30 May 2011

Tony Blair - A Journey

A not unexpectedly weighty tome this, and in some parts, especially the overlong treatises on foreign policy, not the easiest of reads, but not as dry as one might have expected. Written in a conversational style, Blair comes across as a man with a sharp mind, but without intellectual baggage, pseudo or otherwise. In fact he maybe tries too hard to come across as the Ordinary Bloke he plainly is not.

It is nigh on impossible to write a review of a political autobiography objectively as the reviewer inevitably brings his or her own political bias to the table, however I'll try. Taking the book as a series of themes, this is my take...

New Labour
Blair was elected to Parliament when Labour was under the ideologically pure but hopeless leadership of Michael Foot, and Blair obviously has affection for Foot, but not for his party's then hidebound and completely out of touch policies. Blair sees the modernisation of the Labour Party as essential to making them electable and he's probably right, but he fails to see that his taking Labour to the centre and thereby pulling the Conservatives in the same direction has contributed in no small part to the general population's political apathy.

It is repeated many times in the latter parts of the book that in Blair's opinion if Brown was to deviate an inch from New Labour's tenet of introducing the free market into public services as a means of modernisation then they would lose to the Tories. I disagree completely with that idea. As one of thousands of disaffected Labour voters I voted Lib Dem in 2010 (God help me) purely because Gordon Brown was not and never would be Prime Minister material, not because he disagreed with Blair's version of modernisation.

Blair can be justifiably proud of dragging the Welfare State into the modern age which was the fulcrum of New Labour thinking, but I'm afraid for me New Labour remains a compromise, not a vision.

Gordon Brown
The relationship is described in minute detail and Blair goes to great lengths to describe Brown's treachery in daring to disagree with what some might see as Blair's Conservative tendencies where private capital is concerned, disguised as progressivism, but he does it in a manner that places the blame on GB's team, not on the man himself. He distills the ongoing and understandable resentment on Brown's part for Blair not handing over when initially promised by stating that he would only go if GB promised to continue New Labour's (read Blair's) reform program, something Brown was increasingly reluctant to do. Indeed why should he have given a promise to effectively put his own ideas on the back burner?

However, Blair goes out of his way to praise Brown's numerous contributions and talents on more than a few occasions, so it's obvious Blair still has affection for his old friend. It will be interesting to read Brown's take on the breakdown of the relationship, should he ever write it.

War & Peace
We've all got our opinions on the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, and no amount of justification by Blair is going to change my view that the conflict was plainly wrong. Blair ultimately justifies the conflict by way of stating that if we hadn't removed Saddam when we did, he would have had to be removed at some later point anyway.

Firstly I thought that the reason for the war was Saddam's capacity to make and deploy WMDs? Secondly, why would "we" have had to remove him at a later point? I would have thought the first countries to be involved in any extraction would be Iraq's Arab neighbours, should the need arise.

Blair makes the point that Great Britain as a nation has a prominent role to play in world politics as a direct result of his ensuring our involvement in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq etc. I think most folk in our tiny nation stuck here on the edge of Europe do not share our leaders' (of whatever political persuasion) obsession with clinging on to some vestige of long forgotten (by the population at least) Imperial power. The billions to be spent on renewing Trident, a symbol more than a useful military tool, and a decision Blair almost said no to but didn't have the balls, would be far better spent on incentivising the economy to ease the lot of the burgeoning jobless total.

It is plain that Blair does carry the weight of those who died in the various conflicts he had us involved in, and he is deeply sorry for the fact, but there remains no doubt in his mind he made the right decision where Iraq was concerned.  I don't suppose we should have expected anything different on that front.

The achievement that New Labour and Blair should rightly be applauded for and the achievement that should have been Blair's legacy was getting the Northern Ireland peace agreement finalised and working against seemingly impossible odds. Mo Mowlem is portrayed as being only peripheral to the triumph, as Blair clearly views it as his legacy. If he can pull off a similar feat in his new role as Middle East Envoy with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict then Iraq may be forgiven.

The media
Blair started out as the media darling, spun them into at first annoyance and later downright hostility, and ended by being hunted at every turn.

Complaining that the media tried to bury him and and New Labour in the sleaze storm over cash for honours and the comical sideline of gravity's effects on Prescott's trousers when in the presence of his diary secretary, Blair says being hounded out that way would have been "reputationally ghastly".

