Friday, August 31, 2007

Answers: the women who were thrust into the limelight by their fathers when they were girls


Photo 1 was of Cordelia Gummer who, aged four, was fed a burger (above) by her dad during the CJD scare. She is now 21 years old.

Photo 2 was of Carole Hersee who was photographed when she was eight by her father, a designer, to feature in the BBC 2 testcard, which he designed. She is now 48 years old:

The women whose dads put them in the limelight as girls



Photo 1



Photo 2

A bit of a quiz. Answers in two hours.

Photos 1 and 2 above are of two women whose dads thrust them into public limelight when they small girls.

Clue: The saparate images of these women as girls are extremely well known.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Last chance to nominate for LibDem blog of the year awards

Don't forget that today is your last chance to nominate blogs and blog postings for the LibDem Blog of year awards.

The details and a link to where to send nominations are here.

I have nominate half a dozen blogs for the various awards.

I will spare the blushes of those I have nominated except to say that I nominated "Daddy Alex" for "Best posting" for:

David Cameron on Today: How I Long For Yesterday

Whoops. With everything going wrong for David Cameron in recent weeks, this morning he dropped three different messes of his own making all over the Today Programme. Reaching for another Tory core vote issue to shore up his fragile position, he chose the wrong one: what idiot prattles about school discipline whilst his own party are rioting? Then he fell flat on his pitiful by-election failures, describing the Conservatives without qualification as the third party. Finally, unable to answer multiple Tory attacks on him, he chose to attack each of them in turn, sounding like just another feuding, useless Tory.

...A great post by a great blogger. I just wish he would hurry up and finish that mug of tea.

The grown-up girls whose dads put them in the limelight

Increase in typhoid and measles - Is Edward Jenner turning in his grave?



It really is madness that there are perfectly good vaccines for typhoid and measles but we are seeing increases in UK incidences of both those diseases.

It is timely that the UK Vaccines industry group have issued a series of documents called "Valuing Vaccines", linked to a publicity campaign involving Tony "Baldrick" Robinson.

My son died aged sixteen months old in 1993 of a type of Meningitis called pneumococall meningitis. At the time, a vaccine for that disease was not even dreamt of. Fortunately, as of last October, such a vaccine is available on the NHS. That was thirteen years too late for my son.

So I have extra reason to be very concerned that available vaccines are not being taken up, leading to an increase in disease.

Photo above: Edward Jenner, who discovered the smallpox vaccine

Tory members overwhelmingly reject green taxes

David Cameron is still unable to get the support of his party for anything other than traditional core Tory policies.

Despite his best husky-hugging efforts, only 34% of Tory members would be "happy to pay green taxes if other taxes fall by the same amount".

That is according to the latest Conservative members' survey by Conservative Home.






















Barack Obama is ahead in poll of readers of this blog


There has been what I regard as a surprisingly large response to the US Presidential survey button on the right. 31 people have voted. Thank you!

Barack Obama has stormed ahead with 77%. Next is, interestingly, Ron Paul with 23%.
I have repeated the botton below just in case anyone is still to vote.

The Cameron lurch to the right

The Independent reports that Cameron has re-ignited claims that he is lurching to the right after his comments on immigration last night.

Seumas Milne in the Guardian writes an excellent commentary on this lurching to the right business, entitled: "Now we see what the return of Tory Britain would be like":

Now, after two months of the Brown bounce, a series of public rows over policy and two humiliating byelection performances, the real Conservative party is reasserting itself - and giving us a flavour of what the return of Tory Britain would feel like. Start with the prospect of rightwing libertarian Boris Johnson, a man who thinks it's amusing to refer to Africans as "piccaninnies", regrets the end of colonialism and denounced the Lawrence inquiry into the racist killing of a black teenager as "Orwellian" - as Tory mayor of Britain's multiracial capital.

...on the crucial economic, social and class issues, Cameron's Tories stand where they always have done: if anything, they are moving on to even more extreme neoliberal territory.

Watch Cameron on Newsnight

Cameron's interview on Newsnight last night can be seen here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cameron on Newsnight : The farce of the Conservative part-time shadow cabinet exposed

The Newsnight interview with David Cameron last night showed the BBC at its best. Four senior journalists interrogated Cameron, with interesting results.

It was an unusual format. I suspect the deal was - "OK - make sure Paxo is two thousand miles away but we'll let four of your finest have a go instead".

The result was productive - some light produced rather than the heat radiated by a "Paxo stuffing".

David Cameron was showing his gift of the gab at its most elegant. However, each of the four journalists hit home with individual points which, although Cameron gave a smooth line of defence in each case, actually exposed serious weaknesses in his position.

On Iraq, Mark Durban clearly drove home the point that Cameron had a neo-Con stance on Iraq, but now two years later, has become a liberal dove on the matter. Although Cameron waffled his way out of this one, his hypocrisy was clearly exposed.

Stephanie Flanders beautifully exposed the uselessness of the £20 a week proposal for married couples. Cameron virtually admitted (or at least implied) that the proposal would have no impact but said that it was, more or less, a needed gesture. So, in summary, Cameron is proposing to spend millions of scarce taxpayers' resources on what he as much as admits is a "gesture". Ridiculous.

On Immigration, Cameron seemed to mix up asylum and immigration. He was saying that asylum admissions have been too high. The natural action which flows from that statement is a limit on asylum admissions, which the Tories proposed at the last election, and was quite rightly condemned as a breach of civilised behaviour. To give Cameron his due (never thought I'd write that!) he did make a genuine attempt to carefully calibrate his language on immigration.

But it was Michael Crick who, for me, scored the winning goal against the Camster. He raised the issue of the Shadow cabinets' 115 jobs outside parliament. He exposed the ridiculousness of a part-time shadow cabinet which is trying to present themselves as potential ministers in a few months time. In particular he focused on William Hague's many outside jobs which bring him hundreds of thousands of pounds every year. How can we take the Tories seriously as a potential government when they are off earning vast amounts outside their shadow cabinet and parliamentary jobs?

Our friendly neighbourhood Fluffy Elephant obviously had a spiral topped notepad under his trunk during this programme as written a brilliant and comprehensive debunking of "Mr Balloon".

David Cameron has more or less abandoned his efforts to win the "middle ground"

Reviewing the front pages at South Mimms service station, I was struck by the Telegraph's ('David Cameron goes on crime offensive') and Daily Mail's ('Crime: Tories finally get tough') favourable headlines for David Cameron.

We have also recently seen Tim Montgomerie praising Cameron's shift to crime and other traditional Tory policy refrains.

This evening Cameron says that Immigration is 'too high' on Newsnight.

Putting aside the point that Cameron's crime initiative is built on fairly shaky foundations, as
Wit and Wisdom points out, there is some reflection to had on the Cameron "narrative" as it has evolved.

Ahem.

When he started as leader it was all trying to woo LibDems with his 'Cameron loves LibDems website' (or somesuch). Then we had lots of touchy feely liberal acrticles by the Camster in the Observer. Then we had the "hug a hoodie" and "let sunshine win the day" speeches. There was praise for gay partnerships at the Tory conference and various other statements geared to break the traditional mould of the Tories, to break the paradigm and make everyone think the Tories had changed.

