If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday 31 January 2010

A slight lacuna ...

... in the bloggery output, for which apologies are due to the certifiable lunatics and assorted saddos who actually read this nonsense. I've not been feeling too good lately and the good doctor has signed me off work for two weeks. Nothing serious, but a bit of rest and recuperation would be very welcome. Also, Anna's mother, who has been in a care home for a couple of years and has been gradually declining in health, has taken a turn for the worse and isn't expected to last much longer. We are doing a lot of toing and froing, just to sit by the bedside and wait for it to happen.

So, if I don't post much over the next few days, it's not because I have been sentenced, or sectioned, or fallen off my perch. It's just that Real Life (TM) has intruded. Back, soon as.

Monday 25 January 2010

Quote of the day

From Counting Cats, reference Tom Paulin:

He is that much of a twat that if you disintegrated the twat and put him through a mass spectrometer you would find twatoms not atoms.

The rest is just as good. And I don't even know Tom Paulin.

Shop locally!

On Saturday morning,I woke to the sound of cursing and crashing from the kitchen, with an added top-note of fracturing knife-blades. Fearing we were being burgled, and checking that Anna was not in bed and therefore dealing with it, I went back to sleep. When I awoke later, it was to the news that the old freezer is now totally beyond repair, and we needed a new one. Anna had opened the door to look for something for supper, and couldn't find a single thing for all the ice and snow in there. It too her 10 minutes of chipping with a carving knife to locate anything edible. We had defrosted it only a few weeks before, so I felt it diplomatic to agree. It was buggered. We thought back, and it predated my arrival in her life by a long way. In fact, it was purchased in 1978, and even I had to agree that it was way beyond its design life. Plus it was rusty and a bit of an embarrassment when we had visitors. I always imagined them saying to each other: "you mean we are going to eat out of that?"

Saturday afternoon, therefore, was occupied by a trip to town to look for a new one.

I know it's wrong, but I tend to plan my shopping around how easy it will be to park. (That's if I am in the car - on the bike I can park anywhere and therefore shop anywhere.) So it was to Curry's that we went first. We were looking for something very simple, to my mind - a freezer with a door on the front, must be white, can't be more than 1600mm tall because of the shelves. Curry's have whole aisles devoted to freezers and fridges, but 95% of them were these trendy combined fridge/freezers, or the even trendier 'food centres' with ice machines and enough chrome to look excessive even on a '58 Chevy. We got a salesperson to narrow it down for us, and there were only three suitable devices in the entire shop. All were too small, and only one was in stock for immediate delivery (immediate means some time next week in Curryspeak, apparently). The one we wanted (or rather would have accepted in the circs) was "not in stock", despite it being there as large as life in front of our very eyes. We would have to order that one from the website, and delivery would be - well, indeterminate would be the best way of putting it. On top of all that, delivery woukld cost £20 (I snorted; the salesman disappeared, and it magically came down to £10 as a "special deal"), plus an extra £5 if we wanted to specify the day and delivery slot. With an item like a freezer, that is spectacularly useless from the customer's point of view.

Memo to Curry's: freezers are full of cold things, and when you get a new one you need to empty the old one and keep all the cold things very cold until you have a new one. Promising a delivery 'sometime this week' isn't very helpful, unless the delivery driver is prepared to help you unload the old and refill the new, which I very much doubt he will.

Oh, and we would be responsible for getting rid of the old one.

I had shopping fatigue by this point, and would have accepted almost anything just for it to be over, but Anna is made of sterner stuff and demanded that we visit a local electrical retailer "just to see". You can see where this story is heading.

Immediately, we saw one which was the right size, a make I had actually heard of, and at a reasonable price. A quick phone call from the shop to the driver found that he could deliver to us at about 3.30 pm that day, and they would take away the old one. All within the price. We paid and rushed off home. We emptied the old freezer in record time, and I dragged it out onto the drive. Here's the good bit:

I paid for the freezer at 2.34 pm, as recorded on the receipt.
The delivery van arrived at 3.30 pm.
The freezer was installed, and the old one taken away, by 3.40 pm.
The food was back in the new freezer by 4.00 pm.


We always assume that you pay more to shop in a locally-owned business like this one, but here I don't think we did. We paid about £60 more (that would be just under 20%) for the freezer than we would have done in Curry's, but if you take into account the delivery charges it comes down to £40 (or about 12%) and with the fact that the one we got was bigger and better quality, and I have saved the cost and hassle of taking the old one to the tip, I think it comes out about even. I'm well pleased (and the salesperson was better-looking, too.)

Step forward Vaughan's Radio of Haverfordwest. Top people.

(I think this may well be the dullest post I have ever made. But I am of the belief that we are always quick to criticise when things go wrong, and it is incumbent upon us to praise when things go right as well. And the sheer timing of it all was well impressive.)

Sunday 24 January 2010


This a little behind the curve, but ... I have been following the case of Munir Hussain with interest. This, you may recall, was the man who was held hostage, along with his wife and family, in his own home by burglars. He managed to escape, and with his brother chased the fleeing burglars. When they caught up with them, they gave one a good hiding with a cricket bat, giving the burglar permanent brain injury as a result. Mr Hussain was given a 30-month prison sentence, and there was an outcry similar to that around the Tony Martin case of 1999. The brother, who we may assume carried out the majority of the attack, was sentenced to 39 months.

This week, the case went to appeal, and Mr Justice Judge (isn't that good? almost as good as Cocklecarrot) reduced his sentence to 12 months, suspended for two years: effectively, freed on appeal. Great, but disturbing.

The great bit first. Mr Hussain was imprisoned in his own home by a career criminal. His wife and children had been tied up, and he must have had grave concerns about what would happen to them if the burglars decided to see what they could get away with. Fortunately, he escaped, contacted his brother, and chased the burglars, who by this time had given up and run away. They caught one of them and gave him a sound pasting. Sounds good - the law-abiding man gets his revenge, and there is one fewer criminal to terrorise some other innocent family.

The disturbing bit is that the attack was not committed on Mr Hussain's property. The burglars were chased up the street and attacked far from Mr Hussain's home. That suggests a punishment beating rather than self-defence while in fear of one's life. Secondly, a number or weapons, including a golf club and a cricket bat, were used in the attack, where there is no suggestion that the burglars were armed in any way. Thirdly, the burglar sustained serious head injuries, sufficient to prevent him appearing at the trial, although not enough to render him incapable of further criminal acts, it would appear. The law allows the householder to use reasonable force to defend his home and family from intruders, but in this case there is a big question mark over how far Mr Hussain's actions stand the test of reasonableness or proportionality.

This is not a clear-cut case, no matter how the Daily Mail spins it.

For myself, I am a believer in the rule of law. If a householder has to resort to violence to defend himself or apprehend a criminal intent on stealing his property, then as long as the force used is reasonable, I have no problem with it. I have a feeling that Mr Hussain went beyond that simple definition when he chased the burglar down the street and attacked him. But there are other ways of looking at it. The burglar set out with the intention of breaking the law. Mr Hussain had been to the mosque, and no thought of criminality was in his mind, until he found the intruder in his house. The mens rea suggests that the burglar was intent on criminality, whereas Mr Hussain was innocent of any such intention until provoked.

