Posts Tagged ‘the’
Vernon is fond of remarking that there is a hell and we are in it. I am suddenly inclined to agree. Four of us have just spent almost two hours digging paths through the snow which in places on the allotments stands almost two feet deep. Underneath it is solid ice and inside the chicken runs themselves the water-feeders could sink the Titanic. During a lifetime of keeping poultry I have never experienced such a battle. The sun is sparkling from a blue sky, but in terms of melting is as useful as a rattlesnake in a lucky dip. Clustered around the calor gas for a brew we concluded that our human rights to lie in bed are being infringed.
So crackpot is the present Act that we may well have a case. But to be serious, David Cameron should, to quote his sternest critic, stop talking and start acting over an Act that continues to cause outrage. The critic is heartbroken father Paul Houston of Darwen, Lancs. His 12 year-old daughter Amy was killed in a hit-and-run crash by Mohammed Ibrahim. He was already banned from driving, had no licence or insurance, and a string of convictions. Yet on Thursday a tribunal ruled against his being deported to his native Iraq since such an act would infringe his human rights. Clearly Amy and her grieving family have no rights, neither do all the troops who have died or been wounded fighting to restore order in Iraq!
In fairness to the Prime Minister, he told a press conference that his response is one of great anger. Here we have, he said, an Iraqi asylum seeker convicted of an offence that led to the death of a child and yet we are being told that there is no way this person can be deported to Iraq. It is wrong”. He added that Iraq should not be seen as a land too dangerous to deport people there. He added that ” Britain has spent billions of pounds and lost many, many good people to make Iraq a safer country”.
But Mr Houston is unimpressed. Before the election he received a letter from Mr Cameron promising that the present Act would be replaced by a British Bill of Rights. Being angry is for ordinary folk, Mr Cameron is supposedly in charge of the nation and, in contrast to his deputy, his word should be his bond. He should perhaps sit down and ask himself who is running the country; the EU, the Judges or the government.
The case of Amy is an appalling example of the Human Rights Act which must have been composed by Baldrick on one of his bad days. It is full of inconsistencies and scarcely a week passes but a vcitim is shown to have no rights and the perpetrator an unlimited number.
In expressing rage Mr Cameron showed that he has a heart and that he shares oiur outrage. But that is not enough. He has it in his power to scrap the bill and proceed with the replacement that he promised and which helped him to gather the votes that he did. We know that the Lib Dems are opposed to such a move but he should be prepared to take them on. He would in any case enjoy sufficient support from Labour to force the new Bill of Rights through.
Most people are sick to the back teeth of hearing about rulings from Brussels. This week the European Court overturned the 140-year ban on prisoners being allowed to vote. Enough is enough. Either the giovernment is prepared to defy, or break away from, Brussels or it should openly admit that it has no powers to bring sanity back to justice.
The tragedy of little Amy should be the trigger point for Mr Cameron and his colleagues to prove that they have spines. Will they keep their word or is Clegg now the norm?
ASHES TEST; PASS ME THE SACKCLOTH!
Which idiot described the England squad as invincible and the Aussies as the poorest Test side ever to wear the baggy-green? Yes it was me!
The Perth Test ended this morning (our time) in total humiliation for England who were twice skittled out by bowlers such as Johnson and Harris who most of us had seen as easy prey for what we believed to be a very strong England batting line-up.
Suddenly we are back to the old days when a visit to Australia was an ordeal for team and fans alike. But surely this Australian side can’t repeat the dose even on wickets that favour Johnson’s swing. Or can they?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Agatha Christie 2. Simon Rattle
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. From which musical came the song ‘You’re the one that I Want’? 2. With which poolitician did the press link Norman Scott?
Bob, who claims to have learned to smoke several centuries ago behind the Boy Scout’s hut, has taken charge of our arrangements for coping with arctic conditions. Given his much vaunted motto of ‘Be Prepared’ it was no surprise when a large vehicle arrived bearing enough salt to stock a million chip shops. We were then ordered to store it under cover lest it froze which struck me as decidedly odd. But given our crazy gang-like performance of last week I decided to keep my thoughts to myself. Bob is a parish councillor (elected unopposed) and is extremely keen on people power so right now he is very chirpy indeed having learned of the Pickles plan to delegate powers to local and parish councils.
Bob has swept aside my doubts about the ability of him and his fellow elected unopposed councillors to set up things such as banks. You can, he tells me, get do-it-yourself books to cover everything from the local library. Incidentally that is another venture that he expects to become involved in ( hopefully he will not choose the books). But his confidence did seem to waver a little when I pointed out that the new powers will arrive together with a 27 per cent cut in grant funding over the next four years. That could, I suggested, lead to a situation where the people knocking at his door are not necessarily potential volunteers!
In fairness big Eric Pickles did talk about the newly empowered councils learning to “do more for less”. But that strikes me as somewhat deluded given the scale of retrenchment involved. Yes, Borough Councils and the like do pay their chief executives ridiculously high salaries and, yes, they are wasteful. But having dealt with such things they will only scratch the surface of the amount of savings required. They will have to do far more than tighten their belts, they will have to stop doing many of the things that they currently do.
Nick Clegg – who else – has said that a sledgehammer is the only way to de-centralise. That just might be right if there were no cuts. Given that there are, and massive ones at that, it seems incredible that central government is going to wash its hands of decisions that could literally kill people. Services such as those for the elderly and mentally ill in the community are already collapsing. Further cuts will tip them over an appalling edge. Some councils will grasp this, others won’t, so the prospect of post-code live-or-die looms large.
If you add to all this the new requirement for councils at all levels to hold referendums before raising tax rates you arrive at only one conclusion. Streamlined councils will not be able to cope even if they happen to have the relevant expertise but they, not Whitehall, will get the blame. A year or so from now Cameron – if he has survived being in bed with the cold-footed Lib Dems – will be able to answer attacks about services by simply saying that such things are not within his remit. That of course assumes that the government has not realised that the cuts need to be slowed down!
One cannot escape the conclusion that the new freedom is a poisoned chalice indeed. No wonder big Eric had a twinkle in his crafty eyes!
THE POWER OF ADVERTISING WRIT LARGE!
During the run up to the X Factor final I noticed that Mary Byrne said that she was only able to cope because she was still getting her wages from Tesco. The Sun reported that ” X Factor hopeful Mary praised the supermarket giant – slogan every little helps – for sticking by her”. Pure altruism then?
Maybe but the retail giant did enjoy a good deal of airtime-mention during the popular contest. And it may or may not have been a coincidence that the very edition that bore the tribute had no fewer than seven seperate ads from Tesco!
The decision by the coalition to sell-off the Forensic service is a disgrace. It is also extremely dangerous.
In recent times the state-owned service has, through sheer persistence and painstaking research, solved many crimes. A private company motivated by profit will not devote the time required. And use of the private sector for this type of hard-to-measure research has already been tried and found wanting.
This is another example of political dogma being placed ahead of public safety!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. A comet 2. SonyTODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. ESRO was renamed ESA. What do the initials ESA stand for ? 2. Which Cambridge physicist became well known for his work on black holes?
None of us can remember temperatures as low as these before Christmas. This morning we eventually thawed out the hen’s drinking utensils only to see them re-freeze almost at once. Even the hens seem dispirited, a large crowd stood around in the manner of spectators at Old Trafford waiting for the rain to stop. I’ve mentioned our retired bank manager Phil before, he made an appearance as we gathered for a brew. Having no animals to care for Phil only visits the allotments spasmodically at this time of the year but he likes to cheer us up with tales of banker’s perks. Today he mentioned that a former colleague has just heard that he has a record bonus this year. Hooray we cried.
In many industries bonuses are a matter of a few hundred quid at year end if results are favourable. Our bankers work to different dimensions. We have yet to see this year’s figures but for 2009 we know that 2,800 bankers each received total remuneration of over £1 million. The bulk of the amount came from bonuses in a year when the banks brought the country to its knees. And the word is that this year’s numbers are up. Alastair Darling responded at the time by imposing a one-off tax on banker’s bonuses and he netted a very handy £3.5 billion for the public purse!
But now we see a very strange development in which, for whatever reason, the two men who before the election hurled venom in the direction of the banks, are falling over backwards to remain their best friends. Just over a year ago George Osborne went on GMTV and slammed banks for paying “inexcusable bonuses”. We will, he declared, “end the big cash bonuses. If there is spare cash it should be lent out to small businesses”. Scroll forward to this week and what do you find? Osborne has referred the matter to Brussels, which is the equivalent of very long grass, and has confirmed that there will be no UK action.
Meantime Vince Cable, who had insisted that any bank employee being paid more than the prime minister would have his or her salary and bonus details published, has now decided otherwise. A government that has not hesitated to apply that criteria to senior civil servants has curiously lost its nerve. We are all in it together? It seems not!
There has also been a good deal of comment from the legal profession about the absence of prosecutions arising from what happened. It is true that several leading lights left in something of a hurry after the taxpayer’s bailout but they have re-emerged in equally well-paid positions in the private sector. Some of course, such as Fred ‘the shred’ Goodwin, have been ennobled.He may have cost us a few bob but we must remember to call him sir.
