Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fantastic Reading v Man U game!

What a brilliant game this evening! Full marks to Reading for scrabbling back to 2-3.

But what a mad first six minutes!

Unfortunately, extra time was never to be, after John Motson said, in the 86th minute: "Reading could do this, you know".

Just for good measure, he administered the last rites in the 92nd with "Still time for Reading".

Reading concede three goals in first six minutes!

It was fascinating to hear Reading FC chairman, John Madejski, speculating a few days ago, on BBC Radio Berkshire, as to whether he fancied taking on Middlesborough or West Brom in the FA Cup Quarter Final.

Tempting providence, or what?

My ten year old daughter was asked, with her after-school classmates today, to guess the result tonight. "2-3 to Man U" she said.."Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings"?

At half-time, with the score at 1-3, it will be interesting to see if she is right.

I had to laugh at Mr Laid Back - Steve Coppell. For once, he was forced to communicate from his stand seat when Reading conceded three goals in the first six minutes. Action was needed. So, he picked up his mobile and told his coach down at the touchline to change the system.

...It's good to talk!

Good page for Ming in the Times

The Times carry a very positive page about Ming today, entitled "Man in the middle who may yet dictate the way forward".

The main story is accompanied by a positivish piece by Peter Riddell referring to "Dependable Ming" and his "shrewdness and experience":

He closely observed the troubles of his past leaders. He is not going to do anything daft. These could be reassuring qualities in face of the untested Mr Cameron and the dour Mr Brown.

At last it happens: Irish presenter in two places at once!

There used to be a joke that Terry Wogan managed to broadcast in two places at once. Now his Irish colleague Eamonn Holmes has actually done it! He was live on a cookery programme, with quiz phone-in, on BBC2 at the same time as doing a live phone-in radio show on Radio Five Live! Remarkable!

Cue another "Quiz show fiddle furore" story....except that for the "live" cookery programme, which was recorded, dear old Auntie had filmed three possible outcomes and switched in the one which most people phoned in to vote for. Clever stuff.

Here's the laugh! In order to prepare the two possible outcomes, Eamon Holmes had to eat two substantial desserts! No wonder he says that he is "developing a very good...physique for radio".

Shock! Horror! Torygraph describes rumblings about the Mingership by Rockall Focus deliverer

I suppose we should be grateful for any media coverage. And at least in the Torygraph, the readership is likely to have sympathy with someone complaining about being written off by some as "too old".

Oh look, that well known alleged senior front-bencher U.P.Source has been muttering. U.P.Source should "put up or shut up"!

....that's Unnamed Party Source, in case I am being too obscure. Even the Torygraph had the good grace to describe the source as "allegedly a senior front-bencher". That's a laugh. He or she could be a Focus deliverer on Rockall then.

It is good that the Torygraph described Menzies as "not angry" at having his health and appearance being called into question by the Rockall Focus deliverer. He is quite right not to be angry.

Quite frankly, the more that young twit Cameron demonstrates the shallowness of Eton-educated middle-age, the more a trustworthy old Liberal Edinburgh Barrister is what we need at our helm.

Hat-tippery: Liberal England and Quaequam Blog.

Car mobile phones - the police don't need to stop offenders to penalise them

It is very welcome news that penalties for using a mobile phone while driving are being toughened up from today.

For the last year I have switched off my "hands-free" mobile in its cradle while driving. I changed my practice after being called by a prize wassock who asked me if he could swop a non-existent room booking with me. He'd got the month wrong. Doh. This happened when I was going onto the M4 and I nearly had an accident due to losing concentration at a crucial point.

One could say: are people going to take notice of the anti-mobile law even now? Well, I was fascinated this morning to learn from BBC Breakfast that one million people have nine points on their licence and therefore they are one mobile phone offence away from a ban.

About eight years ago, I was on nine points after two stupid speeding offences in built-up areas. Since then I have been a meticulous observer of the law on speed limits. When you know you could get a ban with a further three point offence, it is remarkable how much it focusses the mind.

So, I suspect that this toughening-up of the penalties for mobile use will have an impact. Thank goodness for that, from a road safety point of view.

And, if anyone thinks that if they haven't been stopped by the police they won't get a penalty, they are in for a big shock. Edmund King of the RAC Foundation says:

They do not need to stop your car to issue you with a penalty. Three points in the post might follow an opportunistic call. That should be a warning to motorists that this is a law that will be enforced and they will not get away with it.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Theo Walcott - our boy done good

It was a delight to see West Berkshire boy Theo Walcott scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Carling Cup final.

The goal looked magical and effortless.

Theo's celebration afterwards was a treat. I have rarely seen anyone so euphoric.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Respect for "God Save the Queen" at Croke Park - a watershed moment

I have had the privilege to visit Ireland about a dozen times in the last ten years. Whenever I visit Dublin I immediately feel at home. Even browsing in the airport bookshop I feel I am at ease - the books about Gaelic traditions, the green scarves, the Leprauchauns...It all just feels as though I am home.

My grandmother was of Irish extraction. Her maiden name was Haley, a good old Irish surname. Perhaps that is why I feel at home there. Being a Celt helps, of course. But I am also proud of being Cornish and English.

So, seeing "God Save the Queen" played at Croke Park was quite an emotional moment for me. The fact that it was heard with great respect is an enormous tribute to the maturity of the Irish nation. You can now truly say that Ireland and England have moved on from a terrible period of history.

On You Tube there is an amateur clip by a spectator, Aidan O'Sullivan, which is awesome (click on the screen below to see it). That is because, unlike the TV clips, it shows the Irish spectators up-close during the playing of "God Save the Queen". They are standing to attention, with complete respect, and they applaud when it ends. Of course, that did not stop them passionately enjoying the two Irish anthems and enjoying, with great glee, the fact that their boys stuffed our boys!

What a glorious occasion! I am quite choked.

Respect for "God Save the Queen" at Croke Park - a watershed moment

I have had the privilege to visit Ireland about a dozen times in the last ten years. Whenever I visit Dublin I immediately feel at home. Even browsing in the airport bookshop I feel I am at ease - the books about Gaelic traditions, the green scarves, the Leprauchauns...It all just feels as though I am home.

My grandmother was of Irish extraction. Her maiden name was Haley, a good old Irish surname. Perhaps that is why I feel at home there. Being a Celt helps, of course. But I am also proud of being Cornish and English.

So, seeing "God Save the Queen" played at Croke Park was quite an emotional moment for me. The fact that it was heard with great respect is an enormous tribute to the maturity of the Irish nation. You can now truly say that Ireland and England have moved on from a terrible period of history.

On You Tube there is an amateur clip by a spectator, Aidan O'Sullivan, which is awesome. That is because, unlike the TV clips, it shows the Irish spectators up-close during the playing of "God Save the Queen". They are standing to attention, with complete respect, and they applaud when it ends. Of course, that did not stop them passionately enjoying the two Irish anthems and enjoying, with great glee, the fact that their boys stuffed our boys!

What a glorious occasion! I am quite choked.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Tense moment during "God save the Queen" this afternoon

Duncan Borrowman engagingly describes the historic nature of the Ireland v England Rugby match at Croke Park, Dublin this afternoon. Singing "God Save the Queen" in Croke Park is controversial, to put it mildly. The place is an inner sanctum of Irish Republicanism, as well as the site of the 1920 "Bloody Sunday" killing of fourteen spectators by the British Black and Tans.

