Archive for March, 2011

There are alternatives to the cuts!

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!

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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?

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Could Libya end as a giant own goal?

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

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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?

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Any big society pilots out there?

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!

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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?

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Why would anyone support AV?

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.

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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?

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Cricket; clueless England thrashed!

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!

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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?

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EU payments rocket as domestic cuts bite!

Not quite so warm today as we cleaned out the chicken coops but everyone seemed in high spirits. ‘Calamity’ Clegg does much to raise spirits here as his clangers follow in quick succession. Yesterday saw yet another. When challenged about the cuts to pensioner’s fuel allowances he replied that it was just another scare story dreamed up by Ed Balls. Clearly Kenneth Clarke was not the only coalition minister asleep during the Chancellors oration! But it has to said in the Lib Dem leader’s defence that he makes us laugh and we should perhaps be grateful for small mercies.

Laughter is becoming a rare feature of our community where the cuts are beginning to bite. Some of our libraries face the axe, the number of beat bobbies is to be halved, a number of centres for the severely disabled are to close. In fact no part of our daily lives will be untouched by the severest cuts ever experienced. No doubt the politicians will reply that times are hard and every penny counts. And they would be lying through their teeth!

Hidden away in the Budget are statistics capable of sending even the mildest amongst us into a rage. Our annual contribution to the European Union is set to soar to £9 billion by 2015 and we face an almost immediate rise of 17 per cent. In the past year our contribution rose from £4.7 billion to £7.6 billion and it is planned to rise again sharply this year. And that is far from the total bill, the near certainty is that we will have to follow up our massive payments to bail-out Ireland with bail-out contributions to Greece and Portugal.

Tory bankbencher Bill Cash yesterday said that the expenditure is “totally unnecessary” and added “I’m utterly opposed to the EU enlargement process”. Fellow Tory MP Douglas Carswell described the figures, and the latest news of payments for pros[ective new members Croatia, as “absolutely shocking”. He went on to complain that “this week we are cutting public services in my constituency while planning  a huge payout to Croatia”. This shows, Mr Carswell said, that it is high time we had an ‘in or out’ referendum on EU membership. ” The EU project is a debt union and whatever the politicians promise, Britian seems to keep on paying”, he added.

Matthew Sinclair, director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, was also in a rage. He described our contributions as ” extrememly worrying”. He added; “A combination of the grandiouse ambitions of European politicians and the needs of new member states are set to make EU membership a worse and worse deal for British taxpayers. If Eurocrats won’t embrace the austerity measures that people here have had to, the government should refuse to finance that and not just accept Brussels’ demands for more and more money”.

It really is extraordinary that at a time when so many are facing extreme hardship in this country we are still pouring money in to the EU. Slowly but surely we are being bled dry by the Brussels machine. Bailout follows bailout, subscriptions continue to rocket, regulation after regulation encircles us. To say all this is not be be anti-European but simply to recognise that the more we pay out the greater the domestic cuts will have to be.

In fairness to David Cameron it was the concessions made by the Blair government that landed us in this horrific situation, and it is his need to placate Calamity Clegg that prevents him even considering a referendum. The irony is that we are to have a pointless one about a tweak to our voting system but are not prepared to consult the public on a far more important issue.

In defiance of the views of member-states the EU parliamentarians have just voted themselves another huge increase and hardly a day passes but we read of chauffered limos, massives expenses for which no receipts are required, and perks the like of which would have our Westminster crowd on the front page of every newspaper. It surely has to stop and if it doesn’t we should be heading for the exit.

Despite what the right-wing press says this morning not everyone marching in London is a left-wing militant. Coachloads of people who have never demonstrated before are on the road. They are demanding that the rate of cuts be slowed down. They should also be demanding that our ever escalating payments to the money-grabbing Brussels empire-builders be cut too!

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THOUGHTS FOR TODAY;  SPORT  “I never comment on referees and I’m not going to break the habit of a lifetime for that prat”…..Ron Atkinson   “The entiure contents of the Manchester City trophy room have been stolen. The police are looking for a man carrying a light blue carpet ” …….Bernard Manning   “If that had gone in it would have been a goal”….David Coleman  “You’d think if any country could put up a decent wall, it would be China”….Terry Venables    “The first time I went skiing I wasn’t very good, and broke a leg. Luckily, it wasn’t one of mine”…..Michael Green    “The manager has a fresh pair of legs up his sleeve”……John Creig    “Games are the last resort of those who do not know how to be idle”….Robert Lynd    “The English football team – brilliant on paper, shit on grass”…..Arthur Smith    ” The Premier League is a multi-million industry with the aroma of a blocked toilet and the principles of a knocking shop”……Michael Parkinson  “I never make predictions and I never will”….Paul Gascoigne   “I went to a fight the other night and an ice hockey game broke out”……Rodney Dangerfield  “For me the worst part of playing golf has always been hitting the ball”…..Dave Barry

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;   1. A rocket   2. They died durinbg the return to Earth when the cabin pressure failed

TODAY’S QUESTIONS   1. How many pennies made up a shilling in Britain’s pre-decimal currency?   2.  What was a shilling worth in new pence after decimalisation?

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Lib Dems are dying but who will inherit?

