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.