Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Non à Halloween

The BBC reports encouraging news from France:

Halloween is said to be dying in France after a short-lived bonanza, according to media reports.

It seems the festival, which came to prominence in the late 1990s, is in decline because it is perceived as "too American".

An association called No to Halloween - which was set up to combat the trend - has now wound down as a result of the festival's waning appeal.

It said Halloween was artificially inflated to serve commercial interests.

Norfolk Blogger does not like the new festival either. And I had my say last year:
good honest begging, involving some creative effort and hours of shivering on street corners, has gone. It has been replaced by a form of demanding money with menaces: Trick or Treat?

Curiosity of the Day

The result is in and (rustle, rustle) the winner is The Kinema in the Woods at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire.

Monday, October 30, 2006

When Mark Oaten nudged Edward Heath

There is a review of Greg Hurst's biography of Charles Kennedy on the Social Affairs Unit website. It includes a quotation from the book which reveals a hitherto unremarked service rendered to Kennedy by the member for Winchester:

Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten emerges as a Kennedy loyalist. This extended to an important role at Prime Minister's Question Time. Kennedy's performances were hesitant but his team:

became aware that the somnolent posture of Edward Heath beside him made the visual impression still worse. Each week thereafter Mark Oaten made a point of squeezing onto the bench next to Edward Heath and giving the former Prime Minister a vigorous nudge just before Charles Kennedy rose to speak.

Duncan Hannah

More on the painter of "Mystery at Nevill Holt" (or "Mystery at Bonkers Hall", as I think of it):
These days Duncan Hannah is known for his nostalgia-ridden figurative paintings that take their inspiration from 1930s England. But 25 years ago he had a brief career as an underground film actor, appearing in a series of black-and-white movies by Amos Poe that sought to transplant the Parisian cool of the early Nouvelle Vague to the heroin-infused punk-rock milieu of New York's Lower East Side.

Jim Wallace to publish memoirs

Jim Wallace's call for the Holyrood First Minister and his or her deputy to have a seat in a reformed House of Lords has gained some publicity. That call was made at a lecture at Glasgow University this evening.

On Sunday the Herald reported that he is to go further next year and publish his memoirs. The paper said:
He has hinted there could be revelations that will cause embarrassment to some. The book will give his account of the frosty relations he had with Paddy Ashdown, who sought to do a Labour-LibDem deal with Tony Blair and to direct the Scottish coalition arrangements from London.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mystery at Bonkers Hall

I have remarked before that many literary scholars regard Nevill Holt in Leicestershire as the model for Bonkers Hall, the ancestral home of my old friend Lord Bonkers.

With this in mind, it is interesting to read a Times feature on David Ross, co-founder of the Carphone Warehouse, who bought the old pile when it closed as a prep school and converted it back into a private house.

Its author, Caroline Donald, describes the character of the place:

The 30,000sq ft house sits on top of a gentle hill ... with huge views over the Welland Valley. It is a gloriously eccentric architectural assortment, with castellations, turrets, cloisters and wings added to the original 13th-century great hall over the years. It was home to the Cunard family from 1876 to 1912; Nancy Cunard, the writer and society hostess, was born there in 1896.

Elaborate wrought-iron gates lead back to the lower lawn. Along with the weather vane on the house, they were made by Sir Bache Cunard, Nancy’s father, in his workshop in the tower.

Googling "Nevill Holt" also throws up this painting - "Mystery at Nevill Holt" by Duncan Hannah. No doubt it stems from the Hall's time as a school, but Lord Bonkers would probably conclude that one of the Well-Behaved Orphans has got over the wall.


FreeThink points us towards an article in the Daily Mail.

Henry Porter in the Observer

Porter now occupies the role that Nick Cohen used to have in the Observer. He is the columnist who makes you cheer by exposing this government's assault on liberty.

Today's piece is especially good:
What runs through all this seems to be a rather surprising dislike of the British people. It was once possible to believe the government's unusual attention to law, order and behaviour was benevolent yet ill-conceived. Now it looks more like the result of late-onset sociopathy, influenced by a long period in power and the degenerate entanglement between Downing Street and the seething red-top newspapers.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

We'll always have Powys

The Shropshire Star reports:
TV weathergirl Sian Lloyd today scoffed newspaper reports that her two-year engagement to Mid Wales MP Lembit Opik had ended.

Rumours began to fly after the Welsh-born weather presenter appeared on TV last week without her engagement ring.

But Sian today denied there was any possibility that the couple were splitting.