Without putting too fine a point on it there clearly is a strong link between this government and leading financiers. Bonuses are to continue at obscenely high levels, there are to be no prosecutions and the scandal of tax avoidance schemes, that rob the treasury of an amount equal to the deficit, is to continue unchallenged. One suspects that Osborne et al are gambling on the fact that few of us understand in detail what the banks did. They are right on that but we do know that their being forgiven and rewarded excessively is unacceptable. But what can we do, it is clear that the banks had Brown in their pockets and have now slipped in their old chum Osborne.
None of the wealthy clique will have heard of Doug Paulley. Perhaps they should pop along to his residential care home in Yorkshire. Doug is a 32 year-old wheelchair user, having been diagnosed 14 years ago with a degenerative neurological disorder. He and his fellow residents in the Leonard Cheshire Home are allowed £22.30 per week from their benefits. Up until now they have also received a mobility fee of up to nearly £50 a week. It was, says Doug, a “quaity of life saver”.
Now it is to be cut completely and will totally curtail the little freedom that Doug and others enjoyed so much. He has said that he hopes he is not still around when the cut happens.
The two situations are not directly connected but it is the banks that created the ruin of people like Doug. And it is their pals in both the last and this government who prefer to see the vulnerable suffer to the alternative, a quarrel with their own!
THE MEDIA TENDS TO BE POOR AT REVELATIONS!
For many years various newspapers have boosted circulation with ‘exclusives’ about the split up/ engagement/marriage of William and Kate. In reality of course they had no more of a clue than any of us commoners but that didn’t stop them from invention.
The Mail on Sunday’s royal correspondent, Katie Nicholl, was billed last week as “the writer who really knows William and Kate”. Her track record suggests otherwise. Private Eye magazine has analysed her many predictions going back to 2004. In December of that year we were told that William wanted to split up for good. But by 2006 William was about to propose. Come 2007 the couple had parted for good. But in 2008 a wedding was being planned – for 2016.
Earlier this month the friend of the Royals was at last able to brief us finally. The announcement would come as part of the royal family’s ”Christmas sojourn to Sandringham” . At least that exclusive wasn’t so far adrift as all the others! Mind you the writer is not alone. Richard Smith of the Daily Mirror wrote in October of “others who make an industry out of wrongly predicting the nuptials – we choose to get our facts right”.
But even this paragon of accuracy failed. He said that “their formal engagement will be formally announced early in 2011″!
ENGLAND FIGHT BACK IN BRISBANE!
Having once described the present Aussie attack as the worst one to ever wear the baggy green cap I feel a little less embarrassed by developments in Brisbane.
In the first innings the England batsman treated Peter Siddle and others with far too much respect. Last night I watched with delight as Strauss and Cook belted them to every corner of the ground. The result should be a draw which will not represent a disastrous start even though ny fiver on a whitewash will have gone the way of most of my punts!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Republic of Ireland 2. Afghanistan
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who won the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize 2. In which city did she do her work?
I must refrain from banging on about another freezing morning, and the problems of frozen water dispensers, lest you conclude that we allotmenteers are depressed. But I have to confess that we are sinking lower than a snakes belly. This morning it was a combination of a night spent watching the Australian batsmen belting England’s much vaunted bowling attack, followed by three of us having to chase a lot of irate hens who headed out whilst we wielded ice-picks. But when the papers arrived we discovered that, we who constantly moan about the mad political correctness brigade, have a new champion. Take a bow Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary and the Tory equivalent to two-Jags Prescott.
We are a mixed bunch on the allotments, people of all religions and none. but we all enjoy Christmas. In fact the tree will be decorated any day now, the fact that it stays in situ throughout the year makes the task an easy one. We all share another sentiment too, we loathe the busybody PR brigade who have done so much to harm race relations in this country and who have the gall to believe that they have the right to tell everyone else what they can and cannot say or do. In recent years they have targetted Christmas or Wintermass as the ghastly crew insist on calling it.
This year has seen them scaling new heights in lunacy. Birmingham’s annual festival has been renamed Winterval and Lambeth council sparked fury when it ordered its Christmas lights to be renamed “winter” or “celebrity” to avoid upsetting “other faiths”. Rochdale Council provoked more rage when it decided to celebrate Eid and Diwali also, even though those Hindu and Muslim festivals have already come and gone. The lists goes on and on.
Now at long last a minister has had the guts to speak out. Yesterday Eric Pickles said that “we should actively celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas and not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christianity and the importance of the birth of Christ”. He went on to warn Councils that ” The war on Christmas is over, and the likes of Winterval, Winter Lights and Luminous deserve to be thrown into the dustbin of history”. And he hadn’t finished at that. Eric went on to stress that shoppers want to see Christmas lights, Christmas trees, carol services and nativity scenes”.
Small wonder that John Midgely, founder of the burgeoning Campaign aginst PR, described Mr Pickles as a “breath of fresh air”. Small wonder too that his sentiments were echoed by leading church figures. The popular Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, believes that Christianity is being wiped out of public life in the name of equality. The bans on Christmas are, he believes, part of a drive to censor Christianity. And no one can accuse Dr Sentamu of being a racist!
I have yet to meet any member of the ethnic community who feels in the least offended by Christmas celebrations. They are not the people responsible for the ever growing chorus of disapproval. That is down to the nauseating busybodies who should shut up once and for all. I am sure that the vast majority of Brits treasure Christmas, and all it represents and entails.We needed a champion and big Eric is the man.
The Christmas story is the greatest story ever told. We sometimes forget that the calender we use is based on a birth that took place 2010 years ago. No story in the history of the world has influenced so much and so many. And one doesn’t have to be religious to acknowledge that irrefutable truth.
Whether we like it or not our country is now a multi-cultural one. But that doesn’t mean that we should change our treasured festivals or customs anymore than we should expect people of other faiths to change theirs. Tolerance should mean acceptance without interference and Eric Pickles may just have started a revolution in reverse. One in which we ignore totally all talk of political correctness.
In reality there is no such thing. Simple courtesy and an ethos of live and let live is all we need provided that the law is observed. And if it isn’t there should be no variation in the response of the authorities whatever the colour of the offender!
TIME TO TACKLE THE PROFITEERING POWER SUPPLIERS!
The Energy Regulator Ofgem has failed totally in its task of regulating the financial trickery of the privatised power companies. Many still remember the various privatisations of the Thatcher era when we were told that competition would drive prices down. In reality there has been an almost unholy alliance amongst the various suppliers and the customer has been robbed again and again.
At a time when many are struggling to meet their bills, and with winter here, the suppliers are announcing massive increases. Dismiss their lies about increased costs for gas, when those costs fell they didn’t pass any reductions on.
British Gas is a classic example. Its annual profit per houshold is now £90. As recently as September it was £65. Like the other suppliers they treat their customers with utter contempt and if Ofgem are not prepared to step in the government should appoint a new regulator.
BANKS ARE THE PITS OF THE WORLD!
Richard Brown is head of savings at HSBC and has staggered many by publicly chastising the public for its failure to save. Yesterday he remarked that only a minority are doing this and said that the public is “burying its head in the sand”.
Perhaps he should consider the possibility that because the rates now offered to savers are virtually zero, people have decided to hold the cash at home. The only advantage of saving with a bank is now security against burglary, there is no monetary case for saving.
I have an account with Barclays. The interest rate has just been reduced to well below 1%. I realise that, having won the green light from the government, the Banks have to find cash to fund their ever increasing bonuses and salaries, but they shouldnt be surprised when I and millions of others decide that we would rather fritter our cash away than help to fund their largesse!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The United Nations 2. One of the states of India
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; Where did Charles Haughey become prime minister? 2. Which Asian country did the USSR invade in 1979?
The first task of the day was to break the ice on the chicken’s water, an unwelcome reminder of last winter when we were eventually reduced to draping old blankets over the many coops on the allotment. Overhead the bright blue sky was broken by a few red-tinted clouds, usually a sign that it is time to place the spades in a handy position. Having done their duty most of my pals headed for home but I shared a brew with Alec and Joe both of whom were skilled mechanics who served their time as apprentices in the long-gone day when Leyland Motors had an apprentices school.
They were reflecting on the pride, skill and standing that their indentures provided and wondering whether, had they grown up in today’s world where a university education is seen as a must, they would have fared half as well. Probably not, for when it comes to dexterity and practical skills the old adage of ‘them as can’t teaches’ kicks in. Much of their time in apprenticeship was spent alongside older skilled men who made sure that they could do more than talk about engines!
It was yesterday’s student protests that triggered the conversation. The student’s frustrations are understandable but their ways of expressing them less so. Admittedly it was only a minority of louts smashing up and looting a police vehicle, but it will have further reduced sympathy from a public which contains many whose needs are greater than those of the students, and who feel that they are carrying the burden for a crisis created by irresponsible financiers who appear to be getting off with even greater bonuses.
But the biggest question of all seems to me to be why university has become a must-do for every youngster with even the vaguest idea of pursuing a career. There are certainly many examples of it being a far less effective route than specialised training or training in situ. A good example is nursing.
