Archive for March, 2011
Suddenly the high winds are back and the hen-run roofs were rattling ominously as we cleaned out this morning. The problem is that we have to use transparent plastic sheeting, which like most things in life has its drawbacks, not least among them being a tendency to sail off in the direction of Birmingham given any wind above 40 mph. Now we are for it commented Bob as we tightened the screws. And so it is with the long-debated cuts which will soon make their presence felt in communities right across the country.
One of the many features of our daily lives will soon be shutting their doors for the last time. Libraries. A typical example is the Kensal Rise Library in Brent. This was opened by Mark Twain back in 1900 when he described a public library as ” the most enduring of memorials, the trustiest monument of an event or a name or an affection; for it, and it only, is respected by wars and revolutions, and survives them”. Not any longer, despite local uproar it is to close.
The rage has been led by author Zadie Smith who at the weekend spoke to a packed house in North London. She said that she could see ” that if you went to Eton or Harrow, like so many of the present government, it is hard to understand how important it is to have a local library”. She added that “it’s always difficult to explain to people with money what it’s like to have very little”. Zadie recalled the important role that her local library played in her childhood when it helped her discover literature. Having a nearby branch can save lives, and she mocked the notion of enormous central libraries which would be inaccessible for “families for whom getting on a train to visit the British Library is inconceivable”.
There are of course many services, some arguably even more vital than libraries, that will fall under the Osborne axe and few deny that we have to ‘draw our horns in’, as my Gran used to say. But is there another way? The most obvious one is the high-speed rail plan. This is due to cost a minimum of £17 billion. The London to Birmingham stage will cost that much and will decimate the countryside and environment. As continental journeys go a 140-mile stretch is a mere hop, and although the speed of the trains will be higher the potential for saving time is limited. For the sake of half an hour or so we are to spend more than all the cuts can realise. It simply doesn’t make sense for a small island.
Then there is of course the European Union. Today we learn that our contribution is to rocket again, and will this year cost every single taxpayer over £300. And that is before the contribution to the Irish and Greek bailouts, plus the almost certain rescue for Portugal. Even the most ardent Lib Dem European enthusiast must surely recognise that we have to say no in the way that Margaret Thatcher once did. A major factor was Blair’s decision to accept cuts to our rebate, but the unending stories of waste and gravy-trains add another.
And then come the Banks who caused the need to close Kensal Rise Library and much else. One of those bailed out by the taxpayer was Lloyds, which is now 41% owned by the taxpayer. Today it unveils its new chief executive, one Antonio Horta-Osorio. He has been handed a package of up to £13.4 million and this follows a ‘golden hello’ of £4.6 million. What fantasy world do these people inhabit and what happened to all those passionate election speeches about the state clawing money back?
Ministers never tire of telling us that the deficit is all down to Grumpy Gordon. If that were true we would be the only country in trouble. In fact it was, to quote Mervyn King, all down to greed. But its cause is largely irrelevant, we have to balance the books. The problem is that few regard what is being done as fair. Things like the high-speed rail project, the EU,and the Banks seem to be sacrosanct whilst crucial services for the vulnerable are not, let alone the Libraries that mean so much to so many who prefer to escape this wretched time in the happier world of literature!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; THE WORD: “The most beautiful words in the English language are, ‘it’s benign’ “…..Woody Allen “The most beautiful words in the English language are, ‘Cheque enclosed’ ”….Dorothy Parker ” The most beautiful words in the English language are ‘Have one on the house’ ”….Wilson Mizner “The most beautiful words in any language are, ‘Not guilty’ “…..Maxim Gorky “The sweetest words in the English language are, ‘I told you so’ “……Gore Vidal “The most awful words in the English language are, ‘Just coffee’ “…..Robert Morley “The most dreaded words in the English language are, ‘ Some assembly required’ “…..Bill Cosby “The saddest words in the English language are, ‘ Partick Thistle nil”…..Billy Connolly “The most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you’ “….Ronald Reagan
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Sweden 2 Geoffrey Boycott
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; Who played a scarecrow for children on TV? 2. Who played a rich man called Richard De Vere?
