Archive for November, 2010
Wonderful! It was my turn to release everyones’ chickens this morning and I arrived at first light clad in the fashion of Captain Scott. Having heard the weather forecast of temperatures low enough to freeze an eskimo, I was armed with a blow-torch fully expecting an hour of thawing. In fact not one of the many containers was frozen and everything was shipshape by the time that Vernon came in. I said that he should be impressed by the sheer efficiency of the duty melter. But my Jamaican mate is not easily fooled and replied that if I continued to tell lies I would find myself transferred to the FIFA world.
Yes, he too had watched last night’s Panorama. We both found it staggering that people such as David Cameron should have attempted to persuade The Beeb to postpone the programme lest it influenced the panel due to select the venues for the 2018 and 2022 soccer World Cups. He, and the others who agreed with him, must have lost their moral compass for what the programme revealed was several very serious charges of massive corruption. Already two FIFA members have been suspended and now we learn that three or four others, who will be adjudicating, are claimed to be implicated in fraud of the most venal variety.
The findings were shown to Swiss MP Roland Buechel, an expert in the field of football administration. Having heard the facts his reaction was immediate. He said that ” after years of corruption we now need an external, an international and an independent investigation into the FIFA books”.
I confess to knowing litte about FIFA other than the constant appearance on the news of President Sebb Blatter who seems to be a sort of self-appointed head of world football. The impression given yesterday was of a clique of people with absolute power to make decisions that involve many billions of pounds. The suspicion is that the countries competing for their votes offer inducements and some provide vast amounts of cash that are not subsequently accounted for.
Those who were anxious to stall the BBC revelations present as their case the fact that many of the allegations go back a number of years. But that makes the situation even worse for it suggests that the alleged crimes – and that is what they are – have either gone undetected in which case there is clearly no proper audit, or have been condoned by others. Even Trinidad ExCo member Jack Warner stands accused of trying to buy tickets for the next world cup to the value of £50,000 and he is due to join David Cameron for lunch!
So severe are the accusations that one cannot avoid the conclusion that even the inept English Football Association must surely question its continuing to be a member state until there has been a full and independent inquiry. Panorama produced documentary evidence and it is intolerable that such a discredited organisation should continue to make decisions involving money on a gigantic scale.
Clearly it is now too late to have the decision-making meetings postponed but if British football is to retain any semblance of decency and propriety it must surely take a stand. The tragedy is that whatever is decided now will attract suspicion and the thought of our prime minister and future King toadying to people accused of fraud is very hard to take. The reality is that those on the catwalk are going along with the world governing body’s refusal to reform!
Some newspapers today have suggested inducements such as aircraft carriers or palaces but the situation is too serious to be laughed off. They should also note that apart from the claims of serious fraud, the programme provided details of the conditions that our government has accepted. A Dutch parliamentarian attacked these with vigour, she said the laws of a country should not be changed to make exceptions for individual organisations least of all those that have a dubious record. As David Mellor put it, this time corruption must be rooted out and there should be no amnesties or exceptions.
Like most soccer fans I and my pals were keen to see a successful England bid. But now we are less sure. Will we be supping with the Devil and providing it with a cloak of respectability that when it eventually ignites will burn us too?
Blatter’s seemingly dysfunctional “football family” should be left with the choice of becoming a transparent international parliament or admit its intention to continue to provide a means for opportunists to sell power to would-be hosts and private companies!
VIOLENT OFFENDERS ARE GETTING OFF WITH CAUTIONS!
We all know about the views of Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, on crime and punishment but only now do we learn the extent of his proposed leniency. Yesterday John Thornhill, chairman of the Magistrtaes Association, revealed in a speech to the associations annual meeting that no fewer than 37,000 offenders guilty of violent assault are being let off each year with a caution. He demanded that such cases be brought before the courts and added that in almost every case a prison sentence would have resulted.
This outburst folows that of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who said that he felt very strongly that all violent offenders who cause injury to others should be dealt with by a court.
As Lord Judge remarked it must be extremely difficult for injured victims to come to terms with the fact that their assailant has received nothing more than a rebuke.
Justice must be seen to be done. Right now that is not the situation and Clarke’s new world of forgiveness will make things even worse. It is time for him to move into the real world!
H & S BRIGADE STRIKE AGAIN!
Todays health and safety lunacy comes from Essex. Ron Warrick is a lollipop man and has been helping pupils from St Marys Primary School in Shenfield across the road for some time. But after the council installed a pedestrian crossing he was told that he must not leave the pavement because of the danger of motorists jumping the lights.
Adrian Tidbury from the highways department says that Ron could still be out there when the lights change and that is dangerous. Parents are astonished and wonder why it is not equally dangerous for six year olds!
ASHES; ADELAIDE HERE WE COME!
The scene is set for a tight match at Adelaide. Will Australia persevere with Johnson whose bowling in the first Test was just about as bad as things can get. But when he hits the right line and length his speed makes him dangerous.
England has a similar problem in that Swann at Brisbane looked a shadow of his recent all-conquering past. The Adelaide pitch is notoriously slow and spin could be the deciding factor.
But I tend to line up with Shane Warne who is quoted as saying that neither team is capable of bowling the other out twice!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Guyana 2. Lockheed
TODAYS QUESTIONS; 1. In what year was the European Monetary system formed? 2. Which city became the capital of the unified state of Vietnam?
Yet another freezing morning, yet more thawing out water supplies. Suddenly we amateurs can sympathise with farmers for whom the weather forecast is of more than academic interest. Unlike them we lack the will and there were mutterings about emigration today. Albert opted for America because he would prefer the climate and would like to become a spy. A rather difficult aim I hear you say. But it seems that it is ‘childsplay’ to quote Bradley Manning, the US soldier who has given the world something to ponder over its cornflakes, or whatever passes for breakfast in Iran.
In truth most of the ‘secrets’ being revealed by WikiLeaks are of the soap opera variety. But there are some chilling comments, not least the fear that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are far from secure and the view of various countries that unless Iran is tackled it will trigger armaggedon. And there is plenty to choose from for thanks to Private Manning no fewer than 250,000 classified cables from US embassies to Washington are available.
The hapless G.I is now incarcerated but how did he pull off such a massive exposure? He has even exposed that secret. In a published chatlog with a fellow-hacker he explained that he would arrive at his place of work with a CD-RW labelled Lady Gaga. He would then write a compressed split file. No one suspected a thing as he “lip-synched to Lady Gaga while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history”. Manning said that he had “unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day, 7 days a week for 8 months”. He went on to tell his correspondent Adrian Lamo that ” Hilary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning to find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public. Worldwide anarchy in CSV format..its beautiful and horrifying”. Manning clearly isn’t the brightest button in the box for it obviously didn’t occur to him that Lamo might leak news of his involvement in leaks. But he did! Meantime the latter day 007 had fed the data to WikiLeaks.
The 1.6 gigabytes of text files duly reached the Guardian. They were contained on a memory stick capable of being hung from a keyring and cover the contents of 251,287 despatches from 250 US embassies. I confess to being a Luddite in such matters but cannot refrain from pointing out that had the cables been retained merely in hard copy the chance of anyone stealing the lot would have been greatly reduced.
It seems that Manning was but one of around 3 million people allowed to access these files which prompts one to wonder how serious America really is about security. Presumably it is so bewitched by the new age of hi-tech processing that it actually believes all the boffin guff about secure systems being impenetrable.
Such naivety deserves exploitation so the US customs should keep an eye out for Albert, Bin Laden, and a host of others willing to fork out the Virgin air fare in exchange for a a check through the Pentagon files. Of course they will only succeed if they have some Lady Gaga to hand and I have taken the precaution of hiding the allotment shed CDs to which we hum on days more cheerful that this one!
EU FLAGSHIP POLICIES ARE DISASTROUS!
My recent piece on the EU led to a chat with a local farmer whose desk is littered with EU documentation, most of it being about the Common Agricultural Policy. Clever it ain’t!
The policy costs each British taxpayer about £398 per year and the overall cost to the UK is estimated at about £10.3 billion a year in everything from increased food prices to regulatory burdens. It seems that a good deal of the cash handed over ends up in the hands of corrupt conmen. In Sicily large payments have been made for non-existent orange groves and “phantom farms”. There have been “double-counted sheep” in Italy and “permanent pasture” in Greece which aerial photos showed to be largely forests and rocks.
Farm subsidies are even more corrupt. Since the introduction of the single farm payment, farm subsidies appear to have been granted to airlines, golf clubs, cruise ships and pony clubs.
Meantime the British fishing industry is at death’s door with the Commission pushing for a 50 per cent cut in our fishing quota. And that is not to preserve the fish for under the latest rules 39,000 tons of edible cod will be thrown back dead by trawlers arriving with more that their quota.
No one I ever meet has a good word to say for the Agricultural Policy, my new farmer friend certainly didn’t have. Perhaps I just don’t meet the right people?
TEST DRAW IN BRISBANE!
My self understanding reveals that whilst I desperately want England to retain the Ashes I will derive no pleasure from winning a poor series. And the signs are not good.
In their second innings the top English batsmen demonstrated just how toothless the 2010 Aussie attack is. And then for the second time the Australian batsmen did the same to Anderson, Broad and company.