I would tend to side with Mr Hussain for this reason: the law is there for everyone, and its function is to protect everyone. If I deliberately break the law, it is hardly consistent for me to then claim that the people I was offending against should adhere to the laws of the land in their acts of defence. Once you enter someone else's property with criminal intent, as far as I am concerned you have signed away your rights as a citizen. If you get a good hiding for your trouble, well - you shouldn't have been in someone else's house, should you? I would go further: if you rig up trip wires linked to a shotgun, or you electrify certain metal objects to harm intruders, well why shouldn't you? Unless someone is deliberately breaking the law, these measures cannot harm them. And if you break the law, frankly, it's your lookout.

I think Mr Judge Justice, or whatever he is called, has got it about right. Mr Hussain did go too far, but he was substantially justified in what he did. A conviction, but with no penalty, is about right.

Monday 18 January 2010

Haiti - why the anger?

I could be setting myself up for a big pasting here, so let me say first of all:
  • The Haiti earthquake was a terrible event
  • The Haitian people deserve the help and support of all of us
  • The earthquake was nobody's fault, least of all the poor buggers who had to endure it.
What has concerned and slightly rattled me over the last few days were the reports of the Haiti victims being 'angry' about the lack of foreign aid. Specifically, the earthquake happened almost a week ago, and they are still living in tents and don't have adequate food and water. Now I can't imagine how terrible the situation must be, but can't they cut us a little slack? The day the news broke, there were search and rescue teams with sniffer dogs sent from the UK. Aid (food and water) is arriving hourly by transport plane, and supplies are being dropped over affected areas by helicopter. This isn't enough, for sure, but it's what we can do.

The problems are that the infrastructure is shot, meaning that getting things around the island is difficult, and this is compounded by the escaped gangsters from the collapsed gaol, who appear, with others, to be looting and terrorising passers-by in many areas. The airport and the aid supply dumps have had to be heavily fortified for this reason. If the situation isn't to descend into complete anarchy, some fairly rigorous security is needed, and some swift and uncompromising enforcement of public order. Security and order are vital if aid is to be got to those in need. Otherwise, it's survival of the strongest and nastiest. Meanwhile, the UN and the US are doing their best to get supplies out of the airport and into the areas that need them.

This is no-one's fault. It's how it is after a major disaster. But it seems a little premature and perhaps a little ungrateful to be getting angry at the rest of the world for their supposedly tardy response.

Having said that, the 'anger' that I have heard of and seen has been mainly reported by the BBC in the TV news bulletins. It's not very evident on the BBC website, or in other media. It's quite possible that the Haitian people are very grateful for everything that is being done, and the 'anger' is synthetic, created by leftie journalists who see a stick to beat the West with.

Meanwhile, we see an interesting contrast in priorities for our Beloved Leader.

We are sending £23m in aid to Haiti (wow, that's 38 pence each).

And the amount pledged to combat Global Hoaxing after Copenhagen?

£1.5bn, or £25 for every man, woman and child in the UK.

That's a factor of 65, if you are interested.


I've just done the weekly shop. I use Morrison's, as they took the Safeway supermarket over, and kept the staff, who were friendly and helpful. Tesco is a much bigger shop (I can't bring myself to say 'store') and has a much better selection of stuff, but the building gives me the heeby-jeebies and it's inconvenient to get to (council estate, loads of mini-roundabouts and 'speed cushions' that wreck your car). But Morrison's is more convenient - out of the lane, turn left, turn left, turn left into car park; out of car park, turn left, turn left, turn left, home. No speed bumps, no chavs, no old Rovers 'parked' in the road, no mini-roundabouts, no crossing junctions in rush hour. Simples.

One problem: Shopping in Morrison's is like shopping in Soviet Russia. If you want to buy something and it's in stock, fine. If it isn't, well, that's not their problem.

Firelighters. I prefer the ones that are wrapped in thin plastic. Easier to use, less smell, you don't get the reek of whatever-it-is on your hands, and you can leave the fire made up and ready for days and know that the magic fire ingredient won't evaporate away in the meantime. They are a few pence more expensive, but hey. Thing is, they either have loads of these in, and the shelves are groaning with wrapped firelighters (and nothing else), or they have none at all, and they are missing for weeks. In those dark days, it's the unwrapped or, horror of horrors, Morrison's own brand, which stink like an oil refinery, crumble to nanoparticles, and last about 30 seconds. It isn't possible, by careful planning, to always have a few at home, unless you bulk-buy in a way that would shame Margaret Thatcher. It's the wrapped ones for a month, and then the others for a month. So last time they had the wrapped ones in, I did what I despise in other people, and cleared their stock out. Four big boxes. Today, I looked for them again. Nothing.

It's the same with tonic water. Anna insists on proper Schweppes tonic with quinine. Some days, all they have is Schweppes tonic with quinine. Some days, all they have is soda water. Or lemonade. I mean hundreds of bottles. How hard is it to order stock so that there is a moderate quantity of all the things that people might want?

And it's the same with the nicotine lozenges that I still purchase, three sodding years after giving up smoking. Shelves full of Morrison's own, at 36 for £3.99. Or, shelves full of NiQuitin, at £12.91 for 72. Either, but not both. And sometimes neither, for days at a time. As any addict will tell you, it's no use saying we have some coming in in the next few days. Those are the times I head off to Tesco.

Morrison's. Soviet Russia in pleasant yellow and green.

Friday 15 January 2010

Global warming ... I think

It's going round the blogosphere, so it might as well feature here too.

There's a chap called Danny Glover; an actor, apparently. And he reckons that the Haitian earthquake was caused by global warming. Oh, and being naughty boys and girls and not playing nicely at Copenhagen.

“What happened in Haiti could happen to anywhere in the Caribbean because all these island nations are in peril because of global warming.”

“When we see what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I’m saying? We have to act now!”

Clue: earthquakes are bad geology, not bad climate. Here he is:

What is it about actors that makes people think that their views are any more informed or reasonable than, say, the chap who runs the chip shop round the corner? Just askin'

Common sense, at last

The Conservatives plan to divert money from the international aid account to establish a 'stabilisation and reconstruction force'. Report here.

Money intended for international aid would be used for a new military “stabilisation” force under a Conservative government, the party said today. The Conservatives made clear they would strengthen the Foreign Office at the expense of the Department for International Development (Dfid) as they set out their national security plans.

Good for them. We have been pouring millions of pounds into foreign aid for decades now, and we haven't seen poverty reduced at all. This is obviously a very inefficient way of getting the results you desire. Some is syphoned off by corrupt leaders for their own purposes, and the rest would seem to be of the 'give a man a fish' variety. The aid industry is a huge and unwieldy thing, stretching as it does from Bono and that scruffy Irish twat to dictators with suspiciously new Mercedes, and the time has come to rethink the whole shebang. I have no objection to helping countries climb out of poverty. Far from it. But the current way of throwing money at the problem (and, when it manifestly fails to have an effect, assume the amount was too little and throw some more) is clearly not working. This is fresh thinking, and much to be welcomed.

The aid industry is complaining, predictably.

David Mepham, Save the Children's Director of Policy said: "There is an urgent need for the Conservatives to clarify that the purpose of development aid is poverty reduction, not subsidizing military operations.

