Friday, April 30, 2010

A political immigrant

Given the central role that immigration has played in this election, it is worth pondering the opinion held by Friedrich Engels of his status as an immigrant in the England of the 1880s.

After the death of Karl Marx some of Engel’s supporters urged him to return to live on the Continent; Engels stayed put, explaining that “I shall not go to any country from which one can be expelled. But that is something one can only be safe from in England & America.”

Could he be so confident of that today?

Election debates

This general election is certainly more electric than the last two. Last night local radio held its own 90 minute candidates debate with the 3 major parties in the studio & recorded inserts from the others (from interviews available in full on the website).

It was all very civilised; the Labour candidate – who was only selected a short time ago – sounds like a nice, good woman. She, fairly unusually for these days, abandoned her career as a journalist to be a full time mum to her two sons – now in their late teens. In the intervening years she has been on the local council & engaged in a wide range of voluntary work. But honestly she seemed a bit out of her depth talking national policy – which will not necessarily make her a bad MP as long as she is not there just as lobby fodder, has at least one special, perhaps unfashionable cause to pursue.

The Liberal Democrat, who probably thought at the beginning that he was just giving the party a presence, flying the flag, making up the numbers, has been transformed by his leader’s performance & now expects to make a really respectable showing.

But both seemed really to be conceding to the Conservative, who fought the last election & has been working very hard in the constituency ever since. He made the interesting point that last time there had been only one (poorly attended) public hustings, while this time round, if you count the radio debate there have already been 8, with an attendance of 100 to 150 at each, and plenty of questions by text etc while the programme was on the air.

All three serve on local councils & do not have ambitions to occupy any of the great Offices of State, just to be a good representative of their electors.

Local radio will also be broadcasting its own results programme next Thursday night, with live coverage from neighbouring constituencies where some of their listeners may have a vote.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The one that didn't get away

The year I turned 12 was the year that my father’s winter project was the building of a kayak from plywood. This became another item of equipment to be transported with us when we went off to camp.

We also acquired a fishing line – just a length of thin transparent nylon twine with a metal spinner which we hung out over the back. It came as a huge disappointment that none of us managed to catch anything, but we still usually hung it out as a kind of demonstration of loyalty & gratitude – of course we had faith, daddy.

It was about 6 o’clock one evening as I was paddling along, parallel with & not too far from the shore when I felt a tug. The strength of the pull was startling as I tried to keep paddling along. I began to feel afraid, so I turned & made for the family on the shore. The quicker I tried to go the greater the force of the drag. I became convinced that I must have caught something the size of a shark – at least (& this was years before Jaws). By the time I was close to safety I was really in a panic & daddy waded out to rescue me. I hardly dared to look as he hauled in the catch.

One small mackerel.

Still, we barbecued it over a driftwood fire on the beach & felt very pleased with ourselves.
Fly fishing may be a very pleasant amusement; but angling or float fishing I can only compare to a stick & a string, with a worm at one end & a fool at the other – Samuel Johnson.
Thanks to Chill with Bill from West Clare in whose photo gallery I found the photo which so perfectly illustrates my tale

Alarms & excursions

In a recent interview Lord Winston said that ‘Far from making us bolder and stronger in the face of nature and its constant exigencies, medicine has made us more afraid. And nothing makes us more afraid than the medical profession’s current obsession with prevention rather than cure.’

It is indeed sometimes easy to lose both patience & respect for the medical profession. One day we are being told that we go to the doctor too often for minor complaints, the next we are being urged to let them examine us for something for which we have no symptoms & in all probability do not have.

The latest news is of a screening test for bowel cancer. It only takes 5 minutes, they say, though it is not clear from press reports whether that includes the time taken to remove any polyps that are found.

The test involves examination of the lower colon & rectum. It may take the doctor only 5 minutes but the patient will have to add to that the time taken to travel to & from the clinic & for waiting around. It will also presumably include the time taken beforehand when they have to stay close to the loo while the ritual cleansing takes place. Plus a small risk of damage from the procedure itself. Plus the emotional cost ranging from mild irritation to blind panic about what the procedure may find, plus the uncertainty about your future health even after the polyps are removed.

Well, bowel cancer is nasty, so perhaps it is all worth it. And it also prompts me to repeat this story from the blessed Minerva of the BMJ:

A 67 year old patient attended for colonoscopy as part of the national bowel cancer screening programme. He had what initially appeared to be an adenomatous polyp in the transverse colon. On closer inspection the object was shown to be an intact lecamidipine capsule. Simple washing removed it

MINERVA:J A H Harvey, V Hedley, and A P PoullisBMJ 2010;340:c128, doi: 10.1136/bmj.c128 (Published 19 January 2010)
Not surprisingly really, this item attracted the attention of the French medical profession:
Femme de 67 ans: coloscopie dans le cadre d'un programme de dépistage du cancer colique. On a pensé repérer un polype dans le colon transverse. Mais un examen plus attentif montre qu'il s'agit d'une capsule intacte de lecamidipine, éliminée par un simple lavage.
Presumably the fact that the drug was lecamidipine allowed the translator to identify the patient as une femme, but I have been unable to check that.

The Official Site of Professor Robert Winston

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Getting to the point of delivery

We are all sinners now

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Malcolm X in Smethwick

On Broadcasting House last Sunday Anthony Howard was discussing how the voters of Smethwick had rejected Patrick Gordon-Walker in the 1964 General Election.

The story wasn’t actually making much sense until Howard explained that the winning candidate had used the slogan ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.’ Cue nervous explanation from Paddy O'Connell that that word was used only in an historically accurate quote.

It was only when I was checking details of names & dates that I came across the story of Malcolm X’s visit to Smethick in 1965 & of his last TV interview (with the BBC) before his assassination nine days later. It was never aired, so it’s not surprising that that is another fact about his visit to England which I do not remember.

Duckworth time

Frank Duckworth made an interesting point about the logarithmic nature of time in a letter to the April edition of RSS News.

One concept of time is that its perceived length is in proportion to the amount of activity taking place. Since most of the universe was formed in the first few nanoseconds after Big Bang, so if we were able to travel back there we would experience millions of years of geological changes you would experience the equivalent of a modern human lifetime in a tiny fraction of a nanosecond. This in turn means that there is no need to answer the question ‘What came before Big Bang’ because you can never get back to Time Zero – the nearer you get, the more time just slows down.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spring at last

The blossoms are really blossoming now - the forsythias have, of course, been shining yellow for some weeks now; the (wild) daffodils are particularly strong this year, the May trees already dressed in dense & creamy white.

