Posts Tagged ‘a’
At last! We were able to dig trenches this morning and the mountain of chicken muck is now concealed. Even after several days of thaw the ground was still hard and we now have muscles to match those of Popeye. Or as Leonard Cohen used to sing, ‘we now ache in the places where we used to play’. After yesterday’s early clean-out I deserted the camp and, together with she-who-must-be -obeyed, drove down to Oxford to deliver belated Christmas pressies. Whilst we were with our relatives the cards that we posted well before the big day dropped through their letter-box. So we were not the only people frozen into inaction.
It felt good to make a trip unencumbered by snow or ice. Of course the English climate never tires of tormenting us and, by way of a change, we encountered thick fog through the Midlands. Some idiot had decided to drive blind and the resulting pile up meant that thousands of us spent rather a long time parked on the M6 but it still felt like freedom after weeks of frozen incarceration. And it gave me time to ponder on my vote for Person of the Year when on New Year’s Eve the chicken and ferret folk decide whose picture will adorn the allotment shed through 2011.
Of course no one gives a monkey’s elbow what we lot think but we still take our long-standing tradition seriously. Who impressed us most, cheered us up and regularly revived our sagging spirits? I will let you know tomorrow what we decided but you can be sure of one thing, it won’t be a politician!. It is usually the case that some leading names appear on the slips of paper but those days have gone. The revelations about expenses, the Clegg stance on pledges and the appointment of Lords of dubious character have created a sense of alienation from the ruling classes. I suspect we are not alone!
As if to drive the final nail in the coffin of politicians we learn today that the Telegraph was not exposing a sudden lapse from grace when it broke the news of greed and dishonour. Today’s Telegraph reveals that as long ago as 1980 the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, warned the Cabinet that there was a ” grave risk of serious public scandal” over the abuse of expenses by many MPs. Records of Cabinet meetings, published today by the National Archives, show that parliamentary pay and allowances were the source of great concern. The prime minister went on to warn that MPs should be seen to be accountable for the various secretarial, research assistance and travel allowances. She demanded that Ministers give the lead in tightening the system. There were many abuses and “it might be necessary to consider prosecuting MPs known to be guilty of abuse”. It was necessary to “expose publicly the full implications of MPs’ actions”.
Incredibly nothing was done and it was to be thirty years before the truth was told by a national newspaper. So for three decades many politicians have deceived the people that elected them. The whole system of government was rotten to the core. To be fair there are honourable parliamentarians, but if even a combatative character like the sainted Maggie could not hector them into honesty and openness the lack of integrity was clearly deeply embedded.
The fact that change is now under way reflects no credit on an institution that was clearly happy to embrace dishonesty. Had the Telegraph not decided to act in the public interest we would have continued to pay taxes to fund moats and duck houses. In our book the only title open to politicians is crook of the year!
Between now and tomorrow why not ponder on your own choice of someone who impresssed you, someone who seemed genuine, a role model for your youngsters. There are some such folk out there although I suspect that your list, like mine, will not be a long one!
A fantastic performance by England in Melbourne has ensured that we retain the little urn. The England team was superior to the Aussies in every respect, it is a long time since we have been able to honestly claim that when visiting down under.
We should perhaps spare a thought for Ricky Ponting. He has been a superb batsman over many years and drew the short straw in captaining a team bereft of talent. With the possible exception of Mike Hussay and, occasionally, Mitchell Johnson this Australian side is one of the poorest to wear the baggy green.
But they came up against an England team led as never before by Flower and Strauss. Fitness levels are high, morale likewise. Now all they have to do is put on a repeat performance in Sydney starting on Sunday!
CAMERON’S PAL CONDEMNS PACE OF CUTS!
It is predictable that opponents of the coalition are busy condemning the sheer pace of the financial cuts. Slightly more worrying are the concerns expressed by financial pundits. Extremely worrying is the latest news of a fierce attack by a leading charity figure and key supporter of David Cameron’s ‘big society’.
In an open letter to the prime miister, David Robimson, the co-founder of the Community Links charity, has warned that the massive public spending cuts will doom Cameron’s main social policy initiative to failure and will create a ‘Hurricane Katrina’moment for the coalition.
Robinson, whose charity was described by Cameron as “one of Britain’s most inspiring community organisations” writes ” forcing an unsustainable pace on a barrage of uncoordinated cuts that hit the poorest hardest is not an act of God. Why let it be your Katrina?”
This surprise attack came on the day of a less surprising one. Ed Miliband wrote that “many people feel powerless in the face of these decisions that will affect their lives, families and communities. The political forces in Whitehall that have made these decisions appear forbidding and unheeding”.
Perhaps Robinson’s attack will cause someone in government to pause for thought. One can only hope so for the economic readings suggest that the cuts are too rapid and, equally worrying, the trade unions have awoken from their decades of slumber, even moderates such as Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services Union are openly plannibg major strikes. Katrina moment indeed!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The USSR 2. Whether or not to stay in the EEC
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What year was the Watergate burglary in Washington DC? 2. Which Olympics were hit by terrorists who attacked the Israeli athletes?
The thaw has gathered momentum and the main task this morning was to clear the remaining snow before the accursed Jack Frost restores his ghastly grip. Suddenly rows of cabbages have re-emerged, not to mention an array of buckets and tools which have been buried for some time. The weathermen are warning us to make the best of this unusually brief and loveless honeymoon, a strange analogy presumably based on the assumption that Captain Mainwaring’s experience was a one-off.
But this spell of arctic conditions interspersed with bursts of mild air has done more damage than can be seen even by an observant eye. Today there are worrying signs of an influenza epidemic gathering momentum and ‘swine’ variety is to the forefront. Yesterday we learned of the tragic death of little Andrew McCall who died suddenly on Christmas morning. The 23-month-old had no underlying health problems. His devastated parents have called on health officials to vacinate all children under the age of five against swine flu. Mrs McCall said yesterday that “we don’t wish to cause a panic, but we don’t want other parents to lose their babies….the only way to protect your children is by getting a vaccination.We will campaign for the NHS to provide the jab but meantime we know of at least one supermarket chain whose pharmacies are offering the jab for just £8″.
Sadly the McCall family is not the only one in torment today. Flu rates are already approaching epidemic status. There have been 27 deaths and many of the 460 patients already being treated in Intensive Care Units are children. The fear now is that infection levels will rise dramatically over the next few weeks with the return of children to school acting as a major trigger.
And one man should be held accountable for this horrendous situation, one man who decided that saving £8 was more important than protecting a child. Andrew Lansley, who has already alienated the medical profession with his range of ludicrous reforms, ignored medical advice and cancelled the free flu jabs for children younger than five on cost grounds. Last year the parents of all those between 6 months and five years were offered the jab and the resulting high take-up averted the expected epidemic.
For good measure Lansley also axed the advertising campaign for older people and those at risk. As a result there is a much lower take-up this year and far more people are in danger. This was another serious misjudgement and has been heavily criticised by doctors who believed that only an extensive publicity campaign would convince potential victims that swine flu has not gone away. Leading virologist Prof John Oxford said yesterday that “Mr Lansley is on the spot if he doesn’t believe in warnings via advertisements. He is on very thin ice”
The decisions taken by Lansley in cavalier fashion have already cost lives. He has no clinical know-how but, as on other things, decided that he knew best. He put saving relatively small amounts above the need to protect children from what can be a deadly condition. Cameron must intervene today, the free jabs must be restored at once and public notices issued in the leading newspapers tomorrow. There is no time to waste, already GPs, nurses, midwives and NHS staff are under enormous pressure and are warning that a continued failure to immunise will lead to an out-of-control disaster.