But it's not reducing poverty, is it? And perhaps a military force is necessary to provide the stable conditions in which some good can be done. Calling it 'military operations' makes it sound like we are going to war with them. We are not. Nice try, David.

Kirsty Hughes, Oxfam Head of Policy, said: “Removing aid from the poorest people and using it for military goals rather than tackling poverty would be a big step backwards and would undermine the UK’s leadership role on international development.”

Again, 'military goals'. Guaranteed to raise the hackles of any decent leftie or peacenik, but nowhere in the Conservative statement is there anything about 'military goals'. It's a stabilisation and reconstruction force. The kind of thing we should have thought about before going into Iraq with both feet. The kind of thing that would do a world of good to the poor blighters in Haiti at the moment.

All this, of course, at a time when UK Plc is broke. You don't take out an overdraft to make a charitable donation. That's not what charity is about. This is a bit of sensible thinking, and if the Cameroons are going to be coming up with ideas like this over the next few months, I think they will find people very receptive.

Apart from those whose salaries depend on wasteful largesse towards dictators, of course.

Pembrokeshire is thawing

Well, we had night-time temperatures down to -12°C a while ago. Today, when I left the house, it was +12°C. The snow has more-or-less gone now, at least from the roads and paths, and a light rain has started.

Which means that I will be back on the bike again.

And that pleases me. Cars have their uses, but they are so dull.

A Pleeceman's Lot

Is not a happy one, it would appear:

A newly-promoted police chief has complained that he can no longer do his weekly supermarket shop because it’s ‘too dangerous’. Peter Vaughan, who became head of South Wales police on New Year’s Day, said ‘security considerations’ meant he needed someone else to pick up his groceries.

Now, taking into account this is the Daily Mail speaking, and therefore all scandalous outrage must be scaled back at least 80%, this is not so unreasonable. If the guy now has a much higher public profile, then he's going to get recognised. And being accosted while you are trying to get the groceries in is not always as much fun as it looks. I remember from my teaching days how tiresome it can be to be stopped every few feet by someone wanting to discuss little Johnny's progress while you were trying to choose between the sliced wholemeal and the extra grain harvest loaf. How much worse when the people stopping you want to berate you about crime stats and how their Uncle Reg phoned the police because his rake had gone missing and do you know it took them two hours to get round the house and when they got there it was only a young lad, couldn't have been more than 18, and what do they know, eh? back in may day, police were police, know what I mean, so what you going to do about that then?

No, the guy has my sympathy. Well, he does until he opens his mouth and says this:

Asked for his thoughts on comments made by Miss Wilding [former Chief Constable] that life in the Valleys could be ‘without hope’, Mr Vaughan said: ‘Barbara did a fine job setting the foundations for the force and now I am putting community regeneration at the core of our work.

No, no, no, Mr Vaughan. What you meant to say was: "I am putting preventing crime and catching criminals at the core of our work."

Community regeneration is the job of politicians and social workers. It is not the role of the Police. The Police are there to prevent crime, to catch those responsible for crime, and to keep public order. Nothing else. Making noises about community regeneration makes them sound like the uniformed branch of New Labour. Oh, hang on ...

I know that, given the choice between tackling a gang of burglars and spending the evening in a village hall talking to that nice Mr Patel, I would take the less confrontational option. It's human nature to take the easier and pleasanter path when given the choice. Plus there are probably better doughnuts on offer in the village hall. But then, I am not a policeman, nor am I paid to be a policeman. Policemen are paid, and paid quite well, to deal with difficult situations, often at personal risk to themselves. If you're not happy with that, don't join up.

Which leads me to two questions:
  • Since when did the Police have the right to define their role in society, as opposed to their operational priorities? Who told them to become ersatz social workers?
  • If the Police are pursuing community regeneration as the "core" of their work, who is out there catching the fucking criminals?

Thursday 14 January 2010

Public cynicism? Surely not.

This article in today's Times had me choking on my beansprouts:

Britain is growing so risk-averse that the public may no longer tolerate deployment of the military, the Armed Forces Minister said yesterday. Bill Rammell warned that in an age of mounting public cynicism and rolling 24-hour news, British governments faced increasing resistance to any use of military power. “We, sadly, face a series of threats, the nature of which will require the projection of power beyond our borders to protect our national security,” he said. “My great fear is that we as a nation will become so risk-averse, cynical and introverted that we will find ourselves in inglorious and impotent isolation by default.”

I think he may be right. But let's look at his reasoning.

The minister traced several trends in society that he said were “positive”, but which made it increasingly difficult for governments to deploy troops in support of Britain’s interests. “First, the decline of deference and the growth in mistrust of those in authority, which challenge government and military decision-making."

There is certainly a lack of deference these days compared to, say 50 years ago, and that is no bad thing. In the context of military necessity it may, however, be disastrous. It is impossible to imagine a government conscripting into an army a generation who have grown up with the idea that they are always in the right, that no-one has the right to tell them anything, and who have no fear of any consequences of their actions. OK so far.

"Second, the 24/7 media and the new information age, which brings with it the demand for a different kind of communication between the Government and the public about military operations."

I'm not sure that is true. 24-hour rolling news programmes certainly have created a different and more urgent news cycle, but how would government communications be any different? They have more space to put their point of view across, that's all. I don't see ministers under-represented on the BBC News channel, for instance. However ...

"Third, a freedom-of-information culture, which asserts that everything known to the State should be in the public domain without considering the impact of this on government’s ability to act in our best interest.” Mr Rammell said that this could have positive consequences, such as the practice of holding inquests into the deaths of all British soldiers killed.

“Families are more assertive in seeking information, wanting to know why a death has occurred and in challenging authority, often calling for an independent assessment of the circumstances surrounding their loved one’s death ... Through this, the MoD can continue to improve the way it deals with inquests [and] learn lessons that may help to prevent future deaths.”

OK ...

"However, he said that where the Government withheld information for reasons of operational security, this was often interpreted by the media and public as evasiveness. He also said that increasing public cynicism threatened to undermine the ability of British Forces to win in Afghanistan."

This is where my dinner hit the opposite wall of the dining room.

Mr Rammell, you just don't get it, do you? The public are cynical about the flow of information from the Government because of you, your party, and your past and present leaders. Tony Blair lied to Parliament and the country about his reasons for going to war. Information which, in private, he knew was "patchy" was presented as "beyond doubt". We were told the war was about WMDs when, in fact, it was about regime change, and we now know that this was agreed with Bush long before Parliament, or even the Cabinet, got the chance to debate it. As a result of Blair's arrogance and treachery, hundreds of our soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed (you remember, the ones we were saving from that evil Saddam), and the international reputation of Britian was stained in the eyes of half the world. Brown was involved every step of the way, as part of the 'inner circle' that took the decisions. The Labour Party was spineless enough to nod it through the Commons, despite the serious reservations of many. (And, to their shame, so did the Conservatives, although this was mainly because they were old-fashioned enough to think that when the Prime Minister said something to Parliament it would be the truth.)

And you wonder why people are a little cynical when politicians speak about war? Troops in Afghanistan, helicopters, vital equipment, body armour; the only question in our minds when these topics come up is - which bit of this is spin, and which bit a downright lie?

