Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Farewell to arms!

Valentine’s Day. It has to be admitted that there was little evidence of romance in the air as we codgers cleaned out the hens this morning. Even had there been it would have quickly dissipated when Mrs Albert arrived with all guns blazing, her once beloved having forgotten to leave the keys to their love-nest when he headed for the allotments. As the exchange reached Ukraine proportions it was hard to imagine the young misty-eyed kids that once exchanged unsigned cards on that long-gone February 14th.

Omit the squabbling and the same could probably be said for the rest of us. But we all have our memories, and few easily forget the first time we held hands with she whom fate had decided should be our lifetime’s companion. She-who-must-be-obeyed and I were first manacled together some sixty years ago and, since she reads this blog, I hereby record that it doesn’t seem a day too long. Her view may well be different. Either way we both remember our first date – joining the crowds lining the streets to watch the then traditional Valentine parade by the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry.

Sadly that regiment has long gone and any parade today would have to be staged by G4S, in the event that they turned up and had any arms to slope. It was my mentioning that memorable occasion that triggered this morning’s discussion as we retired to the warm ‘shed’ to mark the day of hearts with our daily tribute to Saint Pickles.

It is no exaggeration to say that we are alarmed at the perilous state of our armed forces. This week Air Chief Marshall Michael Graydon and Vice Admiral Jeremy Blackham have gone into print to bemoan the fact that whilst there has been much talk about “weaponising” the NHS the public service which really needs weapons is being steadily divested. Since 2010, the overall fighting power of the military has been reduced by half.

Britain no longer has any maritime patrol aircraft, we have just three squadrons of Tornados to defend our shores, and the army is suffering a serious manpower shortage. And the cuts go on. Experts believe that within three years UK defence spending could fall as low as 1.7 per cent of GDP – lower than the 2 per cent minimum set by Nato as the qualification for membership.

Politicians of all parties clearly feel that they can get away with cuts to military spending because the public is weary of what it sees as unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet this assumes that the importance of national security is akin to that of fighting wars against insurgents in the Middle East. It is not.

Moreover, the military is being cut back at a time of heightened need for self-defence. On several occasions of late Russian aircraft have been sent to test Western air defences, a display of brinkmanship not seen since the Cold War. Vladimir Putin has already seized Crimea and is sponsoring separatist forces in Ukraine. Cold War-style hostilities are returning, we are slashing our armed forces. Realistically even more threatening is the growth in worldwide terrorism, and the rapidly growing number of British citizens contributing to it.

It is hard to fathom what David Cameron believes about foreign policy and defence. He has spoken of “closing down ungoverned space” in the Sahara yet instead closes down RAF bases. He has responded to each new outrage with sabre rattling whilst continuing to make troops redundant. Most worrying of all he seems content to rely on armed policemen to handle the ever-growing threat of organised terrorism on our streets. Given the ease with which would-be bombers can enter the country the day may well dawn when they cannot cope.

It is not as if he has excelled in exercising soft power. He has been excluded from the crucial Ukraine talks. He has been warned by President Obama about the effect of reducing defence spending on the so-called ‘special relationship’. America’s contribution to Nato is already nudging 70 per cent of the total cost, and US public opinion is questioning its involvement. Britain is rapidly becoming a non-player on the world stage.

If the main parties have an unspoken consensus to turn Britain into Denmark, a country which prides itself on public services, but with little in the way of armed forces or international influence, we should know about it. But even so the prime responsibility of any government is the defence of the realm.

And we increasingly feel a sense of defenceless unease. Maybe we are becoming paranoid, but that doesn’t mean that someone out there isn’t planning our destruction!

You may have noticed the absence of comment on today’s Australia v England clash in the World Cup. It seems that it is not only troops that we now lack!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” We are not retreating; we are advancing in another direction”….General Douglas MacArthur.

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Do we really want to lose our libraries?

There was a nip in the air this morning and it was not one for hanging around. But we codgers drew great comfort from the sight of the banks of snowdrops with their promise of warmer times to come. They are not alone for many other bulbs are beginning to signal that it is almost time to prepare the greenhouses for the annual seed propagation. Being a mournful soul, Albert wondered aloud for how much longer we will be able to maintain such a workload but we more stoical creatures prefer to live in the now – today is the only reality.

But it is perhaps a sign of our increasing awareness of the passing years that leads us to increasingly worry about the fate of the NHS. As we cleaned out the hens we mulled over the news that the Ohio-based Cleveland Clinic has hired British consultants to help it explore potential hospital take-overs in the UK following the general election. Oversexed, overpaid and over here – all the usual guff was trotted out but the more rational amongst us reminded ourselves that Cleveland is regularly ranked among the best US hospitals, and has an enviable reputation for treating world leaders and celebrities. Such a move would be very different to the ill-fated acquisition of Hinchingbrooke Hospital by Circle which is now demanding a £10m bailout before pulling out, leaving a huge deficit.

The bulk of the Cleveland hospitals are located in a mile-long campus on the edge of Cleveland, but it also has operations in China, India, Turkey and Canada. It has clear international ambitions, and is opening a 22-storey hospital in Abu Dhabi this Spring. Encouraged by the growth in UK private hospitals earnings from the NHS (10 per cent in 2004 has risen to 26 per cent in 2013) it is said to be keen to make a “game-changing” impact on the UK state-funded healthcare scene.

Significantly the American giant believes that whoever wins the May election will be “open to offers”. We veterans, who tend to regard the NHS as a sort of religious faith, hesitate to immediately leap up and down in horror. Cleveland are not amateurish get-rich-quick merchants and would undoubtedly refuse to dance to the tune of incompetents such as Lansley or Hunt, and could well herald a new era in which healthcare is not treated as a political football. But it is surely time for a grown-up debate for things cannot be allowed to continue to deteriorate.

As we settled around the hut fire for our daily re-enactment of the Feast of St Pickles our thoughts turned to another ‘treasured’ institution – our libraries. Annual numbers of visitors have fallen by 40 million in just 4 years, with particularly sharp drops in deprived areas, as austerity measures force closures across the country. The rapid decline reinforces warnings that the viability of the entire library network could soon be in danger without urgent action to reverse the trend.

According to the House of Commons library 282 million visits were paid to libraries in 2013-14, compared with 322 million four years ago. The biggest fall was in the 16 to 24 age group. Just four years ago 40 per cent made use of the facility, now that has dropped by one-third.

Literacy is very important, but the libraries of today offer far more than books. Most provide regulated internet access and regular talks by local societies which stimulate interest in local social history. Many provide a welcome resting place for harassed Mums who welcome someone else taking on the role of story-teller for an hour or so. All provide a valuable source for those who can’t afford to boost the coffers of Amazon.

Of course there are services more essential than libraries. But at a time when companies such as Amazon pay little corporate tax it is surely time for someone up there to develop a backbone and cry enough is enough. Some parts of our culture must not be destroyed to avoid the challenge of facing up to those who each year rob the national purse of over £25 billion. Perhaps the near one million people who contacted the BBC about the state of Robert Peston’s hair should find something rather more important to complain about.

Sadly we shouldn’t hold our breath. Yesterday the Foreign Secretary castigated Vladimir Putin as a tyrant, claiming that in the 21st century it is “unthinkable to cross the borders of a sovereign state and to invade its territory”. Were he to pop in to his local library he would find that in 2003 we did exactly that and killed about half a million of its citizens in the process.
QUOTES FOR TODAY; ” A man came to my door and said, ‘I’d like to read your gas meter.’ I said, ‘Whatever happened to the classics?’….Emo Philips. ” A classic is a book that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read”…Mark Twain.

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Don’t apologise – swamping was the right word!

