Sunday, December 31, 2006

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Alternative awards list - those who turned down an honour

The Honours List rears it ugly head again. Don't get me started. It is a ridiculous sham. Some people, often those who have already been richly rewarded in life, are given an award for doing their job. Others, who deserve one, don't get one.

So let us raise an end of year glass to those who have turned down an honour:

Dawn French
Jennifer Saunders
David Bowie
Benjamin Zephaniah
Alan Bennett
Albert Finney
George Melly
Geraldine McEwan
Hank Marvin
Jim Broadbent
John Cleese
John Cole
Jon Snow
Keith Richards
Kenneth Branagh
Michael Frayn
Nancy Banks-Smith
Nigella Lawson
Paul Scofield
Peter Alliss
Polly Toynbee
Michael Winner (the only time he'll appear on a accolade list from me! And I nearly didn't put him on this list because he actually turned down the award because it wasn't grand enough for him!)

There is a full list here, and we ought to also raise a glass to the grandaddy of awards refusniks:

L. S. Lowry, artist (declined OBE in 1955, CBE in 1961, knighthood in 1968, and CH in 1972 and 1976; holds the record for the most honours declined)

Friday, December 29, 2006

The success of the ban on hunting with hounds

Before the ban on hunting with hounds, we were told the law was illiberal because it would destroy hunts, put people out of work and take away the liberty of people to enjoy hunting.

Now we are told that the law has failed because it has not destroyed hunts, not put people out of work and has not taken away the liberty of people to enjoy hunting.

Huh?! Have I missed something?!

Could it be that the law is actually successful because it has precisely excised the one practice which was objectionable - specifically the tearing apart of foxes by hounds - while leaving untouched the unobjectionable elements such as riding out with hounds, following scents etc etc?


So all those people who said that the campaign for a ban was a class prejudice thing, are actually left with rather a denuded argument, are they not? The social activity of hunting has been left untouched, save for the actual tearing apart of the fox by hounds.

All those who said that the ban would allow a conversion of hunts to drag or trail hunting have been proved right.

The Second World War is now over (for HM Treasury, that is)

One of the most painful experiences of the Atlee government was having to borrow loads of dosh from the US. The good news is that today we have finally paid it back!:

Gordon Brown's officials will (today), at the push of a button, make two electronic transfers of so-called "war loan" across the Atlantic, marking the end of a chapter of British history that began under Labour chancellor Hugh Dalton in 1945. The final payments of the loans, to the United States and Canada, are not negligible - $83.25m (£42.5m) and $22.7m respectively.

...In 1945 Britain borrowed $4.34bn from the US consisting of a $3.75bn line of credit and a "lend-lease" loan facility of $586m. The following year the government agreed a $1.185bn line of credit loan from Canada.

The staggering thing is the rate of interest - 2%!

Peel's dream of 101 Sharons

I am always a bit late reading books. I have just got round to John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft's "Margrave of the marshes".

It is a wonderful book and underlines what a wonderful chap Peel was. It is a shame that John Peel only got round to writing about a third of the book. The third that he did write is absolutely fascinatingly and beautifully written. The tales of his time in the USA are priceless. His tale of his meeting with John F Kennedy would be unbelievable had it not been accompanied by two remarkable photos, taken by Peel in Dallas, of the great man.

A paragraph written by Peel's wife, Sheila, deserves to be engraved on Peel's tombstone. He ran a record label called Dandelion Records. I have one of the albums released on it somewhere. Sheila Ravenscroft writes:

Sadly John never raised the funds necessary to finance the 101 Sharons, his pet Dandelion project for which he planned to gather together 101 women called Sharon, lock them in a studio and refuse to release them until they'd recorded an album.

Wonderful Christmas Day sea swim

In the dim and distant past I went swimming in the sea on Christmas Day. This year, I was delighted to repeat the exercise.

I did it with my daughter and nephew in some style at the Mike Moyle Memorial Christmas Day Swim at Crooklets Beach, Bude.

The event was organised with considerable panache by Bude Surf Life Saving Club.

It sounds simple - run in, have a dip, run out. But there were 200+ people taking part and about a thousand spectators.

In past years, the "dippers" have stood on the sand, someone blew a whistle and they all ran into the sea.

This year it was a bit more of an occasion. A wide lane of the beach was roped off. A start line was established at the very top of the beach by the Surf Life Saving Club building. All 200+ swimmers congregated at the top of the beach and a klaxon was sounded.

Then the fun started. We all charged down the beach.

Bear in mind three things, however:

1. No wet suits were allowed.

2. You had to dive in and cover your whole body with sea water.

3. The top 80% of Crooklets Beach is covered in stones.

So we had to run over the stones! (What sadist thought of that?!) And if you had stopped or slowed down you would have had 200 people piling into the back of you.

So, although I recovered from the cold of the sea just after the "dip", I am still recovering from the bruises on the soles of my feet, incurred running across the blessed stones.

However, it was a very fitting tribute to Mike Moyle, who was a founder member of Bude Surf Life Saving Club and the Bude Lifeboat. He was a consistent and loyal activist for both of them over nigh-on fifty years.

Big Issue seller attacked in Newbury

There is a young lady called Aurelia who sells The Big Issue in Newbury by W.H.Smith.

She has been selling the magazine there for several years, in all weathers. She originates from Romania and lives in one room with her two children and mother.

She recently featured in a photographic survey of Newbury and had her photograph exhibited at the Corn Exchange. I congratulated her on this when I bought a Big Issue copy from her about a month ago.

Recently Aurelia was abused and had cola poured on top of her head by youths. Subsequently, while the Newbury Weekly News was interviewing her at her usual pitch, they reported that she was verbally abused by two separate passing women.

This is outrageous. I made a point of looking for Aurelia this morning but she was not there. I wanted to say how much I am appalled by such ridiculous and offensive abuse. I will make a point of speaking to her soon.

As far as I am concerned, Aurelia is an integral part of Newbury and I hope that she and her family remain here and prosper for many years to come. The people who have abused and tormented her are complete idiots.

Number ten virtual tour

Number Ten's website now has a virtual tour on it. It kills a few minutes. It is reasonably impressive, although I notice it still has "beta" written on it. It has a "beta" feel to it!

Dylan,Cash and MacGowan - X-factor rejects?

I have recently been thinking about what would happen if Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Shane MacGowan appeared at an X-factor audition (putting aside, for a moment, the fact that Johnny Cash is in some heavenly choir and Shane MacGowan is otherwise detained enriching Dublin pub-owners).

Imagine the comments:

Johnny Cash: "Hopelessly flat" - Louis Walsh.

Bob Dylan: "Tuneless whining" - Simon Cowell.

Shane MacGowan: "Even attempting to be a pub singer is beyond you" - Simon Cowell.

Ford: devastating comment on Bush from beyond the grave

The Guardian today reports that Gerald Ford gave an interview with Bob Woodward, stipulating that it should only be published after his death. His criticism of Bush's policy on Iraq is devastating.

That is not just because the critique is from a former Republican President. It is made all the more powerful because Ford bases his comments on the American interest:

I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people unless it is directly related to our own national security.

This really does cut the ground from under the feet of Bush. Most, if not all, Americans apply the test of US national interest to their President's actions. Ford's comments emphasise, once again, that Bush is left defending his Iraq adventure in the manner of a Fairy Godmother going around the world trying to spread sweetness and light.

That is not a venture which goes down well in red-necked America.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

BBC: Good excuse to show The Cheeky Song (Touch my bum)

Last night, I watched the BBC Ten O'Clock news enthralled, because they said they had a story "coming up" on Lembit.

I should have known better. The teaser used that well-known journalistic cop-out - the question: "Could the Cheeky Girls have landed this MP in hot water?", actually. The minister, Liam whatshisface, laughed heartily when the subject was mentioned.

It seems that the BBC are guilty of wanting to drag in some sexy video of "The Cheeky Song (Touch my bum)" to sex-up their Ten O'Clock News, together with some graphics explaining Lembit's relationships and footage from that utterly dire appearance by LLoyd and Opik on "The Keith Barrett Show".

(Fortunately, the BBC didn't stoop to reshowing the man playing a xylophone with, which was shown to accompanying Lloyd/Opik laughter on that same "Keith Barret Show".)

The BBC News item was a very sexy little piece which made thousands, including myself, sit through a very tedious news programme to watch.

However, it seems that the only thing Lembit is guilty of Lembit. Oh, and he shouldn't sit with a laptop on his knees like he did in the video shown by the BBC. It will give him neck and back pain.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Parliamentary by-election near-miss "caused" by Tory council's "mistake"

Life is full of ironies.

Richard Benyon MP was nearly run over by a bus in Northbrook Street, Newbury last week. In his Westminster Diary he commented:

“I was nearly run over by a bus in Northbrook Street on Friday. Buses do not rev these days, they purr and this one crept up on me with the speed and stealth of a cheetah...

"It proved an expensive experience because I was saved by an eagle-eyed charity chugger to whom I felt duty bound to contribute. No more Newbury By-elections for the time being."

Despite strong local opposition led by the Liberal Democrats, Conservative-controlled West Berkshire Council has recently returned buses to Northbrook Street following the completion of works to make the street "one-level" for 10am-6pm pedestrianisation.

This has led to a very dangerous mixture of buses and pedestrians - the latter using the freedom of the "one level" street to roam all over the width of the street.

A bus driver of 19 years service has reportedly resigned rather than face such an "unsafe" drive through town.

It is most fortunate that this accident was not serious.

There is something of an irony here. The near-miss would allegedly appear to be not entirely unconnected to what many locals see as the alleged "mistake" of Mr Benyon's own party in putting the buses back into Northbrook Street. (That's enough legal caveats - Ed)

The episode certainly falls effortlessly under the heading: "You couldn't make it up".

Scissor Sisters at the O2 Millennium Dome

There is some excitement in the humble home of the Walters.

My wife has cleverly snapped up three tickets for the Scissor Sisters in July. Great. Something we all enjoy and rave about. They cross the generations do those crazy sisters.

She said it was at something called "O2" in Greenwich - a venue she hadn't heard of.

A quicky googly reveals that it is only at the Millennium Dome in the very month they re-open it!

Excitement indeed!


