29 Aug 2010

Animals & Shirts, all stuffed.....

Our local TV news programme BBC Look East recently featured a Mr Jerry Weber pontificating in a dreary monotone about auctioning off Northampton Museum's collection of stuffed animals, hoping to raise as much as £40000 (woohoo) in a cost savings exercise. We are told that the money would be used to safeguard other collections. I have it on good authority that one of the collections under threat is the Italian Art collection, the biggest outside London in the UK. Despite assurances to the contrary a rumour persists that this will eventually go the way of Reynard and his inanimate mates.

Now I realise that times are hard and a museum may well be seen as luxury public funds can no longer afford by the powers that be at the top of our interminably woefully run council, but I think that a county town should have, and should be proud to maintain, a vibrant museum. In Northampton's case this is more than justified by its rich history in shoe making. This makes it a national reference point for all things cobbling related, from an archeological, educational and a forensic point of view. If the museum also has other collections, all the better as it adds to the cultural depth of the museum visitor's experience.

This albeit minor example is sadly symptomatic of the circus/gravy train/disaster (delete or add as appropriate) that is Northampton Borough Council. It seems to make no difference which political colour runs the show as we seem to get the same laughably woolly headed leadership ad infinitum.
I cannot speak for other councils, but I'm sure this is a countrywide nightmare. Our councils all seem to be "middle heavy" in that their administrative structure has the appearance of Michelin Man, with a select few at the very top, the sort of people who when they leave under a cloud manage to extract large payoffs for doing a poor job. These often self important "leaders" are then "supported" by hundreds if not thousands of middle management types whose working day appears to consist of sending each other emails and attending focus groups discussing which outside agency they will throw thousands of council tax payers money at to make the decisions they should be making themselves but seem incapable of. At the bottom of the pile are the shrinking numbers of low rank council employees who do the actual work. These poor unfortunates are constantly having to reapply for an ever dwindling number of redefined jobs, decided upon by the agencies referred to above, most of which could not run a business in the real world without going bust in record time. Mind you why would they want to start up real businesses when councils and government departments all over the UK cry out for their so-called services in order to deflect the blame for making the ludicrous decisions these people get paid OUR money to arrive at.

To close with another instance of bureaucratic fogginess - One of the few things of merit in Northampton's homogenised centre was its market square. Not so long ago when full this was a sight to behold. Over the years the number of stalls has shrunk (not necessarily all the council's fault admittedly), so the council came up with the idea of using the space left for events such as music festivals and screenings of world cup matches. Not a bad idea in itself, but it turns out the money this costs annually (around £300000) is almost exactly the same as the saving made by axing the town's balloon festival, which was second only to the Bristol balloon festival in size in Europe! Now I'm no Einstein, but why make a saving with one hand and then spend it with the other?
.....and I've not yet mentioned the fountain NBC put in that cost £250000 in total. Although the cost of the actual fountain was £98000, the rest has been spent on correcting numerous errors made in its construction. With majestic plumes of water rising to a heady height of, ooh six feet, this sure is a highly impressive aquatic display. Amongst other mistakes the contractors originally managed to build it on a slope, so not all the water was properly drained resulting in a nearby newsagent's cellar being flooded. For more see: http://tonyclarkeindependent.blogspot.com/2010/05/aint-no-fountain-high-enough.html

Laugh? I suppose you have to really!

Impressive, eh? One Tory wag on the council reckoned he "could lie on (his) back and p*ss higher than that". Heehee.

27 Aug 2010

Another Brick In The Wall

Back when I entered secondary education in 1971 we had two grammar schools (one for boys and one for girls) and two secondary schools (both mixed) in our town. If you passed the 11 plus it did not matter where in the town or surrounding area you lived, in a leafy suburb or in a two up two down, or what your social background was, or how far from the school, you went to the grammar. If that's not equality I don't know what is. Of the two secondary schools, one was geared to apprenticeships (another sadly dead idea) the other to more general education, so those who did not pass the 11 plus still had a choice.

There is a report out today from children's charity Barnardo's rightly decrying the social injustice of rich middle class parents manipulating the current school entry system to their advantage primarily by moving into the catchment areas of the best schools. The report suggests that "...pupils would take a standard test and would then be divided into five ability bands based on the results." sounds kind of familiar!