Gadaffi, the bullying chicken, has responded to isolation by going ‘broody’. More and more people are keeping hens these days and it may well be that many of you know exactly what that means. In case you don’t I should explain that broodies yearn to hatch out eggs and spend up to three weeks just dozing, or doing a Ken Clarke as they say in the trade.. They have to be regularly lifted out for food and exercise at which time they peck the hand that feeds them and emit a constant angry tutting-like noise, a bit like Capello when he can’t find the right word. Great if you have fertilised eggs, a pain in the neck if you don’t. But at least its not in a position to maintain its feather-pecking reign of terror.
Oh that its namesake, the mad Colonel, could be sidelined as easily! If reports are accurate the coalition (about to become NATO-led) has blasted to kingdom come every strategic military site and every plane supplied to Gadaffi by the French and Brits. But still the forces loyal to Gadaffi are proving more than a match for the ragtail bands of rebels. So what do we do now? If the British and French have their way we will begin to provide arms to the rebels plus ‘advisers’ to help with strategy and, no doubt, a little fighting in cognito. But is this morally justified? Clearly anything that prevents Gadaffi slaughtering any civilian that happens to defy him is right. But clearly once we in effect take up arms with his opponents there is a risk that we are then putting at risk the civilians that happen to support – adore may be a better description – the Dictator.
Either way the NATO operation faces a huge dilemma. But it is even more complicated than that. Yesterday Admiral James Stavridis, a senior American military commander and Supreme Allied Commander in NATO, warned that US intelligence had picked up indications of terrorist activity among the rebels. The Admiral said that whilst many of them were “responsible men and women”, he was concerned at reports of al Qaeda and Hizbollah involvement. Of course Gaddafi and his son have for some days claimed that the rebellion is led by terrorists but, as Mandy Rice Davies once famously remarked, they would say that wouldn’t they. But what if they are right? Given that Libya has effectively been closed to the West for forty years, our knowledge of its internal politics is limited. But what is not in doubt is that since the uprising, various al Qaeda spokesmen have surfaced to condemn Gadaffi and to call for the creation of an Islamic state. And last week Abdel-Hakim al Hasidi, a leading rebel figure, admitted to an italian newspaper that many of the jihadists who had fought Allied troops in Iraq were now fighting to overthrow Gaddafi.
We do know that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group(LIFG), a militant Islamist group committed to the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic state of Libya, was set up in 1995 by groups of Libyan jihadi fighters who had fought against the Russians in Afghanistan. We also know that LIFG has established ties with like-minded organisations, some of which have claimed responsibility for various attacks against European countries. We also know that it was his fear of the growing influence of jihadist groups in Libya that led to Gadaffi agreeing to give up his nuclaer programme in exchange for a working agreement with MI6 and the CIA which would involve sharing information on al Qaeda’s terrorist activities.
As a result of that the Britsh Government in 2005 made the LIFG a banned organisation and banned its leaders from visiting the UK. But LIFG continued its reign of terror and played a prominent role in attacking our forces in Iraq. At that time US officials went on record as saying that many of the insurgents facing American and Britsh troops came from the Benghazi area, now the stronghold of the anti-Gadaffi rebels.
So we come to a difficult crossroads. If we merely support preventing Gaddafi attacking civilians all well and good, although a stalemate may be the result. But if we actively arm and support the rebels to the point of victory what have we created? Getting rid of the mad Colonel only makes sense for the West if he is replaced by a pro- Western, secular government committed to a democratic process. The fear now growing is that his removal may result in the creation of a miltant Islamic state on the oil-rich shores of North Africa.