Despite constant promises of sun, by mid late morning the cloud cover has been well-nigh complete most days though thankfully the breeze has died down these last two days – April, May & June are the cruellest months for Raynaud’s sufferers. Everything looks so warm & sunny but the breeze is treacherous, as is the sun when it decides to hide behind a cloud even for a minute or two. I can still manage with just a quilted waistcoat & gloves over spring clothes, but dread the day when I shall have to join the ranks of old ladies who walk around with their winter coats still buttoned up to the neck: Poor old thing – she doesn’t even realise that the sun is shining.

The cloud disappears by early evening, leaving the sun blazing low in the west. Glorious, except that when I am waiting for the bus I have to stare right into it. Last night I waved the bus to stop & it was only as I turned to gesture angrily at the driver who was just sailing by that I realised that it was one of the bright green long distance ones, not our local red – it had just lbeen black to me looking blindly down the road.

Uncharted territory

It is a sobering thought that no civil servant under the age of about 35 has gone through a change of government on the job (though many will have experienced more than their fair share of changes of minister, logos, department …).

And only those in their 50s can have experienced two changes of government. In that sense the Eighties, Nineties & Noughties have been remarkably stable.

An earlier generation simply got out the file of rules for a change of government, just in case, in 1964, 1966, 1970, 1974 (twice), 1979 & 1983.

Of course for the majority of civil servants a change of government has little effect on the work, in the short term. Unsurprisingly. The expenditure of some 40% (in normal times) of our national income has to be administered; it cannot just all change overnight.

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Reorganising costs

Eruptional news

I have been sorting out my commonplace book for last year before putting it away in the cupboard with all the others from the past 40 YEARS.

I was amused to see that I had taken note of the following, written by Martin Waller in The Times on 7 February 2009:

“The exact reason why Iceland, population 300,000, main industry cod, erupted on to the world stage as a significant player … has never been entirely clear.”

Well, it is now!

Actually, if you read some of the other speculation in the piece you have the beginnings of the plot for a novel of Dan Brown proportions. Perhaps the Cold War has been hotting up again.

Related post

Monday, April 26, 2010

Not just empty vessels

Radio 4’s Broadcasting House yesterday included an interview with a couple who enjoy travelling as passengers on container ships.

The containers are held by stanchions, they said.

“When it gets really rough it sounds like a zoo; it sounds like animals screaming”

Statistician as hangman

We are used to all the jokes & rude comments about statistics & statisticians, but I thought it was some kind of editorial slip when I read that ‘The British Medical Journal helped lead the way … by including an independent statistician on every research HANGING committee’

But, what do you know, the term derives from an old British Medical Association custom, & has spread around the world – or at least the medical world. The Oxford English Dictionary however recognises only the original meaning of the phrase, as ‘the committee who decide the hanging of pictures in an Exhibition (e.g. that of the Royal Academy)’

THE PICTURE is of William Calcraft, to whom the Registrar-General must have been referring when he remarked in the 1861 Census Volume III General Report:

"The ancient office of executioner has one representative in England."

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hands by Vernon Scannell

This poem by Vernon Scannell is a warning about not judging by appearances. The language is in parts more lyrical than usual for Scannell -"Ghosts of drowned nightingales in starry lakes" and "shattered galaxies in the head"

Hands can be eloquent, though sometimes they
Mislead us utterly in what they say.

I have seen slender fingered, candle white
Supple & fluent hands that many might
Call ‘sensitive’, ‘a pianist’s hands’, ‘artistic’;
But these were owned by someone mean, sadistic,
Hostile to art, a gross materialist.

I know another man, fine pianist,
Whose powerful, sausage fingered, meaty fists
Should hang from goalkeeper’s or butcher’s wrists,
Yet on the gleaming keys these hands could wake
Ghosts of drowned nightingales in starry lakes.

I know a fighter too, fast welterweight,
Whose punches could crush bone & could create
Sudden shattered galaxies in the head,
Yet from his hands alone you might have said
That he was not unusually strong,
For they were hairless, pale, the fingers long.

So many hands will tell us lies, but I
Have never known old labouring men’s deny
Their simple character: these never lie.
For years they have manhandled spade or hook,
Shovel, axe or pick until they look
Like weathered tools.

Although this rings true - my piano teacher had very fat (& hairy) fingers, I do not think I could ever fall in love with a man who did not have long supple slender pianist's fingers.

In the second half of the poem Scannell goes on to be a tad quaintly romantic about the hands of labouring men.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Judging by appearances

Adverts for the Leaders Debates have been appearing in the press. One version uses three very cropped photographs of the protagonists, showing just the central part of each face.

Brown was clearly Brown (& tired) but I had to check carefully to decide which of the others was which – they do bear an amazing resemblance to each other in this degree of close up, without hair style or accessories to give us a clue. I eventually decided on the basis of the nose – Clegg’s is a bit more squashed. He really does, in full view, look like an endearing puppy – one who will grow up to be loyal & dependable, but inclined to let his exuberance get him into scrapes for now.
But what most took me aback was the very clear pain around David Cameron’s eyes. Is this brought on by the vanity of refusing to admit to the need for glasses, or, if it was taken during or just after the first debate, despair at realising they he may not after all be able to seal the deal for his party at the election. Well, I guess it is actually most likely to reflect his still raw grief at the loss of his son, which means that one cannot help but admire his determination to keep going.
And oh dear! He does have a very thin upper lip – never trust a man with one of those!

Yes, I know judging by appearances is an ism which makes me an ist of some sort, but that’s just the way things are

England’s most marginal constituency?

We have quite an election ding dong going on (very) locally. Posters have reappeared.

It started with a very tasteful one for the Conservatives on someone’s wall – not just any old common or garden wall, however, a retaining one well placed on a corner.

Then a small Labour poster appeared on a wooden pole in a front garden further up the hill.

The house opposite sprouted 2 UKIP signs in the garden.

By next evening, back over the road, the house next door to the first house had sprouted a small forest of Labour signs in neighbourly solidarity.

