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

- George Washington

Thursday 30 September 2010

Animal Wrongs

I've been getting more and more pissed off the the RSPCA over the last few years. In my younger days, I used to think of them as kindly, well-meaning and utterly committed to the welfare of any animal that came to their attention. OK, so they wore a uniform, but then so did park-keepers, the AA and the Sally Army, and they were harmless enough. I used to think they were completely benign.

But over the years, they have moved from a concern with animal welfare to a position akin to an animal rights group. People don't matter to them: only animals. Oh, and money. Not content with being one of the richest charities in the UK, with millions every year being left to them by little old ladies across the land, they hound people against all the principles of natural justice if they sniff a bit of revenue.

This was the case that turned the corner for me. A university lecturer, Christine Gill, had run her parents' farm in North Yorkshire virtually single-handed after her father died. Her mother, who suffered badly from agoraphobia and severe anxiety, had repeatedly assured her that she would inherit the farm one day. But when her mother died, Dr Gill found that all her mother's money had been willed to the RSPCA. This was despite her mother's avowed dislike of the charity. Dr Gill believed that her father, a bullying and controlling man, had coerced her mother into favouring the RSPCA in her will, and she was able to convince a court of that. The will was revoked in her favour in a court of law, and that should have been the end of that. But the RSPCA contested the decision, and used every trick in the book to try to get the decision overturned. The legal battle took three years. In the end, the judge found in favour of Dr Gill and ordered the RSPCA to pay her costs. The RSPCA intended to appeal. In their defence, the RSPCA said that they had offered Dr Gill a compromise solution - they would take the bequest, but allow her to keep £650,000 of it. As the estate was valued at £2.34m, this hardly seems a reasonable compromise to me. I'll take everything you have, and let you have 28% of it back. Seems fair.

Remember Norris Athey? He was the man who claimed he had drowned a squirrel to challenge the charity after they had successfully prosecuted another man for doing the same thing. He was arrested and spent 10 hours in custody. The reason why the RSPCA called in the police?

An RSPCA spokesman said police had been called when Mr Atthey refused to talk to an inspector.

Remember that, in law, Mr Athey didn't have to talk to the 'Inspector', any more than he would have had to explain himself to me if I had called. There are many other cases similar to this. The web is full of anti-RSPCA websites which will provide many more examples of how this animal charity has got totally above itself. And now, in the news, we read this:

A woman who dyed her cat bright pink to match her hair will have her pet returned to her after the RSPCA decided she hadn't committed a crime.

A man in Swindon found a pink cat in his back garden. Following quickly on from the lady who put the cat in the wheelie bin, this raised some wildly panic-stricken stories in the press. It was a gang of thugs wot did it. Who would paint (yes, they said 'paint') a cat pink? What is the world coming to? They kidnapped the cat, painted it pink, and threw it over the hedge as some kind of 'sick prank'.

But it wasn't as simple as that. Not at all. The cat's fur had been dyed with great care. The eyes, nose and mouth had been carefully avoided. Furthermore, the cat was in very good health and was apparently suffering from no distress. The RSPCA became involved, and attempted to wash the cat's coat clean - unsuccessfully - while making noises about prosecuting whoever had done this terrible thing. But yesterday the truth came out. The cat, now known to be named Oi! Kitty (I like that) was coloured pink by her owner. Using food dye. The stuff that is so non-toxic we eat it. She liked the colour pink and wanted the cat to match her own hair - which was dyed pink.

Now, this might seem to you (and me) to be a pretty silly thing to do. But is it cruel? Does the cat know it's pink? Does it care? Is it suffering? Unless the other cats in the 'hood make fun of it, of course not. It's not even unusual: do a Google image search for 'pink cat' and you will see that many people have already done this before.

The RSPCA have therefore decided not to prosecute. This decision was fairly easy, as no crime had been committed, and so a prosecution would have been a little problematic. But they were not content to let it rest at that: oh no.

An officer from the animal charity will visit the cat's owner to give her a dressing down, offering welfare advice about the potential hazards and consequences of dyeing cats.

A dressing-down? For what? Being a silly, pink-obsessed 22-year-old? Personally, I think the theme of the dressing-down will be "you haven't actually committed any crime here, but don't think that means you are innocent -we have got your number, sunshine". Sheer bloody arrogance. If I were Natasha Gregory, I would tell them straight away to fuck off and mind their own business, and then show them the door. And if they asked for a 'donation' to cover the costs of looking after the animal and washing it while it was in their 'care', look out. There are a few things here worth remembering:

1. Despite dressing in a uniform which is as close to a police uniform as they can legally go, they are a charity and have no legal powers - or, at least, no more than you or I have.

Policeman? Or a man who likes dressing up in uniform so people will think he is? You decide.

2. They have no powers of entry onto private premises, although they would like you to think they do.

3. They have no powers to seize or impound any animal, although they would like you to think they do.

4. They cannot arrest you - or, rather, they have the same power of citizen's arrest that anyone else has.

5. They have no power to make you answer any of their questions.

6. If they prosecute anyone, it is a private prosecution, not anything to do with the CPS or Police.

Details here, if you want to know. The RSPCA have developed a reputation in the common consciousness as being quasi-legal, and they do nothing to correct that very wrong impression. The uniforms, and the ranks of Inspector, Chief Inspector, Superintendent and Chief Superintendent, are clearly designed to foster the impression that they are like police officers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So if the RSPCA want to enter your house or land, or want to 'question you under caution', or stop your vehicle, or take your animals away, tell them to go away and read up on their legal powers. Do not let them bully you. Have a read of this article (or a digest here) and recognise how you are being conned.

And if you are thinking of dropping a couple of quid in a collecting tin this weekend or, worse, leaving these militaristic, greedy, bullying bastards anything in your will, I urge you to think again. They will never have another penny from me.

Splitting Maul

Let me introduce you to my new friend - the splitting maul:

I bought this last year when I built the log store, on the advice of someone in the village. Up to that point, I had split any logs that I used with either a hand-axe for the small stuff, or a felling axe for the biggies. Of course, splitting wood with either of those is like trying to cut cloth with a bread knife: they will do the job, but there are much better ways. Not that I realised.

The maul differs from the axe in several ways. The shaft is rounder and more robust, as often the handle needs to be levered about to free the head from the wood. The head is also heavier than the usual axe head, as the maul uses the sheer weight of the head to do the work. And, paradoxically, the heavier the head, the easier it is to use. It's something I have noticed with a lot of tools: the more weight something has, the easier it is to control. Heavy chisels cut better than light ones, heavy knives are more precise than flimsy ones; and of course any cook will tell you that heavy cutting implements in the kitchen are worth their weight in gold. Anna has a cleaver which is as heavy as the chopping board she uses it on, and nothing chops parsley more finely or easily. The key difference between the maul and a felling axe, though, is the shape of the head. The cutting edge is shorter and less sharp, and the head itself is much wider, being shaped like a wedge with convex sides. This means that, for any given impact with the wood, the maul will separate the fibres further apart and be less likely to get stuck in the split.

I shouldn't be surprised. A crosscut saw gets bogged down when ripping along the grain, and a ripsaw is useless at cross-cutting. One has teeth sharpened like knives; the other like chisels. The job of the axe is to cut sideways through as many fibres as possible, so it is slim and sharp. The job of the maul is to part the fibres from each other lengthways, so it is blunt and wide. Each to his own, as it were. I can't understand why it has taken me so long to realise this.

