23 October 2009

BBC Showcases BNP

I have just watched this week's Question Time featuring Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, and perhaps the most controversial piece of BBC broadcasting the nation has seen for many years. 

Was the BBC right to invite Mr Griffin onto the panel?  The BBC has no right to deny a voice to anyone in a democratic society that prides itself on freedom of speech and expression.  British people (of whatever colour or ethnic origin) have a right to know where political parties stand; how better to hear it than direct from the mouth of the horse?  Or should that be a sheep? Or, perhaps, a wolf disguised as a sheep?

What do I think of Mr Griffin?  I think it takes a particular kind of courage to expose one's utter bankruptcy in such a public way.  Maybe courage is the wrong word...

21 August 2009

The Lockerbie Bomber, Compassion and Justice

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi has received a hero's welcome on arriving in Libya. Understandably, there is an outraged response from many of the families of victims of the Lockerbie incident, of which al-Megrahi stands convicted of causing. Should he have been released? In my view, not in these circumstances.

Al-Megrahi was planning an appeal before the prospect of release on compassionate grounds arose, at which new evidence purported to show his innocence would have been presented. Had that evidence been compelling, his consequent release would have been just and fair, and any right-minded person would have even wished him compensated for wrongful imprisonment. Given his medical condition, the correct action would have been to pull out all the stops to hear his appeal without delay so that, if justified, he could have been released legitimately and returned home to die in the bosom of his family.

Why did he drop his appeal? Was it merely because he had been told to expect release on compassionate grounds? Was it because the evidence was flawed and unlikely to secure release? We will never know, unless the BBC makes a documentary about it.

Supposing that the new evidence fell down in court, that would leave us with a dying man still guilty of murdering 270 people without the slightest crumb of compassion and having never shown any remorse for the atrocity (were he innocent, I would expect him to show none, although he may be expected to express the same sadness and outrage that we all feel about Lockerbie). If his conviction were to stand, would compassion be sufficient grounds to release him?

This is not an easy debate. We all want justice for the wrongs done to us. We all need mercy for the wrongs we have done. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Forgiveness is conditional on repentance and even then is an act of grace, not something earned by remorse: the victims are still dead. Had he shown true remorse, mercy could have been either extended to him on compassionate grounds or rightly withheld in the interests of justice. Mercy could have included everything short of release, leaving him to finish his sentence in better, even pleasant, surroundings. Mercy can and should be extravagant but it does not have to be stupid.

There are other things than the short-term fate of one man to weigh: the victim's families, international relationships, the greater struggle against the evils of terrorism. What has Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision shown to the world? That his ethic (for he does not speak for us all) is better than the terrorists'? I think not. I think it will be perceived by our enemies to show that we in the West are weak because of our muddle-headed thinking and will eventually be defeated.

This 'act of compassion' will be seen as a triumph not of our nobility but of their cause.

17 July 2009

All About Everything

Well, I haven't blogged for a while, mainly due to lack of inspiration. It's not that there's been nothing to comment on; quite the opposite, in fact. I've just been unmotivated, having been drained by demands in the real world.


I almost wrote something about the eye-gouging affair in the recent British & Irish Lions tour. I was going to vent my spleen on the South African player concerned but research showed me that he had appealed against the sentence and had been absolved of the serious charge of deliberately sticking fingers in an opponent's eyes only an hour before I put fingers to keyboard. Such is life. I still think the South African coach's statement appearing to imply that foul play was acceptable was outrageous, despite his subsequent 'clarification'.

While we're on the subject of the Lions tour, didn't they do well? Five minutes more in the first game and we could have won. One stupid error less in the second game (resulting in an impressive kick for three points) and we would have drawn at least, leaving the series open. The emphatic thumping in the third and final game ought to have shown the South Africans how lucky they were to have got away with a series win.

