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30 December 2011

Another Mad Year - 2011

I had high hopes for 2011. I thought it was going to be unique. There’d never been a year called ‘2011’ before and the chances of their being another year called ‘2011’ seemed remote. Then I remembered I had high hopes at the beginning of every year and decided to be more rational in the future.

Anyway, this is how it panned out, in no particular order (as they say on the “X-Factor”).

Our Dear Leader, “Call me Dave” Cameron, decided that the National Health Service should be turned upside down, handing financial control to consortia of local GPs. None of this was in the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestos, but when were political manifestos ever worth more than a row of beans?

There was so much hostility from the professionals that the Government went away for another think. I think they are still thinking.

I hope they remember that basis of the NHS is that everybody, regardless of income, is entitled to receive hospital acquired infections free at the point of use.

The British Government (a Coalition of the Unwilling) held a referendum on changing the voting system. The Liberal Democrats had been pushing hard for this, and I supported it, being a life-long critic of the undemocratic “first past the post” system (which only works democratically if you have no more than two candidates). Anyway, the “Yes” Campaigners ran such an abysmal show, talking complete rubbish that the country voted for the status quo (which is Latin for rock music).

Some Arab nations protesting and fighting their way towards some kind of democracy, whilst a couple of European nations went in the opposite direction by being coerced into forming governments led by unelected technocrats.

Libya’s deranged Colonel Gaddafi

began losing control of his country after 40 years of dictatorship and farting in public. There was a major uprising in Benghazi (where the people were fed up with the stink) and the curly-headed madman used his Air Force to quell the uprising, declaring he would hunt down his own people like rats. Things were beginning to look so serious that the UN and NATO got involved, resulting in a NATO-controlled No-Fly Zone over the country, to thwart Gaddafi’s murderous activities. In a rare and relatively short display of successful military action involving no “boots on the ground” the Colonel was eventually defeated, meeting an undignified end being hauled out of sewer and shot.

As the flies began to congregate around his corpse I wondered about the efficiency of the no-fly zone.

A British comedian wondered why the self-styled Dictator only gave himself the rank of Colonel, putting himself no higher than someone qualified to sell fried chicken in a bucket.

Tunisia held its first democratic election in history and there was a 90% turnout. Imagine achieving that in Britain!

President Assad

(Arsehead?) of Syria got into a similar game to Gadaffi, slaughtering thousands of his own people who had the bare-faced cheek to protest against his repressive regime, but no sign of the Western Powers intervening in this case.

By the end of year it was reckoned that his forces had killed 5,000 and arrested 15,000 of his people, prompting calls for him to be brought before the International Court for crimes against humanity.

Then there was the “Eurozone” crisis. This was a crisis within a crisis. We already a worldwide economic crisis caused by a poorly regulated banking system either going berserk with other people’s money, or conducting fraudulent operations, or both. Within the European Union, countries like Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain reaped the whirlwind of their profligacy; Greece, in particular, was on the verge of collapse and required gigantic bale-outs from the rest of the “Eurozone”.

(Beware Greeks requiring gifts!)

American special forces located the whereabouts of Osama Bin Liner
(residing comfortably in Pakistan). They stormed the premises and killed him, thus ending a man-hunt that started after the tragic attack on the World Trade Centre.

Dave the Toff attended a special European Summit meeting in Brussels called to reach an agreement on rules to be followed to save the Euro. This currency had been doomed from its inception because it was set up without considering the political necessity to make participating countries function virtually as a single State for it work, and certain countries (Greece in particular) should never have been allowed to join, but the books were cooked (and the Greeks are not particularly noteworthy for their cooking). The UK had wisely decided to stay out of it. (Sterling work.)

Nevertheless, anything happening in the 17 countries using the Euro affects the UK’s trade with Europe and so it was necessary (along with nine other countries still using their own currency) to attend this Summit.

Instead of negotiating a deal protecting Britain’s interests, Cameron just refused to be party to the agreement signed by all the other 26 countries and took his bat and ball home to the rousing cheers of the Conservative Party’s rabid right-wing Europe-hating back-benchers. He was publicly criticised by his Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister and several others.

Cameron now has one foot on the jetty and other on the boat that is departing. We can only hope he’s good at doing the splits, but in any case there’s still bound to be a big splash!

America’s motley collection of Republican circus clowns called the Tea Party drove their political bus into the presidential circus ring and the doors fell off in time-honoured fashion accompanied by the hooting and honking of mad ideas, political amnesia, suspect intelligence, and sexual scandals.

I had a brief e-mail correspondence with one of these guys and he wrote me long essayson the American Constitution, and the evils of Government. He said the Minimum Wage was a disaster and American healthcare was “the best in the world, and anyone can get access to it” (!) Free-market capitalism was the only way forward. He told me that if he met anyone who “wanted to be

controlled by government” he would “send him to England” and perhaps I would like to “send him anyone I knew who loves freedom”.