The next match is at Adelaide (renowned for its lifeless wickets) and, right now, it is hard to imagine other than a draw for the chance of either attack taking twenty wickets is akin to Beefy making a comeback. But hope springs eternal!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1.Mother Teresa 2. Calcutta
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. The 1978 mass suicide of the followers of Jim Jones took place in which country? 2. Which US aircraft corporation was accused in 1976 of bribery in several countries?
None of us can remember temperatures as low as these before Christmas. This morning we eventually thawed out the hen’s drinking utensils only to see them re-freeze almost at once. Even the hens seem dispirited, a large crowd stood around in the manner of spectators at Old Trafford waiting for the rain to stop. I’ve mentioned our retired bank manager Phil before, he made an appearance as we gathered for a brew. Having no animals to care for Phil only visits the allotments spasmodically at this time of the year but he likes to cheer us up with tales of banker’s perks. Today he mentioned that a former colleague has just heard that he has a record bonus this year. Hooray we cried.
In many industries bonuses are a matter of a few hundred quid at year end if results are favourable. Our bankers work to different dimensions. We have yet to see this year’s figures but for 2009 we know that 2,800 bankers each received total remuneration of over £1 million. The bulk of the amount came from bonuses in a year when the banks brought the country to its knees. And the word is that this year’s numbers are up. Alastair Darling responded at the time by imposing a one-off tax on banker’s bonuses and he netted a very handy £3.5 billion for the public purse!
But now we see a very strange development in which, for whatever reason, the two men who before the election hurled venom in the direction of the banks, are falling over backwards to remain their best friends. Just over a year ago George Osborne went on GMTV and slammed banks for paying “inexcusable bonuses”. We will, he declared, “end the big cash bonuses. If there is spare cash it should be lent out to small businesses”. Scroll forward to this week and what do you find? Osborne has referred the matter to Brussels, which is the equivalent of very long grass, and has confirmed that there will be no UK action.
Meantime Vince Cable, who had insisted that any bank employee being paid more than the prime minister would have his or her salary and bonus details published, has now decided otherwise. A government that has not hesitated to apply that criteria to senior civil servants has curiously lost its nerve. We are all in it together? It seems not!
There has also been a good deal of comment from the legal profession about the absence of prosecutions arising from what happened. It is true that several leading lights left in something of a hurry after the taxpayer’s bailout but they have re-emerged in equally well-paid positions in the private sector. Some of course, such as Fred ‘the shred’ Goodwin, have been ennobled.He may have cost us a few bob but we must remember to call him sir.
Without putting too fine a point on it there clearly is a strong link between this government and leading financiers. Bonuses are to continue at obscenely high levels, there are to be no prosecutions and the scandal of tax avoidance schemes, that rob the treasury of an amount equal to the deficit, is to continue unchallenged. One suspects that Osborne et al are gambling on the fact that few of us understand in detail what the banks did. They are right on that but we do know that their being forgiven and rewarded excessively is unacceptable. But what can we do, it is clear that the banks had Brown in their pockets and have now slipped in their old chum Osborne.
None of the wealthy clique will have heard of Doug Paulley. Perhaps they should pop along to his residential care home in Yorkshire. Doug is a 32 year-old wheelchair user, having been diagnosed 14 years ago with a degenerative neurological disorder. He and his fellow residents in the Leonard Cheshire Home are allowed £22.30 per week from their benefits. Up until now they have also received a mobility fee of up to nearly £50 a week. It was, says Doug, a “quaity of life saver”.
Now it is to be cut completely and will totally curtail the little freedom that Doug and others enjoyed so much. He has said that he hopes he is not still around when the cut happens.
The two situations are not directly connected but it is the banks that created the ruin of people like Doug. And it is their pals in both the last and this government who prefer to see the vulnerable suffer to the alternative, a quarrel with their own!
THE MEDIA TENDS TO BE POOR AT REVELATIONS!
For many years various newspapers have boosted circulation with ‘exclusives’ about the split up/ engagement/marriage of William and Kate. In reality of course they had no more of a clue than any of us commoners but that didn’t stop them from invention.
The Mail on Sunday’s royal correspondent, Katie Nicholl, was billed last week as “the writer who really knows William and Kate”. Her track record suggests otherwise. Private Eye magazine has analysed her many predictions going back to 2004. In December of that year we were told that William wanted to split up for good. But by 2006 William was about to propose. Come 2007 the couple had parted for good. But in 2008 a wedding was being planned – for 2016.
Earlier this month the friend of the Royals was at last able to brief us finally. The announcement would come as part of the royal family’s ”Christmas sojourn to Sandringham” . At least that exclusive wasn’t so far adrift as all the others! Mind you the writer is not alone. Richard Smith of the Daily Mirror wrote in October of “others who make an industry out of wrongly predicting the nuptials – we choose to get our facts right”.
But even this paragon of accuracy failed. He said that “their formal engagement will be formally announced early in 2011″!
ENGLAND FIGHT BACK IN BRISBANE!
Having once described the present Aussie attack as the worst one to ever wear the baggy green cap I feel a little less embarrassed by developments in Brisbane.
In the first innings the England batsman treated Peter Siddle and others with far too much respect. Last night I watched with delight as Strauss and Cook belted them to every corner of the ground. The result should be a draw which will not represent a disastrous start even though ny fiver on a whitewash will have gone the way of most of my punts!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Republic of Ireland 2. Afghanistan
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who won the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize 2. In which city did she do her work?
I must refrain from banging on about another freezing morning, and the problems of frozen water dispensers, lest you conclude that we allotmenteers are depressed. But I have to confess that we are sinking lower than a snakes belly. This morning it was a combination of a night spent watching the Australian batsmen belting England’s much vaunted bowling attack, followed by three of us having to chase a lot of irate hens who headed out whilst we wielded ice-picks. But when the papers arrived we discovered that, we who constantly moan about the mad political correctness brigade, have a new champion. Take a bow Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary and the Tory equivalent to two-Jags Prescott.
We are a mixed bunch on the allotments, people of all religions and none. but we all enjoy Christmas. In fact the tree will be decorated any day now, the fact that it stays in situ throughout the year makes the task an easy one. We all share another sentiment too, we loathe the busybody PR brigade who have done so much to harm race relations in this country and who have the gall to believe that they have the right to tell everyone else what they can and cannot say or do. In recent years they have targetted Christmas or Wintermass as the ghastly crew insist on calling it.
This year has seen them scaling new heights in lunacy. Birmingham’s annual festival has been renamed Winterval and Lambeth council sparked fury when it ordered its Christmas lights to be renamed “winter” or “celebrity” to avoid upsetting “other faiths”. Rochdale Council provoked more rage when it decided to celebrate Eid and Diwali also, even though those Hindu and Muslim festivals have already come and gone. The lists goes on and on.
Now at long last a minister has had the guts to speak out. Yesterday Eric Pickles said that “we should actively celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas and not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christianity and the importance of the birth of Christ”. He went on to warn Councils that ” The war on Christmas is over, and the likes of Winterval, Winter Lights and Luminous deserve to be thrown into the dustbin of history”. And he hadn’t finished at that. Eric went on to stress that shoppers want to see Christmas lights, Christmas trees, carol services and nativity scenes”.
Small wonder that John Midgely, founder of the burgeoning Campaign aginst PR, described Mr Pickles as a “breath of fresh air”. Small wonder too that his sentiments were echoed by leading church figures. The popular Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, believes that Christianity is being wiped out of public life in the name of equality. The bans on Christmas are, he believes, part of a drive to censor Christianity. And no one can accuse Dr Sentamu of being a racist!
I have yet to meet any member of the ethnic community who feels in the least offended by Christmas celebrations. They are not the people responsible for the ever growing chorus of disapproval. That is down to the nauseating busybodies who should shut up once and for all. I am sure that the vast majority of Brits treasure Christmas, and all it represents and entails.We needed a champion and big Eric is the man.
The Christmas story is the greatest story ever told. We sometimes forget that the calender we use is based on a birth that took place 2010 years ago. No story in the history of the world has influenced so much and so many. And one doesn’t have to be religious to acknowledge that irrefutable truth.
Whether we like it or not our country is now a multi-cultural one. But that doesn’t mean that we should change our treasured festivals or customs anymore than we should expect people of other faiths to change theirs. Tolerance should mean acceptance without interference and Eric Pickles may just have started a revolution in reverse. One in which we ignore totally all talk of political correctness.
In reality there is no such thing. Simple courtesy and an ethos of live and let live is all we need provided that the law is observed. And if it isn’t there should be no variation in the response of the authorities whatever the colour of the offender!
TIME TO TACKLE THE PROFITEERING POWER SUPPLIERS!
The Energy Regulator Ofgem has failed totally in its task of regulating the financial trickery of the privatised power companies. Many still remember the various privatisations of the Thatcher era when we were told that competition would drive prices down. In reality there has been an almost unholy alliance amongst the various suppliers and the customer has been robbed again and again.
At a time when many are struggling to meet their bills, and with winter here, the suppliers are announcing massive increases. Dismiss their lies about increased costs for gas, when those costs fell they didn’t pass any reductions on.
British Gas is a classic example. Its annual profit per houshold is now £90. As recently as September it was £65. Like the other suppliers they treat their customers with utter contempt and if Ofgem are not prepared to step in the government should appoint a new regulator.
BANKS ARE THE PITS OF THE WORLD!