I was very pleased with myself yesterday at 7.30am. I announced to my bleary-eyed nine-year-old daughter that Joseph Barbera had died.

Who he? - ed.

Well she didn't say that, but did ask who he was.

...Only the bloke that co-drew Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, Hucklebury Hound and a shed-load of other cartoon favourites which my daughter watched 24 hour a day from her nappy days onwards on "Cartoon Network" etc etc.

Joseph Barbera was the partner of William Hanna, and as Hanna Barbera they were a pair of cultural giants. They weren't high brow. But goodness me, their cartoons have lasted.

Why the title of this blog: "Wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiillllllllllllllmaaaaaaaaa!"? Well, my daughter and I always used to particularly enjoy the bit at the end of the Flintstones, when Fred got locked out of his house in the process of putting his milk bottles out for the night and banged on the door and screamed "Wiiiiiiiiiiiilllllllmmmmmmmaa!!!" to be let back in.


At 84, the world starts to seem strange

Spare a thought for 84-year olds. My dear father-in-law, a lovely, lovely man, is now 84.

We celebrated his birthday last night at a marvellous, trendy eaterie.

I did feel sorry for the poor fellow.

At 84, things start to feel very alien, I'm sure. Certain reliable things in life start to crumble in front of you. What you used to rely on is now a thing of the past.

Take beer mugs. Yes, mugs. Nowadays it's all in "sleeves" or smooth glasses without a handle.

Never mind. My father-in-law always charms the bar staff by saying:

"Would it be possible to have it with a handle?"

Until that is, he got to his 84th birthday and the terribly nice eaterie we went to. They don't have mugs. Only "sleeves".

Oh dear.

Never mind. It's Brakspears. Super. Only the waiter comes back to say that someone seems to have knocked the barrel so it will take half-an-hour before it's ready to drink.

Oh dear. The pub with no beer.

Let's have some wine instead. Great.

The wine arrives and the waiter leaves it in a wine cooler on the table.

"Excuse me", pipes up father-in-law with some distain in his voice,"Wouldn't it be a good idea to put some ice in the ice bucket?"

"No dear father-in-law, it's not an ice-bucket, it is a wine-cooler which works on the insulation principle, based on the gap between its two layers of plastic".



Sunday, December 17, 2006

Cheeky girl: "Lembit went on for hours...the more we make love, the better it gets!"

The News of the World reports Lembit's relationship with one of the Cheeky Girls, who says:

"That night at his flat was amazing. Lembit's a very experienced lover. It was pure love, not ‘bang, bang' sex and that's it. He went on for hours. The age difference is not a problem for us...

"There was such a build-up of desire—and a huge explosion between us. Lembit was very gentle and passionate, his hands all over my body...

"And the more we make love, the better it gets!...

"We make love to music. I love underwear. I like to dress up in a girlie way and Lembit likes that...

"He has invited me to Wales for Christmas so I'll go on Boxing Day. I want to give him a great surprise. I'll definitely dress sexily!"

Meanwhile, in the Mail on Sunday, Sian Lloyd pours her heart out about the end of her relationship with Lembit. (I think I deserve a gold star for keeping any reference to the chubbiest digit on the hand out of this).

While all this is moderately salacious, there doesn't appear to be any smoking gun whatsoever, or, indeed, any connection to politics.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Obama wowing New Hampshire, John Edwards leading in Iowa

In the US, Senator Barack Obama is getting a phenomenal welcome in New Hampshire and has raised $1 million from ordinary people. A presidential run seems very likely.

New Hampshire is, of course, the first election in the presidential primaries. Candidates have to make a good showing there. The first serious primary, however, is often thought to be Iowa.

Interestingly, a recent poll from Iowa shows John Edwards doing well:

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) "came out far ahead of the rest of the pack of possible Democratic presidential candidates in a poll of Iowa Democrats," reports the Des Moines Register.

The survey results: 36% of Iowans support Edwards, followed by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) with 16%, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) with 13%, and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) with 9%.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What Sandra Gidley actually said on exercise and sport in schools

Sandra Gidley's full speech on sports in schools can be read in Hansard here. I have also quoted a chunk below.

Her particular statement was: "I would ask that we try to get away from competitive sport in schools and think about increasing exercise and activity."

I didn't realise that suggesting that "we try to get away" from competitive sport in order to increase exercise and activity amounts to a call for Schools Sports Days "to be scrapped", as interpreted elsewhere in the blogosphere.

In fact, if you read Sandra's comments, they are reasonable and derived from a genuine motivation to reduce obesity and increase exercise.

I speak having seen both sides of this situation. I enthusiastically cheer on my daughter, who is excellent at competitive sports. I wouldn't have it any different.

However, I was useless at them and the experience of not being picked for teams and having the mickey taken out of me for being "disco-ordinated" at school led to 23 years of complete inactivity. It was only when I looked at my blob of a body in the mirror at 40 that I took up regular gym exercise and I am now what could be described as "reasonably fit". I thoroughly enjoy gym work but it took a long time for me to discover it after dreadful experiences with competitive sport at school.

Competitive sport can lead to an "all or nothing" approach. It is right that we explore ways to encourage those who do not excel at sport to exercise.

The exercise I do down the gym is not competitive. I wish I experienced earlier how you can be fit through non-competitive sport. It is right that Sandra is suggesting ways to make sure that youngsters don't have the same experience as people like me, and are sympathetically introduced to non-competitive sport at an earlier stage.

Here is a fuller version of what Sandra (and other MPs) said from Hansard:

Sandra Gidley: Much has been said about sport, and I want to take issue with what the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) said about the need for a lot more competitive sport. Those children who are a towards the end of the queue when the teams are being picked soon get the message and decide that they do not want to exercise because they do not want to make fools of themselves. That is not a positive experience. I have a pet hate about school sports days. Children who have little sporting ability in the traditional sense are often forced to enter races and be publicly humiliated.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?
Sandra Gidley: I will not give way at the moment. I want to finish my point.
If a child cannot read, they are not put on a stage and made to stumble through the alphabet or a passage of Shakespeare, yet little thought is given to the children who do not excel at sport. Too little thought is given to other ways in which children can take exercise healthily and find a method of exercise that is suitable for them. That could involve dance, games and all sorts of other things. I would ask that we try to get away from competitive sport in schools and think about increasing exercise and activity. This is happening more and more, but I worry when I hear people saying, “Let's get back to good old hockey and football and other competitive sports.”
John Mann: Is the hon. Lady aware that one of the great successes in school sports under this Government is that the biggest increase in participatory sport in primary schools has been in the use of non-competitive climbing walls? Schoolchildren of all shapes and sizes are using them in increasingly large numbers in our primary schools.
Sandra Gidley: I am pleased to hear that, because that is the kind of diversity that we should be encouraging. Children often want to try something new and different, and they could be hooked into exercise in that way. The traditional patterns work against that. Many adults feel that exercise is not for them because they were made to play team sports at school, rather than being encouraged to find a form of exercise that suited them—
Mr. Bone: Rubbish.
Sandra Gidley: The hon. Gentleman says “Rubbish”, but this is well documented—
Mr. Bone: Give way, then.
Sandra Gidley: I will give way.
Mr. Bone: I remember watching my youngest son run around a running track and come last in his race, but that did not stop him. It encouraged him to go further, and he is now a pilot in the RAF. The hon. Lady is talking complete bunk.
5 Dec 2006 : Column 182
Sandra Gidley: I am not quite— [ Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Could we have just one debate, please?
Sandra Gidley: I am not quite sure that coming last in a school race is necessarily a proven route to becoming a super fighter pilot in the RAF, but I am willing to be persuaded.
It would be useful if we could look at ways of increasing the facilities for families to engage in sport together. It is often a positive experience for families to exercise together. Recently, I went to a “Skip to be fit” session at one of my local schools. Everyone has done skipping at school, but this involved digital skipping ropes, and the children were quite excited. The emphasis was on learning to skip on a six-week programme with a personal improvement assessment at the end of it. The children were not measured by their peers, but by themselves. Such personal improvement initiatives are much more positive and inspiring for children than those in which their performance is compared with that of others.
I was intrigued by the fact that the Government have spent £27,000—quite a lot of money—on pedometers. I have several pedometers, all of which seem to register different things. Most people wear them for two or three days and then chuck them into a drawer. What evidence base prompted that purchase? What analysis has been made of the cost-effectiveness of pedometers? We frequently talk about evidence bases: a new medicine cannot be licensed without a convincing evidence base. However, it seems that many well-meant public health interventions do not have an evidence base. With the varying inequalities in different parts of society, a little evidence about what works in different socio-economic or ethnic groups or on a gender-specific basis would be useful.
Dr. Murrison: Does the hon. Lady agree that although £27,000 is a lot of money, it is probably better spent than £20,000 on a piece of soft propaganda in the Health Service Journal? In the context of public health, does she agree that it is important to ensure that public money is spent in a reasonable and worthwhile way?
Sandra Gidley: It strikes me slightly that the Health Service Journal is preaching to the converted. An evidence base is needed to decide whether that is a more effective use of money than pedometers. I do not have the answer to that question.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

20 years' worth of loo roll and other great over-ordering misadventures

In an earlier career roughly 25 years ago, I was responsible for ordering 10 x RL02K-DD instead of 10 x RL02K-DC.

Seems a minor matter, doesn't it?

Sadly, RL02K-DD were sets of 100 RL02 computer disks (themselves as big as a microwave). What I meant to order was 10 single disks - RL02K-DC.

So I ordered 1,000 disks instead of 10.

The resultant convoy of trucks careering around Europe was enough to make the earth slightly shift on its axis and I was partially blamed for filling up a car park in Nijmegen, Netherlands with trucks full of disks for six months.

I never made the same mistake again!

I was therefore fascinated to read the story of Dorling Kindersley books which basically went to the wall (and was purchased by Pearson) when some poor soul ordered 13 million Star Wars books to be printed. They only sold three million of the books. Try to imagine 10 million books sitting in a warehouse. It is quite a lot. The resultant problem caused the business to leave the hands of its founders.