Next time I came home there was just one sign in each garden.

I think there is probably some regulation about this – policed by opposing party workers if not The Authorities. A friend of mine grumbled each time she was told to take her sign down – this used to happen only on election day, mind, as her house was opposite the church hall which was used as a polling station.

Well we are a marginal, and one in which Liberals do not stand any real chance – there has been some disarray in the party. Which is odd, in one way, because we share part of our boundary with Sheffield Hallam whose MP is of course, one Nick Clegg, and an even younger Master Clegg used to be one of our MEPs. But then we share boundaries with 9 constituencies in all; people living a mile up the road from our side of the constituency were represented by the grandeur of Sir Nicholas Winterton. Otherwise it is Labour to the north, Tories to the south, with small Lib Dem enclaves to the east & west in suburban Sheffield & Manchester. Does this give us the claim to most marginal constituency - or are we just the hole in the donut?

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Election jitters

Reason to be grateful

Without dust there would be no clouds or rain — instead, everything would be soaking wet with moisture. Our dresses would become wet and dripping, and umbrellas useless.”

I just came across that line from C19th meteorologist John Aitken, quoted by Paul Simons & copied by me into my commonplace book last year.

So a reason to be grateful to the volcano.

Speaking of which, RTE1 sought a lesson in pronunciation from an Icelander live on air. She very helpfully explained that it helps to break it down into three parts which translate as island, mountain, volcano. So it makes perfect sense to refer to it just as The Volcano – we talk all the time about The Hill for example, if it is a familiar one.
And we are all now beginning to see the funny side. Peter Brookes did a great cartoon in The Times - Eyjafjalljokameron. And Cicero's Songs has the Best Volcano joke so far

Friday, April 23, 2010

Roger Thatcher

Sad to hear of the death of Roger Thatcher - & doubly sad that I missed hearing the news until yesterday.

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Strategic Times

The penny is dropping about what News International is aiming to do; it is not just about charging for access to the online version of The Times. Having seen, among other things, how the BBC website has become a varied source of entertainment & information, which allows for lively interaction with its consumers, The Times will not remain forever as a newspaper with a website. It will be a website with a potted version, or daily guide in print available from all good newsagents. A place to which people will turn automatically for news & entertainment because they trust the brand & feel a part of something – hence all the special events, clubs etc on offer.

Which makes a lot of sense really – assuming the electricity stays on. The Times has always been a leader.

But, especially for those of us old enough to remember the great battle of Wapping, the move raises interesting questions about the relationship between the ownership of content & the means of production & distribution & access. Search engines, servers, cable & wireless.

It will also mean that, like driving, printing will change to be one of those jobs we have to do for ourselves. I hope they soon come up with a decent affordable alternative to ink-jet.

Previously in favourite quotations (10)

Great men are often tardy with their truths - Elizabeth Jennings

You can drop a mouse down a thousand yard mineshaft & on arriving at the bottom it gets a slight shock & walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes - JBS Haldane

If you start throwing hedgehogs under me, I shall throw a couple of porcupines under you - Nikita Kruschev

Real women have never been popular in fiction. Men readers prefer the false, and women readers object to the truth - Jerome K Jerome

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Circles of Influence

The Times yesterday carried a two page spread on Nick Clegg which included a graphic labelled Circles of Influence. This showed us the mugshots of 15 people he was at school with, or has worked for, or, seemingly, are just good friends.

Only one is a woman – actress Helena Bonham Carter who was one of the small number of girls who have been let into the Sixth Form at Westminster School & was there at the same time as young Nick. Another snippet at the top of the page tells us that Ruth Kelly, who made it as a member of the Cabinet over 5 years ago, was also in the Westminster sixth form at the same time, though she does not count as one of the influential circle having decided to settle for a life outside politics.

Rather than just bang on about the lack of women etc etc I am wondering who might be thought worth including in any similar circles of influence of any of the women MPs currently at Westminster. I suspect not too many would include such a well known cast, & that in itself would be really instructive about the need, which still exists, for women to learn to start schmoozing like men.

The picture would probably be very different if we looked at the women who are in the House of Lords. Not only are they (I guess) on average older than the women in the Commons, but many will have forged their reputations & careers outside politics with a richer & more varied list of mentors, friends & professional colleagues.

Related posts

Cycling in Europe

Because of all the indignant stories about man being forced to buy a bike to get on a ferry when all the planes were grounded I half expected to find somewhere from not all that long ago a triumphant press release from one of the sustainable green transport lobbies about a new European directive which decreed that all ferries shall from henceforth reserve a certain number of places for cyclists on all journeys which start, end, or travel to a port in one of the 27 member states.

Alas, no. Though I did find a useful document from the European Parliament - [PDF] THE EUROPEAN CYCLE ROUTE NETWORK EUROVELO

Audience anticipation

Is there any sign that people will (as they do for football) be gathering in pubs tonight to watch the leaders debate live on Sky?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Voting & the volcano

Chris Mullin, after commenting in his diary on the apathy of the electorate during the 2001 election campaign, went on to speculate about what it might take to arrest this freefall. He guessed that “the rot will continue until we are blasted out of our indolence by … an environmental catastrophe (but only one that affects us directly – someone else’s catastrophe won’t make any difference)”

How very prescient though I don’t know if he had a volcanic eruption in mind, & he did not foresee the X Factor effect of the tv debates.

A divide has certainly opened up between those who saw the grounding of flights as a cause of tragedy & loss, for complaint & whingeing, a demonstration of official incompetence, & those who saw it as an adventure, or challenge, an opportunity to be a part of history, to use their own initiative rather than be hampered by procedures & form filling, waiting for government or some other THEM to come to the rescue. This has been very instructive, though whether it will be translated into voting remains to be seen.

Of course lessons need to be learned, but instead of carping why not be grateful that the experts had been thinking about all this, making contingency plans in advance. IATA, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations, and the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations all participate in this work of the International Civil Aviation Organisation which set up those Volcanic Ash Contingency Plans & gave the responsibility to the London Met Office. OK so their model could be, has been improved as a result of the unprecedented experience we now have, but just imagine what it must have been like for those who were having to decide what to do while it was all happening - & be grateful that we did not just learn about it by having a plane full of Easter holiday makers drop suddenly out of the sky.