Labour's legacy is that the trust that existed between a government and its people has been destroyed for a generation. And you think this is because the British public is 'risk-averse'? As usual, you throw the blame onto someone else. It's not because we have suddenly become cowards. It's because no-one believes a word you lying bastards say.

Don't laugh

or you are a very bad person.

The floor of a Weight Watchers clinic in Sweden collapsed beneath a group of 20 members of the weight loss programme who were gathered for a meeting.

Rest of story here.

Monday 11 January 2010


Let me get this clear (source):

The Government, in the guise of the Department for International Development, is giving the TUC £3.6m, money which most of us would assume would go to foreign countries in aid, for "activities to build support for development in the UK".

There will soon be a general election in the UK.

The TUC will no doubt donate several millions of pounds to the Labour Party for its election war chest.

Tell me, in what precise way is this not utterly, utterly corrupt?

And tell me why it is not front-page news in every newspaper and on the front page of the national broadcaster's website?

From the BBC News page at 19:05 on 11.01.2010:

No sign of cold snap as passengers strip for No Pants Day
Nun's relic cured my cancer
Children told to stay off frozen canal
Do 'plump pouted' women look younger than they are?


Quotes of the day

Two quotes today that made me chuckle (I've been in the car a lot, listening to R4) -

Peter Robinson, on his wife's illness:

"Iris is having acute psychiatric treatment ..."

I didn't get any further than "Iris is having a cute psych ..." before choking on my sandwich.

News bulletin on the LibDems' new non-pledges:

"Nick Clegg says the Liberal Democrats are dropping their pledges on the elderly."


Saturday 9 January 2010

Parris thinks so too

Matthew Parris has a good article in today's Times, where he writes about the attempt by Hewitt And Hoon to force a secret ballot for the Labour leadership. I wrote about this on Thursday, and said:

Perhaps it really is that simple: both are leaving the Commons at the next election anyway, and this was a move guaranteed to skewer their leader's auld enemy and ensure his defeat in the most public and humiliating way possible. Nobody could be that vindictive, could they?

Parris agrees with this analysis, although I included it as a kind of comic alternative which no-one would take seriously:

You’ll hardly find a commentator with a lower opinion of Mr Brown than me, so if even I can see that removing him now would only compound Labour’s problems, don’t imagine his own MPs cannot see the same. And don’t imagine that this never occurred to Geoff Hoon or Patricia Hewitt.

In which case, we must face the truth. Mainly they wanted to hurt him. Two senior Labour figures preparing to depart politics have delivered a huge kick to the prime-ministerial shins. Now, we may suppose — Lord Mandelson permitting — that Mr Brown will limp on to the defeat that the British voters wait to inflict upon him.

This new year putsch against Mr Brown, then, has succeeded. Mr Hoon’s and Ms Hewitt’s Night of the Long Icicles has achieved its purpose once you understand its purpose.

This, remember, is the party in charge of the British economy at a time of unprecedented crisis, during a time when we are was overseas and are getting our soldiers killed every day, and with a General Election less than six months away.

I utterly, utterly despair.

Tovarishch Harman - update

More detail about la Harman's conviction in The Times today. Further to my post of yesterday, it seems that the charges for using a mobile phone were not dropped, but were subsumed into the main charge of Driving Without Due Care:

Explaining why Ms Harman was not prosecuted for driving while using a hand-held telephone, Michael Jennings, reviewing lawyer from the Crown Prosecution Service’s special crime division, said: “Ms Harman’s guilty plea to driving without due care and attention included her admitting that she had been using a mobile phone at the time. In accepting Ms Harman’s guilty plea, the CPS was satisfied that the court would have enough sentencing power to impose a penalty which could reflect her total offending.”

Of course, she pleaded guilty, so that makes it all right. ("I have paid back the excess amount in full, so it is right that we should draw a line under this and move on to the things the British people are really interested in ...")

As for leaving the scene of an accident and/or failing to report, well ...

It emerged that prosecutors had considered charging Ms Harman with failing to report the accident, which carries a sentence of six months in prison, discretionary disqualification, up to ten points and a maximum fine of £5,000, but there was insufficient evidence.

(My emphasis.)

Insufficient evidence? Did she leave the scene without exchanging details, or didn't she? Did she report it to the police afterwards or didn't she? It's hardly a shades-of-grey judgement call for the prosecutors. As with all the events of 2009, it seems that there is one rule for them and one for us.

Nigel Evans speaks for us all:

“I suspect there will be a few fuming motorists looking at that judgment and wondering how she got off so lightly.”


Why does he do this?

Why does Gordon Brown always look as if he is handling an imaginary football?


Minus 9 last night.

Positively balmy.

Friday 8 January 2010

Sentimental find

Curious to know the exact overnight temperatures here (and revealing myself as a bit of a nerd as a consequence, I suppose), I went today to dig out the old max/min thermometer that we keep in the greenhouse. It hasn't been used for many years, and has lost the little magnet that is used to return the thin metal pins back to their rightful places before they are pushed back again by the rising and falling mercury. (To those who only know digital thermometers, ask your parents.)

So a search was begun for a magnet. I have one on a little telescopic car-aerial type thing that I use for retrieving lost nuts and bolts, and which has saved me hours of fruitless searching over the years, but that had hibernated for the winter and could not be found. Of course, I did what every man does when he has searched everywhere on the planet for at least five minutes, and I asked my wife if she had one. She did, but she couldn't find hers either. However, she pointed me in the direction of my mother's old sewing box. "A sewing box should always have a magnet in it," she said.

I hadn't really looked inside the sewing box since we cleared all my mum's effects from her flat eight years ago, but I found the box and had a rootle inside. And there, at the bottom, was a magnet.

Proust wrote pages about the memories brought back by the aroma and taste of a madeleine. This little magnet - horseshoe-shaped, painted red with that lovely crackle finish they used to use, and with a little keeper bar across the ends ("so that all the magnetism doesn't fall out," she used to say) - brought back a flood of memories, all happy ones, of rainy afternoons, "can I have something to play with?" and just messing about with something interesting. I used it to stick lengths of Meccano together, and to create patterns with iron filings (no idea where I got those from), and do all sorts of things just because I could. Holding this little magnet brought all of that back, and I spent a pleasant few minutes just - well - playing.

The upshot is that the thermometer is now outside the front door, correctly reset, so that tomorrow I will know how cold it got in the night. When I brought it in from the greenhouse, the lowest temperature it had recorded was -12.5°C. I imagine that was a couple of days ago, when it was -11°C at 9.00 am. It hasn't been as cold as that in years, so that's probably the right occasion.

It is now -7°C (10.45 pm) and falling.


Sleep Talkin' Man

Via Dizzy, a link to a blog I hadn't come across before. The writer is the wife of a chap who talks in his sleep, and she writes down what he says and puts it in a blog. The guy's outpourings are both surreal and bizarre, and some are creasingly funny. Here's a couple that got me going:

  • "Badger tickling: proceed with caution"
  • "Vegetarians will be the first to go. That's my plan. Vegans haven't got a hope. 'I eat air, I'm so healthy...' Bollocks!"
  • "Don't leave the duck there. It's totally irresponsible. Put it on the swing, it'll have much more fun."
  • "Don't eat the jelly! Don't eat the jelly! I made it with frog wee. It'll turn your teeth green... Like mini apples."
Sleep Talkin' Man. Go there and have a look, but it will be an hour of your life that you will never get back.

