Sunday, April 29, 2007

The attraction of newts as relief from politics

During a brief break from delivering today, I found myself peering down into our small pond at the numerous tadpoles and couple of newts there. It does amaze me that a small pond in a garden surrounded by six foot fences, can somehow generate such life. I found it a marvellous bit of therapy, as relief from pounding the pavements.

I can understand why Ken Livingstone enjoys keeping newts.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Scotty beamed up

The ashes of James Doohan, who played Scotty in Star Trek, have been fired into space.

Bobby "Boris" Pickett dies

I was saddened to read in the Telegraph* that Bobby "Boris" Pickett has died. It takes skill to come up with a record (i.e "Monster Mash") which is played frequently 45 years after it is issued. I played it last Haloween to my daughter. I often played it (usually from the original 45rpm disc) when I was a radio deejay. Saying "Bobby 'Boris' Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers" always tested my limited skills of speech. Apparently Mr Pickett used to say that, although that one record didn't make him rich, it "paid (his) rent for 36 years".

Of course, Bobby "Boris" Pickett's greatest contribution to civilisation was the wonderful line:

Whatever happened to my Transylvanian Twist?

*I didn't buy it - it was on the coffee table at the local gym.

My predictions come back to me

A hard copy of my predictions blog posting for the election results for West Berkshire Council and Newbury Town Council has now come back to me in a sealed envelope via Royal Mail, postmarked for 27th April. I will be publishing that posting after the election results have been announced. I will leave the envelope sealed, so that anyone can check the fact that I did indeed make the prediction blog posting on 27th April.

Pictured: the sealed envelope.

Police arrest Conservative councillor over corruption allegation

Disturbing news from Portsmouth via The News (dated 25th April) and the Liberal Democrat Voice. Obviously the man is innocent until proven guilty. Councillors are not often held overnight by the police, as this Conservative councillor has been:

Tory Jezz Baker was arrested at 1.30pm yesterday after a month-long police investigation.

It is understood to be alleged that Cllr Baker, who sits on the city council planning committee, took money to support planning applications.

Police have been investigating since an allegation was made by a member of the public in March.

Cllr Baker was yesterday in Romford, Essex, visiting his baby daughter, but returned to Portsmouth by arrangement with officers where he was arrested on suspicion of corruption in a public office.

Police can hold him for 24 hours without charge which can be extended to 36 hours with approval of a superintendent. Any longer needs the support of magistrates.

He was then taken to a station outside the city to be interviewed.

He was still being held this morning.

Friday, April 27, 2007

"How's it going?"

This evening, I had a chat with a local Tory candidate and council colleague who I am quite friendly with. He was putting up the usual stakeboards in his garden. "How's it going?" he asked. "Very well", I said,"Lovely weather for it."

I do wonder whether he was hoping I would divulge our detailed canvass statistics. Some hope.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Postal votes cast - predictions sealed

I have just cast my postal vote and made a blog posting which I will publish after the announcement of the election results on May 4th, with my election predictions for West Berkshire and Newbury. I will print off that posting later today and post it to myself, in an envelope sealed with sellotape, which I will sign across, so that I can prove through the postmark that I made the prediction today.

Election predictions for West Berkshire and Newbury

I am typing this post at 6am on 27th April. I will press "publish" on this posting after the actual results are announced on 4th May. Today I will print off this posting and post it back to myself in the Royal Mail, sealed in an envelope with sellotape which I will sign across, to prove through the postmark when I typed this.

For West Berkshire Council I predict this result:

Conservatives 41 seats
Liberal Democrats 11 seats

And for Newbury Town Council I predict this result:

Conservatives 16 seats
Liberal Democrats 7 seats

The Liberal Democrats locally and nationally fought a fantastically good campaign. It was first class. However, there is a tide at work at the moment. National trends, Tory phone banks, repeated letters - that sort of thing. West Berkshire is a marginal enough area as it is.

As I learnt as a kid living on the coast, you can't fight the tide. It comes and it goes.

Us Liberal Democrats in West Berkshire and nationally have all slogged ourselves out through hard work. But then again, we fought just as hard a campaign in the mid-1990s when we won all but seven seats on Newbury District Council. But at that time the tide was with us and against the Conservatives.