Nobody who spoke of knowing how to cope with flying through ash has had to do it in the crowded skies of western Europe. One pilot explained that standard procedure on finding oneself in such a cloud is to do an immediate 180° turn & descend; that may be fine over the Pacific, but over London or Paris? It does not bear thinking about.

Meanwhile one of the most interesting & constructive suggestions to come out of this was contained in a letter to the editor of The Times:

Sir, As a child I used a footpath that was closed once a year to establish that the use was a privilege, not a right. Perhaps we should close the skies once a year.
John Chambers Tadworth, Surrey

I saw a contrail

Another almost cloudless blue sky today – there were just a few fat baby ones lurking over the high hills.

A couple got on the bus with their suitcases en route to the airport – they said they had their fingers crossed, not sure if they had been told their flight would be going or not.

But I saw my first con trail – descending towards Manchester – while I was waiting at the bus stop in the village, so I daresay the drivers will be carrying a few passengers with travellers tale to tell over the next few days.

Paul Simons commented on the link between the lack of cloud & the lack of contrails in his column yesterday, & he also pointed me towards the Climate survey trial - aircraft contrails OPAL for which I am grateful.

Related post
Clear blue sky

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Speaking for one's country

Olafur Grimsson, president of Iceland, has been giving pretty freely of his time for radio interviews – I heard him on RTE1 on Sunday & on Radio 5 Live this morning. He is impressive – accepted gracefully Iceland’s mistakes leading up to the credit crunch, found the right formula to say that while he is sorry (without being in any way accountable for) an Icelandic volcano causing disruption to so many peoples plans, he is pleased that no one has been killed or hurt. And got in a nice wry joke about how the volcano did not pay attention to the bit in Genesis where it says God finished the job of creating the universe after 6 days.

And, just to add to all his other plus points, he is a graduate of Manchester university.

Rattling the cage

Elections these days consist of a tiny elite of political leaders racing around the country in battle buses pursued by an equally tiny elite of commentators, while the rest of us (candidates, party members & general public alike) are mere spectators, occasionally roped in as extras.

So goes the entry in Chris Mullins diary for June 2001.

Still, at least young Nicholas has rattled their cage good & proper this time.

And the elite corps of commentators must be feeling miffed that they are not getting their rightful lead in the news bulletins, knocked out by an unpronounceable volcano.

I think I am beginning to enjoy this election after all.

But am I alone in feeling insulted by being characterised, or wooed, as the Great Ignored? I think I know what they mean, they want to reassure us that they do love us, really (& there has been too much of this human rights for criminlas business); but it just sounds like that dismissive thing people say: Oh ignore her – she’s mad.

Journalists do not have to be chasing after the political leaders to demonstrate their superiority, their proximity to power. The geat panjandrums of Today are honouring us with their presence, with the likes of James Naughtie off to present the programme from Newcastle, like some visiting colonial potentate.

Related post

Caramel fudge

This is a story (available in all good newspapers) of surprising links & connections.

President Obama’s sweet tooth is unexpectedly responsible for a small salt manufacturing company on the island of Anglesey being able to help boost exports of British foods & drinks to a total value of getting close to £10 billion a year.

Thanks to the UK Food & Drink Federation for letting us know about this.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bumpy flight

On 10 April The Times reported that the 270 workers at Gloucestershire Airport, Dowty Propellers were working at full tilt as demand for planes with turboprop engines has been rising.

I wonder if they can expand to produce even more even faster? Since they fly lower than jet planes they might be an answer to volcano dust.

Not sure I should want to go through that again though. They were still pretty common in the 1960s & 70s & I have done my share of time in a DC3, Twin Otter or Cessna.

The main reason for flying higher, or so I was always told, is that fuel consumption is less, at least if the flight is long enough to offset the extra fuel needed for a jet to take off. And of course the other big disadvantage of flying as low as a turbo prop is that it can get VERY bumpy. It is now long enough ago for me to look back with fondness to a complex journey we ended up doing from New York, New York via Syracuse, Buffalo & Albany to Montreal during some heavy wintry weather. On one of the legs the young GI sitting behind us took delight in saying at intervals: I’ve never known a plane shake this much.

Another question about the effects of the flying ban: How is David Cameron getting around the campaign trail?

I have not heard anything about helicopters being used to get people around during the crisis – are they grounded too? We don’t see many round here – and if we do it is usually the air ambulance or police. I believe private pilots prefer to stay away from the hills.

Which reminds me of another story: a local woman answered a knock at her door one evening to find a very apologetic Noel Edmonds; he had landed his helicopter in the field at the back of her house as the lesser of two evils because the clouds had unexpectedly closed in.

A question of etiquette

If I am getting on to a bus or a train immediately behind a man who decides gallantly to stand back to let ladies coming from the other side get on before him, is it ok for me to poke him in the back & say What about me? (especially if the ladies concerned are young?)

Padded bikinis

I have not seen the garment described as a padded bra or bikini top for girls as young as 7 or 8 which has recently been withdrawn from sale by Primark following complaints about sexualisation, so in that sense I have no right to comment. But I do want to say that two piece swimsuits for girls of this age are not in themselves anything to object to, & that padding may, in fact, be a protection against unwelcome sexual interest.

I speak as someone who has the kind of ‘neat’ figure which could get away with doing a Carla Bruni according to the criteria laid down by Sarah Vine in The Times. But, for public appearances I do usually wear a bra, for modesty’s sake, & of the type that used to be called padded but is now usually called a t-shirt bra.

The reason quite simply is nipples. And these days girls as young as 7 may, increasingly, have something to be self-conscious about in this department. I remember the agony of wearing a thin taffeta swimsuit – ruched for modesty, but only too revealing once wet – when I was at that stage. So I can sympathise with any young girl who wants to be decently covered up; if the style is otherwise deemed too provocative that is just a general reflection of what is fashionable these days.

What is more I get irritated by how difficult it is to find a decent swim suit in an ordinary high street store when grown women are supposed to have all-over skin like a baby. Shurely some confusion over what constitutes paedophiliac taste here?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Letting go

I am currently ploughing through Chris Mullin’s diaries – reading is hard when you have your head in your hands.

I really enjoyed one anecdote on page 80. Sir Richard Wilson, Secretary to the Cabinet, reportedly said, in response to complaints about control freakery in 10 Downing Street, “[Blair] has teenage children. He’s going to have to learn how to let go sooner or later.”