A few years ago I was involved in a large NHS hospital and often walked the wards to chat to the staff. I recall two young trainee nurses who, according to Sister, were well on the way to becoming excellent nurses. They had religiously pursued a course of part-time learning combined with a great deal of actual nursing under the direction of senior nurses. Sadly they had to say their goodbyes to the ward because the system now demands a degree and that entails three years at a university. Sister Patsy told me that it would add nothing to their practical skills, in fact many of those now arriving fully qualified from university were excellent at writing notes but extremely inexperienced in the art of handling patients.
In effect society has moved the goalposts. Generations of nurses took great pride in achieving their SEN or SRN’s at the hands of skilled practitioners but now, even if such a route was still open, they would be branded as non-university, amateurs. Of course there are careers that clearly call for intensive academic studies, doctors and pharmacists being good examples, but now we have created a society where posts that require equally important practical skills also involve years at institutions not suited to their needs.
I started work as an office boy and, forty years later was chief executive at a very large manufacturing corporation. It couldn’t happen now. In fact so prevalent was the growing prejudice against non-university people that when I retired I went to university to study social history. I eventually emerged with a bagful of degrees. Great fun, but none of them would have added one iota to my ability to manage in an engineering environment.
It was certainly a fascinating experience as one would expect for an old codger landed amongst scores of teenagers and tutors some whom appeared to be younger than my grandchildren. I was amazed at the low work rate compared with that of industry, even more surpirised to find that many of the staff had in fact never left education. One young chap who befriended me was studying zoology. The subject had no relevance to the career he wished to pursue but his prospective employers demanded a degree, any degree.
My conclusion was, and is, that somehwere along the line we have got it wrong. We have created an ethos where any form of education other than university is regarded as inferior. We have created a world in which every committed parent sees it their duty to get their offspring to university whatever the sacrifice. In fact, in the case of around half of all youngsters, they would be providing a better start in life by helping them to develop non-academic skills.
One of my pals is a retired cabinet maker and he recently made for me a beautiful miniature set of drawers. When I expressed delight he said that it wasn’t bad for someone who wasn’t ‘educated’. I told him that I would give everything to possess creative skills such as his, he was the true expert. But sadly even artists of his ability have lost their sense of worth.
It is society that has lost its sense!
HAVE VICTIMS NO HUMAN RIGHTS?
Fourteen years ago Learco Chindamo stabbed to death headmaster Philip Lawrence when he tried to prevent him attacking another pupil. Four months ago he was given early release from his life sentence. Today he is being questionned by police in regard to an alleged violent mugging and is expected to be recalled to prison for his potential breach of his licence.
Attempts to deport Chindamo, described by the Home Office as a risk to the public who should be deported, to his country of birth failed when he successfully argued in court that deportation would be an infringement of his human rights. Small wonder that the still mourning widow of a much loved headmaster has said that whilst the murderer “is being given every help, my family is being hung out to dry”.
In opposition Mr Cameron pledged to replace the Bill of Human rights with something more balanced. Needless to say that promise has gone into the long grass. Which perhaps explains why for the first time since 1997 the Home Secretary will not attend the annual Philip Lawrence awards!
NOT THE START WE WANTED!
My eyelids rest on matchsticks and my spirits are low! The pundits had long claimed that the first few overs of the first day of the Ashes series would dictate what was to follow. We can only hope they were wrong for, before most had settled into their armchairs, Strauss was on his way back to the pavilion.
England eventually mustered 260 and the Aussie openers put a few runs on the board before heading off to celebrate.
Bell apart, the English batting was well below par against bowlers poorer than any to wear the green baggy cap for many a season. Hopefully the bowlers will restore our hopes-if we manage to stay awake!
EU GRAVY TRAIN ROLLS ON!
50,000 European Commission civil servants have been awarded an inflation-busting 3.7 per cent pay rise – at a cost of £80 million – making each of them richer by thousands of pounds per year. And the rise will be back-dated by six months! This at a time when our own civil servants have a pay freeze and extensive redundancies
Coming as it does on top of the decision to pay over £7 billion to bailout Ireland plus another £14 billion to the EU, the news puts more pressure on David Cameron who is already aware that over 100 Tory MPs are set to challenge him over further powers being conceded to Brussels.
What do you think?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Debbie Harry 2 It was an RAF staging post.
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which year did Britain’s National Theatre vacate the Old Vic? 2. Which was the first homeland to be declared independent in South Africa?
Are you truly happy? Would discovering a vase worth millions in your shed make you so, or would it simply trigger a desire for even more? These are the sort of philosophical questions that often come up as we perform our allotment routines, sadly the answers are usually along the lines of no and I’d like to find out respectively. But it seems that we have been missing a trick if an article in the magazine ‘Science’ is any guide.
Psychologists at Harvard University have conducted trials based on the daily activities, thoughts and feelings of 2,250 volunteers to find out how often they were focussed on what they were doing, and what made them happiest. In their conlusions the boffins write that ” a human mind is a wandering mind and a wandering mind is an unhappy one. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost”
For the study, lead authors Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert ( author of the 2006 book ‘Stumbling on Happiness’ ) developed a web application for the iPhone that contacted participants at random times during their waking hours. When they received a message, those taking part had to respond with information about what they were doing, by selecting from a list of 22 activities, such as doing housework, shopping or watching TV. They went on to rate their happiness on a scale of zero to 100, and said whether they were focussed, or daydreaming about something positive, negative or neutral. The researchers say that they are confident that being distracted was the cause of unhappiness, rather than the other way round.
They found that people were happiest when having sex, exercising or in conversation, and least happy when working, resting or using a home computer. And although subjects’ minds were wandering nearly half of the time, this consistently made them less happy.The team concluded that reminiscing, thinking ahead or daydreaming tends to make people more miserable, even when they are thinking about something pleasant. Even the most engaging tasks failed to hold people’s attention. Voluteers admitted to thinking about something else at least 30 per cent of the time while performing these tasks, except when they were having sex, when they had their minds, er, on the job for around 90 per cent of the time.
Interesting stuff and Killingsworth has this to say; “human beings have a unique ability to focus on things that aren’t happening right now…that allows them to reflect on the past and learn from it; it allows them to anticipate and plan for the future; and it allows them to imagine things that may never occur. Unfortunately it seems that humans often use this ability in ways that are not productive and furthermore can be destructive to our happiness”.
It all reminded me of a boss I had long ago. He seemed a perpetually calm and untroubled man and often spent his lunch hour studying, with apparent delight, books portraying works of art. One day I interrupted his reverie to seek his advice on what was becoming a major worry. He listened and then remarked that I seemd to be worrying about something that hadn’t yet happened and indeed might never do so. As he returned to his book he said “remember, Dennis, there is no future, only now”.
At the time the comment passed right over my frazzled head but years later I read the best-selling ‘ The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. He had a life-transforming experience when he was 29. One night as he tossed and turned he eventually muttered ” I cannot live with myself any longer”. Suddenly he became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me, the I and the self that I cannot live with. Perhaps, he thought, only one of them is real.
As the days passed Tolle began to feel rested, more aware of the present moment. In due course he realised that the mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. But if used as he was doing, it becomes totally destructive. In effect it was not so much that he had been using his mind wrongly, he hadn’t been using it at all, it had been using him. Suddenly he realised that the idea that he was his mind was a delusion, the instrument had taken him over.
From this small beginning Tolle went on to become an international expert on the mind. He began to teach the concept of freeing oneself from the ‘chattering monkey’ by observing it, by ‘watching the thinker’. He and his millions of followers have reached the point of using the mind only when they need it. For most of their days they live in the now, and focus totally on what they are doing and what surrounds them.
Tolle coined a phrase which always fascinates me. He insists that there is no such thing as something that may happen in the future. Anything that ever happens can only happen in the Now. If you mull it over it makes absolute sense doesn’t it?
So the Harvard study merely serves to confirm Tolle’s belief that more often than not we do not live in the Now, we spend our Nows worrying about a future that may never materialise. That cap fits me and my pals. We are only happy when we are totally absorbed in something and most of the time we perform one task whilst worrying about the next. If there was an England worry team we would be in it!
And a by-product of all this is that we seldom think things through carefully, our chattering minds are distracting us. Perhaps the same goes for people in high places. Only a few weeks ago the coalition announced plans to use lie-detectors to test benefit claimants.Yesterday they announced abandonment of the scheme because it is not reliable. The real reason is likely to be that they didn’t think through the implications of forcing people to be tested in the absence of a police state or, in our case, the absence of police following the cuts. And there have been thousands of other half-baked schemes, remember Blair and the plan to march drunks to cash machines?
I hope in relating all this I have given you the germ of an idea. I only wish that I could learn to live in the Now!
THE MAN BEHIND THE RIOTS!
The man that planned the violence in the tuition fees demonstration has been revealed as Karl Sielman-Parry, a history student who is the son of a leading human rights lawyer who specialises in defending protesters. On a radical internet site the student mastermind urged fellow students to meet cuts with occupations, strikes and civil disobedience. He certainly succeeded and only good luck prevented the death of at least one policeman.