Anyone notice?

It's the coldest winter for a decade. And, down here at least, there is no wind.

Good thing we have still got those old dirty power stations going, isn't it?

Imagine ...

Harriet Harman convicted

The fragrant and reasonable Harriet Harman has been convicted of driving without due care and attention, and fined £350 with costs, and collected another three points on her licence, to go with the six that are already there for two offences of speeding in a 30 limit. Story here.

That seems about right, to be honest. Smashing someone else's car through your own carelessness, and then not staying around to sort it out, is pretty reprehensible behaviour, and deserves a good slap on the wrist. The former Solicitor-General is now 75% of the way to a driving ban. It won't matter for the next few months, as she can always call upon a Government driver to take her hither and thither, but if she's out of a job after the election that could be a problem. Ha ha.

What is interesting is what she was not charged with.

  • She left the scene of the accident without exchanging particulars with the other party, or even making an attempt to do so. I think the phrase she used as she exited smartly stage left was "I'm Harriet Harman; you know where to find me". (Exactly the arrogant 'toff' response that so enrages the class warriors in Labour.) Not to do so is an offence. Why was she not charged with this?

  • She failed to report the accident to the police when she couldn't exchange details, which she is required to do by law. Why was she not charged with this?

  • Many witnesses state that she was using a hand-held mobile phone at the time of the accident. This charge was withdrawn. Why?

A spokeswoman for the minister said: "Ms Harman fully accepts the court's judgement."

Well, I suppose we should be grateful for that. I would have expected a few tears, an 'I'm really the victim in all this' statement and a mention of institutional sexism, at least.

"Ms Harman is pleased that the potential charges of leaving the scene of an accident without exchanging particulars and failing to report an accident to the police have been dropped."

I'll bet she is. These are much more serious offences than dinging someone's door in a supermarket car park.

"Ms Harman is pleased that it has been established that this was not a 'hit and run' accident as portrayed in some media reports. It was a parking incident and no damage was done."

No damage? Are you sure? In which case, why was the case brought? If no damage was done, why were you in court at all? "Minister misses parked car and drives off" is hardly grounds for a prosecution, I would have thought.

The Harridan can now brush off any mention of the offences with a airy wave. The serious ones - the ones that demonstrate a contempt for the law and due process - were all withdrawn, and we are left with a minor scrape that could happen to anyone.

Nice day's work, Harriet.

Cold, in both senses

My mansniffles are no better, so I have taken another day off work. Don't worry - I won't be getting paid for it, so there is no dishonesty there.

Anyone who has visited Pembrokeshire will know that the climate is normally mild and wet. We rarely see snow in winter, and if it falls, it is usually gone by the next day. I ws brought up in the Frozen North (West Yorkshire) and lived for a long time in the Frozen East (East Yorkshire and Lincs), and a winter without snow and a few good frosty days doesn't seem to punctuate the passing of the year like a 'proper' winter does.

I had to set off early last Monday to be in Swansea for 8.30 am, and at 6.30 am when I emerged from the house to chip the car out of the ice-floe, the temperature read -7°C. I thought that was bloody cold for round here. Today, I came out at 9.00 am to take Anna to her physiotherapy, and the car thermometer read -11°C. That is astonishingly cold for round here. Even at 11.00 am, when we returned, and after a lot of warmish sunshine (the sky is clear and lovely) it was still -8°C. Because the atmosphere is dry, it doesn't feel all that cold, but touch something that has been outside all night and you stick to it.

I have taken pity on the poor Honda and put its battery on to charge. I'm not likely to be taking it out any time soon (it is far too big and heavy to be useable in these conditions), but the computer makes a tiny drain on the battery, and it's better to keep it charged in cold weather than to let it go down. It's a gel battery, only a year old, and cost me about £90, so I'm looking after it. The XT sits outside the front door looking forlorn and covered in ice. I shall go out and start it up in a minute, just to let it know it's not forgotten.

Anthropomorphism rules.

Thursday 7 January 2010

The Client State

From The Last Ditch (h/t whollyRUDE for the link), a superbly written piece about the way that those least able to bring up children are incentivised to do so by the benefits system. Read it and weep:

The single most sickening aspect of modern British society is the fate of children bred to maximise state benefits. The most extreme recent example is the "British Fritzl," who kept his daughters in captivity and raped them over a period of 25 years in order to produce more child benefit. Fritzl is a sick, sadistic pervert. His British equivalent is a lazy, greedy, sick sadistic pervert motivated by the desire to live free on the work of his fellow-citizens.

Continues ...

Blogger's Sniffle

What a day! I was at work yesterday, feeling weaker and wobblier by the minute, and this morning I woke up feeling lousy. Now I often feel like this first thing, so I waited until I had showered and dressed before doing a full body recce and deciding that I was, indeed, suffering from the mansniffles.

In between trips to the kitchen for hot tea (and yet another square of kitchen roll for the GFAGN nose), I have been catching up on the many blogs that I read. One new one that I have only just found is whollyRUDE, and I recommend it to you. It's lively, right-of-centre, well-written, literate and intelligent and well worth a look. I keep going back to the photo in the blog header, can't think why. I posted a comment there this morning and got a comment back that I should blog something today myself. All day I have been trying to wind myself up to it ...

I have a list of all the blogs I read on my Google home page, but I also use Google Reader, which alerts me to new posts and allows you to read the contents from within your home page. This is a bit lazy, I know, as you don't visit the blog itself (and thereby perhaps ruin someone's stats, not sure) and you don't get to see the blog as the writer wanted it to be seen, but when you are at work and sneakily catching up with the blogosphere while you are supposed to be doing something you're paid to do, it's invaluable. But when there is nothing to read, all you get is:

Your reading list has no unread items

Am I alone in getting just a small jag of disappointment whenever I see this? It's a bit like checking an email account or an answering machine when you are expecting someone to contact you: a bit sad, a bit needy, and makes you feel guiltily obsessive, but you can't stop. Refresh, refresh, refresh. Fortunately, today has been pretty busy out there, and there has been something of interest every time I have looked. Almost.

The key issue of today has been the laughable failed palace putsch of Hewitt and Hoon - the Mutt and Jeff of the Blairite wing of the People's Party. What the fuckity fuck were they thinking of? There could only have ever been two outcomes: either they were successful in their call for a secret ballot (or a 'secret ballet', according to one poster to LabourList, which would have been far more entertaining) and Labour would have been thrown into a leadership battle just as the election campaign starts in earnest; or they failed, and delivered a damaging blow to the Prime Mentalist's pretence of unity just when he needed the support of everyone. I can't think anyone in the Labour Party, however much they can't stand Brown, would have wanted either of those: it's tantamount to electoral suicide. In fact, if the two of them weren't such long-standing members of the governing party, I would have said that the strategy was designed to do as much damage to Labour's electoral prospects as possible, and could have easily been orchestrated by the Special Ops wing of Tory Central Office.

Perhaps it really is that simple: both are leaving the Commons at the next election anyway, and this was a move guaranteed to skewer their leader's auld enemy and ensure his defeat in the most public and humiliating way possible. Nobody could be that vindictive, could they?

Well, it's that or stupid, and I think with Labour we can guess which, although it's not a black and white decision, I know.