Having set the wheels in motion, the prime minister should find time for one other task. He should sack Lansley. It is too late to save those like Andrew McCall but thousands more will be at risk if a self-opinionated clinical illiterate remains in charge.
SOUNDS A GOOD IDEA….BUT!
The coalition has announced plans to build on the Blair idea of petitions. Sadly his concept became somewhat discredited when it was found that many of the proposals from the public were signed by Oliver Cromwell and Lord Nelson. But the new coalition version will, we are told, have built in checks to ensure that anyone voting on the web site is a registered elector. So far so good.
Anyone can propose a policy and, if they muster 100,000 votes will have it debated in parliament. So far, even better.
However, the blurb tells us that contentious ideas such as coming out of the EU will not proceed. The onus on that would be on parliamentarians who “would have to convince one another of the benefits of staying in Europe”. So far, rubbish! Oh yes, and no proposal that did not conform with the Human Rights Act would be disqualified which means almost everything.
In other words we can propose, and have debated, any issue on which the Conservative Party and the chattering classes agree!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Rev Jim Jones 2. Earl Mountbatten of Burma
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which country invaded Afghanistan in 1979? 2. On what were people in Britain asked to vote in a referendum in 1975?
We’ve even managed to drill through to the fish which must have had a rather peaceful if lonely Christmas. I would like to imagine that they welcomed the rescue but it is of course distinctly possible that at least one of them complained about some old fat blokes suddenly drilling a hole through their roof. Like the coalition government the fish seem to spend their time going round in circles so it is hard to guage their moods. But ours is pretty good at the moment. The partial thaw has helped and we have decided to dismiss the Met Office warning that we are all about to return to Ice Station Zebra on the grounds that the same people promised us a barbeque summer. But the main source of our enhanced seratonin is the news coming through from Melbourne. England are giving the Aussies a thrashing and Ricky Ponting is running up fines for his constant attacks on the umpires. Might be a better to consult your self understanding and go for the batsmen Ricky!
Of course we cricket buffs would like to be there. Well, there is one rider to that! We have no wish to be located within hearing of the ghastly so-called Barmy Army. When, a couple of years ago, a group of us went to Old Trafford for the New Zealand Test we resolved never to go again. For day after day the morons chanted endlessly, never watched the cricket, became drunk and threatening and made sure that anyone who actually enjoys watching the finer points of the game had no chance to do so.
In actual fact the ‘Army’ is the invention of the Australians. They coined the name during the 1994-95 tour, when our team was so unconscionably clueless that the local press concluded, with reason, that only the insane would follow them around the world. From that small acorn an oak has grown and now it casts its shadow over cricket, particularly that of the serious variety such as Test matches.
They maintain a constant chant throughout each day irrespective of what is happening on the field. It is not a difficult one to learn. “We are the Army, the Barmy, Barmy Army, we are the England, the mighty, mighty England” is the gist of it. Dressing up as Nuns or something similar is mandatory for some, for others the display of obese wobbly bellies is a must. In fact these people are unique, they are the only faction of any sporting audience in history whose primary motivation for attending games is not to watch but to be watched. In some ways they produce memories of football hooligans but at least they were caught up in the fortunes of their team.
The identity of many of the army would perhaps surprise you. There is a hardcore that lives on benefits and cadges its way around the world cricket circuit. But many are professional people who delight in the exhibitionism and the annoyance that they are able to cause. Perhaps we should be thankful that they find their satisfaction from exposure in this way, the alternative might be more than annoying.
Whenever I attend a match that draws the Army in I feel genuine anger that so few are allowed to spoil things for so many. But the odds are that the louts are here to stay and travel companies and Sky commentators vie with each other to applaud and accomodate them . I do have one suggestion which I’ve pinched from columnist Matthew Norman. Why not round them up and press-gang them into signing enlistment papers and put them on the first RAF transport to Helmand Province.
Their whole posture is one of the brave defiant warrior and I’m sure that they would put the fear of God into the Taliban. A few belly wobbles and the cry of mighty mighty England would surely make any opponent quake!
THE CASE OF LANSLEY DISEASE!
According to the press both Cameron and other ministers are alarmed at the signs of chaos in the NHS as a result of the ill-thought through changes to the NHS announced by Lansley. A survey has shown that the outcome of the commissioning plan will be a move to postcode medicine. It has also revealed that a vast majority of ward nurses are unable to give adequate attention to patients given the pressures now being applied to reduce staff.
I do know something about the NHS and know without doubt that Lansley is on course to destroy the NHS. The first stage will be a dramatic lengthening of waiting times. Then will come major cuts in important services, the first of these leaked out yesterday. Cancer research is to be cut.
I find it amazing that people like Cameron are shocked. If you put an arsonist in charge don’t be surprised when he burns the house down!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1.1976 2. Ed Koch
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. 900 people died in a mass suicide in Guyana in 1978. Who led this bizaare cult? 2. Which former World War 2 commander and member of the Royal family was murdered by the IRA in 1979?
It seemed odd to be carrying water to the allotment this morning, rather like taking coals to Newcastle. The sudden thaw has converted snowdrifts into lakes. We always knew this would be the eventual outcome but wait a moment. Phil had his radio on and the weather forecast told us to expect a return to Scott of the Antarctic come tomorrow night. At least it prompted me to go up to te Sales for a pair of boots heavy enough to put Rooney out of action for a month. It has to be admitted that this long period of appalling weather has begun to rattle us.
On Christmas Eve one of our members had a family funeral. It was a bad enough experince for Alec and his clan without the added burden of having to walk behind the coffin for the final stretch to the town centre church. Even there the council has failed to make any effort to clear the pavements or side-roads. The government has threatened the airport authorities with fines for inadequate ice-clearance, perhps they should extend this idea to local authorities!
But the coalition probably has other things on its mind, not least today’s opinion poll which shows that after six months of Conservative/Lib Dem rule the 58% that thought the idea of a coalition a good one has shrunk dramatically. Now only 43% give it their support. Within the coalition the Tory vote has held up well but the Lib Dems have almost vansihed off the public radar. If an election was held tomorrow The Miliband family would take over which I guess tells us just how poorly the Cameron/Clegg set-up is regarded.
Apart from the seemingly endless revelations about the feelings of Lib Dem MPs toward the coalition, its biggest problem is that it resembles a town hall clock. It has various faces and the hands are spinning. Today we hear of a U-turn on free books for children. This followed an attack by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who described the decision to end the £13 million grant which funds a book-gifting programme for disadvantaged children as the behaviour of Scrooge at his worst. Others joined in the barrage over the Christmas break including Ian McEwan, author of Atonement. He said that programmes such as this are our only hope of measuring ourselves as a mature and thoughtful society. A U-turn, he said, would be an honourable choice. No sooner said than done. Michael Gove interrupted his holiday to arrange the latest about-face.
Only three days earlier the government had to backtrack on its decision to end funding for school sports.That was another mean-minded decision made without consultation or regard for the consequences. And every week brings another reversal. One suspects that the tactic is to name every service for termination and then to await reactions. If that is the plan it is a disastrous one politically as shown by the polls. A less charitable explanation is that Gove, Lansley and company haven’t a clue.