We should remember the old Rudyard Kipling lines:

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

At the end of the day, we should be able to say that we did our very best and that we know what we believe in. In West Berkshire and nationally, us LibDems did our very best in this campaign, we clearly know what we believe in and we are our true to our beliefs. That is all that matters. The rest is tide.

Two of my friends are currently facing cancer and have days or weeks left in this world. It puts things into perspective.

It is sometimes worth asking oneself: "When I am on my deathbed (if I am lucky enough to have one!), what sort of things will I regret not doing?"

The answer for me is: I would regret it if I didn't spend enough time enjoying my family, being with friends and enjoying God's world - sun, dawn, sea, rivers, exercise, fresh air, real ale etc.

What I definitely won't say to myself on my deathbed is this:

If only we had won that election....and if only I had spent more time in council meetings.

Newsnight predict Labour meltdown

A fascinating Newsnight last night. Michael Crick is starting to make his mark as their political editor.

According to the University of Plymouth's study of 50 recent by-elections, they predict these May 3rd results:

Conservatives on 38% and +330 seats
Liberal Democrats on 29% and +110 seats
Labour on 24% and -500 seats

This would put Labour lower than Michael Foot's 1982 29% level and lower even than the Tories' 25% in 1995 under Major.

They also reported that John McDonnell and Michael Meacher have made an agreement to meet when Blair resigns and compare MP signature lists. The one with the least signatures of support at that time will drop out.

Free hugs success

There was a TV advert a while ago which featured a chap walking round in the street with a sign saying "free hugs" and then hugging people. I was fascinated to see that there is actually a bloke in Sydney who does this. He's called Juan Mann and has become an international phenomenum via You Tube, even appearing on Oprah. There is also a Free Hugs Campaign.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Voters turn their backs on Tories and Labour

The Guardian ICM poll today finds that one in three voters "have turned their backs on Labour and the Conservatives and now back the Lib Dems or a smaller party such as the Greens or the SNP."

The Liberal Democrats, campaigning hard to defend half their council seats on May 3, rise three points to 21%.

West Berkshire LibDem candidates break the mould

We are used to seeing a good number of Conservative candidates described as a "local businessman". Addresses such as Newbury's exclusive Garden Close Lane, usually adorn the names of Tory candidates.

Well, this time, the list of West Berkshire Liberal Democrat candidates boosts a good number of "business people" and two people whose address is "Garden Close Lane". Goodness me, there is even a double-barrelled name in the LibDem ranks. Whatever next?

US Army's spin "horrific" and "not true"

When the US Democrats took control of congress, I looked forward to a few interesting congressional hearings about the war on Iraq. I didn't want flippant entertainment, I passionately believe that Bush and Blair should be tried for war crimes in The Hague. Congressional hearings are a good start in this direction.

My expectations have been exceeded from the start. The Democrats have brilliantly decided to begin with US Army "spin stories". Two of the main ones were:

1. Pat Tillman, American football star, died heroically fighting the enemy.

2. Jessica Lynch "had been wounded by Iraqi gunfire but kept fighting until her ammunition ran out."

It turned out, of course, that Tillman was killed by friendly fire and Lynch's gun had jammed without her firing a shot.

The chickens have come home to roost. Pat Tillman's brother has testified that the US Army's spinning was "horrific". Jessica Lynch has called the army's story about her "not true".

Cameron's bullshit on "new politics"

David Cameron was in the Guardian yesterday banging on about embracing new politics by proposing that the Tories and LibDems stand Greg Dyke as a joint candidate for London Mayor. (You can read it here complete with a stackload of comments).

This typifies the shallowness of Cameron.

Firstly, it is only after exhausting a long list of hoped-for big names such as John Bird and Mike Read (yes, a really big name for us Seventies pop aficionados, trust me) that he has now given up and tried this wheeze. There was even a rumour at one point that the Tories might actually hold an internal election to find a candidate from amongst their members but this was put on ice.