The idea that the five ability bands are then spread equally between all schools would do away with the repulsive spectacle of Mr & Mrs Richerthanthou moving into the catchment areas of the best schools which currently operate selection policies, and has to be applauded, but it would not solve the lowest common denominator factor that has bedevilled comprehensive education since it's inception.
In my opinion the best system remains the one I describe at the beginning, but we are too far down the road of utility education to ever go back.
....and another thing while we're on education. Back in my sixth form days we were told that simply by still being at school past the age of 16 we were in the top 10% of the system. If you got a grade A at A-level you were in the top 10% of that 10%! With the annual results season just passed, producing yet another record year, it must be nigh on impossible for universities to pick the best students as top grades have become far too commonplace. I don't place any blame on the kids as they can only take the course and end exam that's put in front of them, but I cannot believe that kids today are any brighter than they were in my day, as the top heavy results would seem to show. Judging by the poor quality of job applications and resumes I have seen from people under 20 in recent years, it seems to me as if the standard of grammar at the very least has declined since I was at school. What's the pint (sic) of reeling off a string of impressive A-level results if you can't compose a letter properly? My favourite was a lad who had A grades in Mats & Gography. Needless to say he did not take an English A level.

23 Aug 2010

We Are The Robots

We all know that modern chart music is dominated by the bland rubbish churned out by sundry shows and corporations owned by a short multi multi multi millionaire megalomaniac with no friends, and now I learn that most modern mixing desks have ability to correct wannabe singers pitching mistakes by using a piece of software called Autotune. You highlight the bit that's off key, and providing you know the key it's supposed to be in (that rules out 99.9% of singers from X-Factor then) you can correct the mistake. This should not surprise me but it does. It's also somewhat deflating.
What you end up with is the rubbish muzak you're forced to listen to while in the hairdressers. Whatever happened to real talent and innovation in the pop world? Now they all want the stardom instantly without learning their trade first. There was a great Mitchell & Webb Look sketch last week (from 7:54 onwards) on the retards who "give it their heart & soul" but forget to sing in time or in tune due to sloppiness or basic lack of talent.


Hurhurr. In the same show nearer the end there's a brilliant near the knuckle scene centred on the so-called conspiracy behind the death of Princess Diana. It manages to rubbish the conspiracy theory, while at the same time making it not inconceivable. Easily the best show of the series so far.


Saw two geezers fixing a flat tyre today. As is usual when two blokes are set to a task, one was doing all the work while the other was stroking his chin and nodding wisely. It puts me in mind of my neighbour Lenny (real name changed to protect the heroic), probably the best neighbour in the world when it comes to fixing things one could wish to have. If you need anything from a screwdriver to a chainsaw to a lump hammer to a square of double sided sticky back foam, to a drain rodding kit, he'll have it. And then more than likely he'll do the job for you anyway while you stroke your chin in the knowing manner of the second superfluous bloke.
Talking of drain rodding kits, a few weeks ago there was a local crisis involving backed up drains in our road and me & Len set off to put it right. I managed about 20% work, and 80% gagging while he did the rest. It was not pleasant. What a hero!

21 Aug 2010

It's no game - particularly if you're a Chinaman called Kenny

In one of my footy related rambles earlier this month I mused that all this take over talk at the L****poo* was mere a ruse by Waldorf & Statler to throw RBS off the scent appears to have some truth in it:



20 Aug 2010


Something I read recently expressing astonishment that a 13 year old had read Great Expectations twice got me thinking.
I have hardly ever re-read a novel, Eng Lit studies excepted, no matter how good the story. Once you have read a story I cannot see the point in re-reading it as no matter how long between reads you will know the narrative, and how it pans out. Admittedly on second read you may well pick up on subtle nuances you missed first time round, but anyone who reads a book more than twice must have too much time on their hands! Re-reading seems to me even more pointless if the book is a suspense novel of some kind, for obvious reasons. There are only two books I have read more than once in my entire life, one is Jack Kerouac's On The Road, the other One Flew Over The Cuckoo's nest by Ken Kesey. The former because it was the first Kerouac novel I had read, and after reading four or five more I had got used to his idiosyncratic stream of consciousness style, so I re-read OTT, and it made far more sense and remains one of my all time faves. I re-read OFOTCN after seeing the film some while after the first read, mainly to see what differences there were in translation from page to screen. Again it remains an all time fave.

Probably the most re-read books amongst my peer group is the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. I have read the books once, seen the films, listened to the audio books. Great stuff it is, but I've no desire to read the books again. I will probably watch the movies again at some point as we bought the dvds, and I'll bet they're still sealed, which kind of proves my point.

Which brings me to movies, where for me the same rule applies. Never really been a movies fan anyway, but why waste umpteen hours of your life watching Star Wars (for example) again? I would make an exception for The Godfather I & II (forget III, it's not very good!). Xmas prezzy hint?

Music however is different. You can play your favourite album for the 738th time, and even though you know every note back to front and upside down it will still hit the spot. I think it must be the way the brain processes audio as opposed to ocular input. When reading a story or watching a script unfold on the screen a process of logic is being applied to arrive at a conclusion. That conclusion will in 99% of cases remain the same no matter how many times you repeat the process. When listening to music there is no "story" or "conclusion", it's the overall feel of the piece, so the brain is eliciting an emotional rather than logical response.

Wow! I should have been a trick cyclist!