Swine Flu

Then, of course, there's swine flu still doing the rounds. Is it serious or isn't it? I suppose it is if it kills you but it appears to be no worse than the normal seasonal flu - except those who have died are not in the traditional vulnerable demographic, the frail and elderly. Despite this, panic appears to be setting in. I don't know with any certainty anyone who has had it, although my neighbour has been confined to barracks with suspected swine flu. The woman in my garage's office was so absolutely loaded and debilitated with cold last week that she was my best candidate. She should have stayed at home instead of coughing on her left hand, picking up my keys with the same hand, coughing on her right hand, transferring my keys to her newly-splattered appendage, and then passing my keys to me. I'm sure real flu would have overcome even her exemplary dedication to duty. I've had a cold this week. That's good enough for me. Flu? Don't want it.

High Finance

Hasn't it gone quiet on the Parliamentary expenses scandal? Are the police still investigating? Will we see heads roll, or will it all quietly go away because there are more serious things in the news to hide it with? Bankers are back in the news again. Making money. Will we ever learn?


The death-toll in Afghanistan continues to rise. Whatever the rights and wrongs of our military involvement in that country, it is completely unacceptable that our troops are sent out with less than sufficient and inappropriate equipment. Even General Dannatt, the head of the British Army, has taken an unusual political stance and is making clear that our soldiers do not have all they need. Despite this, Mr Brown is insisting that the troops are properly equipped; what would he know?

Our soldiers are out there laying their lives on the line for a cause none of us is entirely clear about. The recent offensive has resulted in higher fatalities, some of which could have been avoided if the army had access to better and sufficient equipment. Come on, Mr Brown. If you are going to fight a war, you have to be committed to it, one hundred percent. After all, the 186 British service men and woman to date who have lost their lives have given their all. The 186 families of those men and woman have given far more than they care to. If you want our troops out there in harm's way, then equip them properly. If you are not prepared to equip them properly, then bring them home, now.

I want to express my appreciation to the people of Wootton Bassett for the respect they continue to show for our returned dead and their families.

10 June 2009

The Marvels of English

The English language is wonderful. It has a richness and a subtlety unmatched anywhere on the planet and, quite possibly, in the known Universe (Vogon poetry, for example, is well known for its poverty, although Klingon may be richer in its terminology for warfare).

I was struck recently at how little has to change in an expression to alter its meaning radically. A friend of mine was asked to run a seminar but was unavailable. She asked if I would do it for her, to 'fill her shoes', as it were, and my wierdly wired mind went into overdrive. As I said to her, "... 'filling your shoes' is a noble aspiration. 'Filling your boots' is a very different thing..."

12 May 2009

EU Rules, OK?

I have encountered another seemingly pointless example of what I can only imagine to be the result of legislation dreamt up by a bunch of unelected, nameless (and, it would seem, brainless) European Union bureaucrats. Before I tell you about it, let me tell you about another.

Last autumn, we were visited by representatives of BT OpenReach who informed us that our telephone line was attached too low on our house and had to be moved higher. This, so they told us, was because the line passed over a road (albeit a private, or unadopted, one) and EU regulations stipulated a minimum height for such occurrences. The workmen, of course, had to do their job but agreed with me that it was rather a stupid task since the power lines to our house cross the same road (we live in a rural area) very much lower than the telephone line. Interestingly, after they completed the job, the line looked no higher at all. Is someone coming to move the power lines? Perhaps not, because there seems to be an alternative solution to that problem.

My recent encounter was with two new signs that appeared last week at either end of a dirt-track giving vehicular access to the local allotments. It warns people about the danger presented by overhead power lines which, incidentally, are at least twice as high as those attached to our house and which have been there for decades. The sign instructs us not to carry or raise long objects in this vicinity. If I could be bothered to investigate this, I would probably discover that over the last many decades there has been an astonishing number of deaths from electrocution by these power lines; I suspect this astonishing number to be zero. What a waste of time, money and materials. Who in their right mind would carry with them a pole long enough to reach the power lines, never mind attempt to touch them? Interestingly, the power lines are off towards the side of the track over trees (non-conducting ones?) but actually pass over an open area just beyond the now-restricted zone. Presumably, the power lines are not at all dangerous there...