Either way the simple fact remains that all these small amounts shrink to total insgnificance when compared to handouts to Ireland and other in-trouble Euro users. How we could afford to suddenly produce up to £10 billion is beyond the mental grasp of mere mortals.
All the signs are that the coalition is in a nosedive. On January 13th we will find out just how steep this is. At the general election the Lib Demmer was within a hundred-odd votes of the subequently banned Woolas. So they should walk it this time around, not least because Cameron has banned all active support of the Tory candiudate. If they don’t win we can expect a revolt by over half of the sitting Lib Dem parliamentarians. And bang goes the coalition.
We shall see and it is posssible to pull out of a nosedive. However if some of the crew bail out that becomes less likely! Perhaps Mrs Cameron should hold back on those expensive deluxe velvet curtains!
RETAILERS UNCERTAIN ABOUT PROSPECTS!
I can never fathom why people are prepared to queue throughout Boxing day night to join the mad stampede when the doors open for the Sales. Yes there are a few tempters that go quickly but most of the cut-price goods have been purchsed as such and stocks usually last out the sale.
Be that as it may it cannot be denied that yesterday’ numbers were encouraging for retailers who failed to do record sales in the lead up to the great day. But we have to remember that businesses ultimately survive or otherwise according to profits related to investments. Items in the sales are not to any significant extent profitable. The big test will come in the new year when shoppers face the VAT increase plus rising unemployment and uncertainty.
Right now some large companies are less than optimistic and the sight of hordes snapping up low-profit bargains will not have shifted their plans for extreme investment caution.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Lewis Casson 2. Alison Uttley
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which year did Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon announce their seperation? 2. Who was elected mayor of New York in 1977?
There was not too much festive spirit on the allotment at first light. Given Albert’s accident there were but two of us to thaw out the drinking utensils and to release the multitude of chickens, many of whom slunk out as if they too had over-indulged before staying up for half the night watching England devastate the Aussies before a record crowd in Melborne. The hen’s demeanour couldn’t have been down to that however for coops are one of the few places not yet under the communications control of Rupert Murdoch.
So far as I could see there was less ‘sledging’ in the Test match than is usual on Boxing Day. This was probably down to the fact that no Australian batsman was at the wicket long enough to say anything. How that Aussie crowd yearned for Warne. He was not only the best spin bowler of all time but one of the champion ‘sledgers’. And he received a fair bit too. I always remember the arrival of an England batsman at the Sidney ground. As he took guard Warne said that he had waited two years for another chance to humiliate him. Quick as a flash the ex cantab arrival replied “Looks like you spent it eating!”.
To return to Rupert Murdoch, the signs are that he is in for a very good new year. The final piece in his jigsaw – to acquire total ownership of Sky – was far from guaranteed whilst Uncle Vince Cable ruled the roost. Sadly he blotted his copy book and the responsibility for the biggest decision ever in the history of the British media has been switched to Murdoch’s pal, Jeremy Hunt. Things couldn’t have worked out better for Cameron and his mate Murdoch.
Back on 28th June, Murdoch and Hunt met to discuss the bid by News Corp to buy the 61% of BSkyB it does not already own. They met in secret and there was no one else present. Most unusually no notes were taken. Civil servants took no notes of a second meeting either, this one between the two men on 21st July. These cloak and dagger meetings followed a dinner hosted by Murdoch on 20th May . Within weeks of coming into office, Hunt was there despite the subject not then being within his remit.
Amongst the many arguments put forward by the Murdoch empire is one concerning the BBC free news web pages. They demand their closure and they are not too happy about the British library’s stated intention to provide free public access to the news archive. Free sites reduce income for Mr Murdoch. Perhaps the fact that the BBC has a worldwide reputation for objective reporting may have as much to do with the popularity of its news bulletin website?
Be that as it may the ‘Digger’ is on course to kill off, or at least mutilate, the Beeb and to acquire the ability to do deals with the likes of David Cameron, and to deliver whatever message he desires through the greater part of the British press and media. When he was one of the first visitors to Downing Street after Cameron became prime minister in May we knew that plans were afoot. It followed the Sun’s Tory-based campaign and it was payback time. With Cable out of the way and Hunt resting in the other pocket of Murdoch’s coat the web of deceit is complete. And the BBC is the fly.
Even to such grizzled sceptics as we chicken keepers it is sad to see corruption spreading through a new government that many put their faith in. Perhaps Boxing Day is an appropriate day on which to mull this over. The name comes not as you might imagine from a long-gone riot at Milwall but from a custom when christmas boxes were given to service workers by masters too busy with their own pleasures on Christmas day itself.
After the Murdoch takeover we will certainly get some treats after the event, not least the Ashes Tests, but the real treat of control and shaping of public opinion will have gone down under !
A WARNING FOR ANDREW LANSLEY!
I was at a Christmas party last evening when a man collapsed and was clearly having serious problems in getting his breath. We rang 999 and within four minutes an ambulance was at te door. Meantime we were given constant instructions by the Ambulance Trust operator.
All ended happily but it caused us all to reflect on the crazy plans that Lansley is promoting. He intends to ‘modernise’ the NHS by which he means localise crucial commissioning decisions and slash staff numbers. Fewer ambulances will be high on the Lansley agenda of lunacy.
The present system for emergencies is a brilliant one. Reduce the vehicles and staff and people will die. The tragedy is that the only protests are about tuition fees. What Lansley is proposing merits a mass occupatiuon of London! We won’t bother and we will die regretting it!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Torquay 2. The Ewings
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Sybil Thorndike died in 1976. Who was her husband from 1908 until his death in 1969? 2. The ctreator of ‘Little Grey Rabbit’ died in 1976. What was her name?
I’m back from the allotment. The original plan was for Vernon, Albert and I to tackle the six chicken runs on behalf of the gang, in the event it was just Vernon and yours truly. Albert had a nasty fall last night, the council having failed to clear any pavements. Now all our pal needs for Christmas is his two front teeth but since NHS dentists are as rare in these parts as elephants he may have to wait quite a while.
I’m back at home now surrounded by discarded wrapping paper. It is as such moments that I wonder if all the queues and the shoving were really necessary. Having said that I’m over the moon with my Royal Mail year book which includes all the superb stamp issues of 2010. Not quite so sure about the electric toothbrush but maybe it will serve well for the chicken beak treatment that seems to occupy so much of the time that I could devote to more positive things such as watching Sky Sports. Also in my stocking was an ‘Allotment Gardening’ calendar in which a site bathed in sunshine features. Was ours ever thus?
The kids are highly chuffed with Santa’s delivery, the only service not up for sale by the receivers disguised as a coalition. Just watching them playing with ‘toys’ too sophisticated for this IT illiterate brings back many memories. Do you, like me, find that many people long gone seem to enjoy a comeback on this day of days? They say that time heals but it never does so completely. I can still see in my minds eye my gran singing as uncles and aunts galore sat seemingly enraptured. Maybe the annual splash out on port contributed, but to my young eyes they all seemed remarkably happy. The stress of Christams seemed to emerge but recently.