If that is what we achieve it will surely rank as the greatest own goal in our history!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ” A gorilla in boxing gloves wielding a paair of garden shears would have done a better job of editing ‘The Boyfriend’…….Ken Russell ” They only got two things right in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’; the camels and the sand”……Lowell Thomas “What did I think of ‘The Titanic’? I’d rather have been on it”……Miles Kruger “The two key words in ‘Last Tango in Paris’ are ‘tango’ and ‘Paris’. ‘Last Hokey-Cokey in Macclesfield’ wouldn’t be the same at all”…..Mark Steyn “Table for Five’ would be an ideal movie to watch on a plane. At least they provide free sick bags”…..Simon Rose “All movie bartenders, when first seen, are wiping the inside of a glass with a rag”…..David W Smith “Popcorn is the last area of movie business where good taste is still a concern”…..Mike Barfield “What do you have when you’ve got an agent buried up to his neck in the sand? Not enough sand”…..Pat Williams “Night watchmen in horror movies have a life expectancy of twelve seconds”……Sam Waas “The only problem I have with Film Festivals are the films”……..Duane Byrge
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ; 1. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2. Running marathons
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which European country passed anti-aerosol laws in 1978? 2.Who took over from Mike Brierley as England cricket captain?
The sun was not in evidence as we cleaned out the hens and ferrets this morning. Perhaps Professor Brian Cox was right when he talked of it exploding, although I had hoped that he was taking a longer-term view. You will notice that I mention the ferrets, an omission that has puzzled some readers. Let’s just say that I have fallen out of love with them and others have taken over. Why? If we meet and you discretely glance at my right hand thumb you will understand! Like the RAF I am down to the bare bones!
Having read of the effects of cutting policemen we now have even more bizaare revelations, this time concerning our armed forces. It seems that serving pilots – those not yet made redundant - have contacted the national press to report that our total number of trained pilots is now down to 69. Of these 18 are in southern Italy from where they carry out their anti-Gadaffi raids, 24 are committed to the Quick Reaction Alert which protects our island, and 12 are in the Falklands in a similar role. That leaves only 15 and sickness and leave may well reduce that number. Because of the intensity of flying on operations, pilots deploy for a maximum of two months at a time so if the Libyan affair drags on there is no way that we can maintain our present contribution!
The situation is so serious that the RAF has halted the teaching of trainee Typhoon pilots to enable instructors to be transferred to active service and pilots used for air shows have been withdrawn. There are fewer newly qualified pilots coming through, the RAF having been obliged to cut trainee places due to the cuts announced as part of last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review. And inevitably the decision to scrap our one aircraft carrier, Harrier jump jets, and the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft has made the situation even worse.
Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, a former RAF pilot who flew over Bosnia and Iraq, says that the Libyan campaign could become unsustainable. He believes that what the government has done makes no sense ; “The world is getting less stable and if the government cannot see that , we have a problem bordering on the irresponsible!”
It all adds up to madness. There are now a lot of dangerous and mad people out there, all hellbent on revenge. Just a small squad of instant-response planes stand between us and possible disaster. Are they really going to denude even that? If David Cameron is to match his warrior words with action they will have to!
It is said that it is better to laugh than cry at the antics of fools. Hence my headline. We are constantly told that volunteers will take over the many organisations threatened with extinction. So if running a library is not your thing how about becoming a volunteer pilot? Albert is raring to go, the only snag being that the last plane he flew was a Tiger Moth!
QUOTES FOR TODAY: “Smoking is, as far as I am concerned, the entire point of being an adult”…..Fran Lebowitz “People are so rude to smokers. You’d think they’d try to be nice to people who are dying”…Roseanne “Cigarettes are a much cheaper and more widely available alternative to nicotine patches”…..Bob Davies “The nicotine patches work pretty well, but it’s hard to keep them lit”…..George Carlin It’s always been my rule to never smoke when asleep, and never to refrain when awake”….Mark Twain “I’d give up smoking but I’m not a quitter”….Jo Brand “I’m not what you’d call a heavy smoker. I only get through two lighters a day”…..Bill Hicks “Having smoking and non-smoking sections in the same room is like having urinating and non-urinating sections in a swimming pool”……Ross Parker
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. France 2. Bermuda
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1.With what famous reference book wasWilliam Benton associated? 2. What was Abebe Bikila famous for?