I wonder when a sign will be erected on our road to warn of our overhead cables? I wonder how long it will be before some innocent passing cyclist kills or maims himself by riding into it?

Have you encountered similar pointless stuff?

01 May 2009

I Opened a Window and Influenza

According to New Scientist, the likelihood of a pandemic of Swine Flu has been known about for years 'but research into its potential has been neglected'.

It is not that long ago that we were all sitting watching our TV screens worrying about the threat posed by H5N1 avian flu. What a damp squib that turned out to be - not even a damp tissue; there were thankfully very few human casualties. Obviously, as a vector for disease, with its ability to cross borders unchecked and carrying the viral payload, the bird appears to be a much more serious threat than the pig.

However, (and you will understand that this next bit is completely unscientific) pigs are in some ways quite similar to humans. Apparently, when cooked, we taste the same (cannibal tribes refer to human fare as 'long pig'), and pork, when undercooked, can give us worms which do well in us because our flesh is similar to the pig's. Now, it seems, the pig's version of influenza (H1N1) is much more transmissible to humans than avian flu. Not only that, H1N1 spreads between humans more readily than H5N1 (see information on BBC website). Given our similarities with the pig, should not closer attention have been paid? It would appear so.

So, in the absence of suitable warnings to humans, or of hygiene training for pigs, either someone kissed a pig or a pig failed to use a tissue when sneezing, and thereafter pig flu has been transmitted to other humans by humans. Humans, like birds, have the power of flight and, lo and behold, we have a pandemic literally on our hands (would my cure for the common cold work for the flu?).

Influenza is, of course, no laughing matter. The dreadful pandemic of 1918 (also an H1N1 virus) killed more people than World War I. For some reason, its main victims seemed to be young men. It is ironic that many who survived the all-too-apparent horrors of Flanders almost immediately fell dead in the grip of an unseen enemy. That pandemic also killed pigs. Thankfully, this contemporary strain (which contains elements of a human virus caught from us by pigs) appears to be mild, with the relatively few deaths that have occurred probably down to the greater susceptibility of the unfortunate victims.

The preoccupation with avian flu however, has had a pay-off for the present crisis: whereas we were not prepared for the potential avian flu pandemic, we are prepared for this one. We have national contingency plans, clear advice for the public, and stocks of anti-viral drugs. For that, we can be thankful that the scientific community paid close attention to the plight of our feathered friends, and that the politicians, for once, took notice of our scientists. Fortunately, because the spread has been in small numbers, we have had time to react and mobilise.

It's a good job pigs can't fly...

22 April 2009

Above Their Stations

There are two groups of public servants in the headlines at the moment: members of parliament and the police. Worthy as these two groups are (at least in principle) neither is in the limelight for worthy reasons.


I have great respect for the police. I think they do a difficult job, for the most part very well. As custodians of the law, they keep our society relatively safe from those who see no value in the common good, as far as their limited resources allow. However, the recent G20 summit saw police behaviour on the streets that would be totally unacceptable were it perpetrated by an ordinary member of the public. I am talking, of course, about the assault on and subsequent death of Mr Tomlinson. We have all seen the video recordings of this man, whilst trying to make his way home, and unassociated with any demonstration, being brutally pushed to the ground for no apparent reason.

I would not wish to pre-judge the outcome of the independent enquiry that is being conducted (after all, a third post-mortem is being done in an attempt finally to establish cause of death) but what could have provoked such a vicious attack? We have no idea what verbal interchange may have taken place between the police and Mr Tomlinson but, even had he launched the most heinous torrent of verbal abuse at the thin blue line, would it have warranted being struck down so? I think not; being arrested for behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace and later being let off with an unofficial warning may have been a more measured response...