I consider complaining about the media having wound them round his pinky for so long is somewhat disingenuous.

A few, but too few to mention. Oh, alright then...he regrets the Fox Hunting legislation, and the Freedom Of Information Act. The former shows he's out of touch with majority opinion and the latter shows contempt for that same majority.

In conclusion, this book will not alter what most folk see as defining Blair - The Iraq War, and entrenched opinions will not change. I've come out of reading this with more respect for the man, but I don't like him now any more than before, but that's probably how he would want it.

29 May 2011

Lick My Decals Off Baby

...or fawn at the altar of fanboy (and it is nearly always boys) tv.

What is it about children's tv programme Doctor Who that makes otherwise intelligent males of all adult ages lose any sense of critical faculty?

I can envisage that sentence alone getting them hot under the collar, but come on! Take last night's double episode concluder to The Almost People, which had an old fashioned DW plot - isolated humans take on beasties/mutants* and win against seemingly impossible odds, while planet explodes/melts* (*insert adjectives of choice). Fair enough, I've no problem with that, and I would have thoroughly enjoyed it as a 14 year old. The fact something as adolescent and simple as that has blokes in their 30s, 40s, and older enthralled mystifies me I must say. It can't all be down to the admittedly delicious Amy Pond can it??

Apart from the short burst of intrigue at the end advancing the season's rolling story I felt the entire episode was a bit...meh. I did just manage to stay awake though, but there have been episodes in this season where that has not proved possible for my aging bones.

As for the rolling story, I won't elaborate here, as some may not yet have seen last night's episode (you only need watch the last two minutes), but I bet its conclusion will make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

It seems only the Yanks can make sci-fi with grown up storylines that (a) require a bit of life experience to follow (b) actually make sense outside of a pseudo-science framework. Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica being two fine examples.

So, you curmudgeonly old bastard, what do you reckon is good tv at the moment I hear you say?

The Shadow Line is great in a "take your eye off it for a second and you'll have to rewind" way. An understated copper with a double life (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a moody and reluctant drug baron (Christopher Ecclestone) with a mad, threatening lieutenant (Rafe Spall - no really!) investigate the murder of Ecclestone's former boss hours after being released on a Royal Pardon from a long drug supply conviction, with sub plots revolving around the copper's double life, an investigative reporter and a shadowy and comprehensively nasty is-he-a-gangster-or-a-spook guy called Gatehouse who dresses like a character from 50s film noir.  Utterly captivating stuff.

Apart from that there is not a lot of interest on at the moment. I still watch Jools Holland's Later, even though he very rarely deviates from inviting whatever is currently "hot" combined with an endless list of R&B (old definition) belters and a few folkies of both the old school and world variety. I'm not going to stumble across the next (or even the first) Porcupine Tree watching this, but as it's the only even slightly non-mainstream music prog on trad tv, I suppose I shouldn't complain too much.

Can't wait for the new series of Forbrydelsen (that's The Killing - original Danish version) later this year. Ok, it's not quite as good as the Swedish Wallander, but it'll more than do. If you've yet to sample the delights of Sarah Lund's Fairisle sweaters you should give it a go. Apparently so popular are these patterened knitted jumpers that the company that makes them in the Faroe Islands had to take on extra staff to cope with demand.


It has to be said that BBC4 is the best and most innovative tv channel available on Freeview, and long may it continue!

27 May 2011

What an ugly depressing Vista

I consider myself at least semi-literate when it comes to the sometimes hideously confusing world of computers and their operating systems, but over the two and a half years I've had to put up with Windows Vista, I have had numerous bloody annoying problems with what has to be the biggest pile of runny poo Microsoft have ever come up with.

When I got my current 'pooter in November 2008 with Vista as the then up to date OS. I was asked if I'd prefer XP and boy do I wish I had taken up the offer. Anyways, everything runs fairly smoothly until sometime in late 2009 when Vista SP2 was released. For some reason my machine refused to install the Automatic Upgrade version, and a subsequently manually downloaded version,  in spite of my trying to find what the problem was by deleting Windows Security Updates in reverse order from when the non-installation first occurred. After weeks of trying with no success I thought sod it, I'll just keep running SP1 until it becomes obsolete and make a decision then as to what to do.