One of America’s right-wing backwoodsmen came back into the fray on behalf of the Tea Party Movement: Newt Gingrich. Imagine having an American President with a weird name!

In Italy, Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi raised the tone of political debate by declaring the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to be an “unfuckable lard bucket”.

Japan suffered a horrific tsunami with huge loss of life and fatal damage to a nuclear power plant causing radiation leaks. This reopened the question in Britain of whether we should be building new nuclear power stations to secure our future power supplies. Meanwhile we continued to suffer from the installation of wind turbines – one of the biggest confidence tricks perpetrated on a gullible population (and government). There were now so many of these ineffectual eye-sores blighting the British countryside that if we could run them as propellers we could probably fly the country across the Atlantic.

What wondrous things are wind turbines!

When it’s freezing cold and we all need extra power, we can be without wind for days on end whilst they generate diddly squat. On other days when the wind blows hard they shut the damned things down to avoid damage. In one memorable instance a turbine was working so hard it caught fire. It’s hard to think of anything good to say about them unless you are a rich land owner getting even richer by allowing dozens of the things to sit on your land.

In Britain the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. The same thing happened in America but to an even worse extent.

Cambridge lost the Oxford v Cambridge University Boat Race by about 3 lengths – more bad news (unless you happen to be an Oxford supporter).

During the summer London and several other major cities in the UK were treated to an unprecedented outbreak of rioting and looting, sparked off by the Police in London shooting and killing a young man. Businesses were ruined, the Police were ineffectual, and there were many instances of outrageous behaviour. Eventually there were thousands of arrests and cases heard in courts operating all night. Severe sentences were handed out. It was notable that these scenes were not repeated in Scotland or Wales, thus reinforcing my view that the English are in many ways a defective race of people.

Trade Unions objecting to austerity measures that were going to affect their pensions combined and called a one-day strike near the end of the year. That demure and sensitive soul, Jeremy Clarkson (of Top Gear fame) declared on TV that the strikers should all be taken out and shot in front of their families.

Clarkson also took the opportunity this year of letting us know that people who jumped in front of trains to kill themselves were being very selfish holding up everyone else on the train. The train driver should be replaced and the train re-started, leaving the foxes and crows to deal with whatever bits of the body still remained scattered about the track. Clarkson’s mouth is so big he can get both feet into it, and with a bit of effort (and luck for the rest of us?) might even be able to swallow himself.

Another vile dictator died: Kim Jong-il of North Korea. We watched thousands of North Koreans wailing and gnashing their teeth at this tragedy that had overcome them, demonstrating the degree to which they had all been

brainwashed, or coerced, or both. No doubt this man (who appeared to one of the select few in North Korea who got enough to eat) arranged for his headstone to be engraved, “I told you I was –il”. He was replaced by his son (also well-fed).

Once again we saw that Communism turns its own philosophy upside down and produces an elite dynasty of all-powerful dictators. “Power to the people”? .. bollocks!

Talking of political philosophies, we have now firmly established (except in the eyes of Cuba, North Korea and China) that Communism doesn’t work. We appear also to have firmly established that Capitalism doesn’t work either. What 2012 needs is a new “–ism” that does work. Nobody’s come up with any useful ideas yet.

Britain celebrated the Christmas spirit by having a fatal stabbing in Oxford Street, a knife attack in the same area on the same day, and a fatal shooting in Manchester.

In conclusion, 2011 has been much like any other year in recent times, and 2012 will probably continue much in the same vein.

In other words, plus ça change plus c'est la même chose – which is French for Isn’t this where we came in?

Happy New Year to my six readers.

23 November 2011

Caffeine Rush

This morning at breakfast I discovered an efficient way of waking up the body without actually consuming the caffeine.

Here is the method:

1. Put two table-spoons of fresh ground coffee in cafétière.
2. Boil water, let water go off the boil then pour into the cafétière.
3. Leave plunger up (important).
4. Place cafétière on table.
5. Now place slices of bread in the toaster and a bowl of porridge in microwave.
6. Switch on both machines.
7. Return to the table with a toast rack (do this quickly, and ensure right forearm makes contact with coffee pot plunger).

The resulting torrent of hot coffee and grouts over trousers, chair, cupboard doors, kitchen carpet, the rapidly spreading of the dark stain, the pinging of the microwave indicating porridge is ready, the clang of the toaster as toast pops up, (all occurring simultaneously) is a sure-fire way of increasing the heart rate and the flow of adrenalin. If you can also arrange for your wife to be upstairs in bed at the time, so you can look forward to explaining what has happened, you will be surprised as to how much this enhances the adrenalin rush.

The great thing is, you have achieved all this without actually having consumed any coffee.

Try it tomorrow!

01 November 2011

Small-minded vindictive "TripAdvisor" Reviewers

I cannot be the only person using "TripAdvisor" to wonder how a hotel or restaurant can accumulated a large list of these ..
.. and then in amongst all those you encounter a couple of these ..
I have been pondering the possibility that these odd 1-star reviews (which are frequently offensive and often written by people having only a fleeting acquaintance with the English language) tell us more about the reviewer than the premises they are reviewing.

