destruction in the interests of Land Drainage, turning meandering river systems into straight, vegetation-free, drainage canals resembling aquatic motorways.

Result? Faster movement of flood water from A to B.

Whilst all this agricultrual mayhem was going on, town and country planners were merrily permitting housing and industrial development in flood plains, against the advice (in earlier days) of the same River Boards that were destroying the rivers' natural ability to balance the discharge of flood waters, and against the advice (in more recent times) of the Environment Agency.

In the older suburbs of our major towns and cities that were built before the age of mass car ownership you will also find people rooting up their front gardens and converting them into paved areas to accommodate one, two, or sometimes three cars.

Result? Additional surface water run-off to overload inadequate storm drainage systems.

At last, though somewhat too late I fear, farmers are considering the re-planting of hedgerows, and the Environment Agency talks about the desirability of allowing agricultural grassland to be given over to floodwater balancing. More voices are being raised by politicians and others about the need to take seriously the matter of building houses, factories and offices in areas known to be prone to flooding.

We have only ourselves to blame for many of our so-called environmental disasters.

20 June 2007

Stirring up English Nationalism

English Devolution please!
I'm all in favour of devolved government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the Blair Government has made a complete pig's ear of the exercise by totally ignoring the gaping hole in their scheme which is ENGLAND!

The English are a fairly laid-back kind of people who are prepared to be kicked about a bit, but only up to a point. Take them beyond that point and they turn up the heat. I believe that we are fast approaching that "tipping point".

Already we have one sore point regarding medical prescription charges: in Wales prescriptions are free. If you live just on the English side of the border you pay the normal charges; if you live on the Welsh side you pay nothing.

Then there's the question of university tuition fees - in England students pay them and get into debt; in Scotland they don't.

Now the Scottish Executive is conducting a review of medical prescription charges, and they have also recently proposed that the size of primary school classes should be reduced.

All this is perfectly fine, and in many ways I have always found the Scottish approach to social affairs to be generally more agreeable than the English, and in any case with devolved government one expects there to be some diversity of political actions across the UK. So far so good. What I object to is the fact that England has no such devolved government; we are controlled by the UK's Westminster Government, and what makes that so unfair is that the MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sitting in the House of Commons exercise their votes on legislation covering English domestic affairs whilst English MPs have no say whatsoever over equivalent matters in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Then we should also consider that much of the devolved administrations' social programmes are made possible by the fact that they are receiving significant subsidies from the UK government, which means that social benefits being enjoyed by the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish are partly paid for out of taxes paid by the English.

I am heartily sick of this half-baked devolution, and at the next General Election I am going to cast my vote for any candidate who supports the notion of (ideally) an English Parliament, or (at the very least) a restriction on MPs from outside England voting on our affairs.

If Labour gets re-elected, I wonder what chance there will be of Prime Minister Gordon Brown (who is a Scot representing a Scottish Constituency) addressing this issue. I am guessing, not much. Is there a case for hoping that David Cameron's Conservatives might be more sympathetic, considering the Conservative Party in Scotland is almost wiped out these days?

19 June 2007

June is rusting out all over.

The Full Waterproofs

This delightful picture of an under-water blogger is published in connection with a couple of recent posts: one relating to a canal boat holiday that was promising to be a washout (it wasn't) and the other relating to the exorbitant prices charged by some specialist shops for wet weather gear.

Two of my internet friends insisted on having sight of the full gear in use. Since the canal holiday was surprisingly free from torrential downpours I've had no reason to model this chic little outfit; until now, that is.

After a long, warm and dry spring, June has turned out to be depressingly cold, wet and windy, and last week the UK had to put up with severe weather leading to serious flash floods in many parts of the country. I had to put the full waterproofs into service just to put the bins out last Friday morning.

Today is overcast, with more rain promised for this afternoon, but I am at present being cheered up by the song of a thrush in full and enthusiastic voice in my back garden.

11 June 2007

George Bush in Albania

Apparently the Albanians were hugely enthusiastic about George Bush's recent flying visit; they gave him a rapturous reception.

I recall that the Albanians were similarly infatuated with Norman Wisdom.

09 June 2007

Madeleine McCann's parents

The other week I posted a plea for the return of 4-year old Madeleine McCann who was abducted from a Portugese holiday resort, and said my thoughts and prayers were with her parents at this time.

A friend of mine who reads this blog got quite fired up about the fact that the McCanns deserved no consideration because they were guilty of neglect, in that they went off to a nearby restaurant in the resort leaving their children unattended.