No reasonable person would say that policing events such as the G20 demonstrations is easy: the police have to second-guess everything, and have to be ready for the worst even though it may not happen. Having riot police waiting in vans around the corner is a reasonable contingency, not evidence of police brutality. Unreasonable and unnecessary use of force, as appears to have been the case in this incident, is nothing but thuggery and totally unacceptable in my view, even taking into account the heightened tension of such events; our police have been trained to deal with these things, after all.

I have no problem with the police using force when necessary but it should be in the terms prescribed for them: reasonable and in proportion; preferably in response to a situation getting out of hand, or possibly even beginning to get out of hand, but not pre-emptively unless there is clear intelligence of intended mischief and for the protection of the public of whom the police are servants.

If MI5 is reading this and marking my card, there is no need. As I said, I am not anti-police. I merely think that, as guardians of society, their behaviour should project a good image of the kind of society we want to live in.

As usual, the sterling efforts of the many are negated by the bad behaviour of the few. Bear that in mind. The majority of our police are doing a great job: I would not want to live in our society without them.


All I have to say about this crew is that we do not elect them to abuse our trust. They get paid well in reflection of the great responsibility they carry. No reasonable person would deny them reasonable expenses but we are extremely peeved, to say the least, when we hear about them taking advantage by claiming salaries for family members who do nothing or for porn film rentals. It is, quite simply, unacceptable.

Any who set out to abuse the system are not worthy of public office and should be sacked, and possibly even prosecuted, as I might be were I caught fiddling my expenses at work. After all, benefit fraudsters are (rightly) being pursued and prosecuted. If Members of Parliament pass off some private scam as a legitimate expense and make us tax payers foot the bill, is that not fraud? Why should they be immune from the law?

Come on, you politicians, what kind of society do you want to live in? You should be squeaky-clean in your use of public funds.

Yet again, the sterling efforts of the many are negated by the bad behaviour of the few. It is in the interests of those who are doing a good job to be seen to be circumspect in all they do and to rid our noble House of any who use their high office for ill-gotten gains.

30 March 2009

The Rules of DIY

  1. Holes don’t stay where you drill them.
  2. Measure twice, cut once, measure again to see why it doesn’t fit.
  3. If you drop something small, it will fall down the crack in the floorboards.
  4. If you drop something heavy, it will land on your foot or the cat or something breakable.
  5. Always use the right tool for the job.
  6. If you don’t have the right tool, use a hammer.
  7. Always work slowly when cutting wood; it gives you more time to realise your mistake.
  8. If you need a screw of a particular size, you will not have one, possibly because you have just dropped it (see 3 above).
  9. If there are two ways of doing something, the easier way takes longer.
  10. The leaking joint is always the least accessible one.
  11. Paint never dries lighter.
  12. The best tool for applying plaster is a magic wand.
  13. Always plan the job carefully before you start it; be prepared to modify your plan at any point in the process.
  14. Gravity always acts vertically, except in the vicinity of a spirit level.
  15. In the middle of a process, you will discover you need another tool (see 5 above); you will have forgotten where that tool is (see 6 above).
  16. The shop will close two minutes before you arrive to buy the vital part you forgot.
  17. If the shop is open, the vital part is out of stock.
  18. New shelves never look level…because they aren’t (see 1 and 14 above).
  19. Always take extreme care when using sharp tools: try not to get blood on anything you cannot wash.
  20. The worst part of any job is clearing up at the end.
  21. The most difficult part of any job is getting around to it.
  22. The best part of any job is the tea-break.
  23. The easiest part of any job does not exist.

13 March 2009

Red Nose Day 2009

Today is Red Nose Day.

Red Nose day provides us with a very entertaining and yet sobering television event that throws into stark relief the difference between the West and the Third World.