Another lovely morning, the sight of the sun turning the sparkling yellow of the forsythia into a seeming mass of gold was quite something. Thanks to Professor Brian Cox, the new Beeb megastar, we now realise that our sun is a mere speck in the cosmos but that hasn’t diminished our delight when it works it’s wonders. Even Albert was happier in its glow, so much so that he stopped banging on about the England cricketers and turned to a less emotive subject, the forthcoming referendum on an Alternative Vote system.
I had to confess that it makes no sense to me. It represents the concession Cameron made to Clegg, but given that few are likely to support the Lib Dems anytime soon it is hard to fathom how even they benefit. There are full page ads in some of today’s papers and the explanation takes up many a column inch. Confusing to say the least. Less confusing but rather ominous is the news that one of the major sponsors of the Yes campaign is the company that will make a fortune out of the supply of the complex hi-tech equipment required to run an election under AV!
I have always seen sense in Proportional Representation(PR) which would allow all the national votes garnered by a minority party and allocate seats accordingly. But, it seems to me, an Alternative Vote system achieves no such thing. It means that I, an ardent member of party X, have to nominate a second choice and so on. But if I am ideologically ardent about party X, I almost certainly won’t have a second choice. Rather than go down that route I would probably place the main rival to party X at the bottom of the list and opt for those least likely to provide a threat. The result could be that people like Ukip, BNP, or the Monster Raving Party suddenly appear to have far more support than they really have. And the option of tactical voting is already present in our longstanding ‘first-past-the post’ arrangement. If, for example you are a Labour voter in a Conservative safe seat you can decide to vote for their LIb Dem challenger. Not a good example since Calamity Clegg has turned the Lib Dems into a Conservative subsidiary but I’m sure you know what I mean.
Short of full PR the present system strikes me as the best available. When we have a flutter on the National we know perfectly well that the reward for the horse coming second will be, er, second best. A system whereby all the bets placed on the top four were reapportioned could possibly see the winning spoils going to other than the first past the post. It sounds ludicrous to me. As does the cost of staging a referendum on anything other than a straight choice between the present system and PR.
Maybe I am missing something here. If so I am sure you will tell me. But if I am confused I am not alone for all of the major parties are split down the middle on this.
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY: “Never go abroad. It’s a dreadful place”…..Earl of Cardigan “They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind”…..G K Chesterton “I wouldn’t mind seeing China if I could come back the same day”…..Philip Larkin “A passport picture is a photo of a man that he can laugh at without realising that it looks exactly the way his friends see him”……Phyllis Diller “Why is it called the tourist season if we can’t shoot them?”….George Carlin “The wife and I have been arguing about where to go on our holidays. I want to go to Tenerife and she wants to come with me”…..Roy Chubby Brown “They’ve started giving passports to animals now. My cat has a passport. Do you know how that makes Mohammad Al Fayed feel?”……Jeff Green “To be a Frenchman abroad is to be miserable. To be an American abroad is to make other people miserable”……Ambrose Bierce “I hate views. They are only made for bad painters”…..Oscar Wilde
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Margaret Drabble 2. Canada ( Montreal)
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which country did Picasso die? 2. Where was Governor Richard Sharples murdered?
Let me reassure Peter and other readers that Gadaffi is alive and well. For the benefit of those who haven’t followed the saga I hasten to explain that the mad Colonel has not sought political asylum on the allotments. We are referring to our bullying hen. She is now in splendid isolation and has the added punishment of being in Albert’s care. My old pal is not in a good mood and this morning alternated between muttering about the mindless thugs who attacked policemen in London, and the inept performance of the England cricketers who were hammered into the ground by Sri Lanka.
In fact so poor was the bowling and fielding performance that Messrs Tharanga and Dilshan were able to knock off the required runs with ten overs to spare.Without doubt this Sri Lankan team is an excellent one but, with the honourable exceptions of Trott and Morgan, England lacked guile, energy and just about everything else.