Well, in one sense he was forced to learn eventually.

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Politician as parent

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A wife’s view of the general election

We need some variety in the election coverage, so I thought I would revisit the Diary of Lady Frederick Cavendish to see how she viewed the momentous election of 1868 which followed the extension of the vote to many working class men by the Reform Act of 1867.

She played her part as both loyal sister-in-law & wife, accompanying the future 8th Duke of Devonshire & her husband to their respective constituencies as the time for making nomination approached. She got very excited at both meetings & judged her (still quite new) husband’s speech the best she had ever heard him make. She nearly burst with enthusiasm.

The election saw the Liberal party increase their lead over the Conservatives in parliament, but there were anomalous results. John Stuart Mill lost his seat in Westminster & the Cavendish family had their number of MP brothers reduced from 3 to 1 - Lord Frederick kept his seat. As with all politicians in defeat the family were inclined to rather wild analysis of the reasons why – in this case rabid No Popery lies about the family from the opposition.

The subject of MPs employing family members has been much criticised of late. In 1868 nobody thought it wrong, in fact politics was intrinsically a family business. Lady Frederick’s uncle, the prime minister William Gladstone, was reluctant to lose the talents of heir to the Duke of Devonshire, who had served politics well in his 11 years as an MP, & so he offered to make Spencer Cavendish Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. But as Lady Frederick confided to her diary “It is far from suitable for a young bachelor!

It is the next sentence which I had to work at to extract its significance: “The thing was kept as nearly secret as was compatible with Freddy, Eddy, Lord George, and Lou being married people!

What was the secret? That Spencer Cavendish was unmarried – how could that be kept from the public? Had he already begun his long relationship with the duchess of Manchester- was that the problem? Why would the marriages of his siblings cause gossip?

But I guess really Lady Fred was just saying that too many people were in on the secret of Gladstone’s offer, so a leak was almost inevitable. You know what political gossip is like.

Foreign service

I am not going to comment on the case of the soldier who has just won a case against the Ministry of Defence at employment tribunal; it was found that, by the manner in which she had been treated over child care arrangements, she had been discriminated against on grounds of both sex & race. In my experience, the brief but sensational press reports of what must have been at least one full day of hearing cannot by their nature do justice to the facts & arguments in the case; and when you know more you all too often find that the complaint which appears silly or trivial or greedy, the employer merely venial in their error, turns out to be a symptom of troubling attitudes prevalent in an organisation.

What took me aback in reading about the case was finding out that there is a category “Foreign and Commonwealth soldier” – it is not just Gurkhas who serve.

There is a whole section devoted to Foreign & Commonwealth on the Army Families Federation website, from which it is clear that these soldiers face a whole number of issues on immigration, family & citizenship rights. There is even an MOD guide which gives official advice on child care & ensuring your child’s safety:

Being a parent is a demanding, 24 hour a day job … Childcare in the UK is well regulated … Parents (including single parents) are responsible for ensuring they have arrangements in place for childcare so that they are able to fulfil all of their Army duties. If any children are to be left in the care of someone who is not a close relative for a period of over 28 days this is called private fostering. The Army Welfare Service, the British Forces Work Service overseas or your UK Local Authority Children Services department will be able to provide you with more advice.

Somewhere, somehow, the soldier who brought the complaint of sex & race discrimination got lost in this tangle of advice, regulation & guidance & the tribunal agreed though the case may now of course go to the Employment Appeal tribunal.

I remember how astonished I was, in the 1960s, to see hanging over the pavement in Bridgetown Barbados the familiar red white & blue roundel of London Transport. It marked a recruitment office which enthusiastically encouraged Bajans to come & help keep London moving. Earlier Enoch Powell has poached Jamaican nurses to keep our hospitals functioning . And we know what happens to people who answer the call, proud to help, but find they join not ‘us’ but ‘these people’

Clear blue sky

Not a single cloud in the sky today – literally. Not one. Clear blue overhead, but gets whiter the further away your gaze is trained.

No planes, of course, so no contrails either. Makes you wonder just what is the contribution of aircraft movements to cloud formation.

Related post

Friday, April 16, 2010

Making Conservative education policy

One extract I heard from David Cameron in last night’s election ‘debate’: he wants British education to include knowledge of & familiarity with ‘the best things written & said.”

That sounds a lot like the traditional English obsession with Arts, a disdain for engineers.

I might find a positive reason for voting if the aspiration included knowledge of the best things made.

Keep going despite the campaign

The British broadcasters got themselves all in a tizz about last night’s tv debate – I really worry about how they think they are such an important part of the process, imagining themselves as stars of the Downing Street West Wing. Fewer than 10 m people watched – quite a big audience these days, but it means there were 50 million who had better things to do.

Of course the print media have caught the bug too – goodness knows how many pages in The Times today.

I have not heard or overheard one mention on the bus or in the shops. But everybody is talking about The Volcano – including the children, who have heard that it is going to be raining (or snowing) dust. They really are living through interesting times with this year’s weather.

I have been taking refuge from the incessant election coverage in RTE1, where I heard a really useful discussion about the volcano. We learned that there is in fact a VOLCANIC ASH CONTINGENCY PLAN with nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres around the world.

The politicians have no doubt been all tied up with campaigning, although someone still has to take care of the business of government of the country. No doubt in normal times we would by now have had the benefit of a statement from Gordon about how to keep calm & carry on & Lord Adonis would have been all over the airwaves. I am not sure what the rules are on ministerial media appearances on government business during an election period, but given New Labour’s record on administrative disasters I think we should be thankful that this one is being left to the experts.

The Irish are just as badly affected as we are, at least until this morning when some flights to the west, away from Europe have been resumed. But the attitude seems completely different – they are at the mercy of Nature in this one & the stories are all about how people are coping. Dublin airport opened up free wi fi so that passengers could do their own rebooking rather than add to the pressure on ticketing desks. A businessman, with a vested interest in & relishing the opportunity to point out that, contrary to recent received wisdom, travel agents not having been superseded by the internet had been able to prove their continuing worth; he told stories of problem solving. We also heard of the husband getting home from the Ukraine via Paris, Cherbourg & Rosslaire.