“It’s absolute nonsense,” she said today.
I'm sorry to include such a trivial story, but I have been itching for the chance to use this headline. I also note that the Star does not bother to put the little dots over Lembit's O.

Later. I assume they mean "scoffed at newspaper reports".

Friday, October 27, 2006

House Points: Safeguarding vulnerable groups?

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News. It owes an indecent amount to the Manifesto Club report The Case Against Vetting: How the Child Protection Industry is Damaging Social Relations.

Checking out

On Monday MPs from all parties gave final approval to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill. Who could object to legislation designed to ensure people who work with children do not endanger them?

Well, let’s have a try.

First, look at the scale of the new law. A report from the libertarian Manifesto Club suggests that 9.5 million adults - a third of the working population - will be subject to regular criminal checks. Already a bewildering variety of groups have to undergo them: university lecturers who teach 17-year-olds, hospital secretaries, cricket umpires, teenagers whose parents mind a younger child.

On Monday, despite two years of consultation, the government still found more groups to include at the last minute.

Second, this explosion of vetting will discourage volunteering. To give a couple of hours helping at a school disco you will have to produce three forms of identification, pay £30 and wait for a month.

And it’s not just the expense and inconvenience: the involvement of the criminal records system reinforces the prejudice that there must be something odd about an adult who enjoys the company of children. Already the Scouting and Guiding Movement is struggling to find volunteers. To discourage them further at a time when everyone agrees youngsters need more exercise and more socialisation is crazy.

Third, it is not clear the new law will save children from abuse. It casts the net so widely that people will be too busy checking forms and covering their own backs to look at how a particular adult is behaving with children. And it is unlikely that notorious murderers like Ian Huntley or Thomas Hamilton would have been picked up.

Fourth, vetting will take a fortune out of the voluntary sector. Many volunteers have to pay to be checked themselves, which costs up to £30. Employers pay more than that. The Scout Association carries out 50,000 checks a year, at a total cost of £250,000. Still, it is all good news for Capita, whose deal with the Criminal Records Bureau will net it £400 million.

Fifth - and most important - there is Calder’s First Law of Politics: If men and women of good will from all parties unite to support a measure, it is bound to turn our disastrously.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Little blue men

In May 1997 a flying saucer was seen over Michael Howard's house in Kent.

I think that explains a lot.

Dave Hill on the BBC

The BBC makes heroes out of big babies like Jeremy Clarkson, bigheads like Jonathan Ross and big bullies like Chris Moyles - Grown Men Behaving Badly at our expense.

Nick Robinson Ate My Hamster

Lovers of political cartoons may enjoy this blog.

Lord Bonkers adds: The owner's portrait of me is regarded by many art historians as being his finest work.

Irony in Arundel

The BBC reports:
A West Sussex fire station which did not have a fire alarm fitted has been badly damaged in a blaze.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I've got a nice cuttlefish for you

Factchecking Pollyanna - the blog which keeps an eye on Polly Toynbee's Guardian columns - has woken up.

Its most recent posting looks at Toynbee's column on NICE and NHS funding for drugs. Tim Worstall is also worth reading on the subject.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Why aren't you in school, Mr Tompkins?

Red faces in Colchester last week:
A policing crackdown on truants hit a snag yesterday when it emerged many pupils were out of the classroom because of teacher-training days.

The "truancy sweep" across Colchester was a joint initiative between Essex Police and educational welfare officers from the county council.
All very amusing. But later on the East Anglian Daily Times report says:
Pc John Meacock and educational welfare officer Justine Musk headed to Tesco at Highwoods, where they spotted a number of youngsters with parents or grandparents.

But after a friendly word from Pc Meacock, it emerged they were all out with good reason - either teacher training or in one case a kidney infection.
The idea that you can be stopped by the police and asked to account for yourself simply because you are with your children has always seemed to me outrageous. It is something that would take place in totalitarian state. But we have become so used to the belief that the state cares more for our children than we do ourselves that it goes unremarked.

Found via Fair Deal Phil (cringe).

Anna Russell and Don Thompson

Two great eccentrics had their obituaries in the Guardian today.

Anna Russell, who has died at the age of 94, was a musician and satirist, famous for her lampoons of Wagner:

Once Siegfried has met Gutrune in Götterdämmerung, Russell reminded her listeners, "She's the only woman that Siegfried's ever come across who isn't his aunt."