12 Aug 2010

Hail the new dawn, it's going to be a long day.....

I sometimes think that the ITV football commentary team either know nothing, or, more likely, are told by their bosses to put a positive spin on everything, in much the same way as Andy Gray et al on Sky keep telling us that the English Premier League is the best in the world.

Last night's friendly between England and Hungary heralded the much vaunted New Dawn after the old guard royally messed up our World Cup. The way Clive Tyldesley and more so Andy Townsend kept saying how wonderful we were, especially in the first half, grated after about, ooh, five minutes. Theo Walcott doing his usual "run faster than anyone else then give it back to the opposition" routine (one incisive cut-back excepted) came in for particular praise from the ex Villain. Why, one wonders? At least the lugubrious Adrian Chiles kept things more grounded in the studio. His mournful West Midlands drone was never more appropriate than for the introductions to last night's game!

To the game itself. While there was an improvement on the listless displays in South Africa - let's face it, if there weren't they would probably still be picking up plastic seats from the pitch today - it was by no means a display to put a smile on your face on the way to work the next day. Here's my player ratings:

Hart - very little to do. Made one decent stop near the end of the game - 6
Glen Johnson - little action defensively (thank God), got forward ok - 6
Jagielka - unfortunate with the own goal that wasn't, caught for pace once. On the plus side he looked like the only player in white who was likely to score for the first 20 minutes - 6
Terry - unspectacular,but did nothing wrong - 6
Dawson - unfortunately will be remembered for his slip leading to the goal that wasn't, which he actually recovered from to stop the ball going over the line off the equally unfortunate Jagielka. England suffer by FIFA's dinosaur attitude to new technology yet again - 6

Capello should stick with the Jagielka/Dawson combination as it can only improve by being played. Jagielka's consummate reading of the game normally makes up for his lack of pace, and Dawson can pass the ball at least as well as Ferdinand, and can get forward well. Stick with it Fabio!

Ashley Cole - Very good display without ever being stretched. The best defender we put out last night by a country mile - 8
Gibbs - Does he know he's supposed to be a full back? No idea what he's like defensively, but good up front. Looks like he needs to up his weight somewhat - 6
Barry - did just enough against an admittedly average to poor team - 5 - Needs to be replaced by Rodwell next time out, as the young Evertonian bossed the Under 21's win against Uzbekistan the previous night, and is improving all the time.
Lampard - unspectacular - 5. We improved vastly after he went off. Should retire.
Zamora - had a shot or two, but seriously, is this the best we can come up with? - 6
Walcott - His hat-trick against Croatia now looks like the fluke we all thought it was at the time. Needs to greatly improve his awareness of the players around him - 6
Young - much better than Walcott, can actually cross the ball, sometimes to his own team too! - 7
Gerrard - MotM obviously - 8. Would have been a 9 but for his constantly giving the ball away. Needs to improve his positional play. His goals glossed over an average team performance. Why oh why can't he produce those kind of grab it by the scruff of the neck stlye performances at tournaments? He's had more than a few World Cup & Euro finals appearances now, and Euro 2012 may well be his last chance to show the world what we all know he's capable of. Needs to chill out a bit, or he'll get a head injury from that perma-frown he wears!
Wilshere - impressive for the short time he was on the pitch - 7
Adam Johnson - if Gerrard had not been playing would have been my MotM - the most impressive of the new breed. That's some shot he's got on him too - 8
Rooney - hustled and bustled to little effect. Still looks out of sorts. Needs to dropped for a couple of games - 5
Milner - fairly anonymous, we know he can do better - 6

Capello - Mr Untouchable as was is on probation, and judging by his demeanour on the bench knows it too. Was he bold in picking more youngsters than many expected, or was it forced on him by circumstances? Has to be applauded for trying something new formation wise, but again that may well have been a reactive rather than proactive move on the Italian's part.
His comment recently that he doesn't know how to improve the mental attitude of the England players beggars belief. A major part of every coach's job at all levels of the game is forging the mental toughness of his squad ffs! Is this what the FA pay him £10 billion pounds a year for?
Also, poor judgement in apparently not telling Sir David of Beckham his competitive England career is over to his face, and for forgetting to shake the hand of the Hungarian coach at the end of the game - is the pressure beginning to tell? Finally, his English needs to improve so that the likelihood of misquotes and misunderstandings is greatly reduced.
The jury is still out - 5 out of 10.

The kit is awful. Uninspiring and plain dull all-white reflects the way we "played", at the World Cup. Why do we have to look like Leeds Utd? There is a red cross in the flag of St George, so put some red in the kit!