Secondly, is Greg Dyke really a Martin Bell figure? We stood down, as did Labour, in favour of Martin Bell when he won against Neil Hamilton. But Martin Bell had a lot more credibility as a serious candidate and it was just a parliamentary seat, not one of the most powerful directly elected posts in the world. While Greg Dyke is quite a substantial figure in media management, why on earth is Cameron now saying that he is a sort of knight in shining armour, for whom the LibDems should have immediately stood down in order to show that we embrace "new politics"? Why in short, should we say to our members what Cameron is saying to his members in London: "Sorry, none of you are good enough to be our candidate, we are going to choose Roland Rat's Dad instead"?

Why this fascination with celebrities or big names from fields other than politics? Ken Livingstone's success is surely built on the fact that he has been plodding away at London local government for donkey's years, not plucked from the ranks of some other field all of sudden to be a "flavour of the month".

In the case of Dyke, Cameron seems to have fallen for him in the space of a meeting:

He told me how he'd run London well and stop Ken Livingstone's endless council-tax rises.

Oh well, that's all right then. Job Done. Forget about people who have actually got some first hand knowledge of how the capital is run. A man who is used to making telly programmes is bound to be able to do it better than them. And he talks in a sort of Cockneyish accent so he must be a natch for London Mayor. He'll look good in a Pearly King suit. End of Mayor search. Look no further. Sod the Conservative and LibDem members who actually work in local government politics - why consult them? This is "new politics", after all. The party leaders choose the candidate.

It doesn't make any sense at all and is typical of the shallow rubbish which Cameron spouts.

Diane Abbott gives kiss of death to "Play it again"

The last episode of "Play it again" has been dropped from BBC1 next Sunday following disastrous ratings for last Sunday's episode featuring Diane Abbott learning to play the piano.

While this Abbott/piano episode was, I am told, a very worthy programme, it wasn't a prime time contender. There are many worthy programmes broadcast by the BBC but that doesn't mean they have to go out at prime time.

Only 2.2 million people, or 9% of the audience, watched Diane Abbott's pianoforte efforts.

In contrast, I was among the 7.9 million who watched The Royal on ITV.

I got all this information from Media Guardian, which requires registration to read the stories.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Interesting run-off likely in French election

There always seems to be a clearish result from the French elections, a few hours after polls close. It seems Sargozy got 30%, Royal 25.2%, Centrist Bayrou 18.3% and Le Pen 11.5%. There was a record turnout.

This makes the second round fascinating. If Royal gets a good chunk of Bayrou's vote she could be in with a shout. The idea of Sarkozy in power is fairly nauseating. Did you see him on a horse in yesterday's Guardian? Pass the sickbag, Alice.

Effluent release into Firth of Forth - open goal for Salmond

Alex Salmond goes where other politicians fear to tread. It is only a matter of a few hours, I suspect, before he comes up with a cunning joke linking this unfortunate event to Labour's last days in power in Scotland. John Smith got a laugh about "hotels falling into the sea" under John Major's faltering premiership. Surely it is a bit of an open goal to do a similar thing linking Labour with....ahem.....effluent releases into the Firth of Forth. Perhaps one of ours will get there first, but then maybe they won't stoop so low.

The Ten Green Commandments

The Church of England has issued The Ten Green Commandments, which include sharing cars, using energy saving bulbs and taking local holidays. I know they have done this, because I heard it on Radio Two's news. That was during the Alan Titchmarsh programme. (Hello? I can't believe I am listening to Alan Titchmarsh). But can I find the story on the web? I cannot.

Anyway, well done CofE, and I am preparing to have a guilty flurry of activity.

Has reality TV gone too far?

BBC 1 tonight: Diane Abbott learns to play the piano.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Chilling McCain joke - Bomb Iran

The John McCain joke about "that old Beach Boys song - 'Bomb Iran' - Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran" is chilling. It's on You Tube here.

I suppose we should be grateful for this insight into the mind of the man who could well be the next President of the US.

It just infuriates me that such bovine stupidity exists as an undercurrent in influential US circles.

It is all a long way from Winston Churchill's mantra: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war", which incidentally he uttered at a White House luncheon in 1954. We could do with Churchill's good sense in the White House today.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mike Oldfield: Kerching! and memories of the early Virgin records

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. The Mail on Sunday are giving away a free CD of the original Tubular Bells this week. I seem to remember reading a comment by Jonathan King that the composer/performer of these CDs gets circa £1 million from this sort of issue. So it is nice to know that the old multi-instrumentalist won't have to check around the cushions of his sofa for odd coopers for the forseeable future. What a shame Viv 'slightly distorted' Stanshall isn't alive to enjoy some of the proceeds!