That moment is upon us as MS will shortly be pulling the plug on security updates for SP1. It will still work, but there may be security issues in the future. I had decided to upgrade to Windows 7, even though it would mean a complete reinstalltion of all the dozens of programs I've got - a real time consuming pain in the ass. By pure coincidence I had recently installed ESET security on the recommendation of a computer wizard mate. Being a tight bastard I've been using various free anti-virus and firewall jobbies for quite some time, and ESET is the first security software I've actually paid real cash money for in years.

So, ESET is installed, I run a virus check and it finds some unwanted gubbins in Java that I duly deleted. On restart, the old "Windows has uninstalled updates" (Vista SP2) message reappears, so methinks I'll try it one more time on the offchance. Well, slap me in the face with a kipper if it doesn't actually install the bloody thing!!! Blimey, fuck me, etc etc - hats off to ESET. Of course as this upgrade is now several months overdue, there follows many Windows Security Updates to install, and 28 restarts later my 'pooter is seemingly up to date.

One of the updates asks me if I want to install Internet Explorer 9, why not I thought? I've been running IE8 with no problems, although I had dabbled in Google Chrome and Firefox, I'm used to IE, and although others may think it's shite, I've had no problems with it.

After restart, there's IE9 up and running. First off I'm not sure I like its new look, nicked wholesale off Chrome, but more worryingly all my computer sounds have stopped working. If you know me and my music obsession this is like a coke fiend running out of marching powder. Not good. Several hours of trawling through forums and applying fixes that have made no difference, I thought I'll uninstall IE9 and go back to IE8. With IE8 running suddenly gmail won't load, and I've still no sound. So, Firefox is loaded, gmail works fine, but still no sound. Perhaps it was one of the security updates that did for my my aurals? Hope not as it's going to be a reet bugger hunting down the culprit. I reckon it's another glitch with f*ckin' Windows f*ckin' Vista myself.....I'll keep you informed.

By the way if any of you lot reading this know a solution, do tell!!

24 May 2011

Winged Eel Fingerling cured of Dupuytren's Contracture

Yesterday saw my second operation for Dupuytren's Contracture, just over six months since the first. This time the culprit was the ring finger of my left hand. Unfortunately, due to the recurrent nature of the condition this will most likely not be my last treatment for it, but my consultant tells me of a new procedure involving injections rather than operations, already in use in the USA, is well on its way to NICE approval, so future treatments will hopefully be less stressful. Again I am grateful to that wonderful British institution the National Health Service. How the less well off cope in countries that rely on private health insurance is beyond me, and the NHS is one reason I'm glad I was born in the UK.

Apart from the now expected interminable hanging around, and despite my initial weird bout of nerves - I breezed through the first op when it was an unknown quantity, but foreknowledge had made me decidedly wobbly this time, for some reason - once in the operating theatre I was fine. Sedatives doing their trick, I'd imagine.

As was the case the first time, the op was carried out under a local anaesthetic, this time abetted by a total nerve block. Flat on my back with my "dead" left arm strapped down and hidden from my view by a sheet screen, the consultant and his surgeon began chopping away at the extraneous fibrous tissue build up at the base of my left ring finger. Unbeknownst to them I could make out most of what was going on in a reflection in the large overhead light diffuser, the sort you also find in dentist's practices. Probably due to the drugs I know, but I felt strangely detached from it all, so much so that watching my spliced hand was actually quite interesting! At one point a surgeon had in his hand what looked like an electric toothbrush, but with a tiny saw at the end. It made a satisfying buzzing sound as he turned it on and lowered it to my hand, grinning manically...."Mwahahaha".

OK I made that last bit up, but the electric toothbrush with saw attachment was indeed used. Fittingly enough, the last song played in the theatre from a random selection of old rock stuff on a nurse's iPod was Free's Alright Now. The operation had lasted over an hour, and I was wheeled back to the day ward where I was served copious amounts of tea and marmalade (my choice) on toast. Like I say, the NHS IS WONDERFUL, so hands off, Lord Snooty.

No doubt many visits to the lovely Jen in hand therapy await, so it's not all bad, this raspberry business.