Those of you who read this blog will be aware that I have a dog. He has a better life than many children in Africa; he has a ready supply of food and shelter, all his needs are catered for, he enjoys love and comfort every day of his short life. Fifteen months ago, he had surgery costing £1700 to correct cruciate ligament damage to his left knee. Five months ago, he had the same for his other knee. In Africa, a million children a year die from the avoidable disease of malaria for want of a mosquito net costing £5. The cost of his surgery could be seen as 680 African children's lives. We spend £20 a month on pet insurance - that's forty-eight innocent lives in Africa lost in one year.

I enjoy a whisky. A decent bottle costs about £25, and lasts about a month. That's five more children. A night out at the cinema with popcorn and a pizza can cost £25 - another five children.

I could go on and list all the luxury items I enjoy and equate them to the lives of innocent children. I am one person and if we all of us reflected on the things that we could manage to live without we could very quickly account for the one million lives lost in Africa.

The plight of African children is only one cause in our needy world; there are plenty of other results of poverty even here in our own country that could be eased or even eradicated if only we were prepared to forego a luxury or two for a while.

We do not live in the Third World. Things are very different here, and the value we place on things is very different. Of course, we cannot be expected to reduce ourselves to poverty. The fact is that we do not have to in order to bring about some sort of redress for the massive inequalities in our world. It is amazing how far a little of our money can go in the Third World: £200 for a year's education, for example (how much would that cost in the UK?).

When you set that fact against the cost of our luxuries in the West, you will realise that you can make a huge difference by going without something for a short time - that bottle of decent wine, perhaps. Why not be especially generous and give two or three times that amount? You really won't miss it but, even if you do, just think that you could change for the good the course of one life by a simple act of generosity. What if that one life were another Nelson Mandella or a William Wilberforce?

The Red Nose plea is to give what you can: that's all. If you can make a simple sacrifice of something, you will find that you can give more than you first thought. Red Nose day makes giving easy. Here are the options.

  1. Dial 03457 910910 and have your card ready.
  2. Use the red button on your digital TV service.
  3. Donate on-line at bbc.co.uk/rednoseday
  4. Text 'yes' to 66609 to make a £5 donation.
Do it! It's not too late. Make a difference today.

09 March 2009

Fair Trade for Cadbury's Dairy Milk

One of the best pieces of news I have heard in a long while is the decision by Cadbury to turn their brand leader into a Fair Trade product from Autumn 2009. Apart from the fact that it is my favourite chocolate, and so I will not have to feel guilty about enjoying it, it is also one of the most popular brands of confectionery in the UK and this new turn of events will bring enormous benefits to the Ghanaian farming communities that produce the cocoa that goes into the product.

Cadbury's was, of course, begun by a Quaker family, and people of this particular religious persuasion are well known for their social concern and action (and chocolate: Fry's, Rowntree's and Cadbury's were all originally founded by Quaker families noted for their philanthropy). In particular, Cadbury's developed Bournville (now a district of Birmingham) for its workers, providing them with good-quality housing as well as good working conditions. This clear action on behalf of the world's poor in modern times is a welcome restatement of those old values.

Cadbury's has even decided to absorb the costs of going fair trade and will not be passing on the cost to the consumer. Whilst I am pleased that my favourite treat will not cost me anymore, I am more pleased for the indication that it seems, for Cadbury's, people are more important than profits.

I would like to see more companies doing this kind of thing, and doing it not just because the public applies pressure for it but because it is right. Too long the wealthy West has exploited the Third World. We cannot morally continue to grow rich and feed off the fat of the land whilst keeping the people who farm it in poverty. If they have something we want we should be willing to pay for it.

So, Cadbury's, in the words of the old TV advert, 'Award yourself the CDM.' Well done! Keep up the good work.

For more information, simply google 'Cadbury Fair Trade'.