Except, it didn't work.

Oh dear.

Thunderous complaints from the Tory ranks, climaxing with the Grammar school debacle showed quite clearly that, although Cameron might pretend to be touchy feely, his party was still the hang 'em and flog 'em party we all know and hate/love.

So what does he do?

One would expect him to carry on and try to show us the Tories have indeed changed.

No.

What he did was sack David Willetts, the author of the Grammar schools debacle, from his education spokesmanship.

Big white flag.

Clause Four moment thrown away and lost.

He chickened out.

Then we get tough statements on crime and immigration. We get him saying the Human Rights Act should be scrapped and that the Learco Chindamo case proves that point, which it didn't.

So, for months Cameron was suggesting, through his statements and people like William Hague were confirming verbally, that Cameron would not "do a Hague" - that is start by being meek and mild but then cave in and go all Toryish on immigration, crime etc.

But he has. Cameron has done a Hague.

The most ludicrous example of William Hague "doing a Hague" was when he effectively supported Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who was convicted following the shooting of a burglar at his home, in April 2000.

Hague started using the case to talk what are called "Rowlocks" in nautical terms:

People who are woken in the dead of the night by a noise need to know that the law is on their side

Bleat, bleat. You could argue that there was some genuine clarity needed in the law on this subject. But it was band-waggon politics at its worst and was emblematic of Hague abandoning all attempts at moderation.

Appropriately, on the eighth anniversary of the shooting of a burglar in Tony Martin's house, Cameron launched his "Doing a Hague moment" when he went ballistic about Learco Chindamo:

The fact that the murderer of Philip Lawrence cannot be deported flies in the face of common sense. It is a glaring example of what is going wrong in our country. What about the rights of Mrs Lawrence? The problem for this Government is that the Human Rights Act is their legislation and they appear to be blind to its failings.

Except that, the Human Rights Act was only a secondary element in the decision about Chindamo. The main legal reference point was an EU directive - nothing to do with the Human Rights Act.

So, whilst Hague had his seminal "Hague moment" with Tony Martin, Cameron had his emblematic "Hague moment" with Learco Chindamo seven years later.

It appears that Cameron is now aiming to repair the internal damage in his party, rather than expand the Tory voting base. To be fair, he is embracing green issues with a parallel initiative alongside all the immigration and crime tough talk.

However, while he may have won back some Brownie points with Tim Montgomerie, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail, it is obvious that Cameron has significantly retreated from his attempts to win over the "middle ground", which must surely put a huge question mark over his ability to make any breakthrough at the polls. Even at the height of his "sunshine win the day" popularity, the Tories were failing to get significantly ahead of Labour.

Now that Cameron has substantially abandoned his middle ground grab attempt, one can only speculate that the Tories are highly unlikely to leap sufficiently ahead of Labour.

That is simply because Cameron has now decided to preach to the converted - i.e people who, more or less, would have voted Tory anyway.

Independent prefers LibDem green proposals

A leader in the Independent welcomes the Gummer-Goldsmith air tax proposals from the Conservatives but says that the LibDem green proposals are better.

Thanks to Conservative Home.

Panel of four grill David Cameron on Newsnight tonight

Conservative Home reports that David Cameron gets a grilling by a panel of four journalists on Newsnight tonight.

The BBC are trailing it as Immigration 'too high' - Cameron.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You don't have to be a bleeding heart liberal to realise that sending Learco Chindamo back to Italy is madness


My ex-holiday feet have just touched the ground long enough to read this excellently argued piece from James Graham on Quaequam Blog entitled: "How society has failed Frances Lawrence".

I think Iain Dale has introduced a red herring which even the Tory spokespeople/David Cameron haven't mentioned - the length of the original sentence. (He asks 'What about the human rights of Frances Lawrence and her family?' in what appears to be a rehearsal of his fantasy selection hustings speech).

The actual item under discussion is/has been the deportation decision. As Laurence Boyce commented on Quaequam Blog: "If Chindamo is still a risk, he should be kept in jail, not sent to Italy."

The whole point is that David Cameron has gone to town on the Human Rights Act here, but that was only a secondary point in the decision. The decision was primarily taken under the provisions of Article 27 and 28 of the EU Citizens Directive 2004.

But, I suppose, Daily Mail readers can understand "Scrap the Human Rights Act" or "Scrap bleeding heart liberals". However, they find it difficult to swallow "Scrap Articles 27 and 28 of the EU Citizens Directive 2004". That is far, far too nuanced for them. They'll be flipping over to the Quick Crossword before they've got halfway through the sentence.

Alice Miles in the Times made some excellent points in her article "Chindamo stays - and I'm proud of it".

The key one is this. Chindamo's mother and brother are in this country and want to give him a home when he is released from jail. Chindamo has no connections, no family and no friends in Italy. He does not speak Italian, for goodness sake.

Whether you are a bleeding heart liberal or not, common sense tells you that if someone is going to have a fighting chance of getting back on the straight and narrow when they are released from prison, a family and ability to speak the local language are likely to stand them in fairly good stead.

Being plonked in a strange country with no family and no ability to speak the local language is a fast-track back to crime.

One final point. Hwyel Morgan took the words out of my mouth. For years we have watched Leslie Grantham as Dirty Den on Eastenders (above). He was a national institution.

Did you ever hear anyone say: "What about the human rights of the family of Felix Reese?"*

No, after he served his sentence, we, quite rightly, gave the fellow (Grantham) a chance to rehabilitate himself into society, and he did.

*The German taxi driver who Grantham shot dead

Ming is right again about the Iraq war

Well done to Ming Campbell for raising the issue of the Iraq withdrawal timetable, as previously blogged about. Polly Toynbee has described the Liberal Democrats as "right, right and right again about the Iraq war"

As usual with Ming, his letter to Brown was measured and authoritative:

We have a moral obligation to the young men and women of our armed forces who we ask to do dangerous and difficult tasks, and it seems to me that the prime minister is ignoring the reality on the ground, but second, the increasingly vocal anxieties and reservations being expressed by senior army officers....And there really are two questions: First is, what political objectives are being achieved by our continued presence in the south of Iraq and what military objectives are being achieved? And so far, and certainly not in this letter, the prime minister does not seem to me to have provided coherent answers to either of these questions.

Sadly, the Iraq mission appears to be the classic military
bĂȘte noire of a campaign with no proper political objective. A quicksand mission.

While that looks a pretty clinical observation in print, we have to remember that British soldiers are dying for this open ended Bush bail-out errand.

Excellent Huhne plan to phase out petrol

Well done to Chris Huhne for highlighting a sensible plan to phase-out petrol as a fuel by 2040.

I was tempted to call this plan "ambitious" and "radical" but it would be wrong to describe it in either of those ways.

It is simply right and realistic.

Cameron on Crime: When is a knee-jerk not a knee-jerk?

David Cameron has called for broad, "generational" change to tackle the "lawlessness" in some UK areas.

So far, so good.

Then you look at the suggestions which appear to have come forth from the Camster so far (with my comments in italicised parenthe..er..brackets):

-Curb violent video games (they already go through censorship and some have been banned)

-Urge parents to be more responsible (vague or what? Would a big stick be used?)