The Maw of Me (in reverse)

22 May 2011

The curse of certain L..etters E..vil I..nfluence

Rugby is a game I'm at best ambivalent about, but as Northampton Saints had reached the final of the game's most prestigious competition I just had to watch it.

Saints v Leinster has to rate of one of the most exciting games involving a ball (I'll even forgive the fact that the ovoid thing is not actually a "ball" this time!) I have ever seen. Leinster went into the game as strong favourites, but were completely overran by the Saints' scrum and break play in the first half and at the interval the score was 22-6 to us! Blimey, I'm even calling Saints "us" now. "We" even managed to score a try while a man down in the sin bin. Star of the show in the scrum was a man mountain called Tonga'uiha, who gave the appearance of being held together by Elastoplast, and obviously carrying an injury he could barely move by half time. Ben Foden was all over the place, a sort of Rugby prime period Paul Scholes for all you fellow rugger ignorami.

By half time I had started to come over all unnecessary, boy this was exciting stuff. I mentioned to Phill that there was no way Leinster could be as weak in the second period, and that the half time score reminded me of the L****poo* v AC Milan 2005 Champions League final, Saints being AC Milan. Unfortunately I was right, and in spades.  Having been recently thumped, both literally and metaphorically by Leicester Tigers in the Aviva Premiership play off semi final (Tigers won the League Where You Get Nowt For Winning, so fair do's, but what is that all about exactly?) it was predicted by the pundits on the telly that Saints would wilt at some point in the second half allowing Leinster a way back in. Wilt? They didn't even turn up and the Irish team steamrollered. mullered, overwhelmed, etc etc us for half an hour scoring 27 points in the process. Apart from a brief glimmer of hope near the end, Saints barely got out of their own half and played like a team in shock.

Still, what a game, and congrats to both teams for contributing to a thrilling early evening's entertainment.

19 May 2011

Train Kept A-Rollin'*

* Except when there's the wrong kind of snow, or leaves, or signal failure at East Cheam, or....

As you've probably heard there is soon to be reform of the UK's rail network (read cuts) following a government study of their value for money released today. Our rail network apparently costs 30% more to run than comparable networks on mainland Europe. Could that alarming statistic have anything to do with the fact that administering a self created highly fragmented privatised system puts the UK at an instant cost disadvantage to state run networks in Europe perchance? So much so that the state subsidy to our wonderfully successful privatised railway system at £5 billion is five times greater after inflation than it was pre-privatisation.

When asked about the forthcoming reforms, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said on Breakfast this morning that introducing a sliding scale of rail fares just before and just after peak times would increase choice:

"Instead of having a massive cliff edge between the peak fare and the off-peak fare you could have a couple of intermediate bands in between, so that people have more choices about the times they travel."

What this means in practice is that fares will increase in the hours immediately before and after peak times, ie in the times when most non-commuters want to travel. For "people have more choices" read passengers will suffer increased fares at the times they want to make their journeys. We already pay for annual increases in ticket prices way above inflation and now this. Interestingly since Hammond said this the review has been published and concludes that fares should be "more equitable" and are "already too high", and Hammond's quote above has mysteriously vanished from the BBC report.

Another great idea Hammond bestowed on us minnions was to build more parking spaces at stations in order to raise more money. Exactly where are these extra passengers going to fit? On the train roof or hanging out of doors perhaps? At least the Indians will feel at home!

Mind you what do you expect from a Tory Government, all they are interested in is increased profits for the major shareholders (which ironically include those paragons of choochoo virtue, the German and French rail companies) while they all swan around in chauffeur driven limos. On the other side of the fence, 70s throwback rail union chief Bob Crow said this about proposed further changes in working practices for his members:  - "To turn around and say working practices have not changed in decades is completely untrue," he said. "The railway runs 7-days a week, 24-hours a day. If you are talking about changing working practices to make people work longer, that is a step in the wrong direction." Oh come on, train drivers and "Revenue Officers" (ticket collectors/sellers) are on seriously good money, and a bit more flexibility on their part and you may indeed see passenger trains running "7-days a week, 24-hours a day", something I can assure Mr Crow has yet to happen in my lifetime. The 24/7 quote is another that has since vanished by the way.