On such a beautiful morning it is hard to understand depression. But our allotment gang has come to understand the insidious condition well since one of our members has fallen victim to the dark night of the soul. Of course we all get low from time to time, but we have learned that ‘black-dog’ in its worst form is different. Sometimes it can be due to chemical imbalance, sometimes the result of battling on through nervous exhaustion. But it is not, as Geoffrey Boycott yesterday inferred when talking about the departure of Michael Yardy from the cricket World Cup, simply proof that the victim is ‘not good enough’.  For heavens sake, we thought that this type of ignorance had long gone. What victims need above all else is an acceptence on the part of their family and friends that depression is simply an illness and no more deserves stupid stigmatisation than cancer or any other condition. The very fact that we openly discuss the problem in an everyday setting has helped our pal enormously. He now wears a cap emblazoned ‘Stuff Depression’, a sure sign that his old humour is returning.

If it hadn’t been for Boycott’s stupidity we would all have been tickled by the latest Clegg fiasco. Around the Commons he carries the nickname ‘Calamity’ and it is not hard to understand why. Yesterday he forgot to switch off his mic and was heard to tell Cameron that “if we keep doing this, we won’t find anything to bloody disagree about on in the bloody TV debates”. It summed up perfectly the hole into which he has dug himself and his party. Clegg does not appear to be a man blessed with an excess of self understanding and he has never come to terms with the concept of a coalition of differing views, preferring instead to simply support Cameron in whatever lunacy (viewed from a Lib Dem viewpoint) he may be engaged. Indeed Labour has already signalled that it will not enter a debate with both Clegg and Cameron since they are in effect one party.

All this is happening against a background of a collapsing economy and draconian cuts. Yesterday I heard of a respite service for severely disabled children being axed for want of £8000. Undoubtedly every community in the land has similar tales to tell whilst they read of our now facing a further massive payout to bankroll Portugal. The polls suggest that the effect is poliarisation. Those who voted Lib Dem now see them as irrelevant and are pondering the best alternative.

Without doubt some will return to their Tory roots. But will Labour gather in the major benefit? Many Lib Dem voters were people dissilusioned with the ‘New’ added to Labour’s brand by Blair. They were unable to detect any real difference between the traditional persecutors and defenders of the poor and vulnerable. To win them over Ed Miliband has to move to the left to disassociate himself from the City crowd. But if he moves too far the possibility is that he will find himself lined up beside the dinosaurs that still inhabit parts of the trades union movement. Indeed, even tomorrow when he attends the London protests he would be well advised to sit clear of the more extreme. People are in distress but they want fairness not revolution.

Over the past few weeks Miliband has certainly won over many in the House. He outdid Cameron in prime minister’s questions on the subject of the NHS, was sustained in his response to Libya, and wasn’t upturned in his response to the Budget on Wednesday. Cameron is now finding it harder to bully him or to rattle via personalised attacks.

But he has some way to go before he is perceived by the public as the people’s champion. Some say that he is too honest for his own good. That may be a handicap in the world of spin but he has stuck to his guns by sticking to his description of the “squeezed middle”, which all the presentation experts advised him against. Clearly he believes in it and shows all the signs of growing into the first senior politician of principle that we have seen for very long time. 

The May elections will give a better indication of just who are the inheritors of Clegg’s blown opportunity. You could safely bet your mortgage on the death of the Lib Dems who are now seen as Conservatives. The worry is that their death may lead to inheritors such as Ukip and the BNP or, more likely, turnouts at a new low.

One thing is sure. If by any chance a new coalition is called for come the next general election, Ed Miliband will treat Nick Clegg with even more caution than the born-again Union barons!

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THOUGHTS FOR TODAY;   COUNTRIES     “I find it hard to offer an opinion on New Zealand because when I was there it seemed to be shut”……Clement Freud   “New Zealand is a country of thirty thousand sheep, three million of whom think they’re human”…..Barry Humphries    “The way I understand it the Russians are a sort of combination of incompetence and evil – sort of like the Post Office with tanks”……Emo Philips   “A Scotsman is a man who, before sending his pyjamas to the laundry, stuffs a sock in each pocket”…..Ambrose Bierce   “In Britain, a dog is for Christmas. In Korea, it could be for breakfast, dinner or lunch”…..Anon    “Wales is a country where Sunday starts early, and lasts several years”…..Peg Bracken   “The Welsh are always so pleased with themselves. I’ve never taken to them. What are they for ?”….Anne Robinson    “Sweden is where they commit suicide and the King rides a bicycle”….Alan Bennett  ”India; done the elephants, done the poverty”….Phil Tufnell “What I look forward to most on returning from India is a dry fart”….Phil Edmunds   “The Irish are  a race of people who don’t know what they want and are prepared to fight to the death to get it”……Sidney Littlewood. “There’ll always be an England, even if it’s in Hollywood”….Bob Hope   “Boasting about modesty is typical of the English”….George Bernard Shaw     “An Englishman’s ultimate ambition is to get a railway compartment to himself”  …..Ian Hay   “If I were God and were trying to create a nation that woulkd get up the nostril of the Englishman, I would create the French”….Julian Barnes

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;  1.  Two   2. Astronomy

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;   1. What was ‘Blue Streak’ on which Britain stopped work in the 70s; a jet fighter, a rocket or a superfast car?    2.What happened to the three-man crew of the 1971 ‘Soyuz’ 11′ flight?

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The Artful Dodger’s non-event!

Despite all the guff about not casting a clout until May is out, we have cast many a layer this week. Even Albert reports that his long-johns are now stored away, and the warm sunshine has eased many a creaking limb as we prepare the allotments for the new season. In days of old the Budget might have dampened spirits, but not this year for we already knew the worst and few even bothered to tune in to what proved to be the non-event of the year if you ignore England’s bid to stage the soccer World Cup. For once we allotmenteers found ourselves in agreement with Kenneth Clarke who slept throughout the Artful Dodger’s speech. Mind you, that is a slightly dangerous thing to do if you are seated next to Big Eric Pickles who has  a reputation for eating anything or anyone within reach.