What it means in practice is that it works like a dream. I had got used to standing over my logs, cleaving them again and again with the axe, working up a sweat wiggling the head out of the cleft, and finally delivering a death blow with the axe swinging from waist height behind me, over my head and down into the wood with all my strength. I got pretty accurate with this, and could send both halves of a dry log anything up to 10 metres in opposite directions if I got the blow just right. We had to keep the dog indoors and ban children from the entire area when I was in full flow. With the maul, I place it on the end of the log, lift it to about shoulder height and drop it down with a little force behind it. The log usually splits obediently into two without drama.

I love my maul because it just works.

I also love it because it is clearly one of those tools that have been around for a long time. Axes are possibly the oldest woodworking tools in the world, and date from the time, probably in the Mesolithic period about 8000 years ago, when some bright spark had the idea of fastening a hand-axe to a handle to make things a little quicker and easier. Certainly the ancient Egyptians were using metal-headed axes in the construction of the pyramids in 2000BC. Whether the splitting maul developed as a specialised form of axe, or from the addition of a cutting edge to a long hammer (the word is from Old French mail, and is related to 'mallet'), I don't know, but I am sure that the maul must have been around in something close to its present form for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It works, and there is nothing that could be done to make it work better. (The safety pin has a similarly noble lineage: the basic design was perfected in the Bronze Age, and no significant improvements have been made since then.)

Compared to splitting wood with a felling axe, I reckon it reduces the overall effort by half, and for an old git that makes a big difference.

It cost me around £30 from the village hardware store, and I don't regret a penny of it. If you have any logs to split, it's highly recommended.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

The Normals

Anyone remember the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and their song "We Are Normal"?

We are normal and we want our freedom
We are normal and we dig Bert Weedon.

Captain Ranty has an excellent post here on who the real enemy are. As usual, it's the enemy within who are the danger. Well worth a read.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Another IAM poll - driver pre-training

There's another poll over on the IAM website, here. Open to all, as before. This time it's about the topic of driver pre-training: getting youngsters behind the wheel off the road so that they can get familiar with the control of a car before they start to learn on the road. The questions seem a little better designed than the last one. Some are complete no-brainers, but I suppose they have to try to cover all bases. If you are interested, head on over and say your piece. Takes less than a minute.

I did a post on this topic earlier this year, so I knew what I wanted to say before I started. I think it's a VERY good idea.

Ed and Iraq

So the new Chief Comrade has come out in public and said that the Iraq War was wrong.

"I do believe we were wrong. Wrong to take Britain into war and we need to be honest about that," he said.

Now, the decision to go to war with Iraq was taken in 2003, at the latest (and a lot earlier than that, if you believe some accounts). At that time, Comrade Ed was not an MP (he was first elected in 2005), and did not have a vote, so one can't accuse him of hypocrisy or pandering to the anti-war sentiments of much of his Party and country.

What we can be sure of is that he didn't make his unease about going to war clear at the time, or at least not publicly. He was an economic adviser to the Treasury then, and a member of Brown's close-knit team, so he will have been aware of, and involved in, many of the affairs of government, but I cannot find any reference to his strong feelings against the war at this time. Perhaps I just haven't looked hard enough.

What we do know is that he voted against an inquiry into the war, and he is not known to have ever rebelled against his party leadership. So this leads me to two possibilities:

1. He was against the war at the time, but has kept his feelings quiet until there is no need to suck up to anyone above him in the hierarchy.

2. He was in favour of the war at the time, but has since reflected and changed his mind - co-incidentally just in time to curry favour with the mainly anti-war Labour Party whose support he desperately needs.

Either way, it looks as if he is an opportunistic hypocrite. The perfect Labour leader and Heir to Blair, then.

Don't get me wrong - I agree with the guy. The Iraq War was illegal, immoral, a compete disaster for Britain and a stain our our national conscience. But I'm not convinced that Ed's angle on this is entirely genuine.

Of course, if anyone can provide a link to anything showing that Ed made his opposition to the war known either before or after 2003, I would be delighted to post a correction.

Labour Re-writes History

In Ed Miliband's first speech to the comrades as party leader:

He said he understood voters' anger that "Labour hadn't stood up to the old ways in the City which said deregulation was the answer" and "at a Labour government that claimed it could end boom and bust."

Ahem. It was Labour that did the deregulating. The City might have asked for it, but Gordon Brown was willing to do it, and even bragged of it in the days before it all came crashing down. The 'light regulatory touch' was his boast, not the City's. While the bubble was still inflating, he was keen to take the credit. He didn't 'stand up' to the City - he fell over himself to give it what it wanted.

And the Labour government didn't claim it could end 'boom and bust'. It claimed it had ended boom and bust.

"Under this Government, Britain will not return to the boom and bust of the past."
Pre-Budget Report, 9th November 1999

"Britain does not want a return to boom and bust."
Budget Statement, 21 March 2000

"So our approach is to reject the old vicious circle of the...the old boom and bust."
Pre-Budget Report, 8 November 2000

"Mr Deputy Speaker we will not return to boom and bust."
Budget Statement, 7 March 2001

"As I have said before Mr Deputy Speaker: No return to boom and bust."
Budget Statement, 22 March 2006

"And we will never return to the old boom and bust."
Budget Statement, 21 March 2007

Small details, perhaps, but the comrades are starting to re-write the history of the last 13 years. (H/t Iain Dale for the compilation.)

John Prescott was keen to point out what Ed ought to be saying:

"If you're going to fight an election you will want to point out that we were quite successful in government particularly in the economic areas," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One.

And in other news, the Spanish Motorcycle Grand Prix 2010 was won by Geoff Duke riding a specially-prepared New Hudson Autocycle.

And while we're at it, here's Liam Byrne yesterday:

''This Government is hell bent on destroying the foundations of our economic success ..."

This from the man who, on the day of the election, left a note for his successor, saying

"Dear Chief Secretary, I'm afraid there is no money. Kind regards - and good luck! Liam."

Remember Nikolai Yezhov? No? There's a reason for that. Gordon Brown - you're next.

Enlightened Commentary

Last week, I wrote a post about Hayley O'Neil, who had complained about her 'insulting' treatment at the Job Centre when she went for an interview. Hayley has a mass of facial piercings and visible tattoos, and the adviser asked her if she thought an employer would be put off by them. Hayley went off in a huff about this, and the Daily Telegraph took up the story.

I was a bit hard on Hayley in my comments. I have been involved in quite a bit of recruitment myself in the last few years, and young people who seem to think they can look and dress how they please and still have a 'right' to be employed where they wish irritate me somewhat. One of my regular commenters took me to task on this, and made some valid points about youthful rebellion and deeper reasons why some people feel as Hayley did. We had a bit of a to-and-fro in the comments, and his last comment brought a lot of good ideas together. I thought it deserved a post to itself so, with a slight amount of editing to preserve the flow of ideas, here's the view of endemoniada_88:


Sorry, but I'm going to have to stick up for Hayley in this. She's not up there in my top list of well-decorated women, but I'm not sure that entitles people to be needlessly rude to her.

As far as I can see, she isn't guilty of anything except somewhat poor taste. Not a crime, otherwise men would be prosecuted for wearing pink shirts and ostensibly character-neutral - clothes, really, do not maketh the man. Nor is there any proof that she's determined to end up a third-generation welfare burden with hordes of indeterminedly-parented sprogs, or that her hobbies include hanging around street corners intimidating old ladies.