Well, yes - to a great degree I also felt they left something to be desired in the way of child care, and yet looking back on my own years as a parent I know that there were many times when I was less than a model parent, and I suspect that this is true of many of us. Most of us have not had to be reminded of our periods of neglect because we were fortunate enough to be on the right side of the statistical fact that the chances of someone abducting our children are in fact very remote.

Certainly I can say that my wife and I never left our children unattended in a hotel or holiday cottage room whilst we went out, but I am sure we were guilty of other kinds of parental neglect from time to time.

Many people find the McCanns guilty of gross negligence, but these two professional and intelligent people have already found themselves guilty and are overwhelmed by an unbearable burden of guilt that will be with them forever.

I make no apology for praying not only for the safe return of little Madeleine, but also for strength to be given to the McCanns.

02 June 2007

Cruising the Rochdale Canal with Shire Cruisers -

I have just returned from a narrow boat holiday on the Rochdale Canal in West Yorkshire, and living as we do in an age where society appears to thrive on complaint and litigation I feel bound to add some counterbalance to this culture by unreservedly praising and recommending Shire Cruisers of Sowerby Bridge.

In terms of customer service, quality of boats, and the comprehensive level of pre-cruise information and training, they surpassed anything we have previously experienced in fifteen previous boating holidays on various parts of the UK inland waterways system. So I am happy to place this on record (and no, they haven’t offered me a free holiday to get me to publish this on the Web!)

To describe the Rochdale Canal I can do no better than to reproduce the introductory piece from the well written Pearsons' “Canal Companion – Pennine Waters” ..

Reaching Sowerby Bridge, the Calder & Hebble Navigation goes into a telephone box, puts its underpants on outside its trousers, and emerges as the Rochdale Canal, Superman of the inland waterways, fully equipped to take on the tyrannical Pennines.

One is treated to the glorious scenery of Calderdale, the steep wooded hillsides, the craggy granite outcrops of the Pennines, and the towns that not only nestle in the valley bottom but climb up the hillsides in a stone-terraced display of gravity denial; then there are the banks of wild rhododendron, yellow iris at the water’s edge, the singing birds in the trees, the ever-watchful herons silently standing in anticipation of a fish supper, and flotillas of ducks and geese.

We were on a short break (less than a week) and were therefore only able to travel westwards from Sowerby Bridge as far as Todmorden before turning round, but the somewhat tame distance of about 12 miles was transformed into a marathon by the existence of 18 manually operated locks raising us by about 200ft on the westward journey, so by the time we had returned to base our aching muscles testified to our completion of 36 lock operations.
We moored up in Hebden Bridge for several hours and were amazed to find that the town was closed! What kind of enterprise society is this, where all the businesses get together and say, “Hey, lets not make any money on Tuesdays!” To be fair, I was told that the shops do open on Saturdays and Sundays, but it still seemed a bit odd to turn up in the middle of the week to find everything battened down. We did, however, manage to get a good lunch at Moyles Restaurant.

We had no time to investigate Todmorden because in our attempts to turn the boat around we got stuck. Water levels were down a bit so turning the boat tended to be more of a mud wrestling exhibition. By the time a number of willing helpers had pushed, pulled and shoved, we finished up in the same direction as before and decided to go through one more lock to find another turning point. This decision introduced us to the first lock with a “guillotine gate” at the lower end, and an ambiguously-written British Waters notice drawing our attention to the fact that although the gate was electrically operated, the paddles (i.e., the valves for draining the lock) were manually operated from a control box “opposite this control panel”. I looked behind me to see what was opposite the control panel and found a smart looking metal box on a post. This turned out to be a repository for dog shit! The paddle controls were on the other side of the gate.

Todmorden was described by Susan of Shire Cruisers as the "Frontier Town" being right on the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire. The town is administered by Yorkshire but has an Oldham (Lancashire) Post Code. The poor dears are therefore totally confused.

A short way beyond this lock was our turning point, but again we needed willing land-based helpers (of which there never appeared to be a shortage) conducting a tug-of-war with the sharp end of the boat whilst I did the business at the blunt end with my head all tangled up with overhanging tree branches. After much heaving, reversing, tiller waggling, and a ruined hair style, the boat was now heading back east.

The meteorological office had forecast several days of the most appalling weather so we were tooled up with all the wet weather gear, but as it turned out it was a mixture of sunshine and showers, and not too much of the latter. By comparison with the forecast we felt we had been handed a bonus, making us grateful for the fact that weather forecasting is a somewhat inexact science.