Idiots such as this forget two things. One is that the people at the other end of the age scale cannot protest, let alone riot, and any concessions won by students would mean an even worse situation for them. Secondly insane behaviour by morons, with no self understanding, like this creates a precedent. From now on expect every protest – and there will be many – to be hijacked by thugs intent on attacking the police who themselves are to be subject to the Osborne axe.
CRICKET; MY MORTGAGE FEELS SAFER!
Having bet my house on an England Ashes victory I was beginning to finger the worry-beads after England’s poor opening day in Perth. But I needn’t have worried, Swann and co are now firing well and look more than capable of beating an Australian team that is looking a mere shadow of the giants of the past.
Given the weather of late I am relieved that I may not need to tell she-who-must-be-obeyed that we are to move into a tent alongside the ferrets!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. 1974 2. The Danish parliament
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which year did the Suez Canal reopen after the wars with Israel? 2. In New Zealand, which party was in power from 1972 to 1975?
I noticed an unusual spring to Jack’s step as we walked down to the allotment this morning and it wasn’t entirely down to the third sunny morning on the trot, a miracle in itself. He told me that over the weekend he has received a valuation on a vase that he purchased at a car boot sale for a fiver. The valuer put its market worth at around £700 quid! Jack has been an obsessive collector of old vases for many years and his accumulated know-how is beginning to pay dividends. As we reached the gate, from which wisps of steam were rising as the sun dispersed the early dew, he remarked that collecting beats the lottery hands down. He never speculates more than he can afford, enjoys living with what he has fancied, and occasionally makes a big profit into the bargain.
A lot of us collect things, in my case it is a habit of a lifetime which started back in the war when a packet of foreign stamps was a real treat. Later in life I decided to switch to British stamps which had by then become just as colourful and attractive as those of exotic distant lands. As a result I own four of each of every new issue of the past 30 years and I derive great pleasure from inspecting them when the TV offering is even more mind-numbing than usual.
In fact the best investments are the Presentation Packs produced by Royal Mail for each new issue. They not only include the actual stamps but also a detailed text concerning the subject matter. Last week I received the October offering which features Winnie-the-Pooh and the fascinating story of A A Milne’s creation. Last month covered medical breakthroughs and I learned a great deal from the detail of beta blockers, implant surgery and a host of other developments that account for the fact that old codgers like me are still around. Two months ago it was the history of steam engines in the days before Beeching ruined everything.
Without doubt a spin-off from collecting stamps is an ever increasing knowledge of our nation’s history. Of course the main argument in favour of stamps is that they never lose their face value, they appreciate in value over time and they always provide the possibility that you may possess a stamp containing a print fault. Stamps are that rare thing, something that rockets in value if the makers mess-up! The final plus is that stamps are easy to store so, unlike Jack, I can still enter my front room without need of a step-ladder.
Collecting objects has been a human pastime almost since time began. A glance in the Good Book at Epistles (bk 1) reveals reference to “I put together and collect things which I will soon be able to draw upon”. Of course the scribe didn’t have philately in mind but he provides a string to the bow of my argument.
To an extent The Antique Road Show, and the like, has taken some of the fun out of collecting for there is now less chance than there once was of someone including a rare antique in a jumble sale. But it can still happen as Jack proves from time to time. But the shows are worth watching if only to see the spectacle of avarice in action. And, as with stamps, they often provide a lesson in social history that we would never have accessed any other way.
People collect just about everything but most specialise for that way lies the joy of a display of objects of like usage. One speciality that has never enticed me is war memorabilia. But it has its fans as I found out when I went along to an auction. A counterfeit Nazi £20 note went under the hammer for £400. Apparently the Nazis produced £134 million of counterfeit notes intended to bring about a collapse in the British wartime economy. They were produced by prisoners in concentration camps and the idea was for their dropping en masse over England by the Luftwaffe. That proved unpopular with Goering who preferred dropping bombs and the task was handed to Nazi agents. Only a few obliged, hence the scarcity value. Plain daft but a good example of learning from collecting!
If you are one of those who regularly queues for your Lottery fix you will dismiss all this. But be warned, the chance of winning those millions is statistically less than of being murdered. Mind you those odds may change once Osborne has fired a quarter of Knacker’s men, nonetheless it might be a better investment to have a go at a collection of some sort. At least you have the pleasure of then owning what you have dared to acquire.
Unless of course you collect lottery tickets!
THE FANTASY WORLD OF PREMIERSHIP PLAYERS!
Even the front pages of some of today’s papers feature the breathtaking news that Rooney may quit Man Utd. Despite the fact that he is playing like a drain, and has been involved in behaviour that hardly enhances his role model credentials, Mr Rooney is not enamoured with his wage of £150,000 per week. Maybe his self understanding is not all it could be.
This followed a game at Blackpool yesterday when the seasiders, who earn one tenth of the cash ladled out to their mighty visitors from Man City, showed that they were a match for them.
It surely is time that someone had the courage to call a halt to a situation where fans pay through the nose to watch players who, to use an old wartime adage, are overpaid, over sexed and over here. It referred to Americans at the time but Liverpoool fans may relate to it.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Mr Rochester 2. The Sex Pistols
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which Irish band lost three members killed in a terrorist ambush in 1975? 2. Who sang ‘Whispering Grass’ a British number one of 1975?
Dementia is without doubt the biggest health and social crisis facing society as we move into the early part of the new century. The long awaited World Alzheimer Report 2010 estimates that the worldwide cost of dementia this year will be £388 billion in social care, unpaid care by relatives and medical costs. This equates to more than 1% of global GDP. If dementia care were a country it would be the world’s 18th largest economy, and if it were a company it would be the largest in the world by annual revenue, outstripping Walmart (£267bn) and Exxon Mobile (£200 bn).
The report was commissioned by Alzheimers Disease International, an umbrella organisation of 73 associations. It suggests that there are no fewer than 35.6 million people with dementia worldwide.Worse still, it forecasts that this figure will grow to 65.7 million by 2030 and 115.4 million by 2050. Meantime a report for the Alzheimers Research Trust suggests that thre are 820,00 people with dementia in the UK costing the economy £23 billion per year. That, it says, is nearly twice the £12 billion for cancer and three times that for heart disease.
Yet government and charitable research into dimentia came to a twelth of that into cancer and less than a third of that into heart disease. The chief executive of the Trust said yesterday “we must invest proportionately in dementia research or we risk abandoning the millions worldwide who live with the truama of dementia today , and many more tomorrow”. It is, she added, the greatest medical challenge of our times and the sooner we realise this and act the better”.
Of course the rocketing number of those suffering from this dreadful condition is due to the increased life span that we now enjoy. Ironically, the advances in other aspects of clinical care are creating a huge additional potential for the one development that is least understood, dementia. Any chronic and debilitating illness is devastating but none compare to dementia in emotional trauma and utter despair. Some years ago, and before the acceleration, I was taken on a hospital tour by a Nurse Director. After we had visited the coronary unit I commented that my fear of such a condition was great. She replied that if I wanted something really terrible to worry about I should focus instead on dementia!
In her book ‘The Keeper’ author Andrea Gillies gives a heartbreaking account of the experience of caring for her mother-in-law, Nancy. Little by little it invaded the brain, made its slow and devastating progress and robbed someone much loved of the ability to remember, to reason, to think, to decide, imagine. Together with her husband, Andrea bought a new house big enough, she believed, to make care at home possible. She believed that constant love would be enough to cushion the progress of Alzheimers. In fact the house became the worst possible environment as Nancy’s brain damage turned her into somene new, someone afraid and often hostile.
Good dementia care requires well trained staff, a secure environment and sufficient staff to provide round-the-clock attention. For all but the wealthy such facilities do not exist in this country and many have written in anger of the totally inadequate care that exists. I recently met John Walsh whose book ‘Who Will Sing the Old Songs?’ details his experiences in caring for his Dad. He describes eighteen months of social services, doctors, care homes and frustration. There was, he says, ” no chance of a happy ending, absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel. Just darkness and injustice”. It is esay to understand the anger of someone condemned to watch a parent suffer and to feel impotence. It is then inevitable that a relative turns to the blame game but the reality is that such services as exist are swamped, totally unable to cope however hard they try.
Jack used to be a regular at our allotment shed. Now we seldom see him and, when we do, we grieve at what caring for his once kind and caring wife of 50 years has done to him. He first noticed a problem two Christmases ago when Else began to hide the food. At first he pulled her leg about having become stingy but within months she lost her self understanding, became violent and incoherent. Now he devotes his life to her in the way that she has always devoted hers to him. But she knows him not and his despair is overwhelming.
The Department of Health makes much of the fact that it is working on a programme for early detection. It will achieve nothing for, unlike cancer and heart problems, there is no potential for recovery as a result of early intervention. That leaves care and research as the two possible routes. On care we currently lack even the basic provisions and the government must surely recognise that this is one area where talk of cuts is inhumane. What is essential is expansion. Yesterday the Lib Dems, now part of goverrement, spent many hours debating the question of transvestite marriages. Once again they demonstrated that they are unfit for government, they lack any sort of sense of priorities.