Painfully naive as her "lifestyle choice" comment may be, that's youngsters for you. It's what they do: kick off against the establishment, shock their parents, rattle the cages of ordinary citizens, try to look edgy and cool and protest against "the system" that oppresses them. Then they grow up a bit and realise that a collection of mediocre tats isn't much of a force for social change and doesn't really define them in any meaningful way. Or they hang up their kaftans, get a haircut, give their mum back the safety-pins - whatever the herding instinct of their particular day was - and get on with the rest of their lives. And each time that happens, the next rebellion has to go incrementally further to make an impact.

When I was her age, wearing a black leather jacket was still reason enough to get banned from pubs, clubs and Harrods. It was also a tribal allegiance that opened biker-friendly doors. And, to the vast majority, who neither noticed nor cared, it was a matter of complete indifference. I wore mine regardless, and let people pass whatever judgement they chose. It would be hypocrisy to slate others for doing the same thing, whatever their chosen medium of expression.

So: Hayley. Doing her own genre thing, because she feels it's who she is. Hardly an unusual attitude, given that the liberal rush towards freedom of the individual and any lifestyle being a valid one has been in play since well before she was born. We even have laws to prove it: rafts of them to enshrine the rights of everyone and their dog to exercise any religious, sexual or ethnic mores without discrimination. What we don't seem to have is much to offer a young woman signing on in a deprived post-industrial northern city. Free market policy and the labour pool it requires saw to that 30 years ago, and the state has been steadily expanding welfare support to compensate ever since. Unless she has a hidden ace to play, she's no doubt staring down the barrel of a future where a job is no longer a given, lifetime on welfare is a very real option and minimum wage offers no hope of ever reaching the great consumer dream of a nice house in a leafy suburb.

It's no surprise her values are unlikely to coincide with mine. Except, perhaps, in the idea that she should be allowed to poke holes in her face if that's what she really wants to do. It may not be big and clever, but it's legal and not harming anybody else. I doubt if it's seriously giving the overall state of the economy much competition in keeping her out of work, or that a few metal trinkets make her irrevocably unemployable.


To be fair, I do also have sympathy for Job Centre employees. I signed on, briefly, after leaving university and had to share queue space with some people who could have done with a good hard slapping, never mind just a talking-to. I can believe it's a pretty thankless and frustrating old job.

I agree entirely, too, that I wouldn't have been touting any insults I might have received to the national press, even if there had been a market for it back then. Or threatening to sue all and sundry for being mean to me. I've always believed that house rules apply and if they don't happen to accommodate your personal wishes, tough - you can choose to comply with them, or find somewhere else to be.

But that's the whole point of being rebellious: it has to come with a cost to have any meaning. Choosing to buck the social norm, by definition, requires mainstream non-acceptance to validate it. The part that the entitlement generation fail to grasp seems to be that the negative consequences are an essential component of that validation. Really, they should be pleased with the success of their individual statements, rather than feeling insulted, if their appearance is declared unsuitable for a traditional role. (As long as that declaration is made in civil manner, of course - I still don't believe rudeness over appearance is appropriate).

My main issue, really, is more about social evolution over the past few decades. Not that I've had much say in it and I voted against most of the manifestos that have been enacted in the last 25 years. Still, there's a sense of guilt that I am a part of the generation which has let things become the way they are. In many respects, it seems genuinely unfair to expect the youth of today to know any better. Many of the things we complain about are all they've ever known - they've had to grow up in increasingly shallow, cotton-wool-wrapped, materialistic, self-obsessed times with no point of reference from which to find alternatives. It's our society that's failing to give them a realistic framework of discipline, effort, prospect and reward to work inside and then demonising the results rather than the causes.

It's quite possible, of course, that that's the way every generation feels about the next one and this is just the natural conservatism that comes with getting older. Maybe the youngsters are quite happy with the way their future is shaping up and I simply don't understand their worldview enough. Maybe, even, the continued abdication of personal responsibility (for example) is a step towards a more genuinely egalitarian form of civilisation, rather than one that is merely lacking in values. But it doesn't seem to me to be an improving state of affairs, and there is a sense of national disintegration that wasn't present when I was coming of age. That's why I'm disposed to be sympathetic to the likes of Hayley: because I feel that, through no real fault of their own, they've been given far too much scope and far too little guidance on their lifestyle choices.

Welsh Spelling 2

Tesco, again:

All in the cause of alphabetical purity.

"But there's no 'F' in 'haddock'!"
"That's what I was trying to tell you."

For Your Convenience


Buy a few items, arrive at self-service checkout. Put shopping bag in the bagging area. Press 'start'.

"Unexpected item in the bagging area."

Take shopping bag off shelf. All OK. Put shopping bag back.

"Unexpected item in the bagging area."

Well, how the fuck am I supposed to load my shopping if I can't put my bag in the bagging area? Carry it in my arms and put it in my bag outside? Balance it on my head? Eat it all straight away? The bag of ground coffee could be a problem, but no matter.

It's a shopping bag, you know, the ones you encourage us to bring along to Save The Planet. Your campaign, not mine.

These self-service checkouts are the most inconvenient devices I have ever come across in the name of 'a better shopping experience'. I wouldn't mind if they knocked 10% of the bill because you were doing half the work yourself. But no - it's just a reason to sack a few of those nice checkout ladies.

Why I Vote Green

This one's been doing the rounds, so a) hat-tips to all and sundry, and b) apologies if you have already seen it. But it amused me greatly.

I love the way the Australians say "Vote Greens" when we would say "Vote Green". It's as if they want us to vote for a load of vegetables.

Oh, hang on ...

Monday 27 September 2010

Logging Operations

"Wood warms you twice," my mother used to say. "Once when you cut it, and once when you burn it."

She wasn't wrong there. Today I got my own logging operation up and running. I have a large stack of timber that has been sitting in a corner, gently rotting, for a number of years. Some elm, some cherry, all between 3" and 6" in diameter, mostly sodden on the outside, but still with good heartwood. I cleared a corner of the paddock which is sheltered under some trees and using the small car trailer I have as a kind of mega-wheelbarrow I carried my first load there. Then I visited Anna's mother's old house (still empty and up for sale) and appropriated an ancient saw-horse that I had my eye on. I hope nobody wanted it. And then I got the chainsaw out and filled it with oil and 50:1 two-stroke mix. I grabbed the splitting maul and took everything to the paddock. And then I got to work.

Even with power assistance, it's heavy work lugging the logs on to the saw-horse, cutting them up and then splitting them to stove-friendly dimensions. By the time I had done the first trailer-load (1 trailerful = 3 wheelbarrows of cut logs) and stacked them in the shelter, I was done in. But seeing the newly-repaired end of the log store being filled up with my own logs - free, apart from the cost of the petrol for the saw - was very good. The wood I did today is so wet that I don't expect it to be ready for at least a year, but stacking it at the back of the store ready to let the wind do its desiccating work was a bit like buying a good wine for the cellar - it's that feeling of laying something down for the future which is so satisfying.

And it's real Man Stuff, too.

Now that I have all the gear in place, I will be able to do a bit at a time, which at my age is probably the only way I am going to get a big task done. The days when I could have cut, sawn, split and stacked a ton of logs in a day are gone. From the quantity that I managed to achieve today, I reckon there are another ten similar sessions before I fill the first bay. Eating an elephant, kind of thing.

The first barrowload was celebrated with a can of beer and a nice sit-down.