Richard Brown is head of savings at HSBC and has staggered many by publicly chastising the public for its failure to save. Yesterday he remarked that only a minority are doing this and said that the public is “burying its head in the sand”.
Perhaps he should consider the possibility that because the rates now offered to savers are virtually zero, people have decided to hold the cash at home. The only advantage of saving with a bank is now security against burglary, there is no monetary case for saving.
I have an account with Barclays. The interest rate has just been reduced to well below 1%. I realise that, having won the green light from the government, the Banks have to find cash to fund their ever increasing bonuses and salaries, but they shouldnt be surprised when I and millions of others decide that we would rather fritter our cash away than help to fund their largesse!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The United Nations 2. One of the states of India
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; Where did Charles Haughey become prime minister? 2. Which Asian country did the USSR invade in 1979?
The worst morning of the new ‘winter’ greeted us this morning as we arrived at the allotment. Yes, the sun was glaring from a blue sky but everything was frozen. All the chicken’s water containers were a block of ice and the stock of lettuces had turned as brown as Albert’s vest overnight despite being inside. Anyone seeking encouragement to try self-sufficiency would be ill-advised to seek inspiration right now from this gang of grumpy old men. It is on mornings such as these that buying eggs in Tesco boxes doesn’t seem quite so heinous. But at least a couple of our number were in high humour!
Bob and John are both rabid eurosceptics and have often reminded us forcefully of all the alleged shortcomings of the takeover of power by what they like to call faceless EU bureaucrats. When the news of the Irish bailout broke they were quick to remind us that the amount being handed over by Britain was equivalent to all the savings forecast to result from the cuts now decimating many of our public services. I recall John saying that maybe someone will now realise just how disastrous our membership is proving to be.
It seems that someone has. Yesterday the Daily Express became the first national newspaper to launch a ‘Get out of the EU’ campaign. Banner headlines on the front page of the Express suggest trouble for the coalition since, as it showed with its Diana obsession, this newspaper above all tends to be persistent and dogged. We may wrap our fish ‘n chips in yesterday’s edition but you can bet your muesli on those of the next weeks, even months, repeating the theme!
What interested me above all else was the identity of those who led the day-one attack. Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP and wants to see the UK out of the Union. It struck me as being a little like turkeys voting for Christmas but he is scathing in his condemnation of Brussels and all its works. He starts his assault by pointing out that the ‘Irish’ £7 billion is in addition to the £14 billion which we pay each year. For good measure he advises that there is now another £435 million to be found to help fund the increases which the EU people have decided to award themselves.
All that we knew, but his statistics on red tape are truly astounding. Internal market commissioner, Gunter Verheugen, has carried out a survey into the cost of regulation in the EU. He established the cost to be 600billion euros a year. If you then compare that with the European Commission’s own figures covering the advantages of membership you arrive at £120billion per year. In other words, Eurocrats themselves admit that the costs of the EU outweigh the benefits by five to one!
The other thing that surprised me was the information on trade with Europe. We currently have a £14.4billion deficit, in other words our purchases from EU countries exceed our sales to them. Amazingly Norway and Switzerland both sell around twice as much per head to the EU as we do. And they are thriving independent states outside the EU membership.
Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, is another supporter of the Express campaign. He warns that we may be obliged to pour billions into saving failing euro economies such as Greece and Portugal and he is angry at the threat to British democracy by what he calls “meddling Brussels bureeeaucracy”. Mr Davies and other MPs also point to the destruction of our laws and commonsense by the EU Convention on Human Rights and the destruction of immigration controls due to freedom of movement laws for EU citizens.
There is a great deal more and most of it is damning. Of course up to this point anyone questionning EU membership has been brushed aside and any thought of a referendum dismissed. One suspects that the decision by the Express may trigger a more difficult problem for the government. Presumably an equally great problem will be the fact that over one hundred Tory MPs are already declaring support, leaving ministers reliant on the support of the Lib Dems who believe not only that we should be in Europe but that we should embrace the euro too.
In this daily blog I really try to be even-handed but I am struggling on the EU for I genuinely don’t understand what the avantages of membership are supposed to be. And if MEPs don’t understand there is little chance of my enlightenment. Even my self understanding offers nothing. Part of me suggests greater strength in numbers but another part suggests that we are enduring hardship here and pouring money out across the channel. Occasionally I remind myself that some of my best mates are europeans but that clarifies nothing for they too regularly rail against the idea of a single European State. They may not have our advantage of the English Channel but they do have our sense of national identity.
There is only one way of resolving this massive issue and that is a referendum. One suspects that the reason for Blair and Brown denying us one was that they expecetd to lose it. But the will of the people should surely prevail and at the very least we would have a reasoned debate in which the case for staying in could be explained.
This is infinitely more important than the referendum planned for a change to our voting system. After all if our integration into Europe goes all the way we won’t need a voting system at all!
JUST HOW TOLERANT HAVE WE BECOME?
Guardian reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad has published a report on a visit he made to northern Afghanistan where he managed to gain access to a group of Taliban. He was taken to a secret location to meet the Taliban district chief who apparently acts as a sort of magistrate amongst the local population.
The reporter met a number of those engaged in the fight with American and British forces and was, to say the least, surprised to meet British citizens amongst them. One of the fighters was ” a burly bearded man with a hint of a London accent”. He admitted that he is a mini-cab driver in London and “makes good money there”. He said that he and other cabbies collect money for the jihad all year round and then travel over to join the fighting for three months of each year.
No surprise really but it does perhaps remind us not to be rude to our driver the next time we visit London! Remember that our Taliban cab drivers have human rights!
ENGLAND NEED A SWANN SONG!
It isn’t only Old Trafford that has rain. The second day of the first Ashes Test at Brisbane ended early due to a surfeit of the wet stuff. At least we nighthawks were able to go to bed!
Sdaly it was not another huge success story for our favourites and the most worrying feature for me was the ease with which the Aussies handled Swann. He could prove the real difference between these sides and we urgently need him to get into his spinning groove.
He has rightly been compared with Warne but so far has looked more like Phil Tufnell of sacred memory!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1 1976 2. Transkei
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which organisation proclaimed 1975-85 as the Decade for Women? 2.. The status of Sikkim changed in 1975. What did it become?
The first task of the day was to break the ice on the chicken’s water, an unwelcome reminder of last winter when we were eventually reduced to draping old blankets over the many coops on the allotment. Overhead the bright blue sky was broken by a few red-tinted clouds, usually a sign that it is time to place the spades in a handy position. Having done their duty most of my pals headed for home but I shared a brew with Alec and Joe both of whom were skilled mechanics who served their time as apprentices in the long-gone day when Leyland Motors had an apprentices school.
They were reflecting on the pride, skill and standing that their indentures provided and wondering whether, had they grown up in today’s world where a university education is seen as a must, they would have fared half as well. Probably not, for when it comes to dexterity and practical skills the old adage of ‘them as can’t teaches’ kicks in. Much of their time in apprenticeship was spent alongside older skilled men who made sure that they could do more than talk about engines!
It was yesterday’s student protests that triggered the conversation. The student’s frustrations are understandable but their ways of expressing them less so. Admittedly it was only a minority of louts smashing up and looting a police vehicle, but it will have further reduced sympathy from a public which contains many whose needs are greater than those of the students, and who feel that they are carrying the burden for a crisis created by irresponsible financiers who appear to be getting off with even greater bonuses.
But the biggest question of all seems to me to be why university has become a must-do for every youngster with even the vaguest idea of pursuing a career. There are certainly many examples of it being a far less effective route than specialised training or training in situ. A good example is nursing.
A few years ago I was involved in a large NHS hospital and often walked the wards to chat to the staff. I recall two young trainee nurses who, according to Sister, were well on the way to becoming excellent nurses. They had religiously pursued a course of part-time learning combined with a great deal of actual nursing under the direction of senior nurses. Sadly they had to say their goodbyes to the ward because the system now demands a degree and that entails three years at a university. Sister Patsy told me that it would add nothing to their practical skills, in fact many of those now arriving fully qualified from university were excellent at writing notes but extremely inexperienced in the art of handling patients.
In effect society has moved the goalposts. Generations of nurses took great pride in achieving their SEN or SRN’s at the hands of skilled practitioners but now, even if such a route was still open, they would be branded as non-university, amateurs. Of course there are careers that clearly call for intensive academic studies, doctors and pharmacists being good examples, but now we have created a society where posts that require equally important practical skills also involve years at institutions not suited to their needs.
I started work as an office boy and, forty years later was chief executive at a very large manufacturing corporation. It couldn’t happen now. In fact so prevalent was the growing prejudice against non-university people that when I retired I went to university to study social history. I eventually emerged with a bagful of degrees. Great fun, but none of them would have added one iota to my ability to manage in an engineering environment.
It was certainly a fascinating experience as one would expect for an old codger landed amongst scores of teenagers and tutors some whom appeared to be younger than my grandchildren. I was amazed at the low work rate compared with that of industry, even more surpirised to find that many of the staff had in fact never left education. One young chap who befriended me was studying zoology. The subject had no relevance to the career he wished to pursue but his prospective employers demanded a degree, any degree.
My conclusion was, and is, that somehwere along the line we have got it wrong. We have created an ethos where any form of education other than university is regarded as inferior. We have created a world in which every committed parent sees it their duty to get their offspring to university whatever the sacrifice. In fact, in the case of around half of all youngsters, they would be providing a better start in life by helping them to develop non-academic skills.