I don't often listen to Bells in its entirety these days. A few months ago, however, I was delayed in traffic going to Heathrow and put it on. I listened to side one without moving forward in the traffic jam! It was great to hear it again and the Viv Stanshall-narrated piece certainly stood out as the apotheosis of the work.

The Mail on Sunday CD business is all a long way from the day when my brother bought one of the first copies of Tubular Bells. That was in the days when Virgin Records was a direct mail record company which advertised in Melody Maker and NME. I can remember the adverts which listed all their records with the numbers of the albums. I used to be able to recite the first ten Virgin records.

But the years have taken their toll on my memory and I cannot find a list on the web. I remember that Tubular Bells was the first release and had the number 001. I am not sure if there was a prefix like "V" or "VS". Tangerine Dream with "Phaedra" were certainly in the first ten, and may even have been number three (?). I am a bit misty on the others. I think Captain Beefheart was perhaps number two. Henry Cow? Faust? I think they were in there somewhere. Any ideas from those with better memories than me?

Sun: Woolmer was poisoned

The BBC reports that "The inquest into the death of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer has been postponed because of "significant developments" in the case."

The "significant developments" are not explained officially. However, the Sun quotes a "senior police source" as saying:

The toxicology tests show that he had significant traces of aconite. We are now entirely convinced he was poisoned. The fact that aconite has also previously been used in Pakistan may also be highly relevant.

West Berkshire Tories rattled

It seems that West Berkshire Conservatives are somewhat rattled and not confident of how they will fare on May 3rd. This is from the Newbury Weekly News this week:

Laszlo Zverko (Westwood), the Tory who now controls the council’s finances, thinks that the make-up of the council could be sealed by a single family in next month’s vote. “The Lib Dems are giving an awful lot of attention to this ward,” he said. “Because of the tiny majority, one husband and wife voting one way or the other could shift the whole balance of power in the ward and potentially the whole council.” It’s squeaky bum time, clearly. (Herodatus – NWN – 19th April 2007).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bude Chelsea fans and the location of the Cornish border

An interesting Telegraph article by John Inverdale was passed around the Bude area last weekend. It is about Bude Chelsea fans. Although I don't live there any more, I am a (loose) Chelsea fan from Bude. I started 'supporting' them in 1968 while at Bude Primary school. I collected a sweet cigarette card which featured Chelsea's Alan Birchenall heading the ball in a very dramatic way. The photo on the left is of the actual card in question, I believe. Because of the strange contortions of the man, I was hooked and have been a mild Chelsea fan ever since.

John Inverdale's article talks about the hardiness of Bude Chelsea fans and how most highly paid players are oblivious to such loyalty.

While I am very grateful to Mr Inverdale for writing about one of the lesser known beauty spots of the UK, I do take issue with his geography:

Bude is a small town on the north Cornwall coast. Or is it Devon? I'm never too sure. The idiosyncratic county border down there probably owes more to smugglers' rights of passage than it does to logical local authority planning (if those four words aren't mutually exclusive).

In fact, the county border between Devon and Cornwall is based on the very unidiosyncratic feature of the River Tamar, which has been there for millions of years, and therefore pre-dates both smugglers and local authorities.

For the benefit of Mr Inverdale, everything (apart from a couple of tiny scions) south and west of the Tamar, is in Cornwall. Bude is south-west of the Tamar, and therefore is in Cornwall. In the late 1960s, some smart alec suggested it would be a good idea if Bude moved into Devon. A subsequent referendum resulted in about 20 people voting to move into Devon and several hundred voting for it to remain in Cornwall. There was a public meeting in the town's Headland Pavilion before the vote. The seminal moment of this meeting was when my cousin, former County Councillor Tom Pickard pulled himself up to his full height and declared in a stentorian voice to the (pro-Devon) Chairman:

"You don't understand. We're Cornish and we want to stay Cornish!"