The Tragedy of Wind Power

I watched the piece on the BBC News the other night about the launch of the 'wonderful' new wind farm off the coast at Thanet. Well, it's certainly better than siting those monstrosities on a lonely hillside and ruining the view for millions of us who like remote and unspoiled landscapes. But I'm still alarmed about the economics.

According to Christopher Booker in the Telegraph,

Over the coming years we will be giving the wind farm's Swedish owners a total of £1.2 billion in subsidies. That same sum, invested now in a single nuclear power station, could yield a staggering 13 times more electricity, with much greater reliability.

Wind farm enthusiasts tend to quote the manufacturers' figures for output unquestioningly, and this one is claimed to have the 'capacity' to power 200,000 homes. Well, that would be so if the winds at Thanet could be guaranteed to blow at exactly the right speed all the time, night and day, winter and summer. Too little wind, and the turbines don't turn fast enough. Too much, and they have to shut down for safety reasons. But just right, and they will produce what is claimed. Probably. The 'load factor' of British wind turbines (the amount they actually produce compared to the amount they could produce in ideal conditions) is around 25%. But this is never mentioned by government ministers wetting their pants over the latest project. Compared with investing the same money in nuclear, which could provide 13 times the power, reliably and whatever the weather conditions, the money is being pissed away.

So, not only do we have a hugely inefficient and unreliable source of energy (remember that each turbine needs 100% of idle, inefficient fossil-based backup for when the weather is calm), but we are paying massive amounts of subsidy to have it. Over the life of the project, the Swedish manufacturers will pocket an amazing £1.2bn in subsidy. And where does that come from? Your electricity bills and mine. Let's be clear: in a time of serious recession, our energy bills are being artificially inflated to support a technology that is unreliable and unsightly, and won't even solve the problem, if there is a problem. Remember that energy costs are a bigger proportion of expenditure for the poor than the rich, so the burden of all this environmental grandstanding falls on the least wealthy. And the money doesn't even stay within the British economy - it disappears to Sweden.

In a related story, James Delingpole has something on the Bilderberg Group which is more than a little alarming:

Bilderberg. Whether you believe it’s part of a sinister conspiracy which will lead inexorably to one world government or whether you think it’s just an innocent high-level talking shop, there’s one thing that can’t be denied: it knows which way the wind is blowing.

He has seen the 2010 agenda:

Which is what makes one particular item on the group’s discussion agenda so tremendously significant. See if you can spot the one I mean:

The 58th Bilderberg Meeting will be held in Sitges, Spain 3 – 6 June 2010. The Conference will deal mainly with Financial Reform, Security, Cyber Technology, Energy, Pakistan, Afghanistan, World Food Problem, Global Cooling, Social Networking, Medical Science, EU-US relations.

Yep, that’s right. Global Cooling.

Which means one of two things.

Either it was a printing error.

Or the global elite is perfectly well aware that global cooling represents a far more serious and imminent threat to the world than global warming, but is so far unwilling to admit it except behind closed doors.

Global Cooling. This is no surprise at all.

In the 70s, we had fears of a new Ice Age (all driven by 'unquestionable' scientific research). But then we had a few warmer years - the 80s were full of the nuclear winter hypothesis, which would at least have been unquestionably man-made - so in the 90s we had the emergence of Global Warming, on which we were repeatedly told the 'the science is settled'. But the weather refused to co-operate, and the climate record showed, to those not blinded by research grants and vested interests, that temperatures have been going up and down for millennia. 'Global Warming' became a little unsustainable in the public eye, so they started referring to 'Climate Change' and, more recently, 'Climate Chaos'.

Well, FFS! If you wanted a definition of a truly chaotic system, then the world's climate is about the best there is. Of course climate is chaotic. It couldn't be anything else. But the phrase 'Climate Chaos' has one great advantage: any significant climatic event - and there are always plenty of those - can be adduced as 'evidence' to the argument that 'the world's climate is getting chaotic - and it's all our fault'. Baking summer, freezing winters, massive flooding, widespread drought, all things which have happened since the beginning of recorded history and beyond, will go into the mix. Even tsunamis and earthquakes will provide supporting evidence for that in the eye of the unthinking public, although any fule kno that earthquakes and tsunamis have nothing whatsoever to do with the weather. Remember Danny Glover? People are easily fooled.

And the next big thing, if Delingpole is to be believed, will be Global Cooling. We are being prepared for yet another about-turn on the future of the planet. One thing you can be sure of - it will cost you.

And we will have raped all our lonely places for nothing.

I fucking despair; I really do.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Winter Is On Its Way

You can tell winter is coming. Today's rideout was a total of two bikes and three people. I met Andy and his girlfriend Ann in the Propellers Café at Withybush Airfield and had a hearty (or heart-stopping) breakfast. And then we went for a ride round the coast of North Pembrokeshire. A visit to St Davids, coffee in Goodwick, and a return over the lovely Preseli Hills.

It was a glorious day, the kind you often get at this time of year, with bright sunshine for the most part, and a clear atmosphere that made the views spectacular. Everything - ships out at sea, distant hillsides, the glint of the far-off estuary - seemed to be within touching distance. But the air was cold. I wore my trusty leather jacket with a hoodie underneath and a pair of thin jeans. By the time I got home mid-afternoon about 70 miles later, I was chilled to the bone.

Next time, it will be the textile suit with the thermal lining.

I fully intend to ride through the winter, as I always have done, but I suspect that I will be rather lonely on some of the days out. Some of the TOMCC are talking about laying bikes up for the winter, and when we discussed a possible trip to the Triumph factory at Hinckley, or even the new Norton works at Donington Park, there was a lot of support for hiring a minibus.

Guys, this is a bike club. We travel on motorcycles. The clue is in the name. The 'MC' in TOMCC stands for 'motorcycle', not 'mini-coach'. OK, 500 miles there and back in January is a bit of a test of character, but for heaven's sake.

I can see myself riding alone for much of the time this winter.


3 Birds, 1 Mountain - update

Last Christmas Eve, I posted about three girls (one a relative of mine) who were planning to scale Mont Blanc this August in aid of three charities: the Breast Cancer Campaign, the White Ribbon Alliance, and Action For Children. Their website was www.3birds1mountain.com. None of the girls had any winter climbing experience, and they put themselves through a rigorous and demanding training schedule in order to complete the challenge.

Katie was married yesterday, and tonight I was lucky enough to be invited to a party to send them off on their honeymoon. Naturally, I asked her how it had gone. Not only was the climb successful (and they all got back safely), but they raised almost £17,000 for their chosen charities, breaking their original target of £15,000. This is an amazing achievement, and I congratulate them.

If any reader of this blog was tempted to go to the site and donate (and I have no way of knowing if anyone did), then a big thank-you from me. And I wish Katie and Pete all the very best in their life together.

(Katie - if you read this, feel free to leave a comment and let us know how it went.)

Pro Bono, Publico

I can't stand middle-aged men who wear sunglasses indoors, or at night. So when a Mr Paul Hewson (otherwise known as Bono, another irritating affectation) does anything that draws my attention, I am already predisposed to think the guy is a tosser.

He's part of a gang, of course. Hewson, and that Gordon Sumner chap (what was his name, Itch, or something) and that other scruffy twat Robert Frederick Geldof. They are all multi-millionaires, and their main purpose in life seems to be to bully ordinary people into giving up their money to fund dictators in the developing world, while seemingly amassing even greater wealth to themselves.

But the latest news from Bonoland is a peach. St Paul has set up an anti-poverty foundation called ONE. This organisation received donations of £9.6m in 2008. And it handed out how much to good causes in that year? £118,000. Yep, that's 1.2%.

