Posts Tagged ‘Beeb’
The worst of the gale seems to have passed, all we have to do now is restore the allotments to something resembling their previous state. Very cold this morning but we have glimpsed the sun, even if its warm embrace seems but a distant memory. The weather over the past few days has sparked renewed interest in the hotly debated subject of global warming, it may have been this that triggered my overnight dream. When I recalled it Albert remarked that he much prefers his fantasies about Zsa Zsa Gabor, but we don’t get to select our dreams and mine would not have been top of my selections should such an option exist.
My dream involved the planet gradually surrendering to the marauding oceans. Probably inspired by David Attenborough’s final ‘Frozen Planet’ slot on the Beeb, I saw pictures of even the UK under water. The elected Mayor of a submerged London - a mad bloke with a shock of fair hair – was swimming from rooftop to rooftop offering solace, and a shiny-faced prime minister was promising a public enquiry. Pure rubbish. Or is it?
Almost unnoticed by the masses who are focussed on Cameron’s attempt to face both ways at the same time on the EU, and Rooney’s outrage at being suspended for merely kicking someone, a United Nations summit on global warming is taking place in Durban. We are represented by Chris Hulme, proof indeed that this is not regarded by our leaders as a high priority. Other nations too have fielded their reserves in the manner of Arsene Wenger in the Carling Cup.
This morning Mr Hulne let it be known that more than 120 countries now support a timetable towards a legally binding agreement at “some point in the future”. The summit has been a tense affair with accusations of “chequebook diplomacy” and protesters thrown out of the proceedings. But our man in Durban is hopeful even though he felt obliged to remark that it could “all still go pear-shaped”. Meanwhile sources close to the talks say that carbon dioxide missions were unlikely to start coming down before 2020 and Joseph Alcamo, the UN Environment Programme chief scientist, warned that unless emissions reduce sharply the world will be “locked in” to dangerous global warmings.
Europe deserves credit for pressing the need for action but the “big polluters”, America and China, continue to procrastinate. Hope for a Green Climate Fund, that would channel £60 billion a year to countries adapting to climate change, have barely moved forward. Poor nations whose only means of survival is to chop down the rain forests will continue to do just that.
Although Attenborough avoided any comment on emissions, what he showed was truly startling. At both poles ice that has been unchanged for a zillion years is starting to melt. One area the size of Yorkshire, where man and polar bears alike have walked since the beginning of time now resembles a patchwork quilt as the icecap splits and its depth reduces. The result is an unbelievably huge increase in water entering the oceans. If this trend continues we could see many low-lying areas of the world under water within twenty years ,and huge land masses likewise before the end of the century.
Of course one of the obstacles to progress in reducing emissions are the wealthiest countries where large influential groups contest the predictions of scientists. They may well be ancestors of those who once argued that the earth was flat, but they are dangerous. People with vested interests tend to believe what they prefer to believe.
Perhaps I am alone in wondering how it can be that almost every world leader is focussed on something else. The future of the EU, the Olympics, the Iranian threat, the Olympics opening ceremony, banker’s bonuses et al.
They are all important but doesn’t the fact that in just a decade or so we may all have to sit stranded on our rooftops make them all somewhat academic?
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE WEEKEND QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The area around the hen-runs has turned into a quagmire and that spell of sunny weather seems a distant memory. When we have to wade about in mud and muck, conversation does tend to be reduced to grunts. The result was that other than passing references to Cameron’s pledge of eternal freindship with Andy Coulson, and the inevitable threats made by the Murdoch crowd to Ed Miliband, there was little mention today of the replacement of the Screws by the Sunday Sun. What did attract out attention was the row that has broken out around TV’s new golden boy, Professor Brian Cox, he of the perpetual smile.
During a programme called ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’ the new age hero blotted his copy book by declaring that there are no ghosts and it is silly to believe in them. The Beeb was inundated with complaints that the programme was ‘unbalanced’ and Cox subsequently tweeted that “there are some utter nobbers out there”. Such language will have shaken the curtains in leafy Surbiton where the smiling scientist has replaced Cliff Richard in the heart of many a blue-rinse.
My instinct is to agree with his dismissal of ghosts. It is illogical and unscientific, such things are a figment of fevered imaginations. However, this disbeliever has, on a number of occasions, learned of encounters that simply cannot be explained away. Let me give you just one example. It relates to a hotel in the Midlands, one of those former ivy-clad grand houses from the 17th century.
Several years ago a friend stayed there. He is a scientist and, as is typical of his kind, refuses to believe anything that he doesn’t witness and cannot verify. To this day he still refuses to believe in ghosts, poltergeists or little men in green suits. However, he has an intellectual problem. He still cannot explain an experience he had that night on his overnight stay.
I remember his ringing me on the following day to report what happened. His room was on the third floor and the only access to the bathroom was through his bedroom. During the night he recalls half waking to hear a great deal of noise nearby, but he drifted off again having assumed that there were revellers in an adjoining room. When his alarm roused him he padded across to the bathroom. On opening the door he stood transfixed in horror.
Everything in the bathroom was smashed. The sink, the bath and the toilet were shattered into fragments and toiletries were scattered everywhere. My logical friend could only reason that for the first time in his life he had sleepwalked and become violent. But where was the sledgehammer? In a daze, he dressed and rushed down to the reception where he expected incredulity and a demand for payment.
Instead the girl on duty simply replied ” Oh God, that’s the third time this year!”. The duty manager was summoned and instead of hostility provided comfort. He reported that for some years there had been a series of such unexplained events and, having consulted various ‘experts’, the management had resigned itself to the fact that the old building was the haunt of a poltergeist.
My friend often revisits that night in his mind which refuses to accept other than a rational explanation. He cannot find one. In fact he has since called in at the hotel and has learned of five more ‘visitations’.
If, as Professor Cox suggests, my scientific pal is a ‘nobber’ I cannot imagine what that says about the rest of us. He plans to challenge the Prof to stay overnight in the Midlands!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S PUB QUIZ; 1. No 2. Simon & Garfunkel 3. Claustrophobia 4. Palm Sunday 5. Sunday 6. September 7. Fossils 8. Bambi 9. Bob Hope 10. Harry Houdini
People often ask why a group of elderly geezers commit themselves to raisIng chickens, indeed there are many wet and cold mornings when we ask ourselves the same question. But the answer is simple, we need a reason to get up. Not every pastime provides this when the curtains are pulled to reveal Dantes inferno, but the involvement of animals leaves no option but to groan and rise. We were mulling this over today in the light of news that the quality of care for the elderly and vulnerable in this country is rapidly descending to third-world standards and worse. Last night a Panorama investigation provided an insight into the performance of the private sector so beloved of Andrew Lansley and his pals. Clearly they are right to claim that switching to private companies will increase choice, what they didn’t tell us is that torture is on the menu.
As the result of a whistleblower the Beeb managed to install a reporter on the staff of Winterborne View, a care home near Bristol for adults with autism and learning disabilities. The home is run by Castlebeck, a company with a £90 million turnover which runs more than 50 such units. The company charges the NHS and local authoritiues up to £3500 a week to provide care for patients.
But what we saw last night, thanks to a hidden camera, was an appalling catalogue of cruel abuse. In fact a watching expert described what they regularly did as torture and one didn’t need to be an expert to realise that. Patients were pinned under chairs for long periods, had water poured over their heads, given cold showers when fully dressed, treated as punchbags…one disgusting abuse followed another. A woman apparently attempting to commit suicide was told “Come on I’ll keep the window open for ya. I like watching you lot try to jump”. Another member of staff said “If you are on your own you have to smash her”. Another chanted “Nein, nein, nein” as someone placed his knee across a patient’s throat.