We codgers admit to being as scientific as the late president of the Flat Earth Society, so it is less than surprising that we find the latest pronouncements about the effect of global warming beyond our understanding. When the warnings about an ever warming planet first hit the headlines we those of us still possessing choppers took comfort in the thought that the days of their chattering on the allotments would soon be a distant memory. Today a report published in Nature Geoscience reveals that whilst the summers will indeed get hotter, the UK winters will head in the opposite direction.

Apparently the loss of floating Arctic sea ice in the Barents and Kara seas north of Scandinavia can affect the global circulation of air currents and lead to bitterly cold winds blowing for extended periods in winter over Central Asia and Europe, including the UK. Small consolation – the Japanese scientists have added that the cooling effect in unlikely to last “beyond this century”. It is time to buy shares in Long Johns Ltd.

It wasn’t a happy note on which to start another week on the allotments. Being ostrich like by nature we quickly turned our attention to other news, as we cleaned out the hens. Richard Carter, from Anglesey, is out selling poppies again this year and has said that his efforts are aimed at funding the expensive prosthetic limbs required for the lads who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Richard is 100 years-old. Perhaps if Mr Blair reads of this inspiring example he will donate the odd million from his fortune.

Even the news that Russell Brand is to seek election as London Mayor once Boris has departed to seek election as Prime Minister couldn’t deflect our attention from the end of the Afghan mission. In addition to all those now dependent on the efforts of such as Richard Carter, many families, both here and in the United States, now mourn the loss of sons and daughters and the death toll in Afghanistan itself is beyond contemplation. As a result we hesitate to join the chorus of those who claim that the whole venture was doomed from its bloody outset. But the signs from both Iraq and Afghanistan are ominous and it is difficult to foresee other than both countries returning to the grips of madmen. Once again we have intervened in cultures that we do not understand, once again politicians seeking self-glory have destroyed the lives of many brave and innocent people.

By the time we reached the allotments hut for our undeserved break my pals had shifted their attention to less weighty issues. And they don’t come less weighty than the new brand of Police Commissioners introduced by the coalition. When the idea was first muted we welcomed the idea of the police being held to account by respected pillars of society, but we predicted that the scheme would be hijacked by politicians. We were right for once. Following the belated resignation of the Labour PCC Shaun Wright in South Yorkshire, the new candidates are seeking votes. It is, the press tells us, a battle royal between Ukip and the Labour Party. Congratulations are due to our dear leader – he has now managed to politicise the police. Expect another farcically low turn-out from an outraged public.

Even news of the latest stage in David Cameron’s divorce from Aunty Merkel could not keep the supposed gaffe by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon from today’s front pages. Speaking to Sky News Mr Fallon said that towns up and down the UK are being “swamped” by immigrant workers. Many communities, he said, feel themselves to be “under siege from EU migrants”. Within hours Downing Street criticised the minister. He should, said the duty spin-doctor, learn to “chose his words better”. Rubbish.

Whatever the politically-correct brigade chose to believe Fallon was reflecting the views of millions. A friend lives in a community in the south of England and tells us that at first incomers were welcomed. Then the trickle turned into a flood and they began to feel like strangers in their own patch. The sheer weight of numbers led to tensions, now the smallest incidents turn into major hostility. Local services have been “swamped” and bigots are drawing attention that they could once only have dreamed of. Migrants pour in but, at a time of widespread funding cuts, services already creaking at the seams are reaching breaking point.

This has nothing to do with racism, everything to do with finite capacity. On last night’s BBC news a Labour shadow minister gleefully pointed out that “Cameron is backing into a corner from which he can only recommend leaving the EU”. True, but does he really believe that such a stance will be a vote-loser?

And now for the day’s biggest headline. The health promotion division of the chattering classes has announced that Cocoa is the secret to a long life. How we codgers have reached our late eighties without consuming the foul stuff remains a mystery!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” He’s on the mend, sitting up in bed blowing the froth off his medicine!” …Flann O’Brien.

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Britain sups with the devil!

Thanks Boris! It was pictures of loopy BJ waving a brick about his head that focussed our attention on to the large stack in the corner of the allotments. When some time ago we built our ‘hut’ Albert inadvertently added a naught to our order, and a few days later we arrived to find the equivalent of an Egyptian pyramid. We now learn that the cost of bricks has risen by 30 per cent in the past twelve months and, better still for skint codgers, the waiting time for deliveries has climbed to 40 weeks. Apparently the collapse of the house-building business in 2008 led to manufacturers closing factories and reducing output. Demand is now rocketing but supply is struggling to catch up. The average house is made of 10,000 to 15,000 bricks and we are about to make enough profit to keep us in doughnuts for a year.

The sudden conversion into gold of our hoarded Alderley Mixture bricks made by the Newcastle-based Ibstock company provided good news on a wet morning dominated by absolute anger. All of us have followed the plight of local man Alan Henning, and the dreaded news that this good man has been butchered by scum has left us seething with feelings of impotence and head-bursting frustration. Alan was engaged in aid work aimed at helping suffering innocents in Syria, and we find the sight of a British citizen obscenely ending his life too much to bear. Everyone realises that air strikes will not stop the murderous Isis mobs and for the hundredth time we felt stunned at the inability of the United Nations to muster a task force capable of stopping the ever-increasing carnage wrought by madmen in the name of an imaginary God.

Having cleaned out the hens we codgers gathered in the hut in an atmosphere that was unusually sober. At times such as this one casts around to point an accusing finger. Sadly it doesn’t have far to travel for our own country is culpable in the extreme. The decision to invade Iraq provided fanatical preachers with the opportunity to radicalise young British Muslims, and for too long we failed to move against them in the interests of ‘human rights’. It seems that innocent victims such as Lee Rigby and Alan Henning had no human rights.

And the misguided tolerance goes on. Only yesterday we learned of yet more developments in the so-called Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham. Those who would indoctrinate our small children in hatred are still active and still the authorities quake at the thought of being labelled by the politically incorrect brigade. And to add to the danger growing in every corner of our society the coalition government has reduced the numerical strength of our armed forces to the point where public safety is no longer assured.

But an even bigger threat has been created by the obsession for attracting foreign investment. Qatar, arguably the most corrupt state in the world, has been invited to establish itself in our capital city. It has invested billions of pounds in such projects as The Shard, the tallest building in Europe, the take over of Harrods, the Olympic Village, One Hyde Park, part of Canary Wharf, the US Embassy building in Grosvenor Square and Chelsea Barracks. Its ruler even thinks that his enormous clout entitles him to blag his way into the Queen’s carriage at Ascot. At last there are calls for greater scrutiny of Qatar’s connections to global terrorism and Malcolm Rifkind, the chairman of Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, has warned Qatar that it must choose its friends or live with the consequences”. Too late.

Khalifa Muhammad Turki al-Subaiy is a prominent Qatari citizen who is believed to have provided “financial support” for Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed of 9/11 infamy, who was jailed for terrorism offences in 2008 but released after only six months. He is now accused of funding Islamist terrorists in Syria and Iraq. Documents released by the US treasury disclose links between al-Subaiy and a terrorist financier accused of bankrolling the plot to blow up airliners using ‘toothpaste’ tube bombs. The American military thwarted the plot in an air strike on the terrorists headquarters in Syria just over a week ago. There are widespread allegations that Qatar is involved in financing Islamist militant groups in West Africa, helping with weapons and ideological training and with funding the buildings of mosques in Mali and Nigeria that preach highly intolerant versions of Islam. In fact the desks of security agents across the Western world are littered with evidence that Qatar is the main financial source of the creatures that threaten us.

Dr David Weinberg, of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, is right now preparing a report naming 20 Qataris, including al-Subaiy, with links to terror funding. “The scope of Qatar-based terrorist fundraising is astonishing,” he says. “Tiny Qatar has displaced its much bigger neighbour Saudi Arabia as the number one source of private donations to Isis and other violent extremists in Syria and Iraq”. The report will claim that the amount of funding is colossal.