And it paid itself £5.1m in salaries. That's 53%. Good to know the priorities are sorted.

Saturday 25 September 2010

College Pranks

Electoral College, that is. Let me see now ...

According to the BBC:

Labour Party members wanted David Miliband.

Labour Party MPs wanted David Miliband.

The Unions wanted Diane Abbott.

And after several rounds of vote-counting, the party got Ed Miliband.

Hardly a ringing endorsement for AV, is it?

Getting Wood

In January 2009, I built a log store in my back garden. I like doing stuff like that, but there was a good reason behind it.

We had installed a Morsø Squirrel multi-fuel stove in about 1997. This was supposed to burn everything from wood to coal, and even peat, and we had visions of free heat from burning the tons of wood that we could pick up on any walk with half a mile of the house. Of course, wood isn't free at all. It needs to be cut down, and cut to length, and split, and dried, and stored - materials: free, labour: lots. In the end, it was always easier to order another ton of anthracite and promise that next year we would really start to 'get wood', as it were.

Now, the thing lasted 12 years, so I can't really complain, but eventually the acids, formed when the stove was idling at a low temperature overnight with a bellyful of Onllywyn Colliery's best, had eaten away at the boiler seams and it started to leak. I took the stove out to see if I could replace the boiler, but the iron casing was damaged by the rust and it was beyond repair.

The stove was a brilliant performer. Running non-stop from October to March, it consumed about one tonne of coal. We got the version with a small boiler fitted above the firebox and this was plumbed into our domestic hot water cylinder, so that for the whole of winter we had more hot water than we knew what to do with. We decided to replace it with an identical stove. The stove died in November 2008, and it was mid-January before we could source a new one, so that was the coldest Christmas I can remember in a long time, but eventually it was installed and good to go.

This time, we were determined to run it on wood alone. We found a local source of seasoned firewood, and I started to build a store in the garden. It took me about a week, and when it was finished it looked like this:

It's made of treated timber with an all-weather Onduline roof, which is similar to corrugated iron, but made of a bituminous substance that is supposed to last for ever. It has three bays, each able to hold about 2.5 m³ of timber. My calculations suggested that I would get through about 6 tonnes a year, so this is barely enough. The ideal would be to have three times that amount - one unit being filled, one with wood seasoning, and one in use. But that was clearly too much for our little plot, so we settled on about 7.5 m³ capacity and a willingness to buy wood in as needed, if our own stocks ran out.

We bought our first load, which was delivered in a pile on the driveway. I spent an afternoon with Anna's grandchildren getting the logs stacked in the first bay. By tea-time, they were stacked neatly and I was very pleased with myself. In the morning, to by dismay, the logs had spilled out onto the grass. The weight of the wood had collapsed the rear structure of the store and dumped the wood out of the front. I couldn't face another back-breaking day of moving the logs to the next bay (and there was no guarantee the same thing wouldn't happen there), so I decided to wait until the wood was almost used up and then tackle it.

That was a year and a half ago. Eventually I got some more wood delivered and put it into the third bay, but this time tumbled rather than stacked, so that the weight would be better distributed. This one seemed to hold. Eventually, I cleared out the collapsed end and used it to store garden furniture and the incinerator. But the collapsed part of it always troubled me.

This week, I decided to tackle it, as the weather has been reasonable and winter is approaching. In the end, it took me less than a day. I stripped out all the floorboarding and jacked up the cross-pieces to their correct positions. Then I cut some massive rounds from an old telegraph pole that Western Power had left in the paddock and wedged those under the framing. Finally I tied all the joints together with heavy-duty metal angle brackets. Originally, I had fastened the joints together with 3" woodscrews, but these had sheared off with the weight of the timber. 2.5 m³ of hardwood, I now realise, weighs about 1½ tonnes. Hah. If I had bothered to rebate all the posts and fit the framing into the rebates, I am sure the thing would have held together fine in the first place. But, as usual, I wanted to get it finished and took the quickest way. I never learn.

Anyway, it's all fixed now - square and straight and ready for the next delivery of timber. To cut up the telegraph pole I had to get the chainsaw out of hibernation, so now the mood is upon me to start cutting my own timber. There's plenty around me. I've got to fill the mended part with something, fast.

There's only one question left to ask - why the fuck did it take me nearly two years to get around to doing this?


Well, I suppose Diane Abbott would have been too much to hope for.


No, not pre-1915 motorbike. Proper veterans - soldiers who have served their country in war and have, through age or injury, retired.

One of the most moving things each year, for me, is to see the old soldiers march past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day. Blazers and berets rather than military uniform, and perhaps the backs aren't as ramrod straight these days as they were. And perhaps the marching is slower than the 120 beats per minute they were used to. But they are there, fewer in number every year; dignified, solemn, and admirable. They bring a lump to my throat every time.

Honouring your country's soldiers is no longer fashionable. It's OK to send them to war to make grandiose political statements about human rights abroad and Britain's military interests. But the money that ought to go with them, to ensure the right equipment and supplies, is spent on more domestic concerns - more outreach co-ordinators, more diversity champions, more money for the benefit-hungry client state. And so we had the Wootton Bassett phenomenon, both wonderful and shameful at the same time. Wonderful, because it showed a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude and respect for our servicemen from the ordinary people of the land; and shameful because it shouldn't be necessary. Wootton Bassett crowds and Help For Heroes didn't exist twenty years ago. There was no need for them. People respected the Armed Forces and valued the contribution they made to our safety and security. The Government recognised its duty to the old and the maimed and, although the provision was never generous, it was never grudgingly withheld either.

It has to be said: Tony Blair and Gordon Brown treated our armed services shamefully.

And that contempt has trickled down to the ignorant masses. Soldiers are now advised not to wear their uniforms outside of their barracks, for fear that some local hard nuts will attack them. And when a woman is in court for urinating on a war memorial and the local veterans turned up to show their displeasure, this is what they get from her boyfriend:

Iain Dale has recently made a trip to the war cemeteries near Arnhem and has been very moved by his experiences there. Anna's uncle was killed in Operation Market Garden and is buried nearby at Oosterbeek, and I visited there to pay my respects when I passed through last September, so I can appreciate how he feels. This is part of what he says about it:

In America it's different. There's no reservation at all. There's an outgoing nature among Americans which we just don't have. That's why you see videos on Youtube of troops being clapped through airports. But it's more than that, they treat their soldiers and veterans with a respect we don't. Soldiers are invited onto aircraft to take their seats first. They're honoured at sports games. In their hometowns their treated like minor celebrities. In Britain our troops are told not to wear uniforms outside barracks in case they are attacked. What kind of country does that makes us? Charities like SSAFA and Help For Heroes have to step in and do the things for veterans which in America would be done by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

That's right. In America, there is a whole Government department for looking after veterans. In the UK, it's a charity.

I urge you to read the article and watch the video clips. And then imagine you were in a UK airport and some British soldiers walked through, and everyone there stood up and gave a spontaneous round of applause.

Unthinkable, isn't it?

You'd probably be arrested for hate-crime.

I'm going to do what Iain suggests, and next time I meet a soldier I am going to shake his hand and thank him (or her, of course) for what he is doing. Or toot my horn and give a wave when I pass a convoy on the road. Perhaps you might consider doing this too.

Addendum to last post

Leg Iron covered this story a bit more sympathetically than I did (he thinks she's pretty, for one), but had this classic comment to make regarding interview technique:

No matter what the interview is for. If it's a job cleaning sewers, you want to look smart for the interview. Turning up covered in shit will not be regarded as 'being keen to get started'.