The biggest need of all is a huge increase in research. Many leading clinicians believe that there may be an answer to the brain deterioration that triggers this descent into hell. Around 20% of those reaching eighty are likely to fall victim and we all owe it to each other to at the very least ensure that every possible effort has been made to establish preventive measures.
Back to Andrea Gillies for the final word. “You are losing the person while they are still alive” sums up perfectly where we are today, a day when athletes heading for India made the idea of sharing a loo sound like the height of deprivation!
CRICKET; ROLL UP FOR THE GREAT COMEDY SHOW!
There has been a late rush for tickets for this afternoon’s final one-day international against Pakistan at the Rose Bowl. No great surprise there for the tourists have suddenly moved from a team that couldn’t manage to muster a hundred runs to one that is near unbeatable. Throw in a few extra attractions such as a fight in the nets and a claim from the Pakistan chairman that it is England that is match-fixing, not to mention various police investigations, and you have the perfect recipe for an afternoon of fun and speculation.
Whatever happens almost the entire crowd will speculate as to whether it was deliberate or otherwise and whoever loses will be accused of throwing the match.
In other words the warning of Micheal Vaughan about continuing the series has proved valid. In just a few weeks cricket has been turned into a laughing stock, a sort of wrestling contest in disguise. Unless the International Cricket Council really clamps down the future of the game that so many love looks bleak indeed!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Angels 2. Quentin Crisp
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What was studied by the Helios 1 probe launched in 1974? 2. Jolly Green Giants helped in the 1975 evacuation of Saigon. What were they?
The credit crunch is about to hit every family in the land and everyone agrees that the pain we are to suffer is down to the Bankers. Indeed even the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, echoed the sentiment when I met him this week. But why has there been no pubic inquiry into its roots? Already the calamitous consequences have been one million lost jobs and the nationalisation of large swathes of the banking system and yet none of us is really any the wiser as to the arch-villains.
What we do know is that those leading bankers named in the media as to blame have all found gainful empoyment at the usual high salaries we associate with the industry that brought us down. Adam Applegarth, the former boss of Northern Rock, is now working in a new role in finance. Andy Hornby, who it was alleged brought HBS to its knees, is now running Boots. The much criticised Sir Fred ‘the shred’ Goodwin, who presided over £28 billion of losses at RBS, is back in a top role. So presumably they were all guiltless which poses the question as to who caused the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. If the Government lacks knowledge of what went wrong, and who failed, how can they possibly ensure that it doesn’t happen again? It can hardly settle for leaving crucial matters in the hands of people with the self understanding of rapacious rattlesnakes.
In the United States there has been a ‘Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’. This was established by the President and is now beavering away. It has already collected millions of pages of internal documents from the banks and is taking daily testaments , under oath, from all those concerned with what happened. What is taking place is a forensic examination of the most intense kind. By the time the work is completed the White House will have prescise guidance as to blame and to what has to be done. Far from big bonuses there are likely to be big dismissals!
What makes the absence of a British inquiry even more puzzling is the fact that we did hold an equivalent to what Obama is forcing right now in respect of the closure of the bank of Credit and Commerce International in 1991 and the failure of Barings in 1995. These official inquiries established the causes of the debacles, apportioned blame, brought to justice those responsible and set out an action plan to ensure there would be no repetition. And yet neither of those mini-crises even began to match the seriousness of today’s financial meltdown!
Of course the British government could not be held accountable for the sub-prime mortgage lending in the American housing market but what is indisputable is that Britain’s soft-touch regulation meant that some of the worst excesses occurred at institutions based in London. The American International group , which provided insurance for the ‘toxic loans’, devised this fateful product in its London offices because it would never have been approved by U.S regulators. The authorities did nothing to prevent the Royal Bank of Scotland paying £48 billion for the disastrous merger with the Dutch bank ABN Amro. And the government actually encouraged Lloyds TSB into a merger with HBOS. The Britsh contribution to the disaster was huge but all those concerned are still sipping bubbly whilst ordinary people pay with their jobs and taxes.
Last week both Mervyn King and Robert Peston told our group of visitors to their offices that people are entitled to be angry for what has happened is grossly unfair. All the more reason then to hold an independent judicial inquiry or tribunal. This could examine City grandees and policymakers and review the trail of evidence. Only then will the public feel that justice has been done and safer systems devised.
Frankly bankers are currently running rings around politicians and regulators. The grotesque bonus culture has re-emerged and they are back to their troughs and to hell with their victims. The choice of Bob Diamond, Britain’s highest paid banker, to be the next chief executive of Barclays, is clear evidence of the contempt in which bankers hold the politicians. We may feel that way too but government is the only hope we have of getting this mess under control. There is no logic whatsoever in imposing draconian cuts without establishing why they are necessary and how the need for another round in a few years time can be prevented.
As Alex Brummer, respected City Editor, has remarked, we are at the second anniversary of the most searing catastrophe of modern times and we look to our leaders to begin, albeit belatedly, to take responsibility for the credit crisis which THEY allowed to happen!
If they continue to refuse a public enquiry along the lines of the American one we can only presume that there is a reason. Either they are in cahoots with the bankers or they have something to hide!
THE ULTIMATE DISGRACE OF A PREMIERSHIP PLAYER!
Tabloid newspapers have alleged that there is within the Premiership a player who has neither slept with another player’s wife or with prostitutes. They have not named the individual who has issued a statement via his solicitor. It says that he utterly rejects this appalling allegation and wil take penal legal action against anyone who dares to smear his name in this way.
The allegation also includes claims that he takes his holdiays with his wife and family. If true the story could destroy the public image of the Premiership!
CRICKET; IN HEAVENS NAME GO HOME!
Pakistan performed better at the Oval yesterday and comfortably beat England in the latest one-day-international. But the game had hardly ended when it emerged that ECB officials were examining overs from the game in the light of information received. At least one national paper claims that they were horrified to see incidents predicted before the match started.
Who knows what is true? Most of us have given up on trying to follow the increasingly shabby story. I do not even know whether the tourists are sinners or sinned against but I share the view of fellow ferreter Albert that the sooner they go the better.
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Mary Pickford 2. Stevie Smith
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Dwight D Eisenhower’s widow died in 1979. What was her name? 2. Who played the lead role in ‘The French Connection’?
One of my fellow ferreters travelled to London yesterday for the service at St Paul’s to mark the 70th anniversary of the Blitz. It seems that it was a very moving occasion when many of those who took part in the German onslaught on the capital came together to remember the more than 43,000 civilians who were killed in air raids between Sept 7, 1940, and May 10, 1941. In his address, Air Vice Marshall Ray Pentland told the 2500 strong congregation that everyone who played a part in the Blitz, from pilots to those who fought fires and provided refreshments to the wounded, was part of a story that changed the course of history.
In a sense he is right but research quickly reveals that the Blitz of itself did not change the course of history. In fact it followed the event that did, the so-called Battle of Britain. On September 15th – all dates relating to the war overlap – Churchill visited Uxbridge, the Fighter Command headquarters covering the south of England. In the control room he watched as the ‘blackboards’ showed wave upon wave of enemy bombers and fighter escorts heading for the RAF airfields. More and more British squadrons were ‘scrambled’ and eventually Churchill turned to Air Vice-Marshall Park and asked “What other reserves do we have?”. The answer was none. Fighter Command had reached the point where the defence of its bases was crumbling.
We now know, from German archives, that on that day Hitler made another of his, for us, mistakes disguised as blessings. He decided that the RAF could not be defeated and that therefore the planned invasion (code name ‘Sea Lion’) must be indefinitely postponed. He and his staff decided to attempt victory through demoralisation instead and the Blitz began. Had he continued to attack the airfields, victory would have ultimately fallen his way and the invasion would have proceeded. As the raids on London intensified and those on the airfields ended, the reaction of Churchill and his commanders was a sigh of relief. Even if the Luftwaffe reduced Londin to ruins it would merely provide time for the British defences to be strengthened and redrawn. Arguably the time at which the Blitz began was the time at which the greatest threat to these islands ended.
None of which of course made enduring months of heavy bombardment an easy experience and many Londoners, and later people living in other major cities, showed enormous courage and tenacity. But many did not. Remember ‘Major Gowan’ of ‘Fawlty Towers’ ? He was in real life a wartime policeman in London during the Blitz and his memoirs described his greatest preoccupation, that of trying to deter looters. House and corpses alike were pilloried and every heavy raid drew large numbers of villains to the scene. A victim has only this week spoken out on the topic we try to airbrush from history. David Clark was a small boy when his home in Ilford suffered a direct hit. The family was safe in its Anderson shelter but the “neighbours and the ARP wardens assumed we were dead”. They looted the house and the only things left were some fish knives and a decanter which David still owns today. “Don’t talk to me about everyone pulling together” is David’s take on the romanticised version we love to trot out.