Imagine my interest then, today, when I read this in the Guardian diary:

We are indebted to Local, the English-language news service of Sweden, for the undeniably heartening news that police in the western town of Hagfors have placed their first order for toilet paper since early March 1986, when a minor administrative error - the result, it seems, of an understandable if, on the whole, regrettable confusion between the Swedish equivalents of the word "packet" and the word "pallet" - left them with a small 20-year surplus. "It took all day to unload," recalled station chief Björn Fredlund fondly. "We filled 12 garages with it. But we started the last roll on Thursday." (What's more, we did not make that up.)

You have to hand it to those Swedish policemen. They seem to have handled (literally) their problem of over-ordering with terrific style.

Social exclusion report - good old fashioned Tory round spherical objects

So, in essence, the vast oeuvre of IDS on social exclusion amounts to:

Married people stay together, so co-habitees need to get married and then all the problems of poverty will be solved. To achieve this we'll give lots of married people who aren't poor lots of money so they will vote for us anyway even if it doesn't do much for the poor.


But I thought, as I swiftly turned off David Cameron on the telly before retching:

"Hang on - they're mixing up cause and effect".

People aren't poor because they are unmarried. They are poor because they are poor and happen to be unmarried (probably because they haven't got enough money to get married).

Some people might call the Tories "Social Exclusion" report conclusion "bovine scatology" or "b*ll****" but I wouldn't stoop to that sort of language. I would call it: "round spherical objects".

Polly Toynbee put it very well in today's Guardian:

But this torrent of facts mainly reciting the blindingly obvious has a gigantic logical nonsense at its heart. Its arguments are circular, confusing causes and effects, citing symptoms as if they were reasons.

...a great leap into logical fallacy concludes that lack of a marriage certificate is the prime cause of all the rest.

I must say it is a relief that the Tories are still the good old fashioned Tories at heart, as this report shows beyond all doubt.

BA: guilty of a crime against the English language

With my usual smugness yesterday, I waltzed past the queues in Terminal 4 to use the internet check-in. All done and dusted in a minute. Then I went to take my bag to the “Fast bag drop”.

Oh dear. The queue for the “Fast bag drop” had 300 people in it and it took 45 minutes to get to the counter!

Cambridge dictionaries define "fast" as " moving or happening quickly, or able to move or happen quickly”.

“Dawdling” is defined as: “doing something very slowly, taking more time than is necessary”.

So perhaps "dawdling bag drop" is the phrase BA are grappling for.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Not in Colne - try Burnley"

This weekend I made my, now annual, spiritual pilgrimage to what many people regard as the crucible of Liberal Democracy - Colne in Lancashire. It is, of course, covered by Pendle Borough Council, and the home town of that giant of the LibDems, (Lord) Tony Greaves.

Once again, we stayed in splendour at the Crown Hotel, Albert Road, Colne. It is an absolute marvel of a hotel, with a wonderful bar. I see that it is recommended by East Lancashire CAMRA and, indeed, I enjoyed some fine cask Mild and cask Tetley Bitter there.

I was with my father-in-law, who is 83 years old, making a family visit. He has a rather mischievous way with him. While we enjoyed a gargantuan meal of Lamb Shoulder in the busy Crown lounge bar last night, he noticed a sign announcing the "Entertainment" for the night - a lady by the name of Pauline. He asked at the bar, with a twinkle in his eye, "is this young lady, Pauline, a lap dancer?". Unfazed, the barman said: "Why don't you ask her, she's just walked in".

Unabashed, my father-in-law walked up to the lady and said: "Are you a lap dancer?" (Somehow he can get away with this sort of thing at 83!)

The lady replied:

"No chuck, I'm just a singer - you have to go to Burnley for that sort of thing."

Princess Diana - belt up!

A few days after Princess Diana was killed, I had a letter published in the national press saying that there was one lesson that people should learn from her accident: Wear a seat belt always in a car!

Now, after speculation that has laid waste to hundreds of forests, that one key lesson remains.

As the Observer puts it today: "...if the Princess of Wales and her lover had been wearing seatbelts, both would quite possibly still be alive."

You only have to remember that bodyguard Trevor Rhys-Jones was riding in the front passenger seat (on the same side of the vehicle as Diana) and is alive today. He obviously took more impact than Diana behind him but, crucially, the wise lad was wearing a seat-belt.

I hope the £2 million spent on the Stevens' enquiry is money well spent and leads to the general populace finally accepting what happened and moving on. As someone who has also lost a son, my advice to Mohamed al-Fayed would also be to "drop it".

The greatest tribute that could be paid to Diana would be that no child ever rides in a car without wearing a seat-belt. Sadly, virtually every week I see children unbelted in cars.

Bush pickle

It never ceases to amaze me how George W. Bush gets himself deeper and deeper into an almighty pickle in Iraq.

Last week, he had a superb "get out of jail" card from the Iraq study group.

However, the silly sausage seems hell-bent on getting himself deeper and deeper into what his father called "deep doo-doo", by sending in more troops.

He has thereby added two gallons of vinegar to his already well-spiced "Bush Iraq pickle".

The Democrats at last have a Iraq exit strategy to unite around - the Iraq study group report - and now even previously rock-solid Bush supporters on Iraq in the Republican party are turning against him. The example is Gordon Smith, Republican Senator from Oregon. He has labelled US Iraq policy absurd and "maybe even criminal".

It seems clear that US policy on Iraq will not change until Bush leaves office. That is crazy. Ideally, Bush should realise he has made a mistake and "cut and walk".

After all, a significant key fact, which the Study Group report emphasises, is that most casualties in Iraq come not from attacks on US troops but from inter-communual violence. So, basically, the US is refereeing a civil war.

History is going to have a lot to say about George W Bush. Psychologist Oliver James traces all Bush's actions back to fierce anger with his father and mother. The supreme irony is, that if George W Bush had listened to his father, and learnt lessons from him (Lesson 1: Assemble an international coalition (as per Gulf War 1) ; Lesson 2: Don't march on Baghdad you numpty!) he wouldn't be destined to go down as one of the most disastrous Presidents in US history.

Rolls Royces don't break down...

...So said a Rolls Royce salesman to a friend of mine. "They merely have operational failures", he continued. Indeed, they ceremoniously grind to halt in a very dignified way.

One such case in point was on the M40 today. There was a gleaming Roller parked up on the hard shoulder while two occupants trudged to the phone.

In the words of the late Terry-Thomas: "Hard cheese!"

The Bank which doesn't accept cheques

There seem to be an increasing number of places these days which have signs by the till saying "We do not accept cheques".

This morning I was part of a queue of 15 people waiting to be served by two cashiers at a Moto petrol station.

So I had plenty of time to think while I was in the queue! They had one of those "we do not accept cheques" signs at the till.

Then I thought....Moto is owned by Australia's Macquarie Bank.

Hum...a bank that won't accept cheques. Fascinating.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Fiji coup - utterly illogical

It is said that Commodore Bainimarama, the army leader who has illegally taken over Fiji, is doing so to stand up for the minority ethnic Indians in the country.

There is an old fashioned technical term for this line of argument - codswallop.

There are two reasons why this argument holds as much water as a rusted collander:

1. The government of Fiji was a multi-party one, with a multi-party cabinet including members from the Fijian Labour party which, to all intents and purposes, represents the ethnic Indians in the country. The Fijian Labour party is led by Mahendra Chaudhry, an ethnic Indian who was ousted as Prime Minister in 2000. Chaudhry himself was not a member of the cabinet. Members of his party were members.

2. In 2000 Bainimarama had the chance to support the Indian minority. All he had to do was reinstate Chaudhry as the elected Prime Minister after Chaudhry was released from illegal arrest by George Speight in the Parliament building. This would have been the simple, logical, democratic and legal thing to do. Instead, Bainimarama went along with the dissolution of parliament and the constitution and appointed Qarese as interim prime minister. Qarese was then confirmed as prime minister, narrowly, in a national election. The new constitution dictates a multi-party cabinet. There was a lot of wrangling about implementing this part of the constitution, but at the time of the coup a few days ago, it had been implemented as stated above and confirmed below by Newstalk ZB Auckland:

Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry says Government politicians have been warned by the military leader not to make any trouble. Mr Chaudhry's party is a coalition partner in the ousted Government and is yet to decide its next move. Mr Chaudhry says he does not know the exact state of the Parliament at the moment and will have to check it out.

Fiji's Commodore Bainimarama - a complete idiot

The international condemnation of Commodore Frank Bainimarama's coup in Fiji has been welcome.

The man is a complete idiot and he is making idiots of the Fijian people in the eyes of the world.

New Zealand, as its largest neighbour, usually has benign influence over Fiji. I am delighted that Helen Clark, New Zealand's Prime Minister, has been voiciferous in condemning the coup. She said: "This is an outrage what is happening in Fiji."

New Zealand Radio reports her at fuller length:

"The message of the New Zealand government to the Commodore and the President is very clear," she (Clark) said.

"They should pull back even at this late stage from their unconstitutional action. If they do not they will cause irreparable damage to the economy and the people."

Miss Clark says it is also likely Fiji will again be suspended from membership of the Commonwealth.

She says Fiji's constitution only allows the President to remove the Prime Minister if he has lost the confidence of Parliament, and this is clearly not the case.

On BBC Radio Four's Today programme, Helen Clark said:

The Commodore warned Fijians not to carry out illegal acts. That is the supreme irony given that he has just ripped up his country's constitution and thrown it out of his barrack-room window.

Very succinctly put. I love the way those Antipodeans speak, don't you?

The Sydney Morning Herald describes events thus:

FIJI'S military chief, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has declared himself head of state, sacked the Qarase Government and justified his actions with references to the dismissal of Gough Whitlam.

Commodore Bainimarama said the Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, had refused to accept the military's demands, as Fiji fell into its fourth coup in 20 years.

Citing a 1975 precedent, the dismissal of the Whitlam government by Australia's governor-general, John Kerr, Commodore Bainimarama invoked a part of Fiji's constitution allowing the president in "exceptional circumstances" to dismiss a government.

But when the President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, refused to back him, the military chief appointed himself president. Commodore Bainimarama said he was breaking a "stalemate" after Ratu Iloilo's afternoon statement saying he was "neither supporting nor condoning" the military actions.

But have no fear. The idiot Bainimarama has appointed an interim prime minister, Jona Senilagakali, the military force's senior medical officer. Well, he must have a heck of a lot of experience of governing and really carry the confidence of the Fijian people, mustn't he?!