Crow would no doubt object, and this time rightly so, to another mooted idea, the reducing of the number of on-train staff. Quite how this could be acheived is beyond me as B and I have often made entire 100 mile plus journeys without once having our tickets checked. No wonder fare evasion is a problem. Mind you, if want to buy an over-priced polystyrene cup of molten iron while on board from the many vendors blocking aisles with their trolleys of inedible tat, that's no problem.
Tory politicians may well point the finger at the rail unions and the Brontosaurus that is Bob Crow, who let's face it is an easy and somewhat large target, but the biggest share of the blame for the state of our once proud rail network has to be taken by their party. All in all rail privatisation has been a complete nightmare for the service user, what with inflation busting annual ticket price increases, a fare system so complicated you need a degree in theoretical mathematics to understand it, overcrowded trains, crazy route duplications in the name of so-called competition, cancelled or severely restricted services every Bank Holiday when they chose to do maintenance work, some godawful stations (Clapham Junction, Birmingham New Street to name two), arbitrary route and timetable changes, rude and unhelpful station staff, etc etc.

One way billions could be saved at a stroke is the scapping of the utterly unecessary, environmentally decimating and hyper expensive new high speed line between London and Birmingham which as far as I can make out is being built to shave 30 minutes off journey times between the two cities. Woohoo! I'll bet it will still be cheaper by plane, and, unless you book your ticket five months in advance and thereby travel when the train companies want you to but not when you want to, by car too!

Tory ideology has wrecked our railway system, just as the same blinkered thinking threatens to wreck the NHS....but that's another story.

If Labour made rail re-nationalisation an election pledge it would certainly grab my vote and I'm sure many thousands of others too, but unfortunately my turning up at the pub quiz in a frock is more likely!
I am most dischuffed....see what I did there?

Monday sees a return to NGH for yours truly as an operation is booked to fix the Dupuytren's Contracture in my left ring finger, or in layman's terms, to fix the wires and pulleys in my left hand. This time I may be put under a general anaesthetic as this op is going to take longer than the one on my right hand last year. Although my right ring finger is undoubtedly in a better state than before the op, and the grip in the right hand is slowly returning, I would only term it a qualified success as it has left me with occasional pain when having to grip with my right hand. Hopefully this will improve over time.

Am I nervous? Yes, slightly, as this time I know what to expect, which is not always a good thing. The aftermath will be fun too, as being left handed I will have to rely on my "lesser" and not fully functioning right maw for a couple of weeks. Expect lots of typos as I regale you with all the gory details including pictures of scars ;)

That Lady Gaga was on Breakfast this morning too. She's a bit daffy is she not? Undoubtedly as popular as she is what with 34 million Facebook followers, I can safely say I have never knowingly heard one of her "tunes", for I am an old fart.

17 May 2011

Gazpacho Soup - Part Six - Dovetails In Space

Captain Richard holding a grouter (out of shot)

Most of you will not have met my brother in law Richard aka "Ozzie Bob" (those colonials always did get their Bobs and their Dicks in a tizz, and, hang on a minute, but wasn't he born in Devon?...oh well, onwards and upwards), but here he is as a young man. Richard was part of Great Britain's little known space exploration combined with sporting sabotage program in the 1970s, Operation Stink Finger, the aim of which was to fly low orbits over Sydney Cricket Ground in early January 1975 hoping to distract the locals long enough for Tony Grig's Inglind crickit team to scripe an unlikely win. Unfortunately the mission had to be scripped...damn, must ditch the Siff Iffrican inflexion...scrapped due to a sudden and shocking upsurge in the price of bacofoil caused by an equally dramatic and highly suspicious hike in the price of bauxite by the world's largest producer of the ore, yes you guessed it you lovely people, Australia. Had their spies got wind of our cunning plan, or is Richard's nickname, seen in the picture emblazoned across his spacesuit, an indication of subterfuge? We shall never know, for he never gives much away, our Richard (arf arf).

The resulting catastrophic financial shortfall rendered our plan to jettison a specially bred enormous foil space-suited cow into deep midwicket just as Greg Chappell was getting into his stride waaay over our budget, so much so that we ran out of foil leaving parts of the cow woefully unprotected, as you can see.


To have launched Daisy in a parabola over the SCG unprotected from burn up on re-entry would not only have been the height of cruelty, but would have gifted the colonials with presents of ready BBQ'd steak, and we do not want to make it any easier for them do we?