We tend to recall the Blitz as the time when Hitler took on the cheerful cockneys and lost. To an extent that is right but it tends to cover up the gross incompetence of the pre-war government. As early as 1933 the Home Office had been thinking about mass bombing and in 1937 German bombers, supporting Franco in the Spanish civil war, destroyed the town of Guernica and killed thousands of civilians. Deep shelters were built in Barcelona and proved successful and there was a move to build them in London. But nothing was done despite the warnings of Churchill that our turn was coming. The last minute idea of supplying ‘Anderson’ shelters overlooked the fact that in the majority of London working-class homes there was no room to put them ( in his ‘Citizens at War’ of 1945, Stephen Spender covers this in detail).
Another much lauded feature of those dark days is the story of evacuees. Many families stuck it out amidst the chaos, smoke and bloodshed but many decided to accept the opportunity to move their children to safer parts of the country. Most documentaries feature those who remember their ‘step-families’ with great affection but there was a darker side. Archived records give many instnaces of abuse and places like Baldock in Hertfordshire gained a reputation for being ‘unwelcoming’ and those such as Windsor would not accept ‘Jews or children’. Experiences varied and if you look around your own community today you may well conclude that the idea of every family being caring and willing to sacrifice so much for strangers is a little implausible.
The other fallacy that we love to nurture is the one depicting the inhuman Hun perpared to bomb the innocent, something no decent Englishman would contemplate. It is true that several of Britain’s military leaders were opposed on ethical grounds to ‘mass murder that contributes nothing to the war effort’. But in 1941 Bomber Command asked the London fire chiefs “What change of tactics by the Luftwaffe would cause you greatest concern?” The answer was the concentration of a heavy attack into a very short space of time which would swamp fire service resources. And so, when 1000 RAF bombers attacked Cologne in My 1942, 1500 tonnes of high explosive were dropped on the city in the space of an hour and a half and the rescue services broke down. And of course, as the war progressed, the RAF intensified its attacks on civilian targets, culminating in the destruction of Dresden which killed more in one night than perished in the whole of the various Blitzes of the United Kingdom.
So our sanitised versions of the Blitz merit a clean-up. But that in no way detracts from the fact that the Britsh civilian population showed an impressive resilience, certainly one greater than the government expected when in 1939 it rushed through the requisition of large estates with a view to creating mass refuges for those whose nerves shattered. They were never used so there were many stoical people. My self understanding tells me that I would have found being the subject of constant attack, without the abilility to hit back, frustrating to the point of madness.
Perhaps Attlee shared the reservations shown in this piece when, after the war, he demanded scarifice from the people. He appealed to “the Dunkirk spirit” not the Blitz version. To invoke that, he may have reasoned, would be to embrace not just the brave but the honest and dishonest and those, like most of us, who are a bit of both.
CRICKET; WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?
Last night’s Twenty20 international between England and Pakistan was a total disgrace. A very small attendance meant that not too many were robbed of over forty pounds to watch a farce but the authorities must surely recognise that the writing is on the wall for cricket if performances such as this are allowed to continue.
England played well but it was obvious from the start that the Pakistan team had no interest in playing and no pride whatsoever. Small wonder that their diminishing body of fans is showing great hostility.
Since we know that many of the team have great talent, we can only assume that the allegations surrounding the touring camp are taking their toll. These need to be dealt with quickly but meantime the insistance of the authorities on the one-day series proceeding is backfiring hugely.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. 1971 2. Sail around the world
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which Massechusetts city became famous for its Marathon? 2. Which ‘unknown’ Australian woman won Wimbledon in 1971?
Virtually every morning paper finds its way in to our allotment shed and, since our energy levels on Monday morning are usually akin to those of a fat man in a marathon, we tend to mull them over before we venture in the direction of the ferret cages. As we did so today it occurred to me to wonder what a visitor from outer space would make of our national sense of priorities on the assumption that our newspapers reflect the things that interest us. The little green man would be in no doubt today, wars and starvation may be rampant, but someone called Rooney is the main focus of attention. Since Planet Zog is the one place in the universe not yet covered by Sky our visitor might be surprised to learn that Rooney earns his substantial living by kicking a ball around.
The depth of the Rooney story would certainly impress someone from outer space. He might also be puzzled about all the references to £1500 per session, especially if the Zog equivalent to Wayne Rooney’s pleasures are some form of mind-melt. But he will quickly realise that the mind does come into it somewhere because there is extensive talk of Capello having to assess our hero’s state of it. That must be akin to a funeral director being asked to analyse a stag party, but men from Zog will not have encountered the sphinx-like England manager.
So if the sex life of a soccer mega-star is the most important issue considered by the great British public over its cornflakes what are the least important ones? Having a logical brain a la Spock our visitor will base his judgement on column inches. On this measure the plight of the bee and insect population will make it as the least important of all. The few words available to us tell that scientists have discovered that pollination levels of many plants has dropped by 50 per cent. Professor James Thomson, of the University of Toronto, warns that the earth’s food supply is in jeopardy since bees are responsible for a third of our food and insect pollinators contribute enormously through their role in fertlising crops. The future of the world’s food supplies is, the Professor believes, a pretty big threat. But no, Rooney’s extra-curricular activities are a zillion times more important.
Using his Spock technique our little green man will soon discover that the second least important matter is the treatment of our maimed troops. It seems that assurances were given that those incapable of resuming ‘normal employment’ after discharge would be retained in the army where suitable employment would be found. Indeed no less a figure than Gen Sir Richard Dannat gave a commitment to this effect. However it now appears that, due to the budget cuts, it will be impossible to do this and 5000 severely injured soldiers are to be discharged to make way for new recruits. They will receive one-off payments of £6000 and will be advised to seek ongoing support from charities such as Help for Heroes.
As Col Richard Kemp, a former commander in Afghanistan, has remarked, as those who sacrificed so much to meet the decisions of politicians become middle-aged and old men they could be living lives of penury and misery. It sounds the greatest outrage and betrayal of all time but our green man will reasonably conclude that, by comparison to the Rooney crisis, it matters little to anyone bar the soldiers themselves.
By now our visitor would probably say the equivalent of ‘beam me up Scotty’ and depart shaking his green head. The rest of us sitting on the sacks of corn will conclude that we must be out of step with the rest of our great nation. We do worry about the threat to the food supplies that may destroy the human race and we rant about the pathetic disregard by politicians for the fate of brave men who were ordered to fight a war that has no purpose or chance of success.
And we couldn’t care less about what a millionaire ball-kicker does to pass his considerable leisure time!
WAS YESTERDAY’S MATCH FIXED ?
Two pals drove to Cardiff yesterday to watch the big Twenty20 clash between England and Pakistan. They returned uncertain as to whether the Pakistan performance reflected a little match-fixing or whether they are simply inferior to teams we watch weekly in the local league.
Apparently the batting tactics were odd in the extreme, the fielding was appalling and some of the dropped catches would have shamed a ten-year old schoolboy. And in a strange way that is the new fascination of cricket, the spectator can pass the time wondering whether what he or she is seeing is real or staged.
In Jack Fingleton’s ‘Batting from Memory’ (1981) he quoted Don Bradman as saying that “when you play Test cricket you don’t give Englishmen an inch, you grind them into the dust”. Not any more you don’t!
THE MAD MOBILE PHONE USERS!
News of the supposed scandal of phone tapping is re-emerging as a host of bigwigs rush to complain that their conversations were tapped. To simple souls like we ferret men it raises only one question. Why do these people choose to exchange secrets via mobiles or, for that matter, e-mails. Anyone with a brain larger than a hen must surely realise that anything said or written in that way is open to the sort of low-life who earn their living by acting like Billy Bunter! A little self understanding will tell our bigwigs that they simply can’t resist the buzz of playing superman or God!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Apollo 2. Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What was the Beatles last single? 2. Who had a USA number one with ‘War’ ?
Blackmail is an ugly word but it is hard to see news of the pressure now being brought to bear on the BBC by Ministers in any other way. Their supposed grievance is that the news coverage is biased aginst them, exactly the same charge as that made by the previous Labour government. What they really mean is that the Beeb is not slavishly accepting every slanted, and often dishonest, briefing given to it by highly paid ‘spin-doctors’ who are to truth what Cyril Smith was to hang-gliding.
But there is a sinister difference between this government’s approach and that of the last. Yes, they have both whinged about supposed bias but only this lot has seen fit to summon the BBC director-general and his leading executives to appear before them and to provide details of the coverage they plan for Cameron, Clegg and Osborne as they attempt to justify the savage cuts about to hit us. And there is an overt ‘or else’ hanging in the corrupt air of Whitehall, no surprise since we already know of the cosy relationship with Sky and other commercial companies and we already know that a reduction in the licence fee is high on Cameron’s personal agenda.
You may by now be wondering what it is that has triggered this bout of paranoia. It was the news of a supposedly private meeting in Downing Street between director-general Mark Thompson and senior Cameron aide, Steve Hilton. Discussions centered around the need for ‘positive coverage’ and the need for the BBC to ‘help audiences to make sense of the Government’s announcements planned for October’. Promises made include involvement of Andrew Marr, Stephanie Flanders, and Nick Robinson. Features will include an audience event with Cameron, Clegg and other ministers, a series of interviews with Osborne, and an opportunity for local Conservative Party representatives to explain the need for cuts. In other words the director-general was seeking political approval for output, a very dangerous precedent. Rod Little, the former editor of the Today programme on Radio 4, probably spoke for many who dare not speak out when he said that ‘If you were the editor or chief political correspondent on topical programmes you would be a little worried about this. It didn’t happen when I was there!