It will soon be time for the traditional Christmas dinner. We still put small coins in the pudding mix which probably contravenes a ton of EU health and safety laws. And we still pull crackers which always prompts me to wonder how someone can spend a whole year composing corny jokes and stay sane. And, before I go to lock up the chooks, we will listen to the Queen’s speech. Knock the monarchy if you must but for me She is a supremely better alternative to some turnip-head politician.
I hope that your day is a good one whether you be part of a large family gathering or simply sitting alone by the fire. If my memories teach me anything it is that today should be treasured for it is one you will always remember for good or ill.
Around 2010 years ago a babe was born in a stable. No other story has survived the passage of centuries as has this one. It is a wonderful story which cannot be translated into today’s world. Few shepherds watch their flocks by night in Bethlehem now. Settlements, checkpoints, and seperation barriers now dominate the area to such an extent that the few shepherds left can scarcely move. Whatever you chose to believe you cannot deny that not all of the works of man have improved our lot.
But things can only get better. God rest ye merry gentlemen (and ladies), let nothing you dismay!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY!
She-who-must-be-obeyed gave me a book of famous speeches and one, although not a Christmas version, struck me as appropriate for the Britain of today. On August 28th 1963, Martin Luther King, a truly good man and one of great self understanding, said; “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal”.
We have no national figure to inspire us on this Christmas Day but the great man’s words fit our need like a glove.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Prince Charles 2. Jeremy Thorpe, Liberal leader
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which English town was the comedy ‘Fawlty Towers’ supposedly set? 2. Which fictional family lived in Southfork?
HAPPY CHRISTMAS……DO JOIN ME TOMORROW (BOXING DAY)!!!
Bitterly cold this morning but for once there were no complaints for today is Christmas Eve. It may sound ridiculous but even at our venerable ages many of us still associate magic with this day of all days. I guess I was about eight years old when on Christmas morning I awoke to find a fort. The war was on and how my parents acquired such a thing I know not but I can still recapture the thrill of surveying my gift from Santa. In some mysterious way that letter had reached the north pole!
An even more poignant memory was regularly related to me over the many years that I used to visit an elderly lady in a nursing home. Sadly she has gone now and I often wonder what became of Jenny. Jenny was a doll and I always noticed her sitting in pride of place on the bedside cabinet. On a Christmas Eve several years ago my friend told me the story of Jenny, her lifetime companion. She used it to illustrate her concern that the most magical night of the year has become “too noisy, for noise destroys magic”
My friend was a lady of self understanding and loved to recall that long-gone night when everything was clothed in snow and she hung up her stocking and put in the hearth a sherry for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph. In those times children expected little in the way of presents but as she went to bed the little girl was told that Santa might bring something very special as reward for all her good behaviour. Sleep was hard to come by and eventually Mum read of ‘Christmas Eve when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’. As her eyelids became heavy Mum told her to listen for bells tinkling through the frosty calm.
Memory can play tricks but my friend always declared that, as she finally entered the land of Nod, she heard reindeer bells. Then all was quiet. She awoke early and sitting by her bed was the loveliest doll she had ever seen, in fact it bore a remarkable likeness to one she had often admired as she passed the local ‘pram shop’. There and then she named it Jenny and by her bedside it has always remained. Her long life of joys and sorrows were shared by a friend who never waivered.
I had young grandchildren at the time and Margaret always implored me to make a huge effort to help make their Christmas Eve a magical experience. “Only children up to the age of eight or nine can hear the sleighbells and sense the magic” she would say. “Turn off the modern gadgets and listen with them. The years fly by and before you know where you are it will be too late for them to experience something that will last a lifetime” was her final plea.
Tonight also promises to be an icy and silent one. If you have small children do remember Margaret and Jenny. You may scoff at sherry and carrots but that is because you are too old to hear sleighbells in the snow. But for those who qualify they are out there ringing for true believers.
A very happy Christmas!
ASHES TEST; CAN ENGLAND RECOVER?
The 4th Test begins at Melbourne on Boxing Day. A gate of 100,ooo is expected and the younger England players may find that daunting. But the promotion of Ian Bell should help for he has developed nerves of steel. The pitch may offer some turn but will not be as helpful to paceman Mitchell Johnson as was the Perth version.
There is little doubt that England has the talent to beat this Australian side but much will depend on the performance of the top five batsmen. Any repeat of the suicidal flashing outside the off stump could mean curtains.
Surely we won’t repeat those schoolboy errors. Will we?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The 1976 Nobel prize for peace. 2. South Africa
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which British prince gained a degree in history at Cambridge? 2. Which political leader’s wife Caroline was killed in a road accident in 1970? (ANSWERS TOMORROW. CHRISTMAS DAY)
As part of a long-standing tradition a number of the allotmenteers went along to the Rosemere Cancer Foundation Carol Concert last night. It is an excellent cause, the company was great and the mulled wine and mince pies likewise. There was just one difference this year, in my head at least I substituted wet for white in our favourite carol immortalised by Bing Crosby. Even at my advanced years I can’t recall many white Christmas mornings but I certainly can remember yearning for one. No longer! Over the past few weeks we have seen and shovelled enough snow to last a lifetime. Hate to be spoilsports but we animal carers would love to see torrential rain washing the last of the drifts away. It won’t happen, not least because under the pack snow are dozens of drains never cleared by the Council, but we should perhaps resist being downcast by the weather forecasters dire predictions since these are presumably the very people that promised us a BBQ summer as a result of which we didn’t build an ark.
But the Met Office is not the target for today’s dose of venom. I reserve that, not for the first time, for the politically correct brigade. I call them that because I am never sure as to who they are. Does the PR brigade comprise just three ladies with big hats all related to Mrs Bucket? Or are there zillions of them all working away as if at cracker jokes, each wracking his or her brain to come up with another wheeze aimed at offending anyone who has the timerity to claim that they have always lived here and quite like the customs.
What brought this on? A few days ago I went in search of Christmas cards. Being old fashioned I like the traditional nativity scenes but there were none to be had. One lady told me that her shop only received a small supply of the ‘Jesus’ ones, as she put it, and they sold very quickly. I found this curious and spoke to a pal who works for W H Smith. He estimated that only around 15 per cent of all cards stocked were of a ‘religious nature’. Apparently the wholesalers are nervous of giving offence to non-Christians. Have you ever heard such rubbish?
People are free to buy what they like and to ignore what they don’t like. In any case many of those who like the traditional Christmas story do not necessarily buy them for religious reasons. Whatever you actually believe there can surely be no denying that the story of the wise men , shepherds and all is the most beautiful story ever told.
But to me the greatest mystery is the identity of those who are supposed to be offended. A number of those who share our allotment life are of other faiths and all pour ridicule on the idea that traditions should be abandoned. Several of them love christmas and celebrate it vigourously in a secular way. The same goes for my newsagent who looks forward to the festival partly because it boosts his sales and partly because the big day is the only one of the year when he doesn’t have to sort newspapers at the crack of dawn. I asked him for his view of the PR boneheads. His reply was to the point; “they are bonkers”.
I happen to believe in that magical scene in that stable of long ago. But my self understanding reminds me that December 25th is not the correct date and I do realise that parts of the story have changed in the telling. I have no quarrel with those who believe otherwise and they should have none with my right to differ.
And those ladies in big hats should take a long walk off a short pier!
CAN’T TRUST CAMERON OR OSBORNE SAY LIB DEMS!