Channel 4's TV documentary last night, entitled "Attack of the Trip Advisors", pretty much confirmed this to be the case. The film makers followed the antics of a number of people "addicted" to providing in-depth critiques of hotels and restaurants, mistakenly believing that they were doing the rest of us a service.

We saw hoteleliers and restaurateurs reduced to tears by petty and vindictive reviews that potentially had the power to destroy their businesses.

Whilst I am keen as the next man to expose shoddy and over-priced services, I believe this documentary showed these reviewers to be operating on another level altogether. There is not a hotel or restaurant anywhere that can be 100% perfect and if you set out to nit-pick every conceivable fault then this destroys the whole purpose of "TripAdvisor".

One guy admitted to having been bullied at school, and this was his way now of asserting himself.

One man follows a slavish routine when visiting hotels. This includes getting out his ball-point pen and making a small blue dot at the end of one of the bed sheets so he can see if the sheets get changed before his second night in bed. Apparently he has a skin condition, causing flaking whilst in bed and his sheets need to be changed daily. Because the hotel staff did not do this he slated them, conveniently ignoring the fact that he failed to advise the hotel of his special requirement. His theory is that it is up to the hotel to ask him if he has any special requirements regarding bed linen.

He then stuffs a handful of the free tea and coffee sachets into his pocket to check whether the supplies have been replenished when he returns to his room at the end of the day. Because supplies were not replenished that was another black mark! You and I might simply phone Reception for more sachets, but in our case we probably would have actually used ours to make drinks with rather than stuff them in our pockets. Room staff would not doubt have noticed that although some sachets had been taken, there was no evidence of dirty cups or empty sachets dropped in the waste bin.

Another asks for a gin & lemonade in the bar and when the waitress brings him a gin & tonic instead, this goes down as another black on his 1-star review, even though his drink was replaced by the requested one in double-quick time.

All these people were no doubt glad to be filmed for this documentary, being full of their own importance, but they probably are completely unaware of the fact that they came over as sad, petty-minded, vindictive little idiots. The documentary did a great service in exposing them for what they are.

My advice, what what it is worth, is that every time you are looking down a list of reviews for a hotel or restaurant in which you are interested, if you come across a 1-star rating tucked in amongst a host of 4-star and 5-star ratings treat it with the utmost suspicion. They are only worth serious consideration if the place gets nothing else but 1-star and 2-star ratings.

I am an enthusiastic "reviewer" on "TripAdvisor" but I do my utmost to write a fair review. On the few occasions I find things to be worth complaining about then I ensure that I complain at the time of my dissatisfaction. Then, how well my complaint is dealt with determines what kind of rating and review I give the place.

21 October 2011

Another Tyrant Down

The final demise of Colonel Gaddafi was welcome news, and I take heart from realising that many such tyrants eventually meet a sticky end. Sadly, it often takes a very long time.

I am disappointed that the Libyan opposition forces decided to finish him off, as I believe that he should have stood trial in the full glare of world publicity, and made to answer for his many crimes.

The greatest tyrant of them all in modern times was of course Adolph Hitler, (with Joseph Stalin as a close runner-up). Hitler got his just desserts, but it took 6 long and bloody years.

Then, with the downfall of Communism in the USSR and eastern Europe, Ceacescu of Romania eventually faced summary execution. Good-bye also to Milosevic of Serbia, and his vile henchmen.

Then farewell and good riddance to Saddam Hussein, and now it's Gaddafi's turn after his 40 years of torture and terrorism.

Hitler, Saddam and Gaddafi have one thing in common .. they met their end underground. Hitler in his Berlin bunker, Saddam in a less sophisticated version of the same, and Gaddaffi in a sewer (that seems an appropriate place for him).

Unfortunately Mugabe of Zimbabwe is still with us, but we must live in hope, and trust also that some Arab nations currently suffering oppression under tyrannical governments will soon enjoy a Libyan-style liberation.

20 September 2011

The Internet - A Civilising Influence?

I read in today's on-line edition of the New York Times that some rural communities in the USA are suffering an outbreak of malicious gossip using on-line forums and social networking sites. People are revealing themselves as being unpleasant, disgusting and downright evil; they are able to do this because they can hide behind the cloak of anonymity.

Although the World Wide Web has much to commend it - free exchange of information, educational sites, the arts, the making of Internet friends and so on - like much of life it also reflects a darker side of humanity. And it has become so easy to reveal that darker side.

In Britain the other day, a number of coal miners in Wales died in a mining accident. It wasn't long before some idiots (that word is too kind for them) started posting callous and racist comments on Facebook. Some were saying it was a good thing because they were Welsh. Others said it was a pity more didn't die. This kind of thing is almost unbelievable, and yet we must believe that this depraved behaviour does exist, and it is too our collective shame that it does. In this particular case, many complaints were made to the Police and they have launched an investigation with a view to closing down those offensive pages.