With England on the plane home it is clearly time for a post mortem, for one-day cricket is important and we seem incapable of producing a winning team. One wonders if there is a mental block on the part of the selectors and cricket authorities since we continue to treat the shortened version of the game as being a minor distraction. All of our efforts are devoted to the Test arena which would be fine if that was the general view of world cricket. But it isn’t. Support for Test cricket is falling almost everywhere and, with the exception of the Ashes, the number one priority in every major cricket-playing country is the 50 over game, laced with some Twenty20 excitement. Cricket purists like me may regret that but the reality has to be faced.
One only has to study the lack of preparation for what has become cricket’s major tournament to find support for this argument. Our players followed a hectic summer with a five match Ashes series in Australia. Not surprisingly some of the players such as Jimmy Anderson were by then showing signs of wear and tear. What did our authorities agree to then? Seven one-day internationals and two Twenty20 games that’s what! By the time that the squad flew home after a gruelling four month tour, they had just three days at home before flying out for the World Cup. The same applied to Australia you may retort, I can only reply by asking what happened to them? Like us they received the order of the boot.
The earlier games in the tournament did not all go well. We lost to Ireland and Bangledash as one player after another had to head for home with an array of stress related problems, damaged backs, torn hamstrings and assorted other problems. By the time we face Sri Lanka we had players on the field who were either not up to this level or were simply mentally exhausted.
How else would on explain the fact that in the first 25 overs of the Sri Lnakan innings, not one slower ball was attempted by any of the England seamers? On benign pitches such as Colombo, bowlers have to conjure up wickets against good players. On low, slow surfaces for one-day matches, bowlers need an extra ingredient. They found none, and clearly learned nothing from having faced an attack that maintained nagging accuracy and deployed regular ‘yorkers’ into the blockhole. Our batsmen were rooted to the crease and rarely used their feet against the Sri Lankan spinners. Once Morgan was out at 186 for four the England batsmen froze in the face of balls speared into their feet, slower balls looped teasingly, and skiddy bouncers. It really looked like men against boys, yet just a month or so ago we were Test heroes.
The sad fact is that we still prioritise Test cricket in our coaching, team selection and most other things. In fact we don’t even play 50-over cricket in this country. A few years ago I would have sighed and said well it doesn’t matter, supremacy in cricket means winning Test series. Like it or not, those days are disappearing fast.
If we want to be a top cricketing nation in tomorrow’s world we have to change our priorities. It sounds like blasphemy but we will have to focus our coaching on bowling to contain and batting to score quickly. We will have to be prepared to rest from Test series those players crucial to our one-day success. We will have to play less cricket of the long-form and reintroduce 50 over matches at County level. If we don’t we will be in danger of being champions only in the one form of cricket that the punters across the world have deserted.
The only thing to be said in defence of Strauss and his weary warriors is that they maintained a decent standard of sporting behaviour. They never descended into the level of boorish behaviour shown in the New Zealand defeat of South Africa. And they most certainly didn’t behave like the 300 or so yobs who in London yesterday attacked bobbies, who themselves are subject to cuts and redundancy.
Given a fresh focus and resolve there is still hope for the England cricketers. There is none for spotty-faced thugs who believe that hurling missiles into crowds containing small children is acceptable!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; THE KISS ” A kiss is an application on the top floor for a job in the basement”…..Brian Johnson “I feel great and I kiss even better”…..Emo Philips “it takes a lot of experience for a girl to kiss like a beginner”…..Jaon Rivers “Kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler”….Tony Curtis “With lips like those Mick Jagger could French-kiss a moose”…..Joan Rivers “Buy me a Mercedes and I’ll make your neck look like a relief map of the Andes”…….Roz Doyle “Kissing Edwina Currie was like kissing a can opener”…..Godfrey Barker “People who throw kisses are mighty hopelessly lazy”….Bob Hope “I wasn’t kissing her. I was just whispering into her mouth”……Chico Marx “How about a Spanish kiss under the mistletoe? It’s like a French kiss only a little further south”….Lorna Adler “I was dating a guy for a while because he told me thatb he had an incurable disease. I didn’t realise it was stupidity”….Gracie Hart
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. 12 2. 5p
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who was the author of ‘The Realm of Gold” (1975)? 2. Where was Jean Drapeau a political leader?