Two things emerged. The staff were using vulnerable patients for their own sadistic amusement. The staff were untrained, poorly paid and totally unsupervised. It was, to quote the watching Professor Jim Mansell, the author of the Government’s policy on disability care, the worst kind of institutional care, the kind that was prevalent in the 1960s. “The staff”, he added, “ don’t think that these are human beings like them”.
To me the most significant revelation was that a large private provider seemed to have no awareness of what was going on. Lee Reed, the chief executive of Castlebeck, said that the staff should have been suspended but were not. As in any private company the prime objective is profit. Inspections, trained staff and a supervised code of practice cost money. Having once been a member of a Health Authority inspection team covering private nursing homes I have to admit that I was not unduly surprised.
The simple truth is that private companies enter the healthcare field to make profit and unlike, say, a retailer have no opportunity to increase volumes once all beds are occupied. So they can only improve their margins by providing less costly care than that tendered for.
This government is not alone in believing that the private sector is some kind of potential saviour for the NHS. The last government paid out millions to companies for operations they never performed. And amongst those that were carried out any complication was immediately passed on to the nearest NHS hospital. Caring medicine and maximum profitability are disastrous bedfellows.
The police are now involved in the situation exposed by the Beeb. That is good news. Equally pleasing is the insight it provided into the dark world of private medical care. Lansley’s plan deserves total opposition!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1. What my Heart Wants To Say. 2. Monkey 3. Ailurophobia 4. Turkey 5. Rudyard Kipling 6. One 7. Senegal 8. Theme from Harry’s Game 9. John Prescott 10. Fruits .
Today is F A Cup Final day. A magical day. A long awaited day. A day when viewing starts at 8.00am as the big build up begins. Not any longer!
F A Cup fever reached its peak in the Eighties, a culmination of many years of a public love affair with the big Wembley occasion. There was a huge TV audience and the BBC and ITV vied with each other in their attempts to ensnare viewers as the morning ticked away. The Beeb always won hands down although one suspects that the absence of irritating ads was a greater factor than the likes of Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones, John Cleese, Peter Cook and Warren Mitchell who were all pressed into service. There used to be a Cup final Question of Sport and, on some occasions, a snooker challenge. Programmes were on sale at local newsagents and small boys would hurry their breakfasts before settling down, programme in hand, to follow the drama. And come the 3.00 pm big moment every shopping centre in the land would be empty as even those who never watched football felt a sort of compulsion to share in the national sporting event of the year.
And now? The likelihood is that there will be plenty of gardeners on the allotments this afternoon, a contrast with days of old. In fact many of the soccer bent will probably tune in to Sky at 12.45 to watch Manchester United attempt to land the Premiership. If, having settled down, they decide to watch the mega-rich Arab-owned Manchester City take on the less financially endowed Stoke, there is no coverage by the BBC so it will be ads all the way. Millionaires on the pitch, Confused dot com off it!
Of course the supporters of the finalists will be all ears and eyes, but the rest of the nation has lost interest in the once magical F A Cup. In today’s world of constant TV coverage of virtually every top game, the thought of having stars in your lounge has lost its novelty appeal. And for those few that still feel that way the European Cup, the Premiership title, the play-offs, are all way above the old urn in order of importance.
The F A Cup magic has been on its deathbed for some time now, an early symptom being the tendency of the top managers to field lesser players in the earlier rounds with a view to focussing primarily on European and League matches. Even the once exciting giant-killimg acts have lost their lustre. It is less of a sensation when a non-league club beats a Premiership reserve team!
I grew up in the days when we watched the Final on black and white 14″ sets with the curtains pulled. That was the only live football we saw. Then came the period I have described when the magic was still there. Now the F A Cup Final is just another football match and, in today’s case, probable proof that loads of cash can buy success.
It rather reminds me of the death of Christmas magic. There again over exposure has blown the magic dust away. Perhaps there is somewhere a graveyard for magic that once was. I think that I would like to pay a visit if only to hear again ‘Abide with Me” and sleighbells in the snow before they were drowned out by Confused dot com and all the other commercial rubbish that assails us.
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; DIVORCE; “My wife and I pondered whether to take a vacation or to get a divorce. We decided that a trip to Bermuda is over in two weeks, but a divorce is something you always have”…..Woody Allen “Divorce is the sacrament of adultery”…….Jean Guichard “Divorce can be seen as the legal alternative to murder”…..Jeff Foxworthy “Honey, I’m going to miss you so much. It’s not just the sex, it’s also the food preparation”….Homer Simpson “I still miss my ex, but my aim is improving”…..Woody Woodbury “Why do divorces cost so much? Because they’re worth it”……..Johnny Carson “Alimony is the screwing you get for the screwing you got”…..Jim Davidson
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1. Steps 2 Radar Love 3 Bands of Hope 4 Four years 5 Printing (platemaking) 6 Pottery 7 1200(1196) 8 Stanley Bladwin 9 Portugal 10 Fungi
TODAY’S EGGHEAD CHALLENGE; 1. Who was the letter which revealed the gunpowder plot addressed to? 2 Which lecturer in philosophy wrote ‘The Second Sex’? 3 Which non-metallic element has the atomic number 6? 4 What was Marc Almond’s first solo UK Top Ten hit? 5 Made in 1975 with George Segal, ‘The Black Bird’ was a spoof of which screen classic? 6 In surveying, how long is a Gunter’s Chain in feet? 7 Susan Godfrey was the first victim of which atrocity? 8 In which city was the infamous Gatting and Rana Test Match flare up? 9 Who was older when he died, Jimi Hendrix or Marc Bolan? 10 In which film did Chaplain first tackle dialogue?
There is a heaven and we are in it! How else can one react to such a beautiful day to greet the start of the County cricket season, an occasion usually celebrated in dressing-rooms with rain, snow, or bad light guaranteeing no game but Whist. The multitude of hens seemed subdued, perhaps puzzled by the strange light in the sky. But not everyone was in good humour, as the children headed down the lane for school we could hear high-pitched voices raised in one of those ‘it’s all your fault’ arguments. Who does that remind you of, someone asked. Who? The politicians of course, was the answer.
I’m not sure who said it but it’s a fair bet that they watched last night’s Question Time on the Beeb. The main argument there centered around the NHS reforms and the lay members of the panel made interesting points. But the various ministers were, er, pathetic. A smart young blade in a posh suit called Hunt explained the Lansley plan away by claiming that Labour would have done the same. “Oh no we wouldn’t” yelled the Labour lady, whose name has slipped my memory. I found myself wishing the audience had joined in, in true pantomime fashion, with oh yes you would. It could have gone on for hours. The truth is that Blair’s government made attempts to bring in his private sector heroes and only fierce public resistance stopped it. But it is beside the point. Is everything that the coalition does based on the belief that they are no worse than the previoius lot? We had hoped they would be better!
This morning we have yet another example of the yoo-hah politics that have taken over. Cameron has had to intervene in the dispute between the treasury and Ministry of Defence. In truth he had no option since Osborne’s department seemed hell-bent on taking away every last penny of the defence budget whilst leaving the armed forces to fight two wars. Security experts Paul Cornish and Andrew Dorman have warned in the latest issue of ‘International Affairs’, the publication of the Chatham House thinktank, that the defence review is fast becoming “the fastest policy failure in modern British history”. Meantime, the senior Harrier commander in the Falklands conflict, Nigel MacCartan-Ward, has warned that the decision to scrap our only aircraft carrier will cost almost one billion pounds over the expected six months of engagement. What he thinks of the fact that HMS Cumberland, the Nimrod spy plane, and the RAF’s Sentinel reconnaissance aircraft (now in constant action) were on their way to the scrapyard when the Libyan situation exploded, is not recorded. But we can guess!