I find all this hugely depressing.

29 August 2011

University Education - What are the Scots up to?

I didn't go to University. When I was at school I never felt the need, nor did I perform well enough to make the grade anyway. I put things right after I'd left school and finished up with a professional qualification which, I was happy to hear, was described as a "Degree Equivalent".

Notwithstanding my teenage antipathy towards University Education I soon learned to appreciate that if our Country is to keep its head above water it needs well educated young people, especially in mathematics, engineering and science.

I am therefore greatly annoyed by the decision of both this government and its predecessors in deciding to make university students in England pay up to £9,000 per year for their university tuition. Education is so important that any half-civilized country should pay for it out of taxes. No-one should begrudge paying the tax because we all benefit from a well-educated society and a vibrant economy.

The fact that young people now have to start their lives with debts of up to £27,000 (or £36,000 in the case of four-year courses) round their necks is a disgrace. I have been, therefore, heartened by the fact that the devolved government of Scotland (currently led by the Scottish National Party) has maintained the principle of education free at the point of use.

But recently my admiration has turned to anger as they have now decided that English students attending Scottish Universities will have to pay for their tuition, whereas (in an act of breathtaking stupidity) they permit European students to attend free of charge. They mutter something about this being because they are members of the European Union.

Last time I looked, England (as part of the United Kingdom) was also a member of the European Union. I understand a group of students are going to Law to challenge the Scottish administration over this. I wish them all the luck in the world.

06 August 2011

Complimenting Gas & Oil Companies

For the past 33 years we've had oil-fired central heating in our house. The other week our 2700-litre oil tank sprung a leak. We had no trouble in getting our Shell oil distributor (EMO Oil) to come out and recover the contents of the tank. They recovered 2400 litres of oil, deducted the cost of the operation from the value of the oil and paid the difference straight into my bank account.

We made a snap decision to switch from oil to gas, spurred on by the knowledge that our boiler was 33 years old and might soon need replacing, a new oil storage tank would have to be purchased, and during the past couple of years or so we have paying about £1,000 a year for oil.

I went on-line to the British Gas Website and booked an appointment for a Heating Advisor to visit us within two days. He turned up with a colleague and surveyed the house and its existing heating and plumbing system. Without going into the details, suffice to say that our house was equipped with an unorthodox and somewhat mad system. After a couple of hours of investigation and discussion they came up with a scheme for ripping out the old oil burner, installing a new gas-fired condensing boiler in a new location, re-organisation of the pipework, draining down and flushing the system, dosing with anti-corrosive chemical, fitting thermostatic radiator valves, and fitting a magnetic particle filter. They give us a fixed-price quote, guaranteed not to be exceeded irrespective of any extra work that might eventually be deemed necessary.

So far so good, but then we had the first and the last glitch in the process. We were given an installation date (in a week) but then we had a phone call asking if we would mind extending this by a few days. We said that was OK. But then the installer turned up anyway on the original date and we had to send him away as we had arranged to be elsewhere on that day. Then the process went into a black hole for a couple of weeks, and we had no idea when work would start.

I than found myself testing the British Gas Complaints Department (bear in mind the company had recently been fined millions of pounds for failing to comply with minimum standards of customer service). I spoke to a lady who couldn't have been more helpful, giving me her name and her contact number, and she promised she would get a senior engineer to phone me by tea time.

Did he phone? No.

He turned up in person on the doorstep. He gave us an installation date - 28th July - and the job would take two days.

On 28th July two British Gas vans turned up outside the house at 8 am, and a team of two men and a woman laid out dust sheets all over the place, and then worked like demented beavers until 6 pm without a taking a lunch break. Having turned the house upside down and inside out by the time they left that night the place had been cleaned up, dust sheets removed and carpets replaced.

On Day Two the woman turned up on her own at 8.15 am to complete everything that needed doing to bring the job to a conclusion. There was also a visit by a British Gas electrician to do the necessary wiring. She worked tirelessly, again without a lunch break; by the time she had commissioned the system and explained to us how everything worked, it was 8 pm.

Again, everything was cleaned up again, by the time she had gone there was no sign that anyone had been here (except of course the sight of some new pipes and a new boiler!)

Throughout the two days, these people were a joy to be with, watching them work efficiently and in good humour for longer hours than I would have thought reasonable.

We all have reason to complain about utility companies from time to time, but I think it is important to acknowledge freely when they get things right and to compliment them accordingly.

So thank you, British Gas, and thank you Emo Oil.

09 July 2011

The Murky World of Murdoch

I shall not be buying a News of the World tomorrow, even though it would have some historical interest as the final one of a 168-year history. I have never in my life purchased a copy of this newspaper, and currently I am studiously avoiding the purchase of any newspaper belonging to Rupert Murdoch’s stinking stable.

This paper has sunk to new and unbelievable depths in its bid for sales. The hacking of mobile phones belonging to celebrities and politicians was the first we heard of the Murdoch empire’s depravity, and to be honest, perhaps we were not too bothered by the fact that we were getting salacious gossip about film stars, entertainment personalities, and politicians.