-Consult with the music industry (big deal and already happening)

-"Encourage marriage" through tax changes (cloud cuckoo land - as previously discussed)

-Give head teachers the final say in expelling pupils (not that simple as previously discussed)

-Put prisoners two to a cell (already happens - 2006 HMP Edinburgh report)

-Use prison ships (being put on stream anyway)

-Use disused army camps as prisons (A Sun favourite)


There is a Conservative document explaining all this here.

A lot of the suggestions are either vague, have already been announce by the Tories, or are being done to some extent by the current government.

However, the document is worth reading and considering.

Can Cameron bounce back?

That is the question asked in this vue de l'horizon by Nick Assinder on the BBC news website.

Liverpool FC to play Everton anthem as tribute to Rhys Jones

Given the deep rivalry between the two teams, this is mind-blowing.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Feeling a bit bloated? (Annoying adverts #1956)

No, actually.

And I have never felt "bloated".

Also, I have never seen anyone pathetically rubbing their stomach and heard them whining like a incontinent beached-whale: "I'm feeling a bit bloated".

If people don't want to feel "bloated" they should stop eating too much food, particularly yogurt.

Guardian logs anger in the Tory ranks over Ashcroft paralell HQ

Yesterday I blogged about Lord Ashcroft causing a potential rift in the Conservative party by setting up a parallel campaign HQ.

Today, The Guardian features some of the reaction on Conservative Home to this development. It is worth wallowing in a bit:

Fears about the rise of Lord Ashcroft were expressed by activists on the Conservative Home website this weekend.

One said: "The Ashcroft takeover of CCHQ - bought and paid for by him and chums' money - is a terrible threat to democracy." Another wrote: "There's not much difference between Ashcroft and the unions at Labour...Action needs to be taken, if only to stave off a NuLab spin campaign, but, more importantly, while the parties and parliament debate party funding this anomaly strains credibility."

Another, calling himself traditional Tory, wrote: "Buying a nominally democratic party and appointing yourself to offices to which you have never been elected is indeed totally unacceptable. We need to rid the party of this pernicious ethos before its reputation is permanently tarnished."

Isle of Mull takes an unusual interest in 20th Century French Literature

Over the years, I have written a rather embarrassingly large number of letters to the editors of newspapers. To date, I was most proud of the letter I had published in the Suva Times in Fiji.

But now I have chalked up another letter to a local paper in (for me) an impressively far-flung place: The Oban Times.

Here is what I wrote:

Dear Editor

Firstly may I congratulate Oban, Isle of Mull and Argyllshire on providing an excellent holiday area which my family and I thoroughly enjoyed in August.

Secondly, I suspect I am not the first to point this out, given the Auld Alliance, but I thought I would state that you had an exquisite headline on Page 6 of your August 9th issue. It read:

"Isle of Mull's Camus Activity Centre officially opens at Bunessan"

As a keen fan of the great works of Albert Camus, I was fascinated, if not a little surprised, to see that an activity centre for his works is being set up on the windswept Isle of Mull. Presumably, it will feature re-enactments of La Peste (The Plague), hopefully not involving too many deaths, I thought for a moment.

Imagine my disappointment when I read the story and saw that it was not a Camus Activity Centre that was being opened after all, but a CAMAS activity centre.

Still at least this proves that one of your readers is still awake!

All the best
Yours

Paul Walter

The tragedy of continuing bloodshed of British troops in Iraq

For once, I feel I am on the same side as Christopher Hitchens. In the Observer he listed the reasons why Vietnam can't be used as a parallel in the context of Iraq.

I just can't believe George Bush would bring the Vietnam comparison into the Iraq equation. What he said was:

One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people', 're-education camps' and 'killing fields'.

So the USA should have stayed in Vietnam beyond 1975. That is what he is saying.

It is very difficult to put in words how thunderously stupid and idiotic that suggestion is.

At 8:35 a.m., the last Americans, ten Marines from the embassy, depart Saigon, concluding the United States presence in Vietnam. North Vietnamese troops pour into Saigon and encounter little resistance. By 11 a.m., the red and blue Viet Cong flag flies from the presidential palace. President Minh broadcasts a message of unconditional surrender. The war is over.

That is how the History Place records the end of the Vietnam war on April 30th 1975. The USA was chased out of Vietnam after throwing everything at it - carpet bombing, napalm, 80,000 US dead, national humiliation....the list is endless.

I just can't see how Bush could be so stupid as to bring the Vietnam comparison into play.

But let's just extend this a bit and bring in Polly Toynbee's article from August 21st. She says that the LibDems have been "right, right and right again about the Iraq war" and reports comments from Ming Campbell suggesting that, basically, British troops are dying in Iraq to shore up a failing US President as he tries to buy more time.

That failing US president seems now to be using the Vietnam comparison as the main reason for staying in Iraq.

So, British soldiers are dying to support a lame duck US President who doesn't understand even the most basic lessons of history.

The tragedy of continuing bloodshed of British troops in Iraq


For once, I feel I am on the same side as Christopher Hitchens. In the Observer he listed the reasons why Vietnam can't be used as a parallel in the context of Iraq.

I just can't believe George Bush would bring the Vietnam comparison into the Iraq equation. What he said was:

One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people', 're-education camps' and 'killing fields'.

So the USA should have stayed in Vietnam beyond 1975. That is what he is saying.

It is very difficult to put in words how thunderously stupid and idiotic that suggestion is.

At 8:35 a.m., the last Americans, ten Marines from the embassy, depart Saigon, concluding the United States presence in Vietnam. North Vietnamese troops pour into Saigon and encounter little resistance. By 11 a.m., the red and blue Viet Cong flag flies from the presidential palace. President Minh broadcasts a message of unconditional surrender. The war is over.

That is how the History Place records the end of the Vietnam war on April 30th 1975. The USA was chased out of Vietnam after throwing everything at it - carpet bombing, napalm, 80,000 US dead, national humiliation....the list is endless.

I just can't see how Bush could be so stupid as to bring the Vietnam comparison into play.

The Ann Telnaes cartoon in the Guardian on Saturday put it very succinctly (above).

But let's just extend this a bit and bring in Polly Toynbee's article from August 21st. She says that the LibDems have been "right, right and right again about the Iraq war" and reports comments from Ming Campbell suggesting that, basically, British troops are dying in Iraq to shore up a failing US President as he tries to buy more time.

That failing US president seems now to be using the Vietnam comparison as the main reason for staying in Iraq.

So, British soldiers are dying to support a lame duck US President who doesn't understand even the most basic lessons of history.

Matt Lucas and David Walliams get '£2 million a year from BBC to do very little'

Pendennis in the Observer suggests that the Little Britain duo are being paid something like £2 million a year to do very little for "quite some time". Oh, that's all right then. It's only licence payers money and they are soooooooooooooooo talented aren't they? It's worth paying them all that to keep them off ITV or Sky and preserve them for the 'national broadcaster', isn't it?

No, I thought not.