And how does Liam Fox and his cronies explain this mighty mess? They blame Labour, who of course blame them. The truth is that Labour messed up by adding £600 million to defence coffers for the sale of Typhoon jets to Oman without waiting to ascertain that the sale would go though. And over the past decade the M.O.D has practiced costly and disastrous procurement on a grand scale. But here, as with the NHS, the fact that Labour messed up is not the issue. The coalition studied the situation for many months and then took decisions that have left us unable to defend our own airspace let alone that of Gaddafi or any other madman that Cameron decides to attack.
To an extent the relationship between Tory and Labour has aways been a bit like this, a constant tit-for-tat battle between incompetent combatants. The sad fact is that it is getting worse and the amount of lies now being fed to a public weary of the lot of them could qualify for the guinness Book of Records. At the last election the big hope was that Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem MPs would bang heads together and introduce intelligent, grown-up debate.
But that idea died on day one when he made the mistake of appearing in the rose garden with his mate ‘Dave’. Now he is desperately trying to distance himself from ‘Dave’ and all his works, but no one is listening for when it comes to saying one thing and doing another he has set new levels.
Perhaps we should organise a swap. Let the squabbling schoolkids run the country and let the politicians go back to the playground. We wouldn’t notice the difference!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; HYGIENE; “My grandmother took a bath every year, whether she needed it or not”…..Brendan Behan “Armpits lead lives of quiet perspiration”,,,,,Patrick Murray “Why do they bother saying raw sewage?; Do some people cook the stuff?….George Carlin “A gentleman is someone who gets out of the bath to go to the toilet”…Freddie Trueman “Miss Debary, Susan and Sally made their appearance, and I was as civil to them as their bad breath would allow me”…….Jane Austen “Lady Badbreath, fresh as stilton…”…..Cyril Connelly “On the day there was a full chamber pot under the breakfast table I decided to leave”…George Orwell “I remember when pants were pants. You wore them for twenty years and then cut them down for pan scrubs”…..Victoria Wood
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. The Aswan Dam 2. Cholera
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which prime minister married Gladys Mary Baldwin? 2. Which prime minister was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire?
Another lovely morning, the sight of the sun turning the sparkling yellow of the forsythia into a seeming mass of gold was quite something. Thanks to Professor Brian Cox, the new Beeb megastar, we now realise that our sun is a mere speck in the cosmos but that hasn’t diminished our delight when it works it’s wonders. Even Albert was happier in its glow, so much so that he stopped banging on about the England cricketers and turned to a less emotive subject, the forthcoming referendum on an Alternative Vote system.
I had to confess that it makes no sense to me. It represents the concession Cameron made to Clegg, but given that few are likely to support the Lib Dems anytime soon it is hard to fathom how even they benefit. There are full page ads in some of today’s papers and the explanation takes up many a column inch. Confusing to say the least. Less confusing but rather ominous is the news that one of the major sponsors of the Yes campaign is the company that will make a fortune out of the supply of the complex hi-tech equipment required to run an election under AV!
I have always seen sense in Proportional Representation(PR) which would allow all the national votes garnered by a minority party and allocate seats accordingly. But, it seems to me, an Alternative Vote system achieves no such thing. It means that I, an ardent member of party X, have to nominate a second choice and so on. But if I am ideologically ardent about party X, I almost certainly won’t have a second choice. Rather than go down that route I would probably place the main rival to party X at the bottom of the list and opt for those least likely to provide a threat. The result could be that people like Ukip, BNP, or the Monster Raving Party suddenly appear to have far more support than they really have. And the option of tactical voting is already present in our longstanding ‘first-past-the post’ arrangement. If, for example you are a Labour voter in a Conservative safe seat you can decide to vote for their LIb Dem challenger. Not a good example since Calamity Clegg has turned the Lib Dems into a Conservative subsidiary but I’m sure you know what I mean.
Short of full PR the present system strikes me as the best available. When we have a flutter on the National we know perfectly well that the reward for the horse coming second will be, er, second best. A system whereby all the bets placed on the top four were reapportioned could possibly see the winning spoils going to other than the first past the post. It sounds ludicrous to me. As does the cost of staging a referendum on anything other than a straight choice between the present system and PR.
Maybe I am missing something here. If so I am sure you will tell me. But if I am confused I am not alone for all of the major parties are split down the middle on this.
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY: “Never go abroad. It’s a dreadful place”…..Earl of Cardigan “They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind”…..G K Chesterton “I wouldn’t mind seeing China if I could come back the same day”…..Philip Larkin “A passport picture is a photo of a man that he can laugh at without realising that it looks exactly the way his friends see him”……Phyllis Diller “Why is it called the tourist season if we can’t shoot them?”….George Carlin “The wife and I have been arguing about where to go on our holidays. I want to go to Tenerife and she wants to come with me”…..Roy Chubby Brown “They’ve started giving passports to animals now. My cat has a passport. Do you know how that makes Mohammad Al Fayed feel?”……Jeff Green “To be a Frenchman abroad is to be miserable. To be an American abroad is to make other people miserable”……Ambrose Bierce “I hate views. They are only made for bad painters”…..Oscar Wilde
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Margaret Drabble 2. Canada ( Montreal)
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which country did Picasso die? 2. Where was Governor Richard Sharples murdered?
Whilst there was no danger of heat-exhaustion, the sun served to make our chicken-tending a pleasant experience this morning. Yesterday evening Professor Brian Cox, the new rising star of the Beeb, warned that the sun will ultimately self-destruct. There have been times of late when we thought that it already had! And the Lib Dem leadership certainly has!
Over the weekend I watched Nick Clegg trying to talk his way out of trouble at the Lib Dem spring conference in Sheffield. In fact he dug himself even deeper into the hole he has created. The delicate task of working with another party without sounding like its obedient echo has eluded him and his fellow Lib Dem ministers. He now has to buck up sufficient courage to face up to Cameron and Lansley whose chaotic and ultimately destructive plans to reform the NHS have drawn condemnation from the British Medical Association and the public at large.
Led by the former darling of the centre-left Shirley Williams who described the Lansley plan as “stealth privatisation”, the conference passed almost unanimously a motion demanding more accountability and openness in commissioning, a rejection of the marketisation of the health service and safeguards against cherry-picking by private sector providers. Clegg is a consumate actor and responded by saying just what his party faithful demanded, he agrees and no government of which he is a part will be allowed to do these things. Now he has to deliver and an indication of just how unlikely that is came within an hour when Downing Street issued a statement. It said that this is not about significant changes but merely about ” reassuring people with minor changes to the language of the bill”. Oh no it isn’t. If the Conservatives bully Clegg into going along with that, he will find himself thrown out of the Lib Dem leadership.
As is his habit young Nick told the conference that the general alarm was all down to Labour’s tales of woe. Wrong again. Tomorrow he may realise just how far from the truth that is for the BMA is due to hold its first emergency conference for many years, and the likelihood is that doctors will withdraw their cooperation. Their leader has already warned that the Lansley plan will take our health care back to that of the 1930s.
And another non-Labour voice is gearing up. 38 Degrees, the national protest movement that led the rebellion against the Forests sell-off is now collecting signatures on its website. When it asked its members to decide what issue should follow the forests, the NHS was overwhelmingly nominated. People believed that the plan has nothing to do with the deficit and everything to do with Lnasley’s determination to turn the NHS into a market-place in which the NHS is reduced to dealing with acute cases.
Clearly if the medical profession blocks the plan it cannot proceed. If it doesn’t, the potential ability of the Lib Dem block within the coalition to refuse to pass the bill is the only immediate hope of saving the NHS. Perhaps Nick Clegg should study a poll published today. Across Europe there is a sudden distrust of government. We are not at the top of the distrust league but are getting there. Right now distrust of politicians exceeds trust by a massive 66 per cent. And only 12 per cent of Brits believe that our politicians are honest.