One of my pals is a retired cabinet maker and he recently made for me a beautiful miniature set of drawers. When I expressed delight he said that it wasn’t bad for someone who wasn’t ‘educated’. I told him that I would give everything to possess creative skills such as his, he was the true expert. But sadly even artists of his ability have lost their sense of worth.
It is society that has lost its sense!
HAVE VICTIMS NO HUMAN RIGHTS?
Fourteen years ago Learco Chindamo stabbed to death headmaster Philip Lawrence when he tried to prevent him attacking another pupil. Four months ago he was given early release from his life sentence. Today he is being questionned by police in regard to an alleged violent mugging and is expected to be recalled to prison for his potential breach of his licence.
Attempts to deport Chindamo, described by the Home Office as a risk to the public who should be deported, to his country of birth failed when he successfully argued in court that deportation would be an infringement of his human rights. Small wonder that the still mourning widow of a much loved headmaster has said that whilst the murderer “is being given every help, my family is being hung out to dry”.
In opposition Mr Cameron pledged to replace the Bill of Human rights with something more balanced. Needless to say that promise has gone into the long grass. Which perhaps explains why for the first time since 1997 the Home Secretary will not attend the annual Philip Lawrence awards!
NOT THE START WE WANTED!
My eyelids rest on matchsticks and my spirits are low! The pundits had long claimed that the first few overs of the first day of the Ashes series would dictate what was to follow. We can only hope they were wrong for, before most had settled into their armchairs, Strauss was on his way back to the pavilion.
England eventually mustered 260 and the Aussie openers put a few runs on the board before heading off to celebrate.
Bell apart, the English batting was well below par against bowlers poorer than any to wear the green baggy cap for many a season. Hopefully the bowlers will restore our hopes-if we manage to stay awake!
EU GRAVY TRAIN ROLLS ON!
50,000 European Commission civil servants have been awarded an inflation-busting 3.7 per cent pay rise – at a cost of £80 million – making each of them richer by thousands of pounds per year. And the rise will be back-dated by six months! This at a time when our own civil servants have a pay freeze and extensive redundancies
Coming as it does on top of the decision to pay over £7 billion to bailout Ireland plus another £14 billion to the EU, the news puts more pressure on David Cameron who is already aware that over 100 Tory MPs are set to challenge him over further powers being conceded to Brussels.
What do you think?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Debbie Harry 2 It was an RAF staging post.
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which year did Britain’s National Theatre vacate the Old Vic? 2. Which was the first homeland to be declared independent in South Africa?
It was bitterly cold this morning as we released the chickens but we consoled ourselves with the thought that the various pests that threaten their wellbeing are on their way to a considerably hotter place. We stamped our feet, and our breath hung lazily in the air, as we set about the cleaning-out, on mornings like this it is hard to focus on global warming. Yet this morning we read of the most dramatic warning so far on what the UN’s top representative on the environment, Achim Steiner, calls the “mutually assured destruction of the world”.
The report reflects on the Copenhagen accord which was signed by 80 countries last year. Everyone committed to reduce greenhouse gases by 2020 but already there is considerable doubt that even this modest target will be met. And even if it is, it will deliver less than two thirds of the cuts needed to stop global temperatures rising by more than 2C (3.8F). At this level of increase, scientists confirm, that the ice caps will melt and more extreme weather will occur, such as droughts and floods. If the rise is substantially greater, large parts of the earth’s surface will be submerged.
Achim Steiner gives his harshest warning yet that unless dramatic and concerted action is taken on a worldwide basis global warming is heading for dangerous and extremely destructive levels. If countries carry on with ‘business as usual’ emissions will rise to 56 gigatons by 2020 bringing a temperature increase of 7c (12.6F). Cue disaster. To stand any chance of limiting temperature rise to 2C, emissions have to fall to 44 gigatons by 2020. The current pledges will, even in the unlikely event that they are achieved, bring emissions down to only 49 gigatons. This gap is equivalent to taking all the vehicles in the world off the road!
In reality there is no mileage left in brushing such detail aside as alarmist. British scientists have been studying a block of ancient Antarctic ice, holding bubbles of air trapped 700 years ago. Their findings show clearly that during warm periods there is more carbon in the atmosphere. They also show that there has been an unprecedented growth in carbon since the industrial revolution and all the analysis adds up to one conclusion. If the present rate of growth in carbon continues there will be a worldwide catastrophe during the lifetimes of our grandchildren.
Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, yesterday urged world leaders to strengthen their efforts to curb emissions. There is, he warned, “no time to waste”. Sadly he is spitting in the wind. In most countries, certainly those with any semblance of democracy, politicians respond to public concern. And on global warming there is none. To put that another way, the subject is seen by the masses as a low priority.
So far as the UK is concerned one only has to turn to today’s newspapers for confirmation. Some have no found space to cover the UN report and even the ‘quality’ papers have buried it beneath a mass of supposedly more important issues. Ann Widdicombe’s dancing, Kate Middleton’s bridal dress, fighting in Korea and an incomprehensible speech by Nick Clegg are all considered of greater moment than the fact that where we are living may well be under ten feet of water some forty years hence!
My self understanding tells me that I would prefer not to hear about global warming. Its detail is too complicated, its implications too overwhelming. I suspect that I am far from alone. It is being realistic rather than pessimistic to conclude that until the first major inundations occur world leaders will continue to utter platitudes for the cure is worse than the disease, and the patients will never swallow the medicine of no cars and dramatically reduced power. In fact they will carry on cutting down trees and worrying about the tiger rather than acknowledge that humans are now the endangered species.
In his book ‘The Time Before This’ Nicholas Montserrat described a party of ex earthlings returning to a deserted planet. They excavated and eventually came to the remains of a computer. In reality it will probably be an old copy of the tabloids featuring Strictly Come Dancing! They may also find an inscription on old stone remains saying ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’.
One would like to believe that they would find old headlines saying that mankind fought to the last. But short of someone resurrecting Churchill that is unlikely.
SURELY OBAMA HAS NOTHING TO FEAR?
News that Sarah Palin may well be the alternative on offer to the American electorate at the next Presidential election sounds, from this side of the Atlantic, very good news for Obama. The woman appears to be as mad as a mongoose.
Her latest venture involves a huge row about the finals of America’s Dancing with the Stars where her daughter Bristol has reached the last three ahead of others who can actually dance The allegation is that political conservatives have been able to vote repeatedly for young Palin by registering multiple email addresses.
Surely even the Yanks are not going to jettison a man who is arguably the most dynamic world leader for the modern equivalent of Old Mother Riley. Are they?
WHO PAYS THE PAPARAZZI SCUM?
Everyone hates the paparazzi who hounded Diana to her death. Well not quite everyone for some newspapers make their appalling creepiness very rewarding.
After publishing a picture of Diana on the night she died the Daily Mail promised solemnly to “not in future purchase pictures taken by paparazzi”. This week it included a picture of Kate Middleton leaving Westminster Abbey after a private visit. Guess who provided the picture!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. China and Japan 2. United States
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1 Blondie was formed in 1975. Who was the band’s lead singer? 2. What was Gan Island in the Maldives used for until 1975?
Having damaged my back when humping bags of gravel around the allotment site I had to plead guilty but insane to those colleagues who had to clean out my animals this morning. Whilst they see me as a good neighbour, and therefore worthy of help, they are nonetheless critical of my self-induced crisis. As I made the tea I felt rather as I imagine the beleagured Irish government feels this sunny morning.
Like many I often cannot get my head around just what is happening in the world of high finance. The coalition has imposed severe cuts on everything from the police right down to voluntary organisations such as Mind, who provide crucial services for the most vulnerable. Yet it is happy to hand over the equivalent of the total savings to Ireland and then to calmly announce that we will also be obliged to underwrite any further emergency bailouts across the eurozone depsite the fact that we are not in it.
None of which makes any sense to such as elderly people struggling to survive and now faced with huge price hikes by the privatised domestic power providers. The Irish situation is even more bizaare. It may be that you have little awareness of the fact that Ireland has for years operated what amounts to tax piracy. It is a policy that has robbed every European economy of billions whilst lining the pockets of huge corporations who have established offices in the republic to enable them to benefit from a corporation tax rate of 12.5 per cent as against the 28% they would have to pay if registered in the UK or the 35% in the United States.
Only last week yet another giant British company - Northern Foods, now merged with Greencore – shifted its headquarters to Dublin. Just its brass plate and profits went, not its factories making biscuits and frozen foods. It was just the latest example of Ireland playing its beggar my neighbour, race-to-the-bottom tax game. Many companies now play this game, advertising giant WPP for one; no staff go over neither does the board. All that is needed is registration and hey presto the British exchequer is the poorer and the directors and shareholders rub their hands in glee.
But the practice is even worse than it at first sounds. Ireland allows its registered tax avoiders to legally pass on profits to other tax havens, some of which apply no corporation taxes at all. Google puts 92% of its billions of world-wide non-US profits through Dublin and, in the past year, paid only £18 million in tax!