Oh, and I liked this (h/t Iain Dale):

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Great idea

One of the rules of advanced riding is 'never put the bike where your head hasn't been already' - in other words, don't assume a gap will be there to pull into; see it with your own eyes and be sure you can do it before you commit yourself. So the good rider moves to the right before an overtake, sees that there is enough clear space to move back into, and only then makes his or her move.

But if it's a huge artic in the way, that isn't always possible (And I remember posting a while ago about how this caught me out). So a very large and juicy coconut to the man who invented this:

It looks like it's a dashboard cam fitted to the lorry cab, fed to a thin-film screen on the rear doors. The article I found it in here seems dubious about how it works, but there is no significant technical reason why it can't.

Of course, no-one but a complete idiot would be overtaking in that situation anyway, but being able to see round a large vehicle could be very handy. As some people round here could tell you.

ABS - not all that great

I went out for some essential supplies today - just the few miles into town to stock up on spuds and salad. The journey was a nightmare. The road from my hamlet into the main town was as treacherous as any road I have ever driven on. The wet slush had frozen into solid ice, and then a fresh snowfall over the top had partially melted, leaving a smooth and almost friction-free surface.

As I have said before, I am used to winter driving, so I set off with a degree of calm (and, to be honest, a degree of anticipation of sly handbrake turns and power slides). Big mistake. The road was lethally slippery and I saw one car that had slid off the road and into a wall within a mile. When I got to town, I could see that the entire network was gridlocked, so I turned round and headed home. There are a number of moderately steep hills between my house and town, and on one of these I completely lost control. I was in first gear, with the engine at idle speed, so I can't have been doing more that 2-3 mph, but as soon as I reached the top of the hill the car started to accelerate and slide down. At this point I noticed a car coming up the hill towards me, and I realised that the adventure would probably not end well. In the end, by bouncing off the bank beside the road and digging my front wheels into the ditch, fortunately with no damage, I managed to stop and then make slightly more deliberate progress to the bottom of the hill.

The point about all this is that the ABS on my car was completely useless. In fact, worse than useless. A small amount of braking was possible, but then as soon as the ABS came in the car stopped braking altogether and slid forward as if it were a ship at sea. I managed to stop the car by defeating the ABS using the old 'cadence braking' method - brake until the wheels start to lock, release, and repeat. Normally I am a big fan of ABS, as it makes braking on a wet road very safe and idiot-proof. But today I just longed for a switch to turn the damn thing off. The way it took over and then left me with no braking at all was pretty frightening.

Are there any cars made these days without ABS? Or with ABS you can turn off, like the passenger airbags that turned out to kill babies? I'd love to know, before I purchase my next winter car.

(This is an attempt at humour. I only took the car because I hate ice when I'm on a bike. In fact, I probably would have been safer, if less comfortable, on the trailbike, riding slowly and steadily. So my next winter car will probably be a set of knobblies for the XT.)

The Devil Speaks

I'm a libertarian, rather than a Libertarian, if you see what I mean, and I was impressed by this post from the Devil's Kitchen. It's a recruitment poster for the Libertarian Party from its leader, and I am not sure if I want to promote a political party on here, but the points he makes are good ones. It wouldn't be fair to post only the non-party bits, so I quote it in full:

My friends,

We are broke. Our country—whatever it may once have been—is now laden with debt. And this isn't "the government's debt": it is our debt.

The government has no money but what it takes—what it extorts—from us.

We have gone beyond consensus politics: if a man were to come to your door, with a gun, and demand half of everything that you earned—on pain of severe punishment, on pain of the total ruination of your life—would you not protest?

For a moment, lay aside those dutiful thoughts of those starving millions beyond your gate, and think, instead, of those within your own household—within your own family: would you not rather protect them first?

Of course you would: they are your kith and kin and you would expect—would you not?—that everyone, like you, would defend theirs against you were you the one holding the gun.

The government has now utterly removed from you the means of protecting yourself and your family against the man with the gun: indeed, you dare not defend yourself because you fear that it is you, not the mugger, who would end up in the dock.

For the government is the man with the gun, demanding tithes from you: the government is here, at your door. But not randomly.


The government has gone out and bought itself nice things—plasma TVs, second homes, duckhouses, moats. And jobs, and votes. All of those things that you could not afford—because it has been here before: at your door, with a gun.

Five years ago, it was here—threatening you with prison if you did not pay up—for the sake of all of those children who were not yours. You paid, because you had no option.

Four years ago, it was here—threatening you with prison if you did not pay up—for the sake of all of those unhealthy who were not yours. You paid, because you had no option.

Three years ago, it was here—threatening you with prison if you did not pay up—for the sake of all of those uneducated who were not yours. You paid, because you had no option.

Two years ago, it was here—threatening you with prison if you did not pay up—for the sake of all of those feckless bankers who were not yours. You paid, because you had no option.

One year ago, it was here—threatening you with prison if you did not pay up—for the sake of all of those MPs who had no duck-houses or second homes or moats. You paid, because you had no option.

And now the government has spent everything that you had to give, and more, on its pet projects—on buying its second homes, on buying its duckhouses, on buying its votes—and none of it benefited you and yours. Not even by one iota.

The government didn't care that you couldn't afford to give any more: it didn't care that you had no money.

The government didn't care that you had lost your job: the government didn't care that all of those thousands of pounds it took in National Insurance payments translated into a few hundred when you were in need.

And now, when you are getting back on your feet—back in a job that is not as good as the one the government destroyed, back struggling to look after your family on the pittance you are paid, back paying off your debts—the government, too, is back: it's back with the gun.

The government is back—demanding half of what you broke your back to earn—because it has more grand schemes, more votes to buy, more trinkets to deliver to its favoured ones.

Will you so willingly hand over the sweat of your brow? Will you so willingly condemn you and yours to penury? Will you capitulate again?

Or will you fight?

Join us—and help us to stop the extortion.

Join us—and understand that providing for you and yours is not a sin.

Join us—and realise that a society that pulls together is a society that stays together.

Join us—and help us fight for a future in which people help each other voluntarily, because it is right and fitting to do so.

Join us—and help to build a future in which men, women and children take back their work, their birthrights, their dignity and their compassion from a government that cares nothing for you.

Join us.

Because—whether the government is Tory, Labour or LibDem—soon you will have nothing left to lose.

Monday 4 January 2010

This Global Warming stuff ...

... doesn't seem to be working. This morning I had to travel to Swansea to do my once-weekly lecturing gig, and because of the weather and likely road conditions I set off half an hour early, at 6.30 am. It was bitterly cold at that time - the thermometer on the car (yes, I was going in the car, I'm not stupid) read -7°C, and the temperature on the other side of the valley was -8°C. Even on the outskirts of Swansea it was -5°C. When I got to the University, it was a mere -2°C, a very neat illustration of the concept of the urban heat island that seems to cause so much difficulty for so many climate alarmists.

Funny, isn't it? The huge palaver of the Copenhagen Summit, the most important climate change summit since - er - the last one, and next we get the coldest winter weather for ten years.

I did my bit for the global carbon crisis, though. Quite apart from burning all that lovely diesel to get to work and back (shame on me), I had put an electric fan heater in the car last night, wired up to a socket in the living room. When I got up, I plugged it in, and by the time I had had a shower and a shave, I looked outside and the car windows were completely clear. Inside, the car was like a sauna. None of that planet-raping de-icer stuff for me, oh no. I take the natural approach.