Sadly for the Dodger the economy is not responding to treatment. Growth is continuing to fall and he was obliged to downgrade his forecasts, much to the delight of the excitable Eds ; Balls and Miliband. The chances of the economy remaining weak are high. VAT was increased to 20% in January, national insurance is going up next month to coincide with the start of a four-year programme of fiscal tightening that will suck around £20 billion per year out of the economy.

In those circumstnaces, the sensible appraoch would be to ease up on the pain a little, to spread the deficit reduction over a longer period and to provide some short-term help to the economy through cuts in national insurance contributions and measures targeted at youth unemployment. But the Dodger dare not go down this route for fear of demonstrating that Grumpy Gordon was right after all. However, he must be praying that Cameron moves him before the whole pack of financial cards collapses in a heap!

The puzzling aspect to numbskulls such as me is his continued refusal to do anything much about tax evasion. Yesterday saw large ads in most of the Dailies on behalf of the national protest group 38 Degrees which now has a membership heading toward the million mark. These showed Osborne dressed as the infamous Artful Dodger and made an astonishing claim. Tax dodging, according to 38 Degrees, costs the UK up to £120 billion each year. The figure staggered me even though I have read of the small amount of tax paid by both the banks and many large UK-based retailers.

There is of course a hidden agenda here too, for Osborne was first renamed after a Channel 4 programme alleged that he practices personal evasion, a charge that he has never refuted. But if the figure is anywhere near accurate the majority of the deficit could be wiped out without any of the hardship now being visited on the vulnerable.

The ads demand that the Chancellor makes it harder for companies to dodge tax in secret by making them publish accounts for every country  they work in. What he has actually done is to eliminate tax from overseas ‘branches’. It goes on to demand that all companies and individuals act within the spirit of the law through what it calls “A General Anti-Avoidance Principle”. Perhaps most importantly of all, the ads call for plans to make it easier for UK companies to run their businesses through tax havens to be dropped. That would require a U-turn of monumental proportions given that the government has proposed the opposite in the Finance Bill 2011.

In an attempt to better understand all this I turned to Tax Research UK. Their director is Richard Murphy and he said “Will this budget help beat tax avoidance? No, it won’t. It’s the biggest boost in the arm for the tax-abuse industry that it’s had in a long time. All Chancellors talk of a token reduction of £1bn but if he was really serious, he would give HM Revenue and Customs a couple of billion a year to tackle this. I reckon they could raise £20 billion. I am completely underwhelmed by Osborne”.

So, whilst the numbers differ there appears to be agreement that tax dodging is enormous and could yield huge returns. So why does the Artful Dodger shy away from tackling it? In fairness, why did the previous government do the same?

In 1895 the English historian and moralist Lord Acton wrote that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It would seem that even Labour ministers lose touch with their roots and come to see the powerful that pay homage to them as the only reality. And in the case of a multi-millionnaire such as George Osborne the process of corruption will have been even faster for he from day one was one of them, not one of us.

But it is an amazing story isn’t it? The rich earn millions and pay little tax whilst elderly pensioners living in near-poverty crouch over a one-bar fire.

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THOUGHTS FOR TODAY;   “We learned sexual technique from our dog. He taught me how to beg, and he taught my wife how to roll over and play dead”…..Rodney Dangerfield    “Sex and golf are the only things you can enjoy without being any good at them”…..Jimmy Demarest    “The only thing I miss about sex is the cigarette afterwards”…..Florence King   “Dear Lord , give me chastity, but not yet”….Saint Augustine    “Sex education will encourage kids to have sex? No way, I had four years of algebra and I never do maths”…..Elayne Boosler   “The longer the description on the menu, the less you will get on your plate”…..Shirley Lowe   “The golden rule when reading a menu is, if you can’t pronounce it you can’t afford it”….Frank Muir

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;  1.  Richard Nixon  2 A Trident

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;    1.  How many crewmen from each Apollo mission actually landed on the moon?   2. Anthony Hewish and Sir Martin Ryle were 70s leaders in which field of science?

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We need an exit strategy before we go bust!

As you will have seen from yesterday’s comments a reader suspects our rogue chicken is a Libyhen. We suspect that Peter is right and whilst her nickname of Gadaffi is not gender-perfect it seems apt. Fortunately our task of dealing with the avian version is going to somewhat easier than that involving the human one, today she heads into ‘solitary’ thanks to a small run constructed by Bob.  

If only the resolution of the Libyan impasse was as clear!  Yesterday MPs lined up to demand details of the exit strategy. Rory Stewart, a Tory member and former diplomat, insisted that we should limit our involvement to enforcing a no-fly zone, and avoid being dragged into the country’s internal conflict. “Do not get sucked into Libya” he warned. Mark Lancaster, a Tory member and ministerial aide, said that we need either further UN resolutions or a rapid exit and another Tory backbencher, John Baron, warned that we rusk being drawn into an “ill-defined mission whilst civilian casualties rise”. In fact Consevative MPs lined up to make what sounds a very sensible demand. And Julian Harris made a very telling remark. He pointed out that Harrier jump jets operating from an aircraft carrier would have been far more effective and would have cost only £5,750 a mission as against the £200,000 being incurred with planes flown from the UK. Alas, the Harriers have been scrapped together with our only carrier.   The Lib Dems said nothing but we can safely assume they will concur on this as they do on everything else. Labour members are keeping their heads down, the shadow of Iraq still looms large in their collective psyche.