The subsequent cheer raised the roof.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The role of the humble wetsuit in extending the tourist season

At the weekend I was ruminating with my brother, Marhamchurch Man, who returned to one of his favourite themes. In the old days (yes, I am getting on), you didn't see any wetsuits on Cornwall's surf beaches. Nowadays, virtually every one wears a wetsuit when they take a dip in the old briny.

Fair enough. We're a bunch of sissies or, alternatively, we've got some sense.

In the old days however, due to being frozen to death except when the water was warmish, people tended to shy away from surfing on all but sunny days.

As a result, the tourist season in the West Country, which used to last six weeks, has been extended. This is because people now know they can go swimming in the sea even if the weather is a bit dodgy.

It is an interesting theory. Because it comes from Marhamchurch Man, I tend to give it confident credence. And it is excellent news, because in the old days the very short season used to mean that there were some people sitting round doing nothing for all but six weeks of the year. But now, some seasonal employment lasts a little longer than it used to. And places like this can sell lots of wetsuits. Hurrah!

SNP poser

Last week, I noticed SNP leader Alex Salmond standing next to deputy leader, Nicola Sturgeon.

I won't make the obvious cheap joke about these two, not least because there is a stubborn "d" preventing the dream joke. However, I do look forward to an appropriate posting from our own dear Fluffy Elephant.

The solution to school shootings - arm the students

A recent Virginia Tech graduate called Wayne Chiang has reaped the jackpot with his blog. Interestingly, he has hit on the solution for school and college shootings:

...the situation could have turned out better if other students were allowed to be armed.
I would call this the "OK Corrall" solution. The fellow is only 23 years old, so it is a bit unfair to quote him and throw him into this controversy (mind you, he has been getting 80,000 visitors a day to his blog so my little blog won't make much difference). However, I mention the quote because it sums up what seems to be be the attitude of the USA, collectively, to guns. I am not sure whether it is an over-simplification to say this, but it all seems to have its origins in cowboy films.

Wonderful photo of Jeremy Thorpe and Jimi Hendrix

I am indebted to "Rusty Bullet" on, who has alerted me to the existence of this wonderful photograph, which is available from Easyart. I was not aware of it previously (perhaps some Liberal party history buffs may be?). I didn't realise that the two great men had met. It is marvellous to see my two interests of music and Liberal politics coinciding in this way.

That looks like Noel Redding on the left.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Isn't life wonderful?

There were several reasons to be cheerful this weekend:

a) I could have a brief family break from campaigning and still the team did all that is needed in my absence - thanks team!
b) Playing golf with my nephew at the idyllic Ivyleaf course near Kilkhampton, Cornwall.
c) Sailing (albeit as a passenger) on Tamar Lake
d) Swimming in the sea in early April. This was at Widemouth Bay - see photo.
e) Wonderful weather.

It's so easy to take this sort of stuff for granted, so I won't!

Bamber Gascoigne's history search site

The Media Guardian (registration needed) at the weekend told us what we wanted to know about Bamber Gascoigne. Fascinatingly, at the age of 72, he has set up his own history search tool. He describes this enterprise as a "one man band". It looks good.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Drama breathes new life into old music

Peter Black's comments on the last episode of "Life on Mars" echo my thoughts on it. Brilliant, even if I still can't really work out what it is about.

The LoM producers are following up the success of programmes like Heartbeat and Royal, in breathing new life into old music.

Last night's "Life on Mars" featured, of course, "Life on Mars" from David Bowie's "Hunky Dory" album. It was interesting to hear how the BBC managed to (I presume) engineer a sustained ending to the final chord of this masterpiece. Undoctored, we would have heard the chinky piano and telephone ringing at the end. Instead there was a sustained, uninterrupted chord. I can't remember any version of the track with this (unless someone can enlighten me?) so they (the BBC) must have engineered it.

And they got in "Love lies bleeding" from Elton John. Blimey - that track has been crying out for use on a soundtrack for over thirty years. Unfortunately it is part of a very long track including the exceptional "Funeral for a friend" which, presumably, has led producers to avoid it.

Lastly, they had a brilliant song which I have never heard before: "I hope that I don't fall in love with you" by Hootie and the Blowfish. It is fantastic.