27 May 2007

Water above me, water beneath me.

Good news for my half dozen readers! It's a blog-free week coming up. My wife and I are off on a narrow-boat holiday on the Rochdale Canal. We aim to cruise from Sowerby Bridge to Todmorden and back. We shall have to negotiate more than 30 manually operated locks, so the opportunities for hard physical exercise and loss of weight are enormous, but there will also be opportunities to put the weight back on in canalside pubs!

Those nice people at the meteriological office are forecasting a week of cold winds and rain (thanks guys!) but at least being forewarned is being forearmed. Since these boats are driven by standing in the open at the stern (the blunt end), yesterday I equipped myself with full waterproof clothing, i.e., hood, jacket and leggings, during which I came to the conclusion that specialist sports shops are rip-off merchants par excellence. As I browsed through my local sports shop I thought "They're having a laugh aren't they?" .. £120 for a packable waterproof coat and £90 for waterproof overtrousers? I don't think so! I went to a general utilities and clothing store in the next town and got the lot for £25.

20 May 2007

Fish Funeral

This morning I conducted a fish funeral. The largest of my three ghost carp died last night after gracing my humble fish pond for twenty years.

There was a very poor attendance at the funeral; no other fish turned up, and I acted as grave digger, pall bearer, chief mourner and priest. I consigned his earthly (watery) remains to somewhere beneath my shrubbery and despatched his spirit (if he had one) to meet his Cod.

13 May 2007

Who's taken Madeleine?

I am posting this picture here in the optimistic hope that the more it is circulated the better the chance of somebody seeing 4-year old Madeleine McCann who was abducted a week ago from a Portugese holiday apartment.
Has she been taken by some sad deluded woman who can't have a child of her own, or is this yet another example (and I can hardly dare entertain the thought) of a paedophile's sick and evil mind?
My thoughts and prayers go out to her parents.
I know they are getting a lot of support, and several high-profile business people and football stars have combined to offer a huge reward for information leading to Maddy's return.

11 May 2007

'Bye Tony - Hi Gordon!

Well, now it's official: Tony Blair has given notice of his intention to resign as Prime Minister and Labour Leader on 27th June.

Gordon Brown has commenced his campaign to be elected as Leader, and thus Prime Minister. (A foregone conclusion)

Conservative Leader David Cameron has described the Blair Government as The Government of the Living Dead.

Cameron's shadow Foreign Secretary William Haigh has called for a General Election immediately following the succession of Gordon Brown to the Premiership, conveniently forgetting that when John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher after whe was pushed out by her Party no such General Election took place then!

Those of you who remember the 1950s boys' comic The Eagle featuring Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future might agree with me that William Haigh is actually an alien from outer space and in a former life held a position as The Mekon - leader of The Treens. During a 1997 reincarnation as one of the many Conservative Leaders (before Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and the current David Cameron) I published this photograph on my website to support my belief!

I have mixed feelings about Tony Blair's departure. In many ways he was a great Prime Minister and his government introduced the National Minimum Wage, Devolved Government (though sadly only for Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland - not England), Family Tax Credits, independence for the Bank of England (no more politically inspired interest rate adjustments), high employment, more money into education and the NHS, a stable economy, pensioners' winter fuel payments and pensioners' free local bus travel. His greatest achievement by far was to achieve the impossible, i.e., peace in Northern Ireland with a devolved government in which hard line Protestant Unionists and Catholics and ex-IRA terrorists have resolved to work together for a peaceful and democratic Northern Ireland. The Ballot has replaced the Bullet.

The supreme tragedy is that all of this potentially great legacy has been totally buried by Blair's gravest error of judgement, namely the Iraq debacle. It is for this that he is remembered and for which the British people will not readily forgive him.

05 May 2007

Florida-style Voting Chaos in Scotland

The elections held in the UK on Thursday 3rd May were a farce. Hundreds of thousands of votes in Scotland were taken out of the system because new electronic scanners failed to recognise accurately what voters had written on their ballot papers. There is now to be an inquiry. I suppose that until or unless it is decided what to do with those votes we cannot be sure that the final outcome is wholly what the voters wanted. If the unused votes confirm the pattern of the used votes then it is clear that Tony Blair has been given a big kick in the backside and the Scottish Nationalist Party has emerged as triumphant, now enjoying the rare experience of being the largest Party in the Scottish Parliament. To achieve a working government, however, they will still have to create a Coalition with another Party or Parties. The SNP's declared intention is to hold a Referendum by 2010 on whether or not Scotland should secede from their 300-year old union with England and become an independent Country.