Even more amazing is the fact that UK politicians have lauded the Irish tax haven. In 2006 George Osborne penned a paean of praise to Ireland in The Times newspaper. “Look and learn across the Irish Sea” he wrote. Ireland stands as a shining example of the possible in long-term economic policymaking…Capital will go where investment is most attractive “. The then future Chancellor said that “Ireland’s business tax rates are only 12.5%, whilst ours are among the highest in the world…low taxes are the answer to success”. He missed the point that every company that transferred notionally to Dublin represented a huge revenue loss to Britain and did little for Ireland since the actual employment remained here. Those who for so long suspected that Osborne is to economics what Eddie the Eagle was to gold medals will now feel vindicated! Does his self understanding tell him that he is an idiot?
Mrs Merkel yesterday made clear the German conditions for a bailout and these include an end to the tax haven practice that Ireland has for so long embraced. Clearly she is right but the British cash appears to be available without strings. So we are prepared to use fortunes we haven’t got to prop up a system that drains even more of our corporate income away from these shores!
The Irish government has been living out a financial fantasy, one in which we colluded. They also witheld the truth from the people and a political backlash is underway. There must surely be a risk that one will follow here once what Cameron refers to as “ordinary people” realise that the outcome of all their savings is to be handed over to a neighbour who plays a huge financial role in weakening us.
We will of course be assured that it is only a loan. What won’t be said is that the chance of it being paid back is equivalent to our tabloids ever desisting from stories about ‘Queen’ Camilla!
NO THAI HOLIDAY FOR THE CAMERONS !
Having regaled us for weeks with the details of David Cameron’s planned Christmas holiday in Thailand, the Daily Mail has now revealed that he has performed another U-turn. We should perhaps give him credit for responding to public outrage which is more that could be said for the Blairs.
The original story was that the prime minister would pay for the holiday himself, in which case it was his own business and nothing to do with the chattering classes. However, a leak - the government rather specialises in those – confirmed that there was to be a £50,000 bill for security and other trimmings.
I particularly like the revised ‘spin’ which is that Cameron is unhaapy at the political killings of democracy campaigners and journalists at the hands of his Eton contemporary Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Thai leader. It is of course an opportunist lie but one has to admire the timing!
CRICKET; TOMORROW IS THE DAY!
Many of us will be spending the night in the armchair tomorrow when the long awaited Ashes series begins in steamy Brisbane. The pundits have done their stuff, the traditional insults have been exchanged and now it is down to the players.
For the first time for many decades England are the clear favourites but there is one possible pitfall. If Mitchell Johnston can find his line and length he is quite capable of blowing away key players such as Strauss and Pieterson. The opening overs of the England innings will be very revealing.
Having said that, Mitchell has been of late about as accurate as the UK weather forecasts!
I NEED YOUR HELP!!!
The site has been going for a few months now and the number of ‘hits’ has passed 180,000. This is the 226th posting. I am really keen to have your advice. Are there aspects you would prefer to see changed? One of the setbacks to writing on the net is that the views of the readers are unknown to the amateur author. Would love to have your advice! THANKS.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. 1975 2. Antarctica
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1 Which two Asian countries launched their first satellite in 1970? 2. In which country was the Auburn Dam built in the 70s?
Another dry morning to start the day on the allotment. But there was much chatter about ‘long-johns’, a sudden interest sparked by the weather men who tell us that we are only two days from temperatures low enough to head for the clothes drawer in search of last winters passion-killers. Indeed the long term forecast suggests that we are in for an arctic winter, a prediction seemingly confirmed by the unusually large mass of burning red berries on the holly trees. How this fits in with global warming we have yet to deduce!
However we were all encouraged by the survey published this morning which reveals that the average person moans a staggering 1,300 times a year. We always wanted to be above average at something! But at least we can console ourselves with the thought that our multi-racial group proves that the art of grizzling is not a purely English condition.Then again perhaps it is contagious?
But we pals are deeply disturbed by this morning’s headlines. Apparently the BBC is to screen a Panorama investigation this evening on the subject of so-called ‘weekend schools’ for Muslim pupils as young as six. The blurb tells us that instructions include such appalling things as executions for gay sex, Zionist plots to take over the world, how to cut off hands and feet as a punishment and the fate of anyone who is not a believer in Islam which is ‘hellfire’. There are, it is claimed, up to 40 weekend schools teaching children from the age of six to 18.
Last night experts at the Policy Exchange think-tank warned that similar extremists could seek to exploit the Government’s policy of giving greater freedom from state control to free schools and academies. Be that as it may, every decent man and woman of whatever religion or none will be horrified that such an outpouring of hatred and bigotry is being taught to young impressionable minds. Children are not born with hatred in their hearts, that is subsequently taught them by adults!
The story coincided with one from Coventry. Twelve pupils at the Sidney Stringer Academy, which is in a predominantly Muslim area, have been excluded from the school after threatening Darius Gill, 13, with extreme violence after he posted a touching tribute to British troops who have lost their lives. Darius’ mum, Clare, said that her son wrote on Facebook saying that he supported the soldiers in Afghanistan and said that he was sad that so many had died. She added that “if I hadn’t read the threats and pulled my son out of school that day he could be dead. They are fanatical and dangerous”. For its part the school said that six pupils had been disciplined for the hate campaign and face possible permanent expulsion.
There are of course equally odious and bigotted people on the other side but the fact that the word ‘side’ comes to mind demonstrates just how much race relations are deteriorating. There are few more loathsome creatures on earth than the BNP but they are constantly provided with the excuse to ask “why, if you hate this country so much, do you chosse to live here?”. And the danger is that the mass of peace loving decent people will begin to listen.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has responded by promising to ask Ofsted to investigate registration and inspection of part-time education. But the time has surely come for tougher measures against any form of religious or racial hatred. If we are honest with ourselves we will acknowledge that for too long we have tiptoed our way in a fog of so called political correctness.
In ‘Past and Present’ Thomas Carlyle lamented the loss of a soul in favour of a doctrine. It was, he said, ” another world then..we shall have to go in search of them again, or worse in all ways shall befall us”. He was, I think, suggesting that at the very core of every man or woman lies a place of self understanding, kindness and consideration for our fellow beings. Organised religion of all brands has slowly perverted that and now we teach the next generation, on whom so many hopes of peace depended, the perversions that have invaded us. Of course many of us have little or no religion but we have stood idly by.
Sadly the present situation is too bad to allow hope that words and examples will turn things around. There must be law and order and the law must be very specific. Teaching hatred to a new generation cannot be tolerated by even our lax judicial system!
LIBRARIES DESERVE TO BE SAVED!
A quarter of librarians could lose their jobs over the next twelve months. Right across the country councils are proposing to close library services or, as in the case of Buckinghamshire, to have them run by volunteers.
Writers such as Philip Pullman, Kate Mosse and Will Self have been quick to voice their opposition. For me Pullman in particular was spot on when she declared that a librarian is “not simply a checkout clerk”. Many lead local studies and children’s reading classes. Many play a major part in improving adult literacy. And many members of the public visit libraries to browse and to carry out research. I know several elderly people for whom the visit to the local library is something to look forward to, an escape into the world of literature.
Of course councils have to cut costs but many will question their automatic assumption that reading is the lowest priority. Councillors themselves are not volunteers, many have one motive for their public service, money. A councillor appointed to an executive committee often earns more than many men or women working a 40 hour week. If they admire volunteering so much perhaps they would like to be unpaid?
There will be much bitterness about this. Many will ask how it can be that we cannot afford the modest amount paid to librarians yet can, at a stroke, hand over many billions to prop up the Euro or even Olympic games!
In 1838 the English writer Martin Tupper wrote that “a good book is the best of friends, the same today and ever”. For many older people it is the only friend they have!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. A supercomputer 2. Kenya
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which year did home video recorders come to the market? 2. On which continent did the international Dry Valley Drilling Project take place?
I have often described the large allotment shed which is owned by the association and serves variously as a committee room, canteen and moaning centre. But most members also have their own shed or greenhouse and, if you get your timing right, it is not unusual to be offered a little refreshment. It was on such an occasion that I sat with Joe, an American who has dwelt amongst us for many an egg-laying season. Usually our chats are about such riveting subjects – well they are to us – as composting and red mite infestation amongst our hens. But it was on what I later learned was Joe’s late wife’s birthday that he told me a moving story.
Martha contracted a rare condition, Joe didn’t say more. They were not covered by insurance and thus relied on basic state medicine. A few days before Martha died Joe was told that there was just a chance that his wife could be saved by a specialised procedure But it was only available at one of the top-market private hospitals. Having no insurance the only hope Joe had was to raise a considerable sum within a few days. He tried everything and everyone and eventually negotiated a loan that would have rendered him insolvent but that was of no consequence. He arrived at the hospital only to be told that it was too late.
To this day Joe carries a covert burden of guilt. He has never mentioned it again but on that sunny afternoon, seated in his shed, he said that he was the man who failed to save the life of someone more precious than life itself. Since that day Joe has occasionally joined in general gossip about healthcare and has commented that we don’t know what we are doing when we allow politicians like Hewitt and Lansley to destroy the NHS.
All this came back to mind when I read a new survey by the US health thinktank the Commonwealth Fund. This reveals that 33 per cent of American adults “went without recommended care, did not see a doctor when sick, or failed to fill in prescriptions because of costs”. In fact in all the countries surveyed except Britain, wealth was a significant factor in access to health, with patients earning less than the national average more likely to report trouble with medical bills and problems getting care because of costs.