Medals have been withdrawn from the Croke Park museum in protest and Republican Sinn Féin, a dissident faction opposed to the peace process, is planning a protest near the ground.

I was drawn to this wise comment about the controversy from Fintan O'Toole in the Irish Times:

We are a sovereign nation with average per capita incomes above those of the UK. There are probably no two countries in the world whose governments work more closely together than the Irish and British governments do. It is time we got over ourselves.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Excellent Trident discussion site

I was very pleased to receive an email from Nick Harvey highlighting the discussion web site about the conference Trident motion. I have already made some comments on the discussion board. This debate web site is an excellent initiative.

Mr Micawber writes part of Nuclear Deterrent motion

I have no doubt I shall, please Heaven, begin to be more beforehand with the world, and to live in a perfectly new manner, if -if, in short, anything turns up.

Wilkins Micawber in "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens

It seems Mr Micawber helped to write this part of the conference motion on the Nuclear Deterrent:

Conference therefore calls on the Government to follow this course in order that a final decision on the manufacture of a successor to the Vanguard class submarines be taken in 2014. Such a policy would allow:
...A clearer picture to develop concerning the proliferation of states that possess nuclear weapons and their ability to directly threaten Britain, its neighbours and allies.
In other words, "Something will turn up". The only slight snag is that it never does, in this case. These matters are always in turmoil, and always will be.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Times front page: "Why do women leave lavatory seats in the 'down' position?"

I really never thought I would live to see the day when The Times actually prints such a question on its front page.

Furthermore, Matthew Parris continues in the same vein in his article inside (the front page question is a trailer for that article):

Why do women leave lavatory seats in the “down” position? I am getting increasingly fed up with this inconsiderate behaviour. Hygiene and common sense dictate that “up” should be the default option and everyone should leave the seat lifted, to keep it unsplashed next time. Public toilets should have sprung seats, returning automatically to up.

There are some colourful comments below the Parris article. Bruce Tucker of Cambridge comments:

Matthew Parris wants the seat left up. I like the lid left down for hygeine reasons to prevent spray. My Wife wants the seat left down for convenience. My Grandaughter needs the seat left down for speed. My Grandsons need the seat left up for speed. Please advise.

I realise the eccentric irony in the article, bearing in mind Parris' elevation nowadays to FNTS (Full National Treasure Status - I well remember his article saying that people should be encouraged to eat out-of-date food).

But to find such a question on the front page of The Times is remarkable. Do they not want any women to read their paper anymore? It is a question asked only once by a male in female company - once bitten twice shy. Such a question could only be asked by someone who has not experienced....ahem....the remarkable and fulfilling voyage of compromise which is long-term domestic partnership with a woman.

Michael Meacher to fight Brown

It is good news that Michael Meacher has confirmed that he will fight Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership. Although John McDonnell was always going to ensure that there would be a contest, at least now there is something of a middleweight, if not a heavyweight, to stop the thing being all but a coronation.

The old girl takes her rightful place- who paid for the statue?

Much as I could launch into a BenEltonesque rant about the "evils" of "The Thatch", I can't help feeling that the unveiling of her statue in the House of Commons' lobby is right and proper. It is nice that it has been displayed while she is still with us.

When Paddy Ashdown took a party of us from Newbury around the houses, he pointed to the empty lobby corner and said in tones of respect: "Some say that a lady with a handbag will take her place there in due course".

This unveiling marks a rare moment of near political unanimity. Even Labour MP Paul Flynn said the unveiling of a statue of "one of the four giants of 20th century politics" was a "very happy event".

One of the reasons for such unanimity is perhaps the fair, I might even say PR-like, way that the four corners in the lobby have been allocated. Clem for Labour. Lloyd George for us. Thatcher for the Tories. And then there is Churchill who is a sort of three-way split between Liberal, Conservative and everyone.

By the way, before I become too soft, I would point you to a balancing comment from Danny Angus:

Lest we forget; She may have been Britain's first woman prime minister, but don't lets let that statue rewrite history. She was a sociopathic megalomaniac who spent much of her term in office removing our freedoms and pandering to the yuppies and reactionaries of middle England. It is too soon to gloss over that.

Danny goes on:

I can only hope that they didn't pay for it with my money, if I were dead I'd turn in my grave.

Good point. Who paid for this statue?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Giving up the bottle for Lent

What is Lent? This is a question which has been on my mind for the last few days. I am glad of that, and I think it is healthy to ask this question as a prelude to the actual Lent period. I had to prepare a reading and commentary for a group of which I am part. As this took place on Shrove Tuesday, "doing" Lent seemed a no-brainer. The discussion went on to the subject of fasting. We (Christians in the West) don't seem to do it much, although we do give up chocolate or alcohol of something. Yet, other faiths, notably the Islamic faith, do fast.

This line of thought led me to this is a commentary from the Bishop of London:

Giving up chocolate, only to resume the habit in a great binge on Easter Day, does little good and even can fill us with an unhelpful sense of spiritual achievement. Fasting with prayer, however, is the fresh and ancient discipline of the Church, which is being rediscovered in our own day. Fasting with prayer can make us more profoundly aware of good as a gift from divine love rather than fuel for insatiable craving. Joy and a greater sense of freedom should be amongst the fruits that follow.

...Lent is the time for fasting and prayer, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays in solidarity with the whole Christian community living and departed. This communal effort saves us from thinking of our own ascetic heroism.

In the past, my lenten activities have been confined to the Christian Aid's Count your blessings. It is a wonderful sheet which gives you a little theme to pray on each day, and a way of totting up some money to give to good causes. For example, today's item is:

Every year 1.6 million of the world's poorest people die from respiratory infections, aggravated by smoke from open fires. Give 5p for every radiator in your home and 10p for every fireplace

This year I will am thinking about expanding my lenten activities. As a start, I have made a momentous decision to do something I have never tried before. I have decided to follow my father's example and abstain from alcohol for lent. So far this has lasted all day today!

By the way, Wikipedia defines Lent as:

In Western Christianity, Lent is the period (or season) from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. In Eastern Christianity, the period before Easter is known as Great Lent to distinguish it from the Winter Lent, or Advent (known in Greek as the "Great Fast" and "Nativity Fast", respectively).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy 80th Birthday, Sidney Poitier

Call me a nostalgic old fool, if you like, but I just feel like wishing actor Mr Sidney Poitier a very happy 80th birthday. As the NewJersey Star Ledger says of him:

He was the right man in the right place at the right time. And he had a perfect right to be there. African-Americans in Hollywood had been rarely feted, but Poitier's talent and integrity could not be denied or deferred.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bush madness on Iran

I am very grateful to the Norfolk Blogger for highlighting the US plan to bomb Iran.

I really do hope and pray that:

(a) George Bush runs out of time in office before he gets anywhere near to bombing Iran.
(b) The new Democrat majority in Congress stops this nonsense.
(c) President Ahmadinejad continues to be pressured by moderates to draw back from confrontation.

The chilling line in the BBC report is this:

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says the trigger for such an attack reportedly includes any confirmation that Iran was developing a nuclear weapon - which it denies.

Crikey. Déjà vu, or what? We seemed to have "confirmation" that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. But, to use the US vernacular, that "confirmation" turned out to be worth little more than a "bowl of warm spit".