The ultimate political skills - saying Mss and avoiding masticators

It's not easy. Even with years of experience you can't pull it off every time. But I occasionally manage to do it - to say "Mss" so it sounds like Mrs, Ms or Miss so I don't offend anyone. The trick is to emphasise the surname and make the title really quick so it collides with the surname.

The sport has been reduced a bit this time, because our EARS seems to print a few Ms,Miss or Mrs titles.

Dear old Alex Foster on Niles Blogs presents many doorstep dilemmas, several of which can be avoided in extremis by not saying the person's name and saying at the end: "...and you are...?.(helping them out with a suggestion from the list if needed!)".

Other rules I follow but which are probably wrong, and will probably result in me being ritually disembowelled by the ALDC executive committee, are:

-I certainly never get into first names unless there are clearly several competing people with the same surname and sex in the household.

-I always press the bell and knock, at the same time to avoid annoyance.

-I always find it reassuring to be armed with this response ready to give anyone who says "NO I WILL BE VOTING CONSERVATIVE" or similar:

"Thank you for that very valuable information for our records. Goodbye". (Bliss!)

-Another tip: If you see people masticating inside the house, avoid them - they are bound to be Conservatives, because they are habitual masticators.

-ALWAYS assume that a youngster can vote unless they look ridiculously young (e.g have a dummy in their mouth)- if you make a mistake and assume they can vote when they can't, they will be very flattered and correct you anyway. Better to do that than the other way round and get it wrong and offend them if they can vote.

-And relax, it's only a blinking election!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ian Carmichael - still going at 86

Jonathan Calder quite rightly draws attention to the remarkable career of George Cole, who appeared in Diamond Geezer on ITV last night.

In terms of longevity of his acting career, it is worth sparing a thought for Ian Carmichael. Although not a child screen actor like George Cole or James Fox, Carmichael was on stage acting from 1939 and film acting from 1952. As well as being in some hilarious Boulting Brothers films in the 50s (usually as the butt of the jokes), he has been a regular on TV ever since. Only recently, he completed three series of Royal for ITV where he played Mr Middleditch, the hospital secretary. He looked remarkably young for his 86 years.

Sunday, April 8, 2007


I have now had my first alcoholic drink since Ash Wednesday. At lunchtime, I drank a bottle of Whitstable Bay Organic Ale by Shepherd and Neame. Phew! I feel human again.

Bob Woolmer - was it death by natural causes after all?

It seems that the whole Bob Woolmer murder investigation hangs on the laboriously long wait for the toxicology and blood tests.

Rory Carroll's report in the Guardian yesterday raised some interesting points. Chief amongst them was the fact that Woolmer was found slumped up against the bathroom door in his hotel room, so that the chambermaid, who discovered him, had to push the door open. When asked how the killer could have left the bathroom, the detective leading the investigation, Mike Shields said only: "good question".

There is the possibility the broken bone in Woolmer's neck (which triggered the murder investigation) was caused by efforts to resuscitate him.

Foolish decision to allow ex-hostage sailors to sell their stories

It really is stupid for the Ministry of Defence to allow the fifteen sailors, who were taken hostage in Iran, to sell their stories to the media. Apart from anything else, it will expose them to unwelcome publicity. The MOD should protect their personnel. Anonymity in the forces is a valuable asset. It is wrong to expose serving personnel to the harsh world of the media.

Menzies Campbell also made this excellent point: "There is the understandable feeling of the families who have died in Iraq as to why it should be that those who have survived should - putting it bluntly - profit in this way."

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Did Labour - not the Tories - finish off Ted Heath's dying wish?

It's funny how fusty old minutes can point to misleading press reports. The Western Daily Press reported this in March:


As a former Conservative Prime Minister his dying wish was to have a museum built in his memory at the place he loved the most.So it has come as something of a shock that Sir Ted Heath's final request that his beloved home be opened to the public has been left in tatters by one of the region's truest, bluest councils.