But it is good that some politicians at least have acknowledged what looks like a tricky decision. If Gadaffi’s fanatical support stands up – and it appears very large – it is hard to see other than a long civil war. Of course we all want to see civilians protected from the ‘mad dog’ but the last thing we want is to commit forces to fighting on the ground. If we learned anything from Iraq it is surely that before invading one needs to have a clear plan for subsequent resolution!

But there is another reason for pausing for thought. Thanks to the programme of cuts imposed on our armed forces we lack troops, planes and ships. In fact the Ministry of Defence is close to using up its full-year budget. And, brief though it has been so far, the Libyan venture is not cheap. The cost of the four day operation to date is £28.5 million. The deployment of four Tornado GR4 bombers, three Eurofighter Typhoons plus support aircraft costs aound £3,216,000 per day. The Tornado costs £33,000 an hour to operate, including fuel, capital costs and training and the Typhoon costs over double that.

We have read much about the successful deployment of missiles. Let us hope so for the Storm Shadow missilles and submarine-launched Tomahawks cost £1.1 million and £800,000 each. Even more worrying is that our stock is heading for depletion. Defence experts say that the Navy has already used up to 20 per cent of its entire stock of 64 Tomahawks. The government has said that if necessary it will obtain supplies from the Americans, but President Obama is under great pressure to ease back US involvement.

It may seem mercenary in the extreme to be banging on about money at a time like this but a dose of reality is needed. Either the government immediately reverses the Strategic review or it stops playing world policeman howver politically tempting that is. If it doesn’t the M.O.D will need huge injections of taxpayers cash and, in any event, we will run out of ammunition.

The underlying problem is that David Cameron has made clear that his aim is to rid Libya of Gaddafi. Whether such a mission will ever be sanctioned by the United Nations is extremely doubtful but even if it is the present scenario suggests that it would involve ground troops and the serious risk of escalation right across the region.

Sympathise as we do with the lot of people oppressed by madmen the time has surely come to recognise that we are no longer  a major world power. In the great days of Empire we used to ‘send a gunboat. Now the only ones we have are in Portsmouth scrapyard and although we still have several submarines the weapons that they use are about to go on to the back-order list.

Cameron should listen to his MPs and settle for a supporting role in Nato when it takes over

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QUOTES FOR THE DAY;    UNIVERSAL LAWS   “If anything can go wrong, it will”…Murphy’s law   “Everything takes longer than it should except sex”….Murphy’s law   “Anything you buy will be in the sale next week”……Erma Bombeck     “If it’s good, they’ll stop making it”…..Herbert Block    “When ripping an article from a paper, the tear is always into, and never away from, the required article”….Alan Fraser    ”When you give a child a hammer, everything becomes a nail”…..Leo Kaplan     “When a man says his word is as good as his bond, always take his bond”…..Hugo Vickers    “Every household has a box of keys.None will ever be found to fit any lock”…..Pam Brown   “Preudhomme’s law of window cleaning; it’s on the other side”…..Winston Preudhomme    “More always means worse”….Kingsley Amis  “At any bank, post office or supermarket, there is one universal law which you ignore at your peril; the shortest line moves the slowest”…..Bill Vaughan

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;  1.  The British Museum   2 The Netherlands

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;   1. Who was the first US President to visit Russia?   2.  What kind of airliner came down in Britain’s worst ever disaster?

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A cosy clause that fools no one!

Much discussion this morning about what we should do with a hen that is plucking the feathers of many and generally acting in a bullying fashion. There are many products on the market, all of which offer distraction aimed to relieving boredom which many believe is the cause. We codgers of the allotments don’t go along with this, we believe there is only one answer which is to expel the villain and leave her in solitary for a few weeks. So furious have we become at this one individual which is single-handedly destroying our prospects of prizes at this year’s show that we have seriously considered bringing in a cockerel to rule the roost. But our fear of neighbours is even greater than that of not winning prizes. By way of compromise we have named her Gadaffi.

Which reminds me. Not surprisingly all attention is focussed right now on Libya and where things are going to end. In confusion and great acrimony is  a fair bet, but that is not my point. What worries us is that the Murdoch deal will slip through almost unnoticed and we will wake up one morning to find that thanks to the cosy relationship that David Cameron has with the tycoon, the majority of our media is owned by just one man.

Over the Christmas break the prime minister demonstrated his views when he and his wife visited the home of Murdoch junior. And we all know where the sympathies of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt lie because he has repeatedly told us. The final decision on approval of the mogul’s NewsCorp £8 billion buyout of BSkyB rests with Hunt. Even he couldn’t simply nod the deal through and a clause which supposedly prevents the Murdoch influence becoming total has been announced. And it would scarcely fool Baldrick!

Under this arragement the NewsCorp’s offer would ” split off Sky News”, the inference being that it would be independent and free, for example, to take a different line when its masters decided to back Cameron at the next election. The inference is that if, for example, there was a new hoo-hah about the News of the World phone hacking, Sky News would copy the BBC in investigating and reporting in a balanced way.

But Sky News would be financially dependent on NewsCorp because it would rely on it for an estimated 85% of its revenues under the spin-off plan. It would also be dependent on NewsCorp for its distribution and, even more telling, would be dependent on winning a renewal of its contract with NewsCorp. This, according to a submission from opponents (including the Telegraph, Mirror, Mail and Guardian) of the buy out, would profoundly influence decision making at all levels within Sky News.