Adding to the farce cause by the high-tech counting system was the confusion over two different ways of registering a vote on a single ballot paper: for the Scottish Parliament you had to place a cross against one candidate as constituency MSP, and another cross against a regional Party List candidate. For the Scottish local council votes the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system was being used, so on this part of the ballot sheet voters were expected to write 1,2,3 etc. etc. against candidates in order of preference.

Labour also did badly in the Welsh Assembly elections and the Welsh Nationalists (Plaid Cymru) put on a reasonable showing. To continue in power Labour will have to form a Coalition with another Party or Parties.

In England the local council elections produced major losses for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but only modest gains for the Conservatives.

Across the UK as a whole the results are a complete mish-mash and we now hold the distinction of having a greater variety of voting systems all operating at once than in any other country. I always said our "First past the post" system was undemocratic and should be replaced by something more representative - some form of Proportional Representation, or at least the Single Transferable Vote - but what Blair's government has come up with over the years is a hotch-potch of systems for different regions and different elections. On the 3rd May there were no fewer than four different voting systems in operation.

I wonder how much more stupid we are going to get.

02 May 2007

Conservative Party Appeal to Voters (do they?)

Tomorrow (3rd May) UK electors go to the polls to elect Local Councils in England, and in Scotland and Wales it is a kind of mini General Election with elections for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. I'm hoping there will be a good turnout as political apathy is in danger of reaching epidemic proportions. What's the good of democracy if you don't use it? And what's the good of complaining if you don't vote.

I watched a Conservative Party election broadcast on TV the other night and Conservative Leader David Cameron was banging on about Tony Blair's record on the National Health Service. Forgive me if I'm missing something here, but by what stretch of the imagination do my local District Councillors have anything to do with the National Health Service?!

How sensible is it to make a judgement on who should run our local authority based on national issues that are the business of the Government? It's nonsensical, and if our political leaders are trying to persuade us to do that, then they are treating us like idiots (which is probably why so few of us turn out to vote these days).

The sad thing is that there are indeed many of us who will take the opportunity to give the governing Party a good kicking at these local elections, and we can expect to see a lot of Labour Councillors losing their seats based on voters' disillusionment over Iraq and the "cash for peerages" allegations currently being investigated.

24 April 2007

Children's Playground - A Triumph of Civic Responsibility

The other day I commented on an attempt by a local businessman to purchase a right of way for an access road to his proposed housing development, which would result in the loss of up to 15% of the playing field area. The playing field committe were in favour of accepting an offer of more than £70,000.

Under the constitution of this registered charity it would require a 51% majority of residents attending a public meeting to approve such a deal.

Yesterday evening I attended the public meeting called to discuss the matter, and I was astonished to find the Village Hall bursting at the seams - standing room only, with some people standing outside listening through the side doors that had had to be opened. There were in excess of 300 people, ages ranging from eight to eighty.

In spite of feelings running high the debate was orderly, polite, and with plenty of good humour. One young lad (must have been around 10 or 11 years old) stood up and said his piece, saying that if they were going to finish up kicking a ball about near an access road and a housing development, balls might get kicked over the fence, damage cars etc., and it they went round to ask for their ball back "...they might - well - er - get killed or something!" This produced a good laugh and a round of applause.

I pointed out that up and down this country we have been selling off bits of playground and sports fields for housing development for the past couple of decades, and it was about time it stopped and we got a grip on our priorities: which is the most important - another batch of expensive houses that we don't need, or space for our children and grandchildren to play in. Regarding the playing field finances (often desperate) I said I was prepared to declare in front of the assembled public that I would be more than happy to contribute the huge sum of £1 per month by Direct Debit. I chose this ridiculous figure to demonstrate that if all these people who had filled the village hall did exactly the same it would provide an additional income of £3,600 p.a. This would more than cover the biggest annual outlay, i.e., the public liability insurance premium (nearly £2,000 p.a.)

When it came to the vote we were hugely amused to find that the committee had not printed enough ballot papers to go round. Since it had been clear which way the wind was blowing several of us suggested that we conduct the vote by a show of hands. This was agreed, and to make it even more significant, it was suggested the Chairman should frame the question in this way: Who is in favour of accepting an offer of £70,000? He did, and about four hands went up! Then he asked for the NO vote and a sea of hands shot up. Never mind a majority of 51%. This was a majority of 99%!