Apparently both Cameron and Clegg are planning major speeches next week amid fears that ‘the average Briton’ is unprepared for the scale of the action planned. And senior Conservatives, who are said to be privately furious at what they see as hostile cover by BBC reporters, are demanding that the Beeb be brought into line. In other words they demand that whatever the coalition leaders choose to say must be supported and not qestionned. In effect they are seeking to turn the BBC into a version of Pravda and the price of disobedience will be the decimation of what is now the only truly impartial news coverage left.
Already people prepared to stand up and be counted are making their voices heard. Martin Bell, the renowned ‘sleaze buster’, has warned that “if the result of this is a more government-friendly BBC than they otherwise would have been, then, in my view, that would be selling the crown jewels of the corporation”. Gordon Brown’s former communications adviser, Michael Dugher, who never held a similar meeting with the director-general, has urged the BBC to stand up for its independence. It must not, he insists, be cowed and “bullied by Cameron’s aides with the threat of cutbacks”.
I mulled all this over with my pals in the allotment shed. About a third of them support the coalition, another third the Labour Party and the rest have no political interest whtasoever. But they all expressed disgust at what is happening. Some older members remarked that we have, at great cost, fought wars to defend our freedom of speech and to repel dictatorship, this suggests that we may have fought in vain!
Many people at the BBC believe that Mark Thompson has swum into very dangerous waters by cow-towing to Downing Street. He now says that his political independence is not impaired but, as Mandy Rice-Davies once put it, he would say that wouldn’t he. It would be nice to feel that should he have the courage to stand up to the corrupt bully-boys he would have popular support. He certainly should have because any independently minded observer would surely agree that during the election campaign people like Paxman, Robinson, Marr and Dimbleby all showed total impartiality. The politicians they attacked were the evasive ones irrespective of Party. Do we really want to lose that in favour of a Party political stunt?
A good analogy is provided by the Pakistan cricket scandal. People want to believe that what they are watching and hearing is raw and genuine not a rehearsed act. In trying to force one the coalition leadership has shot itself in both feet and deserves the contempt of everyone who values truth. Clearly their strengths do not include self understanding!
FANCY A NICE EARNER? JOIN A COUNCIL!
The bosses of more than 129 councils are pocketing a tasty £150,000 per year or more. And some do even better! Take Peter Stybelski, who retired as chief executive at Cumbria, who was paid £351,000 in pension contributions on top of his annual salary of £170,000. Or Gerald Jones, Wandsworth, who last year earned £356,891. Kent paid its boss, Peter Gilroy £299,611 and Brentwood paid Joanna Killian £285,000.
The list rolls on and on. But it does raise a key question. With staff being cut and taxpayers hammered through the ground why are chief executives treated differently. We will be told that they could transfer to industry. Having met quite a number I can only offer a polite ahem.
AT LAST THE ICC DOES SOMETHING POSITIVE!
Cricket fans will know that the International Cricket Council is not renowned for action, dynamic or otherwise. But it does deserve credit for stepping in to the chaotic row about the spot-fixing in the last Test Match between England and Pakistan. It has suspended the accused and made clear that they will not play again unless cleared.
The intervention avoided the cancellation of the one day series due to start at the weekend. England quite rightly were not prepared to insult spectators by taking part in a possible charade and the claim by the Pakistan management that the tape was not convincing evidence was bizarre. Mind you, they did admit that they hadn’t seen it!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Photo-journalism 2. Malta
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1.Which runner made history by holding the 800m, 1500m, and mile records at the same time in 1979? 2. Whom did Bjorn Borg beat in 1979 to score his 4th Wimbledon men’s single title?
This feels most odd! I am sitting in the corner of the allotment shed and the door is wide open. Even stranger is the fact that everyone is in shirt sleeves and no one is crouched around the fire listening to Lady Gaga . And it’s a Bank Holiday! Where is the traditional howling gale and driving rain for which St Lubbock’s days are renowned? For fear of having bewidered you already I should perhaps explain that one John Lubbock, MP, pushed through parliament – virtually single-handedly - the Bank Holidays Act of 1871. It is impossible now to imagine the excitement that this radical idea of paid secular holidays created at the time. In fact so delighted were the masses that the name ‘St Lubbock’s days’ entered popular usage and it was only in modern times, when we had so many holidays that they ceased to enthrall, that it faded from the vocabulary.
No one seems to know why Lubbock elected to use the title of Bank Holidays rather than, say, national holidays but it is certainly the case that he mean’t them to apply to every working man or woman and the name had nothing to do with Banks (as in investing unwisely and big bonuses). Sir John Lubbock was by profession an archeologist so perhaps the name had something to do with a successful dig on a bank. Who knows, who cares?
I have arrived at my main point via a circuitous route for I intended to pay a humble tribute to the show which has tickled us for some forty years, and which last night bade its inevitable farewell. Last of the Summer Wine was based on gentle humour and a gentler age. Its end was inevitable given that most of the much loved chracters such as Compo and Nora Batty are no longer available. Only Peter Sallis saw the course through and even he was beginning to show his age. But we will miss them all. Apart from the too silly ‘affair of the heart’ involving Howard and Marina the humour was always possible, always just an exaggerated version of things we old ‘uns have all witnessed as, like Peter, we have aged and matured.
It so often reminded me of the village in which I grew up. So for that matter did that other wonderful show, Dad’s Army. I remember one episode in which a local woman became obsessed with spies. Well, we had one too. In 1940 the village hall was festooned with appeals to keep an eye out for spies and this lady took it to heart. On one occasion a tramp wandered down the road and she rushed to the nearest phone box to ring the Home Guard. In no time at all two old blokes arrived on bikes and, briefed as to his direction, set off in pursuit. Since the bearded wonder was only travelling at the pace of a pregnant tortoise they soon caught him and returned triumphant with one of them pointing what appeared to be a musket at his chest. I was left wondering what on earth there was to spy on but he was marched away, in so far as three old blokes can ever be said to march, and I never saw him again. He is probably still locked in the old concrete box which to this day stands unloved and covered with graffiti.
And so it is with the Summer Wine. I recall a pair very similar to Howard and his dragon of a wife. She was huge and sang in the choir, maybe in the bath too but even my fertile imagination could never conjure that image up, and talked to the other wives in a voice loud enough to frighten the hens. He was half her size and when he appeared at all was invariably wearing a wrap-around ‘pinnie’. The only difference from the TV Howard was the Marina bit. He could never have managed her let alone the resulting vengeance of the ogress.
The combination of sun and the end of the Summer Wine produced in many of us in the shed a sense of meloncholy. Today everyone seems in a perpetual rush and under continual stress. Yes, there are huge improvements born of the development of technology that we couldn’t even imagine back then. But on a St Lubbock’s day it is easy to wonder if the price we have paid for the net, Sky, ATM’s and God knows what else, is a little high! My self understanding tells me that I like to both have the cake and eat it!
CRICKET CRISIS GROWS BY THE HOUR!
The revelations about the alleged no-ball scandal looked horrendous yesterday but in the cold light of dawn they now look even more so. The video recorded by the News of the World reporter seemed to prove beyond doubt that the three no-balls were bowled to order but even we cricket nuts missed the point that the captain would have to be involved too lest the bowler in question was taken off at an inopportune moment. But once that penny had dropped we began to wonder about so many things that happened during the series.
On this very site I regularly bemoaned the fact that the Pakistan fielding and batting seemed to fluctuate between brilliant (when they defeated England in the third Test) and absolutely abysmal when they made mistakes that would have shamed a club team. It may well have been just what it seemed but inevitably fans everywhere are now speculating non-stop.
What happens next is presumably in the hands of the police and cricket authorites but one thing is certain. If any of the players named are in the Pakistan team, England must refuse to play the one-day series. It may cost English cricket a great deal of lost revenue but no one should be asked to pay to watch what may be a cricketing version of professional wrestling.
And there is another question. If a newspaper can find all this out what have the International Cricket Council been doing to protect the games integrity?
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ: 1. The Derby 2. A chemical plant explosion killed 29 people.
TODAY’S QUESTIONS: 1. Who wrote ‘The Memoirs of a Survivor’, published in 1970? 2. What post did Bruno Kreisky take up in 1970?
As mentioned before, a variety of newspapers find their way to our allotment shed each day. The Daily Telegraph is far from being the ferret-market leader but its front page story did grab the attention of most who gathered for the morning moan. We have a new government but it seems that the age of sleaze is still rolling on, something of a surprise given the many protestations of innocence that peppered the general election campaign. According to the banner headline, the Tories are selling access to Ministers for £1000 per go!
The Conservatives are offering business leaders the chance to sit and dine with Ministers at a conference. The inaugural Business Dinner is being marketed as “an exclusive networking event” where guests will “enjoy good wines and superb food” and will be held inside the “secure zone” of the Conservative Party conference at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. George Osborne will be guest of honour and each table will be hosted by “a prominent Conservative MP”. However, application forms make it clear that business leaders prepared to spend £1000 per head can guarantee that they dine with “at least one serving government minister”.