What I don't understand is this. Bainimarama's main gripe is that Qarese, the elected Fijian Prime Minister, was intending to give an amnesty to the movers of the coup six years ago.

In order to stop this, Bainimarama has committed an illegal act himself. Doh!

As if to emphasise the microscopic size of the man's brain, China Confidential reports:

Fiji's military commander, Frank Bainimarama, sees himself as the protector of multiculturalism in the Pacific island nation. He asserts that the deposed government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase was discriminating against the ethnic Indian minority, which makes up about 40 percent of the population.

That's funny! Bainimarama appointed Qarese six years ago after the ethnic Indian Prime Minister had been locked up in the parliament and ousted - in a series of moves which increased the influence of the islands' indigenous population at the disadvantage of the ethnic Indians. Now he is getting rid of Qarese, he says, to do the opposite - give more voice to the ethnic Indians. Doh! Make up your mind you, numpty!

Monday, December 4, 2006

Bananarama takeover Fiji

Well a pop trio has to do something in retirement...

It's a cruel cruel summer..'s Bainimarama is it?! All I know is that he's called Frank and he wears a beret - some mothers do 'ave 'em.

You have to laugh or cry, though. Three coups in twenty years. Without the benefit of a head of state to hold things steady (Frank has made himself President - last time the President hopped it pronto when the coup happened).

Sooner or later Fiji is going to have to grow up. You cannot run a country by the army deciding who is in government. That is the job of the people who elect the government. For better or worse. Last time it seems there was unhappiness with an ethnic Indian running the government. So they changed the PM to an indigeonous Fijian. Now they aren't happy with him. Ridiculous.

This is a situation where the EU comes into its own. I hope there is fierce condemnation from the EU. Tourism and trade depends on Fiji having a democratic government. The Fijian army are going to ruin the country regarding trade and tourism if they don't stop interfering with democracy. It's pathetic.

The one saving grace is that the Fijian army have a reputation for eschewing violence for its own sake. Last time I think just one person got shot.

Last time, Fijilive provided an excellent forum for views on the coup. I will be checking that site regularly to see if they are allowed to carry comments. I suspect that there may be someone in their office wearing a uniform and with a gun....I hope not.

Blair doing the tidying?

Nuclear weapons. Nuclear power. Pensions.

These are thorny long-term problems which have often torn apart the Labour party in the past.

Yet Tony Blair is is going round, in his last few months, with his governmental fluffy blue duster, tidying up these problems, ready for the Gord to arrive at Number Ten without the diversions of any "little local difficulties".

One can't but help think that Gordon Brown has a lot to be thankful to Tony Blair for. Will he be thankful?

Will he 'eck as like.

Lord Hoggart of Ilkley?

Amid the cheap runs and low-hanging heads of most bowlers, one man rolled back his sleeves and stood high above the rest - Matthew Hoggard.

So writes Scott Heinrich about the Adelaide test.

Matthew Hoggard has long been a sporting hero of mine. Who could not be charmed by that Yorkshire "agricultural" gait and that stoic, slogging determination?

The high-point of my hero worship was at the end of the 2005 Fourth test against Australia. As Aggers put it:

You could have picked any of England's batsmen to walk off Trent Bridge as match-winners, but Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard would have come a long way down the list of probables.

However, their small but crucial partnership of 13 steered England to victory when moments earlier, at 116 for 7, Australia suddenly realised that retaining the Ashes was a real possibility.

It was as I saw the calm, determined Yorkshireman walking towards the crease I began to realise that this man, and Giles, would do it. And they did.

I can only think of one argument in favour of retaining appointed peers in the House of Lords. That would be to allow Matthew Hoggard the easy way to becoming "Lord Hoggard of Ilkley".

Or would that be "of Leeds" or "of some other place in Yorkshire"? But, these are mere details. The man deserves a peerage. Period.

Beautiful Christingle service

The Christingle service at St Nicolas church, Newbury yesterday was a triumph. Normally the service is held at 3pm. However, this year someone had the excellent idea to combine it with one of the main services at 10.45am and have the service run by Pathfinders, our 9-14 year old group.

The result was a church full of families enjoying a joyous service including some wonderful singing from the Pathfinders.

In particular, I was bowled over by a hymn I haven't heard before. It's called "Round Orange, Round Orange you serve as a sign" - a Christingle carol. It is by Elizabeth Cosnett and was sung to the tune "Lourdes". The words are in the lower half of the page here. I have been signing it to myself all day. It really is beautiful.

Antidotes to political over-activity

Some years ago I was forced by circumstances to find recreation away from politics. By "recreation" I mean: ways to "vegetate" (as we used to say) or "chill" (as we now say). I found two things:

Radio Three

You can actually listen to Radio Three without using 96.7% of your brain's functions, tests show. (Oh alright then, I just made up that bit about tests, but what the heck). The soothing music and lack of adverts on Radio Three is a great aid to relaxation. But the fact that most of the music is unrecognisable, to a non-classical music buff like me, is a bonus. I think that the mostly recognisable music on Classic FM actually requires a brain function to follow the music against your memory of that music. This uses up valuable brain resources. When you have tunes you don't recognise, as mostly occurs on Radio Three, your brain doesn't have to strain itself to play back your memory of the tune as it is played. (Now you know why I never studied Biology beyond fourth form).

Good old ITV

You can't beat good old ITV drama for chilling out the brain. Taggart - marvellous. Midsomer Murders - excellent. Peak Practice - oh, I do miss it. But la creme de la creme of ITV gold is, without doubt, Heartbeat! I am developing a catchprase which goes:

It's 8 o'clock on Sunday. God's in his heaven, Heartbeat's on ITV and all's right with the world.

Yes, I know all these programmes are not high-brow (choosing my words carefully). But that's the point. As a medical friend of mine says: 'You need to be able to switch off and drown in mindless telly every now and again'.

PS. By 'eck - look who's appearing in Heartbeat next Sunday - it's only our Dickie Bird!

Queens' voice melts

In the fifities one courageous soul (I am wracking my brains to remember his name so please help me if you can remember it) criticised the Queen's voice. This brought on an enormous furore from Royalists accusing him of treason and calling for his head. He dared to suggest that Her Majesty's voice was rather high-pitched. Quite a mild observation, I think.

Now, fifty years later, a study has shown that the Queen has been listening to "feedback" about her voice. Her voice has been changing over the years, apparently. I myself noticed a change in tone in the 2002 Christmas message and had this observation published by the News of the World on 29th December of that year:

Cracking speech!

MANY thanks to Her Majesty for employing a decent voice coach...for once we didn't have to secure the crystal glass before her Xmas Day message!

Oh, I am a one, aren't I?

Anyway, the study seems to have been very academic and thorough:

Researchers analysed each of her messages to the Commonwealth since her 1952 accession using digital technology to track the shift in her pronunciation from the aristocratic Upper Received to the less plummy Standard Received.

Jonathan Harrington, professor of phonetics at Germany's University of Munich, wanted to discover whether dialect changes recorded over the past half-century would take place within one person.

"As far as I know, there just is nobody else for whom there is this sort of broadcast archive," he told AFP by telephone.

He said the aristocratic way of pronouncing vowels had gradually ceased to be a class apart over the decades.

"Her accent sounds slightly less aristocratic than it did 50 years ago. But these are very, very subtle and slow changes that we don't notice from year to year," he explained.

"We may be able to relate it to changes in the class structure."

He told The Daily Telegraph newspaper: "In 1952 she would have been heard referring to 'thet men in the bleck het'. Now it would be 'that man in the black hat'.

"Similarly, she would have spoken of 'the citay' and 'dutay', rather than 'citee' and 'dutee', and 'hame' rather than home. In the 1950s she would have been 'lorst', but by the 1970s lost."

It is quite comical to think of anyone these days saying: 'lorst', 'citay', 'dutay', 'bleck het', 'hame' and 'thet'. So one can only welcome Her Majesty's gradual change of speech.

Astonishing Farepak saga

This evening's Real Story on BBC1 gave an excellent explanation of the events leading up to Farepak's collapse. It also described the misery of those facing a bleak Christmas as a result of the failure. One silver lining is that the afflicted families have been getting a lot of support from the media, the public and politicians. It can only be hoped that the DTI inquiry gets to the bottom of what happened.

It seems far too simple to blame the bank - HBoS. A company is responsible for managing its affairs - not their bank. If a company cannot persuade its bankers to continue loans, then that is the fault of the company - not the bank. The terms of operation of bank lending policies are well established. I applaud HBOS for giving £2 million to the Farepak Response Fund.

So what of Sir Clive Thompson, chairman of European Home Rental, owners of Farepak? He was last seen holidaying in Buenos Aires. 'He has given to the Farepak fund although he will not say how much. He feels he will be damned whatever he does'. Bless him. The whole thing has been a public relations Armegeddon. One can only hope that his holiday will leave him refreshed enough to pull a bit of a rabbit out of the hat. Otherwise his reputation might be described, in the style of Humphrey Lyttelton, to be 'heading inexorably towards the shredder of destiny aided by the Vent-Axia of fate'.

Incredible Osprey journey

Every so often, one feels very humble as a human being. Watching the first 6,000 mile journey of a fledgling Osprey on BBC2, was one of those moments.

In this evening's programme, it was just extraordinary to follow the flight of the Osprey from Martha's Vineyard down to Columbia. In particular, at Florida Keys, the Osprey had to make a leap into the unknown. What on earth guides such a bird, on its first flight, to fly off and just happen to alight on Cuba?

I know I am stating the thunderously obvious. It makes one feel that there is something deep within the Osprey DNA which keeps the bird flying on and eventually finding Cuba. This must be the result of millions of years of breeding. How daft we are to think that we know everything!

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Cameron criticised for soft climate targets by his own advisers

"Both Mr Cameron and the government are calling for a cut of 60% in carbon emissions by 2050.

But the Quality of Life policy group, set up last year by Mr Cameron, says this target lacks "credibility" and it should in fact be 80%."

(Link in title - this BetaBlogger seems to have gone a bit crazy)

Nanny Cameron: Don't shovel down any old food

My father's aunt used to tell him to chew every mouthful of food thirty times. He does so to this day, as well as expansively discussing various topics in between mouthfuls. As a result he is usually still ploughing away at his meal long after everyone else has finished.