When you visit London it is easy to spot the Shard. Next time you do so spare a thought for Alan Henning and remember that old adage about supping with the devil. We may be almost powerless to tackle Isis in Iraq and Syria, but one would have hoped that their funders and disciples in the UK would be easier targets.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Alan Henning raised money for Syrian-based charities by washing cars and chose to sleep in a van on his journey across the Middle East rather than spend money on accommodation that could go towards those in greater need. He had particular concern for the effect the conflict has had on Syrian children”…..Rachael Pells, Independent.

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The United Ostrich Kingdom!

The autumn leaves scrunched like a creme brulee as we entered the allotments this morning. It was a beautiful morning but all aorund us were the signs of a summer gone with only the asters putting on a colourful last stand. The absence of wind combined with a heavy dew to produce a breathless hush punctuated only by the blackbirds and Albert’s customary prophesies of doom. As we set to on our hen-cleaning we felt inclined to feel that all was well with the world. But of course we were wrong.

The headlines that greeted us when we duly gathered in the hut solemnly announced that Britain is at war. Given the apalling barbarity of the insane hordes of the so-called Islamic State we had imagined that we already were, but it seems that the agreement of MPs to the use of our six remaining war-planes to bomb targets in Iraq makes it official. Having watched extracts of the six hours of Westminster waffle we codgers found ourselves wondering if the title of United Ostrich Kingdom might be a more appropriate one.

Going to war is, at any time, a grave matter – lives will be lost, and even the lives of our enemies are sacred. But when the enemy represents the purest of evils we have seen since the Second World War the decision should be straightforward. And so it has been for France, Australia, Holland, Belgium and the United States. No deference to their respective legislatures, just leadership. For Obama, Abbott, Hollande and the rest the crucifixion, beheading and butchering of Christians and Yazidis was cause enough. Not so the UK. For our current generation of political leaders there is safety in numbers – a bit like a middle manager cc-ing an email to make sure that everyone shares in the decision in case it goes wrong.

And this one already has. The mandate for action only in Iraq is absurd – as if Isil recognises such things as national boundaries. If Isil are to be defeated they must be destroyed wherever they are, and that right now means across the Syrian border. It is an absurdity to limit our forces to engaging an enemy only on one side of a border but not a few yards away on the other side. David Cameron’s hands were shaking as he addressed the Commons yesterday, the result perhaps of his fear at the thought of having sacrificed what he knows to be reality. Even some of the ostriches ventured to ask how our contribution could possibly help if we publicly announce that the beheader’s arsenals and main supply centres are sacrosanct.

The latest opinion polls show that only 17 per cent of the public are opposed to either strikes on Isil’s Syrian strongholds or troops on the ground. So it is clear that there is now general recognition of the fact that the mad jihadis represent a huge threat to our own society, that the murder of Lee Rigby was but a terrible foretaste of things to come. But our leaders lack courage, there is no modern Churchill. Our forces have been significantly hit by cuts, their capability degraded by government design. Their advice will undoubtedly have been that you cannot defeat Isil without overall air strikes backed by troops on the ground – and that the Iraqi army is not up to it. The Kurds are, but they lack equipment.

The ostriches have buried their heads in the desert sand and we can only hope that others will now rectify the murderous mess that we helped to create. Frankly our reluctance will have little military significance since we no longer have armed strength. But it was tempting to laugh when Chris Grayling announced yesterday that Nigel Farage does not have what it takes to be a Prime Minister. Does he really believe that Messrs Cameron and Miliband do?

As if to enhance the public impression of a weak and subservient Britain we read this morning that the EU has instructed us to pay more than £10 million in unemployment benefits to EU citizens who returned to Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic after being made redundant here. It seems that once an EU subject has lived for a short time in Britain we are under obligation to pay benefits until such time as they find work at home. Small wonder that Kenneth Clarke and others are now urging our dear leader to drop his pledge of a referendum in the unlikely event that he survives the 2015 election.

We also learn today that the passport Office is to be taken back under the direct control of the Home Office. Theresa May chose to announce this U-turn of monumental proportions just as the ostriches were assembling yesterday. We also learn that a patient at one of the much-lauded private healthcare providers has been awarded £500,000 in damages after her eyesight was destroyed.

It seems that ostriches are good at burying bad news as they bury their own heads!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” I don’t know what effect these men have on the enemy, but by God they frighten me!”…..Duke of Wellington.

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Unlimited holidays? No thanks!

There are times when we codgers feel as dinosaurs must once have felt – too big, out of touch and heading for extinction. That was certainly the case this morning when we mulled over a new survey showing that whilst the UK is no longer a land of culinary ignorance, one in seven of older men can’t cook and baulk at even boiling an egg. As we cleaned out the hens we attempted to assuage our sense of guilt. It is probably an outdated concept but we have always believed in horses for courses. Most of our wives are experts in the art, most of us equally so in household repairs ranging from boilers to guttering. A partnership of equals? Please refrain from comment – we suspect the verdict will be dinosaurs, or in the case of Albert ferrets, for he is certainly not too big.

It was drizzling, and by the time we thankfully escaped into the cosy shed our thoughts had turned from sunken savarins to today’s vote in the House of Commons. It seems certain that use of our few remaining aircraft to bomb Isis in Iraq will be sanctioned. Frankly our contribution will be insignificant by comparison with that of the rest of the new ‘coalition’, and the issue is our willingness to stand up and be counted. We are puzzled by those who have rushed to condemn even token action. Murderous psychopaths such as the so-called Islamic State are a major threat to many nations and they have to be stopped. Air strikes alone will not achieve this but without help from the air the ground forces ranged against them will fail. Anyone born, as we were, in the thirties knows only too well the outcome of appeasement, and these insane religious fanatics are every bit as much a threat to humanity as was Hitler.

It was with some relief that, as we downed umpteen mugs of tea, we turned our thoughts to a more peaceful subject. The ever innovative Richard Branson has announced the equivalent of a corporate honesty box. Virgin plans to grant its employees the right to take unlimited holidays. The policy-that-isn’t will permit all salaried staff to take off whenever they want for as long as they want, and there will be no need to ask for prior permission. It matches the practice of the boss who can slip off to Nicker Island any time he wants. It is the ultimate in equality.

But there is a condition. Staff are free to bunk off, says Richard, provided that: “they feel 100 per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business”. Now that is different to the great man himself who has underlings to take up the slack, and in any case no-one is going to question his right to take a break. For the rest of the Virgin empire what seems on the face of it to be a wonderful innovation will surely create a great deal of uncertainty. It will probably also create the temptation to take less rather than more holidays with a view to being labelled conscientious.

Perhaps our newly established status as dinosaurs is once again in evidence here, but we cannot avoid the conclusion that the option of taking permitted holidays is the better one. Hands up anyone who has ever – ever – felt 100 per cent comfortable that they are completely on top of things before heading off. It seems to us that the new scheme will blur the lines between work and play. Lounging on the sand whilst worrying about condemnation for being away when an unanticipated problem erupts does not sound to us like a restful experience. And human nature being what it is there is always the possibility that a rival in the office will enjoy the opportunity to pass the buck.

We much prefer the initiative launched recently by some French employers. Holidays are authorised and all contact by emails and phones are banned during vacation times. That way, it seems to us, the employee gets his or her holidays and can leave the stress where it was created.

Perhaps we haven’t yet heard the full details of the bearded wonder’s brainwave. Maybe the people taking the least holidays will qualify for a seat aboard his Mars mission. Then again since it is to be a one-way trip perhaps the people taking the most time off will be pushed on board?
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Normally when I’m on holiday and I’m asked what I do, I say that I’m a traffic warden. That makes me much more popular”….Steve Pound, MP.