It seems that Uncle Vince was not alone in being gulled by reporters pertending to be constituents. Heidi Blake and Holly Watt also went along ( armed with tape recorders) to ensnare Lib Dem ministers Andrew Stunell, David Heath, Norman Baker and Paul Burstow.
Local Councils minister Stunell questioned Cameron’s sincerity. He remarked that he “didn’t know where to fit him on the sincerity monitor”. Commons Deputy Leader Heath believes that the coalition may prove to be a “disaster” for his party and comments that Osborne “gets up his nose and has no experience of how ordinary people live their lives”.Transport Minister believes that Nick Clegg has chosen to “handcuff himself to the prime minister”. He also said that the Tories were furious over Lib Dem attempts to thwart Rupert Murdoch, the Tory approach is to say “here you are Mr Murdoch, how much do you want?”. Care Minister Paul Burstow urged the ‘constituents’ “not to trust Cameron”.
And there is a whole lot more. Again it is difficult to believe that ministers were prepared to confide in total strangers. Of course even more amazing is what they said about their supposed partners. They were, Mr Baker said, “beyond the pale”, almost “akin to the South African apartheid government”.
What does Mr Cameron do now? If he repeats his public humiliation of Cable the whole coalition could collapse. If he does nothing his own backbenchers are going to create mayhem. Of course whatever he does will be supported by his stooge. In reality the LibDems need a new leader, one who will co-operate but maintain distance from Cameron. After all since so many Lib Dems seemingly distrust the prime minister the worst possible position for their leader is kneeling at the feet of the Old Etonian.
I wonder if the cabinet has held its Christmas party yet. If not it is likely to be a less than jolly affair!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The Free French movement 2. Linus Pauling
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What award was given to two Belfast women, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams? 2. The comedian Sid James died in 1976. In which country was he born?
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS EVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Our pin-up weather lady Eno said that today would see temperatures well below brass monkey levels. In reality it was somewhat warmer and wearing five pairs of underpants proved unnecessary, not to mention sweaty. So with the icicles staying on the shed rather than our noses we quite enjoyed this morning’s routine. Most days bring the same jobs but today the vaseline pot was out. At times of severe frost it is wise to cover chicken’s combs as a means of protection. They don’t seem to mind and if it works we might consider doing our own. Whatever we do we cannot possibly look as utterly daft as Vince Cable does this morning.
Two female reporters from The Daily Telegraph armed with a tape-recorder called to see him at his constituency surgery. They pretended to be constituents and proceeded to ask his views on the coalition. Uncle Vince is clearly pretty gullible, the only other person to fall for such a charade was Sven Goran Erikson! But we learn more than that Mr Cable is as daft as a brush, he is now revealed as someone who, is to say the least, rather devious.
He talked of being in the coalition as akin to being at war and went on to boast that he is prepared to use his ‘nuclear option’ to bring the whole thing crashing down. He revealed that behind the scenes the Tories and Lib Dems are fighting a ‘constant battle’ not least on the soft approach of Cameron’s pals to the banks. He also claimed that Cameron plans to scrap the winter fuel allowance for the elderly but had yielded over immigration. In Mr Cable’s judgement the coalition is travelling at too fast a speed on a wide range of reforms including the NHS. Many of them are ill-thought through. Now we all knew that but what we hadn’t realised was that madcap plans like those of Lansley are even opposed within the supposedly close-knit coalition.
Most dramatic of all was Mr Cable’s admission that he is fighting a war against Murdoch, the friend of Cameron. “We have declared war and we are going to win (to block his owning the vast majority of the UK media)” Uncle told the giggling reporters. Small wonder they were giggling for this was a real scoop to take back to the editor. For them Christmas bonus assured, for Uncle a caning by the Etonian head. In fact it all worked out rather well for Cameron who has switched the media portfolio to Jeremy Hunt, thus ensuring that he keeps his promise to Murdoch.
The coalition is clearly anything but close knit. Indeed everyone’s once favourite Uncle said that many of the government’s policy proposals are “dangerously out of control”. He likened what is happening to a “Maoist revolution comprising too many ideas and too little careful planning”. For good measure Mr Cable attacked the scrapping of child benefit for higher earners which was handled “in a rather cack-handed way”. And within hours other leading Lib Dem ministers had fallen foul of hidden mikes. Michael Moore, Ed Davey and Steve Webb all lambasted the decision to cut child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers and Moore described the tuitions fees decision as “the biggest, ugliest, most horrific thing of all”. He went on to say that “I signed a pledge. I’ve just committed the worst crime a politician can commit, now folk distrust us as a breed”. Moore added a punch line; “the Tory rightwingers hate us with a passion”
The moment the news broke that the two questioners were in fact reporters Uncle changed his approach somewhat. He “regrets the statements and is embarrassed by them”. He has “no intention of leaving the government and is proud of what it is achieving”. The problem with directly conflicting statements is that one of them must be untrue. Either way the person making them is telling lies.
What Cameron and his boy Clegg think of it all is plain, or I should say Cameron for what he thinks is what his lackey thinks. But it seems reasonable to assume that trust between the two parties has plummeted faster that the current temperatures. And it gives more credibility to rumours about schisms developing. I still suspect thet a poor result in the Oldham bye-election will bring the end of Clegg. But suddenly his replacement by Cable seems very unlikely to attract Tory support.
Many of us used to admire Vince Cable and saw him as a man of great self understanding, the cleverest and most honest of politicians. Sadly he now fails on all counts but it is hard to sympathise. Anyone daft enough to tell confidential stories to total strangers is hardly fit to be involved in governing the country!
Others will argue that the sooner he responds to Cameron’s public humiliation of him the sooner will come the restoration of at least some of the Lib Dem reputation for independence. Mr Miliband may need to sharpen up his act sooner that he imagined!
UNEMPLOYMENT IS THE KEY!
There are two theories about tackling the deficit. Osborne believes in massive front end cuts with additional employment provided by the private sector. Grumpy Gordon believes this to be dangerous in that it will spark more job losses and lead to lower retail sales. Who is right? The jury is still out but there are some worrying signs for the present chancellor.
A survey out today shows that a third of the 232 local authorities across the UK now have more than 1000 residents claiming jobseeker’s allowance. Pre-election the number was just 26! And total long-term unemployment has risen to 839,000, a 34% rise since the election and the highest level since February 1997. Across the country unemployed people outnumber vacancies by more than five to one.
By the Spring Osborne will be either humiliated or vindicated. It may be too early to forecast which but one cannot escape the view that a sudden burst in private sector jobs seems unlikely given the rise in VAT, power bills and all which must serve to restrict non-essential purchasing.
Perhaps we should ask the owners of Man City to consider a buy-out bid for UK plc?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Tsar Nicholas 11 2. Prince Charles
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Charles de Gaulle died in 1970. In 1940 he became the leader of which movement? 2. Which Nobel prize winner claimed that vitamin C could protect against the common cold?
We allotmenteers are beginning to feel as if we are stuck in a Dr Who vortex. Day after day we start afresh on exactly the same conditions and by dusk have everything unfrozen and every path made usable. We drag ourselves home, slump in the chair, go to bed and wake early to return to the animals. And lo and behold, in true Dr Who style we are back to exactly the point at which we started yesterday. It would be nice to borrow the Doctor’s time machine and be transported any place where the sun shines. Preferably not Australia though, we’ve heard enough crowing to be going on with! If come the Spring I am back on my bandwagon about the magic of an allotment site please remind me of my winter moans!