Further confirmation from the Edinburgh TV jamboree that the BBC is an understanding employer. BBC1 head Peter Fincham, fielding questions about the very handsome three-year contract (£6m we hear) given to Matt Lucas and David Walliams, said he doesn't expect them to do much for quite some time. They are on a BBC 'pause'. How lovely. Can we have one please?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Nick Clegg must be on to something

I see that David Davis has pounced on Nick Clegg's proposal to allow an "earned" amnesty for 600,000 foreigners who are living and working illegally in Britain.

Save BBC4's Storyville

Storyville on BBC4 has been responsible for broadcasting some of the finest political documentaries on British television.

Examples have been the superb behind-the-scenes story of the Bill Clinton presidential campaign and, more recently, the Bobby Kennedy story, which I blogged about here.

The two or three, sometimes four hour, format of these documentaries is unmatched on British television.

Benetta Adamson has commented on my blog:

Storyville is remarkable; you're quite right. It has had eight nominations in the prestigious Grierson Trust documentary awards this year alone! It is also under imminent threat from a BBC management planning to cut 60% from its already meagre budget. This will mean that it ceases to commission its own material and can only buy in completed films. As one of the BBC's most critically successful strands* this would be an act of cultural vandalism. This is a series which builds international links, with films from 68 different countries featuring the work of directors from first times to Oscar winners.

A petition has been launched urging the BBC not to make these cuts which has already attracted more than 2000 signatures from all over the world. Visit www.savestoryville.org for further information and a link to the petition.

The BBC needs such programmes as Storyville to maintain or rescue its reputation. In amongst all the quiz and reality shows, Storyville is essential and what the BBC does best.

Please sign the petition to save Storyville here.

What is it with W.H.Smith and chocolate?

Whenever I go into W.H.Smith, whether it be locally or at Heathrow airport or, yesterday, at a northern motorway services, the person at the check-out asks:

"Would you like some chocolate?"

Excuse me. I have selected the items I wanted from your huge range which includes numerous chocolate items. I came into W.H. Smith because you have, for 217 years, had a matchless reputation for supplying newspapers, magazines, books and stationery. If I wanted chocolate I would have gone to Thorntons across the road and stuffed myself silly. I try to maintain a -25% body fat ratio and you enticing me with chocolate does not help that.

They obviously train their check-out staff to push the chocolate. It is bizarre, but I can see the business sense to it. But they are in danger of having their fine reputation as a newsagent/bookseller being subsumed by a reputation as the shop where you always get asked whether you want chocolate.

PS. Full marks to the guy in W.H.Smith Newbury who now sees me coming and doesn't mention the C-word.

When celebrities get political

I used to regard Alan Titchmarsh as a bearable TV presenter. Until, that is, he told us that he is a raving monarchist and Tory supporter. I now switch to anything, including "BidUp TV" to avoid the smug so-and-so.

Roxy Music. Wonderful. Got their first album. Know the name of their drummer. Virginia Plain was one of the most superb pop creations ever.

But then I found out that Bryan Ferry's son is a raving hunt supporter (indeed, he works for a hunt). And Bryan Ferry created what has now been voted the most annoying moment in pop music history:

My God, the Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight... Leni Riefenstahl's movies, Albert Speer's buildings, the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful.

Bryan Ferry in 'Welt Am Sonntag'

I will never listen to Roxy Music again.

UPDATE: Thank you to Jock Coats and Well-behaved orphan for putting me right. I will continue to listen to the instrumentation on Roxy Music tracks. I had forgotten about Eno. Many apologies, in many ways he was the true genius behind Roxy Music anyway.

EXCLUSIVE: Iranian Police hair style guide issued

The Guardian yesterday reported that police in Iran are enforcing "correct" hairstyles:

The arrested men have been forced to identify their barbers and get fresh haircuts. They have then had to return to police stations for officers to decide whether their hairstyles are acceptable.

One can imagine the reception from the Old Bill: "Suits you, sir!"

Police in Iran have now been inundated with young men coming into see them to check out their hairdos. Today I can exclusively reveal that, to save police time, the Iranian Hair Police, the Amaken-e Omoomi, have issued the following pictorial guide to what is and isn't acceptable in the coiffeur department:

Gangs posting on YouTube - the answer to a copper's prayer?


There is much talk in the Sunday papers about YouTube and gangs like the Nogzy and Crocky posting videos to it.

There are calls for Google to censor such videos. Of course, if there is open violence on videos, that should be banned. Indeed, it seems Google do take down such openly violent videos. But further censorship is defeating the whole point of the internet.

And something is being missed here.

If I was DCI Plod in Liverpool CID and I found that one of the criminal gangs (for that is what they are if they are possessing firearms) I was chasing had posted pictures of their armoury on YouTube, I would offer up a small silent prayer of thanks for the information to the Patron Saint of Coppers, who is, of course, Saint Dixon of Dock Green, I mean, Saint Michael.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Gang culture - sharp contrast of Ming's comments with those of the Twerp Cameron

I know I am biased and it is difficult for me to sink to a lower level of cynicism about David Cameron than that which I have already reached.

But he is basically telling us that we all have to get together and make sure that kids in Croxteth don't get hold of guns. Brilliant. It's all our fault. We've all got to pull together. Let sunshine win the day.

I prefer Ming Campbell's comment in the Guardian, as usual tucked away at the bottom of an article, but nonetheless clinchingly and fundamentally sensible for that:

The Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, also warned that the "cancer of gang culture" seemed to be spreading through some communities.

"It can only be solved by making sure that young people have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, rather than seeking respect by joining gangs and carrying weapons," Sir Menzies said.

"Education is crucial in this task. We need greater investment in early years education for the most disadvantaged children. The school curriculum must be diverse, with vocational elements to give maximum choice in employment. And grassroots youth and sports clubs should be properly funded," the Liberal Democrat leader added.

"There are 'no quick fixes' or simple solutions to gang violence."

Lord Ashcroft's hold on Tory party threatens a rift

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Lord Ashcroft has set up a parallel Tory party campaign HQ at Millbank and is issuing decrees, requests for action etc etc independently of Cameron's command HQ.

This is risking a serious organisational rift in the Conservative party, with MPs complaining that Lord Ashcroft is unelected and unaccountable.

Great fun!

Tory concerns at the growing influence of Lord Ashcroft have been heightened by a memo to candidates from the billionaire peer instructing them on how to run their election campaigns.

The former party treasurer has stamped his authority on the Conservative campaign machine with a letter ordering officials and candidates in target seats to be ready for a possible October election.

The mass email has fuelled concerns among some MPs that the tycoon has established an alternative power base in the party. Lord Ashcroft has moved into a large office in Conservative Campaign Headquarters in London's Millbank from where he will run the party's strategy for target seats.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lionel Blue - the antidote to Anne Atkins

My list of the Top Ten living people, if I ever sat down to write it out, would probably include Rabbi Lionel Blue. The man is just so wonderful and cosy, a British national treasure if ever there was one.

To remind myself how much I like Lionel Blue, all I need to do is to remember the voice of Anne Atkins.

Anyway, Lionel gave a wonderful Thought for the Day a couple of weeks back. It can be read and heard here.