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Mentioning the unmentionable!

We codgers realise that today we are the youngest we will ever be, but the years seem to be slipping by at an ever increasing rate. We often cheer ourselves up by telling one another that we don’t look a day older without mentioning the unmentionable, which is that the reason for that apparent miracle is that we met yesterday. I was reminded of this when yesterday I bumped into a chap I worked with some thirty years ago. After some hesitation he remarked that I had changed almost beyond recognition, and I refrained from replying that he has changed so much that I didn’t recognise him at all.

Nowhere is the ageing process more apparent than with the young. Visitors sometimes recoil with amazement when meeting my grandchildren who they haven’t seen for several years. Because I see them every day I hadn’t noticed their transformation, although it had occurred to me that a subtle change has evolved. It seems but yesterday that I helped to look after them, in recent weeks they have looked after me. They used to delight in visiting the allotments to see the chickens, now they come less enthusiastically to pick the beans which, during my post-operation period, represents a task akin to re-roofing the hen-houses.

I was reminded of all this when, after this morning’s hen-cleaning – which has become for me a sort of spectator sport – Tom referred to unmentionables. There have always been subjects that remain in that category in the hut given the wide variety of views on such matters as religion and politics. The latter is no longer a sensitive issue since, in common with most folk, we no longer respect its practitioners or see ideological differences between the parties. But it was only when Tom pointed it out that we recognised that some subjects are never mentioned as the new age spin-doctors bombard us with sound-bites.

The example Tom had in mind was the colossal national debt. Hardly a day passes but our dear leader and his pals rattle off new evidence of the miraculous economic wonders wrought by Saint Osborne. They rely on the fact that most of us would prefer to watch paint dry to thinking about economics, and confine themselves to talking about the ‘deficit’, the gap between what the treasury rakes in and what the government spends. Householders can relate to that, but they also know that breaking even is not enough if you have mountainous debts incurring mountainous interest payments.

And that is where we as a nation are right now. In fact it is worse than that, the deficit is growing too. It is when you examine the reasons for Gorgeous George’s failure to honour his pledge to balance the national books that you spot the unmentionable. Tax revenues are down by 4.8 per cent on the previous year, and that is due to a further fall in income from corporation tax which has now sunk to £6.56 billion. Why? More and more of our largest companies are practising tax avoidance. In the fiscal year to date the Government has borrowed £37 billion, compared with £35 billion for the same four months of last year.

In effect the misery being imposed by schemes such as the bedroom-tax and disabled benefit cuts is having virtually no effect. Neither will they have so long as the companies that make their profits from sales to UK customers are allowed to avoid tax. And transferring ownership of our railways and energy suppliers to foreign interests, governments even, will only serve to make things worse.

Of course Westminster is not alone in the art of the unmentionable. In a few weeks time people in Scotland have to decide whether to remain part of the UK. We codgers tend to sympathise with the idea but where are the financial projections? The voters are being bombarded with talk of utopia from Alex Salmond and Armageddon from Alastair Darling, but the facts that really matter are clearly regarded as unmentionable. We entirely understand the wish to escape rule by a remote bunch of rich Old Etonians who have just one MP in Scotland. But does it make any sense to base such an important decision on whether the BBC will cut them off from the dubious pleasure of watching the Eurovision Song Contest and Strictly Come Dancing?

Meanwhile the media is understandably preoccupied with the hunt for the British Jihadists who executed an American journalist, and the continuing slaughter of the innocent in Gaza. But study the coverage carefully and you will spot the near-unmentionables. It is reasonable to assume that if both horrors were being committed by, say, Methodists, every editor’s pen would be pouring vitriol over the heads of the followers of Wesley. But Israel and the British Muslim communities are, it seems, unmentionable.

Even the ever-sparkling Alastair Campbell doesn’t seem to have cottoned on to the concept of the unmentionable. He has today called for action to tackle the “mounting crisis in the nation’s mental health”. No chance Alastair, when it comes to the unmentionable mental health services are top of the list.

But be of good cheer! The Bank Holiday weekend is here. Just don’t mention the weather forecast!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Violence is the repartee of the illiterate”….George Bernard Shaw.

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If it ain’t broke don’t mend it!

It feels good to be up and about again, and even better to be able to stand and watch as my fellow chicken-keepers chase the hens and, having failed to grab them correctly, end up with a flurry of wings accompanied by language that would have shocked my Aunty Ethel. As I stood there this morning I felt rather like Professor Sir Mike Richards, who yesterday pontificated about some of the hospitals he has inspected. As plain Dr Richards he was not renowned for his administrative skills, but now that our dear leader has elevated him to judge those of others he is transformed into the nation’s greatest expert. Perhaps we should both remember the old maxim that talks of them that can’t teaching.

We seem to have become a nation of meddlers. Back in the days of Clem-the-clam Attlee there were few government ‘advisers’, let alone an army of highly paid management consultants. Now Whitehall is awash with them and the result is constant tinkering with our institutions and services. The latest example concerns our GP services, which once provided excellent care for every family. Along come Lansley, Hunt and countless supposed experts and the tinkering begins. Now the service is in chaos, the GPs utterly demoralised and waiting times in the legendary London bus category. And today we hear that ‘failing’ practices are to be put into “special measures” with teams of yet more ‘experts’ parachuted in to put things right.

Who are these ‘experts’ in diagnosis who are freely available? When I chaired a Primary Care Trust I met some of them. They comprise doctors who have never run a practice, rather like football coaches who prefer to forget that they were never able to bend it like Beckham. The only way to restore our family doctor services to its previous glory is to stop meddling and to leave the only real experts to run their own show. The vast majority of GPs know when they need help, and would prefer to devote their time to treating their patients and keeping up to date with current research than to spend their days engulfed in bureaucracy and advice from people less expert than themselves.

It is not just in the field of medicine that a bloated top-down system of government is creating havoc. There is now quite rightly a growing sense of panic at the threat of Isis militants. David Cameron yesterday used a newspaper column to talk of the need to counter it both at home and abroad. But it’s one thing to sound like a statesman and another to provide a coherent, consistent and intelligent foreign policy that makes you one. The sad fact is that Western foreign policy, backed by Britain, has contributed to the conditions that have allowed Isis to thrive.

Our opposition to Bashar al-Assad in Syria allowed Isis to grow. While parliament refused to authorise direct intervention we encouraged the flow of money and arms from some of our Gulf allies. In Iraq our reluctance to contain the sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nourial-Maliki created the conditions for Isis to thrive there too. And our silence on Israel’s onslaught on Gaza has created emotional support for Isis throughout the Muslim world. Cameron inherited a foreign policy already in disarray after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is substantial evidence that none of these errors of judgement would have occurred when the advice was provided by seasoned on-the-spot civil servants who drafted policy proposals for ministers. Like Blair before him, Cameron has surrounded himself with ‘advisers’ more concerned with political sound-bites than reasoned risk analysis.

So it is with the police. Experienced observers could long since have warned successive Home Secretaries that the leadership of the police was becoming enmeshed with vested interests and delusions of omnipotence. The ultimate shambles manifested itself in the Cliff Richard affair. Trust in the police has all but vanished, and now we are told that officers are to be disciplined. Too little, too late. The regular statements of trust drafted for ministers by political advisers now look what they were – political hogwash.

It occurs to us codgers that what has been lacking for some time is a brake, one that only MPs can provide. Back in the days when ministers were not surrounded by armies of advisers it mattered little that parliament closed for lengthy holidays. Now these increase the extent to which Downing Street becomes an executive hub, one populated almost entirely by political advisers in the Andy Coulson mode.