It all sounds suspiciously like a get-out clause for Hunt who has already said that he will allow the bid to proceed if Sky News is seperated. He must surely realise that the response to this is ingenuous and will leave it effectively still within the control of his pals.

This cosy stitch-up deal will narrow our choice for honest news reporting. Given that Hunt and his colleagues are also hell-bent on emasculating the BBC, the day may well come when our access to independent reporting is no greater than that in totalitarian states. It merits a massive reaction and an independent assessment. Sadly it may well slip through almost unnoticed whilst the bombs rain down on Libya.

At least come the next election Cameron et al will need few spin-doctors. It will be The Sun ‘wot wins it’ and the chance of Miliband getting fair coverage on TV and the like will be akin to the Lib Dems surviving at all!

Farewell democracy, farewell!

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QUOTES FOR TODAY;   COMEDY   “The producer said, ‘How are you feeling?’ I said ‘I’m feeling a bit funny’. He said, ‘Well, get out there before it wears off’”….Tommy Cooper    “A rich or important man’s joke is always funny”…..Heywood Broun   “Everybody laughed when I said that I wanted to be a comedian – well, they’re not laughing now”….Bob Monkhouse    “The first rule of comedy is never to perform in a town where they still point at aeroplanes”…..Bobby Mills    “The difference between English and American humour is £150 a minute”……Eric Idle     ”The first thing a comedian does on getting an unexpected laugh is to verify the state of his buttons”…..Alva Johnson  “I don’t make jokes; I just watch the government and report the facts”….Will Rogers    “The person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused”……..Russ Dudley  “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”…..Jane Austen    “The reason angels can fly is they take themselves lightly”…..G K Chesterton    “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”….Oscar Wilde   “Everything is funny as long as it is happening to someone else”……Will Rogers   “I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation”……George Bernard Shaw    “You know, Homer, it’s very easy to criticise. – Fun too” Marge and Homer Simpson 

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;   1.   Denis Thatcher   2.  Norman Hartnell

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;   1.  Where in London were Tutankhamun’s treasures on show?   2.Which country did Queen Juliana reign over? 

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The greatest story ever told!

 It is nice to escape fom time to time, and yesterday she-who-must-be-obeyed and I left the grumbling hens to the tender mercy of the grumbling Albert and headed off on the latest stage of our Cathedral hunt. Our aim is to visit every Cathedral in the country, yesterday we added two notches to our belts by visiting Gloucester and Worcester. Both are splendid and lie within twenty-odd mile of each other.

Gloucester Cathedral dates back to 700AD when there was a place of worship on the site that, in 1089, saw the commencement of the building that we see today. The building started life as the Abbey church of a benedictine monastery but in 1540 King Henry V111 abolished the monasteries. Gloucester might have been abandoned and left to ruin, but one of Henry’s predecessors was buried there – Edward 11. So the Abbey church became a Cathedral and worship continues there as it has for 1300 years.

Worcester is often described as possibly the most interesting of all England’s cathedrals, especially architecturally. It was founded in 680 and in 983 Saint Oswold built a new cathedral there and established a monastery. Benedictine monks went to university to study a variety of subjects such as medicine, law, history and physics and some of the medieval textbooks still survive in the library today. After the dissolution some of the monks became the first Dean and Chapter. The building was badly damaged in the Civil Wars and major reconstruction took place after the restoration of Charles 11. King John’s Tomb of 1216 is just one of the many fascinating features.

Perhaps it is odd that someone like me, who never attends church, should find Cathedrals so spellbinding. But I do. They are a repository for much of our history, a majestic and peaceful oasis in troubled times. And they are beautiful. There were no crowds yesterday and we as we trod the well-worn stone floors I sensed the presence of the millions who had walked this way before. Both buildings have spectacular stained-glass windows and a vast array of ancient artifacts, both make one wonder at the enduring craftsmanship of an age that lacked any of the mechanical labour-savers of today. But both are also vibrant centres of worship and community activities today, and in their crypts have restaurants and every convenience needed to make a visit an enriching, relaxed experience.

It was in one of the bookshops that I found a remarkable booklet. It is entitled ‘One Solitary Life’ and tells the story of the short life of one man who did none of the things one usually associates with greatness yet who dictates to this day the calendar year that we follow. Twenty centuries have come and gone but Jesus is still the central figure of the human race. All the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat, all the kings that have ever reigned when added together have not affected the life of mankind on this earth as much as that one lonely solitary life.

Believe what we may there is no denying that it is surely the greatest story ever told!

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QUOTES FOR TODAY;   “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body is like a condom filled with walnuts”…..Clive James   Dear Ingrid Bergman – speaks five languages and can’t act in any of them”….John Gielgud    “Michael Caine can out-act any, well nearly any, telephone kiosk you can name”…..Hugh Leonard    “Clint Eastwood is looking increasingly like an Easter Island statue”…..Anon   “Tghe acting career of Sylvester Stallone is more of a mystery than cot death”…..Rex Reed   “Edith Evans looks like something that would eat it’s young”…..Dorothy Parker    “Ms is a syllable that sounds like a bumblebee breaking wind”……Hortense Calisher    “The word duck is 75 per cent obscene”…..Lenny Bruce    “Et cetera – the expression that makes people think you know more than you do”…..Herbert Prochnow       “A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the word you first thought of”……Burt Bacharach   “It took me 15 years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous”…..Robert Benchley    “I hate authors. I wouldn’t mind them so much if they didn’t write books”…….Elizabeth Von Arnim

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;   1.  Karl Marx   2.  Liverpool Cathedral

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;   1.  What was the Christian name of Margaret Thatcher’s husband?    2.  Which Norman, who died in 1978, was the royal dressmaker?