Are we producing a generation of goggle-eyed kids?

Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman has listed 15 health problems that previous studies have attributed to excessive TV viewing by children. The study covers "screen time", which includes games consoles and computers as well as TVs. It looked at the volume of screen time - but not the content.

This is something which all parents wrestle with. All parents think they have got the balance right but studies such as this concentrate the mind. It is a question of balancing screen viewing with other activities.

I would also say that anyone who has tried to find just 30 minutes of time to do a few chores uninterrupted by a small child, is grateful for any respite which a telly can provide. Anyone who doesn't welcome such a respite as a godsend, hasn't looked after a small child.

I would also praise the BBC for their children's programming. Although CBBC can tend towards wall-to-wall Basil Brush and Chucklevision at times, it is generally sensible and reasonably educational television.

Newbury Racecourse bridge

I understand that a decision by West Berkshire Council is imminent about the Newbury Racecourse proposal of a bridge at the eastern end of the racecourse.

I hope that Newbury Town Council's decision to object to this proposal is vindicated by West Berkshire Council. I have set out below my previous letter to the Newbury Weekly News explaining the decision of the Town Council:

Newbury Town Council’s objection, (proposed by myself) to the Racecourse's proposal for a bridge opening onto Hambridge road (NWN Front page last week) deserves further explanation.

Resolution, or even lessening, of Race day traffic issues would, of course, be fantastic news for residents of, and drivers in, Newbury. The bridge planning application states that recommended changes to the Hambridge road/A4 interchange will reduce projected 2009 race day traffic queues from an average of 235 (with no changes) to 147, while accommodating the exit from the racecourse of what was estimated by the developers’ spokesperson as around 2,750 extra cars in two hours.

Unfortunately, the bridge proposal, as it currently stands, does not sufficiently articulate how this miracle will occur. Despite otherwise being thorough,the Transport Assessment does not give absolute traffic numbers, only percentages and ratios, and does not quantify the precise projected effect of the traffic improvements which the Hambridge road/A4 interchange adjustments are supposed to achieve. Specifically, the planning application does absolutely nothing to address the likely longer traffic queues on the A4, from the Robin Hood roundabout up to the approach to the Hambridge road/A4 interchange. That is a major concern, especially where the A4 goes from two lanes to one. 2007 has 30 race days scheduled, 16 of which are on weekdays.

So, raceday traffic is hugely significant.There are many drivers who spend around half an hour every day sitting in queues on the A4 and Hambridge road. I could not look those drivers in the eye and say that the Racecourse bridge proposal will improve traffic flows, as stated by the applicants, without much more comprehensive proof.

Now Victor Meldrew lays into Blair

Hard on the heels of Noel Gallagher, now Victor Meldrew actor, lifelong Labour supporter Richard Wilson, lays into Blair.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Gerorge Bush - in danger of giving lame ducks a bad name

The arcane procedures of the US Senate have recently come to the fore. They needed 60 Senators to vote in favour of debating a motion about Bush's troops surge plan. Only 56 voted for the debate, so it will not happen.

For the above 56 Senators to vote for the debate, it took seven Republicans to vote for it, which seems reasonably significant.

In the House, 17 Republicans voted against the President's plan, making the total vote 246 to 182 against the Bush plan.

Despite this technical failure in the Senate, all the above numbers amount to a very significant show of strength against Bush's plan. Added to this, there was the routing of the Republicans in the Congressional elections last November. And there is the small matter of Bush's approval ratings, which are in the low 30s. A Tiny Revolution reports: " Since polling began, Nixon is the only two-term president with lower approval ratings at a comparable point in his presidency".

Observer: Anglican schism avoided

As the Anglican church leaders meet in Dar-Es-Salaam, The Observer reports that "A (Anglican church) schism has been avoided after the American wing of the church gave in to African demands that it installs no more gay bishops." However, I can find no confirmation of this report.

It appears that the discussions centre on the Episcopal Church of the USA's response to a 2004 Anglican commission report, which called for a moratorium by the Americans on consecrating gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions.

The panel found that the Episcopal Church was taking the commission's recommendations "extremely seriously" and had complied with its requests for a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops. It also said the U.S. church had responded adequately to a request that it express regret over the strained relations with other Anglicans after Robinson's elevation. But the panel said it was not clear whether the U.S. church had complied with a request that priests refrain from blessing same-sex unions, saying the widely varying practices within the church mean the question "needs to be addressed urgently" by Episcopal leaders.

The Dar-Es-Salaam meeting started with seven archbishops refusing to share communion with the other primates due to the presence of the head of the US Episcopal church.

I find myself feeling great sympathy with the view expressed by Mary Warnock in the Observer today, answering the (perhaps premature) question: "Would an Anglican split have mattered?"

Some people won't mind at all, nor should they: they don't care about the Church of England and they've never heard of a schism. I love the Church of England and I hope it does split, casting off some dogmatists and fanatics. The church doesn't need to apologise for having belatedly upheld the equality of human beings in the eyes of its god. It has taken the great step of ordaining women; next, it must have women bishops, and homosexual bishops as well, without looking over its shoulder to see who is going to be offended. It is the glory of this church to be tolerant; if others don't like it, let them set up on their own.

Confectionery mystery: Are Troy biscuits really waggon wheels by another name?

It is interesting to see that S.S. Napoli is still disgorging its cargo, which is continuously ending up on Branscombe beach in Devon.

The Sun pictures thousands of "Troy" chocolate biscuits on the beach. They look like Waggon Wheels to me. Given the previous cargo washed up of Bibles in Swahili, perhaps these are, in fact, Waggon Wheels under a different trade name for some exotic country.

A google for "Troy chocolate biscuits" came up with nothing, as did similar searches in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German.

So, this fascinating confectionery mystery remains. Has anyone ever heard of "Troy" chocolate biscuits?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Reflections on Greek democracy

As I grew up, I heard a lot on the news about the "Greek colonels". This was a junta which tookover Greece in 1967 and, as Wikipedia describes:

In the ensuing years, a number of sympathisers of the left, as well as a number of politicians and communists, were arrested and brutally tortured by the regime. Many politicians evaded capture and found political refuge in other European countries such as France and Sweden, but the then head of state, King Constantine, officially acknowledged the new regime, which was also then duly recognized by the international community and diplomatic relations continued.

This was a shameful period in international history. Mercifully, the military regime collapsed in 1974:

Ex-Premier Constantine Karamanlis was immediately invited back from Paris, where he had resided since 1963. Marking the beginning of the Metapolitefsi era of modern Greek history, the plane carrying Constantine Karamanlis landed in Athens in the early hours of July 24, amidst massive celebrations and enormous crowds, extending from the capital's Ellinikon International Airport to Syntagma Square; Karamanlis was immediately appointed as the interim prime minister under President Gizikis and founded the conservative New Democracy party, going on to win the ensuing elections by a large margin. Democratic rule was finally restored in its birthplace and a democratic republican constitution activated in 1975.

Meanwhile, another prominent figure of the past, Andreas Papandreou, had also returned from the United States and had already founded the Panhellenic Socialist Party, or PASOK.