And as officially accredited Victor Meldrews we are not short of other things to moan about as the second ice age continues. We are running short of feed and the roads to our usual supplier are still deep in snow and ice. Today we enquired of the local authority when, if ever, it is going to tackle the side roads. We were advised that no such action is envisaged. It seems that there is an acute shortage of salt and all councils have received a letter from transport minister Norman Baker instructing them to spread it more thinly. Due to an “oversight” the 250,000 tons of extra grit/salt was ordered late and the suppliers cannot arrange supply until “early in the new year”!
The president of the Automobile Association, Edmund King, yesterday spoke for us all when he said that he was completely baffled by such incompetence. The emergency stockpile was a key recommendation after last year’s snow chaos. Why, Mr King asked, was the recommendation not implemented? Most people can answer that. We Brits are creative, inventive and artistic but when it comes to organisation we are incompetent beyond words. Nothing works. Perhaps this explains why the government is selling off every public service to overseas companies. People across the developed world love us for our eccentric ability to cock-up all that we administer. In the true tradition of Margaret Rutherford and Alistair Simm we never fail to sustain our reputation. But sometimes, if you actually live here, it becomes a little wearing.
Those of us who are hardly fans of the Cameron/Clegg bunch would happily castigate them for the fact that everyone is stranded everywhere. But that would be unfair, for the previous government managed to make the same mess last winter.
Perhaps that emergency stockpile will arrive in time for next winter! One thing is sure, if the government and its allies in the local authorities organised a booze up in a brewery the police would have no need for breathalyzer equipment!
AND HERES ANOTHER THING!
Irrespective of public opinion the coalition is hellbent on privatising the Royal Mail and it will not rest content until the French bidders are in charge. That in itself is stupid enough but now we learn that whoever drafted the Bill forgot to make the presence of the Queen’s head on every stamp a legal requirement!
Now ministers are rushing around like headless chickens in an attempt to pursuade us that no one in their right mind would leave out such a vital marketing tool. But that assumes that the buyers are in their right minds. It also assumes that they will not take delight in putting their own president’s picture on instead.
Have we no national pride left? And where is the opposition on this? In bed with the coalition, that’s where! The whole lot of them will not rest until there is not a single British institution that is owned by Britain.
As Tiny Tim would have said God bless them one and all!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. 97 years old. 2. West Germany
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Whose daughter did ‘Anastasia’ claim to be? 2. Which prince took his seat in the House of Lords?
An air of resignation hangs over the allotments. We are up to our ears in snow but at least, according to the forecasts, we ain’t going to get any more. Just as well for some of the greenhouses which overlook the chicken runs are sporting huge overhangs which look ready to refill the areas we have spent yonks on clearing. But the chooks clearly appreciate our efforts for there were some eggs today which is unusual at this time of year, let alone in the return of the ice age. Very strange but not half as strange as the goings on in Oldham East and Saddleworth consituency where the three main parties are preparing to fight to the death in the first electoral test for the coalition.
Strange indeed because one of the parties is going to great lengths not to win! Unfortunately for David Cameron somene has leaked copies of instructions he has given to torpedo the Tory candidate, Kadshif Ali. A planned campaign involving dozens of volunteers delivering leaflets has been cancelled, visits by leading Tory ministers likewise. In fact the prime minister has ordered that no efforts be made to support Mr Ali. Short of driving around the patch wearing a yellow rosette and urging voters to support the Lib Dems, Mr Cameron has done everything possible to deliver what sounds suspiciously like an electoral pact with his close friend Mr Clegg. All ‘Dave’ would say when challenged was that “we wish our partners well”. He may do but grassroots Tories will be unhappy about this, many feel that already too many concessions have been made.
There are presumably two possible explanations. The first is that Cameron fears a Lib Dem defeat in a consituency that they almost won against Woolas would be the breaking point for Lib Dem MPs many of whom are already talking privately to Ed Miliband and company. But if this is the reason why field a Tory candidate at all? The other more sinister possibility is that, like Lloyd George and Ramsay MacDonald before them, Cameron and Clegg are secretly planning a permanent alignment and that entails not opposing each other in an election. Under this the party most likely to beat Labour would in effect be the coalition or joint candidate.
There have been rumours to this effect for some time and the bye-election brings it to a head. But if this is the secret plan it is a high risk one. It is built on an assumption that Lib Dem voters will stick with the coalition. All the signs are that roughly half will never vote for any party connected with Clegg again. Ironically this contest is the result of Phil Woolas having been found guilty of lying. The lies told by Clegg were of far greater import and were signed.
The government has called the election at the earliest possible moment to minimise the possibility of students staging protests. But there are fascinating aspects to the result. If the rather pompous Lib Dem Elwyn Watkins wins expect a backlash from Tory backbenchers. If Labour win, the coalition is in deep trouble and those Lib Deb MPs who voted against the government last week may well go one step further. Should the unsupported Tory win expect Clegg to fall and Cameron to lose his main stooge.
Oh what a tangled web they weave when they are trying to deceive!
THE STAGGERING COST OF MEPs!
Westminster MPs will doubtless be relieved that for the moment at least the Telegraph has turned its beady eye on to their European counterparts, the MEPs. And the findings are truly staggering!
Britain’s members of the EU parliament are costing the taxpayer £26 million per year. Alnost all earn more than MPs and all have voted themselves a nice inflation-busting increase for next year. In addition to their salaries MEPs are able to claim, without providing receipts, almost unlimited expenses. Some who made the fewest appearances claimed the greatest amounts but few claimed less than £100,000 on expenses. And there is also the huge cost of pension provision. On average each MEP costs us £370,000. And to do what?
According to Sian Herbert, an analyst at the thinktank Open Europe, “MEP’s activities and whereabouts are woefully under-scrutinised…and there are serious questions about transparency and accountability”.
But the EU, which has failed audit for many years, refuses to publish details. It continues to be not only undemocratic but the sort of company you wouldn’t buy a second hand car from! Perhaps it should merge with FIFA!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Grease 2. Jeremy Thorpe
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. How old was Bertrand Russell when he died? 2. Where was the first ever nerve transplant performed?
Vernon is fond of remarking that there is a hell and we are in it. I am suddenly inclined to agree. Four of us have just spent almost two hours digging paths through the snow which in places on the allotments stands almost two feet deep. Underneath it is solid ice and inside the chicken runs themselves the water-feeders could sink the Titanic. During a lifetime of keeping poultry I have never experienced such a battle. The sun is sparkling from a blue sky, but in terms of melting is as useful as a rattlesnake in a lucky dip. Clustered around the calor gas for a brew we concluded that our human rights to lie in bed are being infringed.
So crackpot is the present Act that we may well have a case. But to be serious, David Cameron should, to quote his sternest critic, stop talking and start acting over an Act that continues to cause outrage. The critic is heartbroken father Paul Houston of Darwen, Lancs. His 12 year-old daughter Amy was killed in a hit-and-run crash by Mohammed Ibrahim. He was already banned from driving, had no licence or insurance, and a string of convictions. Yet on Thursday a tribunal ruled against his being deported to his native Iraq since such an act would infringe his human rights. Clearly Amy and her grieving family have no rights, neither do all the troops who have died or been wounded fighting to restore order in Iraq!