Better said by another

I had a rant recently about the Islam4UK's proposal to hold a march through Wootton Bassett to draw attention to the many Muslim dead in the current Afghanistan adventure. I tried to say something about how this small Wiltshire village has become a symbol of something, but didn't say it very well. As always, The Heresiarch says it far better, and far more succinctly, than I can:

But what is really inspired is his choice of venue. Wootton Bassett is the town that in the absence of any clear explanation of what we are doing in Afghanistan, has become not merely the scene of tribute but, in an odd way, the mission's whole justification. What began as the quiet and spontaneous reaction of locals has now become strangely ritualised and increasingly official. The town now seems both the focus and the locus of that attenuated thing we're supposed to call Britishness, where the military covenant, elsewhere a hollow joke, becomes almost sacral.

Add a comment about what sort of national leadership vacuum has precipitated the Wootton Bassett phenomenon (I can't remember anything like it), and you've got the whole thing.

Well worth a read, this man.

Sunday 3 January 2010

At last

A politician says something I can agree with about the Iraq war.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major has criticised Tony Blair's handling of the Iraq war and his presentation of the case for invasion in March 2003. Sir John said he had reluctantly backed the war because he believed what Mr Blair had said as prime minister. But now, he said, big questions had been raised by the evidence given to the Chilcott Inquiry into the war.

I can understand Labour MPs not speaking out about the catalogue of deceit and spin that constituted the Government's 'case' for going to war. Not many of them have the courage of the late Robin Cook. And of course the Conservatives have been hamstrung by their pallid acquiescence in the Commons vote which - well, I was going to say 'took Britain to war', but it was more like a rubber stamp on a decision that had been taken many months before and a long way away. Only the LibDems spoke out against it, and I found myself in the curious position of agreeing with a party that I normally think of as irrelevant. Now, at last, someone in a senior position has said what I have been thinking all along.

In the run-up to the war, I was highly suspicious of the way things were going. Hans Blix had not completed his search for the WMDs that we were assured were there, and I was sure that no decision about war would be made until the facts were clear. I was wrong, of course. I certainly wasn't in favour of war, but neither was I completely against it either. It was only when Tony Blair made that claim - in Parliament - that Saddam Hussein had WMDs that could be mobilised at 45 minutes' notice, that I came down reluctantly behind the Government's position. I guess I was naïve enough to think that if the British Prime Minister said something in Parliament, it would be true. I know that Blair and his cronies now say that the 45-minute claim only ever referred to battlefield weapons, but that was certainly not the impression that they were giving out at the time. This was a massive piece of misinformation, and I was taken in by it.

I think my anger at Blair and the whole lot of them is because I allowed them to compromise my principles. I believe that war is sometimes necessary, but must always be a last resort, and must be engaged in for the highest ethical reasons. If Iraq is threatening Britain, or British people, or British forces, I reasoned, then a hard strike against them is unfortunately justified. Blair was quite specific with the British people - the war was not about regime change, it was about WMDs (the reverse of what Bush was feeding to the American people at the same time, incidentally). When it turned out that the war was indeed about regime change, and pursued partly to advance US interests in the region, partly about oil, and partly about Bush Jr finishing off the job that Bush Snr couldn't do, I felt betrayed.

Betrayed. It's a strong word, but Blair's lies to Parliament and the British people caused me to give my tacit support to something which I later realised was completely wrong, and something that on principle I would never have supported had I know the facts. Blair made me feel stained by my association with a vicious and unjustified act of aggression against a country that posed us no threat whatsoever, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent bystanders (people who, in theory, we were acting to protect against the evil Saddam). What no-one pointed out at the time, but which seemed a reasonable question, was that the War On Terror was a result of 9/11, but that Iraq had no connection whatsoever with Al-Qaeda. It was like having the bully from No. 15 set fire to your shed, and kicking the door of No. 28 down as revenge.

So John Major's intervention is welcome.

Sir John said it now seemed there were doubts before the invasion about whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said he wanted to know whether the Cabinet had known about those doubts. He said: "I had myself been prime minister in the first Gulf War, and I knew when I said something I was utterly certain that it was correct, and I said less than I knew. "I assumed the same thing had happened and on that basis I supported reluctantly the second Iraq war."

My position exactly.

Sir John said the argument that someone was bad was an inadequate argument for war. "There are many bad men around the world who run countries and we don't topple them, and indeed in earlier years we had actually supported Saddam Hussein when he was fighting against Iran.

There is a moral case to be made for going to war to remove 'bad men' from positions of power, although I wouldn't agree with it. But we don't do this anywhere else in the world. Zimbabwe and North Korea are two obvious examples. But then, those countries don't have oil.

Sir John said concerns about the Iraq war needed to be addressed if the public's trust in politics was going to be restored.

That's certainly true for me. I think the events of 2003 an onwards regarding Iraq are what turned my attitude from healthy suspicion to downright cynicism. I didn't use to follow Louis Heren's advice (when listening to a politician, always ask yourself "why is this lying bastard lying to me?"), but I am more inclined to do so now. If the Prime Minister can lie to Parliament and the people so comprehensively and with so little remorse, what else are they lying about? Then, of course, all the crime statistics and the educational achievements (which always sound so good, and never ever match what you see in the real world) start to look like the spin they really are. It is now commonplace, when presented with official figures about anything, to look first for the manipulation. The corrosion of trust in politicians may well be a truer legacy of Prime Minister Blair than anything else he did.

John Major says a lot more about Parliament and politicians, and it's worth reading. He might not have been the greatest Prime Minister we ever had, but he had integrity.

Integrity, that's what has been lost.

Oh dear, oh dear

I sure hope this doesn't go ahead:

An Islamic group said to have links to an extremist movement is planning to march through the Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett. The town has become famous for honouring British war dead returning from Afghanistan. Islam4UK pledged the protest would be peaceful with symbolic coffins representing Muslim victims.

Islam4UK is said to call itself a "platform" for the extremist movement al-Muhajiroun.

On its website the group said it was "totally unacceptable" to honour servicemen who had contributed "directly or indirectly" to the deaths of "well over 100,000 Muslims in Afghanistan in the last 8 years".

"We at Islam4UK find this totally unacceptable and as a result have decided to launch the 'Wootton Bassett March' to highlight the real casualties of this brutal Crusade," the website states.

If this is allowed to go ahead, I fear real trouble. I mean real trouble.

The gathering of ordinary people at Wootton Bassett when soldiers are repatriated is not organised by Westminster or the armed forces themselves; it is seemingly an example of a genuine outpouring of feelings - of respect for the armed forces and the sacrifices they make on our behalf. I cannot remember anything like it happening before, and I reckon that at least part of the drive to go there and pay one's respects is due to the shameful neglect of the forces that we have seen under this Government. (I spoke to a man collecting for the Poppy Appeal in November, and he said that donations - and those for Help for Heroes - had been higher than ever. The fact that there is now room for two charities benefiting ex-servicemen is testament to a change in public feelings.)