27 February 2009

Stumbling Around in Cyberspace

I don't know about you, but I sometimes wonder what the Internet is for. I admit that I would find it difficult to survive at work without it, with its vast repository of knowledge that can be tapped into with a simple Google search (aren't those guys great?). I have found a wealth of solutions to the kind of programming problems I encounter in my day-to-day work as a Computer Scientist. Whatever problem I hit, I can guarantee that someone else out there has hit it before and has a solution or, at the very least, that there are ideas that help me on my way to finding the answer I need. What I have never really understood is why people surf the net in leisure time.

Stumble Upon

In the hope of gaining enlightenment, I've been using Stumble Upon for a while and have to say that I have had a mixed bag of results. For those of you not in the know, Stumble Upon feeds you with a variety of web pages that match your declared interests, assisting you with your random stumbling through the world wide web, providing you (hopefully) with information that may actually interest you.

On the downside, I have seen a lot of pages that do not really interest me at all. I have naturally identified a number of aspects of computing as being of interest, and Stumble Upon has dutifully served me with pages in the genre. I am quite grateful that Stumble Upon provides its users with a simple means of voting for the kind of pages they really like and against those they really don't, as I've seen quite a lot of trash. I am a bit sick of pages about Cascading Style Sheets, and those claiming to provide the world's best web-page content manager. How many 'bests' can there be?

On the upside, I have stumbled upon some interesting stuff. Yesterday, I actually stumbled upon a page that informed me about a particular aspect of my work that I had never really considered (I won't bore you with the details) and which I implemented today. Previously, I have stumbled upon pages such as Fail Blog (computing isn't my only interest) which have had me laughing out loud, and several other sites that have captured my attention for whole minutes at a time.

On balance, I think that Stumble Upon is actually quite useful and entertaining. If you've never tried it, give it a go.

Best Blogging Practice

Of particular note, I have been fed a whole host of blogs that give definitive lists on how to make your blog successful. Frankly, I wonder... Of course, like every blogger, I would like to be widely read and see soaring statistics on Google Analytics, or even get comments from my few regular visitors, but I have yet to come across a list that convinces me to change my approach.

Google Analytics have shown me that my blogs are ticking over with a few visitors (although I would always be pleased to see more) from different parts of the world, some of whom keep coming back (and, if you are one of those returnees, can I say a big thank you).

What Do You Think?

I would love to receive your comments on any of my posts. For this one in particular, I would be interested in feedback on why you return to this or any of my blogs specifically, or to any blog in general. What is it that attracts you to blogs in the first place? Why do you go back? What puts you off? What induces you to leave a comment? Or not? Perhaps together we can concoct a list that will appear on Stumble Upon that reflects real user experience rather than personal opinion... Perhaps we can experiment with your suggestions and see if this blog really flies...

16 February 2009

Six Nations Championship - Who Will Win?

After the second weekend of Six Nations rugby, I find myself less certain than I was of the final outcome. 

The first weekend left me certain that England would not win, their lack-lustre performance against an Italian side crippled by a poor coaching decision to play a flanker at scrum half completely failed to impress.  The score line was flattering, to say the least.  Wales beat Scotland but that was expected and, all credit to them, the Scots actually played some good rugby and presented themselves a much-improved side.  This game was OK but Wales hardly shone like the brightest star in the firmament.  The Ireland v France game was superb, with both sides putting in good performances.  I was greatly impressed by Ireland and fancied them for a probable grand slam.

This weekend's play has muddied the waters somewhat.  England played better in the Millennium Stadium but so did Wales.  The improvement in the English side is welcome but is not yet enough to take the championship.  The result left them unable to achieve a grand slam, and the Welsh did shine this time.  Scotland did well in the Stade Francais, giving the French a good run for their money in the first half, and making them look less good than they appeared against Ireland.  The French rugby machine eventually got going and overhauled the battling Scots.  Finally, the Irish struggled to put the Italians in their place, even playing catch-up for a lot of the game, and left me pondering my prediction of the previous week.