Is it any wonder? The NHS reforms were not mentioned in either the manifestos or the coalition agreement. The medical profession is united in its concern that patients will suffer and the Lib Dem party at large is totally opposed. Yet Clegg on Saturday was prepared to lie and turn intellectual somersaults in an attempt to mislead the British people!
QUOTES FOR TODAY; “I always sit in the tail end of a plane, always, ‘cos you never hear of a plane backing into a mountain”….Tommy Cooper “The ship is sinking. We must try to save it. Help me get it into the lifeboat!”….Spike Milligan “Why not give your son a motorbike for his last birthday?”….Colin Bowles “Try flying on a plane with a restless baby if you want a sense of what it must have been like to be a leper in the 14th century”…..Nora Ephron “I don’t answer the phone because I have this feeling that there is going to be someone on the other end”…..Fred Couples “Brass bands are all very well in their place – outdoors and several miles away”…..Thomas Beecham “A harpsichord sounds like two skeletons copulating on a tin roof”…..Thomas Beecham “I would like to marry a nice, domesticated homosexual guy who has a fetish for wiping down Formica and different vacuum-cleaner attachments”…..Jenny Eclair
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. ‘Blazing Saddles’ 2. Argentina
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which sport was Harvey Smith once famous? 2. Which country was once led by Lee Kuan Yew?
A bright, dry morning with no more than a hint of frost had everyone in good humour this morning. Presumably the hens felt the same way for egg production is up and our flock of Columbian Black Tails seemed perky. Perhaps they had heard about the £20 million being handed over for Darren Bent and, being creatures of self understanding, decided that since they can head a lettuce further than he can manage with a ball justice is heading their way at last. Anyway, whatever the reasons, everyone and everything seemed happy. And it certainly wasn’t the result of watching last night’s Beeb documentary on the Banks!
I switched on with some trepidation since the piece of one’s brain that interprets finance is missing from mine. But I needn’t have worried for the presenter was Robert Peston who is adept at reducing a complicated story into one that even the simplest citiuzen can follow. And he is consistent. I say that because some weeks ago I visited him in his London office and, during the hour-long chat, asked him to sum up in a word what the Banks were guilty of. His answer was greed and that was the conclusion to be drawn last night.
It bothered me to learn that the system of money management practiced by my Gran was superior to that used in all those gleaming towers. She kept a tin on the mantlepiece and regularly put aside cash to cover all known eventualities such as the coalman. She slept easy in the knowledge that no demand could tip her into debt. It may astonish you but I have to confess that before yesterday I hadn’t realised that the Banks only retain around 8 per cent of the deposits they receive. The rest they invest, often to high risk ventures. In other words if every depositor arrived on one day to claim their money the Banks would be insolvent! Yes, just like Northern Rock to mention but one.
Amongst others Robert spoke to Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England. He commented that of all the ways of organising Banks the present one is the worst! Various experts in the world of bean-counting followed but what they said amounted to one thing, the Banks must increase their capital. Some added that even today they are still engaged in a remorseless pusuit of high salaries and bonuses and that leads them to take major risks for the best returns are always the least assured.
Inevitably there was much reflection on how the Banks led the world to near-disaster. The conclusion can best be summed up by looking back to Alan Greenspan, thhe great US Treasury chief. He once said that governments should leave the Banks alone to get on with what they were doing so well, making us all richer and richer. That of course was before it suddenly became apparent that the only people likely to remain rich were the bankers themselves.
They were the subject of questions Robert put to the head of RBS. He replied that, yes, rewards for most bankers are far too high, there are real stars but the majority are merely labelled thus in a culture out-of-control.
The great fear expressed was that the banks are getting bigger by the year, and should there be another crash they will be so big that no government will be capable of bailing them out. So another crash will be armageddon. But what, if anything, are the politicians doing to rein the Banks in? Vince Cable said that they have to be split down into smaller, and more manageable, units. It sounded right but will it ever happen?
The only hopeful note I pickd up on is the creation in the UK of a Banking Commission which is charged with finding a solution, a guarantee against another crash. It seems that one of the options it is consideing is an undertaking by the Banks to give a choice to everyone handing their cash to them for safe keeping. They would be obliged to ask “Do you wish us to keep your money or to invest it?” and to set interest rates accordingly. Were that to happen the cautious amongst us could sleep as soundly as my old Gran once did!
One was left with the impression that agreement of how much capital Banks must hold is way off, an impression heightened by revelations that even the oft-lauded Bank profits are mainly ‘paper ‘ ones arrived at via technical processes that I couldn’t grasp ( even the experts admitted them to be highly complex ).
There are some obvious safeguards such as never deposit all your eggs in one basket. But I’m digging a box out of the attic. Since I get vitually no interest and since I now know that, once paid into to my Bank, I may never see my pennies again I might as well slide it under the bed! Sometime the old practices are the best ones!
NHS; WE NEED AN INQUIRY NOW!
Most developed countries hold an Inquiry either before finally initiating action or immediately after it. Here we do things the other way round and the result is that we have only just competed an inquiry into things like the London security plans and the response of troops during Derry’s Bloody Sunday. And of course the Iraq Inquiry rumbles on still. We take so long about it that lessons are learned too late and those deserving praise or blame get neither since they are invariably no longer in office.
Right now the nation is in turmoil having listened to countless warnings about what appear to be half-baked plans to dismantle the NHS. Already we learn of rationing of such as eye operations to one eye onlyand we fear the worst.
In the view of many the NHS is doomed, victim of Cameron and Lansley. And even they are unsure of their facts or ability to do what they say they want to do. Of one thing we can be sure, ten years from now a public inquiry will be investigating tha loss of our most important institution back in 2011. People like Cameron, Lansley, Osborne and a parade of ageing doctors and nurses will appear before Chilcott mark 11. They will all blame others and the panel will say that it is too late to name and shame people who have long-since retired. Why should the Inquiry not take place now?
And it needn’t be one that drags on for ever. A public inquiry should be a surrogate court of law. It should be crisp, cetain in its justice, allocating praise and blame, as a punishment or a deterrent. It should not be a dilatory mechanism for postponing judgement and diffusing blame on to underlings.
An Inquiry along these proper lines into the NHS would do much good. Either people like me who passionately believe that Cameron and Lansley are destroying something special would be reassured, or the madcap planners would be stopped in their tracks before it is too late.
As things stand all is chaos and we shall soon see the police ‘kettling’ thousands of consultants and doctors just off Whitehall. There has to be a better way!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ”The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are usually the same people”…G K Chesteron “Housework is what a woman does that nobdy notices unless she hasn’t done it”…..Evan Esar “If your children write their names in the dust on the furniture don’t let them put the year”….Phyllis Diller “It takes only four men to paper a room but you have to slice them thinly”….Jo Brand ” Husbands are like fires, they go out when unattended” ….Zsa Zsa Gabor “The man who marries his mistress creats a vacancy in that position”….James Goldsmith
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Marlon Brando 2. Louis Armstrong
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which party did Clement Freud represent when he was an MP? 2. Whom did five Oxford colleges agree to accept for the first time in 1972?
Different things mean different things to different people. Other than those with small children few ever give play-pit sand a second thought, but to we chicken-keepers it represents the difference between a series of enclosed swamps and nine versions of Blackpool beach. All we need now is a donkey and we could transport ourselves back to those long-gone wakes weeks when we spent seven days sitting under our brollies waiting for the rain to stop. They are memories enriched by the passing of time, the reality was less sanquine. I certainly remember an awful lot of back-biting, what else was there to do but be spiteful?