Although my father's aunt is long gone, we are most fortunate indeed to have Nanny Cameron to tell us that the Europeans have a "food culture" that is lacking in Britain where "too often, we treat it like fuel, shovelling any old food down, any time, any place, anywhere." (By the look of his double chin I suspect he is no stranger to the practice he complains about.)

This eating advice is to be added to the guidance Cameron has dispensed on managing debt, being happy, avoiding Chocolate Oranges on discount at W H Smith, letting "sunshine win the day" etc etc

It seems David Cameron is trying to find a new role for the politician - One that transcends the need for messy things like policies and embraces a sort of Nanny-cum-CAB role.

It is an utterly pathetic spectacle. Apart from anything else, who is he to lecture people on preparing "real food"? A man with domestic assistance and the ability to install all sorts of gadgets and devices in his house worth many thousands of pounds? Has he got any idea of the pressure ordinary working people are under and how utterly assinine and patronising he sounds?

(Link to BBC news article in title)

Friday, December 1, 2006

We'll all go together when we go!

So goes one of my favourite songs by Tom Lehrer. The lyrics are worth re-reading alongside the announcement of a LibDem conference motion on Trident. I am not entirely clear why we need to have warheads to fire off in the highly unlikely event that Iran and Korea fire them off at us, as opposed to the US. I suspect I will come round to Ming's way of thinking eventually, but in the meantime Mr Lehrer provides an excellent commentary on this utter worldwide madness:

When you attend a funeral,
It is sad to think that sooner or
Later those you love will do the same for you.
And you may have thought it tragic,
Not to mention other adjec-
Tives, to think of all the weeping they will do.
But don't you worry.
No more ashes, no more sackcloth.
And an armband made of black cloth
Will some day never more adorn a sleeve.
For if the bomb that drops on you
Gets your friends and neighbors too,
There'll be nobody left behind to grieve.
And we will all go together when we go.
What a comforting fact that is to know.
Universal bereavement,
An inspiring achievement,
Yes, we all will go together when we go.
We will all go together when we go.
All suffuse with an incandescent glow.
No one will have the endurance
To collect on his insurance,
Lloyd's of London will be loaded when they go.
Oh we will all fry together when we fry.
We'll be french fried potatoes by and by.
There will be no more misery
When the world is our rotisserie,
Yes, we will all fry together when we fry.
Down by the old maelstrom,
There'll be a storm before the calm.
And we will all bake together when we bake.
There'll be nobody present at the wake.
With complete participation
In that grand incineration,
Nearly three billion hunks of well-done steak.
Oh we will all char together when we char.
And let there be no moaning of the bar.
Just sing out a Te Deum
When you see that I.C.B.M.,
And the party will be "come as you are."
Oh we will all burn together when we burn.
There'll be no need to stand and wait your turn.
When it's time for the fallout
And Saint Peter calls us all out,
We'll just drop our agendas and adjourn.
You will all go directly to your respective Valhallas.
Go directly, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dolla's.
And we will all go together when we go.
Ev'ry Hottenhot and ev'ry Eskimo.
When the air becomes uranious,
And we will all go simultaneous.
Yes we all will go together
When we all go together,
Yes we all will go together when we go.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Is this the most extravagant teapot ever?

Our canteen has this machine to make the tea (full video here). It is quite extraordinary. It turns the mundane exercise of getting a cup of tea into a major entertainment extravaganza. The machine is called the "Lipton T-Bird" and is part of their "Tea Revolution". It even has a big yellow light that flashes periodically when the machine is not in use, to remind you that it is still there and is very important.

The key question is: What is the difference between a normal cup of tea and a cup of tea made in this machine?

Answer: 30 pence.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Tribute to Alan Freeman

It is a very sad day for radio! One of the most influential broadcasters, in terms of DJ style, Alan Freeman has passed away, aged 79.

"Fluff" will be remembered for a couple of specific things. First of all, he more or less invented the "countdown" which he did so brilliantly and excitingly on "Pick of the Pops". He used his backing music "At the sign of the swinging cymbal" to fantastic effect as he ran down the Top 20. What he did with the music and the countdown was sheer genius. There have been many imitators of the Sunday evening Top Forty. But all of them owe a little bit to Alan Freeman, who created the genre of the Top Forty run-down in Britain.

His Saturday afternoon Rock Music show on BBC Radio One (on VHF/FM - a rarity for Radio One in those days) showed his enormous flexibility and yet again, he showed his genius in creating a genre all of his own. The introduction was wonderfully exciting and the inserts of classical music etc were a brilliant touch. He was a real rock music buff.

He later went on to do classical music on Radio Two. So he managed to straddle pop, rock and classical music in his career. Quite a feat.

I met Alan Freeman in 1975 when I was sixteen. I was fortunate enough to be chosen for the South-West heat of "Quiz Kid '75" on Radio One. It was fascinating to see him work.

A few years ago I wrote to him when I saw his entry in the Radio Hall of Fame. I told him how brilliantly exciting his Top 20 run-down and his Saturday afternoon intros were, and that many of us still remembered him fondly from the radio. I received a reply from his manager, Tim Blackmore.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Praise for NI Assembly security guards

Thanks to Duncan Borrowman for linking to an extraordinary video of the Michael Stone invasion of Stormont yesterday. The two security guards, who apprehended Stone, deserve medals.

The security guards, a male and a female, were unarmed. Stone had a "gun", a garotte and nail bombs. And he was obviously Michael Stone, well-known friendly neighbourhood mass-murderer. So that would have put the fear of hell into anyone tackling him.

Goodness knows how Stone made it to the front door of Stormont, paused for several minutes to daub graffitti on the outside wall by the main door, and then entered the main revolving door.

Don't they have CCTV covering the front? The odd armed policeman? The building has a huge front concourse. It is not as if the man just hopped off a passing bus and sneaked in. His approach up to the front door would have had something of a State procession about it.

It appears that Stone has arthritis, which may have made his apprehension eaiser. The gun was apparently an imitation device, but even then, that's not something you can bring into the equation when he's there in front of you waving it.

The story is still unfolding. Stone "faces a total of five charges of attempted murder...He was also charged with possession of articles for terrorist purposes and possession of explosives."

It all certainly comes under the heading: You couldn't make it up!

Follow-up: U-turn on fines for unmarried couple with children

It is always good to look back at stories which initially cause a media furore.

One such case happened in Black Jack, Missouri, USA in May this year. My blog summarised the situation:

The town (which calls itself a "city" for some reason) of Black Jack, Missouri, USA has a law, recently confirmed by the local council, which bans unmarried couples with more than one child from occupying homes there. One such couple is facing fines of £270 a day for continuing to live in such a situation.

The City's web site and the American Civil Liberties Union reported more recently:

On August 15, 2006 The Black Jack City Council voted UNANIMIOUSLY (sic) to change the policy and amend the definition of "family". This vote differed dramatically from the vote on May 5, to where five of the eight members of the City Council REJECTED a proposal to change the policy.

So all it ends happily after the City council, apparently, caved in. Good for them. However, there is still a lawsuit outstanding:

On August 10, 2006 the ACLU of Eastern Missouri and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of Olivia Shelltrack, Fondray Loving and their family who were denied a permit to live in the City of Black Jack because of a law that prohibited more than three people from living together unless they are related by “blood, marriage or adoption.”

So the second shoe hasn't yet dropped....

Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup prospects

I just walked down to the entrance to Newbury Racecourse (a few yards from house).

It is raining heavily, to put it politely. There is thunder and lightning which seems about a mile away.

Having had 14mm of rain yesterday, which changed the going to soft, I hope the rain today doesn't risk the meeting.

"Cornish Rebel" seemed a natch for me to put some money on each way. I also covered myself with a small wager on Mongtermont, which is likely to be the favourite. John Francombe on Channel 4's "The Morning Line" reckoned Ardaghey is worth an each way, so I put a soupcon on him as well. Total bet: £11, so the bank isn't broken if they all fail.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Tories turn on Cameron over "Tosser test"

Norfolk Blogger reports several adverse Tory reactions to the "Tosser Test". It also appears that Mr Dale is getting somewhat catty about the matter (I don't know, I gave up looking at Iain's site several months ago as it had become too easy to predict).

UK Daily Pundit reports a beaut of a comment from Mark Hudson on Conservative Home :

"The only tosser of which I am aware is the one currently leading the Conservative Party."

Here are some more - there are a good number of positive comments, but, hey, let's just enjoy the negative ones shall we?:

Hands up all who just saw Dave on Breakfast TV. A clip from the "Tosser" video was shown with the offending word bleeped out.
Talking Head: "Why is your party using a word we can't broadcast before 9pm?"
Cameron: "Er...Er...Er...We didn't do it. It's down to the publicity firm."
That's right. Pass the buck Mister C

Have Cameron and co lost the plot - They come across as upper class twits trying to glean votes by pretending that they are just as common as the hoi polloi.
What next - Jacob Rees-hyphen-Mogg in a turquiose suit and driving a Reliant Robin.
At least Del-boy is funny rather than simply tasteless.

What's the personal debt of the Tory Party?
Own goal alert!

Using a term which means 'excessive masturbator' seems a bit ridiculous to me. I think the Conservative Party have buggered this up.

I think political parties need to concentrate on policy rather than giving advice. That should be left to the CAB.

An asinine, superficial and patronising initiative.

Are student loan debtors all TOSSERS?

I have never seen so much RUBBISH! It is fascile, inane, patronising and timewasting! However much money was spent on it was ill-spent! Why does anyone wish to be treated like some sort of halfwit? It's embarrassing.Outraged!!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Diary fodder: Former and present Reading Labour MPs

How remarkable that Reading has provided more than its fair share of fodder for chortling and Diary columns, via Martin Salter MP for Reading West and Jane Griffiths, former MP for Reading East!

Both have been regulars of the Guardian Diary.

Yesterday we were treated to another Salter Classic (my asterisks):

Overheard, waiting to board the 8.34 from Reading to Paddington on Tuesday morning, the perennially potty-mouther Labour member for Reading West, Martin Salter, responding with characteristic politesse to a constituent who rashly tried to introduce himself: "Don't shout at me like I'm in a f**king supermarket. Show some f**king manners!" Good man.