But now that it has transpired that for years they have been hacking into the phones of families who have been the victims of abductions and murders it is impossible for us to avoid the nausea. Not only have they been feeding their stories from this illegal and immoral activity by accessing the phones and voice-mail messages of parents who have had their children kidnapped and/or murdered, in the case of Milly Dowler a murdered schoolgirl, they tapped into Milly’s own phone when the police were investigating her disappearance, and even deleted messages from her full-to-capacity voice mailbox so that her distraught parents could continue to leave their desperate messages on their daughter’s phone.

Rupert Murdoch’s reaction to all this was to give a few days’ notice that the News of the World would be closed down, thus throwing 500 people out of work (most of whom had not been tied up with these criminal practices). To add insult to injury, he has retained Rebekah Brooks in her job as News International’s Chief Executive, even though she was Editor of the News of the World when much of this sordid activity was taking place.

Prime Minister David Cameron comes out of this with egg all over his smug face as well, since he employed Andy Coulson (another previous editor who had resigned over earlier cases of phone hacking) as his Media Consultant, in spite of having been warned by the Editor of the Guardian newspaper that he had problems.

I hope that if nothing else comes out of this, we shall at last see the end of the decades-long love affair between our political leaders and the Murdoch empire. Please, no more parties, with Murdoch, his son, or his red-topped chief executive of ‘red-top’ papers. No more special access to 10 Downing Street. If our politicians can’t get themselves elected to positions of high office without cuddling up to Murdoch, then they don’t deserve our support.

David Cameron claims to have come to this understanding. Time will tell. Watch this space.

I also hope that Murdoch’s bid to buy up the remaining shares of BskyB TV and thus be in complete ownership of that enterprise will be successfully thwarted by the competent authorities on the basis that he is not a fit and proper person to be in such a monopolistic position with a major media empire.

22 June 2011


I never cease to be astonished by the machinations of the human brain whilst one is asleep.

Just in the past two days (or should I say nights?) I have invented both a new organisation and a new word.

Has anyone heard of the Mahogany Royal Specialist Group?

No? My brain just made it up then.

I also got on a train, sat next to the driver (wow - that's cool!) and as he pulled out of the station I advised him in some panic that this was where I was meant to get off. (Bear in mind, I'd only just got on!) To which he replied, "Don't worry - I've switched off the PROCTO so you'll be at the next station sooner than expected!"

Any of you heard of a PROCTO? No, I didn't think so.

Looking forward to my next burst of creativity.

Northern Ireland

I see the wild animals of east Belfast have returned to the Dark Ages again.

When will we be rid of these idiots with their religious prejudices and predeliction for violence?

I have visited the Irish Republic, but I have vowed never to set foot on the soil of Northern Ireland whilst it remains so embedded in the past. Stones, bricks, bottles, petrol bombs and bullets have no place in a civilized society.

Does Northern Ireland really have to be part of the UK?!

04 June 2011

Sarah Palin and soul of the Republican Party

Dissension in the Republican ranks!

Now that Mitt Romney of Boston, Massachusetts has declared his intention of running for the Republican nomination as Presidential Candidate for the next US Presidential Election, the disturbingly attractive but totally goofy "Tea Party" Republican Sarah Palin has stated that Mitt Romney is a traitor to the Party because when he was Governer of Massachesetts he gave health care to the poor.

Shock, horror!

I think that tells us something we need to know about the mind set of Mitt Romney, and it tells us all we need to know about Sarah Palin.

23 May 2011

The End of the World is Nigh ..

Nigh on impossible to predict, that is!

The idiotic Mr Camping predicting that the end of the world would take place last Saturday, 21st May 2011 was a sad business. Even sadder was the fact that so many people were prepared to believe him.

Apparently some people gave money away .. one might ask how that would benefit anyone with the world gone up in smoke .. and others decided to take a quick holiday, just in case.

I am advised by a friend who knows more about what the Bible says than I do, that there is a verse that states no one will know the time of the Day of Judgement.

For the whole of my life (well, not quite the whole of it, since I am still here) people have been predicting the end of the world. When I was young I tended to believe these predictions, and I was mightily frightened, I don't mind telling you. But then I grew up and started to use my brain a bit more - unlike some of these religious nuts.

01 May 2011

Referendum on Electoral Reform 5th May 2011

It's a great shame that what should have been a sensible and apolitical debate on the pros and cons of "First past the post" versus "Alternative Vote" has degenerated into a slanging match between Party politicians.

Both sides have been economical with the truth, and some have been telling downright lies, repeatedly, using the Goebbels principle that if you tell a lie frequently enough it eventually becomes the accepted truth.

This is far more important for the future democracy of our country than which politician supports which system, and whether or not we like that politician. If you are voting YES because you don't like David Cameron, or if you are voting NO because you don't like Nick Clegg, you are totally missing the point.