Of course politicians do not need boredom to drive them to character assassination. To them it is a non-stop activity. Any visit to the Westminster tea rooms is guaranteed to provide you with an hour or so of carping about the ministers of the day, indeed both Blair and Brown employed Mandelson as a constant look-out for anything more threatening than the habitual moaning. It didn’t always work because I know from experienec that his silky arrival invariably caused a sudden change in the topic.
But the rumbles suddenly building up against David Cameron are potentially more damaging. He isn’t well-liked amongst most Tory MPs but now they are beginning to gang up and there are a number of leading party members who are sharpening the axe, none more so that the renowned Chingford bruiser, Norman Tebbitt.
Cameron could be forgiven for feeling that he is between the proverbial rock and hard place. On the one hand he must do every possible to prop up Nick Clegg for were the Lib Dem rebel MPs to finally walk away the coalition would collapse. On the other, he needs to keep his own MPs on board and many of them dislike the Lib Dems more than they do the Labour opposition, for it is they who are watering down so many long-cherished Tory reforms. And it is they who are keeping Cameron wedded to their pet hate, Brussels.
The Oldham byelection has proved, surprisingly, to be the match that lit the fire of discontent with the leadership. Cameron made it clear that every effort should be made to secure a Lib Dem victory, or at least avoid the humiliation of their coming third. To this end he vetoed any real canvassing effort on behalf of his own candidate and spoke well of the Lib Dem candidate. His nightmare was the thought of Clegg’s men coming third, but worse still behind the Conservative candidate. By way of a cover-up he made a visit to the campaign but observers were quick to reveal that he gave low profile a whole new meaning.
And it worked. But the problem is that most of his backbenchers are aghast. And they have strong support. Yesterday Lord Tebbitt didn’t beat about the bush. He blasted Cameron and called the result “dreadful”. He said that “this was a very good result for Labour and Ed Miliband – and better than expected for the Liberal Democrats. It was a dreadful night for the Conservatives. Mr Cameron may be pleased that his decision to run a half-hearted campaign and offer good wishes to their candidate helped save the Liberals but Conservatives should be downcast. The Liberals fought an excellent campaign with the help of Mr Cameron!”. Strong stuff.
It wasn’t long before others took Norman’s lead. MP Douglas Carswell said that the Tory candidate Kadshif Ali was “let down” by the leadership. MEP Roger Helmer said that many Conservatives were in despair and not just because of Oldham. “Clarke’s justice policies, our decision to decimate our armed forces while they’e still fighting and dying in Afghanistan are bad enough but we’re handing new powers to Brussels faster than Labour did and we’re not fit to call ouselves Conservatives” is far from Mr Helmer’s full rant but they convey the overall sentiment.
As yesterday wore on more and more leading Conservatives weighed in. When party chairman Baroness Warsi attempted a Cameron defence she was branded “Baroness Bonkers” both inside and outside the tea rooms.
To me at least the prime mimister had little option than to prop up his increasingly unpopular Lib Dem partners. But the post mortem shows just how delicate is the path he has to tread. He gives the impression of smooth invulnerability but he should surely beware. Even the Iron Lady eventually fell foul to the men in suits and when it comes to back-stabbing the Conservatives party has no equal. And that is no new phenomina. In 1845 Disraeli said that a Conservative government was “an organised hypocrisy…so much do the ideas of its head differ from the sensations of its tail”. Tuck that piece from the great man into your self understanding prime minister!
How should he play it? I haven’t a clue but it does seem to me that he may have to do more than pay lip-service to his party’s candidates in the next byelections not to mention the local elections in May!
MURDOCH’ BID TO DOMINATE THE BEEB INTENSIFIES!
The government was prepared to let the 2018 soccer World Cup be shown on Sky TV instead of free on the BBC and ITV, it was revealed yesterday. A report by the magazine ‘Broadcast’ revealed that at the request of Fifa, England’s failed bid contained a promise to give pay-TV companies like BSkyB first chance to bid. Neither the BBC or ITv were aware of the secret clause.
As each week passes it becomes ever more obvious that a lot of senior ministers are in Mr Murdoch’s pockets. And that includes not only his friends Messrs Cameron and Hunt but also the outgoing prime minster, who apparently agreed the original World Cup bid draft.
Polls suggest that most people wish to see the BBC preserved , indeed many cannot afford the high costs of pay-to-view. It is therefore entirely wrong for any member of the cabinet to make the irreversable decision rapidly approaching about the further expansion of Mr Murdoch’s empire.
The only way to ensure that the people feel that a fair and proper ruling is arrived at is to appoint a Judge. The judiciary after all is just about the only institution still trusted by most of the population.
IMMORTAL SOCCER QUOTES; Bill Shankly; “You say Tony Hateley’s .good in the air. So was Douglas Bader and he also had two wooden legs”. Joe O’Conner; “Football and sex are utterly different. One involves sensuality, passion, emotion, rushes of breathtaking ecstatic excitement followed by toe-curling orgasmic pleasure. The other is sex”
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. John LLoyd 2. Glenda Jackson
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What caused the death of Lord Mountbatten in 1979? 2. Of which country was Raymond Barre once premier?
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?
Wonderful! It was my turn to release everyones’ chickens this morning and I arrived at first light clad in the fashion of Captain Scott. Having heard the weather forecast of temperatures low enough to freeze an eskimo, I was armed with a blow-torch fully expecting an hour of thawing. In fact not one of the many containers was frozen and everything was shipshape by the time that Vernon came in. I said that he should be impressed by the sheer efficiency of the duty melter. But my Jamaican mate is not easily fooled and replied that if I continued to tell lies I would find myself transferred to the FIFA world.
Yes, he too had watched last night’s Panorama. We both found it staggering that people such as David Cameron should have attempted to persuade The Beeb to postpone the programme lest it influenced the panel due to select the venues for the 2018 and 2022 soccer World Cups. He, and the others who agreed with him, must have lost their moral compass for what the programme revealed was several very serious charges of massive corruption. Already two FIFA members have been suspended and now we learn that three or four others, who will be adjudicating, are claimed to be implicated in fraud of the most venal variety.
The findings were shown to Swiss MP Roland Buechel, an expert in the field of football administration. Having heard the facts his reaction was immediate. He said that ” after years of corruption we now need an external, an international and an independent investigation into the FIFA books”.
I confess to knowing litte about FIFA other than the constant appearance on the news of President Sebb Blatter who seems to be a sort of self-appointed head of world football. The impression given yesterday was of a clique of people with absolute power to make decisions that involve many billions of pounds. The suspicion is that the countries competing for their votes offer inducements and some provide vast amounts of cash that are not subsequently accounted for.
Those who were anxious to stall the BBC revelations present as their case the fact that many of the allegations go back a number of years. But that makes the situation even worse for it suggests that the alleged crimes – and that is what they are – have either gone undetected in which case there is clearly no proper audit, or have been condoned by others. Even Trinidad ExCo member Jack Warner stands accused of trying to buy tickets for the next world cup to the value of £50,000 and he is due to join David Cameron for lunch!
So severe are the accusations that one cannot avoid the conclusion that even the inept English Football Association must surely question its continuing to be a member state until there has been a full and independent inquiry. Panorama produced documentary evidence and it is intolerable that such a discredited organisation should continue to make decisions involving money on a gigantic scale.
Clearly it is now too late to have the decision-making meetings postponed but if British football is to retain any semblance of decency and propriety it must surely take a stand. The tragedy is that whatever is decided now will attract suspicion and the thought of our prime minister and future King toadying to people accused of fraud is very hard to take. The reality is that those on the catwalk are going along with the world governing body’s refusal to reform!