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So why did you slash our armed forces Mr C?

I have written before of the hostile reception given by the ‘vets’ amongst our allotment gang to the outcome of the Strategic Review which led to ships and aircraft heading for the scrapyard and thousands of military personnel being warned of their impending redundancy. The answer from the government to the many similar reactions was along the lines of we can’t afford to maintain a full fighting force anymore, and our involvement in world affairs is over. A few weeks later two of the ships on the way to Portsmouth for scrapping were diverted to Libya to rescue trapped British citizens. But never mind, this, we were told, was a one-off.

So it was with some surprise that we learned that David Cameron was leading demands for action against Gaddafi. Presumably we still have some planes left although we know that a large number of pilots have been presented with their P45s. But experts suggest that we will not be able to sustain any involvement for long unless an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan is authorised. Of course we all understand the real reason for Mr Cameron’s emulation of the Thatcher Falkland’s adventure but we nevertheless agree that Gaddafi must be prevented from mass murder and we welcome what the RAF has been able to do to stop the madman in his tracks.

All of which suggests that the Defence Review must be revisited urgently. But where will the cash come from? We humble chicken-keepers beg to suggest that the prime minister show equal courage by taking a closer look at what the EU is doing with the sackfuls of money that we hand over each year. If he does, he may well be rather shocked.

A good example has been provided by Ville Itala who is a Finnish MEP on the parliamentary budgetry control committee. He has revealed that during the past 12 months over £80 million was spent on ‘spin-doctors’. The EU employs an amazing 722 ‘communication officers’ whose task is to “present the commission in a favourable light”. Admittedly that is no small task but the number is patently out of control. And £8 million was spent on running EuroparlITV, a channel devoted to telling good stories about Brussels and which is watched by a mere 850 viewers per day, most of those being employees of the EU.

The Finnish MEP is not content at that. He goes on to reveral that millions are spent on a limousine service for MEPs and £37.6 million on security gaurds who have failed to prevent three armed robberies over the past two years. In fact the list goes on and on and it is impossible to doubt Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party’s leader, when he says that the EU has become “nothing more than a spending machine that lavishes public money on projects that are pointless, useless and turn off voters”.

And if you need further examples Mr Cameron try looking at the MEP’s abundant indulgences. Despite widespread hostility, MEPs have voted to increase their personal staffing allowances by £15,336 per year and an increase in “daily subsistence and “general expenditure” to up to £91,000 per year. Oh yes, and MEPs no longer have to provide receipts or proof of expenditure.

Of course the army of fib-doctors tell us that such charges are the price we pay for the new unity of Europe. That seemed sadly lacking this week when Germany refused to support the Gadaffi motion at the United Nations!

It seems to us that Cameron must reverse many of the military cuts if we are to continue as world policemen. If he doesn’t, brave and badly under-supported servicemen will die. Europe seems the least painful way of offsetting the extra cost. Certainly extra taxes are not possible given that from April the poorest will pay the most tax.

There is of course another option, to tax the Banks and bring corporate tax-evaders to heel. But that is too big a step even for a born-again warrior!

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QUOTES FOR TODAY;   “When he said we were trying to make a fool of him, I could only reply that the Creator had beaten us to it”……Ilka Case    ” You have  a brain like Einstein’s  dead since 1955″……Gene Perret   “If your IQ was any lower we would have to water you”….Anne Robinson   “When you go to a mind-reader, do you get half price?”……David Letterman    “A hundred thousand sperm, and YOU were the fastest?”…..Jim Hightower   “If you’re going out of your mind I suggest you pack light. It’s a short trip”…..Anne Robinson    “Why did he shoot himself? I suppose no one else would”….Spike Milligan   “He’s his own worst enemy! Not while we’re alive”….Herbert Morrison and Ernest Bevin   “If I were your wife , I’d put poison in your coffee!   If I were your husband, I’d drink it”….An exchange between Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;   1.  Birmingham   2.  National Exhibition Centre

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;    1.  Whose grave in Highgate, London, was daubed and damaged by vandals in 1974?   2.  Which British Cathedral begun in 1904 was not dedicated until 1978?

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Parliament goes all bushy-tailed!

Having heard that parliament was to discuss the welfare of chickens it was inevitable that some of our number would tune in to the ultimate cure for insomnia, the Parliament Live channel. Sadly we woke up none the wiser for the questions were answered by Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary. You may recall her previous success, the attempt to sell off our forests. This time around she was much more authoritative. During a series of loopy comments the MP for Huddersfield, Barry Sheerman, began to talk about veal. Mrs Spelman showed the depth of her knowledge when she explained that “Veal is not the same thing as eggs”. We did know that but having slumped into our armchairs we stayed around to hear the mini-debate on urban Foxes. One might have thought that MPs would be focussed on Libya, Japan or even the fact that the state-owned RBS pays over 300 of its employess over £1 million per year, but no they were focussed on bushy tails.

Creg Hands (MP for Chelsea and Fulham) complained that one of his constituents had part of her ear bitten off by an urban fox, while another had been bitten twice whilst asleep – perhaps she too watches Parliament Live. We chicken-keepers who carry on an ever escalating battle with foxes of the urban variety were deighted, at last those in high office recognise the enemy now in our midst. But we were premature in our optimism for up jumped Paul Flynn (MP for Newport West).