I am very grateful to Madame Tussaud's for reminding me of these events in Greece, through their display of models of Constantine Karamanlis and Andreas Papandreou. It is important that we remember the struggles which have resulted in the current free democracy in Greece. Madame Tussaud's also display a model of Elefthetios Venizelos, who was the Greek Prime Minister who defined his era at the beginning of the 20th Century:

As a result of the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Crete, Chios, Samos, most of Epirus and southern Macedonia, including Thessaloniki, were incorporated into Greece. King George I, monarch for five decades, was assassinated in Thessaloniki in 1913, succeeded by his Germanophile son, King Constantine I. His struggle with Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos resulted in Greece's joining the Entente against Germany and Austria and the abdication of King Constantine in favour of his son, Alexander.

Many thanks to Barry Stocker for, quite rightly, pointing out to me the significance of the Madame Tussaud's display after I made a hasty and undoubtedly stupid late Friday evening posting about this. I am very sorry about that. Barry Stocker writes:

Venizelos was one of the major liberals of the last century. He played a major role in promoting Greek democracy in the early 20th Century, as the leader of the then very large Liberal Party. He was well known to Lloyd George who regarded him as a modern Pericles.

...Karamanlis, a centre right leader, was the first Prime Minister after the 1974 restoration of democracy and was the key figure in stabilising Greek democracy, perhaps bringing to an end the struggles inaugurated by Venizelos. Karamanlis was already a veteran by then and had played a notable role as a moderate in Greek politics, pursuing a European road for Greece...Anyone who would like a gripping cinematic version of Greek struggle against authoritarianism, should see the film 'Z', which refers to another centre-right Greek hero of law and democracy, Christos Sartzekis, as the examining magistrate who resists political pressure when investigating a state sponsored political murder of the left wing leader Lambrekis in the 1960s. Sartzekis was president himself before Karamanlis took that office.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Blears causes hyperventilation

Stephen Tall reports that a nation holds its breath, and treats us to a Paxofest into the bargain.

Medical advice needed.

If you are getting too excited over Hazel Blears possibly about to announce that she may run for deputy leader of the Labour party, a simple brown paper bag may do the trick. Sit down. Breathe into the brown paper bag. ...Should calm you down.

Cameron's load of old cobblers

I have an admission to make.

In my darkest moments, at around 02.10 hours, when one wakes up and checks the clock and thinks "Oh no, how am I going to get back to sleep again?", I do think that David Cameron might actually be a liberal and that the Liberal Democrats might actually be....choose your words carefully Paulus, you've already written "cobblers" in the title and the vicar night read this...stuffed.

Fortunately, this thought only fills my mind for what scientists call a "nano-second", once every blue moon.

Fortunately, D.Cameron rides to the rescue and I realise that, after all, he really is just a good old-fashioned 42 carat Tory plonker.

One such rescue-riding moment was the publication of the Conservative social exclusion report.
"Everybody needs to get married and then there will be no poverty" was the essence of this report. Guffaw.

Thank goodness, there was another rescue-riding moment by D.Cameron this morning on GMTV.

Before I move onto that, I have another admission to make.

I cannot report this interview at first hand. I do watch GMTV, as my regular reader will know. More accurately, my wife watches it and I have to go along with that choice, confined as I am to the marital bedroom, at that time of the day.

Today I had a day off from work. Hurrah! Even then, we were watching GMTV at about 8ish. My wife was explaining something protracted to me. Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed GMTV's Fiona, bless her, coming on and saying cheerfully that they had David Cameron on the line from his home.

It is a very rare occasion indeed for me to stop my wife in her tracks. This was an exception. An emergency, you might say. "I am sorry - I can't watch", I blurted out, before leaving the room precipitously prior, fortunately, to D.Cameron saying a single word. Phew! A close one!

I cannot stand the man. I just have to see him breathing in to say something and I feel an almighty revulsion welling up inside me.

Anyway, as I travelled to London for a lovely day out with my daughter, I was aware, despite not purchasing a newspaper, that Mr Cameron had said something, following my precipitous departure from the viewership of GMTV.

Cicero has been singing about this. And I saw a few other reports on discarded newspapers on the W.H.Smith news board.

In essence, Cameron is saying that kids need fathers. Brilliant.

Tory leader David Cameron has called for more powers to "compel" fathers to look after their children in an effort to tackle gang culture. He said he backed tax breaks to help families stay together and promoting a "culture of responsibility and respecting authority".

Oh good, another load of old cobblers from Cameron, I can rest easy. He isn't about to stuff the LibDems.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gordon Brown's nightmare

The BBC compares the task facing Gordon Brown with past Prime Ministers who took over in mid-term, such as Harold Macmillan. Brown has apparently studied past transitions to try to avoid some of the obvious pitfalls when he takes over.
Historian and journalist Francis Beckett has written a series of 20 biographies of 20th Century prime ministers. He says:
"Gordon Brown's living, waking nightmare" is that he will be like James Callaghan or Alec Douglas Home, a prime minister "tacked on to the end of somebody's else period of office who is only ever really remembered for the fact that he was prime minister."

Noel Gallagher lays into Blair...and Cameron

Ten years after famously supping champers with Tony Blair at Number Ten, Noel Gallagher has laid into him:

We thought it was going to be John F Kennedy and for a year or two it was. Unfortunately for this Labour government, they are going to be saddled with the Iraq war and nobody can get around that.

If anything, Gallagher is more vitriolic about David Cameron, especially about his refusal to admit or deny using drugs while at school:

To say no comment is typical of him and his party copping out. (The Conservatives) wait to see what Tony Blair says...and then they move in behind and switch it and change a little bit. It's like a song writer who's eternally ripping off someone else's song and just changing the odd line a little.

Great philosophy of the man who will be at his own wake

It is well worth reading this from the BBC on-line magazine. Andy Fitchett, 56, has six months to live. He found out he had terminal cancer just as he was planning for a new life in Spain.

He is arranging a wake next month, which he will attend.

He says:

I'm a lucky man and have had a lucky life. Many people don't get a chance to say goodbye to people when they die but I have.

Others never live a life as long and happy as mine when they pass away. Take a 12-year-old killed in a car crash, they don't get a chance to live their life or say goodbye.

I like the cut of that man's jib!

18 Doughty Street - Good luck to them

Norfolk Blogger comments that "18 Doughty Street is turning into 18 Tory Street". What is this "turning into"? - it always has been. It is based near the old Spectator HQ (which was at no. 56) in Bloomsbury, and there has never been any attempt to hide its true colours.

So now they are running attack ads on Ken Livingstone. Big deal. Let them get on with it. It is a free country and Kenny boy has taken thousands of far higher-profile knocks from the Mail, Evening Standard etc in the past. I think this knock-Ken campaign is a little advertising ploy by 18 DS....perish the thought!

I have great affection for 18 Doughty Street...as long as I don't have to watch it in more than short bursts. You have to admire the folks who valiantly stagger through five hours of television per night, like they do. It is a very British set-up, just like the Spectator was. Their web site looks brilliant.

What are the viewing figures? This is what Iain Dale said shortly after the launch in the Guardian last year:

Viewing figures, he says, seem to be up in the thousands but are hard to determine at this stage and, anyway, "We're not going to let the viewership dictate what we do."

"In the thousands" - What does that mean then? 2001? 2002? 2003?

And we hear unsubstantiated whispers that the figures have gone down since the launch (I would welcome any knowledge of what the viewing figures actually are - I couldn't find them, despite a very lengthy google). Oh dear. But they don't want to be dictated to by the viewership. Marvellous. Great British eccentricity. TV for the presenters and their mothers. I hope someone is carefully watching the profit and loss account.