Some newspapers today have suggested inducements such as aircraft carriers or palaces but the situation is too serious to be laughed off. They should also note that apart from the claims of serious fraud, the programme provided details of the conditions that our government has accepted. A Dutch parliamentarian attacked these with vigour, she said the laws of a country should not be changed to make exceptions for individual organisations least of all those that have a dubious record. As David Mellor put it, this time corruption must be rooted out and there should be no amnesties or exceptions.
Like most soccer fans I and my pals were keen to see a successful England bid. But now we are less sure. Will we be supping with the Devil and providing it with a cloak of respectability that when it eventually ignites will burn us too?
Blatter’s seemingly dysfunctional “football family” should be left with the choice of becoming a transparent international parliament or admit its intention to continue to provide a means for opportunists to sell power to would-be hosts and private companies!
VIOLENT OFFENDERS ARE GETTING OFF WITH CAUTIONS!
We all know about the views of Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, on crime and punishment but only now do we learn the extent of his proposed leniency. Yesterday John Thornhill, chairman of the Magistrtaes Association, revealed in a speech to the associations annual meeting that no fewer than 37,000 offenders guilty of violent assault are being let off each year with a caution. He demanded that such cases be brought before the courts and added that in almost every case a prison sentence would have resulted.
This outburst folows that of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who said that he felt very strongly that all violent offenders who cause injury to others should be dealt with by a court.
As Lord Judge remarked it must be extremely difficult for injured victims to come to terms with the fact that their assailant has received nothing more than a rebuke.
Justice must be seen to be done. Right now that is not the situation and Clarke’s new world of forgiveness will make things even worse. It is time for him to move into the real world!
H & S BRIGADE STRIKE AGAIN!
Todays health and safety lunacy comes from Essex. Ron Warrick is a lollipop man and has been helping pupils from St Marys Primary School in Shenfield across the road for some time. But after the council installed a pedestrian crossing he was told that he must not leave the pavement because of the danger of motorists jumping the lights.
Adrian Tidbury from the highways department says that Ron could still be out there when the lights change and that is dangerous. Parents are astonished and wonder why it is not equally dangerous for six year olds!
ASHES; ADELAIDE HERE WE COME!
The scene is set for a tight match at Adelaide. Will Australia persevere with Johnson whose bowling in the first Test was just about as bad as things can get. But when he hits the right line and length his speed makes him dangerous.
England has a similar problem in that Swann at Brisbane looked a shadow of his recent all-conquering past. The Adelaide pitch is notoriously slow and spin could be the deciding factor.
But I tend to line up with Shane Warne who is quoted as saying that neither team is capable of bowling the other out twice!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Guyana 2. Lockheed
TODAYS QUESTIONS; 1. In what year was the European Monetary system formed? 2. Which city became the capital of the unified state of Vietnam?
We should all fear the darkness ahead shrieks a headline in the morning papers. I gloomily reflected that it is already here as I slithered along the muddy path down to the allotment this morning. According to the article in the Telegraph by Mary Riddell a funeral awaits and Mr Cameron should worry lest it be his own. Good said an equally disgruntled Albert as we forced open the various coop and cage doors, all made from unseasoned wood which swells up at the first monsoon. I am less sure about Cameron’s fate but I am extremely suspicious about the apparent determination of this government to put the Beeb out of business.
A lot of us are becoming paranoid about the prospect of Mr Murdoch controlling the bulk of media output in this country. And, as the old adage has it, just because you are paranoid it doesn’t follow that there isn’t someone out to get you. Was it coincidence that one of the first visitors to the new occupant of 10 Downing Street was the media mogul himself? Was the fact that his papers came out heavily in support of Cameron anything to do with it? In the view of us codgers the only independent voice left is in mortal danger.
The BBC has let it be known that the government is considering lumbering it with the cost of the free licences granted to the over 75s. Whether it will dare is still open to doubt but the very fact that it is that way inclined is ominous. The benefit, which was introduced by Grumpy Gordon during his period as Chancellor, costs £556 million. That almost matches the entire budget of BBC2 so one doesn’t have to be Wayne Rooney’s agent to work out that we are talking big money here.
Should the coalition take this route it will be proof positive that the objective is to run down the Beeb rather than save money for this could be done in another way. The scheme itself is plain bonkers for a free licence is sent unsolicited to every household containing one person over 75. A total of 4 million homes containg younger working people receives the gift of £145.50. On top of that a large number of well-off older people also receive the bounty.
If the free licence was confined to those elderly people living alone and who are not taxpayers the cost would shrink to miniscule levels. A decision based on need would certainly head this way but is there an altogether darker agenda at play here? Certainly the BBC, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Mirror, Guardian, BT and Channel Four seem to think so. They have come together to express fears that if the merger between Murdoch’s News Corporation and BSkyB proceeds we will have what they call “media plurality”. The Murdoch empire would have a combined turover of about £7.5 billion, more than 50 per cent larger than the entire BBC even before the Osborne effect.
Almost all of the allotment gang qualify for the free TV licence and with just one exception we are all happy to lose it to preserve the one remaining purveyor of news that is unprejudiced. It is surely significant that both the previous government and this one have expressed the belief that Paxman, Marr and all are biased against them! It seems that they all quite fancy the Putin model in which the media does what it is told to do!
Maybe the renowned journalist Hannen Swaffer (1979-1972) had a sense of what as to come when he wrote that ” the freedom of the press in Britain means freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices as the advertisers don’t object to”!
My self understanding warns me that I am often impetuous and wrong, but I venture to point out that this site has been vindicated by events in respect of its articles about the death of deportee Jimmy Mubenga and the expenses of the three members of the Lords. So whatever slasher Osborne choses to do tomorrow I recommend that all who cherish the Beeb keep a wary eye on the events of the next few weeks!
IRAQ; WHAT HAVE SO MANY DEATHS ACHIEVED?
If Tony Blair lives to be as old as Methuselah it is hard to imagine his ever being forgiven for the deception of Iraq.
Since that day when our troops were sent in to attack Saddam, and his supposed weapons of mass destruction, many have paid the ultimate price. Now? Yes Saddam has gone but the security situation is still as appalling and we now learn that deals are being struck by the undemocratically elected government with Iran which is poised to become the major influence there. We now face a greater threat to world peace than Saddam could ever have mustered.
It is one thing to die in the defence of ones country, quite another to do so at the hands of scheming, dishonest and corrupt politicians. And we shouldn’t forget that the Conservative Party also supported Blair’s horrendous venture. Only the Lib Dems stood up against it in the days before Clegg’s betrayal.
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT…LET OTHERS KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The Miami Showband 2. Don Estelle and Windsor Davies
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which year did the Soviet Union first send troops into Afghanistan? 2. The creator of Jeeves died in 1975. Who was he?
The allotment gang always strikes me as being a little like freemasonry without the funny handshakes. Everyone shares everything and that stretches beyond the obvious to include books. One such has been going the rounds for some time now and the copy of ‘Squaddie’ by Steven McLaughlin is decidedly dog-eared. Old soldier Harry is the owner and he bought it at a signing at Waterstones. Inside is inscribed “All the very best in life and good luck always”. Given the torrid time that the author, a 30 year-old private in the Green Jackets, endured he could well have wished the nation a less favourable outcome!
The book is published by Mainstream Publishing and, provided you are neither sqeamish nor prudish I can recommend it. Because this is a from-the-heart account of life in Iraq after the invasion the language is ripe and if you choose to believe that troops under attack talk like Biggles this read is not for you. But if you would like to know what our soldiers felt, as against what the Ministry of Defence said they felt, this is essential reading.