In fairness to the Prime Minister, he told a press conference that his response is one of great anger. Here we have, he said, an Iraqi asylum seeker convicted of an offence that led to the death of a child and yet we are being told that there is no way this person can be deported to Iraq. It is wrong”. He added that Iraq should not be seen as a land too dangerous to deport people there. He added that ” Britain has spent billions of pounds and lost many, many good people to make Iraq a safer country”.
But Mr Houston is unimpressed. Before the election he received a letter from Mr Cameron promising that the present Act would be replaced by a British Bill of Rights. Being angry is for ordinary folk, Mr Cameron is supposedly in charge of the nation and, in contrast to his deputy, his word should be his bond. He should perhaps sit down and ask himself who is running the country; the EU, the Judges or the government.
The case of Amy is an appalling example of the Human Rights Act which must have been composed by Baldrick on one of his bad days. It is full of inconsistencies and scarcely a week passes but a vcitim is shown to have no rights and the perpetrator an unlimited number.
In expressing rage Mr Cameron showed that he has a heart and that he shares oiur outrage. But that is not enough. He has it in his power to scrap the bill and proceed with the replacement that he promised and which helped him to gather the votes that he did. We know that the Lib Dems are opposed to such a move but he should be prepared to take them on. He would in any case enjoy sufficient support from Labour to force the new Bill of Rights through.
Most people are sick to the back teeth of hearing about rulings from Brussels. This week the European Court overturned the 140-year ban on prisoners being allowed to vote. Enough is enough. Either the giovernment is prepared to defy, or break away from, Brussels or it should openly admit that it has no powers to bring sanity back to justice.
The tragedy of little Amy should be the trigger point for Mr Cameron and his colleagues to prove that they have spines. Will they keep their word or is Clegg now the norm?
ASHES TEST; PASS ME THE SACKCLOTH!
Which idiot described the England squad as invincible and the Aussies as the poorest Test side ever to wear the baggy-green? Yes it was me!
The Perth Test ended this morning (our time) in total humiliation for England who were twice skittled out by bowlers such as Johnson and Harris who most of us had seen as easy prey for what we believed to be a very strong England batting line-up.
Suddenly we are back to the old days when a visit to Australia was an ordeal for team and fans alike. But surely this Australian side can’t repeat the dose even on wickets that favour Johnson’s swing. Or can they?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Agatha Christie 2. Simon Rattle
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. From which musical came the song ‘You’re the one that I Want’? 2. With which poolitician did the press link Norman Scott?
It seems unlikely that bookmakers will be offering good odds against a white Christmas this year, in fact the best odds will be available t’other way round. Right now the allotment is a foot deep in snow and according to Tom’s pin-up, Eno the weather-forecaster, we are due to receive a lot more of the cursed white stuff. This morning we made improvised snow shifters, thawed out a load of water-feeders and then moved on to breaking the ice on the ponds for fear that the fish will expire of lack of oxogen, By the time we had finished we were in need of a few puffs too. But those of us of a cricket bent were in a state of shock.
Amongst others I had put it about that Mitchell Johnson (recalled for the current Ashes Test) couldn’t hit a barn-door from five yards with a beach ball. Our heroes are now in a state of shock after the said barn-door hitter skittled England out after also top scoring with the bat. How wrong can one be? From muppet to Roy of the Rovers, Mr Johnson is now our choice to save the planet since no one else seems interested. Indeed half of the British delegation to the ‘last chance for the world’ conference in Mexico flew home early to vote in the tuition fees debate. Clearly saving Nick Clegg’s skin takes precedence over saving the planet!
The United Nation’s conference was held in Mexico and 200 countries sent representatives, albeit that some of them were the equivalent of the senior janitor. In the end they predictably did nothing. But one clear opportunity struck me and I cannot fathom why this at least cannot be tackled. Many delegates supported the idea of a system of incentives to prevent the destruction of tropical rain forests in countries such as Brazil, Congo and Indonesia.
Incredibly deforestation accounts for 15 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions. So here we have a single target that could bring a big step forward. The problem is that people in poor countries see felling as their only means of earning a meagre living. Given the option of earning it in another way they would be happy to leave the forests intact. So it merely needs the richer and larger countries to sign up to a contribution and, at last, the campaign which scientists tell us is the only hope of saving the planet would be up and running. So did they agree to go ahead? No!
Yet every developed country pays dues to something and the money required here is not penal when shared. For example, we think nothing about handing over £7 billion to bail out Ireland or heaven knows how much for the other Euro victims that we will have to underwrite. The economy of Ireland, Spain etc versus the destruction of the planet sounds an easy choice. It is, we prefer to let the planet flood. Of course some of the giants have problems of their own. In the United States President Obama faces opposition from mad people such as Sarah Palin who still believes that the world is flat. Doubtless there are equally tricky political problems in China. India and the rest.
But surely the conference has made progress on this basic issue at least. Not according to Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says that the ” outcome of the conference was not enough to save the planet”. But, as if to offer consolation, he adds “but it did restore the credibility of the United Nations”. So that’s all right then!
Hopefully a move on the forests will evolve but right now it is hard to believe that mankind has the will to save itself. Still it did at least save Nick Clegg from humiliation, perhaps that is more important?
WHAT ABOUT THE SAVERS?
The Bank of England yesterday expressed great concern that inflation may make necessary an increase from the all-time low bank rate thus increasing mortgage rates for 7 million home buyers. They seem to have forgotten the 7 million savers, many of whom rely on interest for their existence in old age.
Mention that to any of the finance wizards and they will tell you that everyone should spend and borrow to save the economy. But isn’t that exactly how we got into this appalling mess?
STAMP PRICES UP AGAIN!
The price of a first class stamp is to go up again. From April it will cost 46p. Prices have gone up by twice the rate of inflation for five years. The increase is Royal Mail’s response to a fall in volume but the problem is that those still using the mail as against the internet are mainly older folk, some of whom are struggling to cope financially.
The last thing I would want is privatisation but something has to be done for the service continues to deteriorate whilst the cost of using it rockets. What is needed is good management and the mystery is that the government believes that only ownership by the French can bring that.
There must be plenty of dynamic young managers who would love to move in. If we don’t believe that we might as well close down Britain plc right now.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The Netherlands 2. John Wayne
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple were creations of which author, who died in 1976? 2. Who became conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 1979?
It is cold enough to freeze a brass monkey this morning and if I had any long-johns I would definitely don them, but I turned down the offer of a loan from Albert not least because he believes that too frequent washing damages fabrics! The first signs of the promised return to Antartica are here and although she-who-must-be-obeyed constantly warns me against wishing my life away I find myself yearning for Spring. Perhaps that isn’t wise but just how wise are any of us? We may imagine that if we watch the news on the Beeb and scour the newspapers we are truly in the picture. And we would be wrong!
I have always suspected that there is far more collusion between the media and the government of the day than it appears and it seems that I was right. A good deal of information has now become public knowledge on the invasion of Iraq. We all knew that Blair and others lied, what we didn’t know was that the media did likewise.
In 2003 no fewer than 700 ‘embedded’ reporters and camera crews accompanied the invading forces. Embedded is the term used by the authorities for those being given full facilities and comforts in exchange for patriotic reporting. In other words the reporter only covers the things he or she is shown and does not ask difficult questions about scenes said to be damaging to the national interest. Standing outside 10 Downiung Street on the night of the invasion Andrew Marr said “Tony Blair said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating and on both points he has ben proved conclusively right”. In actual fact, even as the words were uttered, Iraqi civilians, men women and children were being slaughtered in huge numbers.