If Islam4UK decide to hold a march - peaceful, in the way that the British Union of Fascists' march through Cable Street in 1936 was peaceful - then I fear that the public reaction will be both overwhelming and violent. Regardless of the intentions of the proposed march (which may or may not be truthful), the British public - those who go to Wootton Bassett and those who do not - will see it as a slap in the face for our armed forces, who have already been treated with disdain by our own Government. Regardless of whether we support the decision to go to war in Afghanistan, we know that our troops deserve our support, and we don't take insults to them (for that is how it will be perceived) lightly. I would predict a huge turnout of people, some of whom will want to be there as peaceful witnesses to Britain's support for its army, and some of whom will be there for a fight. The outcome will, inevitably, be serious disturbances, and I am convinced that there will be the potential for fatalities. If the march goes ahead, and Islam4UK supporters are injured or killed, then the international reaction will make the Mohammed cartoon issue look like a playground spat. For one thing, it will give any crackpot outfit in the Islamic world the 'justification' that they need to bomb any target in the UK. For another, it might just force the British public into a much more polarised viewpoint on Islam in general, and that would be no good at all for society.

But, of course, that is the purpose of the proposed march.

I believe in the right to peaceful protest, and I don't like the idea of banning people's rights to say what they think, but in this case I think the authorities should just say no. Allowing the march to go ahead could be a catalyst for a complete change in attitude by ordinary British people, and I don't think the results will be at all pretty.

Saturday 2 January 2010

Snow thoughts

I like snow, for a lot of reasons.

Firstly, no matter how muddy, dank, overgrown and generally neglected your garden is (can you see where I am coming from here?), snow makes it look lovely.

Secondly, snow makes everywhere into a playground. Walking along the lane becomes fun again, as you crunch through the crispy white stuff and throw snowballs at the dog.

Thirdly, snow makes the roads adventurous once more. I appreciate that not everyone will agree with me here, but I quite like the way than snow takes us all back to a time when going anywhere by motorised transport was an adventure, which needed skill, understanding and preparation. A long journey in the car today, whatever the conditions, is simply a matter of sitting there and letting the heated this and the automatic that do their stuff. If you wear a warm coat or a hat, it's only to get you from the front door to the car, and to keep you comfy until the heater starts working. You can, in a modern car, go anywhere at any time, with Radio 4 and your shirtsleeves on. But when the snow comes, the roads suddenly become a place where you need to prepare for what you are doing. Shovel in the boot, warm clothes on (in case of breakdown), and - crucially - a bit of skill in the old driving.

I moved to Pembrokeshire almost 20 years ago, and I never cease to be astonished at how the people here deal with snow. One inch, and it's 'do I dare go outside?' Two inches, and it's gridlock. I lived for a long time in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where we got a decent amount of snow every winter, and drifts of six feet and more were commonplace. Everybody coped. You put a few things in the car that might come in handy, you learned how to drive in slippery conditions, and you got on with it. In 13 years of living there, I never once failed to get to work because of snow. (I had to divert to a different school and spend the day impersonating a German teacher once, but that was the worst it got.)

So what is the secret? I'm sure a lot of it is familiarity. If you have to do this every year, then you soon get used to it. Drive gently, use higher gears, preserve momentum - and just occasionally, when it's safe to do so, go bonkers and really see what happens when you turn too hard or brake too sharply. You soon learn.

The best car I ever had for 'getting there' in the snow was a Citroen 2CV6. Like this one:

Light, with low power and good ground clearance, and narrow tyres that cound bite down through the snow to the hard stuff beneath. Air-cooled, so no worries about frozen radiators. And an utterly ineffective heater, so you were already dressed for the Arctic and fully prepared for the worst if it ever did get stuck. Except it didn't. Not once did YVY27V ever fail to get me where I was going. I've been up frozen hills, past lorries and 4x4s all askew on the verges and across the road, all at a steady 20 mph, and got home safe and sound. And it took me 4000 miles round Europe one summer, too. Utterly brilliant cars, and I will have another one, one day.

There have been a lot of complaints recently about the level of gritting of the roads by the local authorities. According to motorists, very little has been done. According to the authorities' spokesmen, it has been done brilliantly. As usual, what you see on the TV reports bears no relation to what you see in your own life, so you assume someone is lying. I can say for certain that the amount of gritting round here has been minimal, and a lot less than previous years, whatever the County Council say.

I'm not sure this is a bad thing, or even if we should grit roads at all. I'm rather attracted by the idea that we accept the weather and the conditions for what they are, and run our lives accordingly. Would it be such a terrible thing if we couldn't do London to Leeds in two hours for a few days of the year? People would have to relearn their winter driving skills, and invest in winter tyres (and snow chains if they lived at the top of a hill) and take a bit more care. Is that such a bad thing? Or perhaps stay at home, read a book, walk the dog, take the kids sledging? And think of all the damage that the road salt does to the shiny bits of your pride and joy. Eurgh.

Snow disrupts our cosy routines and makes us reappraise our lives and our priorities. And it's pretty. Gets my vote.

Deep. And crisp, even ...

Yesterday, the weather finally caught up with the BBC Weather Service and did what it was supposed to do. Snow.

It started yesterday afternoon with a bit of cold rain, which gradually turned into sleet, and then started falling more slowly and visibly white. By nightfall, we had a nice covering of crisp flakes all over the drive. This morning, the world was eerily quiet, which is one of my favourite memories of snow as a child. I lived in the frozen North (County Durham) and we had snow every winter. One day, the sky would darken and you could smell the approaching snow. That night, you went to bed in anticipation of something special.

If you were lucky, when you woke up there were two signs that snow had arrived. One was the strange quietness, as the newly-fallen snow muffled any noises, and the other was the odd lighting effect in the bedroom - the ceiling was brighter than normal, as the majority of light entering the room was coming from below, reflected from the snow in the garden. If it was the weekend, it meant wellies on and a trip to the park with the toboggan. If it was a schoolday, it meant - school. I don't remember school ever being closed because of the weather. I suppose it helped that I was within easy walking distance of about half a mile - a distance that most parents today would consider to be justification for a 4x4 purchase and a row at the school gates over unsafe parking.

I can remember the winter of 1963 very well. I'm not old enough to remember 1947, but 63 was pretty epic. In fact, I can remember feeling fed up with snow by the time it ended, which says something. I was 9 in January 1963, and I can clearly remember walking up the road to school with the snow almost waist-deep. It had a hard crust on the top - although not hard enough to walk on - so that each step was an acrobatic lift of the leg to waist height, then a move forward and a plunge through the crust to the firm ground below. Getting to school took for ever that winter. The school playground was on a slope, so the first thing we did was to polish up a decent slide down the middle, and spend the time before lessons sliding sideways from the top of the playground to the bottom. The bell went for assembly, and while we were inside the caretaker would come out and put salt on it. It was "for our own good". Health and Safety didn't start with the 1974 Act. (To be fair, he always salted the slide after we had gone inside. These days, there would be a 'procedure' whereby the slide would be salted before anyone arrived and a full auditable record kept, to ensure that no-one had any fun at all.)

I'm rambling. Again. This is what it looked like half an hour ago:

View from the front door.

The lane to the main road.

View across the valley behind the house.

And not to forget the bikes:

A very frozen Pan, and

A cold and soggy XT. Bless 'em. I'll bring them in for some hot soup later.
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