In the other corner, even though Ms Griffiths has long departed the Westminster corridors, I was delighted to alight, en passant, on her blog. It seems that the multi-lingual rat-fancying former MP still has an obvious ardent passion for Mr Salter.

She reports a resident saying of Mr Salter: "We'd have liked to see our MP, we don't see very much of him." In another posting, she accuses Martin Salter of "political ineptitude of the first order" in "voting" for the LibDems at the recent Tilehurst by-election (I thought he lived in Theale?)

All good clean fun!

BA cross row: Are we forgetting something?

Strangely enough, as a Christian I don't feel discriminated in this country, as the Daily Express tendency seems to have suggested. In fact, with Christianity as the established faith, the very idea that Christianity is discriminated against is laughable.

It has already been mentioned that wearing a cross is not a religious requirement of Christianity. What hasn't been mentioned is that, according to Matthew, Jesus actually spoke out against Christians advertising their faith at all ("So what are you doing writing a blog saying "as a Christian"?", I hear you ask - "It's a fair cop, gov", say I). These three quotes from Matthew 6 make this pretty obvious:

"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

...And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full

...When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."

I really think that the Christian thing to do is to quietly wear a cross under your shirt, if you want to wear a cross with a uniform when you are representing a major corporation dealing with clients from all faiths and none. Having said that, I have enormous sympathy for Nadia Eweida who wants to wear a very tiny cross outside her uniform. But I don't think BA have done anything wrong and their policy is shared by other airlines. She can wear a cross - under her clothing if she continues the uniformed job or outside her clothing if she takes the non-uniformed job that has been offered.

I am afraid that any sort of Daily Express story like this (last week it was the poor headteacher who made a minor menu booboo with halal chicken) immediately puts me into laid-back, couldn't-give-a-proverbial mode. There is a fraternity in this country who seem to be sitting around waiting to be outraged about something which they think is an attack on "traditional British values". I say: "Get a life".

Ian Paisley: Will the "no" man say "yes" for once today?

It's a big day in Northern Ireland today. Either the "Big Man", Ian Paisley, says "yes" to reigniting the Assembly, or it's Plan B - direct rule continues indefinitely. Paisley's party has to nominate him as First Minister today, in order to keep the devolution plan on track.

I have visited Belfast three times in the last year. After years of hatred, it really is remarkable that the people there are putting the past behind them and getting on with peaceful life. Belfast is blooming into a wonderful city once more. The people there really do richly deserve a continuation of the peace process, and that surely must mean devolution on the St Andrews' timetable.

It will be utterly staggering to see the DUP and Sinn Fein in government together. But after all the years of violence and hatred, it will, for once, give hope for mankind. If DUP and Sinn Fein can sit down together after all that has gone on, then there is hope for peace and reconciliation in all spheres of conflict.

Let's hope and pray that the "Big Man", who has made a long and richly rewarding career out of saying "no", says "yes" for once today!

Brakspears bought by firm with Liberal pedigree

I see that Brakspears of Henley has been bought by the JT Davies group. More correctly, it is being "taken private" by its largest shareholder. There is a lot of history in both these firms, as the Times reports:

Alfred Davies, the son of the founder and grandfather of the current chairman, Michael, was personal private secretary to Lloyd George during the First World War, became MP for Lincoln and was knighted in 1933.

The Brakspear family history goes back even farther. One distinguished forebear, Nicholas Breakspear (sic), was the last Pope to hail from Britain, being anointed as Pope Adrian IV in 1154. A descendant, Robert Brakspear, founded WH Brakspear & Sons Brewery in 1779.

The Liberal Democrat History group records: Sir Alfred T. Davies (1861-1949). Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Department of the Board of Education, 1907-25.

When I arrived in Berkshire nigh on 30 years ago, one of its huge attractions was the plethora of Brakspears pubs all over the wonderful central Berkshire and South Oxfordshire countryside. They still exist. Sadly the old brewery in Henley was turned into swanky flats a few years ago. The wonderful Brakspears beer is now brewed by Wychwood in Witney. While Wychwood, home of the gorgeous Hobgoblin beers, is a marvellous brewery, beers are never the same when they are moved from their home brewery. The local water is the basis of a beer. Move the beer and the water changes and the basis is gone. But at least Brakspears didn't end up at some huge mass-brewery.

The pub chain is what is left of the original Brakspears. It looks like it has gone to a good home. It would be a very great shame if a significant number of the Brakspears pubs were tampered with. They are a very rich part of our country's heritage.

In love with the Ukulele

Last night we went to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the Corn Exchange, Newbury. It really was a wonderful evening - full of fun and laughs. It was wonderful to see and hear six people all with their hands going up and down rapidly (strumming the strings!) and hearing the rapid plinkity, plink of the ukuleles together. (Although, they explained that the different sizes of Ukuleles have different sounds - one goes plink and another goes p-l-i-n-k for example. And the thing I thought was a guitar at the end was actually a bass ukulele.)

They did some wonderfully original routines. Their one genuflection to George Formby was "Leaning on the Lampost" in the style of a group of Russian balalikas, complete with Russian-style chorus and a Russian-accented lady responding. Sounds strange. But it was hilarious.

If you get the chance to see them, grab it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Public voice clear on Newbury market

I attended the public meeting about Newbury Market last night at the Town Hall.

A Conservative councillor wrote-off the value of this meeting before it took place, saying it would be "stacked with the usual suspects".

I didn't notice any "usual suspects" at the meeting. There were a good number of residents who I have not noticed at public meetings before. They all expressed their views in a lively discussion. It was a great shame that West Berkshire Council declined the invitation to attend the meeting.

There has already been a survey of 1400 signatures, with 92% saying they wanted to see some market stalls remaining in Northbrook Street. Also, the Farmers' Market organisers had an independent survey conducted which showed overwhelming support for some market stalls to remain in Northbrook street. Another survey of the businesses based in and around Northbrook Street, found that 72% wanted the market to remain there, while 28% wanted it to go back to the Market Place. There has also been resounding feedback from the public to councillors through the Saturday surgery and elsewhere saying that they like the market in Northbrook street.

The Town Council proposal builds on this groundswell of local opinion. It proposes a two site solution - stalls both in Northbrook Street and the Market Place. This was unanimously supported at the public meeting. Five options for bus routes were discussed and all but four people supported option d) which is:

"Re-route the buses on circular routes that include drop-off points on Broadway outside MacDonalds for the north of the town and at Bartholomew Street (South)/Market Street junction and adjacent to Post Office for south of the town...this would allow Wharf Street to stay open, easing congestion on Parkway Bridge."

Option (e) got four hands in support and was:

"As (d) but allow buses to travel up Bartholomew Street (North), Mansion House Street and the Market Place, with drop off points much closer to the centre of the town. This would free Northbrook Street for market stalls and would be safer for buses in the Market Place due to a reduced number of stalls there. This would also allow Wharf Street to stay opne, easing congestion on Parkway Bridge."

It was emphasised that the Town Council proposal is not a solution to replace what is happening in a few days time, but for the longer term, for example from January 2007.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Charles Kennedy excellent on "Any Questions?"

I listened to today's Any Questions? which had Charles Kennedy on it. He spoke exceedingly well and it was great to hear him completely on form. For some reason Dimblebies always want to ask him about his alcoholism, but he dealt with this question with great dignity. He was rewarded with sustained applause from the audience. This was described by Dimbleby as the longest and loudest applause of the evening.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Work which I have done as a Town councillor in Newbury

I have now updated my list of work which I have done on behalf of Newbury Victoria ward residents. Here is the complete list, with the more recent items first. Items 100-144 have been added since my last posting of the list:

144. A sign was obscuring the view for pedestrians in the Market Place. I complained to WBC and the sign was immediately moved.
143. I asked WBC to provide lighting along the pathway at the western end of Stroud Green. They promised to follow this up in the future.
142. On behalf of a resident, I complained to WBC about flooding, a potentially unstable tree and a occluded entrance in Shaw road. WBC cleared the drain and assured me, upon inspection, that the tree was safe. The drain cleaning did not prevent subsequent widespread flooding, so I again complained to WBC about this.
141. I complained to West Berkshire Council about parking in Catherine road causing problems for residents.
140. I wrote several letters to the press about the proposed Racecourse development, expressing the strong concerns of local residents. I proposed an objection to the bridge proposal for raceday traffic because there was no proof this would do anything other than exascerbate raceday traffic jams. The Town Council agreed with my objection proposal.
139. I raised a complaint about a planning application in York road. The planning application was refused.
138. I asked the town council to look for a donated seat which had gone missing from Northbrook Street. I was assured that an exhaustive search had been carried out, with no success.
137. I reported a problem with fires and road noise at a house in Abbots road. I was assured that these problems had been addressed by West Berkshire Council.
136. There was a loose manhole cover in Greenham road. I reported it and it was corrected.
135. I reported the possibility of flooding because of the new bricks on Newbury Bridge (The Water Bridge). The council checked this and assured me that flooding would not occur.
134. I reported a possible problem with rubbish collections in Cheap Street. I was assured that the collection is done regularly and the rubbish is properly bagged.
133. A pothole repair in York road (Queens road end) was becoming unstuck. I reported it and it was properly rectified.
132. I reported a pothole on the A339 roundabout at the juntion of Greenham and St Johns road. It was repaired.
131. In response to residents’ complaints, I reported an unlicensed car in a local street to the DVLA. It was subsequently licensed.
130. I reported a pothole in Queens road (western end) three times until it was properly repaired.
129. I noticed a suspicious individual crouching in Stanley road at 11pm one Saturday. I used the police non-emergency number to report this. The individual walked off while I was talking to the police. However, it was obvious that the man was very drunk. He was walking towards Boundary road, which was very busy. He could have easily been hurt as he was walking all over the road. The police promised to send a car round to help the man home safely.
128. I rounded up a large dog which was loose in Stanley Road. I temporarily held the dog in my garden. I then quickly found the owner and reunited the family with their dog, "Dobie".
127. I complained about the closure of Parkway bridge. The council opened the bridge one-way.
126. A resident complained that there were overhanging branches by the river near Swan Court. The Town Council corrected this problem to the satisfaction of the resident concerned.
125. A lady wrote the Newbury Weekly News saying she was not aware of the details of the consultation on the Market Place enhancement. I sent her some details.
124. I reported a large pothole in Greenham road, which was fixed.
123. I asked the council, again, to implement cardboard and plastics recycling as soon as possible. This was in response to a resident’s call.
122. I noticed that the button on the pesdestrian crossing by the central Post Office was not working. I reported this to the council who fixed it.
121. I got the council to do a special clean of the subway gardens by Burger King, on the A339.
121. I asked the council for a pedestrian crossing at the southern end of Boundary road.
120. I reported parking on the "build outs" in York road to the police and tickets were issued to offedning motorists.
119. I got a fourth litter bin installed in Station road to help the litter problem there.
118. I got the council to move the western sign for Station road so it could be seen by motorists.
117. I got West Berkshire Council to clear the storm drains in St Johns road, as they were blocked.
116. I reported to West Berkshire Council the problem of queuing caused by the Sainsburys traffic lights sequencing.
115. I complained to West Berkshire Council about flooding in Robin Hood subway. Works were carried out to lessen this problem.
114. I got the council to repair two non-working street lights in Railway road.
113. I asked the council to consider creating parking restrictions near the entrance of Bewicks reach, Northbrook street to allow residents to enter and exit safely. The relevant council officer promised this would be incorporated into forthcoming works.
112. I referred a complaint about a slippery bridge over the River Lambourne to the relevant ward councillor.
111. I complained to West Berkshire council about cracked pavement slabs in Mansion House Street and Northbrook Street. These have now been replaced with new paving.
110. I strongly suggested to West Berkshire Council that there should be more control over cyclists in Frog Alley near London Road. The council put a warning sign there to tell cyclists to take care of pedestrians using the narrow alley.
109. A resident was aghast at large works on the pavement in the Nightingales. I was able to reassure the resident that local council taxpayers money was not being used for this project.
108. I responded to an enquiry from a resident about "green compost bins" by sending them some information from the council. I also reminded West Berkshire Council of the need for green compost bins to be distributed to households for kerbside collection.
107. I complained to West Berkshire Council about the use of the ancient Granary to hold a large banner for the Continental Market.
106. In response to a resident, I made a visit to Andover road and St Johns road at 8am one morning to watch traffic movements. It was obvious that there was a problem in St Johns road with motorists on the A339 roundabout not obeying the "keep clear" markings. I reported this to the council.
105. Due to a recurrence of the litter problem, I took 42 photographs of the litter in Station road and sent these to West Berkshire Council. I also posted them on the internet. The council has increased the frequency of cleaning, done a "deep clean" of the gutters and made improvements to parking and pavement arrangements.
104. I repeatedly followed up the problem of showroom cars being parked on council land. Legal action has been taken by West Berkshire Council.
103. I responded to a resident’s complaint about parking on the pavements in Stanley and Livingstone road. I reported the problem to the local Police inpsector, who sent along a Community Support Officer to investigate the problem and talk to some of the drivers who were parking on the pavement.
102. I noticed two badly tilted kerbstones outside Whittards in Northbrook Street. I reported these to the council and they were put right.
101. I raised with West Berkshire Council the problem of cyclists disobeying the "Cyclists dismount" sign at the subway next to Burger King by the A339. They have consistently refused to put an obligatory sign there (which would allow the police to prosecute culprits). I have also reported this matter to the police who have sent officers along to the site occasionally.
100. I campaigned against the proposed move of Speenhamland school to Donnington. The move was shelved in early 2005.
99. I made a visit to a site in Oddfellows road where a resident had complained of badly obliterated graffitti. I noticed that the wall concerned is the property of a supermarket and informed the resident accordingly.
98. I reported the fact that there is no "no left turn" sign at the exit of Speenhamland school as you drive out into Pelican Lane.
97. After a complaint from a resident I brought the problem of on-pavement parking in Shaw road to the attention of the authorities. I also gave a phone number (non-emergency) to the resident so that they could call the police if there was a re-occurence.
96. I objected to the planning application for a maisonette in Livingstone road, at the end of Railway road, due to its bad impact on traffic flow and parking.
95. I have pressed for an enhancement of Greenham House gardens, to include improvements to the play area.
94. As part of my role as a member of the Town Council's community services committee, I helped to prepare a questionaire for Wash Common residents with respect to Wash Common recreation ground. I help to collate the results. I am delighted to say that residents have now reached a concensus that the basketball hoop and football goal on Blossoms Field is a good step forward.
93. I reported pot holes which I had observed in Racecourse, York and Queens road, which were filled in.
92. A carpet had been dumped on the pavement in Livinsgtone road. I got the council to remove it under its fly-tipping scheme.
91. I updated two residents in Boundary road about the latest status with the development of the Kings road relief which, hopefully, will lead to the closure of Boundary road railway bridge to all but emergency vehicles and buses.
90. A resident enquired about the Market Street development brief, and whether the bus stops would remain. I sent a copy of the brief to the resident and reassured him that the planning brief includes the need to retain the bus stops.
89. I noticed heavy litter in the Burger King subway. I complained to the council and it was cleared. The council also instituted a control procedure to ensure that litter picking by their contractor is always done on time.
88. I reported problems with lorries reversing too quickly in Northcroft Lane to the local traffic warden.
87. I reported pot holes in Northcroft Lane and these were filled in.
86. At the Town Council Saturday surgery, a resident expressed interest in the planning process and stopping development in the west of the town. I sent the resident the South East Plan process and explained to him how he could take part in the consultation for that plan.
85. At one of the Town Council's regular Saturday morning surgeries, a resident complained to me about trees and a hedge being removed as part of a new development in Andover road. This was checked by the council's Tree officer and the district councillor for the area kindly explained the situation to the resident.
84. A resident complained about the lifts malfunctioning at a local home for pensioners. I was able to put the resident in contact with Sovereign Housing, who explained the situation to her.
83. Residents of West Mills complained to me that they needed residents parking outside their houses. They are particularly near the town centre so that cars were being parked outside their houses during the day, making it very difficult, if not impossible, for residents to park even near their houses. After many years of campaigning with my Liberal Democrat colleagues on this issue, residents parking bays were installed in West Mills in 2005.
82. A particular car was being parked continuously in West Mills. It was causing an oil patch. I had the situation checked out by the local traffic warden.
81. A resident complained that he could not get out of his garden gate because a car had parked right in front of it even though there is a white line there. I reported this to the local traffic warden who visited the site. The car was subsequently removed.
80. A resident complained to me about cycling in the subway by Burger King. This was causing a hazard to pedestrians. I reported this to our local cycling police constable and he visited the site on several occasions to educate cyclists about the "no cycling" rule in that subway.
79. I saw a dead deer lying on the side of the A339. I reported this to West Berkshire Council and the corpse was removed immediately.
78. I noticed some particularly offensive graffitti in a particular public location in Victoria Park. I reported this to the Chief Executive of Newbury Town Council and it was immediately cleaned up.
77. I noticed offensive graffitti in the subway by Burger King. I reported it and it was cleaned up straight away.
76. A oil spillage from car occurred in York Road. I reported this to the council to be cleaned up.
75. A resident asked me about getting a drop kerb in front of his house. I was able to inform him able the procedure involved and the normal circumstances under which this is allowed.
74. I have lobbied to have a pedestrian crossing over Racecourse road. I am still campaigning for this.
73. A resident complained to me that cars were parking on the section of roads specifically designed for no parking in York Road ("build outs"). I got the local traffic warden to regular inspect these areas. She issue several tickets.
72. A resident in Boundary Road complained to me that many cars were being parked on the pavement in that road. I got the local traffic warden to issue warning letters to the car owners. The problem then abated.
71. A post on the pavement in Livingstone road was removed. I got the council to replace it.
70. A sofa appeared in Greenham Road. I contacted West Berkshire Council and it was removed under the council's free large domestic collection scheme.
69. A pensioner was concerned about trees growing in Greenham House Gardens. After requesting information from West Berkshire Council I was able to reassure her that the trees were growing naturally and safely.
68. A pensioner was concerned about the crossing for pedestrians in Cheap Street. After visiting the site, I was able to reassure her and explain the procedure.
67. A resident complained that the bins in Station Road were not being emptied regularly. I, in turn, complained to West Berkshire Council, who are committed to ensuring that the bins are emptied three times a week.
66. A resident complained to me about a reported issue with a local hospital unit not being fully used when needed. I asked the Chief Executive of Newbury Primary Trust to answer this query. She did so very satisfactorily.
65. A pensioner complained about vandals in Greenham House Gardens. I was able to put her in touch with the neighbourhood wardens who cover those gardens. They were able to resolve the problem.