It's about whether the existing voting system is democratic and allows you to have a greater say in who becomes our representative in Parliament. Is it right that 70% of the MPs currently in the House of Commons are there with the support of a MINORITY of their voters? Is it right that nearly every Government (if not all) since the 2nd World War have imposed their ideologies upon the country with less than half the country supporting them? What kind of democracy is that?

"AV" is far from perfect, but at least it does two important things: it retains the constituency link with a single MP, and it ensures that no MP is elected without the support of at least half the voters. What is bad about that?

The current system was just about defensible in the middle of the 20th century, when people were pretty much voting either for the Great Blue Tribe or the Great Red Tribe. Today's politics are more fluid, and we are no longer slavishly devoted to one of two Great Tribes.

So, I am saying YES to change on 5th May and would urge all who have not yet made up their mind to take this (probably) once in a generation opportunity to take a small step forward. Ignore all this talk of excessive cost, electronic counting machines, and so on. It's already been stated in a Parliamentary Answer that the cost of running either of the two systems are not that different, and there are no plans to use electronic counting machines.

Another myth put about is that you are obliged to place all candidates in order of preference. You have no such obligation. If you wish to cast a vote for only one candidate, and you think all the others are appalling then you just place a '1' against your candidate. Easy as 1,2,3 (or just 1 in your case!)

Vote YES to change.

17 April 2011

Royal Wedding - Enough Already!

This has appeared on a souvenir tea towel.

Best place for it, if you ask me, especially when this dysfunctional family is all washed up.

Apparently the Palace authorities have declined to authorise its use
I'm sick of hearing about this Royal Wedding. I'm bored, bored, bored.

That we, as a 21st century democracy, should have a Head of State (and extended Royal Family) chosen by accident of birth is, frankly, preposterous!

Their ancestors reached their positions of power by plunder, pillage and patronage. Now half the population goes all gooey-eyed over their present-day descendents.

I'm not saying some of the lesser members of this weird family has not done some good over the years in terms of support for worthy Charities, but they could have done that anyway without enjoying their exalted position achieved by accident.

Already I can hear people bleeting about their value as a tourist attraction; the pomp, the ceremony, the Changing of the Guard, Trooping the Colour, and so on. And "The Queen, God bless her - such a lovely lady, and doesn't she work hard?!" I don't doubt it - but - suppose she wasn't, and didn't?

The sooner we abandon this lunacy the better. I'm sure that if we had an elected Head of State, like other civilized democracies, the Grenadier Guards and all those other guys in red coats and furry hats would still be able to put on just as good a show for the tourists.

The only good thing about this wedding is we get an extra day off. Hooray!

15 March 2011

Devastation, Confusion, Overheating, Meltdown ..

Devastation, Confusion, Overheating, Meltdown .. AND THAT'S JUST MY BRAIN.

Where is God?
What is God?
Did God make Man or did Man make God?
And are these questions about anyone (or anything) that actually exists?

A very good friend has tried to reassure me: "God exists, He really does."

If I say "God doesn't exist, He really doesn't", which of us can be proved right?

Hurrican Katrina, Indonesian tsunami, Chilean earthquake, Chinese earthquake, New Zealand earthqake, and now the Japanese tsunami .. if God made our World, one can be led to a number of possible conclusions:

1. He (She or It) doesn't exist therefore He (She or It) didn't.
2. If He (She or It) does exist, then it wasn't a 6-day job - it's work still in progress.
3. He (She or It) designed the world deliberately as a very dangerous place on which to exist.

Conclusions 2 and 3 are backed up by the existence of harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites that have led to thousands of years of disease and suffering.

To those who say all this death and destruction is part of a mysterious Plan, and brings forth occasional miracles like an unexpected survival (often hailed as an answer to prayers), I ask, what about all those who didn't survive who were also the subject of prayer?

It's a bit like me driving up to your house in the middle of the night with a bulldozer and flattening your property, then jumping out of the driving seat to pull one of you from the wreckage and calling the emergency services. This would be followed by my being hailed as a saviour, conveniently ignoring the fact that I had destroyed your house in the first place.

Does anyone have the means of cooling down my rapidly overheating brain?

09 March 2011

Cigarettes are going under the counter. Good thing!

Renouncing Nicotine

The UK Government has announced plans to prevent the visible display of cigarettes in shops. It got me thinking about my own battle several years ago to renounce nicotine.

I was, like many other people relieving stress by smoking large quantities of cigarettes. I had not at that time realised that smoking does not really induce relaxation. The reality is that the perceived pleasure (or relaxation) gained by lighting up is merely the addicted body’s craving for nicotine being satisfied.

How often do you hear the cry, “I get pleasure from smoking”. Of course you do: relieving an addiction can’t be anything else but a "pleasure"!

Like any other smoker I was immune to such argument: the craving goes beyond the bounds of logical argument. I can't stop my son smoking because he is, like all addicts, in denial. As far as he is concerned there are no health problems associated with smoking.