Switching over to BBC Radio 5 Live at noon we just heard whingeing about a lost golfing holiday & close questioning about how to claim off your insurance; this morning's Today programme did at least end with a listener's e-mail about the forgotten pleasure of a west London garden on a suny spring morning untroubled by the noise of aircraft taking off & landing. (I wonder what will be the long-lasting effects of this incident on the debate over the future of Heathrow?). Otherwise, on a bad day these days I think that for the British media 'the story' is an uninterrupted tale of drunken broken Britain where no disaster is mitigated & the peak achievement of any interviewer's career is the one where he made his object cry.

One last thought – with no politician to decide, I wonder what will happen if the experts think it best to relax some of the more long-winded security requirements to get the system moving again with all the planes repositioned ASAP, not sitting around on runways while passengers take their shoes off & put them back on again.


Thursday, April 15, 2010


Well Paul Simons did warn us. Many people may still not realise that that is what is happening to them today, because nobody on the radio dares say the word. Through primitive atavistic fear, the sort of superstition which forbids the naming of The Scottish Play? No, a simple but total inability to pronounce the name.


The grounding of all flights to & from UK airspace will have all kinds of consequences, good, bad, maybe happy, for the lives of thousands of people whose plans have been so unexpectedly disrupted. And we are getting a very good illustration of how modern communications have transformed the reaction to such events. One reporter found an almost deserted regional airport – people were not turning up unaware of what had happened & forming angry queues. They have not had to rely on harassed airline staff for information about what is going on. Radio 5 even took a call from a man in Shanghai airport; his flight back to London had been cancelled, he needed to get back to be with is wife who is going into hospital. Radio 5 was providing him, via his laptop, with continuous updates; his office back in London had been able to book him on a flight later today from Hong Kong, which, with any luck will land him in London early tomorrow morning. Even 10 years ago he might still have been stranded with no clear idea at all of what was going on, with no way of judging what might be his best course of action.

Monday was a golden day – literally – a trick of the light shining down through a high haze. I even noticed for the first time ever a group of irregular-shaped fields high on one of the hills which fit together as an almost perfect pentagon – this showed up because they are all planted with some find of grain which under that light showed up pale yellow amidst the surrounding green. I must search out some learned treatise on the field patterns of the ancient Peak District, there must be such a thing, maybe written by some C18th or C19th antiquary.

We may get some spectacular sunsets over the next few days or weeks because of all this volcanic dust in the air. But I fear summer may be cancelled.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Alex Bellos has written a book about mathematics which I shall try to get hold of. Speaking about it on Start The Week he said something which really set me thinking: that Asians may have a head start in maths because of the language they use for numbers – for example a simple progression one, two … ten, one-one, one-two … two-one …

In my very brief teaching career I was given the job of trying to teach maths to girls who had couldn’t do maths – had failed miserably by the time they got to (in current usage) Year 10 or 11. This was in a country where dropping maths was simply not considered an option by their parents – unlike in good old England where to qualify for university you only needed an O level in maths OR a science – which meant that many, mostly girls, opted for the safer territory of biology, might even have been encouraged to drop what could still be seen as an unsuitable subject for a girl.

The school had decided to try to start them again using the innovative Cambridge New Mathematics Project, which introduced students to notions such as set theory. During my first week or two I had to deal with complaints about the homework I had assigned – including in one case an angry father who came in person to remonstrate that tea sets had nothing to do with his daughter being able to get her sums right.

But when we moved on to number bases the girls came to life, in a way which really took me by surprise. They really enjoyed being asked to do things like ‘Express the number 23 in Base 8’ and we had fun discussing whether 11 in Base 2 should be called eleven or whether we needed to invent a different name to avoid confusion.

The Laws of Algebra also went down very well, and when I explained that if A-B=C, then A=C+B and there was no need to do a subtraction in order to work out how much change you needed to give if someone gave you $1 for a purchase costing 73¢. I can still here the squeals of one girl: Oh Miss! Oh thank you Miss!! When she could speak through the embarrassment of having everybody stare at her, she explained that her ambition had always been to get a job in the large department store, go to work in make up & smart clothes, but she had expected to fail in her ambition because she had never before been able to understand how to make change.

The girls did very well in their first end of term exams – so well that I feared I had not set questions which were testing enough or my marking had been too lenient (those were the days – no special teacher training, a degree was enough, just get on with it). I sent the papers & my marks to a lecturer at the university, a specialist in maths education; he thought they were ok, so everyone was very pleased.

I am afraid that the girls were unable to keep up that rate of progress however – for one thing their teacher was very much less confident when it came to geometry which started from the unfamiliar territory of rotations & reflections – dangerous ground for one who always has to stop & think in order to distinguish between left & right, east & west.

But, if you find it hard to grasp the basic idea of how even our basic counting numbers are constructed with numerical symbols - & some children may permanently fail to grasp this from the very beginning just because of the confusion of irregular names, might it not be a good idea, just for fun (I hold out no hope of getting everyone to follow) to play games with small children, in which the number after ten is called onety-one, and so on. Or is this already a commonplace?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Confusing the voters

Daniel Finkelstein & Phil Collins are giving ‘confused advice’ to those unsure how to vote.

Well actually they “offer the confused advice.” Bring back the preposition!

Making the news

The deputy head of the BBC Newsroom got the Feedback treatment last week about his treatment of the Archbishop & his comments on Start The Week about the problems of the Catholic church in Ireland.

As one example of the stir this caused, Marian Finucane on RTE1 spoke on Saturday about what it was like to be an ordinary parish priest these days to a group from across the country; it was sobering to hear of the sadness & anger (which in some cases most definitely extended to the hierarchy) among a group whose position I have not personally heard addressed before.

It turns out that it wasn’t BBC News wot started it. They first read it on the front page of Saturday’s Times (which they get late on Friday evening) – or was it the AFP?

Anyway they checked; yes the Archbishop had said those words, so they reported them too. And no, they have nothing to apologise for, except one small slip on one radio bulletin which was corrected ASAP.

So how did the others get to it first?

Someone at Radio 4 sent out preview tapes – obviously not normal practice, since Start The Week usually goes out live, but this one was recorded about a week in advance for transmission on Easter Monday. Presumably they just wanted their colleagues on the print media to have a chance to write their copy in advance so they could have the day off too.