9 Aug 2010

It's no game (1 - revisited)

These were my predictions for the 2010/11 English Premier League from a few weeks ago:


1. Man City
2. Chelsea
3. Man Utd
4. Arsenal
5. Spurs
6. Liverpool
7. Everton
8. Aston Villa
9. Birmingham
10 Sunderland
11. West Ham
12. Wolves
13. Stoke
14. Blackburn
15. Fulham
16. Wigan
17. Newcastle
18. West Brom
19. Bolton
20. Blackburn

I'm not about to change anything, but apart from the massive gamble on Man City, who could finish anywhere in the top 8, the one team I may have got completely wrong is my nemesis L****poo*.

Since I did my original predictions it's kind of inevitable that their mephistophelean pact has been invoked again!
There are potential new owners in the air threatening to write off their debt in one fell swoop, although it could all be spin to shake RBS off the scent for enough time for Waldorf & Statler to find new backers (he says more in hope than expectation).
Even more worryingly they have managed to hang on to their best players. Stevie G because he likes being a grossly overpaid big fish in a small pond a little too much, and lacks the bottle needed to take on a new challenge at this late stage in his career, and truth be told, who can blame him? Torres staying seems to be more due to a lack of funds at potential purchasers in Spain where he really wants to go - forget City, I think they have become a bit a of a joke amongst top flight professional footballers, but that will change when they start winning trophies. Mascherano may still go, but it's gone very quiet.
I'm prepared for the RS to do much better than I predicted, and boy that's depressing.....

Ending on a positive note, "the best little Spaniard we know" has committed his future to my club Everton by signing a 5 year contract, and that only leaves Peanut unsigned, as he has a year left on his current deal. If he goes so be it, we can use the funds to get Donovan. Even without Pienaar (or Donovan) we still have one of the best midfields in the PL and I'm hopeful that we can do a bit better than my prediction.


PS - with the stunning news that Martin O'Neill has quit as Villa manager, my prediction of 8th for the Villans looks even more likely!

Might as well do some guesswork on the other divisions:

Winners - Cardiff, Promoted - QPR, Play-Off - Ipswich (beating Leeds Utd in the final)

League 1
Promoted - Peterborough & Sheff Weds, Play-Off - absolutely no idea!

League 2
Promoted - Rotherham, Crewe, Gillingham, Play-Off - again, not a clue. I do know that the Cobblers will probably struggle, with maybe an outside chance of a play-off place. Will be a very tight division where every team is capable of beating every other team.

Conference aka Blue Square Premier
Winners - AFC Wimbledon (and I hope MK Dons get relegated from L1 - unlikely I know!). Play-Off - one of Rushden & Diamonds, Kettering, Luton or Boston Utd!

7 Aug 2010

Le compensation est miniscule...

A few weeks ago I told of an unheard of 1 hour plus delay suffered by B & me on the French TGV. Le billets de compensation were duly submitted.

After much to-ing and fro-ing in the form of letters and emails to SNCF, the buck finally stopped with Eurostar, as this was where the tickets were purchased. They are sending me a cheque for the princely sum of £7.25, as this is 25% (EU statutory minimum for dalays of between 1 and 2 hours) of the Lille-Angers leg of our journey!

I have to say from our own experience that, as they are probably more used to complaints arising from delays, that the UK train authorities are not only quicker with dealing with complaints, but also far more generous. We got 100% of our fare back recently for a nightmare journey back from Watford Junction, when by EU law they only had to give 50%.

I'm not sure if the UK's profciency over France at dealing with complaints makes me feel better or worse to be honest!


Went to Cambridge for the day yesterday. There's a great CD store there called Fopp. Their logo is the name in red in the middle of what looks like a bird dropping, said bird having just eaten two pounds of raspberries...

That aside, it's a great shop with loads of less obvious cds at online prices. For the first time in years I spent some money on cds IN A SHOP!!!!


1 Aug 2010

Kicked To Death In The Future Head

I have always wondered what the album of the title by The Flaming Lips (from well before they turned into a hippydippy love-in) was actually about, but the title itself is a perfect description of a hangover you're gonna get the day after the night before.
Such is the situation I now find myself in as write this, although the redoubtable Nurofen is working its magic as I type! Yes, I am open to sponsorship deals.
Last night was the occasion of our annual BBQ/garden party/summer drunk - call it what you will, and a jolly fine time was (hopefully) had by the small to medium sized but distinguished turnout of friends we mostly see no more than once or twice a year - probably the main reason for holding the soiree.
Kelly saw a sparrowhawk take out a pigeon in mid-flight. Damn - I wish I had seen that.


I wrote that at 10:15ish, it's now 3:40 and I'm feeling fine. Just watched the Hungarian GP - well I say "watched", what I mean is I watched the first 10 minutes or so, fell asleep, woke up 10 laps later, turned it off, went and had a long natter with the neighbour and the 2 guests we have staying with us, and turned it on again with 5 laps to go. these days you don't actually need to watch any more than that, so much of a boring procession has F1 become. Bring back the edge of seat stuff of the Senna/Prost/Mansell era I say.