Friday 24 September 2010

Any Old Iron

A story in yesterday's Telegraph made me smile. I don't know why, because it's highly irritating, but I smiled.

Hayley O'Neil, 23, was given some unwelcome advice when visiting her local Job Centre:

A woman with 30 tattoos claims she was told to ''put a bag over her head'' when she went for a job interview. Hayley O'Neil, 23, - who also has 20 body piercings - says was also advised to ''stand behind a wall'' when she asked a job centre official what post she could apply for.

Here she is:


The adviser might have been a little clumsy in his approach, but what he said was bang on the money:

"The guy said: 'on first impressions do you think anyone would hire you?' "

I had better 'fess up here, and say that I don't have any tattoos or piercings, and I regard an excess of them as ugly and clichéd - they remind me of kids at school who couldn't stop scribbling on their exercise book covers in blue biro - but as far as I am concerned anyone who wishes to can do whatever they like to their own bodies. Hayley agrees:

"He talked to me as though I was just going through a phase in my life, but this is my lifestyle choice, and this is who I am."

Yay for you, Hayley! Be an individual, just like all the others!

In her crusade for personal freedom, of course, she forgets the other side: if she is free to look however she wishes, then employers are free not to employ her as they wish.

She may think that she is merely expressing a personal lifestyle preference, but a lot of people find highly-visible tattoos and facial piercings quite threatening. If she were a waitress, for example, she might find that a lot of customers won't be too keen to pay a second visit if the person serving them looks like something out of a low-grade circus or a street gang. Employers know this, and tend to prefer employing people who make customers feel comfortable, on the grounds that putting customers off is not a good way to survive in a competitive marketplace.

That's a fact of life, and Hayley's chances of employment are slim until she takes that on board. Until she does, she will be looking for work, while the rest of us pay for her 'lifestyle choice'.

Thanks to Subrosa for the link.

Shoot To Kill

There's a predictability about the reactions of Mark Saunders' family to his termination by the police marksmen. They have been highly critical of the police decision to shoot Mr Saunders after he was seen brandishing a shotgun out of a window. Yeah, nasty old police, trigger-happy, didn't give the guy a fair chance, what's the world coming to, etc., etc.

I don't want to be too hard on the family, who have lost a loved one in dramatic and unusual circumstances. But let's look at the facts.

A man is drunk, and unpredictable due to a combination of mood-controlling medication and cocaine. He is still drinking heavily. He has a shotgun, and is waving it out of an open window. He has already fired shots. The shots have hit private property. Some of these shots would have gone through a child's bedroom window if police hadn't erected bullet-proof screens beforehand. (It is likely these shots were directed at police, who were stationed in or on that house.)

Now this is only going to end one way, in my view. Unless you unequivocally disarm yourself, and make it clear that you have done so (for example, by dropping the gun and coming out with your hands up), then you are going to be stopped. And if those doing the stopping are armed police officers, then it's likely to be fatal. For you. So, surrounded by police marksmen and after several hours of negotiation, what did Mark Saunders do? He lowered the gun to the horizontal in the direction of police officers. He died seconds later.

And a good thing too.

These people who are criticising the police for not negotiating further, for being hasty, for lacking judgement and compassion for a clearly troubled individual - well, what would you have the police do? Allow the guy to carry on shooting and just hope he doesn't hit anyone? While being shot at yourself, be cool and skilful enough to disable the guy with a shot to the knees?

(It's worth thinking at this juncture about what we, as individuals, would actually do if faced with the same circumstances. You have a man, who you don't know, who is armed and has already fired his weapon. He is in a public place. People could get hurt. You have your own weapon trained on him. You watch. You wait. And then he lowers the gun and points it in the direction of some people (those people are your colleagues, but they are people nonetheless). What do you do? At what point does the situation become critical? Do you hesitate, and hope and pray that he's not going to shoot this time? Put down your weapon because you don't believe in killing, and it's someone else's problem, really? (And hope that someone you love isn't next in the firing line.) Or do you assess the best interests of everyone, decide that the danger to public safety at that instant is too acute, and act? Act, in the knowledge that you might get it wrong, and have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life, or right, and do your little bit to make the world a safer place? Because at that moment: It. Is. Up. To. You.

Very few of us are ever put in that situation, and thank God for that. But for those who face these situations on our behalf, we must trust them to make the right decisions as best as they can, praise them when they get it right, and understand when they get it wrong.)

The police did exactly what I would hope they would do in the circumstances - indentify an immediate threat to the safety and wellbeing of the general population, and act decisively to prevent loss of life.

So he was depressed, or drunk, or unhappy, or confused, or stressed. Sorry, I don't care. I've been all of those things, and I didn't shoot at people to 'blow off steam'. If you pose a serious threat to life and limb, then expect the police to stop you by whatever means they can. I have no sympathy, I'm afraid. There is a simple way to avoid being shot by the police, and that is not to fire your shotgun at random in a public place.

Quote of the Day

From Charlotte Gore:

See, Progressivism is about selling fantastic dreams - work less, earn more, play more, become more attractive, be more admired by your peers, end hunger, end poverty, create world peace, abolish cancer, save the whales, save the planet all by simply voting once every few years and telling people, hey, I voted for cool. Musicians, actors, comedians… all manner of people who depend on being ‘in’ and ‘hip’ to make a living align themselves with progressive politics. Cos it’s cool. It’s one giant circle-jerk of ‘cool’.

That is, of course, only when the Progressive movement is led by someone cool superstar politicians – Clinton, Blair, Obama – then the circle-jerk actually works.

You sense a 'but' coming ...

However when the leader is someone lacking in cool – Gore (the less charismatic and distinctly more bonkers Gore), Kerry or Gordon Brown – then there is no circle of cool, the Progressive Party languishes in failure and defeat.

Very true, and it is why some of us are so pleased about the quality of candidates for the Labour leadership.

UPDATE: The post in question seems to have unaccountably disappeared. Link amended.

UPDATE 2: Link restored.

Thursday 23 September 2010

Modern Policing

From the Torygraph:

Police give up the fight as yobs take over

Police have lost control of the streets, the forces' watchdog warns as new figures show that an estimated 14 million incidents of anti-social behaviour take place each year – one every two seconds.

Sir Denis O'Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, says the rowdy and abusive behaviour of yobs is a "disease" within communities that has been allowed to "fester" because police have retreated from the streets in the past two decades.

In a report, he claims that forces have been guilty of chasing crime statistics and targets and ignoring anti-social behaviour or "screening out" 999 calls because it is deemed "not real police work".

I'm starting to sound like a Daily Mail reader, but isn't this what everyone has been saying for years? Go and read the whole thing: it's a revelation. And how's this for a statistic:

Earlier this year, Sir Denis disclosed that just one in 10 police officers was free to tackle crime at any given time because the vast majority were either off work or tied up on other duties.

In fact, that '1 in 10' may be optimistic: Wat Tyler over at BOM calculates that, at half past midnight on a Friday night, as little as 6.4% of the total police strength is available to deal with problems. Of the rest,

... half are permanently deployed on other matters, a further 42% aren't rostered for duty that night, and of those that are, a further 2% are off sick, on holiday, or on restricted duties. Which leaves just 6% available to do the job when we need it done.