Mr Flynn said that urban foxes give “great delight” to many people although he made no attempt to say who they are. This revelation surprised us but we were even more bemused when Roger Williams (MP for Brecon and Radnorshire) complained that the town-dwelling foxes are being trapped and released into the countryside. This, he said, is “detrimental to their welfare and causes “great inconvenience to their country cousins”. It all sounded rather as if the townies arrive, stay in their burrows all day and never help with the washing-up.

James Paice, the minister seemingly esponsible for such matters, declared that urban foxes “do have a role to play in our urban areas”. He didn’t enlarge on this but it was clearly a reference to the Big Society and foxes may perhaps replace local bobbies or district nurses. He agreed with those who objected to their being dumped into the coutryside. There, he explained, they “wander around in a somewhat dazed state”. Which is exactly how I was feeling by now.

But before I could reach the off-button up jumped Mr Flynn again. Foxes, he said, make a contribution to urban life by eating waste food. He clearly imagines that they tip up bins and carefully select the choicest bits before tidying up and re-covering the bin lest their fellow urban dwellers, rats, arrive.

The only concession from the government was the fact that local authorities can take action should they so decide. What this meant was less than clear although it seems likely that Ken Clarke’s new code for villains – making them realise the error of their ways – may not work too well. Th eonly clue as to the proposed compromise came when Mr Hands asked that the minister liase with Eric Pickles, the local government secretary. That might work, one could imagine the reaction of any law-abiding fox when confronted by Mr Pickles who certainly has the ability to flatten them.

It was all very disappointing to we allotmenteers. We are located near to a city centre and the number of foxes attempting to enter the hen-runs is growing. Should they gave entry they will kill very hen. And they are becoming more aggressive to humans, where was the MP whose constituency has incidents of babies in prams being attacked?

But at least our faith in Caroline Spelman is restored. For her to know that veal and eggs are different is proof positive that she has been doing her homework following the carpeting she recieived from Cameron when he discovered that she was about to install Gaddafi as the owner of Epping Forest!

QUOTES FOR TODAY;   “I can’t see the sense in making me a Commander of the British Empire. They might as well make me Commander of Milton Keynes – at least it exists”…Spike Milligan    “The only great acting we see these days is from the losing nominees on Oscar Night”…..Will Rogers  “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis, and I don’t deserve that either”…Jack Benny    “At the Grammy awards, Keith Richards became the first person to ever accept a posthumous award in person”.,…Jay Leno    “Who needs awards? Best Fascist Dictator ; Adolf Hitler”….Woody Allen   “The prize I value most I won 60 years ago. I was named the girl with the cleanest fingernails”….Beryl Bainbridge   “I never accepted a knighthood because to be me is honour enough”….George Berard Shaw   “Awards are like haemorrhoids; sooner or later, every arse gets one”…..Frederick Raphael   “I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize”……Stephen Wright  “To refuse an award is another way of accepting them with more noise than is usual”…Peter Ustinov

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;  1.Londonderry  2.  Parachute Regiment

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;   1. Where in Britain was the new NEC opened in 1976?   2. What do the letters NEC stand for?

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AV Referendum has an interesting aspect!

Over the years we have often bemoaned the ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system, which has always struck we chicken keepers as less than democratic. It often leads to the government being voted for by less than half the electorate and that has to be wrong. But over time there has been a lessening of enthusiasm for Proportional Representation given that it would involve MPs being allocated from a central pot. We have good reason to be grateful to our local representive who, being himself a local, understands well the issues that trouble us both at the allotments and in our homes. We have therefore reached the view that the present arrangement is the better option. One option we never considered was an Alternative Vote (AV) system of the kind now being proposed in the May referendum.

I haven’t come across many who have any interest of any kind in the referendum so beloved by Nick Clegg. Of those with a view, the majority believe that AV is a non-starter and would only distort democracy by giving more power to those voting for organisations like the loathsome BNP and the dotty UKIP crowd. It would also boost the prospects of the Lib Dems, hence its promotion by Master Clegg.

But by and large I doubt if any of us had even the intention to vote. Now things look a little different, our having read the view of Lord Falconer, the former Labour cabinet minister and patron of the No campaign. Writing in the ‘New Statesman’ this week he contends that if the outcome is a Yes it would be advantageous for the Lib Dems to delay the general election until after AV is introduced in 2015, under the terms of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituences Act. But if the No camapign succeeds we face a quite different scenario.

Falconer contends that should Clegg lose the referendum, there will be no reason for delay – the quicker the Lib Dems get out of the coalition, the sooner they will be on the road to recovery with the electorate. All of which perhaps helps to explain why more than half of Labour MPs are supporting the No campaign despite their leader Ed Miliband pushing in the opposite direction. It probably also helps to explain why the opponents of change are going to great lengths to portray the vote as one of confidence or otherwise in Nick Clegg!

I confess that it hadn’t occurred to me before but now realise that the stakes are high. Anyone concerned by the rapid rate of cuts has the chance to vote No to Clegg and, in so doing, lead to the fall of the government. 

Falconer could well be right and if the electorate comes to see this as a verdict on Clegg there could be a dramatic development post-May. At least I now understand why Ed Miliband, who favours AV, is insisting that Clegg maintains a low profile. But that simply won’t wash for everyone understands that the only reason that the Lib Dem negotiators entered a coalition was the offer of a referendum.