For me this is a book that is hard to put down. Almost every page screamed one question at me, how did anyone ever imagine that once the invasion was over winning the peace would be easy? The author sums it up by declaring that ‘by choosing to attack Iraq when it did, America may have opened up a 50 year conflict with Islam, not dissimilar to the struggle with Communism but potentially deadlier, because I believe religion to be a more powerful force than political ideology”. He sums up with a truly damning verdict. ” I am convinced that in years to come historians will look back on the debacle of Iraq and record it as grand folly on an epic scale” he says.
Strong words but one is inevitably drawn to the same conclusion when reading of the day-to-day atmosphere and culture of post-war Basra, which was where Steven McLaughlin served. His vivid description of the city is compelling. As a driver of one of the notoriously vulnerable Land Rovers he had been briefed on conditions but was nonetheless shocked by his first journey through the city centre. The scene of utter chaos and total mayhem on the roads could, he says, have come straight out of a Mad Max movie, and the abject poverty and clutter that was supposed to be a city looked more like a backdrop from ‘Black Hawk Down’. Never before had he driven with such aggression or disregard for the nrmal rules of safety – the streets were like a ‘dodgem track’ and he was fiorced to drive like he was in ‘Starsky and Hutch’.
In Iraq there are no driving tests, no MOTs, no road tax, no insurance and no rules whatsoever. Anyone can drive anything and there are no traffic rules. He and his colleagues were obliged to drive at breakneck speed because lurking amongst the teeming throng were terrorists whose favourite tactic was to try to isolate one Army vehicle, into which they would lob a grenade or spray some gunfire before disappearing as if invisble. As indeed they were because the author constantly reminds us that the enemy wore no uniform and almost every man, terrorist or otherwise, carries a gun.
Places where the troops felt most vulnerable were at police checkpoints and in traffic jams. Basra is, he explains, a sprawling and overpopulated lump of crumbling concrete and abandoned blocks of slum housing. A driver would keep his eyes on the chaotic traffic whilst the others had to cover alleyways, pedestrians, surrounding traffic, huge blocks of flats and shop doorways. On one occasion they spotted someone about to fire a hand-held rocket and screamed away whilst returning fire. The ‘soft-skin- Land Rovers had no protective armour and assailants merely needed to hit the driver. As the vehicle crashed a mob would do the rest.
Once clear of the city the greatest fear was roadside IED bombs. Every clump of rubbish or patch of shrubbery was a potential bomb. Their random and unpredictable nature took no account of any military skills and the most switched-on soldier in the world would die instantly if the vehicle drove over a hidden bomb.
The author recalls some good experiences. When possible the troops would stop and chat to children. In contrast to the adolescents who spat on the floor or hurled insults, the younger kids radiated goodwill and curiosity. Many were clearly near to starvation but the troops were frobidden to hand out even water for early precedents showed that when a crowd gathered an attack quickly followed. Some adults too were friendly but in the main the troops encountered hatred and a belief that even under Saddam people had felt less oppressed or fearful. Of course the soldiers could never be sure that the people they spoke to were not the very ones that had attacked them earlier!
But, for me, the most sobering part of the book is that which sums up what many of the British troops felt. It was, they believed, an unwinnable war and it was causing unending distress as a result of attacks on suspected terrorists which inevitably involved the death of many innocents. This in turn led to an increasing hostility. The author feels that Iraq has become a recruiting sergeant and cause celebre for Islamic fundamentalists across the world. Whereas before they dare not show their faces in Iraq, they have now taken up permanent residence. Many of the locals said that they believed the al-Qaeda line that the allies invaded Iraq for no resaon and stole its oil. The slogan of ‘join us and fight’; has won much support.
Of course much of what appears in this harrowing account applies equally to Afghanistan. Politicians may well ridicule what soldiers such as Steven McLaughlin say but they haven’t served on the ground in these hostile lands whose culture will never adapt to our version of democracy. The book ends on a truly sobering note. When at last the time comes to return home there is great relief and rejoicing. But no sense of success for most soldiers of self understanding see this as an unjust and unreal occupation.
Whilst he was serving in Iraq the author, despite being an athiest, read the bible for the first time. He selected words from Mark which he published for the attention of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, both of whom made much of their faith. The words read “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
BEEB UNDER ATTACK YET AGAIN!
The Daily Mail is fixing its guns on the BBC with its launch of ‘Whinge Watch’. The aim is to ‘highlight bias and ensures it reflects the interests of the private sector – which pays its bills – as assiduously as the concerns of the public sector of which it is the flagship’.
The series began with Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie accusing the BBC of failing to ‘truly represent the broad cross-section of licence-fee payers’. Will this latest excercise in nonsense last longer than the Telegraph’s ‘beebwatch’ launched with a similar fanfare in 2003? That faded out when the editor realised that the vast majority of the population value the dear old Beeb
In his recent speech Mark Thompson, BBC director-general, revealed statistics showing that 74 per cent of Daily Mail readers say they are glad the BBC exists, whilst 82 per cent of Telegraph readers say likewise. He added that the papers in question not only failed to reflect the opinion of the nation but even failed to reflect that of their own readers.
Strangely the Mail forgot that bit when it reported on Thompson’s speech!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Marc Bolan of T Rex 2. Diane Keaton
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which sport was Heather McKay dominant? 2; Which Welsh cricketer captained England?
Together with many of my pals in the allotment shed, I view this government with deep suspicion in regard to the future of the BBC. Diane Abbott, one of the Labour leadership contenders, probably summed us up perfectly when she remarked that “Tory activists hate the BBC but most voters love it!”. That certainly seems to be the case for hardly a week passes but Cameron or one of his friends launches a new attack on the supposed excesses of the state broadcaster. And it has to be admitted that there are excesses, not least of which is the ludicrous salaries paid to supposed stars such as Jonathan Ross, but that merely points to a need to force better governance not to abolish the institution itself.
When I visited Television House recently I was struck by the obvious impartiality of people such as Robert Peston. They wouldn’t survive for ten minutes in a commercial organisation such as Sky where there is a clear, if covert, political stance. In fact I would go so far as to say that given the enormous growth in the Murdoch influence the Beeb is the only impartial voice left to us, particularly since the broadsheet press has itself succumbed to political influence. Do we really want to lose that, do we really want to plunge to the depths of many countries where what is broadcast is at the behest of government or, in our case, its cronies. It is surely no coincidence that both the Labour and Tory governments have constantly protested that the BBC is biased aginst them. What they really mean of course is that it is not prepared to simply report what and how they tell it to.
There is another, albeit more mundane, factor. Do you, like me, find it impossible to relax and enjoy drama on commercial channels? I recently counted four advert breaks during a one-hour play. Ads are intrusive and repetitive and, for me at least, ruin anything screened. In the case of sport it is less so since at, for example, soccer half-time one can turn the sound down and wander off to make tea. No such escape from dramas or documentaries, the Meercat appears again and again.
Unless the British public takes a firm stand on this there is little doubt as to where it will all end. Sky is already massive, its marketing budget is bigger than ITV’s entire programming cost. Its subscription revenue at £4.8 billion dwarfs that of all other commercial companies put together. It has reached the point where the only obstacle to its total dominance of what we see or hear is the Beeb. And the Beeb’s fate rests in the hands of politicians who at each election go cap-in-hand to Rupert Murdoch seeking his endorsement. Blair did it and so did Cameron. The last thing they have in mind is impartiality or even the quality of BBC programming.
It may sound twee but I love the part that the BBC has always played in our national life, I love the feeling that someone like Paxman has freedom to rough up evasive or dishonest politicians. I passionately believe that we, the people, should not stand idly by as the death of one of our favourite institutions is planned. This was never mentioned in any manifesto and I hope that you will, like a group of us from the Shed, lobby your MP. There should be a referendum offering a range of options. No decision of this magnitude should even be contemplated without real and democratic consultation.