In a couple minutes he summed my thoughts on faith to a tee:

Religious structures look so solid with their soaring spires, office blocks, and over the top titles that we forget how these seemingly solid edifices rest on such see through stuff as what Moses thought he heard in a burning bush, what Jacob experienced in a dream, what Ezekiel imagined in a vision. Why they don't tumble down like Humpty Dumpty is a puzzle.

But they don't because the heart of religion isn't things but an experience you might share if you make the effort. That's more profitable than arguing about whether God exists or doesn't and whether he's a she or an it or a who or a what.

...And that, in my humble judgment, is it. In a few cosy little homespun words, old Lionel has summed up there what I feel about faith.

Why I am switching to back Charles Kennedy to win

Charles Kennedy has put together a fantastic case to win.

I was initially seduced by Des Lynham and his Seven Sisters cliffs in Sussex. But, hey, they are chocolate-boxey and sentimental. They are falling apart anyway.

Hadrian's Wall? Come off it. A couple of thousand years old.

And don't even get me started on Blackpool Tower and Mr Cheap-as-Chips.

No. When you look around this kingdom of ours, there is only one choice to go for. The vast, hugely dominating, awesome Scottish highlands, as exemplified wonderfully by the Cuillins.

Oh! You thought the title was about something else did you?

Of course, I was referring to ITV's Britain's Favourite View.

Cameron's empty talk on family values exposed

I blogged back in May about the case of Pauleen Lane, who was banned from breast-feeding in her official limousine while Mayor of Trafford. I am delighted tosay that Ms Lane has won her case and £7,000 in damages and an estimated £170,000 in legal costs.

During the case, the QC for Conservative controlled council told the court that Ms Lane should have expressed milk or left her child in the care of someone else.

What clearer demonstration of the hollowness of David Cameron's avowal of family freindly policies could there be?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The conundrum of Blog site statistics

One day I might succomb, but so far I have resisted blogging (i.e posting) about my specific site statistics (although I have a little thing that gives my alleged "total visitors" in my sidebar). They are very low anyway, but I get the odd blip.

"Top Gear North Pole special", "Simone Clarke BNP ballet dancer", "the late Fiona Jones" and "Diana - witness in the tunnel" have had people hovering my blog around like bees round a honeypot, for some strange reason. At least two of those post took me a few seconds to rattle off and I never really expected more than a handful of people to read them. It's bizarre. You spend hours labouring away at a posting that gets two readers, then you fire off a "quicky" and a throng see it.

Stephen Tall has written engagingly about this strange phenomenum, in connection with a post he made about a possible gay subtext in Harry Potter.

I have read with some curiosity when other bloggers have told their readers how many unique visitors and page views they are getting.

In fact, when you look at typical site stats in detail you begin to wonder.

Often a "zero second" hit is recorded after someone does a search on Google and the results page shows a posting from the blog in question. Despite using several hit counters, it is unclear to me whether these "visitors" actually look at the blog at all. If they did it may only have been for a very brief period.

Also, there are certain sites which allow you to sign up and then put yourself on automatic pilot so that a window on your monitor (which could be minimised so that it isn't showing) is showing the sites of the other members of the club. The more you get your window to "show" other people's sites, the more your site is "shown" on other people's windows. This makes one's site stats look fantastic! Except, when you check the details, all that is happening is that a load of people are not looking at each other's sites. The site image is coming down the wire and displaying on a window but it is not necessarily being shown on a monitor and is probably not actually seen by a human being. It's a sort of mutual non-admiration society. Or indeed, a mutual virility inflation club. I have a sordid confession to make. I took part in such an inane activity for a month or so in the first half of 2006, until I worked out how crazy it was.

I have respect for Iain Dale as a blogger. He seems to have pioneered the "I have had loads of hits" trend of blogging. That's as well as the "I have been given loads of awards by loads of right-wingers" and "I have appeared for three non-seconds on "Last week in the Tynwald" on Manx Community Television (cable)" style of blogging. This would be accounted for by the fact that he does get loads of hits, does get loads of awards and does appear in all sorts of exalted places on the media. (I have or do none of those things, so it easy for me to talk!)

Good for Mr Dale, who works very hard at it. But things were put in perspective when I was interviewed by a political journalist who works on "Daily Politics" recently. I kept on saying "Iain Dale this" and "Iain Dale that" and "Iain Dale the other". In the end the journalist said with a mixture of puzzlement and frustration in her voice: "Excuse me, just who is Iain Dale?"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Is this the most obscure and useless fact on the internet?

It is amazing what useless facts you can find on the internet.

I was musing away the other day and half-remembered a fact from my short-lived "braodcasting career". I worked fleetingly in commercial radio. When we sat down to broadcast with all the faders, switches etc in front of us, we used to push the fader away from us to open the audio channel it controlled.

I remember a wise old bird saying that he used to work in the BBC and that they opened the faders the opposite way - by pulling them towards them.

So if you worked in the BBC and commercial radio, as some people did, you must have had a nightmare getting yourself used to one method one day and then doing the other method the next.

I thought, perhaps, that this was an old wive's tale.

However, incredibly, I found it blogged about by a sound professional on record-producer.com:

'Broadcast practice' is in fact a term used by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation - the biggest public broadcaster in the world). It means that the faders on a mixing console work the other way round than normal. They are closed when they are at the top of their track, and open when they are closest to the sound operator.

The reasoning behind this is that in broadcasting it is the worst thing in the world for a channel to be open when it is not meant to be, with potentially millions of viewers and listeners hearing what they perhaps shouldn't. And it was considered more likely that an awkward elbow would push a fader towards the top of the track than the other way round. So it would be better for this accidental movement to close an open channel rather than open a closed one.

Having said that, the BBC now use what they call 'commercial practice', like everyone else.

And actually, you don't have to watch live TV or listen to live radio, from any broadcaster, for very long before you do hear an unintentionally open channel.

Perhaps the BBC were right in the first place.

Is this the naffest advert on TV today?




It's the jacket which gets me. On. Off. On. Off. Hilarious! And the hair! Bobby Charlton eat your heart out.

I remember an old adage for advertisers. If you are really having enormous difficulty pleasing your client, the solution is simple. Get the client to present his own adverts. The client will never complain about something which he has done.

The other thing is - he says his name is Juan Luis Fernandez. Hello? As near as darn it, that's the Spanish equivalent of John Smith. Is this man real? He's been called "the Spanish Barry Scott". No sign of irony that I can detect. It's very subtle if there is.

If this advert had been shown a few times I wouldn't mention it. But the blithering thing is taking over UK television it's on so often. Enough already!

One good thing about this advert though. It's now started an ongoing cheesy catch-phrase in our family:

Maybe tomorrow? Better today!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Whatever happened to the Stop Press space in newspapers?

It's just an idle question. I used to be "newspaper monitor" at our family home when I was around ten years old. I used to run to the front door to pick up the bundle of papers delivered by the lad from our local newsagents. Thursday was particularly exciting because we got all sorts of magazines also delivered on that day - "Bumper Bundle" day.

I started to take an interest in the look and shape of newspapers. I even had a collection of notable papers at one point (First man on the moon, first tabloid Daily Mail, Last old Sun, first new Sun etc) but they seem to have evaporated.