Rageh Omaar was there for the BBC and became a familiar face over the period of the so-called liberation. On the main news that night he said that “people have come out welcoming the Americans and holding up V-signs. This is an image taking place across the whole Iraqi capital’. In actual fact the bloody conquest and destruction of a whole society was taking place whilst reporters watched staged scenes of people toppling statues.
Today Omaar looks back with regrets. He says ” I didn’t really do my job properly, I hold my hand up and say that I didn’t press the most uncomfortable buttons hard enough” He now describes how British military propaganda successfully manipulated coverage of the fall of Baghdad which the BBC News 24 reported as having fallen peacefully “17 times”.
Omaar is one of those now telling the whole truth. In studies of the television coverage, by the University of Wales , the BBC’s coverage was found to reflect overwhelmingly the government line and reports of civilians suffering were relegated, they simply didn’t happen.. Speaking now, Jeremy Paxman reflects on the whole Iraq reporting. Speaking to a group of students he said “I am perfectly open to the accusation that we were hoodwinked”. David Rose of the Observer is even more forthcoming. He reflects on articles that toed the government line of a link between Hussain and al-Quaida. “I can make no excuses …what happened was a crime. a crime on a very large scale” Does that make the media accomplices? Rose replies “yes..unwitting perhaps, but yes”
If deception on such a huge scale happened over Iraq how can we trust any other major coverage that requires government assistance to the media? The answer it would seem is that we can’t!
CUTS ARE UNFAIR SAY LEADING ANALYSTS!
If there is anyone still inclined to swallow the claim that the Osborne cuts are fair, they should cast an eye over today’s report from the highly respected Institute for Financial Studies.
It shows that on top of the 3.4% fall already experienced, middle-income families will lose a further £300 in real terms over the next two years, and at the lower income level more children and working adults will be pushed into poverty by 2014.
The report paints a stark picture for the poorest households. Cuts to housing benefits alone will force another 100,000 children into poverty over the next two years and a staggering 900,000 children and adults of working age will progressively slide into absolute poverty.
Financial analyses tend to be as interesting as watching paint dry but this one is startling. In effect it says that the coalition is either talking through its hat or is deliberately misleading the electorate. I wonder which it is!
AN INJUSTICE THAT SHAMES OUR COUNTRY!
At twelve years old Amy Houston had a long life ahead of her. But as she was walking to the local shops she was run over by Mohammed Ibrahim who fled leaving the child to die. He was already disqualified from driving, had no licence or insurance, and had a string of criminal convictions. He was sentenced to a mere four months but it was intended to expel him from the country.
Yesterday judges ruled that to do so would infringe his human rights and he is to be allowed to stay here. Not surprisingly, Amy’s father, Paul, is distraught.
In January he received a letter from David Cameron saying that it was clear that srrious mistakes had been made in this case and a Conservative Goivernment would replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. This would ensure that ” rights are better balanced aginst responsibilities”.
The sheer injustice of the case are breathtaking. And so is the coalition’s tendency to break every pledge that it ever made!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The Cupwinners Cup won by Rangers 2. A car accident
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which country did South Moluccan terrorists seize a train in 1975? 2. Which Western movie veteran finally won an Oscar in 1970?
This morning, by way of a change, we had fierce winds and driving rain. At 8.00am it was still almost dark, one of those legendary short dark days before Christmas. One run-door blew wide open whilst we were cleaning and a herd of chooks headed for the hills. Sky could have filmed it live. A new sport is born, a group of overweight old blokes chasing a group of squawking chickens. Slow action replay; nothing moved!
Our sport for the day over, we retired to the warmth of the shed. Ton immediately began to bang on about the plight of the NHS. His frustration is justified for the nation seems to allowing its privatisation to take place unchallenged. Talking of the Iraq invasion, John Pilger said that journalists and government collued to hoodwink us. Much the same could be said for the coverage of what Cameron and Lansley are doing to the NHS.
There is far from complete silence from those really in the know but is anyone listening to what is being said by the likes of the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of GPs, the respected health thinktank the King’s Fund, and even the parliamentary health committee. The BMA has said that its concerns are not being listened to and even the chief executive of the NHS, Sir David Nicolson, has written of NHS personnel facing “personal and professional uncertainty about the future”. At an acrimonious session with the select committee, Lansley claimed that “lots of people support my plan”. But who are they? Presumably the private health companies now circling like buzzards.
So many things are happening at once that it is hard to paint a clear picture. Cameron continues to claim that funding has been maintained. This is a clear lie. Inflation and soaring attendances are eroding the value of the settlement and a massive £20 billion cut has been announced to cover ‘efficiencies’. To facilitate these waiting time targets have been scapped and already patients are recoiling with horror at the much longer time thay will now have to wait for their first appointment.
But the real drama is happening at Primary Care Trust (PCT) level. They are being scrapped and the £80 billion of taxpayers money is being handed to GPs. Lansley has admitted that he had conducted no surveys to test the opinions of family doctors and only yesterday one appeared on the BBC News to say that he and many others are desperately worried that all the progress of the past few years is being reversed.
The main Lansley trick lies in the plan to cluster together the 152 PCTs into 35 bodies. These will be allowed to “create social enterprises or joint ventures with private sector organisations “and to then sell their skills to groups of inexperienced family doctors charged with handling billions of pounds of public money”. The GPs will in reality have no alternative to using these bodies and they will consist of former PCT employees. Just think about it! This is engineered privatisation of the worst kind.
The government openly admits to envisaging almost all of the NHS “leaving public hands”. Hospitals will all become independemt Foundation Trusts within four years and the new commissioners will be private companies with strong links to greatly expanded private hospitals. Those who wish to, or can afford to, go down the private route will be able to jump waiting list queues.
The changes represent the biggest shift in power and accountability in the NHS’s 62-year history yet Hamish Meldrum, the chair of the BMA, says that “there is little evidence of the government being genuinely prepared to engage with constructive criticism of its plans”.
The privatisation of the NHS is being forced through under the guise of cuts in funding. It represents the end of the service most of us have valued for all of our lives. If the next election is still over four years ago we will go into the polling booths knowing that we have lost the NHS and that, according to our wealth, we are now either able to buy our treatment or wait indefinitely for it.
It will be too late to protest then and the irony is that we didn’t vote for it at the last election either! Power to the people indeed!
ASHES; AUSTRALIA ON THE ROPES!
England only need to win this Test Match to be sure of retaining the Ashes and this morning after only one day’s play Australia look as doomed as the NHS. One again their opening batsmen failed utterly to cope with good seam bowling on a wicket that looked far from lethal.
Despite some brave hitting by the likes of Mitchell Johnson the old enemy failed to reach even the 300 mark and England have made a steady start in reply with Alistair Cook in particular making the toothless Aussie attach look, er, toothless.
Of course we all want England to triumph but there is something almost sad about the sight of the decline in the standards of our once mighty sporting rivals. My self understanding insists I emphasise the word almost!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1.European Space Agency 2. Stephen Hawking
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What European Trophy came to Glasgow in 1972 and who won it? 2. What accident forced goalkeeper Gordon Banks to quit football?