What kind of muddle-headed, unfocused, plain stupid way is that to deploy your resources? (And what are the "other matters" that keep the police from doing the job we expect them to do?) It seems the police aren't around when they are needed to keep the streets safe for ordinary people at night, but when it comes to someone being 'offended' by a casual remark by a stranger, a Rapid Response team of trained, heavily-armed officers are instantly available to arrest and question some mild-mannered 45-year-old who happened to say something that sounded a bit like 'Paki'. I'm not condoning racism, by the way; just staggered by the lack of proportion.

~~~ Wavy lines ~~~
Let's go back a few years ...
~~~ Wavy lines ~~~

I can remember a time when crimes were things like burglary, assault, theft - things that actually harm people and make their lives miserable. If you dropped litter in the street, someone - usually a passing stranger - would pick you up on it. If a policeman saw you, he would have words and, if you were young, tell your parents. If you vandalised anything, you would be caught, humiliated, made to put it right, and have a criminal record. If, God forbid, you actually stole something, you would be arrested and probably sent to prison - even for a first offence. Assault, if unprovoked, would get you some gaol-time for certain. (And if you hit someone because they hit you first, the policeman would probably say "he had it coming to him" and say no more about it.)

People were well-behaved in general, for three reasons: one was that getting caught was quite likely; the second was that punishments were certain, and something to be feared; and the third was that a criminal record was something to be avoided at all costs. Having 'previous' would limit you to certain low-grade jobs for the rest of your life and, as a consequence, people made a big effort not to get one. Mainly by not breaking the law.