Looking at this week's 18 DS schedule it seems to be heavily presented by Iain Dale. Marvellous practice for him. And he is exceptionally good at the relaxed 18 Doughty Street style of conversation. He even types email replies to the likes of Tim Ireland while he is chairing the live discussion - Chutzpah or what?!

Watching the 18 Doughty Street blogging programmes is like wandering into the student digs of the chair of the University Conservative Union at 1am and listening to the discussion between him and his friends. It is all very illuminating and stimulating. But, at the end of the day, it is rather incestuous and amounts to little more than self-gratification for the participants.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Daily Express finally loses its temper! - Polish road signs

The Daily Express has finally lost its temper. It has set up a phone line poll with the question: "Has Britain gone to the dogs?" prompted by its anger after the erection of a couple of Polish road signs on the Cheshire/Shropshire border.

"Uwaga!" Say the signs.

Neil Anderton, of the Cheshire County Council highways department, said: “Just a few weeks ago we had to stop work and let some Poles drive through an area we were working on because they could not fathom what was going on.”A spokeswoman for Cheshire County Council said: “Polish people are part of the community and we need to cater for their needs.”

Read the rest of the story if you can be bothered.

Richard Benyon - Petrolhead?...Shurely shome mishtake?

From the just-published figures, I notice that Newbury MP Richard Benyon is an apparent "petrolhead", spending £2263 on car travel and only £333 on the train, even though he lives just three minutes from Theale station, which is on the mainline to Paddington.

Perhaps he travels in a Toyota Prius like Chris Huhne? If so, I wasn't aware of this. I thought Audis were Mr Benyon's favourite, and I have seen him driving a huge Range Rover. We wait to hear about the emissions level of his current car with bated breath.

Only recently, Richard Benyon was breathlessly heralding Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", so one is anxious to hear the story behind his travel expenses. Perhaps he has recently switched to a more rail-orientated pattern of travel? I am very charitable aren't I?

This apparent mismatch of actions versus words is all the more surprising given this recent Churchillian pronouncement from Mr Benyon:

Climate Change is the defining issue of our age. Previous generations had to deal with the rise of Nazism or communism. This is the issue on which my generation of politicians will be judged. This is our Dunkirk.

Perhaps he is a late convert to this thinking? After all, the newly published figures are for 2005-6.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

MP's detailed travel expenses on the web - thanks to Norman Baker

Very well done to Norman Baker for battling for two years to have the details of MP's travel expenses published.

They are now showing on the House of Commons web site.

The top claimants (from the press releases) are:

Top five air travel claimants

1. Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dem, Orkney & Shetland, £34,347
2. Eric Joyce, Lab, Falkirk, £30,578
3. Angus MacNeil, SNP, Western Isles, £19,919
4. Gregory Campbell, DUP, East Londonderry, £17,733
5. Peter Robinson, DUP, Belfast East £16,126

Top five mileage claimants

1. Janet Anderson, Lab, Rossendale & Darwen, £16,612
2. Laurence Robertson, Con, Tewkesbury, £12,015
3. Eric Joyce, Lab, Falkirk, £9,647
4. Stephen O'Brien, Con, Eddisbury, £9,878
5. Daniel Kawczynski, Con, Shrewsbury & Atcham, £8,866

Top five rail fare claimants

1. Alan Milburn, Lab, Darlington, £16,782
2. John Grogan, Lab, Selby, £13,934
3. Ann Cryer, Lab, Keighley, £12,668
4. Sir Gerald Kaufman, Lab, Manchester Gorton, £12,434
5. Phil Willis, Lib Dem, Harrogate and Knaresborough, £11,753

Top five taxi and car hire claimants

1. Richard Bacon, Con, South Norfolk £5,685
2. Stephen Dorrell, Con, Charnwood £4,933
3. John Thurso, Lib Dem, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, £4,717
4. John Grogan, Lab, Selby, £4,063
5. Nigel Evans, Con, Ribble Valley, £3,430

Chris Huhne drives a green Toyota Prius, so that should borne in mind when studying his mileage claim versus his smaller train fare claim.

Theresa May - Fourth most fanciable MP?!

...Should have gone to Specsavers. Or was there a shoe fetishist on the judging panel?

Obama - putting my money where my mouth is

I previously bet a tenner each on Mark Warner and Mike Huckabee to be their respective party nominees for the 2008 US Presidential race.

I ceremoniously tore up my Warner betting slip when he withdrew from the race.

I have now placed a tenner on Obama to be Democrat nominee with Stan James at 13/5.

A small wager, but it shows that I passionately believe Obama is going to get the nomination. I would bet on him becoming President but I can't find a way to do that with Stanny boy.

I think Hilary Clinton is a lightweight and has shown poor judgement on the war in Iraq.

I have been utterly gosmacked by Obama. He has real passion and authority. His position on Iraq is remarkable and very powerful. I was particularly impressed by his relaxed rebuttal of Aussie Howard's attack on him.

So, I have now stuck my neck out. I am prepared to have egg splattered all over my face in time, but I am a Barack Obama man. The man is awesome.

"Political Correctness gone mad!" alert #346: "Pupils banned from playing tag"

Finding no stimulation from my normal haunts, I am reverting to my second childhood and finding inspiration from BBC Newsround again. Eureka! Something to blog about: "Pupils banned from playing tag"

It seems that journalists are hanging around trying to turn up every possible little story about rule changes in schools. Last week it was about Mothers' Day cards. This week it is playing tag. (I see that the Daily Mail pounced on it some time ago - "Here we go again! Political Correctness gone mad. - Lorraine, Middlesex").

This is one primary school out of 17,504 in England. The Headteacher was seeing a lot of bumped head injuries in children there, so decided to act.

Surely it is nothing new for individual headteachers to modify rules in their school? It has always happened. It really does seem ridiculous that such things in one individual school make the national headlines.

I feel very sorry for the teachers involved.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Way to go, Obama!

John Howard is...er...pusillanimous. In the refreshingly straight-from-the-hip Australian political scene, that's a given.

His remarks about Barack Obama seem out of order, but what the heck, Obama gave as good as he got.

By the way - both of them have elections coming up (Obama's being a little way off, well....er...nearly two years actually).

As a reminder, Howard said, amongst other invective:

If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.

"al-Queda in Iraq"...subtle, one John. Was there any al-Queda in Iraq before Bush invaded? - I disgress.

A jaunty tie-less Obama strolled nonchalantly into a press conference with a "Hi everyone" and fired back brilliantly:

I think it's flattering that one of George Bush's allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced....I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq, and my understanding is Mr. Howard has deployed 1400, so if he is...to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq....Otherwise it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric.

Excellent stuff.

Apologies to the Granny in New Smyrna. I changed my mind on this once I had read the texts of what each of these bruisers said.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Does the "promise to pay the bearer on demand" mean anything?

An interesting point arose at church this morning. Get out a £5 or £10 note and look at it. As you probably remember from some time ago, it says "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of X pounds" and this promise is signed (often) by one Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England.

What does it mean? I was taught that it used to mean that if you turned up at a bank and asked appropriately, they would give you the appropriate monetary value in gold. But with the end of the gold standard, donkeys' years ago, this, I assume, no longer applies.