One of the things which used to particularly interest me was looking at the "Stop Press" columns. These were the spaces left at the bottom of the front page for last minute "breaking news" (as they didn't used to call it then) to be printed in what looked like a "John Bull" printing set - sort of "stamped" on.
I can vividly remember what the "Stop Press" spaces looked like in the Daily Telegraph, the Western Morning News and the Western Evening Herald. (The latter was particularly exciting because I had to run to the newsagents at the end of our road, to buy it and I used to see it arriving in the van! Thrillsville!). I used to check them to see if they were left blank or had a news item on them - often the cricket score or closing stocks and shares prices.

On a sombre note, on one occasion I noticed that the Stop Press space in the Western Morning News reported the death of a child in my home town. My father quickly took the paper from me and hid it out of arms' reach. It turned out, tragically, that the child in question was a family friend.

Anyway, I haven't seen a "Stop Press" space on a newspaper for donkeys' years. I am not quite sure when they stopped having them. Presumably it is something to do with modern technology, which allows last minute items to be incorporated with the normal text. In my childhood days, they used "hot metal" so such incorporation of last minute items was not easy, presumably.

Which brings me to my childhood visit to my local paper - The Cornish and Devon Post - to see them setting the type in individual cast metal letters. I still have my name in such cast type. I also visited the Financial Times press in Fleet Street when I was a child. Ah! Fleet Street! The actual Fleet Street with newspapers in it. I remember that! We walked down and saw all the newspaper signs along the street.

Those were the days! When you entered a newspaper building you could smell the ink. That smell seems to have vanished altogether from newspaper offices these days, especially as most of the editorial offices are scores or even hundreds of miles from the printing works.

My love of newspapers was fuelled by a book I was given by my parents called "Discovering Newspapers" by Roy Perrot. Also, there was a television series on called "Adventure Weekly" on BBC TV which featured a gang of children who ran their own newspaper. I was glued to that. It had Joan Hickson in it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Is it possible to like a Tory?

Political discussion often gets round to an interesting dichotomy. Is it possible to hate someone's political views but like them as a person?

I have to say that I have found several examples where this is possible. One particular local Tory, who I have rubbed along with, is excellent company when recounting his days in the Army in the jungles of Borneo.

If I had ever met Alan Clark I suspect I would not have got on with him. However, I did very much enjoy reading his diaries. I have read all three - not just the popular one in the middle.

The man's political views were appalling. You just have to read him admiring what he called the "heroic cruelty" of the Nazis. How can anyone regard cruelty as heroic?!

But the man was still somehow likeable through his writing. In his review of the diaries Henrik Bering sums it up for me:

..a man who worries endlessly about the fate of his escaped pet jackdaw cannot be a total jerk.

One theme which comes out of his diaries is the utter stupidity of wasting time in politics. He doesn't say that, but his pursuit of mindless ministerial jobs and endless obsessing about the slippery political pole convinced me that it is a complete waste of time.

But the things that endeared me to Clark's diaries were the things about which he wrote which were unrelated to politics, thereby reinforcing the point, to me, that professional involvement in politics, from the point of view of being a personal pursuit, is ultimately futile.

Those things were:

-His pet Jackdaw
-His dogs and various livestock and wildlife
-His castle and properties, particularly his bolthole in Eriboll, Scotland (loch pictured below)
-His wonderful collection of classic cars
-His paintings and artefacts
-His money

The latter obsession of Clark's was perhaps the most satisfying element of his diaries. Here is a man who had oodles of everything: A castle, properties all over the shop, a vast art collection, a classic car collection, an adoring wife, a wonderful family, a political career....you get the picture. But he still worried about money!

Hah!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Greenham Common - the peace dividend


One of the joys of having stood down as a councillor is that, this summer, I have been able to take several long walks on Greenham Common. It has allowed me to fully appreciate the beauty of this vast natural resource, which we are blessed to have virtually on our doorstep.


Recently, I was walking along on the Common and the sun was shining through the clouds so that you could see lots of what I now know to "crepuscular" rays. It was a hot late afternoon, there wasn't a soul around, and I had "Let Robeson Sing" by the Manic Street Preachers (a particularly soulful song) playing on my iPod. The thought did cross my mind that 'this is the nearest you get to heaven on earth'.

It has taken me several Greenham Common walks to realise why Greenham Common is so beautiful. In fact, it is very....er....flat. So, unless you look very closely at the flora and fauna, it is relatively unremarkable. But I have now realised that the really beautiful thing about it is the sky. Because the common is so vast and flat, it acts as a wonderful frame for the sky, which completely dominates you as you walk along. It draws your attention to the beauty of the cloud formations and makes you feel awed by them.


I was very chuffed with myself when I got this photo (above). I haven't seen these ponies grazing on the Common very often. And it was great to get them in that position. They are actually standing where the main runway for Greenham Common Airbase used to be - where the vast B-52s used to land. In the background can be seen the disused Cruise missile bunkers.

So, the photo well illustrates the "peace dividend" at Greenham Common. The place still has the odd harsh edge though - below.

 

Saturday, August 18, 2007

In the old days you knew where you were with record releases

Yes, I know I am old codger.

This isn't a moan. It is just an observation.

In the old days with vinyl record releases on 45rpm, you knew where you stood with the release date. You saw the song reviewed in Record Mirror, or NME or Melody Maker. The next day it was on Emperor Roskoes round table show on Radio 1. Then you could go to the shops and buy the blessed thing.

It seems to be all different now. I have just found this out the hard way. I heard a fantastic new single by Dans le sac vs Scroobius pip on Zane Lowe' s show on Radio One on July 2nd. It's called "The Beat that your heart skipped".

A few weeks later I searched iTunes and quite of few other internet sites for the track. No luck.

More recently I traipsed round HMV and Woolworths. "No sir - we haven't go it".

What's going on? - I thought with exasperation. Zane Lowe's played it. Scott 'Love you' Mills has played it. But I can't buy the blithering thing.

In the end I emailed the record company, Lex. Quick as a flash they emailed back to say that the track will soon be released....on September 10th! That's over two months since Radio 1 played it!

The whole concept of record releases (indeed, including the fact they aren't called "records" any more, I suppose) has changed since I were a lad!

The Vulcan takes over the Tory party

Iain Dale asks "Where are the LibDems?" Putting aside the fact that some of our spokespeople have been pretty busy, e.g Vince Cable and Norman Lamb, this question would appear to assume that it is a good idea to hand over control of your party to someone like John Redwood for a month in the summer.

Martin Kettle gives a fair summary of the Redwood Commission proposals.

It is amazing that, according to a Tory shadow cabinet insider, Redwoods proposals were "significantly debugged" over several weeks prior to publication.

And yet, still "turning left at red lights" and "putting rubber wheels on trains" still survive in the package. One wonders what was taken out in the "debugging" process?

Of course, some of the proposals are serious, but one is left, as the Guardian leader comments, with the inescapable conclusion that Cameron has retreated from his "let sunshine win the day/family friendly" thrust and allowed the Vulcans to take over the Tory asylum.

Government pays for mattresses for cows to have a good night's sleep

The Daily Mail seem to be sleeping on the job. They haven't picked up on this one yet. Incredible.