At the very least what is now needed is a formal standing committee present during holidays and empowered to hold ministers to account. We know several of our regions MPs well and they regularly tell us that they now feel marginalised and no longer able to bring influence to bear. A Labour MP told us that even the leader of the opposition now has a a large office of ‘advisers’, and no ear for his elected colleagues. A Conservative summed the dilemma up perfectly.

He told us that his government is now a London fixated clique of unelected ‘know-alls’. Someone should remind them, he said, that if something ain’t broke the best policy is not to mend it! Perhaps we need an anti-meddling law?
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it!”….Steven Wright.

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Just a pebble in the ocean!

Like Bovril a daily dose of boredom can change your life. Having been confined to the house for over a week now, I find myself seeking amusement in places that hitherto have passed me by in the manner of an HS2 train. Yesterday I actually read the hundreds of Spam messages that land in the comments box of every blogger. I counted twelve messages urging me to buy cheap jerseys, eight offering escorts not of the Ford variety, the same number introducing drugs that I have never heard of and handbags that sound too exotic for Wigan market. All lead with complimentary remarks about the blog, and I had to remind myself that I was but one of a million recipients. It is a fair bet that the writers of this universal rubbish are equally bored.

I also listened in to, rather than slammed down the phone on, a series of cold calls. Before the salesmen could get into their set patter I asked them why they earn their living working in call-centres. Most rang up on me, but one Indian gentleman told me that he had no other way to earn a crust than to spend his days ringing everyone listed on tabulations purchased from Barclays.

On a more positive note several of my allotments pals called in bearing veggies garnered from my plot. Amongst them was Harold, whose style of conversation always fascinates me in that every subject is accompanied by a detailed description. He told me that last week he drove over the Humber suspension bridge. It was, he told me, opened by the Queen in 1981 and was at that time the longest and most expensive single-span, concrete supported bridge in the world. It is, he added, unique in that it connects Willerby and Barton-upon-Humber, two places that no one wants to go to. And to think that I imagined it to be yet another feature of tedious journeys.

Things brightened up no end when I tuned in to the European athletics. Forty year-old mother of two Jo Pavey produced the performance of her life to win the 10,000m race. No weary acceptance of the ageing factor for Jo, this down-to-earth star has enough determination to achieve anything. But as she performed her lap of honour I did wonder if the sudden introduction to her life of hordes of idiotic autograph hunters and tabloid photographers just might trigger the realisation that fame can be a two-edged sword.

That certainly proved to be so in the tragic case of the much-loved Robin Williams, whose death has shocked us all. I have always wondered if most psychiatrists are barking, and their outpourings in this morning’s papers have reinforced that suspicion. The most eminent amongst them solemnly declares that external factors play no part in depression. I wonder if the grieving relatives of Stephanie Bottrill read that. Yesterday she committed suicide, leaving a note blaming the effect of the “bedroom tax”.

The ministers responsible for that penny-pinching illogical scheme won’t have read it. They, it seems, have other more important things to deal with. Such as supporting the new boss at Serco, the villains of the multimillion-pound offender tagging scandal, which was obliged to pay back £70m to the Government as atonement for over-charging. You would have imagined that, in the much lauded new world of competition, that would have been the end of contracts for Serco. But no, new boss Rupert Soames reports that the Government is “back on side”. Could that mean that the old-boy political network is back in action? Mr Soames is Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson!

But in the feeble minds of codgers such as us the appalling situation in Iraq continues to loom above everything else. One of Britain’s most respected commanders, Col Tim Collins, has compared the massacres in Iraq at the hands of Isis with genocides carried out by Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot, accusing the Government of failing in its “moral obligation” to intervene. Col Collins, famed for his inspirational speech on he eve of the 2003 Iraq war, says that politicians have “left for lunch” and warns that ancient civilisations will be “extinguished” unless Britain gives a lead by joining air strikes and providing arms to Kurdish forces. He also urges that troops be stationed in Iraq to help bring to an end the appalling atrocities being committed by the new so-called Islamic State.

Yesterday the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate on Mount Sinjar where 30,000 refugees are trapped by the Islamic extremists. The United Nations warned that Iraq will descend into a “mass atrocity and potential genocide” unless “action is taken within hours”. Frankly the chance of the UN taking effective action within weeks let alone hours is minimal. Britain helped to create Iraq in 1920 and we do have a moral responsibility to help. We have used the Kurds as a public convenience for too long, now they represent the only hope of stopping the Islamist murderers, but their lack of weaponry prevents them from resisting as they would wish. Isis has the latest hi-tech weaponry in abundance, most of it supplied by the Americans and us to the Iraqi so-called army.

As you read this whole families are dying in despair, and arguably the greatest threat to world peace is being allowed to advance at will. What we have done so far amounts to what Col Collins describes as a “pebble in the ocean”, and what Cardinal Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England, has described as “not enough”. The failure to recall parliament is a national disgrace.

I have just been interrupted by an Indian lady inquiring about my vitamin intake. I told her that I lie in bed all day and have no need for such supplements. I added that I am thinking of setting up a call centre in Wigan. She rang up on me.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Life is like opening a tin of sardines. We’re all looking for the key!”….Alan Bennett.

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Deaths, Prison and horse’s arses!

Albert tells me that, when cleaning out the hens this morning, my pals on the allotments could talk of little else but the tragic news of the death of Robin Williams. We have often recalled his brilliant performance in ‘Dead Poet’s Society’, ‘Good Will Hunting’, ‘Mrs Doubtfire and a host of other memorable films. This wonderful actor inspired and entertained millions over many years and had a worldwide fan base.

Early reports from California suggest suicide. It is so hard to understand how someone so universally loved and admired could reach such a situation but, sadly, depression can hit any one of us and the uplifting light of joy can find no way into the dark night of the soul. By coincidence I have just finished reading Sheila Hancock’s book about her life with John Thaw. He died from cancer but also endured a long battle with depression. Many of the best actors are at heart private people and one wonders if the constant pressure of public acclaim eventually overwhelms them, and turns an identity crisis into a living nightmare. We simply don’t know but for us codgers the world is a darker place without two men who so often brightened our mundane existence.

It is, as they say’ a funny old world. People we admired from afar are dying, madmen are slaughtering fellow human beings in the name of their imaginary God, Ministers are resigning because they see £120,000 a year as poverty, and man’s lack of respect for the environment is destroying the balance of the earth’s climate as the ice caps melt. But right now there are armies of ‘experts’ studying such things as the need to widen deckchairs to accommodate the ever increasing size of the human posterior. Perhaps they should advise the government to replace the ones they are rearranging on the decks of the Titanic?

Amongst the rearrangements is the Prison Service. A report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons tells us that the conditions in our prisons are “not acceptable in a civilised country”. Cells are “dangerously overcrowded”, and there is a total lack of rehabilitation. Staff cuts and privatisation have led to a sharp increase in inmate suicides. Inmates are locked up for 23 hours each day and the situation, says Nick Hardwick, is “horrible”.

People who study such things tell us that immigration is a major factor here. But whatever the causes for the rise in the prison population it is surely time for action. The possibility of rehabilitation is crucial, and locking up first-time offenders cheek by jowl with hardened criminals makes that near-impossible. Putting untrained employees of private companies in charge of chaos serves only to create even more chaos and lack of order.

Inevitably the chattering classes have been quick to come up with their solution – stop sending people to jail. What a wonderful message to would-be law breakers that is. The only logical answer is to build more prisons and to house miscreants in humane conditions in which they are no longer a danger to the public, yet still have the opportunity to reform if they are willing to do so. Yes, an expansion programme would cost money but, as with many essential services, cuts eat away at the heart of society.