Despite gathering together the finest minds of a generation to design and build the space rocket "HMS Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus", it was all to no avail. The boffins, among whom were Magnus Pyke, John Noakes, That Bloke From Magpie With The Perm, Peter Cook, Mike Oldfield, Dennis Potter and Patrick Moore, were highly narked, dischuffed and yay, frustrated at being given orders by Whitehall mandarins to search behind every sofa in the land for the necessary loose change needed to fund the bacofoil for Daisy's and Captain Richard's fetching off the shoulder spacesuits. Our cash strapped rulers were so hard up Mr Wilson could barely afford a...sorry...his shag, and unburied bodies were being hoisted up trees so as to deter rats, who as we all know suffer terrible vertigo. The vultures had a field day. Incidentally, this testing, time consuming and ultimately fruitless method of raising finance, The Sofa Grope, remains the favoured method at Everton Football Club to this day.

After some gurning and straining The Queen issued an eleventh hour dictat, and left telling anyone in earshot they should "...leave it five minutes if I were you". Woo and verily hoo, for The Queen intervened in an effort to save Blighty's prestigious project! Elton then decided that the bacofoil spacesuit design was to be scrapped and swapped for the much cheaper hot water immersion heater lagging design you see pictured, although he did try to sweeten the deal by offering to buy as many bunches of flowers as our boys with the Right Stuff wanted. The astronauts refused to wear this clumsy restricting and itchy fabric, as they longed for the sleek strapless foil number, and Captain Richard was a hayfever sufferer so flowers were a no-no anyway. Despite appearances in the signed publicity photo above, Richard was cursing under his breath while dreaming of beard topiary and obscure woodworking tools.

The astronauts all left the launchsite, a disused cattle market behind Brierly's Supermarket in Wellingborough, in a fit of pique, which wouldn't start so they had to walk. Operation Steenk Feeenger was doomed, never to be heard of again.

When asked to comment Richard mumbled something along the lines of  "I recently saw a wonderful 2" wide complex moulding plane with its mouth forced open. I guess the original tight mouth did not allow the 1" thick shavings the user was producing to clear the throat" I guess not. Richard was last seen leaving with his girlfriend, my lil' sister, who at the time was going under the pseudonym "Donna", for reasons I've never fully understood. Something to do with poteen and religious sects in deepest East Northants where they practice the Olde Religion, I think.

Australia went on to win the fourth test by 171 runs, Greg Chappell scoring a total of 228. Although Geoff Boycott did not play, it was doubtless his slow run rate that did for us. Or maybe we were simply shite?

Kenny Dalglish likes wearing the frocks left behind by Nando.

Next time - A Fish Called Bruno, a silly idea for a film if you ask me, and it's been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely time.

11 May 2011

Celebrate good times, come on....

Mike, away in Cornwall at the moment, who always picks far left to go with his political leanings, sent me a text before "The Quiz With Gravitas" last night intimating that the cash pot may be far or inside left, no change there then Mike. I replied that given the (current political) circumstances it could only be far right. From that moment...hang on I'll check my phone...20:01 precisely..the die was cast. I just knew that a) we would win, and b) it being my turn to pick out one of the five envelopes offered by our redoubtable quizmeister when we won, that I would pick far right and, lo, for there be the wad of cash, forsooth!

Now, the thing about instinct is that the moment you start to doubt your choice or feeling, you are are jiggered. At least half the time with me anyway, that's what happens. Not last night though. I never for one moment doubted we would win, and arriving at the Victoria Inn at our usual time we find the pub is packed, the lure of the £200 plus quiz prize bringing in some unfamiliar faces. Colin, who always gets there first normally bags our regular table but this time it had already been taken and we were consigned to a huddle round a table near the "facilities". My gut feeling was still there even in unfamiliar surroundings, absolutely no doubt, in fact it had got to the point where I didn't even begin to doubt why there was no doubt in my mind, if you know what I mean! I just knew.