I trust the BBC, I distrust all politicians and doubt if many disagree with that sentiment. In his recent MacTaggart lecture, the BBC’s Director general, Mark Thompson, said that a pound out of the commissioning budget of the corporation is a pound out of the UK creative economy and once gone it will be lost for ever. He went on to ask which organisation do viewers most value, and which better serves the public good, the BBC or BSkyB’s parent company.
Perhaps the reason for the reluctance on the part of government to ask us that question is their fear of the answer. They must choose between offending their media cronies or offending us!
FULL MARKS FOR THE POPE!
With three exceptions there are no Catholics in our allotment gang, but everyone had nothing but praise for the way in which the Pope conducted his four-day visit. He came across as a very kindly man and he made some telling points.
Not least among these was the reminder that this is still very much a Christian society and governments should stop pandering to the politically correct brigade. He particularly mentioned Christmas and the bizarre practice of many local authorities of banning celebrations for fear of giving offence. Offence to whom? If any minority objects to Christams it has the right to ignore it, what it does not have is the right to object to it.
Last evening the Beeb screened a number of programmes aimed at celebrating the Battle of Britain. We were reminded of the Few who gave everything to preserve our freedom. And freedom should not be taken away by faceless bureacrats!
I cannot in all honesty claim to be a churchgoer but I have to confess that the Pope has prompted me to ask my self understanding why. I can think of many less positive influences than a vibrant Christian church whatever its denomination!
CRICKET; THE ICC SHOULD ACT NOW!
Another day and another nail in the coffin of international cricket. There have been more tabloid allegations of so-called spot fixing by the Pakistan tourists and now their leading official has chosen to allege that England deliberately forfeited the last match.
The International Cricket Council is not renowned for action but it is high time that they stepped in!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Teddy Knox 2. On the way out of the underground garage of the House of Commons
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What fell on Scarborough in 1975? 2. At which tube station in London did 35 people die in a crash?
I was in Lomdon yesterday and as we headed home I read a transcript of the Pope’s speech in Edinburgh. My eye was particularly caught by his reference to the Christian message having been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years. He went on to say that “your forefather’s respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from a faith that continues to be a mighty force for good in your kingdom, to the benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike”. It took my mind back immediately to the visits we had made that day when the cause of the financial collapse was ascribed to selfish greed.
I was in the capital as a representative of the Debt Advice Foundation, a registered charity committed to the task of promoting education in money management amongst tomorrow’s generation. I was there with pupils and staff of Southlands High School, a Lancashire school which, with the financial backing of the Foundation has taken a series of unique initiatives. A series of beautifully produced ‘Money Diaries’ has been written and illustrated by pupils and these are now in use as text books across the region. And a Money Education Centre has been built. This is now in use and senior pupils are being taught the key issues surrounding the successful handing of money and debt avoidance by a lecturer from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. They in turn will go on to teach fellow pupils and local community groups. Many of us old ‘uns simply do not understand the fundamentals of household and personal budgeting, nor the perils of such modern innovations as credit cards and the task of learning together is underway in at least one UK school.
All of this has won deserved applause from those at the top of the financial world and representive pupils were invited to call at the offices of City Editor Alex Brummer, the Beeb’s own Robert Peston, and last, but by no means least, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King. All three men expressed great support for what the charity and Southlands have pioneered and all talked at length to the pupils who had a lot of questions. Inevitably the cause of the crisis was right up there. Interestingly all three, albeit approaching the crisis from different angles, named greed and selfishness. They tended to trace the seeds of ruin back to the eighties, up to when the authorisation of debt had been subject to tight controls. Suddenly the shackles came off, the Banks began to develop ‘casino’- like tendencies and those in the investment arms began to make personal fortunes by taking risks. At the same time the public, all of us, began a frenzy of ‘spend today’ built on instant gratification and the illusion that everything was available at the production of a piece of plastic.
The whole crazy charade came to its devastating climax on August 8th 2007. That was, Mervyn King told us, the most difficult moment of all. The Bank of England had little alternative to bailing out/nationalising several major Banks for had they not done so the whole Banking system and the economy would have collapsed. The problem now is not whether the supported Banks pay the Bank of England back – indeed one has already done so – since any Bank failing to do that would cease to exist. The problem is the biggest national deficit in our history, one that the Governor believes could take up to ten years to eliminate. And that means a new age of austerity and of acceptance that we cannot have everything we want at the drop of hat.
I thought that Robert Peston put it well when he said that we have to move from instant gratification to patience, an awareness that non-essentials have to be saved for and that the needs of others must become once again part of our culture. If I may digress for a moment I came away from the Television Centre fearing even more the possibility of this government emasculating the BBC in favour of commercial companies with vested interests. I particularly noticed that everything Robert said was clearly objective and at no time did he give the slightest indication of political bias. During what are going to be difficult times this independence in thought and words is going to be our greatest asset for no one trusts the politicians in the way that they still trust the state broadcaster.
For a school to be granted lengthy audiences in such august quarters is really astonishing and shows just how inportant all three men see the need to eduacte tomorrow’s citizens in the way that no one attempted to teach the one that has failed so disastrously – ours. Also remarkable was the recognition that what the Banks have triggered is going to prove grossly unfair to the youngsters now growing up. We all aided and abetted the Banks in what they did for they could not have lent irresponsibly if we had not been so keen to borrow beyond our means. Tomorrow’s generation has to pick up the pieces of the wreck we created and to suffer the consquences.
Let us hope that, unlike us, they heed the Popes reminder about Christian ethics, whether they be Christians or not. A good start might be the old commandment about loving our neighbors as ourselves for there wasn’t too much of that in the wasteful times before the bubble burst. And the wastefulness of our society is in evidence everywhere.
As we crawled through the London traffic I noticed a vast number of huge signs proclaiming an ‘emission zone’. It never happened but that didn’t deter the authorities from pouring millions into the production and erection of thousands of signs.
Perhaps a better idea would have been some warning of the dangers of living beyond ones means! But the lessons are not yet imprinted on the psyche of the ‘casino men’. We saw hundreds gathered outside the hostelries they favour and all the well suited crowds had glasses in their hands. Being bowed in shame would be more appropriate!
GOVERNMENT POLICIES HAVE RENDERED US VULNERABLE!
Wherever you go in London you encounter evidence of the general nervousness about security. Yesterday’s warnings from Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, will have done nothing to calm frayed nerves. He said that his officers are engaged in an intense struggle against Muslim radicals and Irish nationalists. It is, in the Director’s view, only a matter of time before Britain is the victim of an attack from extremists .
Mr Green warned the government not to abandon control orders, the measure under which terrorist suspects are tagged and put under house arrest. It seems that the Lib Dems have promised to scrap the measures.
Perhaps the first thing Cameron should do is to ignore them. Yapping on about human rights may appeal to bleeding hearts but they will be the first to wail when murderous madmen unleash their hatred! The second thing he should surely reconsider is the barmy plan of Thersa May to reduce police numbers!
FAREWELL FEARLESS FRED!
We knew it was coming but the announcement of Freddie Flintoff’s retirement is still a blow to all cricket fans. The big man often kicked over the traces but he never gave less than his best in battle and few will ever forget some of his Ashes triumphs when he pulverised the old enemy and then knelt to comfort them when their luck ran out.
Michael Vuaghan has attributed most of his successes as captain of England to Fred who always refused to treat the propsect of defeat with other than disdain. He will be sorely missed or, as they say in the ferret-shed, they don’t make ‘em like that any more!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ: 1. Jimmy Carter 2. Zaire
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. America’s Sweetheart died in 1979. What was her name? 2. The author of ‘Not Waving but Drowning’ died in 1971. Who was she?