When challenged by Wagnerites who felt she was ridiculing sacred art, she replied: "I merely tell the story as accurately as possible and play the bits of music exactly as written. I can't help it if the story is absurd."

I caught part of a radio programme about this remarkable woman a few months ago. You can find it here.

Don Thompson won a gold medal in the 50km walk at the Rome Olympics in 1960. As his obituary says:
Thompson's preparations for the steamy heat of Rome have gone down in sporting legend. Determined to be properly prepared, he trained for the race by exercising in temperatures of up to 38C (100F) in the bathroom of his home in Kent, which he had converted into a steam room using heaters and kettles of boiled water. "There was an electric heater attached to the wall and I thought, 'Well, that won't provide enough heat,'" Thompson said in an interview two years ago. "I had to boost the humidity too, so I got a Valor stove and put that in the bath. Half an hour was more than enough; I was feeling dizzy by then. It wasn't until several years later that I realised I wasn't feeling dizzy because of the heat; it was carbon monoxide from the stove."
Who needs Lottery funding when you have that spirit?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

Talking of Bridgnorth, this is rather wonderful.

Community action in Shropshire

The Star reports:
Residents faced with paying thousands of pounds to repair Bridgnorth council sewage works are considering taking over the plants themselves.

New blow to Cameron

David Cameron has received a further setback in his attempt to make the Conservative Party more representative of modern Britain.

At the start of the month I pointed to Newsnight research suggesting that so far 83 per cent of the Tory candidates selected to fight the next general election have been called "Rees-Mogg".

It has just got worse. Hot Ginger and Dynamite reports that Annunziata Rees-Mogg has been selected as Tory candidate for Somerton and Frome.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Me and Wogan vs Jonathan Ross

We know what's going on, me and Wogan.

Here is Terry quoted in today's Sunday Telegraph:

"As for those much-trumpeted seven-figure deals, I have the suspicion that the corporation is in some cases over-paying. Their excuse is that if they do not offer millions, the opposition will lure the talent away with honeyed words and equally large sums. Frankly the BBC is often giving huge quantities of money to people who would prefer to work for the corporation anyway. We can all name stars who have been persuaded to cross over from BBC to ITV, and it has ended in tears."
And this is what I wrote in Liberal Democrat News back in July:
But it is hard even to begin making the case for paying him £6 million a year when most BBC staff are suffering a pay squeeze. Their managers defend huge salaries for performers (and themselves) by appealing to the market. If we don’t pay them this sort of money, someone else will.

The answer to that is simple. Let them go. The backwaters of British broadcasting are teeming with people who thought that life would be better away from the BBC. Just ask Des Lynam. “I’ll have another consonant please, Carol.”

Or as Oliver Goldsmith put it:

Princes and Lords may flourish, or may fade:
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroyed can never be supplied.
Granted, with me you get a quotation from The Deserted Village thrown in. But basically me and Wogan are both men of the world and on the same wavelength.

Chocolate money for the Lib Dems

Good news from ePolitix:

The Liberal Democrats are to receive a £2m donation from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

The gift will be a major boost to the party, which according to its last accounts filed with the Electoral Commission had just under £300,000 at the end of 2005.

The trust, a charity which funds research into tackling 'social difficulties', has previously given money to Labour and the Greens, and has consistently supported the Lib Dems.

In 2003 it gave the party more than £500,000 to fight the local, Scottish and Welsh elections, and in 2004 and 2005 it donated £250,000.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

John Humphrys remembers Aberfan

The Aberfan disaster took place 40 years ago today:
I have always said and I will always say that nothing - nothing - I will ever see will compare to the horrors of that day.

From Pansea Bay to Phuket

Mark and Belinda Oaten have been to Thailand. I hope they had nice weather for it.

They have also been on Woman's Hour.

Top Welsh blogs, isn't it?

Iain Dale has a list.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Stop jabbing me with your umbrella

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

PO talk

These queues just get worse and worse, don’t they? Still, at least they give you time to chat.

On Monday the Liberal Democrats‘ (“Cashier number three“) called two Commons debates. One was on the need for green taxes and the other on the future of the Post Office.

Ed Davey opened the post office debate, his contribution made more urgent (“Cashier number one”) by the publication of an interview with Alistair Darling in that morning’s Financial Times. There Darling -- the Trade and Industry Secretary -- talked ominously of a further round of branch closures. Already (“Cashier number two”) a network that was 22,000 strong 20 years ago has dwindled to 14,326 offices.