The survey, of 19,700 patients in 11 nations, found “substantial differences among countries on access to care when sick, access after hours, and waiting times for specialised care. Over 70 per cent of British patients reported same-day access to doctors when sick. In contrast less than half were seen quickly in countries such as Sweden, Canada and Norway. The report reserved its strogest criticsm for the US , where it found patients “far more likely than those in 10 other industrialised countries to go without healthcare altogether because of costs”.
Another positive result for the NHS was the cost per person. In the UK the NHS costs $1,500 less per citizen than that of any other country and is far below the $7,538 paid by every insured American for healthcare.
Reactions to the survey here were revealing. Nigel Edwards, acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the report was “a good result for the UK. The issue in many countries is that you buy insurance to cover for the price of expensive drugs or you rely on basic treatments”. Andrew Lansley’s ministry was predictably less enthusiastic ;”the NHS must reform in order to achieve better outcomes” it said. By which Lansley means it must embrace privatisation. Whilst Labour was in power this was also the desire of people like Patricia Hewitt and it was only the enormous resistance led by people such as Lindsay Hoyle, now the Deputy Speaker, that prevented it.
Lansley has an easier task for the vast majority of his party can well afford the cost of high insurance, many seem to imagine that the same goes for the whole population. And with barely a whimper of protest from the public, Lansley is well on the way to the destruction of what we know as the NHS. His half-baked plan to transfer commissioning to GPs is a key part of the strategy. Family Doctors will have no alternative than to delegate this task and the favourites to act for them are the top American healthcare companies. They in turn will source specialised treatments to American concerns who will take over and expand the UK’s private hospital sector. NHS hospitals that currently provide comprehensive care will be reduced to basic units.
Of course this being the brainchild of Lansley, it won’t work. Already there is chaos in the NHS. But that will not perturb him for chaos will be the perfect reason for more dramatic change. Meantime he is helping the chaos bandwagon along with yet more barmy ideas. This week a government-commissioned report suggested that all GP contact should be transferred to regional call centres. Even more bizaare is the decision to abolish waiting times which takes us right back to the days when immediate access via private medicine was offered by consultants in specialities such as orthopaedics.
At the heart of all this is a simple issue. If we value the prinicple of everyone, regardless of income. being treated equally for healthcare we should fight Lansley every inch of his way. On the other hand, if we believe that those capable of paying are entitled to an up-market version of what is now called the NHS we should applaud him, albeit with the caveat that an efficient transition would be preferable.
For my part my self understanding tells me that I never want to be in the agonising situation that still haunts my friend Joe. My protest banners are ready!
THE DESTRUCTION BY HIGH-SPEED RAIL!
Three ministers plus the Speaker have pledged to vote against the proposal to build a high speed rail line through some of England’s finest countryside. The Government is preparing a formal consultation on the £17 billion London to Birmingham line, which would see up to 18 trains per day travel at 250mph through the heart of the Chilterns, Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire.
Because of the high speeds involved, the tracks must be relatively straight and level and would require many cuttings and viaducts. Thousands of home would have to be demolished. Minister Cheryl Gillan says that she will defy the whips for the impact on her constituency and the surrounding areas would be “absolutely phenomenal”.
We live on a small island and the time savings are accordingly limited. Is it really sensible to destroy so much to save twenty minutes or so on journeys? Would it not be more sensible to spend a fraction of the amount involved on improving the present services?
What do you think?
CRICKET; FIRST ASHES TESTS LOOMS!
If yesterday’s football results taught us anything it is that nothing in sport should be taken for granted. Who would have forecast that Birmingham would humble the mighty Russians from Stamford Bridge? So we should think twice before writing off Australia before the first ball is bowled in Brisbane this week.
Right now it is pretty warm and sticky in Brisbane and the conditions for swing bowling are likely to favour bowlers such as Anderson and Broad both of whom were sent on ahead of the final preparation game, a clever ruse by coach Flower who wanted them to become acclimatised.
I believe that come next Sunday we will be rejoicing. Then again, Chelsea probably thought the same as they drove down the M6!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Japan 2. Citroen
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. ‘Cray 1′ cost $8 million in 1979. Whatever was it? 2. In which country was a hominid skull 2,500,000 years old discovered in 1972?
The second dry day on the trot has the ferreters changing their minds on global warming for the millionth time. The recent long period of dark clouds and copious rain coincided with the floods in the West country and led to a renewed conviction that it is almost time to visit the library in search of a DIY guide to ark-building. All it takes is a couple of non-monsoon days for opinion to swing in the other direction which suggests that the gang is still less than completely convinced about armageddon. Since no one of note across the world seems to be actually doing anything to reduce carbon emissions we can only pray that our latest mood-swing reflects reality.
Meantime we hear a lot about endangered species ranging from tigers to starlings and the evidence there at least is worryingly validated. Sadly there is little we can do on our allotment site to preserve the endangered since the two wild creatures we encounter seem to be breeding at a rate faster than we ever managed in our days of procreation. I’m talking about collared doves, which eat everything that we grow, and moles, which constantly throw up hills often to the apparent bewilderment of the chickens.
But it is moles of a different sort that is beginning to try the nerve of the government. One can only assume that the Ministry of Defence has two moles per square yard for yesterday the Telegraph - perhaps the Telegraphs’ Editor’s neice is married to a General – for the umpteenth time obtained a copy of a report so damning that Liam Fox was forced to disown the writer and Cameron to disown Liam Fox. The report is headed ‘Restricted’ and was prepared by officials working directly for the Defence Secretary.
It tells us that the rushed and seemingly shambolic way in which the government conducted its strategic defence and security review has “badly damaged the confidence and morale of the armed forces”. We read that the decision to scrap the Ark Royal aircraft carrier and its fleet of Harrier jets was taken at the last minute.n fact the armed forces personnel first heard of the decision through the media. Officials in the National Security Council , chaired by David Cameron, are criticised for the way they handled the whole defence debate and the way they reached decisions. “People should have been consulted” the report booms.
According to the leaked report communications were abysmal. “At Cabinet Office direction , there was no pre-briefing of the chain of command and no pre-warning of units affected by changes. The combination of covert media briefings and restrictions on internal communicatiuons have “badly damaged morale and confidence and created a poor baseline for implementation” says the report. And it has few words of praise for the National Security Council, saying that meetings “did not provide the guidance the MOD needed”. Even worse “its members took too long to understand the complex issues”.
The report goes from bad to worse. Allies such as the United States were consulted so late that their comments were only received and collated as the plan “was being confirmed”.
The document makes depressing reading. It clearly points to rushed and inadequately thought through strategies and certainly adds strength to the argument of those who for some days now have contended that the whole defence package will lead to a istuation where the United Kingdom is inadequtely defended.
Predictably Liam Fox has condemned the writers as too junior to know but that doesn’t wash since they were clearly appointed to carry out the review. And it all gels suspiciously with his own early outburst about being unable to accept cuts. Of course that was before his sudden conversion which seemed to suggest that he had his collar touched as Knacker of the Yard is wont to say.
I can never decide whether moles do us a service or simply boost the sale of worry-beads. We are for ever trying to stab ours with a fork and the likelihood is that right now Cameron is proposing to do something simialr to Mr Fox!
Maybe we should build that ark for it seems that if the floods don’t get us Bin Laden will!
COALITION BARES ALL- AND REGRETS IT!
The coalition deserves great credit for its historic decision to publish full details of all expenditure in excess of £25,000, in fact many departments have gone further by using a mere £500 as the transparency line.
I hope they now hold their nerve because such openness is surely a huge step forward why would they waiver? Because the details reveal an appalling story of waste. Many will focus on trivia such as £55,000 to improve the PM’s office or nights in 4-star hotels. But for me two numbers stood out by a mile on the waste scale.
Since coming to office the coalition has spent £200 million on management consultants and £80 million on public relations. To spent so much on such frivolity when the services such as those for the mentally ill in the community have been cancelled is nothing short of scandalous.
But at least this lot is being open about its misuse of public money which is more than can be said for previous governments! My self understanding tells me that I wouldn’t have been so brave!
STAMPS FOR CHRISTMAS?
As a compulsive stamp collectors I have no alternative to buying the Christmas stamps plus the special brochure. But I did find myself wondering about this year’s choice of Wallace and Gromit.
Yes they are brilliant and funny but where are the traditional Christmas scenes based on the greatest story ever told? When I mentioned this at the bar a pal said that it was right and proper to keep religion out of Christmas. I found this odd since without religion there wouldn’t be a Christmas!
I just hope that Royal Mail has not become infected with the cult of political correctness!
HAVE THEY NOTHING BETTER TO THINK ABOUT?
Today’s papers are full of material relating to the forthcoming Royal wedding, no surprisev there. But the Daily Express has added the Charles ‘drama’ to the offering. It seems that the Prince conceded the possibility of Camilla being called Queen.
Alan Berry is the co-founder of a group called the ‘Diana Appreciation Society’ and is apparently outraged. In fact he doesn’t even accept that Charles should become King. I must confess that I had never heard of either the society or Mr Berry.
Am I in a minority in wondering why he and they cannot find something a more productive way to pass the time? Perhaps I live in a non-typical community for I have never heard anyone express the slightest interest in what the future holds for Charles’ second wife!
YESTERDAYS QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Walter Mondale 2 Graham Greene
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which country maintained Syowa Station in Antartica? 2 Which French carmaker did Peugeot take over in 1974?