The quiz went well for us, the mighty Team Squonk, as it had to with so much competition. A 10 out of 10 on the sport round for only the second time ever, and a 10 out of 10 on the picture round and some other decent scores led us to the music round. At this point we assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that the Bar Stars were our main rivals for the winners spot, as is normally the case. Like Mogwai Fear Satan, Squonk Fear Brian of said Bar Stars who has an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure pop music. We need not have worried, as the team to tie with us for the top spot at the end on 72 points out of 80 (I think, as for once I was not keeping track of the score, which in itself is a bit unusual pour moi) was Team Serene, who, when they have a full compliment as they did last night, are always a threat.

That meant a tie break question. Enter Captain Paula, who although she claims to have "lost the Middle Ages" still has a brain the size of a small but busy planet, and puts us to shame with her all encompassing general knowledge - don't get me started on University Challenge. She wrote down "1968" on a scrap of paper in answer to a question about when some sweet or other was first sold in the UK. At least I think that was the question, I wasn't really paying attention as even then I still had no doubt we would win. The answer was 1967, we were nearest, and lo it came to pass that we had vanquished and conquered the infidel...err, we won, like!

While quizmeister Phil was handing out the paltry £5 second prize (oh dear...;)) I was visualising the envelope on the far right. I walk up to Phil's table, and he gives the five envelopes to a quizee to his right to shuffle. I fix my eyes on one envelope as it is moved around, watch them all given back to Phil, who shuffles them again, still fixed on that envelope. I knew it was the winner. When he placed the envelopes in front of me and the one landed far right, that was it, I knew. I picked it, gave it to Phil to open, and...well it was inevitable really! Arms aloft, whoop-de-woo!

Walking back to our corner near the latrine trenches with a shit eating grin plastered across my ugly fizzog while being congratulated by the other regulars, was, I admit, quite fun! Phil Quiz later said he thought I looked nervous, didn't feel it, but I was a tad zoned out though!

"Look at my wad"

Until we spend it all on posh nosh that is!

£215! That's Two Hundred and Fifteen of your English pounds, yes siree! More than we have ever won in one go in over 305 years of pub quizzing. I am magnificent. And so are you.

"Waiter my good man, bring us some food and some drink, and then some more drink"

Always trust your instincts and banish self-doubt and hey presto, you're in the pink, or summat.
Hmmm...I could blow it all at Fontwell Races today, after all I'm feeling lucky....on the other hand, maybe not...:)

6 May 2011

Lunchtime musings

I sent this missive to local freesheet the Herald & Post today:

In Talking Point in your May 5th edition, Brian Binley MP uses the Australian experience of AV to make the disingenuous claim that "six out of ten voters (in Australia) want the AV system scrapped". Firstly to have a contentious claim like that published on the day of the referendum when there is no time for a reply shows a bias on the part of your paper toward the No camp. Secondly, and this would be the proper riposte had there been time to give it, the statement Mr Binley makes is simply not right.

Respected Australian political journalist Antony Green debunks the same claim made by Mr Binley's boss in a speech back in February. Mr Green says "The problem is, the Prime Minister's statement (and therefore Mr Binley's claim) is based on a single survey, and that survey was one in which the Alternative Vote was not even an option." The survey asked whether the voters were in favour of the current compulsory preferential system, where one is obliged to rank all the candidates, or to just vote for one candidate. Again to quote Mr Green "What was not offered in this survey was the Alternative Vote option being offered in the UK. The Alternative Vote is is optional rather than compulsory (my highlights) preferential voting, a system used at elections in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland. As the survey stated, it is compulsory to give a preference for every candidate on the ballot paper to vote at Australian federal elections." So our AV was not offered as a choice in this survey, as the optional or compulsory distinction is a contentious issue in Australian politics. The survey panned out "57% for first past the post and 37% for compulsory preferential voting." This is where the "six out of ten" quote originates.

Mr Green's full article can be found here: http://blogs.abc.net.au/antonygreen/2011/02/do-australians-really-want-to-abandon-the-alternative-vote.html?cid=6a00e0097e4e688833014e5f66017a970c

I would ask Mr Binley to check his facts before making clever use of semantics to get his (and his leader's) point across.

By the time this is hopefully published we will know the result of the referendum, and, if the No camp win it is to be hoped that this is not taken as a mandate to ignore calls for proper PR (which is not AV by the way) for the next 50 years. If the Yes camp win, maybe Mr Binley will have to be a bit less cavalier with his propaganda to get re-elected?