A Bank of England document says:

In essence, the promise is that the stuff that you buy with this note does not change much from year to the next.

(Some promise - what if inflation goes hyper all of sudden?) But it doesn't say that does it? It says that Mervyn King, if you walk up to him with a fiver, will pay you five pounds. Presumably he would just give you a fiver back.

It is all very perplexing. I can feel a Ken Dodd joke coming on:

What a wonderful day for everybody in England to walk up to Mervyn King with a fiver and say: "Give us a fiver like you promised mate".

UPDATE: I have done some further digging and find from the Bank of England website that the promise is to pay five pounds in "gold or coinage". Also, ThisisLivingstonemusic.net gives this overview of the situation:

"I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of......"

On a bank note it states "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of......". What that means is, the bank has pledged to the holder of that note, that on demand, they will give to the holder, the value stated on the note in gold or coinage. A bank note is merely an IOU. Therefore you are perfectly entitled by law, to ask for your bank account's total value to be paid to you in gold or coinage - it states it on all bank notes and is authorised by the Chief Cashier of each bank. So, that means that everyone is entitled to have their money given to them by their bank, in gold or coinage. The only problem is, there is nowhere near enough gold or coinage in circulation to honour these pledges, which means in effect, the paper money is worthless. If you want some entertainment, I suggest you ask your local bank for a £10 to be paid to you in Gold. The look on the young clerk's face will be all the entertainment you should have for one day.....

Here's what the Bank of England states....

Legal Tender and the Promise to Pay Legal Tender

The concept of legal tender is often misunderstood. Contrary to popular opinion, legal tender is not a means of payment that must be accepted by the parties to a transaction, but rather a legally defined means of payment that should not be refused by a creditor in satisfaction of a debt.

The current series of Bank of England notes are legal tender in England and Wales, although not in Scotland or Northern Ireland, where the only currency carrying legal tender status for unlimited amounts is the one pound and two pound coins.

Promise to pay

The "...Promise to pay the bearer the sum of ..." on Bank of England notes has nothing to do with legal tender status. The promise to pay stands good for all time and means that the Bank will pay out the face value of any genuine Bank of England note no matter how old.
The promise to pay also holds good for damaged notes, as long as enough of the note survives to prove that it was genuine and no previous claim for it has been received. The Bank's mutilated notes department receives some 25,000 claims a year for anything from fire or water damage to notes eaten by all manner of household pets.

It's official - Ted Haggard is straight

The Guardian reports:

Just three months after admitting that he'd had sex with a male prostitute, the former president of the US National Association of Evangelicals has been declared "completely heterosexual" after three weeks' treatment at a Christian centre in Phoenix, according to one of the ministers who oversaw his degayification.


David Steel is number 12 - Men who understand women

The Observer "asked a panel of female authors, politicians, and media and business powers to nominate the men they believed best understood women".

George Clooney was number one.

Some Spliffy was number seven

But I was pleasantly surprised to see David Steel at Number 12, for his work on abortion law.

The Tories proudly described past leaders' backgrounds- so why not Dave's?

If you look back at past Conservative leaders, we were told a lot about their backgrounds. Ted Heath - son of a carpenter, Grammar School boy. Maggie Thatcher - helped her Dad keep the books at his Grantham Grocer shop. John Major - his humble beginnings in Brixton which loomed large in his memoirs. We even got to hear about soldier Iain, Beer-delivering Willie and humble-beginnings Michael.

But our Dave Cameron says that his past before he went into politics should not concern us - he was a private person then.

So why did the Tories bleat about the young Ted, Maggie, John, Iain, Willie and Michael then?

Of course, the answer is obvious. You only have to look back at the last Conservative leader whose background caused him some difficulty. Sir Alec Douglas-Home. The phrase "grouse moor" hung around his neck like an Albatross.

So I agree with Jonathan Calder and Peter on Liberal Review. The "revelations" in the Mail on Sunday are pretty pathetic and unlikely to frighten any horses this side of Norman Tebbit.

But reminding people that Dave went to Eton will hurt him. Sooner or later his silence about his past will become deafening.

While I am at it, anyone want to look at some posh family furniture?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Only 42-carat plonkers won't laugh at this Mail on Sunday story

The Mail on Sunday. "David Owen, Ming's top men, even Mandy - all are welcome in Dave's big tent".

"David Owen"? Pass the oxygen, I am going to expire through hyperventilatory laughter!

"Mandy"? Here is my last will and testament. I may die of laughter shortly.

Last autumn, George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, invited himself into the office of a leading figure in the LibDem Party. Then, without so much as a preamble, he got down to business and presented him with a dramatic proposition, which he made clear had been sanctioned by David Cameron.

Osborne suggested to David Laws, LibDem work and pensions spokesman, that he should consider defecting to the Conservative Party. In return, he would be offered a shadow cabinet job. At this point, Laws politely and thoughtfully explained that he was not a Tory.

What? Little Georgie Osbourne?! "Without preamble"! Did his feet touch the ground as he pulled himself up to his full height in the chair? Oh, go on then, here's another gratuitous laughter photo.

Yes, Garth Crooks does need to chill out

Relaxed Saturday and Sunday afternoons are such a pleasure (unlikely to be sampled by yours truly between now and May 3rd, incidentally). ...Sunday falling asleep in front of a black and white film (it's traditional - Genevieve is the best one to do it to - I have never watched the whole film). And Saturday is a particular pleasure pressing the red button for "Final Score" at 4pm.

Drowning oneself in the commentary of the "Final Score" team is an absolute pleasure. But I agree with the Norfolk Blogger, who is, as usual, on the money. Garth Crooks needs to chill out. He is an absolute star - fantastic knowledge, great football judgement. But, the BBC should send him on a stress management course. Get him to sit back. Take it easy. You are a star Garth. Relax and enjoy. You don't have to fight any more!

Now, Gavin Peacock - what a star that man is. Relaxed. Laid back. Doesn't give a Four-X. He is the biz.

The fine line between "fair comment" and libellous remarks

For reasons which may be apparent to many bloggers, my mind has recently been concentrated on this subject. There was a disturbing story from the Guardian today. A poor old restaurant reviewer has been found guilty of libel:

The Irish News in Belfast has announced its determination to fight the jury's verdict and the £25,000 awarded in damages to Ciaran Convery, who sued over a review in 2000 that described his staff as unhelpful, his cola as flat, and his chicken Marsala "so sweet as to be inedible".

...Seems a trifle (no pun intended) harsh and one can't help wondering about the future of free speech. I am a great one for trusting the judgement of juries, but this one is causing pause for thought.

One can think of plenty of worse critic remarks than the above. Enjoy!

Matthew Norman:
Did they mean to create one of the world's worst restaurants, or was it all a tragic accident?

Matthew Norman again:
'How was the coq au vin?' the waiter inquired. 'Really nice, huh? ... And really traditional!' Well yes, I thought, if infusing that classic chicken dish with a metallic tang hinting at a generous sprinkling of iron filings is the tradition.

Fay Maschler:
It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine anyone conjuring up a restaurant, even in their sleep, where the food in its mediocrity comes so close to inedible

It is, all things considered, quite the worst restaurant in London, maybe the world.

A.A.Gill Again:
Slow-baked cheese-and-onion tart - snot in a box.