It has stopped raining so miracles do still happen! But the weather over the past couple of weeks has been depressing. The condition known as SAD often kicks in at around this time and small wonder. However to describe those allotment members who have to visit several times each day to care for animals, the word sad seems inadequate. It is only when members gather in the shed that the mood rises a little, and then once Albert has passed round the flask to help the hot tea go down it soars. Of course if you gather a dozen or so men and women from all walks of life together it is not long before disagreements surface. In days long gone politics or religion were the flashpoints but no one seems to mention those anymore. Now it is usually the EU that divides opinion.
This morning Phil was talking about the latest EU financial crisis. Both Greece and Ireland appear to be in trouble and there are fears that the contagion could spread to other deeply indebted countries such as Portugal and Spain. In an extraordinary speech this week the President of the EU warned that it is now “locked into a crisis of survival”. He went on to warn that “if we do not survive with the eurozone we will not survive with European Union”. Even allowing for the fact that Herman van Rompuy appears to be as daft as a coot it was an odd thing to say. The result was an outbreak of panic.
More to prevent us going out into the rain than anything else i suggested that old Herman intended to trigger a panic. He may look like a clown but he is actually a shrewd operator bent on fulfilling his dream of a single European ‘superstate’. By whipping up fears of meltdown he can then argue that the only solution is deeper integration, the surrender of national sovereignty and stronger central control from Brussels. But would it really be disastrous if the whole bureacratic pack of cards collapsed?
One thing is for sure. The Euro has proved an abysmal failure. It has delivered none of the achievements that its creators promised. Instead it has engulfed its members in bureaucracy and excesive regulation. After 11 years the euro states are more ill-equipped than ever to meet the challenge of competition from Asia and South America. It has also failed completely to impose financial discipline across Europe. Instead profligacy and irresponsibility have become its hallmarks. And the grotesque waste and extravagence are out of control, as demonstrated by the current proposal for a near 7 per cent increase in budget.
In reality the eurozone was, and is, a political project rather than an economic one. Its aim is to allow an unaccountable elite of federalists to achieve their dream of unity. Judged from an economic standpoint it was always an absurdity to put into one pot such disparate economies as Germany, France, Greece and a good many minnows. The Irish crisis could have been averted had the nation’s central bank been able to calm the property market with interest rate adjustments, but imprisoned within the eurozone it was impotent.
Of course those who plot and plan for a single European state will continue to warn that a collapse would mean the end. But of what? It could well prove the beginning of a return to national pride and initiatives. It would automatically increase the wealth of member states whose contributions have climbed beyond any forecast levels. And trade? The idea that the EU in some way makes possible trade between the member states is absurd. It is no coincidence that the two most propserous nations in Europe, Norway and Switzerland, are both outside the EU. And Britain was the world’s greatest trading nation long before the EU existed. Trade would continue, nations have to buy and sell. And defence? We have already signed up to a long-term partnership with the French.
Of course some of my pals do not agree and they may be right. But it seems to me that the eurozone cannot be propped up for ever. Ultimate bailouts have to be paid for through more borrowing or printing money. Britain is not even in the eurozone but yesterday Osborne was keen to say that whatever is needed to avert a crisis we will be happy to help. For heavens sake, we are skint!
I am not a little Englander, nor an isolationist, but I do believe that the European superstate is nonsense and ultimately destructive of national pride and cultures. Let it collapse and within twelve months the major players will wonder why on earth they ever enlisted. Yes the smaller economies will miss the handouts and the guaranteed emigrations but those are follies that no one can really afford to underwrite.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT; THE MONEY WASTERS!
When it comes to self-indulgence and the wasting of public money the top people in local government would take some beating. In fact the Local Government Association, a pressure group that exists to argue for town halls to be paid even more taxpayer’s money, has a chief executive who earns a massive £302,000!
John Ransford is the man who must believe that Christmas dawns each day. And his executives are also earning the sort of money that most people can only dream about. Money may not make you happy but these folk can certainly be miserable in considerable comfort.
The Association is funded by town halls across the country which suggests that despite all the cant about service cuts, they can find cash when it suits them. It is high time that they applied cuts to Mr Ransford and his entourage. A fifty per cent cut would still leave them overpaid but it would be a start!
You might care to ask your local councillor to justify this obscene extravagence!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. John Stonehouse 2. Australia
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who was Jimmy Carter’s running mate in the 1976 presidential election? 2. Who wrote ‘The Honorary Consul’, published in 1973?
Only drizzle greeted us this morning so we decided to be thankful for small mercies as we slithered about in the chicken runs. In fact working with livestock during the dark months always reminds us that we are somewhat privileged by comparison with our charges. It is now dark before five and, for fear of the ever growing number of urban foxes, the shutters go down for the start of a thirteen hour confinement. We, on the other hand, then head for our meals and some live sport. Not that last night’s England performance was inspiring, we would have been better employed locked up with the hens wondering which idiots decided to pay Capello a King’s ransom. Even better we could have worked on a cunning plan to become a Lord!
In truth it needn’t be too cunning for all one needs to do is to make large donations to one of the political parties. When, a decade ago, the hereditary peers were thrown off the gravy train there was much talk about their not being appropriate in a democratic society. Since then the total number of those entitled to wear ermine and collect huge attendance payments, not to mention other hand-outs, has rocketed to 750 if one includes the latest list about to hit the headlines. In effect it has become a privilege available for sale.
Up to 30 Tory supporters will be joining the ranks of the most high this week. A typical selection is Andrew Feldman, the Conservative’ co-chairman and a university friend of the Prime Minister. He was responsible for drumming up cash during Cameron’s leadership campaign of 2005, and a year later became the Conservative chief fundraiser. Earlier this year the media disclosed that Mr Feldman was part of a consortium awarded a cotract to build one of the few five-star hotels in the Balkan state of Macedonia. the contract was won despite having no previous experience of running a hotel. Mr Cameron has been one of the most vocal backers of Macedonia being allowed to join the EU but has denied that Mr Feldman influenced party policy on Macedonia or became involved in meetings between the prime minsiters of the two countries.
Stanley Fink, the Tories’ treasurer, is also to join the club but, sadly, rumours that dancing star Ann Widdecombe is also being measured for ermine have proved false. Needless to say the Labour Party is equally keen to reward its friends. Nigel Doughty, the Labour donor and City financier will rub shoulders with Gulam Noon, the curry millionnaire who was caught up in the loans for peerages affair under Tony Blair. Pay enough, be patient and you will not have to wait for heaven to reap your reward!
We are the only country in the world with such an elitist system and it has the added feature of being entirely corrupt. And this is not party points-scoring as such diverse characters as Lord Prescott, Lord Archer and Lord Kinnock demonstrate. The days when left-wing zealots decried the whole shebang are long gone, in fact when Neil Kinnock remarked on ‘Have I got news for you’ that he was searching for a title to follow ‘Lord’, Ian Hislop suggested hypocrite!
The most amazing aspect of all this flummery is that extension of it continues at a time when everyone is supposed to be suffering the outcome of the Banks’ follies together.The British empire has long gone, the ships we once used to rule the waves scrapped, but we still believe that title and privilege are appropriate.
Our self understanding tells us that we all enter and depart the world in the same way. But in between we love the role-playing that says pooh to equality. Perhaps the last word should go to the poet Mary Robinson who in 1795 wrote of ” pavements slippery, people sneezing, Lords in ermine, beggars freezing, titled gluttons dainties carving, genius in a garret starving”.
Little has changed!
MIGRANTS CONTINUE TO POUR IN!
The latest employment figures from the Office for National Statistics show that British workers are losing out in the battle for jobs. Between July and September no fewer than four million migrants were occupying posts here. The total is 204,000 up on the same period of last year, an increase of 5.5 per cent.
And nearly half of the influx are economic migrants from the new EU member states in eastern Europe. Freedom of movement laws drawn up by Brussels mean that any cap is powerless to halt the rising flood of easter Europeans. And it has now emerged that the UK could be forced to accept an even greater wave of foreign workers under secret plans by the European Commission. Officials wish Britain to take 40 per cent of the Indian skilled migrants expected to come to Europe every year under a free trade deal. The quota is almost seven times that allocated to France which is less amenable to the intake of foreign workers.
Last night Alp Mehmet of ‘Migration Watch’ claimed that Britain is shooting herself in the foot. He pointed out that 16 per cent of our IT graduates are unemployed yet we have agreed to take in thousands of IT experts from India. He went on to insist that the majority of jobs being created here are going to overseas workers.
It is a sensitive subject but so is unemployment. Conservative MP Philip Davis probably reflected the views of many when he complained that “we are mad in this country to have people born abroad coming in to do jobs that people here are capable of doing”.
But there is a huge problem here. The EU’s borders are entirely porous and anyone can get in and subsequently demand admission to the UK on the grounds that the move is an internal EU one. So long as we are party to the Lisbon Treaty we will remain vulnerable, indeed eminent statisticians forecast that at the present rate of immigration the Britsh born percentage of the UK population will represent less than half within 40 years.
What on earth are we allowing to happen at the hands of inept politicians?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. 1973 2. David Bowie
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which MP disappeared from a Florida beach in 1974? 2. In which country was the composer Malcolm Williamson born?