When I repeated that story, an anonymous commenter wrote: "The veto came from the Labour grouping". This led me to modify my posting and patiently wait for the minutes of the relevant planning meeting to be published. They seem to bear out the commenter's statement. The meeting on 8th March had seven Labour, five Conservative and two Liberal Democrat councillors present on the committee. The vote for the museum plan wasn't recorded. But the meeting attendance numbers suggest that the Conservatives could certainly not have vetoed the plan on their own. The council might be "Conservative dominated" but the committee in question is "Labour dominated".

For the record my calculations relevant to councillor names are (crikey, I can't believe I am being such an anorak!):

Collier (Vice-Chair)

Mallory (Chair)


Conservative Home stated "Edward Heath's dying wish scuppered by local Tories" and set off a firestorm of comments.

As usual, the truth is not as sexy as a little bit of spin and polish.

Mr Bean's holiday

Not late with this one. Well, I do have a ten year old daughter and we watched it being filmed in Paris last May (left), so we had to go.

Not a bad film. Laughed out loud several times. The end was quite rousing. Emma de Caunes (pictured) is captivating. A very good bit of entertainment. But it is always good to have a child to take to this sort of film!

Starsky and Hutch

Yes, late again. Not a great film. It seemed on a par with some of the TV episodes. It killed 101 minutes. I find it very difficult to get past Owen Wilson's nose.

Master and Commander

I always seem to be late watching films. Not only did I watch this on Film4, but it was Film4+1 because I was late for the start. What a wonderful action film! The battle scenes were stunning. I now wish I had watched it on the big screen, because seeing it in "letter box" format was a bit restricting.

'David Cameron is an idiot'

I thoroughly enjoyed Charlie Brooker's article about David Cameron in G2 earlier this week. I can't say that it was based on much substance, but as a subjective, shot-from-the-hip rant it was absorbing:

David Cameron is an idiot. A simpering, say-anything, dough-faced, preposterous waddling idiot with a feeble, insincere voice and an irritating tendency to squat near the top of opinion polls. I don't like him. And I've got a terrible feeling he'll be prime minister one day. Brrr.

It is wondeful to immerse oneself in such invective:

There is nothing to him. He is like a hollow Easter egg with no bag of sweets inside. Cameron will say absolutely anything if he thinks it might get him elected. If a shock poll was published saying 99% of the British public were enthusiastic paedophiles, he would drive through the streets in an open-top bus surrounded by the Mini Pops. He's nothing. He's no one.

Long-awaited resumption of alcoholic consumption

I'm nearly there! I have abstained from alcohol since Ash Wednesday. It will give you some idea of my state of mind, to know that I have just googled "When does Lent end?". The answer is apparently after at the Saturday vigil. I will heroically keep going until lunchtime tomorrow, when I am envisaging a "Live Blog" as I down my first gulps of the blessed nectar.

Already I am planning what I will break my fast with. None of your gassy stuff. It'll have to be real ale for me. The picture gives some idea of the lines along which I am thinking.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The contents of the goody bags given by Iran to our sailors?

Arguably, they may have been illegally kidnapped and paraded in front of the media, in contravention of the Geneva Convention, but, bless them, the Iranian military gave "goody bags" to our released sailors. Oh well, that's alright then. It's just like a kid's party or a beano at conference. Take a goody bag as you leave.

One wonders what was in those goody bags?

Key fobs emblazoned with pictures of a smiling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Bumper stickers saying "I shat in the Shatt al Arab waterway"?

The possibilities are endless.

Tory MP on doorstep one hour before nominations due

I have heard a whisper about a Conservative MP who turned up unannounced on someone's doorstep one hour before nominations were due last Wednesday. Said MP promptly thrust some nomination forms in front of the person to sign as a official candidate of the Conservative party for the council elections.

Shurely shome mishtake?!

Colne Milly

We had a long weekend last week in Colne, Lancashire. This was to meet relatives and finalise some arrangements. However, we had an exceptionally enjoyable time. The Bronte museum at Howarth was a particular highlight.

As usual, we stayed in the wonderful Crown Hotel in Albert road, Colne. This is just near the railway station. Recently, this statue of "Milly" by Claire Bigger has been erected in the station approach. It is part of "Colne in Bloom 2007" and a superb example of public art. There is a great display board by the statue (below) which links it to the local milling industry. It is particularly poignant to be reminded of the conditions in which Lancastrians worked only a hundred or so years ago.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Smelling burning wheelie bins is the new "drug of choice"

As the council elections get underway, this is a story which is bizarrely relevant. Wheelie bins set alight, and then smelt, are the new "drug of choice", reportedly.