64. After a resident complained to me, I reported the colour of paint used by a shop in Bartholomew Street. The colour was a violent shade of yellow which was not in keeping to the ancient building next to it. Eventually, the shop managers very kindly repainted their shop in a more restrained shade of yellow.
63. I got the drains cleared in York road after 2 residents complained
62. I got the pavement re paved in Queens Road after large puddles collected during the rain.
61. I got the old Queens Road garage site cleared of rubbish and fenced off after a complaint from residents.
60. I got the Burger King roundabout subway completely steam cleaned.
59. I got the nonsensical "Cyclists demount" sign removed from Northbrook Street's entrance.
58. I lobbied to get Bartholomew Street repaved and this was done. The whole street has been repaved with smaller, thicker paving stones which are less susceptible to tripping pedestrians.
57. I lobbied to get ruts in the A339 removed and this was done.
56. I obtained 2 new streetlamps, 3 dog litter bins and 1 seat for the Nightingales, which were installed.
55. I got the white lines renewed in East Fields.
54. I got abandoned cars removed from Dickens Walk, Nightingales, Queens Road, Newbury and a lay-by on the A339.
53. I lobbied to have the Monkey Bridge replaced. Planning is now ongoing for a replacement.
52. I got an official West Berkshire Council residents survey done for East Fields traffic and work started completed in February 2003.
51. I lobbied for new signs making the library and wharf toilets better signed. These have now been installed.
50. I opposed all plans for more houses/flats in East Fields until the traffic situation was sorted out.
49. I initially opposed the Sandleford Rise redevelopment because of the proximity of the western terrace to Charter road residents and obtained important changes from the developer.
48. I opposed several conversions of houses to flats in roads where they would be out of character - eg. Monks Lane, Andover Road.
47. After a complaint from a resident, I obtained a commitment from West Berkshire Council to redesign the lay-out of the Pelican Crossing ouside the Nag's Head in Bartholomew Street, Newbury. This has now been installed so that there is no longer a "blindspot" for pedestrians.
46. I complained about the removal of the grocery shop in Queen's Road.
45. I obtained a commitment from West Berkshire Council that West Mills, Chesterfield Road, Station Road, Tudor Road, Howard Road and Link Road will be reviewed for residents' parking schemes. The review is now ongoing.
44. I made sure that queuing outside one of Newbury's night spots is orderly and does not block the pavement for residents walking past.
43. I lobbied for a hand rail on Black Boys' bridge. A handrail has been installed on both sides of the bridge, which is particularly helpful for the many elderly and frail people who cross the bridge.
42. I successfully persuaded the council to install new posts to discourage drivers turning right out of Livingstone road going into Queens Road.
41. I had potholes fixed in Queens Road, Elizabeth Avenue, Essex street and London Road.
40. I assisted an elderly local resident who had trouble with rats in her roof.
39. Following complaints from residents, I had special "no parking" white lines painted along the entrances to residences on the northern side of the one-way stretch of Queens Road.
38. I got no entry signs in Livingstone Road turned round so that they are clearer.
37. I contacted the police to ensure that louts were encouraged to move on from Greenham House Gardens, following complaints from a resident.
36. I lobbied to have the Pembroke Road toilets (behind W.H.Smith in Northbrook Street) reopened. This has now happened.
35. I lobbied to have some of the worst pavements in Newbury replaced. Bartholomew Street and Kings Road (west) now have new small paving slabs which are better at not creating "trip surfaces". West Berkshire Council are also spending £30,000 to replace some of the worst pavements in Northbrook Street.
34. I successfully lobbied to have a bus stop moved in Andover Road to enable pedestrians to pass easily at peak times.
33. I had a dangerous road sign removed in The Folly.
32. I had a dangerous drain made safe in Wendan Road.
31. I got the hedge in Greenham House Gardens cut back to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to pass.
30. I got Thames Water to inspect a smelly manhole in Railway Road.
29. I helped a resident who had worries about a tree by putting him in contact with the West Berkshire Council tree officer.
28. I reported a dangerous, crumbling low wall in Bear Lane to the council for it to be added to the list of repairs.
27. I had the wharf car park toilets inspected and scheduled for "deep cleaning" after complaints from a resident.
26. I helped a resident with a large family who wanted a large sized wheely bin.
25. I helped residents of Boundary Road North to obtain waste recycling facilities.
24. I highlighted the poor state of the Wharf/Granary Car Park surface to West Berkshire Council. They have completely resurfaced the car park, re-painted the white lines and levelled up the surface to prevent further flooding.
23. I pressed West Berkshire Council to remove some ivy which overgrew onto the pavement in Erleigh Dene. This was done.
22. I got abandoned domestic rubbish removed from the grass in Kings road near the junction with Boundary road.
21. I got West Berkshire Council to complain to two local companies whose lorries were regularly sprinkling concrete dust over Boundary Road north.
20. I supported the application for extra housing in Boundary road north, particularly because it is likely to lead to an improved environment for existing residents of that road.
19. I made sure that problems with lorries "rat running" down Boundary road north during the late night and early morning were raised in West Berkshire Council's freight transport review in May 2003.
18. I contacted the police and asked them to keep an eye on drivers illegally turning right out of Livinsgtone Road into Queens Road. The police attended this junction and issued several fixed penalty tickets to drivers doing illegal manoevres.
17. I got West Berkshire Council to remove concrete which had been stuck to the road surface in Boundary Road (North).
16. Following a report from a resident who was recovering from a heart attack, I chased up the council to commence classes at Northcroft Leisure centre for recovering heart disease patients. The classes have now started and are using new specialist equipment.
15. I helped a resident who was concerned that a local school portakabin overlooked his kitchen window.
14. I obtained two litter bins for Station Road, Newbury following complaints about litter from a resident.
13. I had repairs done to the pedestrian crossing points on the A339 near Sainsburys, after a partially sighted resident told me that the special buttons for partially sighted people were not working.
12. I reported to West Berkshire Council the misleading derestriction signs at the Pinchington/Monks Lane roundabout.
11. After a report from a resident, I reported the fact that vehicles are regular mounting the pavement in Kings Road near the traffic lights. This is being investigated by the relevant WBC officer.
10. Following on from a conversation with two Queens Road residents, I reported several traffic related problems in the road, in particular, cars not stopping in York Road at the junction with Queens Road and vehicles parking on double yellow lines in Queens Road. The relevant WBC officer is following up these problems.
9. After a report from a resident in Livingstone Road about regularly misrouted mail, I tracked down the officer responsible for addresses in West Berkshire and obtained useful advice which I passed on to the resident.
8. I passed on complaints from a Livingstone Road resident about the pavement surface in Queens Road, which is making it difficult for pedestrians to walk safely.
7. I complained to West Berkshire Council about the "sunken" condition of the pavement in Greenham Road following a report to me from a resident of that road.
6. Following a complaint from a resident, I referred to WBC the problem of a misturned sign in Market Street which was misleading. This has now been corrected.
5. I reported large and blasphemous graffitti in the subway under the A339/St Johns Road/Greenham Road (by Burger King). The graffitti was quickly painted over.
4. I made sure that road markings for "no parking" at the end of Stanley Road were completed after a resident complained.
3. I obtained a recycling bin for a residents in Park Lane and Boundary Road (North) who didn't have one.
2. I ensured that a missing drain cover was replaced in Boundary Road (south).
1. I complained to the council about flooding in the Robin Hood roundabout subway. The subway has now been refurbished with new surfaces to prevent flooding.
Also, I have worked a great deal on getting traffic improvements for East Fields, Newbury. Here is a list of main events in this campaign:
I first wrote to Newbury District Council and my local ward district councillor about this problem in August 1996.
After that, several residents wrote to their local ward councillors about the problems.
Over a dozen East Fields residents then attended six meetings of the West Berkshire Council Transportation sub-committee but, apart from road humps placed in Queens Road, there were no conclusive plans outlined for East Fields.
I reported some of the problems to the council's "Streetcare" hotline.
The council first promised to carry out a study of East Fields' traffic in 1997, but this was not carried out until 2001.
On 12th September 1999 I wrote to Councillors Hannon, James, McAllin and Becket with the results of a survey I had conducted amongst local residents.
On 16th September 1999, the then chair of the Transportation Sub-Committee, David Becket, wrote to me stating:
"The most likely quick solution is a local 20MPH zone, with essential traffic calming (Legally you cannot have a 20MPH zone without humps or some form of traffic calming). Officer proposal is to put that out to consultation that will not please you, as it involves further consultation on a proposal that does not appear to find local favour. May I suggest that, in conjunction with your local members, you request a meeting with officers?"
In November 1999 I exchanged further correspondence with Councillor Sally Hannon.
Twenty East Fields' residents attended a public meeting at the council offices in February 2000 where the problems and potential solutions were outlined to council officers and Councillor Steve Pascall, who went on to be the chair of the Transportation sub-committee.
I raised three members' questions at the Newbury Town Council Planning and Highways Committee regarding this subject. As a result there was correspondence between the Town Council and officers at West Berkshire Council.
On 12th December 2000 I once again wrote to my local ward councillors, Councillors Hannon, Ferguson and Vernon-Jackson enclosing the list of trouble spots and potential solutions. These included 20 trouble spots right across East Fields and called for a complete solution for the whole area.
On 16th December 2000 I established special campaigning web pages devoted to the East Fields roads problems.
On 18th December 2000, Councillor Sally Hannon wrote extensively to Tom Ingram, Highways Engineer at West Berkshire Council about the problems. On 8th January 2001 I asked Councillor Hannon if she had had a response. The answer was negative and she said she would chase up an answer. Councillor Hannon then contacted the Director of Planning and Highways on this matter.
On January 22nd 2001, the Deputy Leader of West Berkshire Council, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson wrote to Councillor Steve Pascall, the Chair of the West Berkshire Transportation Sub-Committee calling for action.
In February 2001 I presented a petition signed by East Fields residents' to the West Berkshire Transportation sub-committee. This called for action on the whole East Fields' traffic system.
On March 31st 2001, as I had requested, a questionaire was sent to all East Fields residents asking for their views on a variety of options for the East Field traffic system.
On 12th October 2001, Mark Edwards, head of Transport Planning at West Berkshire Council published a plan culminating in "completion of works" in East Fields in December 2002.
In 2002 483 residents attended an exhibition of the plans for East Fields. 38 residents sent in comments following this. After pressure from me and other residents, speed ramps were added to the plan for Boundary Road and one of the narrowings of York Road was removed from the plan.
Work was started on the East Fields traffic scheme in December 2002.
In January and February 2003 I encouraged West Berkshire Council to finish the works as soon as possible, and highlighted to them some weaknesses in the implementation of the plan, such as the no right turn out of Livingstone Road, the lack of markings at the junction of York Road and Queens Road, the difficulty of large lorries blocking Boundary Road at the junction of York Road and the need to finish the pavements off.
In February 2003 I contacted PC Graham Hurst, the team leader of Newbury Police, to request action on people breaking the law at the end of Livingstone road by turning right. Subsequently, local constabulary representatives visited the scene and issued a number of fixed penalty tickets.
On 25th April 2003 I secured a commitment from Mark Edwards, West Berkshire Council's head of Highways and Engineering, that in week commencing 12th May their electrical contractor would complete work under the unfinished pavement next to the junction of Livingstone and Queens roads.
On 20th May, I chased up Mark Edwards of West Berkshire Council to check what had happened about the electrical work on the corner of Queens and Livingstone roads. He replied on May 22nd saying that the work had taken longer than expected but that the end was in sight.
In July 2003 the work on the pavement on the corner of Livingstone road and Queens Road was finally finished.
In September 2003 I chased up West Berkshire Council's senior engineer to ask for better markings at the junction of York Road and Queens Road, and also for the proper enforcement of double yellow lines in Queens Road. The senior engineer committed to investigate those issues. He said he would obtained a "completion certificate" for the works from the contractor to enable him to commence the enforcement of the new traffic regulations.