It does begin to look as if whatever the result, Nick Clegg is doomed. The Lib Dems are insisting that Charles Kennedy become their ‘face’ in the campaign so win or lose we may soon be spared the implications of the junior partners in the coalition acting as lapdogs before the Cameron throne.

Who knows, even the NHS could be saved by what had appeared to be a non-event!

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QUOTES FOR TODAY;  “I go to the theatre to be entertained. I don’t want to see plays about rape, sodomy and drug addiction. I can get all that at home”….Peter Cook   “I saw the play under adverse conditions. The curtain was up”……Robert Benchley   “You people in the cheap seats clap your hands, and the rest of you just rattle your jewellery”…John Lennon, at the Royal Variety Performance of 1963.    “The play was a great success but the audience was a total failure”….Oscar Wilde    What is my play about? It’s about to make me very rich”…..Tom Stoppard   “I daren’t tell my Mum I’m starring in The Vagina Monologues. I’ve told her its called The Geneva Monologues and is about women in banking”….Maureen Lipman    “Nudity on stage is disgusting. But if I were 22 with a great body it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive religious experience”….Shelley Winters 

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;  1.  Hong Kong  2. The Professionals

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  Where did the Bloody Sunday shootings take place?  2. Which British Army unit was involved?

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Is greed driving GPs that support Lansley?

Throw some tomatoes into a chicken-run and see greed in its most naked form. One will grab one and race off to the most distant parts where it will do a Bunter and race back to steal someone else’s titbit. But are they really that different to humans? I was pondering over the question whilst watching the hoo-hah and thinking about the apparent mystery of the group of GP’s that the government has wheeled on stage as a counter to the block condemnation of the Lansley privatisation plan for the NHS. Why would any doctor be in favour of a development that Dr Clare Gerada, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, yesterday warned will destroy the long-standing trust that people have in their ‘family doctors’. The answer is, I suspect, greed.

In January 50 GPs were invited to 10 Downing Street for a champagne reception. They are the leading lights of a body called the National Association of Primary Care which is officially non-political. Treading the corridors of power that evening was one Dr Charles Alessi, who two weeks earlier had penned a tabloid comment piece backing the radical pro-market plans of the Conservative part of the coalition.

And Dr Alessi makes no secret of his feelings. He has alreaday been accused of standing by whilst 500 jobs were axed at his local hospital in Kingston, Surrey. He is unrepentant and says that the changes at Kingston are a forerunner of things to come. He argues that hospital physicians are “over-treating” patients, too many people are being given drugs like those that stop elderly people going blind,  a condition known as macular degeneration. But won’t patients revolt if they are not given the medicines they need? “Yes” is Dr Alessi’ view, ” it is pretty uncomfortable”. It seems reasonable to assume that Dr Lessi’s fellow champagne drinkers share his views, and although they are  a small minority amongst the nations 38,00 GPs they are powerful allies of the beleagured Lansley.

Now let us be a little cynical for cynicism vies with greed amongst the human vices. If the scheme becomes reality, GPs will become the new rich. Kieran Walshe is professor of health at Manchester Business School and he has studied the likely financial outcome of GPs taking over the £80 billion NHS budget. He believes that GPs in a consortium could set up a private company which they own, and then get the consortium to contract out the comissioning of health care to that company. If that company can make savings by spending less on its patient’s care the surplus could then be distributed to the shareholders – the GPs.

Under this, or a similar arrangement, if a GP-owned company saves 5% of the budget each GP will receive £140,000. That apart each will receive £55,000 as a management allowance plus other payments yet to be determined. Professor Walshe believes that GPs will be in line to pocket £300,000, double the amount of a hospital surgeon.

We can safely assume that the carrot being dangled by Downing Street is a big one and we can safely assume that some will be tempted. But there will be  a price to pay and I don’t mean simply hospital closures as private healthcare providers are brought in to ‘cherry-pick’ by commissioning consortiums. Far more horrendous will be the destruction of the doctor patient relationship. How will we feel if we suspect that our own doctor is denying us treatment to line his or her pocket?

This whole scene is building up to a huge confrontation unless the Lib Dems find their backbones. Whatever happens I would feel incredibly sad if someone I trust with my life can no longer be trusted at all. But at least that won’t happen, for my doctor, like thousands of others, has made clear that he will have nothing to do with such a brazenly unethical proposal.

Perhaps I should buy him some champagne by way of compensation for not becoming a Cameron crony!

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QUOTES FOR TODAY;    “Honesty is the best policy, but insanity is a better defence”….Steve Landesberg   “A lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on”….Winstin Churchill    “A little inaccuracy sometimes saves a world of explanation”……Saki     “There is nothing about which men lie more than their sexual powers. In this at least every man is, what in his heart he would like to be, Casanova”….Somerset Maughan   “People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election”….Otto von Bismarck   ”I have too much respect for the truth to drag it out on every trifling occasion”……Mark Twain   “There’s a perfectly good explanation for this, which I’ll make up later”……Mel Brooks   “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember what you said”……Mark Twain   ” A lie is an abomination unto the Lord and a very present help in times of trouble”……Adlai Stevenson    “I told you a million times, don’t exaggerate”….Rik Mayall   “It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie in his place”……H L Mencken

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;   1. Pittodrie, Aberdeen   2. John Peel’s

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;    1. Where was the liner ‘Queen Elizabeth’ destroyed by fire in the 1970s?    2.  In which crime show did Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins co-star? 

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