I think we can rule out Italy's winning the championship, although I hope we see further improvement from them as the competition goes on; they always seem to be almost there but never quite making it.  Can they beat Scotland this year?  Scotland could well beat England on current form and ought to beat Italy but, having lost twice now, are unlikely to finish top of the table.  France seem to be their normal variable selves, having done well against Ireland but less well against Scotland.  They could well beat the current English side, and should win against Italy.  Will Wales be their Nemesis, or can they take the championship?  Ireland may not be as good as I thought after their first game but I think they too can beat England, and their game against the Welsh will be perhaps their hardest challenge.  That leaves us with Wales who are, of course, the reigning champions.  On reflection, they have to be favourites at the moment but they have yet to face a real test, and have still to face France and Ireland, both of whom are probably feeling that they have something to prove.

Of course, all the teams now have two weeks in which to reflect on their performances and to attempt to remedy their short-comings.  Can England pull something out of the bag?  Can France and Ireland shore up their confidence and come out strong?  Will a bold and flowing Wales cruise past their rivals to victory? 

With three rounds still to go, four teams could, at least mathematically, win the championship, but only Wales or Ireland could secure a grand slam.  Will we see a grand slam this year?  In my opinion we will and, at the moment, I think the belief displayed by the Welsh side could well carry them to their ultimate goal for the second year running. 

Will it be a wooden cucchiaio or wooden spurtle?

06 February 2009

Bonuses for Bankers? It's Bonkers!

There is, understandably, a public outcry at the news that bankers may receive large bonuses - or any bonus at all, come to think of it.

I am amazed that bankers, whose mismanagement has at least contributed to the current financial crisis that we all face, could even contemplate the possibility of bonuses for their efforts. Taxpayers' money has been fed in to help revive the system on which we all appear to depend. This tax payer cannot agree that the money should be used to line the pockets of bankers.

Even if the bonus is in respect of performance in previous periods, I cannot countenance the payment: those previous periods, don't forget, paved the way to our current predicament and I see no reason why they should be rewarded for that. Goodness knows they don't actually need it, their salary before bonuses being more than the vast majority of us could even dream of.

Interestingly, if I do well at my job, I do not get a bonus. I just get paid for doing my job.

In my view, the payment of any bonus would be callous at least, if not actually immoral. It would give us all a boost if the boards of all the banks announced that all bonuses were suspended until the present crisis is over and their banks are free of public ownership.

So, that's what I think. What do you think?

25 January 2009

Remembering to Notice

My beloved went to the hairdressers the other day. On previous such occasions, I have found myself so caught up in the normal events of homecoming - you know, getting licked to death by the dog, trying to remember where I left my slippers, asking how her morning at work went, pouring a glass of wine, sharing a packet of crisps with the dog whilst trying simultaneously to keep my slippers dry - that I passed no comment on the hair-do. Big mistake, of course, but an easy one to make because, for a man, having a haircut is no big deal; it's just something you have to do to stop your head looking like an ostrich egg in a rook's nest.

For the ladies, it's a whole different scenario, a major event that has been carefully planned and looked forward too, and with high expectations of its outcome. For them, it's part of the whole pampering thing intended to make them feel good and feel that they look good. Unfortunately, the event loses its shine if the result is not noticed. It is men who must shoulder this onerous burden of noticing and passing favourable comment; note the adjective. Unfavourable comment, such as 'The colour's a bit dark this time,' or 'She's taken a bit too much off at the back,' is neither reassuring nor welcome. No comment amounts to the same thing, or worse. Saying nothing is interpreted as, 'Your hair looks a mess but I'm not saying so because it would upset you.' Wrong. We men just haven't noticed.

This time, I had the perfect solution. While she was still at the hairdressers, I sent her a text that said, 'In case I forget to notice later, your hair looks lovely.'

Problem solved.

When she came home, she told me about the laugh she'd had at the hairdresser's over my text - and I got my reminder to comment favourably.