These places of prestige will be known as the platinum tables which are guaranteed to be “prominently positioned” near the top table where none other than Mr Osborne will be seated and the diners will also get access to the VIP lounge plus reserved seats at the conference itself. Money raised will go to Tory Party funds and would-be guests are told that they must be on the UK electoral roll.
Now here’s the really clever bit. Because the fee for a seat is below the legal limit for declaring donations the lobbying businessmen will have their identities protected from the prying eyes of the media. It doesn’t fit well with the pledge made by David Cameron to introduce a “new politics”to restore public trust. During the election campaign he promised to reform party funding to “clean up our messy politics”.
So what does the Committee on Standards in Public Life make of all this? Well we do have the view of the former chairman, Sir Alistair Graham. He believes the Conservative stunt to be “unwise”. He believes that it gives the impression that you can buy the opportunity to influence government. Sir Alistair added yesterday that ” if you are trying to set a high moral tone this sort of thing is unwise. Governing parties need to be very careful about their fund-raising for the public reacts very strongly to the idea that you can buy the opportunity to influence ministers”.
How right the former chair is. This is grubby and a disheartening sign that the old sea of sleaze surrounding Westminster has not gone away. If I, as a businessman, wished to gain access to a minister I would be very happy to hand over £1000 plus the trimmings. Of course the minister may not be able to deliver what I want but one thing is for sure. If his subsequent actions facilitate whatever favour it is I seek, everyone that knew of my plan will automatically assume that he took the pieces of silver, or cheque in this instance, and performed a corrupt act despite the fact that the action was coincidental.
Such a stunt would attract little criticism of a party in opposition but for the government of the day to perform thus is disturbing. How many more revelations can we expect from the Telegraph? It is high time that we Brits stopped lecturing developing countries on corruption. It seems that we have plenty of our own to attend to! Before it is too late Mr Cameron should perhaps order a little study of Burns. ‘O wad some power the giftie gie us, To see ousels as others see us’ would seem apt. That way his colleagues might develop a little self understanding!
UNDERWEAR IS THE BIG SELLER!
The British Lifestyles Report, by research group Mintel, is out today and proves, if proof were needed, that our allotment gang is not typical of the population at large. In broad terms the findings are that households have tightenened their pursestrings to cope with the recession yet many long-term spending trends persist. A hefty chunk of our disposable income is devoted to alcohol, clothing and trips to the salon after we’ve taken care of the essential bills and transport.
After the credit-fuelled spending spree that sowed the seeds of the collapse, consumer spending contracted by over 6 per cent to £974 billion last year and the same trend is forecast for this. We have cut back on alcohol and drinks sales fell by 3.1 per cent even though the market is still massive at £38.4 billion. Even after the fall, the average Brit still spends an average of £622 on booze per year.
But the surprise of the report is that, despite the recession, expenditure on hairdressing and beauty is well up and the desire to look good is not confined to the ladies. The men’s ‘grooming’ market is up a whopping 50 per cent at £850 million. Demand for clothing and accessories also held up with spending reaching £46.2 billion, a small increase that equates to £750 per head.
Eating out has fallen off dramatically as have short-break holidays but amazingly underwear sales are up on past years and it couldn’t all have been for Lady Gaga! The other major movement against the trend as on feeding and clothing pets, where spending has increased by no less than 30 per cent over the past decade. The pets market now weighs in at £2.4 billion!
It is interesting to learn how others spend their diminishing income. But we codgers seem to buck most of the trends. We certainly don’t overspend on underwear ( patched long-johns can last many a year), we have not reduced our intake of ale and the amount we spend on beauty treatment, or even haircuts, is pretty low, nothing actually. As for pets, we work to the principle that what we can’t grow they don’t get.
But its all a bit misleading anyway. The well-to-do are the ones driving any expenditure other than the bare necessities. People on low incomes now facing higher VAT and benefit cuts will not be spending much on luxuries!
CRICKET; THE FINAL TEST
As I write, the final test match against Pakistan has provided only a dozen overs thanks to the monsoons but once the players take the field tomorrow this is, for England, the big one! The last thing they need is another humiliating defeat before preparing for the Ashes down under.
Hopefully someone has explained to a number of the batsmen that the idea this time around is to hit the ball with the middle of the bat! Sadly the news is that for Strauss it is already too late.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. America’s Cup (for yachts) 2. Swimming (200m breaststroke)
TODAY’S QUESTIONS: 1. With which form of handicraft did Erica Wilson make her name? 2. Which award did Sean MacBride share with Eisaku Sato in 1974?
We have the fire on maximum in the shed this morning and as we gather round in steaming clothes we wonder why anyone with enough readies to holiday abroad would be as daft as David Cameron who is shivering in the West Country and banging on about ‘staycations’. Add to that the fact that he has left the equivalent to Eddie the Eagle in charge of the nation and you begin to wonder what lies behind that plummy exterior. It was whilst we were crouched in a scene resembling armageddon that Lance Corporal Jenkins – like retired Generals, Jack still uses his rank - mentioned Quangos.
Apparently a friend has long held a position of non-executive director on such a body. Selection process seemed to comprise his wife knowing the Charman’s wife and the pay is good for doing little other than turning up once per month. And there are hundreds of such bodies, all working on the basis of creating rules, each of which requires more inspectors ad infinitum. But before various ferreters could begin to reach for their mobiles I warned them about the new slayer of Quangos, none other than Eric Pickles.
The new Communities Secretary may look like the answer to who ate all the pies but he is off to a good start. Nothing like hitting a big target on day one and our Eric has done just that. He has abolished the National Audit Commission. This august body was created in the 1980s to monitor the performance of local authorities and other public services. Sadly it hasn’t monitored its own excesses, which are considerable. Six members of its ‘management team’ earn more than the Prime Minister and it was only the intervention of the slayer that prevented the new chief executive being paid £240,000. He was not overly pleased either at the decision to spend £50,000 on a lobbying company!
The big-spending Commission has no fewer than 37 offices and employs over 2000 people but cannot even balance its own books – last year it posted a £9 million loss. So out it goes!
But it is far from alone. Take Ofcam, the media regulator. That pays its chief the unbelievable amount of £400,000, employs 873 people and gets through a cool £142 million each year. A lot of public money to cover the cost of an occasional rebuke for the BBC! And then there is the Equality and Human Rights Commission whose accounts have not been signed off for the past two years because of “irregular expenditure in a number of areas”, and the Charity Commission which blew £7.5 million last year “promoting the effective use of resources”. And the list goes on and on.
Hopefully our Eric will take another slice of cow pie, take a deep breath and scrub every single one of them. Any that feel able to demonstrate that what they do is remotely in the public interest could then apply for re-sanction with reasonable salaries and structures. If Cameron is serious about local enpowerment this is surely the way to go.
We musn’t load young Pickles with too much but it might also be helpful were he to take a peep at the Health and Safety lot. They seem to breed like ferrets and produce a new rule each week. The latest headline-hitter is their ruling that the grass at the 900 year old Carlisle Castle cannot be cut since it is on a slope near the former moat. There has been widespread criticism of the scruffy appearance of a place for ever renowned for its immaculate appearance but English Heritage have had to comply with “updated guidance from the Health and Safety Executive”. There is no record of anyone ever having been injured whilst cutting the grass since time immemorial but it will be cut no more. Not quite as daft as goggles for kids playing conkers but right up there with the thousands of lunacies enacted by this pompous waste-of-money busybody organisation whose self understanding is so slight that it believes we all value it.
So go to it Eric. You do not have the haggard appearance of an executioner but we need one. And not least on a day when we learn that we are to be the only developed country to ban the use of a life-extending drug for patients with terminal bowel cancer. Like many of the draconian cuts it is hard to accept whilst fat-cats stalk the land with impunity!
THE BANKS GO FROM BAD TO WORSE!
A few months ago I lashed out on some ISAs, virtually the last investment offering any hope of matching inflation. Barclays extensive advertising offered 2.55%, hardly generous but it was the best on offer. Today I received a letter confirming news of Barclay’s intention to reduce the interest to 2.23%.
Why? One can only assume that the incredible salaries dished out to the top executives not to mention bonuses, are proving a bit of a challenge to the ‘bottom line’. That being so we humble customers should accept that the Banks have been excused from the general need for economies and concentrate on our cricket.
WHY NOT BUT THE LOT?
Liverpool were humiliated by the Sheik-led Manchester City last night. Small wonder since one of the richest men in the universe is happy to buy the best players. Given that backing I think I could manage a championship win.
But why not make it easier still. To buy the whole Premiership would be no great financial strain and just thnk how easy finishing top would then become!
A LATE COMMENT.
Have just heard the good news of the Cameron’s new baby girl. Sorry that your holiday was so rudely interrupted David. Your decision to holiday in the UK hs been vindicated!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Eritrean Liberation Front 2. Portugal
TODAY’S QUESTIONS: 1.Who sang Bright Eyes in 1979? 2. In which TV show did Maureen Lipman play an agony aunt?