And so the monster feeds itself

Related posts
Making the BBC news

Monday, April 12, 2010

Love's infiniteness

Another poem by John Donne. The key line for me is "He that hath all can have no more" - that is what it is about, not inconstant woman.

IF yet I have not all thy love,
Dear, I shall never have it all;
I cannot breathe one other sigh, to move,
Nor can intreat one other tear to fall;
And all my treasure, which should purchase thee,
Sighs, tears, and oaths, and letters I have spent;
Yet no more can be due to me,
Than at the bargain made was meant.
If then thy gift of love were partial,
That some to me, some should to others fall,
Dear, I shall never have thee all.

Or if then thou gavest me all,
All was but all, which thou hadst then;
But if in thy heart since there be or shall
New love created be by other men,
Which have their stocks entire, and can in tears,
In sighs, in oaths, and letters, outbid me,
This new love may beget new fears,
For this love was not vow'd by thee.
And yet it was, thy gift being general;
The ground, thy heart, is mine; what ever shall
Grow there, dear, I should have it all.

Yet I would not have all yet.
He that hath all can have no more;
And since my love doth every day admit
New growth, thou shouldst have new rewards in store;
Thou canst not every day give me thy heart,
If thou canst give it, then thou never gavest it;
Love's riddles are, that though thy heart depart,
It stays at home, and thou with losing savest it;
But we will have a way more liberal,
Than changing hearts, to join them; so we shall
Be one, and one another's all.

The problem with women

A fascinating report from the Harris School about the relationship between women, work & commuting – for example cities with longer commutes are associated with fewer married women who work.

In this country the average woman travels only two thirds as far as the average man over the course of a year – for all purposes, not just work. In fact, just to be provocative, I should say that difficulty with travel, not patriarchy, is THE major factor which has kept, & still keeps, women down.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wireless statistics

One analogy I used to use when talking to non-mathematicians (& to mathematicians too, come to think of it) about the limits of statistical methods is probably already incomprehensible to anyone under pension age. So here it is, just for posterity.

You are listening to an old fashioned AM only radio; through the crackles & hisses you can dimly discern, you are sure you can hear, someone talking.

A delicate hand on the tuning knob, a reorientation of the aerial, maybe just turning the set around, & you may be able to make out the words. One day engineers & scientists will have worked their magic & produced a radio which produces a signal which is crystal clear.

Data sets are like that; a jumble of numbers, a set of points scattered all over the graph. But you are sure there is a pattern in there.

And here comes the clever mathematician to show you how to find it – the perfect straight line.

But, just because you can hear every word that is being broadcast, doesn’t mean it’s true. You might be listening to Lord Haw Haw.

A City's Death By Fire by Derek Walcott

This poem about the fire which destroyed Castries in 1948 was included in Derek Walcott's first collection, 25 Poems. Walcott was 18 at the time.

After that hot gospeller has levelled all but the churched sky,
I wrote the tale by tallow of a city's death by fire;
Under a candle's eye, that smoked in tears, I
Wanted to tell, in more than wax, of faiths that were snapped like wire.

All day I walked abroad among the rubbled tales,
Shocked at each wall that stood on the street like a liar;
Loud was the bird-rocked sky, and all the clouds were bales
Torn open by looting, and white, in spite of the fire.

By the smoking sea, where Christ walked, I asked, why
Should a man wax tears, when his wooden world fails?
In town, leaves were paper, but the hills were a flock of faiths;
To a boy who walked all day, each leaf was a green breath
Rebuilding a love I thought was dead as nails,
Blessing the death and the baptism by fire.

Related post

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Camping holidays (3)

Some of our schoolmates thought we were rich because we had two proper, going away from home holidays each year – a fortnight in August & a week in June (which offered more guaranteed sun); this usually, but not always coincided with the half term holiday, which in any case was only 3 days back then; as far as I am aware there was never any trouble with school over this.

What made our good fortune was the fact that we had a car – not until 1962 did as many as one third of all households have one of their own – plus my parent’s ingenuity & hard work. My father did all his own car maintenance, for example. And of course camping cost very little – I seem to remember fees of something like 1 shilling and sixpence per night for a pitch in a farmer’s field. This usually came with no amenities other than access to a water supply.

We never went abroad, partly because of my father’s gippy tummy (a legacy of the war) but also because my parents always said that they thought it essential that we got to know our own country first. But having fallen in love with Mrs Davis farm we always used that as our August base, except for one year when we did a tour of Devon & Cornwall, deemed too far to go for just one week in those pre-motorway days.

Otherwise I particularly remember Marske By The Sea, Abersoch, Amlwch & Ingoldmells (where we broke with tradition & stayed on a ‘proper’ campsite with a toilet block & a bar, an experience which we never wished to repeat.

Related post

Friday, April 09, 2010

The first millennium: population & global warming

Looking again at the estimates of world population since 40,000 BCE (which were included in a paper given by Roger Thatcher to the British Association in 1984 & taken from an essay by Biraben which I have not been able to read) I was very struck by the figures for the first modern millennium.

They show a world population of 255 million in 1 AD which was not to be surpassed for nearly 1,000 years; in fact by 400 AD the population is estimated to have fallen to 206 million & just stayed at that figure for the next 200 years.

This coincides of course with the end of the Roman Empire, & a pretty much Europe-wide collapse in the infrastructure of towns – a fact which was noted in the recent In Our Time 2-part special on The City.

It is also of relevance to the climate change debate, the (in)famous hockey stick graph & the so-called Medieval Warm Period (AD 800 to 1400). I do not know how or if the IPCC took account of historical population change & movement, & I am not in a mood to find out at the moment.

But there is a recent post on Gravity & Levity, The global temperature is inherently unstable, which looks interesting; I have printed of a copy to read since it is not the kind of thing I can take in properly from a screen. But I should like to quote here the authors apology for not joining the debate sooner:

It has been such an emotionally- and morally-charged debate during the past few years that only very rarely is a fact presented without an accompanying censure or call to arms. This creates a particularly bad environment for the advancement of scientific debate, where dissenters are immediately shouted down because of a strong political/social pressure to reach consensus (not that I can’t see why; there is much more urgency to global warming than to most scientific riddles). The problem is that the fundamental mechanism through which scientific ideas advance is disagreement. If scientists aren’t allowed to argue with each other, then they arrive at the truth much more slowly.”