Like any other smoker I was prepared to divert large proportions of my monthly income into the purchase of cigarettes, and each time the Chancellor of the Exchequer increased the tax we moaned a bit but carried on buying the things anyway.

In the mid-1970s we were all aware that smoking was bad for our health, but again, addiction goes beyond accepting the logical conclusion that we should ditch the habit. I was no exception, and the arguments regarding my health went right over my head; I was not going to be one of those who got hardened arteries, heart disease or lung cancer.

Nevertheless, I did give up smoking, and the reasons were purely financial.

After several months of trying to make ends meet and collecting a nice little pile of unpaid bills, withdrawal of my monthly petrol credit account by the local garage, and a number of red notices for unpaid utility bills, I began to realise that I needed more cash. Since more cash from my employers would not be forthcoming (until or unless I got more promotion) my only option was to give up the habit.

I remembered that my father had once been a chain smoker, living in a perpetual haze of smoke. One day he decided to give it up.

Did he receive counselling? No.

Did he use nicotine patches? No.

Did he use nicotine chewing gum? No.

Did he use dummy cigarettes dispensing nicotine? No.

None of these things was available then. One day he was a chain smoker, the next day he was a non-smoker. From that day he never touched another cigarette for the rest of his life. He could not even be persuaded to have a cigar after dinner on Christmas Day.

(My mother, who had already given up smoking, used to keep a cigarette in her dressing table drawer for Christmas Day. The family used to look forward to Mother's Christmas spectacle of her 12-month old cigarette going up in flames as soon as she lit it.)

I thought if my father could kick the habit, so could I. Well, I did, but not quite as impressively as he did. It took many months. I started to cut down on the amount I smoked each day. Then came the day when I bought no further cigarettes, but I was smoking other peoples: each time I attended a work meeting or a social gathering, and someone offered me a cigarette, I took it, knowing full well that I would at no stage be in a position to reciprocate.

I persuaded myself pipe smoking was less harmful and so bought a pipe. Naturally this meant I had to fill my jacket pockets with all the accoutrements - a box of matches or a lighter with the delivery of a blow-torch, tobacco pouch, pipe cleaners, a tool for scraping out carbon deposits, and of course the pipe itself. My appearance became somewhat lumpy.

Then there is the procedure - stuff the tobacco into the bowl of the pipe, compress it to just the right consistency with your finger or thumb, get the blow-torch going and draw deeply on the pipe as you apply the flame and wait for the big cloud of smoke and the people nearby coughing and waving their arms about, indicating successful combustion. Then, after some contented puffs and rejoicing in how important and distinguished you look, either the pipe goes out or you find yourself sucking in some foul tasting liquid accompanied by bubbling noises, indicating the need to embark on one of the many pipe servicing schedules.

Servicing could be carried on in the middle of management meetings, turning the pipe bowl upside down and banging it loudly on a big ashtray, interrupting someone’s important contribution to the meeting. The mouthpiece could be pulled off to facilitate the drainage of stinking black liquor into the ashtray, then a pipe cleaner could be pushed back and forth through both sections of the pipe, and the de-coking tool scraped around the inside the pipe bowl.

It occurred to me after a few months of this that it was all faintly ridiculous. Moreover, carrying all this stuff around in addition to a wallet and a pocketful of money was ruining my suits and jackets. So I threw the whole lot away and started buying tins of small cigars, again convincing myself that cigars were less harmful and less addictive than cigarettes.

The financial problems were easing, but here I was, still spending money on rolls of leaves to be stuffed into my mouth and set alight, so I made the decision that I would smoke just one cigar a week, after Sunday lunch. This was the pattern that continued right up until just after the millennium, when a series of bronchitis attacks stopped me smoking completely.

The interesting thing about giving up the cigarettes was that, even when I was on a pipe, and then cigars, I began to find the smell of cigarette smoke extremely offensive, and this certainly helped me in my resolve never to go back to them. I also began to notice how the appearance of cigarette smokers differed from non-smokers - something about the skin quality, particularly around the area of the eyes. Then there were also the tell-tale signs of yellow fingers and, with grey-haired people, the yellow tinge imparted to that part of the hair nearest the face. The voice quality was also different, and the noise of the breathing, (not to mention the smell of the breathing) and of course the occasional wheezy cough. I noticed I was able to recognise smokers and non-smokers whether or not cigarettes were on display.

By the time I had reached the one cigar per week stage I was confidently calling myself a “non-smoker”, though I had frequent arguments with my wife about this as she insisted that obviously I was still a “smoker”. I gained strength for my argument from the fact that my doctor had now amended my medical records to state that I was indeed a “non-smoker”. Firstly he stated that on one cigar per week, the effects on my health were likely to be so negligible as to be equivalent to not smoking at all and secondly, because his computer system recorded smoking on the basis of x number of cigarettes/cigars per day, in my case he would have to enter 0.14 per day, and on his computer this was returned as a big fat zero! (I suspect this was his real reason for calling me a "non-smoker"). Things have changed again, now. Those of us who have renounced the habit are recorded as ex-smokers.