Barking or what?

Newbury Labour candidates - marked reduction

Comparing the 2003 candidates for West Berkshire Council with the 2007 ones, it is clear there has been a reduction in the amount of Labour party candidates standing in Newbury.

In 2003 there were 12 Labour candidates in West Berkshire. In 2007 there are 11.

In Newbury in 2003, Labour stood candidates in St Johns, Northcroft, Falkland and Clayhill (in addition there was a Social Labour candidate in Victoria ward). This time there are Labour candidates only in Falkland and Clayhill wards (additionally they have a candidate in Greenham, a small part of which is in Newbury town). For the first time for many years, Steve Billcliffe is not standing for Labour in Newbury.

Suits you sir!

What a good job that the suits used for the World Cup winning England Rugby team were available for the sailors released by Iran.

What a shame the tan shoes weren't also available.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Found: Squeeze me sauce web site

After waxing lyrically about "new squeezy sauce mini-containers" yesterday, I have now found out their real name. They are Heinz "Squeeze me" containers.


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Debunking our Jimmy's boast

There is a remarkable article about Sir Jimmy Savile in this week's Guardian Guide, published last Saturday. It includes a number of extraordinary boats from the man:

Jim's amazing but true tales

"I'm an honorary Royal Marine and Green Beret."

"I turned a £600m pound loss into a £700m profit for British Rail in just over four years."

"I invented the plastic railcard."

"I invented Top Of The Pops."

"I'm a registered Manchester taxi driver."

"I own a mountain."

"I've got a quarter of million internet pages about me."

"There has never been a law passed that I couldn't bend."

"How much would it cost to hire me? A million pounds. And we'll work up from there."

"Big Brother paid me £150,000 for two days and I didn't even have to stay over."

As a bit of fun I followed up one of those boasts. The only one that I am in a position to easily check, in fact. "I've got a quarter of million internet pages about me."

No, you haven't Jimmy. Sorry to disappoint. If you put "Jimmy Savile" into Google it comes up with 87,500 results. That includes results for "Jimmy" on its own, and "Savile" on its own. So it would include mentions about Jimmy Cricket, Jimmy Hill etc etc.

If you put ""Jimmy Savile" into Google you get 44,900 results for the words "Jimmy" and "Savile" used together. And hardly any of these are "pages about" Jimmy Savile. They are pages which include a mention of "Jimmy Savile".

Putting in the incorrect spelling (thank you Stephen!) of "Jimmy Saville" gives 275,000 results. Putting that in inverted commas gets 76,600 results.

All this is not as sexy as "a quarter of a million internet pages about me". But for someone born in 1926, and therefore as old as my father, I wouldn't expect even a passing knowledge of the way internet search tools work.

Newbury smelling of manure

There are not many tangible reminders of Newbury's agricultural past. So it was good to have one the other day, although it was not entirely tangible.

We came out of our house the other Sunday and inspected the bottoms of our shoes. There was a nasty smell about. A dog? But as we travelled around Newbury, the smell remained, despite there being nothing on the bottoms of our shoes. We checked several times.

Conclusion: a local farmer had been muck-spreading and the wind was in the right/wrong direction to spread the smell all over Newbury. Good for the farmer. It is good to have a reminder of Newbury's roots and the occupation of many people in the rural community around the hinterland of the town.

Triumph of new squeezy sauce mini-containers

While I am not a fan of any packaging in canteens or restaurants (why can't they just put a ketchup bottle of tables?) there is a new type of ketchup squeezy mini-container which deserves praise. The old sauce sachets are often impossible to open, and you often end up squirting the sauce all over the shop.

But there are new sauce containers, for which you pay about 10 pence. You twist the top to remove it and you have an exceptionally easy mini-sauce container, the contents of which to squirt on your plate.

Well done to whoever invented it.

The strange case of bare feet in sofa adverts

Apart from hot summer's days, it seems that people do not lounge around their houses with nothing on their feet except in TV adverts for sofas. Why is this?