Those are points which other non-denying sceptics have been making recently, but none with such eloquent heartfelt simplicity

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Blaming the government

The British Retail Consortium has given retailers a pat on the back for their fight to overcome the reluctance of customers to spend caused by pre-election uncertainty & sharp rises in other living costs. As a result overall shop price inflation slowed down from 1.7% in February to 1.2% in March.

Sainsbury’s however have been making it perfectly clear when the blame for rising prices lies elsewhere. Signs up on the beer shelves explain how the government excise duties went up at midnight on Sunday 28 March 2010 & spell out exactly how much this added to the price of a pint (or its metric equivalent)

Meeting the Queen

The Queen has been staying at Windsor Castle recently – the Court Circular has been datelined from there; a Privy Council was held at Windsor on Wednesday. But on Tuesday Her Majesty travelled to London so that Gordon Brown could meet her at Buckingham Palace to ask for the dissolution of Parliament.

I wonder how usual it is nowadays for the Queen to travel at her prime minister’s convenience. Things were certainly different in Queen Victoria’s time; cabinet ministers were constantly having to go down to Windsor or even Osborne House to transact official business with the Queen, & a duty minister had to be in constant attendance at Balmoral.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


A contributor to The Poetry Olympian: Michael Horovitz at 75 mentioned Michael’s skill as a childhood busker – he always demanded & got a minimum contribution of 1d (one old penny).

Less than a half of one new penny, a coin which itself must be on the verge of extinction, especially now that £1 rather than 99p is the magic number. But it was a real achievement to extort a whole penny when the farthing was still in circulation.

The farthing was still current in my childhood; it seemed especially child friendly, because of its size & its friendly wren. When they came off the ration you could buy sweets with a farthing.

And just think: there were 960 of them to £1. Literally, in round numbers, ten to a modern penny.

All being well

Alex Guttenplan, geeky star of University Challenge is also “chairbeing” of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society.

I do hope the new Houses of Parliament will in due course see fit to adopt this terminology for the beings in charge of its Committees


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Making the BBC news

Radio 4 likes its trails – too much, some say. Usually they are just left to the gaps between the programmes, but over the Easter weekend one of them made it on to the news bulletins & was picked up by other media outlets.

The Archbishop of Canterbury had ‘claimed’ to a BBC interviewer that the Catholic Church in Ireland had ‘lost all credibility’ over the child abuse scandal.

Dr Williams soon offered an apology. But if he didn’t mean it, why did he say it – to quote one caller to an Irish radio phone in.

Well he said it near the beginning of a pre-recorded special Easter Monday edition of Start The Week, a programme lasting 45 minutes which is usually described as a discussion rather than an interview. We have not been told when it was recorded, so we do not know why it suddenly became newsworthy at the weekend, before the programme had been broadcast.

The other participants were David Baddiel, atheist, whose new film 'The Infidel' is a comedy about a man who was raised as a Muslim but finds out that he had been born to Jewish parents; Philip Pullman, atheist, whose new book is called 'The Good Man Jesus & the Scoundrel Christ’; & Mona Siddiqi who, among her other duties is assisting the World Economic Forum consider new ethical approaches for business in a world of globalised risk.

This could have been a very shouty programme, but under the intelligent chairmanship of Andrew Marr it was serious & polite, perhaps overly so, but none the less illuminating for that. It was recorded in Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop’s official residence in London.

Dr Williams was talking about the tension between religion – a belief system belonging to the people - & the institution needed to organise & to spread the word. Like all institutions the Church had to guard constantly against the temptation & the tendency to bureaucracy, hierarchy & self-protective secrecy. It was in this context that he said that the crisis is ‘not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland.

A commentator on RTE who had listened to Start The Week explained this to Irish listeners, and indeed this theme has cropped up in the many discussions I have been hearing. One lady made the same distinction between the religion of the Church & of the people as did Dr Williams but she went on to say that the people too bore responsibility for the crisis of child abuse; for years they had been dumping on to the Church all the social problems of which they were ashamed or did not want to deal with, & just leaving them there. But from another point of view another lady said: ‘We thought it was just us, we thought it was just an Irish problem, but it is everywhere, so it is really a problem of hierarchy.’

Just one sentence, but how the Archbishop must be regretting that little word ‘all’ – without that, it seems unlikely that there could have been all this fuss.

It is not the first time that the BBC has got its headline from Dr Williams – two years ago it was Sharia law.

Ironically, the final item on Easter Monday’s Today programme – just before Start The Week began – was an interview between James Naughtie & Michael Heseltine. The seasoned campaigner was on his guard: ‘I know what you’re trying to do Jim, but you won’t make me say it, I’m not going to give you your headline.’ Then, just as the pips pressed, asked whether he would be out campaigning for the Cameron Conservatives he said not, because at 77 he was past it. To the sounds of laughter Naughtie said ‘That’s it, I’ve got my headline.’

It takes experience to pull that off. Experience that many BBC journalists who happen to be women have not yet been able to acquire, as Ceri Thomas kindly explained on Feedback. But even a tough male BBC Today editor can be hurt by all ‘All this heat, hyperbole and wild alliteration I unleashed in the space of a few minutes.’

If you cannot stand the heat stay away from BBC interviews. Otherwise you will find, as did Ceri Thomas, that “on some occasions, one imperfect phrase can be ripped out of the fabric of an interview and turned into a canvas onto which critics project prejudices and preconceptions.”

As, of course, did the Archbishop. But the Archbishop apologised for any upset that he had caused; the Today editor, who has the thick skin required of all those who work on the programme, took 772 words on a BBC blog to explain why his critics were wrong.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Men & shoes

Never trust a man who:

Wears grey shoes

Or winkle pickers

Or Cuban heels

Or elevator heels

Sunday, April 04, 2010

What did you do in the war, granny?

So – you are off to be introduced to the newest new grandchild #3 in Cornwall.

Bus to airport: <1 hour
Flight to Newquay: <1 hour
Airport check in: 2 hours

Well you can mooch around the shops, sit & have a nice cup of tea. For £34 per person you can take advantage of the facilities in the airline’s private lounge.

What have you got to complain about? You are a footsoldier in the war against terror (or should that be a pawn). Saving our civilisation. And lives. That’s worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time, isn’t it?

And it’s still cheaper & easier than going by train. Probably quicker too.