I have no expectation of a reply from Binley, and only low expectation of it being published at all. Ah well, at least I tried....

A glance at the jobs pages in the same paper showed a pathetic total of 25 vacancies, 17 of which were posts with various State or State funded agencies, mainly teaching posts. To put it another way, only 8 (or 32%) of the jobs advertised were with employers who actually make money for the economy and thereby pay taxes to fund the State sector. And they tell us we're on the road to recovery?

5 May 2011


Much as we will all delight in seeing the LDs get a good kicking in the FPTP council elections, is it not a tad ironic that if AV were in force they would end up with probably only slightly less council seats than they've got now?

Scotland and Wales use a mixture of FPTP and PR to elect their assemblies, and NI uses full proper PR, but none of them use AV - funny that..

I shall probably spoil my ballot with a 1 in Yes and a 2 in No, as I can't quite bring myself to vote No as their campaign hits new taste lows every day, and also for reasons many others have pointed out, but neither can I vote Yes for a system that is inherently crap and no better than FPTP.

I have never in my voting lifetime found a political decision so difficult to make, and I pride myself on a sharp political instinct. If only Clegg had insisted on the obvious question and not let himself be so dazzled by the bright lights of power that he settled on the worst possible referendum choice, one that heavily favours the increasingly reprehensible NO campaign. Sick babies and under-equipped soldiers - I ask you! It's an insult to one's intelligence.

During the past month or so I've wavered from Undecided to probably No to Undecided to definitely No, and now I'm back to Undecided again. This fence has been bloody uncomfortable, I can tell you! I've been up here so long I've creosoted the bugger twice. Alan Shearer would be proud.

As for the NBC election, in my ward we have a straight Con/Lab/LD/Green choice, and as all three main parties have made an utter mess of (not) running our town in the almost 30 years I've been here, it's Green for me all the way.

Whatever your views on my ramblings, make sure you vote today.

4 May 2011

There be Moider at Camp Nou

There was a time not so long ago when the sight of Barca dismantling other so-called "football teams" at will was a delight to behold, but The Special One and his swarthy henchmen from Real Madrid have reminded us, and rightly so, that football is still supposedly a contact sport. Barca's demeaning reaction to being kicked up in the air is not to simply play these oafs off the park (Messi aside), which they are well capable of, but to fall over at every given opportunity, usually before they've even been touched. It's got to the stage now where I'd love it, love it (© K Keegan), if Vidic, Pauly Pauly Scholes, Rooney etc would kick a few of them over-tanned jessies up in the air before suffering the inevitable sendings off in the final, miracle comebacks from that bunch of hopeless Germans tonight notwithstanding.

Sorry, but making more passes than Sid James in a Carry On movie, followed by "..ouch he looked at me funny and now I've hurt my hair...I know I'll fall over and roll around like I've been shot and con the ref into sending off some lesser mortal.." just doesn't do it for me. We want some good old fashioned hobnail-booted centre half thuggery, now!

OK, I exaggerate, but being long enough in the tooth to remember the 70s, when the likes of Best, Marsh, Bowles, McKenzie, etc had to use pure skill, often while suffering a hangover, to get past the likes of Hunter, Cooper...erm most of Leeds Utd actually, Smith, McLintock etc, occasionally failing and being felled by literally bone crunching tackles, and never rolling about like fairies with no centre of gravity was far more entertaining in my opinion. Reminds me of the Coliseum...or Filbert Street.... Ah, the putrid smell of partially cooked and mostly synthetic "meat" products, old pubs, stale fag smoke, and warm fizzy drinks, the young lad sniffs the thick air as he shuffles on the terrace to avoid the stream of steaming lager-piss descending from the back, where those nice skinheads stand, while on the pitch likely lad Stan Bowles is upended at the end of a mazy dribble (they went on dribbles then, not "runs") by David Nish and lands with an audible thud as a splurge of wet mud flies into the air from the point of impact.......takes you back does it not?

Sorry, got lost for a moment in a reverie (or was that a Revie?)....Utd to lose the final 3-0 and end up with 9 men, Fergie explodes. What odds could I get on that? Barca hoist the cup aloft at Wemberleee to a resounding chorus of boos, me included, and I'm not even a Utd fan.

Ah, feel better now....

"I speet on your Armani...Take this, mofo"