Has any thought been given to converting the many empty tower blocks and outdated office blocks that we regularly see being demolished? Such sights have become a spectator sport. In our patch a large block built in the seventies has just been bulldozed to make way for up-market houses. Has any thought been given to tax avoidance which creates a huge void in the nation’s piggy-bank?

The answer is undoubtedly no. We live in a political system where the only motivation is to hype up the promises with the next election in mind. Have you ever wondered what society would be like if the only candidates were Independents, free of political dogma and unproductive point-scoring?

Dream on!

The American standard railway gauge (the distance between the rails) is 4’8.5″. Why this very odd number? Because that is how we build them in England, and English ex-pats designed the US railroads.
Why did the English choose the number? Because the people who built the first tramways used the same jigs and tools used for building wagons which used that wheel spacing. Why did the wagons have that spacing? Because had they used any other spacing the wagon wheels would have broken on some of the old long-distance roads in England, because that was the spacing of the wheel ruts
Who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built them for their legions. Roman chariots formed the initial ruts which everyone had to match for fear of wheel damage. Thus today’s American standard railway gauge is derived from the original specifications for a Roman war chariot.
Imperial Rome army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.
When you see a Space Shuttle on its launch pad you may notice that there are two big booster rockets attached to the side of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters (SRBs). They are made by Thiokal at their factory in Utah. The design engineers would have preferred larger SRBs but they have to be shipped from the factory by train. The line runs through a tunnel which is only slightly wider than the track width which, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses behinds.
So what is arguably the design of the worlds most sophisticated method of transport was determined over 2,000 years ago by the width of a horse’s backside.
It reminds us that horse’s arses control almost everything!
(With thanks to reader G)

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Government shows its true colours on tax avoidance!

Our bedroom ceiling features a lot of cracks. Hardly a world-shattering revelation with which to open today’s opus but presumably even Rebekah had days when real news was hard to come by. My enforced examination of the surface I once painted did prove one thing – we seldom notice the minute details that surround us. Now I am downstairs and have taken to examining the intricate surface of the flower vase, but being occasionally upright does at least enable me to avoid looking up at Albert, a posture I once assumed to be a physical impossibility.

He called this morning with tales of mud, feisty hens and battered roof panels. He handed over a box of chocolates from my fellow codgers. This breathtakingly unusual gesture was somewhat offset by the news that my chickens have become ‘mixed’ up with those of other owners, and I am wondering if that was Albert-speak for they have all escaped given the absence of my sheepdog Preston who has developed a remarkable capacity for patrolling the boundary edge.

None of which is remotely important but seemed a gentle way of moving into the increasingly appalling news from Iraq. It seems that Jihadists have massacred hundreds of non-Muslims, many of whom were buried alive whilst the assassins performed dances of homage to what is surely the strangest God yet invented by man. Meanwhile tens of thousands are trapped on mountains in searing heat whilst the UK government proudly boasts of aid drops comprising “1,200 reusable water containers and 240 solar lanterns which can be used to recharge mobile phones”. The UK strategy of benevolent detachment is utterly untenable.

The response of the Americans is equally pathetic. It is not difficult to imagine the feelings in Washington at the performance of the Iraqi £25 billion army which fled 1,300 fighters at Mosul in what Patrick Cockburn calls “one of the greatest military debacles in history”. But the fact remains that the botched war and “reconstruction” by Bush and Blair, and the recent flirtation with Syrian rebels has created a vacuum which has provided religious zealots with the opportunity to establish an extremist medieval caliphate, pursued with carelessly abandoned 21st century weaponry.

The Western powers started this and they must, however reluctantly, finish it. We have a straight choice between putting troops on the ground to create a safe haven or making empty gestures whilst one act of genocide follows another, and the middle east returns to the dark ages and becomes a base for Jihadist atrocities in this country and many others. To our eternal shame the people who supposedly run our island are on holiday!

But they have been active in a matter that concerns everyone of us. Tax avoidance is robbing the treasury of amounts far in excess of the savings being made from cuts to public services and benefits, and the pollsters have revealed that this is a major issue with the vast majority. This morning the right-wing press has been briefed to headline a supposed crackdown. Gorgeous George Osborne intends to extract inheritance tax before death from anyone using accountancy ploys to reduce payments when they depart for the wide blue skies up yonder. He may be right in principle although we should remember that such ‘offenders’ have already paid full tax on the money they wish to protect.

But why is there still a total silence on the majority of our large companies who make their profits from British customers yet pay little tax? The answer is of course that they have friends in high places. A few days ago the curtain of secrecy parted slightly.

Take a look at the latest peerages announced by our dear leader. The list is of course packed with party political donors, but some of the appointments tell us something more significant. Take as an example the peerage awarded to Joanna Shields, who is now the prime Minister’s digital adviser and chair of Tech City UK. Just one year ago she was in charge of Facebook in the UK. The media giant’s British operations paid just £238,000 in corporation tax the previous year, despite having UK sales revenue of £175 million. Ms Shields achieved this by diverting most of its sales via Ireland, where tax rates are lower. Before her years at Facebook Ms Shields ran Google’s European operations. That company has also been accused of avoiding tax in the UK.

Yesterday Richard Murphy, the tax specialist and anti-poverty campaigner, said: “It is surprising that David Cameron, who has made tax and transparency one of his highest priorities when president of the G8, has appointed a person as a peer who has been a director of companies that appear to have made tax avoidance and opacity their highest priority when pursuing their corporate goals”.

Surprising? Not really Richard. The wealth divide in Britain is greater than at any other time in the past century, and the rich folk stick together.

As Ms Shields is measured up for her ermine I find myself wondering just what those starving thousands make of their solar lanterns. And choke back tears of rage and impotence.
QUOTES FOR TODAY; “Thousands of people, among them many Christians, banished brutally from their houses, children dying of hunger and thirst as they flee, women kidnapped, people massacred, violence of all kinds, destruction everywhere…all of this deeply offends God and deeply offends humanity”….Pope Francis in Rome yesterday.

“Taxpayers are understandably angry when they see companies not paying their fair share, and this appointment won’t sit well with many”….Andy Silvester, Taxpayers’ Alliance.

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The greatest threat to world peace since Hitler!

It is, I suppose, an idealistic fantasy, but I have always imagined the Government of the day to be responsible for the running of the country in the way that a Board of Directors runs a company. I was reminded of this when younger members of our tribe arrive to visit grumpy Grampy and reported that they had spent hour after hour locked in motorway tailbacks. it struck me as similar to a hotel allowing endless guests into their establishment without making any attempt to relate capacity to demand. I suppose the reality is that no one ‘runs’ the country, we simply elect politicians who spend the next five years bickering, seemingly oblivious to the logistical problems that beset everyone who fancies venturing beyond their front gate.

Which reminds me that i haven’t ventured beyond mine since my operation of a week ago today. My allotments pals pop in to exchange insults from time to time but, such moments apart, life has become somewhat boring. Others who have suffered similar fates tell me that this is the time for deep introspection aimed at working out the meaning of life, but I become preoccupied with less weightier issues, such as the disinclination of the Old Trafford ground-staff to cover up the renowned mud-patch on their outfield when the heavens open.

Even the news that Albert yesterday dropped a tray of eggs for the zillionth time when he was bitten by his own dog didn’t lighten my mood, proof positive that hilarity flourishes only in the company of others. But I did derive some small satisfaction at being right in predicting that the newly privatised Royal Mail would lose no time in cutting services. Yesterday it announced that the latest time for posting is being brought forward to 9.30 am. Wonderful – our postal services were sold off at £1.5 billion below market value and are now in the hands of overseas investors. The plan to invite Uncle Vince Cable to become the treasurer of our local cricket club has been abandoned.