A.A.Gill Teletubby Again, Again:
I am prepared to stick my neck out and say that the Fashion Cafe is the worst restaurant that I have ever reviewed. It hit professional depths in every department. The dining room looks like it was decorated over a weekend for an art school. There really is very little point in describing the food in any detail. I didn't put a single thing in my mouth twice. It all went back.

Michael Winner:
I have recently had the worst meal I've ever eaten. Not by a small margin. Not 'This is terrible but another one somewhere else was nearly as bad.' I mean the worst! The most disastrous. The most unrelievedly awful! You don't need to be an atomic physicist to grill steaks, do you? They arrived so raw you could have drowned swimming in the blood. But the pi¿ce de resistance was my persillade of tongue. Leathery, so hard it was difficult to cut and, as far as I could tell, not fresh. I picked away at it. What I should have done was tell everyone, then and there, very icily, that it was a disgrace.

Michael Winner again:
What I only go through. How I suffer. The food is grotesque, so awful as to be almost indescribable and an absolute disgrace. The owners should call a board meeting at once and fire themselves.

Giles Coren:
The taste and texture of the pease pudding reminded me of occasions when I have accidentally inhaled while emptying the Dyson.

Jay Rayner:
The old Sheriff's Court is now a place where the crimes are actually committed. Granted, bad cooking probably does not warrant a long stretch inside. But the offence of grievous bodily harm upon a lovely little sea bream really ought to carry with it some form of judicial penalty.
Matthew Fort:
Occasionally, you come across a restaurant that causes you to question the very nature of human existence. Now, I can't be sure of this, but I got the impression from the menu that the food has a Vietnamese slant to it. [What] looked like a sea mine in miniature was the most disgusting thing I've put in my mouth since I ate earthworms at school. The contents appeared to have been scraped off the inside of an S-bend. On second thoughts, I preferred the worms.

In contrast, describing the staff as unhelpful, the cola as flat, and the chicken Marsala "so sweet as to be inedible" seems rather mild, and hardly worth a £25,000 penalty. I am disturbed. I look forward to hearing the result of the forthcoming appeal.

Matthew Fort has an excellent dissemination of this dispute here which culminates with this supreme paragraph:

However, this judgment in Northern Ireland would strike at the very heart of the critical process. It would inhibit accuracy, integrity and, above all, the fairness that has long been the hallmark of the British critical process. And would the world be a better place if our restaurant critics, who are all honourable men and women, were denied the language of Shakespeare, Milton and Spotty Muldoon, if the mild words of reproof that one or two have been known to decorate their columns were forbidden to them? I think not. Once again the law has shown itself to be hare-brained and half-baked (or should that be a half-baked hare's brain?).

I have to agree with Matthew Fort. Everyone who expresses a view in print, or on the internet, has to think long and hard about what they are saying. But, at the end of the day, the freedom of this country is going to end if we can't allow people to express a frank opinion.

The best TV newsreader in the country

I have decided to go out on a limb here and declare Gavin Ramjaun the best TV newsreader in the country - by a mile. There is no question about it. He smiles virtually all the time. He does look serious for serious pieces but then his smile comes back - particularly at the end of the bulletin. He makes the news cheerful and if you get bored with what he is saying you can watch his hair, which provides endless amusement. His stripey top is a good boredom-breaker too.

He's even got his own blog.

(He's on the BBC's Newsround, by the way - when you have a nine-year-old daughter you watch these things and go a bit soft in the head)

Friday, February 9, 2007

Students' Union dispute - Praying for victory over the tyranny of Political Correctness.

I was recently at a church service where a member of the congregation, leading the prayers, asked us to pray for victory in the fight against "the tyranny of political correctness".

As I left, I almost asked the priest for the address of the headquarters of this "tyranny of political correctness" so I could send them a stiff letter. There isn't one, of course. There is a Campaign against Political Correctness, but there isn't a campaign for political correctness.

Is fighting political correctness a bit like fighting a large blanchmange, or, indeed, is the Campaign against Political Correctness a bit like the Flat-earth society - completely futile?

To be fair, the member of the congregation asking us to pray for victory over the TOPC was referring to a legal battle involving the Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union. I find it very difficult to make a judgement on this case. Other Christian union groups, quoted in the Guardian, have excellent relations with their Students' Unions. Many do not have any conditions on students becoming members of their committee. Exeter UECU asks people to sign a statement of faith before becoming a committee member. This begs the question: Would someone who is not a Christian, or indeed, does not have a great deal of empathy with Christianity, want to waste their time in committee meetings of the UECU? They would have to be completely insane if they were, for example, an atheist, to want to do that.

And you have to go through an election, involving the UECU members, to become a committee member. Is an atheist going to win an election where the eletorate are Christian Union members? Hello? Can you imagine the election pitch? "Vote for me - I don't believe in what you believe in."

I also ask, what harm does a bit of questioning do anyway?

I don't judge the merits of the arguments in the Exeter case. I do ask this, though. Has this advice, from an excellent advisor, been taken fully into account?:

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way.

Tony Banks quotes

One of my political heroes is the late Tony Banks. Not so much because of his political views, but because of his hilarious wit.

I was reminded of him by my good friend, the Granny from New Smyrna Beach. She mentioned "the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill", who she had seen on C-Span. That, of course, was Nicholas Soames. I was reminded of his descriptions of Soames, of whom he was a good friend. He described Soames as "a one-man food mountain". He also told him: "You could have an exhibition inside your own underpants"and called him "A cross between Sir John Falstaff and Bertie Wooster."

I then found a collection of the "Wit and wisdom of Tony Banks" on the Independent site. There are some crackers on there.

In April 1994 he said of John Major:

He was a fairly competent chairman of housing [on Lambeth Council]. Every time he gets up now I keep thinking "what on earth is Councillor Major doing?" I can't believe he's here and sometimes I think he can't either.

That reminds me of Churchill's description of Neville Chamberlain: "A good Lord Mayor of Birmingham in a lean year ".

In May 1997 Tony Banks said:

They've had 18 years to ***k the country up. We've had only two days. And we're not doing badly.

Well done East Barnet LibDem team

Well done to Matt Davies and his team at the East Barnet by-election. His blogs of the event were well received. And who cares what the result was, they worked really hard and got up at 4.30am in some of the worst snow we've had for years.

Well done team!

"Teens hooked on porn" - well done BBC!

The BBC has redeemed itself for the cataclysm which is "When will I be famous?".

I refer to "Teens hooked on Porn", shown last night on BBC3. This was a tempting one for any broadcaster. They could have produced a tabloid-style programme with plenty of salacious details. But, in fact, the programme was remarkably balanced, mature and sensitive.

They covered the subject relatively comprehensively through three teenagers.

One had got "hooked on porn" but felt guilty about it. He went to his priest and resolved to kick the habit.

Another teenager felt no guilt and revelled in the whole porn thing with his mates. But you couldn't help suspecting that there were some problems in relating normally with girls/women waiting down the road for him.

The third teenager was called Malcolm, aged 16. He was well and truly hooked on porn of a rather advanced nature. He was guided to a sex therapist. The results were interesting. The therapist managed to discover with Malcolm that he had unresolved anger, much of it stemming from a history of being bullied, which led him to vent his anger through aggressive pornography. By helping Malcolm to deal with his anger, the therapist was able to put him on a path to removing his need for such pornography.

Fascinating stuff and well done to the BBC for covering this intelligently and sympathetically.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Pelosi's air travel - much ado about nothing?