A dark, wet and windy morning greeted us when we unlocked the hens. Mud underfoot and a black canopy overhead is usually the signal for a moaning symphony but today everyone seemed in a lighter mood despite it all. The headlines people read over their early cornflakes do seem to set the mood and today it was a rare good news story that dominated even the latest lunacies of politicians or Afghanistan. One doesn’t have to be a devoted royalist to derive pleasure from a love story of Mills and Boon proportions.
Prince William and Kate Middleton will marry next spring or summer in a ceremony that will undoubtedly attract one of the biggest worldwide audiences since the Prince of Wales married lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Hopefully that will prove the only common factor for Kate is considerably older than Diana, comes from a stable home environment and seems well matched to William. It was noticeable yesterday that in their interviews the couple seemed street-wise to an extent that never seemed possible with Charles for whom terms such as ‘hanging out together’ would have been anathema.
They strike one as of the new age in which they will live. Older generations may find difficult their open talk of having lived together, younger ones will relate to them. Their problem will be the insatiable appetite of the media for photographs and the pursuit of ‘exclusives’. But they will be a less easy target than their immediate predecessors who never quite mastered the art of being both regal and down-to-earth at the same time. It will be infinitely more difficult to parody a young man of great self understanding who is often filmed sitting on the tailboard of a truck talking to his mates about rugby.
Of course it didn’t take the anti-monarchist long to raise their noisy heads. Graham Smith, the anti-monarchist group campaign manager, immediately commented that even the policing costs of the wedding should be met by the couple themselves. Yes these are tough financial times but having read only yesterday that the UK is committed to underwiting the Irish Euro collapse to the tune of over £7 billion, and that millions have been paid out in private compensation to terrorists held by the Americans, it is hard to feel that the odd million spent on an event that will bring pleasure to many is too wasteful.
And the other issue that many will have with Mr Smith and his fellow busy-bodies is their poposed alternative to a Royal family. Who really wants to see someone like Blair, or Richard Nixon for that matter, waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace? Yes the cost of Royalty is high but the cost of politicians with supreme powers would be higher in every sense.
Of course it is hard to forecast what will happen when the Queen dies. Like her father before her, she has been a major power for good, an above-reproach stabilising factor that the nation can look to when faith in those elected democratically has all but died. It could just be that the greatest strength of William’s generation may prove their geatest vulnerability. It may be that the common touch may strip away the mystique that has preserved the awe that to this day enables the critics to be swept aside.
But those are questions for tomorrow’s world. Right now the vast majority of the nation has something other than doom and gloom to look forward to. Their frenzy will be fed by the media – the BBC even hired a helicopter yesterday- and the resulting endless headlines of the next six months will be far more enjoyable than tales of the latest barmy ideas and exploits of the muppets who supposedly run the country.
I am sure that we ferret-men are not alone in raising a glass – stained mug in our case – to the happy couple. May all their troubles be little ones!
A U-TURN A DAY KEEPS MEDIA AWAY!
David Cameron performed the sharpest U-turn so far when he removed his former personal photographer and a film-maker from the public payroll. His appointment to the civil service of his so-called ‘vanity staff’ had led to widespread criticism. Now they are to be employed by the Conservative Party.
Downing Street yesterday acknowledged that the transfer to taxpayer employment of Andrew Parsons and Nicky Woodhouse sent out “the wrong message”. It is said that several ministers opposed the move which was steamrollered through by Cameron and his director of communications, ex News of the World Editor Andy Coulson.
Last night a spokesman denied that the announcement was rushed through to be overshadowed by the Royal Wedding news. But we wouldn’t put it past them would we? Whatever the truth of that the fact remains that the mask of frugality and integrity slipped a bit. No one gains credit for confessing after a crime has been exposed!
Hopefully the Prime Minister will now re-examine the various other appointments made involving other Conservative partyy workers now being hired via sharp practice. Also hopefully the Labour Party will not seek to make political gain from this, they were equally culpable.
The sad truth is that both parties are as bent as corkscrews. That leaves the Lib Dems but they are too busy fighting each other to have time for such trickery!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. He had his own waxwork dummy in Madame Tussauds 2. Neil Young
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1.What year was the first Reading Festival in the UK? 2. Who declared that 1973 had seen his last live show but was back 12 months later?
Having completed our storm damage repairs we allotmenteers were at last able to attend to the near mountain of leaves that obliterate the paths, much as the snow did last winter. The result is that our leaf wire-pen is almost full and ready to provide a Travel Lodge for hedgehogs before enriching our soil in the Spring. There is something satisfying about sweeping up leaves, particularly if your broom has as many bristles as Desperate Dan’s chin. In fact we have two new ones as a result of yesterday’s visit to B & Q, there are days when I wonder if the whole B & Q empire would collapse if our enclave ceased to function.
But it is not only real new brooms that sweep clean, metaphorical ones do too. The new head of Britain’s Armed Forces, Gen Sir David Richards, has immediately concluded what every Tom, Dick and Harry of our gang has been saying for a very long time. On his first day in office he stated that the West cannot defeat al-Qaeda and militant Islam by miltary means. It would never be achieved and was, in any case, “unnecessary”. The General added a sober note. The threat posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates meant that Britains national security “would be at risk for at least 30 years”!
It was refreshing to hear such a clear condemnation of the ‘war’ that has cost so many lives and is one of the major national financial costs incurred over many years. The General pulled no punches either. He said that the British military and the Government had been guilty of “not fully understanding what was at stake”. In other words the strategy pursued has been flawed. It is easy to see the logic in the General’s alternative, that we should seek to contain the terrorists and ensure that security in the UK is so tight that they cannot, as he put it, “threaten the security of our lives and our children’s lives”.
Even as he spoke negotiations between the Iraqi government and various insurgent groups were said to be underway. On TV a British diplomat saw a parallel with Northern Ireland. We will have to accept the galling prospect of seeing those who killed our troops esconced in government. Galling seems an understatement and the prospect of so many violent groups reaching a lasting peace with a corrupt and unpopular central government seems unrealistically optimistic. Indeed the spokesman for one of them said yesterday that the killing will not stop until the last American soldier has gone.
One suspects that history will judge that once again our lions have been led to their slaughter by donkeys but that is in the future. Right now the General’s verdict should surely lead to any combat by our Forces being confined to defensive actions. Not one more life should be lost to save the faces of those in command who ever imagind that we could succeed where the Russians failed.
But the dramatic change in emphasis to the ‘home front’ surely raises a huge question. At the same time as we are pouring money into an unwinnable war, we are slashing the number of security Forces here. Greater Manchester has many areas of great social disorder and amongst them are areas that have featured in several security breaches and alarms. The Greater Manchester police is already struggling to cope with the ever increasing volume of emergency calls and now the Force is to suffer the axeing of 3000 posts. The front line services will be decimated and all this for a saving of £134 million which is equal to around two weeks of overall operations in Afghanistan.
And of course Manchester is far from alone. Right across the country police officers face redundancy. Hampshire is to shed 1,400, West Midlands 1000, Lancashire 600, Merseyside 200…the list goes on and on! If our plan was to help terrorists establish a firm foothold here we couldn’t be doing a better job!
Over the weekend we saw pictures of the poignant Remembrance Service in Helmand. Standing alongside Prince Harry was Liam Fox. Even he must surely now realise that the strategy being pursued is tragically and dangerously wrong. One would like to imagine that on his return he has consulted with those responsible for the security of the UK and that together they have decided that funding must be progressively switched, that our troops should be reduced to defensive duties and the British police strengthened.
This is no time for people like Osborne to stand on their dignity. The lives of our serving men and women are inbfinitely more important than that and besides a transfer of budgets would not increase the overall national budget.
Churchill used to head some of his memos with the words ‘action this day’. How we need someone of his self understanding, authority and courage right now!
THREE CHEERS FOR LEGAL AID CUTS!
I suspect that most people recognise that the cuts to free legal aid are long overdue. Measures proposing the most drastic reductions in the 60-year history of legal aid were announced yesterday and will have the effect of dropping the number of civil law cases by 547,000 per year.
Amongst other things the cuts will remove legal aid funding for personal injury and clinical negligence although extreme cases of resulting hardship will be allowed. In truth we have become a culture of litigation and, at more than £2 billion per year, have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world.
Predictably the legal profession is up in arms and is busy issuing dire warnings about the effect on democracy. The real threat they fear has more to do with their pockets for the worst feature of all over the past few years has been the sight of a once honourable profession turning into a money grabbing get-rich-quick brigade!
WE MUSTN’T COUNT OUR AUSSIE CHICKENS!
Cricket buffs are now counting the days to the first Ashes Test which starts in Brisbane on November 25th. Many have reacted with joy at the news that Australia has announced a squad of 17 players, a move that would once have astonished everyone. So the old enemy is undecided having lost so many great stars within a short period, we cry .
But whilst Englnad remain firm favourites we should greet the news with some caution. Included in the Aussie squad are three players who have yet to play in a single Test. But beware of Callum Ferguson, Xavier Doherty and Usman Khawaja. All are tipped by Shane Warne to become his equals in terms of ability!
The moral is count the days but not the chickens. All things are yet possible in the land of OZ!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Syria, Egypt and Libya 2. Kidnapping a Mormon missionary
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. How was Elton John immortalised in 1976? 2. Which 70s musician was married to actress Carrie Snodgrass?