Standing – or in my case lying – back from the real world does at least filter the news into what really matters, and what doesn’t. Today my narrowed eyes swept past tales of our dear leader and Rebekah’s horse and Boris hanging from a trip wire, to focus on what increasingly looks like the greatest threat to world peace since the corporal with the Charlie Chaplain moustache. We didn’t take him very seriously during his early mad rants and we all know what happened next. Now we increasingly hear, or see TV reports of, the equally mad voices of the jiadists. Already they have us referring tn the new Islamic State of Isis.

Right now wars are being waged around the middle east and the madmen are never far removed. When the so-called Arab Spring dawned the Western world rejoiced, only to find that the Muslim Brotherhood was not a sort of Lib Dem revival in robes. In Gaza fanatics have goaded Israel into conducting a massacre of the innocent which has rightly been condemned around the world, and in so doing has once again won support from even peace-loving Muslims. And we all know the story of the Bush/Blair invasion of Iraq.

And it is there that the greatest threat of them all is building. Religious minorities have been driven from their homes by Isis, a movement hell-bent on building a caliphate. Offered a choice between death or conversion, they have fled into the countryside to seek a perilous refuge in the wilderness. The Yazidis and Christians have become isolated on a mountain, suffering from starvation and dehydration. Unaided, they face certain death either by natural consequence or beheading if the fanatics arrive before they expire.

There has been an understandable reluctance on the part of President Obama to “return to Iraq”, given painful memories of the effort to build a nation there after the 2003 invasion. But it is precisely because the West played some role in creating the circumstances in which the Islamic State flourished – with a mix of too much action in Iraq and, arguably, too little in Syria, where the terrorist army was incubating – that it surely has a responsibility to act now.

And act they have with a combination of bombing and humanitarian aid. Sadly the time has come to stop Isis before its evil influence spreads out across large swathes of the world including the UK. Negotiations with people who believe that death is a ticket to paradise is futile. If we learned anything in the 1930s it was that unbridled fanaticism has only one antidote.

To this day historians still reflect on Chamberlain’s naivety. Let us hope that Barack Obama will not one day be similarly regarded!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: “I will only shake my finger at him,” he said, “and placed it on the trigger”…Stanislaw J Lee.

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Unemployment down but where are the REAL jobs?

It is only when you are reliant on nurses that you realise just how important they are. Recovering at home has its benefits but there are inevitably moments when you feel the need for expert advice, and a call to the hospital nursing station is always met with patience and helpful guidance. Just as well since the chance of seeing a GP in our neck of the woods is akin to my getting to Old Trafford to gloat over the demise of the Indian batsmen. There is no doubt in my mind that the Coalition’s enforced reduction in nurse numbers in our large hospitals is a huge disservice to patients. Frankly I could never again vote for a party that contains incompetent nincompoops such as Lansley and Hunt.

And it is not only in healthcare that the present bunch of ministers has shown its lack of understanding of the consequences of its actions. Albert called this morning with a supply of beans, eggs and moans and told me of the grandson of one our allotments gang. Some three years ago he responded to government propaganda about the career prospects for social workers by enrolling on a university degree course. Earning his qualifications was a hard slog but, he imagined, the effort was worthwhile. Now he finds that there are no vacancies despite the fact that those social workers who have survived the cuts are overworked to a dangerous state, dangerous to their health and to the clients who desperately need their help. A vital service has been reduced to ruins to save costs dwarfed by the amounts denied the treasury by tax-avoiders and the hordes of £1,000-a-day management consultants covertly employed. Run the country? Employment may have fallen but where are the real jobs? Politicians would struggle to run an Eric Pickles chip shop.

Test match apart, the rest of today’s news isn’t too cheering either. The first public pronouncement by Education Minister Nicky Morgan tells us that the madmen who have conspired to turn many of the new Academies are also taking similar action in regard to nurseries, where toddlers are being indoctrinated with extremist views. Apparently there have been hundreds of complaints from worried parents, and the government has decided to withdraw funding from nurseries linked to radical mosques or run by organisations with extremist views.

Action surely needs to go further than this. Anyone even suspected of promoting such lunacy should be barred from holding office in any company or registered charity. Since any director of any company can be banned should his or her company be late in filing accounts, such action would hardly be draconian. And even if it was, the time to consign political correctness to the bin has arrived. If you doubt that take a moment to read this morning’s updates on what Isis, the heroes of these people, are doing to the Christian and non-Muslim communities in Iraq!

But despair not. Today we will learn that the cost to the taxpayer of the House of Lords is to take another boost. All of the political parties pledged to reduce the size of this institution of privilege, but the numbers of ermine-clad cronies continues to rocket. Amongst today’s new entrants you will find Ranbir Singh Suri, a jewellery tycoon who has personally donated £129,380 to the Conservative Party, and whose company has handed over a further £183,055.

Another major donor, Sir Michael Farmer, will also be taking the bow. He has donated more than £2.3m to the Tories. When Lloyd George came up with the wizard wheeze of selling honours he set quite a precedent, and we Brits treasure our old traditions. If Ed Miliband would only stop agonising over his appearance when eating bacon sandwiches he just might find that there are some pledges that, unlike his sandwich, might go down rather well with the disgruntled electorate.

There are some iniquities that beat even that in the twit-of-the-decade stakes. Today’s papers carry warnings from the society of beancounters that the gender pay gap will remain in place for another 60 years. Why? What is so complicated about making equal pay for equal work mandatory? Could it be that the people pulling the strings are men?

Never mind, it is time to draw the blinds to block out sight of what the Met Office tells us is to be the worst storm in living memory. Just a quick peek. How very strange, the sun is shining and all is well.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans!”…Woody Allen.

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Tony Blair in never-never land!

Another beautiful morning. When we arrived at the allotments the rows of sunflowers were beaming back at their God, and the masses of begonias were bathed in shining glory. At such moments we codgers are always reminded of the famous lines about Solomon in all his glory not being arrayed as such as these. It is quite a sobering thought that even in an age of a multi-billion fashion industry we mere mortals still cannot match the glorious splendour of plants that just three months ago were seeds capable of being blown away by the gentlest breeze. It always serves to reassure us that despite being scruffy we can still play a part in the creation of something that even Lady Gaga cannot outshine.

Having cleaned out the hens, and lifted another half-dozen rows of new potatoes, we settled on the wall alongside the shed for our tea and doughnut break. There was considerable amusement at the news that the officer in charge of police horses let slip the fact that Rebekah told him that the retired horse she acquired from them was for the use of David Cameron. Our hearts go out to our dear leader who this morning faces the dual task of persuading the decidedly reluctant Aunty Merkel to impose real sanctions on Vladimir Putin, plus explaining for the umpteenth time that he scarcely knew either Mrs Brooks or her horse. His life seems to be dogged by difficult women, and even the arrival of the thigh-flasher has done little to ease his burden.

But our butterfly brains soon alighted on weightier matters. Yesterday, whilst Ed Miliband was hob-nobbing with President Obama, his perpetually dark shadow Tony Blair was giving the inaugural Philip Gould lecture to a rapturous audience of former Blairites. As ever the former leader managed to convey the earnest air of a latter-day saint as he emphasised that young Ed must be prepared to leave his “comfort zone”. He wasn’t specific but there were some outside of the worshipping throng who wondered if he had one or two invasions in mind. They probably wondered too about his claim that money is not important, something so often asserted by those who have acquired enough to take over the Bank of England.

We codgers know only too well that there is much to be said for casting aside old grudges. But we find it hard to forgive our former hero for the lies he told at the time of his joint adventure with George W Bush. Millions died in the aftermath of the supposed quest for weapons of mass destruction and to his day the carnage continues in iraq, with the repercussions still haunting those charged with the security of these islands.