The government has given £21,000 to provide mattresses for cows to sleep on in Northern Ireland.

A spokeswoman said: "If you lie on a comfortable bed all night you'll be in good form all day. It's the same for cows".

If all cows in the UK were given mattresses to lie on, I would have said that the Daily Mail in-house calculator would put the resultant cost at....oh...easily £32 Billion.

I can feel the phrase "it beggars belief" coming on.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lock up your daughters tonight!

Just a reminder.

Guardian shatters dreams

Along with Jonathan Calder and many others, I am a great fan of the Guardian's Corrections and Clarifications column.

It's a thing you need time to read and appreciate, as the hilarity of some of the items is not apparent without a few seconds reflection.

Take this correction from today's Guardian:

"We printed the wrong Lotto numbers in yesterday's paper (Page 9). The winning numbers in Wednesday's draw were 2,5,15,34,35,43, bonus 12."

Somewhere there is some poor Guardian-reading, Lotto-playing soul, who now has an overdraft of about £2,000 spent on champagne and "triples all round", plus cancellation fees for a dream holiday and, perhaps, a large element of humble pie to eat in front of their boss.

Links:
www.liberalengland.blogspot.com
www.guardian.co.uk/corrections/story/0,,2150457,00.html

"Other lives" obituary of Sally Hannon

A few days after her death, The Times ran an online obituary for Sally Hannon. It is very good to see that there is a "Other Lives" obituary for Sally in the Guardian today. It is written by her father, Philip Arnold.

I apologise that I am having problems with inserting links at the moment.

The link for the obituary is:

www.guardian.co.uk/otherlives/story/0,,2150567,00.html

Energy-saving Google black screen version - Blackle

Due to a demand from energy conscious users, Google have created a new black screen version of their site called Blackle on www.blackle.com. If everybody used it instead of the white version, it is estimated that 750 mega watts/hour per year would be saved.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The last page of the internet

I was talking to someone the other day about obsessions with internet use. I casually mentioned "The last page of the internet".

They didn't believe me that there was a "Last page of the internet", so I beckoned them to my computer and showed them it.

Another person involved in the conversation hadn't heard of it, either. It was something I chanced upon, reading some sort of article a few years ago.

In fact, there are now numerous pages which call themselves the "Last page of the internet". There are also pages which say they are the "First page of the internet" and there is a  "Middle page of the internet". And Wikipedia has a thing on this whole phenoenum.

Tory bloggers highlighted by Guardian Diary

The Guardian Diary is currently giving quite a lot of "shout outs" (as I believe they are called) to Conservative bloggers.

Yesterday, James Cleverley was highlighted for his comment management (he allowed a somewhat controversial statement about Stephen Lawrence.)

Today, the Conservative Home commenters on the use of the word "picanninnies" are singled out for comment, along with Justin Hinchcliffe.

Link: www.guardian.co.uk/diary/story/0,,2148702,00.html

Who wants Pincohet's old suits?

Just think. You would have to be a great fan of Pinochet. And you would have to be the same size and shape as he was.

Spooky.

Link here: www.guardian.co.uk/chile/story/0,,2149529,00.html

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

John Peel on Elvis Presley: Something frightening, something lewd, something seriously out of control


Elvis Presley died exactly thirty years ago on August 16th 1977.

At the time I was working at Butlin’s holiday camp, Minehead, feeding the huge beast which was the camp dishwasher and trying to experience some summer romance helped by the likes of “I feel love” by Donna Summer in the camp disco.

I turned up for work as usual at 7am and I noticed a fifty-something lady doling out the baked beans was sobbing. “What’s wrong dear?” I asked. “The King has died” she replied. I briefly formed the words “The King of where?” on my lips before I twigged that the sound of “Crying in the chapel” on the radio in the background told me which “King” it was who had died.

I suspect that Elvis shares the title of the most successful popular music singer of all time, along with Frank Sinatra. It is very difficult to think of anyone who equals them.

After starting his career singing relatively unadulterated rock and roll, he made a lot of cheesy films and was guided towards middle of the road and country and western music. Add to that mix several thousand peanut butter and banana sandwiches and a cocktail of various other substances, and the result was a huge man who died on the toilet in 1977. Rather sad, when you think that when he started singing as a svelte young man he was an electric rock and roll performer with unbelievable charisma. See him singing “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956 below.

In his auto-biography “Margrave of the Marshes”, which he wrote with his wife Sheila Ravenscroft, John Peel wrote:

Since I was, oh, I don’t know, about that high, I’ve always described the moment in which I first heard Elvis on the radio as being the defining moment in my life. It’s certainly up there with the first time I saw Sheila and Alan Kennedy’s goal against Real Madrid in the Parc des Princes anyway. I heard Elvis, as I had probably first heard Lonnie (Donegan), on “Two-Way Family Favourites”. I’m sure that somewhere out there in the wilder reaches of the internet there is probably a site that would tell me exactly where and when “Heartbreak Hotel” was played – and for whom – but, you know, life’s too short. I’ve always characterised the record as being played for a L/Bdr Higgins in BFPO 15, but this, I’m afraid, is something that I have made up. Suffice to say that Elvis was described as “the new American singing sensation” and that certainly hit the nail on the head. It may not sound like much today, but “Heartbreak Hotel” had the effect on me of a naked extraterrestrial walking through the door and announcing that he/she was going to live with me for the rest of my life. As Elvis walked in, Frankie Laine and Johnny Ray tiptoed out and nothing was ever the same again. There was something frightening, something lewd, something seriously out of control about “Heartbreak Hotel” and alarmed though I was by Elvis, I knew I wanted more. And I got it.

The barbecuing of Karl Rove

Michael Tomasky wrote an excellent article on Karl Rove in Tuesday's Guardian. Sadly, I can't find in on Guardian Unlimited. So a chocolate mouse will go to anyone who can find it on line.

The gist of the piece was that Karl Rove had said that, by getting Bush elected in 2000, he (Rove) had started a McKinley-like period of Republican supremacy in the US. (McKinley became President and started a 30-odd year period of Republican US dominance).

But, as Tomasky summarised, first of all Bush wasn't elected in 2000. Gore won by 500,000 votes but Bush won through five Supreme Court votes.

And of course, far from an uninterrupted period of unquestioned Republican dominance, there is no the lamest of lame duck Presidents and Democrat control on the Hill.

So, Tomasky's article was a bit of a "slam dunk" in terms of trashing Rove's legacy.

For me, the most disturbing piece of Rove's "achievements" was how he made an art of trashing reputations of opponents. John Kerry was, of course, the classic example. Kerry had a reasonable brave Vietnam war while Bush took time off from national guard duty to "campaign" for a senatorial candidate in Alabama.

And yet, Rove turned this round so that Bush was the hero and Kerry was the zero. In one way, it was brilliant. In another, you could argue it was Kerry's fault as he was perhaps cack-handed in fending off the attacks. But, ultimately, the American people were the losers. They have been given, as a result of Rove's campaigning style, a President who is down there at 26% with Truman and Nixon.

Robbie Coltrane's take on Britain's backwaters

The answer to the Pub Quiz question was: A and B road designations were created in 1920.

I can't find a web reference for that fact, but it must be true because it was on the Chris Moyle's show a couple of weeks back. 