During the Annual General Meeting that immediately followed on, the Committee Chairman (a personal friend of the controversial businessman - but let's not dwell on that!) was (politely) given his marching orders. A new Chairman was elected, also a new Secretary and a new Treasurer.

There were over one hundred written pledges of regular donations to the playing field.

This was local democracy at its best in action. I was proud to be part of it, and it restored my faith in civic responsibility.

21 April 2007

Don't mess with our Children's Playing Field

My village has a children's playing field. A local businessman who is used to getting his own way by flashing wads of cash around is trying to get hold of a chunk of the playing field to make an access for some houses he wants to build.

He's waved a large amount of cash in front of the playing field committee and they've gone all starry eyed at the prospect of having badly needed money in the bank with which to maintain a smaller playing field.

I think what we have to consider is which is the more important: a grassy space for our children and grandchildren to run around in, enjoying the swings and slides, etc., or a bunch of expensive houses that the village doesn't need.

Up and down the UK in the past couple of decades we have been merrily selling off sports facilities and playing fields for housing development, whilst at the same time belly-aching about kids having nothing to do hanging around on our streets.

It's about time it stopped, and here is as good a place as any to make a stand. OK, so the income and expenditure on this field is running too close for comfort, but that is not a reason to sell off a chunk of it. Someone else could come along in a couple of years waving more money around for another bit of land. Where is the logic in accumulating more money in order to maintain a disappearing asset?

I'd be prepared to commit myself to £1 per month going into the committee's bank account. At this point, dear reader, you are probably saying "He's a generous bastard! Only £1 per month?" But that's my point - it's so little that anyone could do it, and all it would take would be a couple of hundred people making the same commitment (give up a few bags of crisps or the odd newspaper each month) and there would be a guaranteed income increase of £2,400 per year (which, as it happens, would pay for the public liability insurance premium - the biggest chunk out of the committee's budget).

There's a public meeting next week to discuss the proposed sell-off. Apparently it can't be done without 51% of those attending the meeting voting in favour of it. I shall be casting a NO vote. Developments will be reported.

17 April 2007

200 million Guns!

The tragedy of the Virginia Tech campus shootings (over 30 killed) highlights the nonsensical approach to gun laws in the USA. The right to bear arms is so deeply ingrained in the American consciousness that every time some lunatic goes on a shooting spree the result is always the same: "How tragic. Something must be done." Then nothing is done.

There are, apparently, about two hundred million privately-owned guns in the USA. Guns and ammunition are easy to come by, with a minimum of checks made on the purchaser's credentials.

The National Rifle Association seems to have a stranglehold on politicians; speak out against the gun culture and you lose votes. Charlton Heston (President of the NRA 1998-2003) told the 2000 NRA Convention that they could take his gun "from his cold dead hands". Idiot!

I am tempted to offer to eat my computer if any new meaningful gun control laws come out of the Virginia tragedy.

15 April 2007

Where have I heard that before?

WASHINGTON, April 13 — Senator John McCain said that the buildup of American forces in Iraq represented the only viable option to avoid failure in Iraq and that he had yet to identify an effective fallback if the current strategy failed. (New York Times)

Oh yes - I recall that this was the only viable option in Vietnam, another unwinnable conflict initiated by the USA with (albeit covert) British support. British Government political support, and practical under-cover assistance, for the hell unleashed in Vietnam back in the 1960s was kept a closely guarded secret from Parliament and the British people until recently.

In the case of Iraq our support for the US President has been out in the open. I wonder if that is a kind of progress?!

Whilst the Prime Minister and fellow apologists trumpet the downfall of a tyrannical dictator it is necessary to remind ourselves that during the past half century or more the British Government has aided and abetted in both the installation and support of many tyrannical dictators around the world in the course of protecting so-called British strategic and business interests.

Iraq is just the latest in a long line of dubious and/or illegal actions by the American and British governments. As with many other cases, we have been instrumental first in setting up the tyrant, then bringing him down when he is no longer seen to be serving our interests.

All we have achieved in Iraq is an escalating bloody civil war with very blurred lines, involving outside terrorists taking the opportunity of attacking US and British forces, and Iraqi religious groups attacking each other in the name of two different versions of Islam. (Is Islam a religion for people with a Sunni disposition or is it just a load of Shiite?)

Well done guys! Now, get the hell out of there.