Hat-tip to the Croydonian for this story about Nancy Pelosi. As second-in-line to the presidency, she is entitled to military transportation after the 9-11 scare. Her office requested clarification of the rules about aircraft to transport her from LA to Congress.

This has led to accusations that she wants to travel by what has been described as a "luxury" C-40 jet to avoid the risk of refueling. In fact, reading the LA Times report, she doesn't seem to have done much to prompt these accusations:

The House sergeant at arms originally advised Pelosi that Hastert (her predecessor) had used a military plane and recommended that she use one that didn't need to refuel. That prompted her office to request clarification of the rules, Daly said, noting that she never actually requested a specific plane.

It appears to be a lot of fuss about nothing:

So far, Pelosi hasn't used one of the big jets that has caused all the fuss. In her single trip home as speaker since being sworn in Jan. 4, she flew commercial to San Francisco and took a military 12-seater back to Washington. With the benefit of tailwinds, it made it without refueling.

The Croydonian makes a lot of fuss about the fact that "she tried to get a military plane to fly her from DC to Williamsburg, Virginia - about the same distance as London to Cardiff...."

But the LA Times says:

Pelosi asked to use a military plane to go to a recent retreat of House Democrats in Williamsburg, Va., less than a three-hour drive from the capital. The request was denied and Pelosi took the train.

Fine. Problem?

She has also asked for clarification about the rules for members of her family flying with her (Hastert used to have his wife flying with him). And?

Strategist Anita Dunn seems to have it about right:
"This is the smash-mouth politics of Washington — how can we make something that is fairly routine sound as bad as possible," strategist Dunn said.

"Political correctness gone mad" alert - Mothering Sunday cards "banned"

I am on full orange alert to expect a rant ending "it's political correctness gone mad" from a dearly loved relative, who specialises in that sort of thing.

The rant invariably starts with the words "I read in the paper today..." so I always have ample warning to do an emergency shut down of all my critical faculties and put myself in a trance-like "um, um, yes, yes, ah, ah, yes, yes" mode.

The reason I am on orange alert is the article entitled "School Mother's Day ban attacked", which I have just read.

A school headteacher is under fire for banning pupils from making Mother's Day cards to avoid upsetting children without a mother.

Helen Starkey, 46, fears the time-honoured tradition of making a Mother's Day card at school could be seen as insensitive. As a result, the headteacher of Johnstown Primary School, in Carmarthen, west Wales, simply banned pupils from making cards.

But the move was branded as "ridiculous" by one angry parent who has accused her of being insensitive to the majority

No doubt, many of the ranting persuasion will say that this is terrible, "doing away" with cherished British traditions. Hello? Did you make a Mother's Day card for your mother at school? I certainly didn't. I made them at home or bought them. Indeed, one could remember a time before the card manufacturers got in on the act, when we simply picked a few flowers for our mothers.

It is not a cherished British tradition to make Mothering Sunday cards at school. It happens and that is nice. But if it is going to upset even one child, who doesn't have a mother, is it worth it?

I was fascinated by one comment in the article:

One parent, who did not wish to be named, said: "It means 95% of the children have not got an opportunity to make a card. I take issue with the fact that Mothering Sunday is a Christian festival and Mrs Starkey is not allowing children to celebrate in the way they know how."

Hello? Is the headteacher stopping anyone from celebrating Mothering Sunday? Er no. They can still make a card and they can still celebrate the event. They can still, surprise surprise, go to church to celebrate the event. Now, that would be amazing.

Nostalgia for the Common Cold Unit

I have recently been having nostalgic thoughts about the Common Cold Unit. This was set up at the end of the Second World War to find a cure for the...er...common cold. They closed it down in 1990 because, although they could find plenty of causes for the common cold, they could not find a cure. Marek Kohn relates some of the details in an article called "Nasal Gazing".

I suppose you have to take your hat off to the common cold, if it is possible to doff one's cap to a random, mutating collection of viral infections. Modern science has managed to beat many diseases, but the simple common cold has remained unscathed.

I still seem to have the vestiges of one which has lasted well over a month. Nothing serious - just a underlying grogginess and stuffed up nose.

If you are at a loose end, you could do worse than look up some basic facts about the common cold.

That is all.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Working from home

Jo Christie-Smith receives today's Alex Wilcock award for sustained posting on the subject of working from home.

Fortunately, the company I work for has a very modern attitude to working from home. I do so about 3-4 times every fortnight.

Today, I needed no persuasion. I could have spent 180 minutes driving back and forward through the snow. Or I could have walked downstairs to my office and switched on my laptop.

With the snow looking about a foot deep in places, I chose the latter. Marvellous.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Blushes all round - "Paul Walter rocks my world" fan (?) site discovered

I have been asked by the "Hero worshipper in Chief" to mention this. There is a "Paul Walter rocks my world" page on http://www.facebook.com/.

Blush, blush. The thing has fifteen members! All of whom look like they might be models for that new BBC programme about researchers!

The thing appears to be rather onion-like in its layers of irony - I am unable to discern where the irony stops (if at all - most likely) and starts.

But it is hugely amusing and I am very gratified that anyone could have an interest in my "144 things done as a Newbury Town Councillor" and my 42 photographs of the litter in Station Road, Newbury.

Friendly fire - sadly familiar

The friendly fire incident, the video of which was on BBC Newsround today, is sickeningly familiar. I did a quick look up. The Scotsman reports:

During the first Gulf War in 1991, an American A-10 attacked British armoured personnel carriers - killing nine soldiers.

Oh dear. Also, an A-10, over ten years earlier.

Oh dear.

Is this the worst programme in the history of the BBC?

"When will I be famous?"


Complete cobblers, would be a charitable way to describe this BBC1 Saturday night show, introduced by Graham Norton (even he can't save it).

Someone in the BBC thinks that they can get away with reviving "New Faces" if they give it the appearance of Dance Fever/Celebrity/Strictly Come naked. They are deluding themselves. This is the biggest load of rubbish ever broadcast by the BBC. Bar none.

The man in the ball last Saturday was terrible. I have seen it done much better twice. To have the minute of "dead air", while he put on his not-very-impressive Elvis suit, was just dire. And not only did they broadcast this embarrassment once, they reprised the whole sordid thing again later in the evening.

Oh dear. A preforming dog? A little kid singing? Come back Hughie Green, all is forgiven.

Injuries sustained in the cause of Liberal Democracy

Strange. I have survived 20 odd years of Liberal campaigning without injury. Last night, I came a cropper on someone's doorstep (slightly gashed knee/strained wrist) and tonight I was left bleeding after being attacked by a holly bush.

They say bad luck comes in threes, so I am on the look-out.

Woman in underwear appears on Newbury's Telephone Exchange building

Yes, the long-awaited event in Newbury's history occurred this evening.

I was just walking out of the Corn Exchange when I noticed some people in fluorescent yellow jackets by the bank on the corner. Then I realised they were a film crew. I went round the corner and there it was...a headless woman in all her glory and underwear, projected on the full length of the approx. ten storey telephone exchange.

I saw a comely figure, being covered by the cameras, looking at me. I enquired: "Is that you?". "Do I look like I have boobs?" enquired, in return, the presenter of "How to look good naked", Mr Gok Wan.

Nevertheless, my wife was interviewed extensively by Mr Wan.