What is significant, however, is the fact that my health improved and so did my bank balance. I've never regretted giving it up. I've never missed it. And when I meet asthmatics who are still smoking I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Can there by anything more ludicrous than a person with a breathing affliction deliberately sucking smoke into their lungs?!

21 February 2011

Electoral Reform - Another Gem from the "No" Campaign

The other day Prime Minister David Cameron (who, unlike his Liberal Democrat Coalition partner and Deputy Nick Clegg, is against scrapping the "first-past-the-post" system) came out with the astonishing claim that, had last year's General Election been held under the Alternative Vote system it would have produced another five years of a Gordon Brown Labour Government!

Does Cameron have psychic powers? In order to make such a claim he would need to know what every voter's second and third (and fourth?) preferences would have been if the election had been held under the Alternative Vote system.

This is just another example of the pathetic attempts by the NO campaigners we can expect to see over the coming weeks to persuade us to hold on to a system that returns two thirds of our MPs to Parliament on less than 50% support of their constituents.

15 February 2011

Voting Reform - The NO Campaigners Show Themselves

I wondered where they were hiding, but the "NO" campaigners have come out from under their stone at last, indicating their likely tactics in persuading us to stick with the existing "First past the Post" system.

Here are their key ideas: the Alternative Vote is more complicated; the Alternative Vote is more expensive; the Alternative Vote is likely to deliver more Coalition Governments.

Notice that the words democracy and democratic don't feature in any of this. That's no surprise because there is no argument in this world that can convince any right-minded person that a system delivering Members of Parliament representing a minority of their constituents (sometimes for life) is democratic.

On the issue of other systems being more complicated, are we not sufficiently intelligent to be able to cope? How on earth do the rest of Europe manage to handle it? Leaving aside the possible fact that they have clearer heads because they don't binge-drink like the British, I still think we can summon up sufficient intellectual capacity to deal with a slightly less simple method of voting and counting.

As for the cost, well we could make the thing a whole lot cheaper by abolishing elections. (Last time I looked, that was called a Dictatorship). Come to think of it, perhaps that's why 40% of our population don't bother to vote anyway, because they do not see it delivering anything relevant to their own ideas.

The "NO" campaigners are going to have to rely entirely upon fear and negativity in order to persuade us that it is better to accept the devil we know rather than the one we don't.

They should return to the primeval swamp from whence they came, in which inertia is the best method of survival, leaving the rest of us with brains to pursue our legitimate demand for more democracy. OK, some will argue that the "Alternative Vote" is not fully democratic, but from little acorns grow mighty oak trees.

More power to the "YES" Campaign!

26 January 2011

Balls Up?

When Ed Milliband became Leader of the British Labour Party (in Opposition) not so long ago, he avoided giving the post of Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer to the man thought most likely to be in the running for it, namely Ed Balls. It was rumoured that there was no love lost between them.

Instead he appointed Alan Johnson, a man with no particular financial credentials, and yet was someone who represented what is increasingly a rarity in British politics, i.e., a politician with the common touch who had once had a real job (he started out as a postal worker) before he entered politics. He was likeable and had a good sense of humour. Interviewed soon after his appointment as Shadow Chancellor, he told reporters that he would be busy reading his Economics Primer.

Now, sadly Alan Johnson is the victim of a failed marriage brought to a head by an affair between his wife and his police bodyguard, of all people! He felt the need to tender his resignation as Shadow Chancellor because of his domestic difficulties.

Now Ed Milliband has fallen back on Ed Balls to take this post. He is not a particularly likeable character, hugely ambitious, has a reputation for bullying (I wouldn't be surprised if he was a victim of bullying at school with a name like that), and more significantly was closely associated with Gordon Brown's failed economic management in the final two years of the last Labour Government.

It remains to be seen whether two Eds are better than one.

02 January 2011

Tea Party - Does America deserve these people?

It was reported in the New York Times today that, in their final days controlling the House, Democrats succeeded in passing legislation that Tea Party leaders opposed, including a bill to cover the cost of medical care for rescue workers at the site of the World Trade Center attacks, an arms-control treaty with Russia, a food safety bill and a repeal of the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military.

Tea Party rank and file are reportedly very angry that Republicans have done nothing to stop this outrageous activity.

That would be a terrible thing, wouldn't it? - Helping with medical care for those brave rescue workers at the "Twin Towers" tragedy?

And we don't want an arms control treaty with Russia do we? Let's keep on ramping up the tension.

As for food, we only depend upon it to stay alive, don't we, so what does it matter if it contains poisons?

And the Military (anywhere) has included homosexuals since time immemorial, so what's the point of pretending they don't exist? Why are they a problem to the Tea Party nuts?

Surveys suggest that about 1.5% of the American population is homosexual, and in World War II sixteen million American service men and women were involved. Some of those must have been homosexual - perhaps 240,000 of them? As I recall, they were on the winning side.