05 January 2009

Cameron Blames Recession on Labour

I could not believe my ears as I listened to David Cameron on Radio 4 today. He actually said, '... this Labour Recession ...' Now, I'm what's called a floating voter so I have no political axe to grind. Has Mr Cameron not noticed that the whole western world is in recession? Is the Labour party's influence really so universal? If the blame can be laid anywhere is it not at the feet of financiers who in their greed have encouraged us to borrow more than is good for us? Are they not largely Conservative voters?

Credibility will be very important in the run-up to the next General Election, Mr Cameron.

You've Never Had It So Good?

Politicians would have us believe that they are doing us a favour by giving us more choices in life. How often have we heard them banging on about choice and how much we want it? Obviously, it is not something they genuinely believe or political parties would be noticeably different from each other. As it is, they all tend to be 'middle-of-the-road' because they think it will appeal to more of the electorate. New Labour gets accused of being right wing, the Conservatives of emulating New labour, and the Liberal Democrats of not being a viable option. As a result, they all appeal equally to all of us ... so we stay at home on polling day. If they really think we want choice, why don't they give us some real alternatives at the ballot box?

I take exception with the very idea that what we want is ever more choice, at least in the measure that we encounter it every day of our lives. Take a trivial example. I am a bit of a chocolaholic and, sometimes, I just have to leave my desk, go along to the local purveyor and buy chocolate. When I get to the shop, I find myself confronted with a huge rack of chocolate confectionery that stretches from one extreme of my peripheral vision to the other. What shall I have? A Mars Bar? No. How about a Lion Bar? Hmm. No. A Wispa, then? No, very tasty but the air-to-chocolate ratio makes it an uneconomical purchase. How about pure, unadulterated chocolate? A better idea but which kind? Dairy Milk? Galaxy? Yorkie? I usually resort to a Kit Kat, a particular favourite of mine, as it is for many Britons, but leave the shop dissatisfied with my choice; not because it was a bad selection but because it closed out the potential pleasure of all the other delights.

Here's another example. You fancy going out for dinner. Which restaurant shall you go to: English or French or Chinese or Indian or Italian or Japanese or Thai? When you get there, what do you want for a starter: deep-fried Brie or garlic mushrooms or prawn cocktail or tandoori kebab? Main course: steak or chicken or lamb or scampi or fish or tofu or nut cutlet? How would you like your steak: blue or rare or medium or well done? Do you want baked or boiled potato, or chips? How about accompaniments: seasonal vegetables or stir-fried or salad? Wine...? You might think pudding is easier to select until they bring the menu back. Do you want Death by Chocolate or Mississippi Mud Pie or Banoffi Pie or ice cream? Is that with or without cream? At the end of your meal, you can have tea or coffee; that's Darjeeling, English breakfast, Earl Grey or Japanese Green Tea, or cappucino, latte, espresso, or special (with a choice of six spirits). Where will it all end? How would you like to pay...?

I have been in restaurants where there are something like 36 main courses to choose from. This does not amount to choice, it amounts to indecision. It really does not help that you can have absolutely anything you want, especially when you don't know exactly what you want.

Choice is not a bad thing in itself. I would hate to live in a country where we all had to wear blue boiler suits, although my Beloved would say that it would solve the problem of my total lack of dress-sense at a stroke. It's a good thing that there are options that suit our differing personalities, that allow us expression or even to hide in a sea of grey, if that's what we want. The point is that choice is not the only thing in life, not even the most important thing, and choice is much easier and more satisfying when the options are fewer.

To get back on the political track, we don't want bus deregulation and more choice of service providers, we want reliable public transport. We don't want 40 different train fares between Leeds and Wolverhampton, we want clean trains that run on time and leave us with enough money in our pockets to be able to eat. We don't want more power companies to get confused and ripped off by, we want dependable public services. We don't want 57 varieties: we want baked beans!

So, you grey, middle-of-the-road politicians, stop trying to give us more choice; give us more quality instead. Concentrate on what matters instead of trying to impress us with your constant pandering to what you think we want. If you really want to know what we really, really want, why don't you ask us?