All this leads up to what promises to be an excellent programme starting on ITV tonight: Robbie Coltrane: B-road Britain.

It's a shame he chose a Jag to go round in. I would have thought a Morris Thousand would have been more appropriate!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pub quiz question for today

What in the UK were divided up into A and B in 1920?

Answer in two hours' time.

Perhaps Redwood has got it right....

I did wonder if George Osbourne and John Redwood were possessing some higher intelligence which will lead them to make an astoundingly populist announcement on Friday which will start a vast wave which will deposit David Cameron on the shores of Downing Street after the next election. People will lap up their £13 billion giveaway for business, at the expense of longer working hours and less holiday for working people, I thought perhaps. After all, Osbourne and Redwood are so intelligent.

Any ideas I had in that direction were somewhat dissipated by reading Polly Toynbee in the Guardian today. She interviewed Redwood and tried to get some sense out of him.

Not a lot of slight was shed by the Wokingham Klingon.

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Remember: It's a 797 horse race.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The mayhem of India's partition

Pakistan celebrates the 60th anniversary of its independence today, followed by India tomorrow.

It is impossible to approach this anniversary without great sadness for the hurried way in which Britain withdrew from India, with partition causing the biggest mass movement of people in history - some 10 million involved - plus a million dying in accompanying riots and local fighting.

It was an ignoble end to our Empire in India. If any reminder is needed of the human misery which partition caused, one need only look at Coopers Camp, West Bengal where 7,000 people still live in "temporary" accomodation, set up for the partition 60 years ago!

There is an interesting article here on the memoirs of one of the two men charged with drawing up the new boundaries in the Indian sub-continent in 1947.

On a more positive note, the BBC have surpassed themselves with their coverage of this major anniversary. They have a particularly excellent web portal here entitled "India & Paskistan 07".

Me and The Thatchers

 

Well, alright then, "Me and the Thatchers" is somewhat over-billing this morsel of a political reminiscence, but I'll forge ahead anyway.

I met both Denis and Margaret Thatcher during the 1983 general election campaign. I was working on an industrial estate off the Oxford Road in Reading. It was a very nondescript place, and the last place where you would expect to be descended upon by the Prime Minister and her entourage all of a sudden.

I went to work at 8am and noticed that cars weren't parked in the car park as usual. I thought nothing of it. I was working in a warehouse type environment and we often opened our roller-shutter doors to look out. About 9am we saw a couple of large gents in suits with bulges under their arms wondering around the car park.

It turned out that, unbeknownst to those us working in our unit, the Conservative party had a printing office right opposite us. And, we were told at about 9.30am, Maggie Thatcher was visiting the printing office later that very morning. Excitement on sticks! It certainly beat packing up another 200 LA120 printer ribbons.

We all got very excited. Everyone, that is, except a poor fellow who had just left the navy after some terrible experience on one of the ships in the Falklands war. He, poor fellow, retreated into his shell and withdrew to the back of the warehouse to quietly count some nuts while all this was going on.

Anyway, at about 11am a helicopter landed nearby and then a Jaguar arrived, with supporting ensemble, and we saw the Thatch and Denis, a le Duke of Ed, following three paces behind.

About twenty minutes went by while the Thatch met the printing staff and no doubt, examined the latest "In Touch" leaflet.

Then she started to emerge from the building and walked out to where a two or three people waiting to greet her and where the police had arranged a walkway.

On an impulse, I thought, "Sod it" and rushed over and queued up for a Prime Ministerial handshake. "Good Morning" she said in her usual way as I reflected that she had matronly bread-kneading hands.

Denis Thatcher was wondering along behind her and no one was talking to him or shaking his hand. So I turned to him and shook his hand. He seemed quite surprised that someone would take an interest in him. But I was a great fan of the "Dear Bill" letters in Private Eye and I had the conflated real and imaginary Denis Thatchers in my head. He said "It's a nice place to work...are you busy?" to me.

I reflected afterwards that, in fact, it wasn't really a nice place to work, it was just...er...OK, and that he probably said that to everyone he met. A bit like the Royal "Where have you come from?"

I could have stood on the sidelines. Was I right not to? I don't know. It's nice to be able to say I shook such an historic and arguably devastating hand as that of The Thatch.

There was an entertaining end to this Prime Ministerial visit. The Thatcher party had to leave by Wallace Arnold coach. The coach was lined up in the car park to go. Once the PM had got in, however, the driver had to do about seven shunts backwards and forwards to get out. This involved a lot of noise from the air brakes and some fairly severe juddering of the whole coach. Mrs Thatcher was mounted at the top of the coach for this shunting episode. However, her eye line was now level with that of thirty order processing staff in our office who had gathered to wave at her. I joined them for this bit. So Maggie Thatcher was there sat a few feet away from us while she went back and forward seven times.

At first she just smiled. Then she retreated backwards with the coach and then reappeared before us. She couldn't just smile simply again. So she did a sort of shrugging of her shoulders and a sort of resigned smile. Then she went backwards and disappeared from our view and then went forwards and reappeared to our view. This time she had to do a different smile to us. She couldn't just ignore thirty voters could she? So we got seven different types of smiles and little comedy routines from the Prime Minister. It was hilarious. She knew how to play to the crowd.

Anyway, the next step in my admittedly highly tenuous relationship with theThatchers followed, in the case of Denis, a few years later.

I was flying to Geneva on business. Fortunately, I was getting a taxi at the other end, so I indulged in some free wine, courtesy of Swiss Air. I then opened up a complimentary Daily Telegraph and saw a picture of Denis Thatcher dressed in a complete "Deer Stalker" outfit wondering around Jermyn Street in London. The picture was published on the occasion of his 72nd birthday on May 10th 1987.

I don't know what came over me but, again confusing the Dear Bill Denis and the real Denis to a certain extent, and also having drunk quite a bit of wine - which always goes to my head a bit more when it is free - I wrote a short note to Denis Thatcher using the Swiss Air complimentary stationery saying:

Dear Mr Thatcher,

May I wish you many happy returns upon your 72nd birthday. I don't agree with your wife's policies, being a Liberal, but I do agree that you are a perfect gentleman.

Yours sincerely
Paul Walter


I posted the letter and thought nothing more of it.

About a week letter I was most surprised to receive a hand written reply from Denis himself. He even wrote the name and address on the envelope in a very grand hand in blue ink. It said "10 DOWNING STREET" on the back of the envelope.

The letter (pictured below) , over four pages, said:

Dear Mr Walter,

Thank you for your most kind letter on my now numerous birthdays.

I noted that you are of a different political persuasion to myself. You and I should thank God you have the right as a free Englishman to say so.

Never forget if Socialism should ever be the Government of this country that right would assuredly be removed more quickly than you realise; never forget also that the Liberal Party in the House of Commons kept a Socialist Government in power through that awful "winter of 78/79" when striking Socialist Unions refused to bury the dead.

You were most kind to write to me.

Yours sincerely

Denis Thatcher


I laughed when I received this letter and I have laughed whenever I have remembered it. I cherish the letter to this day and if our house ever burnt down, I would certainly give a moment's thought to its retrieval.