It was easier to stay within the law in those days as well. There weren't as many to obey. As long as you went about your business without harming anyone, you could pretty much guarantee that you would not break any laws. In other words, anyone with a conscience and reasonable self-control could virtually forget that we even had a legal system. Just get on with your life, don't bother anyone else, and it is likely no-one will bother you. And if they do, the police will be there and the justice system will be entirely on your side.

~~~ Wavy lines ~~~

Not any more. Today, if you catch a burglar who has been threatening your wife and children with a knife and give him a good pasting, it's you that will be on the assault charge. If you object to people parading the streets calling for the murder of all those who don't follow their faith, it's you that is the racist. (Gordon Brown's remark about that "bigoted woman" was sooooooo revealing.) If you make a private remark about someone and it is overheard by someone else - anyone - and that person is offended by what you say, it's you that is up on a hate-crime charge.

And when you really need the police, you just have to hope that the 6.4% of the force available to help you at that time do not decide to classify your cry for help as non-urgent, and therefore meet their targets while you suffer God knows what on your own.

I can't remember the last time I saw a policeman walking along the street, just 'patrolling'. You don't even see many in their cars round here. And yet police on the streets, stopping crime before it happens, is what people actually want. I'm coming round to the idea of locally-elected police chiefs (I can't seriously call them 'sheriffs'), who will ensure that the police force in their areas do what the public want them to do, and not what Whitehall or the police themselves think they should do.

Sir Hugh Orde, the head of ACPO, said last year:

"We must be operationally independent in terms of how we deliver policing. We should not be influenced by anyone who has any potential or suggestion for a political basis."

This is amusing, from the head of a body that has done more to get into bed with the previous Government than seemed possible a few years ago. But what does he mean by "anyone who has the ... suggestion for a political basis"? To me, that means someone who is elected by the local population on a mandate to promote certain priorities. That's what 'political' means. And "operationally independent"? That's code for "we know best".

This is a bit like what we heard when the BNP got a couple of MEPs:

"But the people elected them!"
"Well, the people are wrong!"

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Geoffrey Burgon

I was sitting in the car in Morrisons car park today, having a quiet listen to Radio Four, as you do, when I heard the news that Geoffrey Burgon had died.

He was best known for his film and television themes, where he was able to turn out music that was both moody and melodic, and highly memorable. The two best known were the theme to Granada's Brideshead Revisited in 1981, and the magical setting of the Nunc Dimittis which played out every episode of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in 1979. But I remember him for a much more obscure work - so obscure that it doesn't even feature in his Wikipedia entry. Even his own website doesn't list it.

In 1984, The National Federation of Music Societies (now known, tediously, as 'Making Music'), with funding from the Arts Council, commissioned a work from Burgon as part of its Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1985. The work was commissioned to be sung at twelve regional performances by choirs made up of local music societies. Its title was Revelations, and the composer combined the words of St John the Divine in the last book of the Bible with the words of four mystical and visionary poems: Yeats' 'The Cold Heaven', Emily Dickinson's 'Behind Me Dips Eternity', 'But Sweet Sister Death' by David Jones, and 'Darest thou, O soul, walk out with me towards the unknown region' by Walt Whitman. It's a stunning and thought-provoking collection.

At the time I was a member of the local Choral Society (top tenor, since you ask), and as we were the crack choir of the area, we were invited to make up part of the regional choir. We rehearsed the work for several weeks and eventually performed it in Lincoln Cathedral. For the performance, it was paired with the Fauré Requiem, which made an odd combination.

Performing any work will let the music get well under your skin, but this one really got to me. It was very modern in style and harmonic structure, which pleased me and irritated the older members of the choir. In places, all four parts were split, giving eight melodic lines, and some of the harmonies made Phil Spector's 'Wall Of Sound' seem like a cheap MP3 player. It was the first piece I ever sang where both major and minor chords were sung simultaneously. It's frighteningly hard to pitch, and it ought to have grated, but the effect was cataclysmic and incredibly moving. I enjoyed rehearsing and performing that work as much as any I have done.

I still have the vocal score, but although I have searched everywhere I have not been able to track down a recording. I would love to hear it again.

Thank you, Geoffrey Burgon, for some lovely music.

Monday 20 September 2010

iPhone resolved?

My new iPhone was delivered this morning, by a surly twat who didn't take my navigational assistance (yesterday) very well. It was evening before I got round to unwrapping it, and the problems weren't over. It didn't have the latest software version and wanted to update itself, which I did. But then we were back in the loop of :

1. iTunes has detected a phone in Recovery mode - phone must be restored
2. Click 'Restore'
3. Wait 35-40 minutes
4. Phone could not be restored - unknown error (error 37)
5. Disconnect and reconnect
6. GOTO 1.

I tried it on the same computer, but using a different login, as suggested by the delectable Maria from Portugal. Same result. So I phoned Apple Care. It was America again, and at first the rather superior chap on the other end wouldn't talk to me until I had signed up for 12 months' worth of additional warranty. But I explained what had happened in words of one syllable, and asked him to treat the call as a follow-up to an existing case, rather than a new issue. This seemed to work. He suggested doing the restore on a different computer, as sometimes anti-virus software can interfere with iTunes' ability to do this. He said it was an issue that Apple were aware of and were addressing. I bet he says that to all the boys. But it worked. I restored the phone on the netbook and then re-synced it with the laptop, and all is well.

So far.

Look out for a resumption of picture attachments, if the iPhone stays up for long enough.

Fear of Heights

Two days ago, I posted a video clip of some linemen working on a communications tower. In common with a lot of the commenters on Obo's original post, watching the clip made me feel physically sick and I had to stop. I had a feeling of panic and dread in my chest, and my stomach was churning. This is not a figure of speech: I had these physical symptoms. I have watched any number of nasty things (usually out of curiosity, I have to say) and I have never had a reaction like it.

OK, confession time: I am not good with heights. It's not vertigo. I have suffered from vertigo (proper vertigo, loss of balance, swimming vision, puking, the lot) in the past and it isn't pleasant. But these aren't the symptoms I get if I am somewhere high and exposed. What I get is a feeling of dread, which makes me want to drop to the floor and crawl away from the edge. If I can't get away, I retreat into a swearing, sweating mass of nervousness. Heart-rate goes to 200 bpm and I want to die. I've thought about this a lot over the years, and I have concluded that what triggers it is open space. Open space over my head and to the side is fine. But open space below me makes me panic. It doesn't have to be a sheer drop: anything below about 30° below the horizontal sets me off. I had one of my worst episodes on Striding Edge in the Lakes:

You can see that there are no sheer drops off Striding Edge, just long and fairly steep slopes which go down for a long way. If you slipped and fell you would go, but you wouldn't go far. So it's not a fear of falling as such. Anna and I had climbed up from Glenridding and got about half-way up Striding Edge when Anna froze and couldn't go any further. She was trembling and in tears, so we cancelled our plan to get to the summit of Helvellyn and retraced our steps back down, very gingerly. I was being all brave and manly, but in fact I was almost on the point of panic myself, and I was grateful to have an excuse to retreat. The fact that there were youngsters leaping between rocks and casually ignoring the absence of landscape below us made it all the more humiliating. Strangely, I climbed Swirral Edge on the opposite side of Red Tarn in my twenties, in thick snow, using ice axes to cut steps up the steepest part, and I was fine. Keenly focused on what I was doing, as it were, but fine. So this thing has come on during my thirties.

It's all visual. It seems as though if the reference points (anything well below the horizontal) are taken away, my brain starts to panic. It needs substantial contact with something solid before the brain will accept it. I can look over steep cliffs if I am lying down, for example. And here's a funny thing: Anna and I once climbed Jack's Rake on Pavey Ark.

This has been described as "extremely exposed" and a man died after falling off it in 2008. The route scales a crag diagonally, and the drop is absolutely sheer. There is a flake of rock to protect you from the drop for most of the way, but towards the top this disappears, and the final section is a scramble up a bare lump of rock with nothing to either side and the drop behind you. And yet we did it without a problem. The reason? Thick mist. (We were out with experienced people who knew the area well, so this wasn't as daft as it sounds.) My brain knew that we were a long way from the next bit of horizontal ground, but althought that made me take great care, the simple knowledge didn 't bother me, as I couldn't see it. If the clouds had parted and the view from half-way up revealed, I think I would still be there. I wouldn't have been able to move a muscle.

While reading the comments to the video clip, I had the thought that, if some magical force could put a huge circle of paper round and through the tower, so that I could climb without being able to see what was below (but, crucially, know I was not protected from a fall), I would be as able to do it as anyone. Without that kind of visual mask, I would be frozen to the spot. I would be tempted to throw myself off, just to end the torture. I can walk along the top of a six-foot wall, for example, but would be completely unable to do so on a hundred-and-six foot wall.

One rather disturbing thought, which is at the back of my mind throughout all of this, is that if I am somewhere with a big drop (there are a few of these in Pembroke Castle), I sort-of project forward in time and watch myself fall. It's almost as if might throw myself off and be unable to stop myself.

Oddly, I have climbed and abseiled underground without any real problems. The difference is that in caves it is dark. I think my biggest descent and climb was about 120ft in Easegill, but when all you can see below you are the tiny headlamps of your colleagues in a pitch-black cavern, there is no visual reference and no panic.

Sorry if this post rambles and gets nowhere (what's new, huh?), but the video clip had such a strong reaction with me, and it woke up thoughts that have been safely tucked away for a long time. Better out than in, as they say.

Postscript: something else has just occurred to me - all these panic moments have been when I have been going up. I could walk down Striding Edge no problem. I once climbed the stairs to the second étage of the Eiffel Tower and made myself very scared, but once I had started coming down again, I was fine. Strange.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Poped Out

I only ever watch TV while I am eating my tea, and I usually flick on the BBC News channel for half an hour to catch up. For the last four days, it has been wall-to-wall Popery. I'm not sure I know what the BBC is up to here. It seems as though the coverage has been even more intense than if a US President were visiting - and certainly a lot more uncritical. In fact, the BBC coverage has been awash with the kind of sycophancy usually only reserved for Great and Good figures like Nelson Mandela.

There was a revealing comment made by Matthew Amroliwala this evening, as we watched the Papal jet taxiing across the apron (along with "I'm told that if you look at the third window back, that's where His Holiness will be sitting"). The total cost of the visit to Britain is in the region of £12m, and we were informed that half of the cost will be met by the Catholic Church, and the other half by ... The Government.

NO, NO, NO. The Government doesn't have any money of its own. That money is taxpayers' money. We have given it to the Government to spend on our behalf. If the BBC were truthful, he would have said "half the cost will be met by the British taxpayer". Doesn't sound quite as cosy, does it?

Sounds better than something Anna said, though. As His Ineffable Hugeness [© Peter Cook, Bedazzled, 1967] and David Cameron sat down together in chairs under a gazebo-like canopy in the middle of a runway surrounded by men in frocks and other men in San Serriffe-style begonged uniforms (a bizarre setting, truly), she said that she was glad it was Cameron and not Tony Blair doing the greeting. "If that had been Tony Blair, we'd have seen him kissing his ring and everything." I swallowed down the small bolus of vomit that had risen from my throat and pushed my food away.

And in other news ...

I went to the Vintage Motorcycle Club bike display at Saundersfoot harbour this morning. It's a great setting for a show, with the harbour on two sides of the display area. And there was a good café selling all-day breakfasts, so the TOMCC all met in there for an early fry-up. The show was excellent, as usual. There were very few immaculate restorations trailered in for the occasion: the majority of bikes were in roadworthy but everyday condition, which is how I like to see them. There was a good mixture: some modern 'classics' like a Honda CB400N Dream (eurgh) and close by a CB400F, which was a delight. There were a lot of good honest British 60s bikes, like Bonnevilles, Tigers, BSAs and Nortons, with some unusual characters like an unrestored Scott two-stroke and something with an Ariel chassis and a V-twin engine that I didn't recognise. There were a number of proper 'Veterans', like flat-tank Triumphs from the 1920s anf two examples of the 'Neracar', a feet-forward design that prefigured the Quasar and Voyager that were discussed on this blog recently.

There was a ride-out organised which, I was told, was open to modern bikes as long as they rode behind at a respectful distance. But this wasn't a mass ride-out; all the entrants had been given a roadbook and were setting off individually. I took off and followed a sedate BSA for a few miles, but eventually I got bored and took the longer (and quicker) way home.

No pics, sorry to say, as the new iPhone still hasn't arrived. It was sent last Thursday, and I tracked it through the UPS website. Apparently, they tried to deliver it on Friday, but no-one was home. There was a point mid-way through the afternoon when I was out and Anna was collecting blackberries in the field, so I assumed that was the time they tried and failed to deliver. Then some people, who some time ago had rented a house half a mile away and who had been there to check on the post, called in with a UPS "Sorry but you were out" note. UPS had tried (and failed) to deliver my new phone to an empty house. I went down this evening and pinned a note to the door of the empty house which said "You are a dickhead", only more politely, and with directions to where I really live. They plan to re-try tomorrow.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday 18 September 2010


"Do you file your nails after you have cut them?"

"No, I usually just throw them away."



Once I had shut down the appalling misery and stark terror of the clip in the previous post, I had a look around, and I came across this. Normally, I can't be bothered with any four-wheeled motorsport, but this is something spectacular: Gymkhana. Ford Fiesta, slightly modified, 650 bhp, and a bucketload of talent.

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