But peace comes at a price say those who still cling to the illusion that whilst wrong in substance, Tony Blair was right in principle. Peace? Try telling that to the people of Iraq. Yes, many were relieved to see the fall of Saddam Hussain but what they didn’t grasp was that there was no rational plan to avoid their tortured country from sliding into an age of brutality that even Saddam couldn’t match.

A few days ago we were chatting to a Church leader who has spent time in Iraq attempting to assist the large Christian community in the north. He told us that the last Christians are right now fleeing from places where their communities have lived for almost 2,000 years. All of them face a deadline for them to convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed. And this is no empty threat. Isis, the new brutal and fanatical extremist ‘army’, lives by its statement that for those who fail to comply “there is nothing to give them but the sword”. Already thousands have been slaughtered.

Isis now rules an area larger than Britain and has already ‘eliminated’ many of the ancient Christian communities of eastern Syria. Those leaving Mosul, captured by Isis on 10th June, in order to seek refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan are being stripped of all their possessions. Our informant said that every Christian stopped at a checkpoint were stripped of everything they were carrying, but it was a better fate than that of those who were executed. Meantime the ancient Christian churches have been ransacked and the ruins now fly the black banners of Isis and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self appointed Caliph and wearer of expensive Rolex watches.

The rapid elimination of Christians is not of course the only nightmare building in Iraq. Females are losing their right to education and much else, and repressive dress codes are being enforced. On the spot executions of anyone inclined to protest are commonplace and kidnappings, such as that of two nuns and three orphans when they stopped at a petrol station, are an almost daily occurrence.

None of which was the responsibility of Blair or Bush. But the carnage which they triggered achieved nothing and in retrospect has nothing to commend it. The only meagre consolation is that we learned an important lesson, we should not commit military action to societies that we simply do not understand. The idea that Iraq would hold elections with an equivalent of the Lib Dems accepting the outcome was naive beyond words.

So we codgers cannot find it in our ancient hearts to forgive Mr Blair, his copy-book is spoiled beyond any hope of a clean page.

Of much lesser moment are the deeds of the England cricketers, but they didn’t entirely escape our censure this morning. Some of us still help with schoolboy coaching and the first lesson always is that you should leave the high or wide ball alone on the grounds that if you don’t hit them you can’t be out. Yesterday a constant procession of England batsmen did and they were.

The word pathetic rent the allotments air twice this morning, but the cricketers at least will hopefully prove us wrong.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Frisbeetarianism is the philosophy that when you die, your soul goes up on a roof and gets stuck there”…George Carlin.

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Beware of the out-of-hours death trap!

One of the joys of being part of our allotments co-operative is the diversity of its members. We are all now retired and work together in common cause, but our backgrounds cover almost every class, race and trade. And most of us originate from other parts of the country, thus ensuring a wide range of accents. I was reminded of this when Tommy this morning embarked on another of his somewhat embroidered tales about his native Wolverhampton. The first record of a settlement in Wolverhampton dates from 985 AD, he said. At that time a grant of land was made to Lady Wulfruna by Ethelred the Unready, in recognition of her marrying his reluctant brother, Ethel the Unsure-about-him. It sounded as unlikely as a Nick Clegg promise.

It was another beautiful morning, the sort that has one wondering if all those soaking wet and freezing ones really happened. The bank of foxgloves at the far end of the site sparkled in the sun, and there were enough bees in attendance to create a beehive of Eric Pickles proportions. The long-hidden comet fish were dashing around the pond lilies, and even the chickens seemed to have caught the summer mood as they scratched furiously in search of any worm daft enough to sleep near the surface. We sat on the wall with our mugs of stewed tea and reflected that all was well with the world.

Well our small piece of it at least. Out in the ‘real world’ things are not quite so rosy. As we scanned the Sunday papers we quickly came down to earth with a bang. A record number of foreign criminals began legal action in an attempt to avoid being deported from Britain last year, a substantial bill chargeable to the taxpayer. More than 2,400 offenders lodged appeals against efforts by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to have them removed after committing serious crimes. Among them are five convicted of murder or manslaughter, fifteen rapists plus 35 sex offenders including paedophiles, and 120 violent offenders.

Most of the appeals are brought on human-rights grounds, mainly under article 8 of the European Convention which protects the “right to private and family life”. Typical of the majority who win the right to stay here is Harnault Hospice Kassi.
In 2011 he was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison after being convicted of offences including theft and conspiracy to steal. Police raids revealed credit cards, cash, mail, mobile phones, passports, electronic kit and computers plus credit card accounts set up using stolen identities. Although his marriage has since ended the courts decided that his human rights would be breached by deportation. The human rights of his many victims were not discussed.

But such matters are trivial in comparison with the words and deeds of British subjects now serving with the extremists in Iraq and Syria. Typical is Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, 23, who left his family’s £1 million home in Maida Vale, West London, last year to join militant groups, telling his family that he was “leaving everything for the sake of Allah”. Now Bary, whose father is accused by American authorities of having been a senior lieutenant to Osama Bin Laden, has posted a series of warnings aimed at Britain. On Monday he used Twitter to say: “The days of Muslim silent oppression are over, the lions are coming for you filthy kuffs, beheadings in your own backyard soon. The black flag of tawheed (Isis) will fly on top of parliament…stay indoors and await the bombs you scummy pagans”.

It is hard not to despair. The reaction from the government is to prattle on about promoting British values in schools. That is undoubtedly a worthy aim but something more immediate is needed if our streets are not to run with blood. A good starting point would appear to be the reversal of cuts to police numbers and prison places, and legislation making threatening behaviour on this scale a serious criminal offence. Forget human rights and end talk of holy wars. There is nothing remotely holy about madness of this kind, and the vast majority of the nation is becoming very angry at being constantly vilified and threatened by demented idiots.

But meantime we have something more mundane but equally dangerous to worry about. When the last government relieved GPs of the responsibility for out-of-hours medical services it made a huge mistake. Some areas are fortunate enough to be still covered by a co-operative comprising local GPs. But most are not, and many are at the mercy of private sector deliverers who economise by employing as few qualified staff as possible. In such areas patients are advised to ring the latest version of NHS Direct and decisions are based on telephone conversations, a method of diagnosis that no self-respecting clinician trusts.

As an example of what is happening take the sad case of three year-old Sam Morrish. The little boy died just 36 hours after falling ill at his family’s home in Devon. His mother had taken him to the local GP, suspecting a chest infection. The GP said that there was no infection but by the next morning Sam’s condition had worsened. That evening he vomited what appeared to be blood and his parents rang NHS Direct. On being told that Sam was not passing urine the nurse appeared concerned and promised a call-back. But the nurse recorded the details wrongly on the computer and recorded the call as routine.

Becoming increasingly worried Sam’s parents contacted the local out-of-hours service, Devon Doctors. There an unqualified call handler directed them to a treatment centre in Newton Abbott. At the centre the family were placed in a queue. It was only when Mrs Morrish asked a passing nurse for help that an ambulance was called and Sam was rushed to Torbay Hospital. Even there he as not properly treated – he was not given antibiotics until three hours after they had been prescribed. He died from septic shock on December 23.

The NHS Ombudsman is about to publish his findings but one thing is clear. The out-of-hours service is unsafe and disorganised. In the absence of sufficient and immediately available GPs, the only safe service is that provided at A & E units, always provided that they have safe levels of staffing.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has met Sam’s grieving parents and, if he has an ounce of determination in him, he should surely insist that the out-of-hours service be reorganised without delay. So far he has simply focussed on the fact that the Labour Party made the first blunder. We know that but the lives of such as little Sam are infinitely more important than political points scoring!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “How beautiful it is to do nothing and then to rest afterwards”….Spanish saying.

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