According to Jim Fitzpatrick, a Darling underling, it’s all down to market forces. “The world is changing, and people are choosing to operate differently.” But in reality it is often government that (“Cashier number one”) that is making the choices.

As Ed said: “The problem has been caused by the government’s decisions over the past few years on pension books, television licences, passports and (“Cashier number three“) the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and by their indecision on the social network payment, the Post Office card account and the future of Royal Mail.”

And the Liberal Democrat alternative? It is to be found in the policy we approved at this year’s Spring Conference. Sell 49 per cent of the Post Office to raise capital, give it the power to borrow in (“Cashier number two”) the capital market and stop taking business away from the network.

Those who opposed these plans when they first appeared were afraid what Labour would say about them. But Labour is in no position to attack us over the Post Office. It is the Liberal Democrats who realise the importance of a flourishing network of sub post offices to the health of our communities. Labour has lost site of the public interest here altogether.

There is another point worth making. Most (“Cashier number one”) of those protesting against closures talk about rural post offices because their fate is the most emotive. But the loss of suburban offices (“Cashier number one”) is just as important…

All right, stop jabbing me with your umbrella. I was just going up there.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Hungarian Uprising 50 years on

Spiked seems to be getting its commemoration in early: the uprising began on 23 October 1956. But the site has two good articles on the subject.

First, Dave Hallsworth remembers a meeting of the Liverpool District Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain. There he called for the Soviet troops to get out of Hungary, and demanded that those present pledge their full support for the Hungarian workers and students in their attempt to replace Stalinism:
As I walked back from the podium to my seat in the audience, screams of ‘Trotskyist!’ hit me from all sides. Communist Party comrades who had been my friends hurled abuse at me, their faces screwed up with hatred. By the time I got back to my seat I was shouting back, telling them that, like the AVO (Hungarian secret policemen) who were then swinging on lamp posts as a result of people’s anger, their time on the end of a rope was nearing. I would not recommend this as a way to win political arguments.
Second, Frank Furedi recalls his experiences as a child refugee after the Soviet tanks rolled in (his father had been a member of the populist Smallholders Party):
My sister was certain that she would become a surgeon. My mother looked forward to a life where she did not have to worry about someone knocking on our door in the middle of the night. My dad talked ceaselessly about all the books he was going to read. And I was preparing to meet my first cowboy.

Paul Farrelly MP: Metaphor chutney

From yesterday's Hansard:
I suspect that taking a sledgehammer to crack a few nuts would drive a coach and horses through effective shareholder protection and company regulation in this country...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Charles Kennedy: "Some problems with the script"

Sad news from This is London:
There were fresh fears about Charles Kennedy's health today after he pulled out of hosting an awards ceremony.

Mr Kennedy, who resigned as Liberal Democrat leader after admitting a drink problem, had to be replaced by the BBC's Jeremy Vine just an hour before the event began.

He reportedly stumbled over his lines and struggled to read the autocue. One eyewitness said he was slurring his words and "did not look in a good way."
As Guido Fawkes says, the explanation by a Kennedy spokesman - "I spoke to Charles about the event and I gather some problems with the script occurred" - has the potential of legend about it.

Like all Lib Dem members, I wish Charles well. But I fear those who have been conducting polls on how soon he should return to the front bench have been rather premature.

Sarah Teather opposes school fingerprinting

No, she has not come out against messy methods in art classes. It is far more serious than that.

The Register reports:
Shadow ministers for the Libdems (sic.) and Conservatives have condemned schools that fingerprint children.

Liberal Democrat shadow education secretary Sarah Tether (sic.) and Conservative shadow minister for schools Nick Gibb spoke out on Teachers TV. The issue is coming to a head because parents are preparing a case against schools that have installed fingerprinting systems over the summer and started fingerprinting children without their parents' consent.

"They should not be doing this," Gibb said of fingerprinting schools. "They should find another method of identification for borrowing library books."

He said there were serious civil liberties issues about a government that amassed databases of people's fingerprints.

Tether (sic.) told Teachers TV: "Fingerprinting three year olds to borrow library books is clearly excessive and completely over the top. There's a serious issue here. The government must get some legal advice."
Found via ARCH blog.

Farm subsidies do more damage

The other day I wrote about the way in which subsides paid to farmers have cut the funding that goes to Britain's canal system.

There was an article by Peter Hetherington in the Guardian today showing that the way Defra spends its money does more damage than that. Coastal defence, research grants and much else are being cut so that money can go to agriculture:
For Neil Ward, a government adviser and director of Newcastle University's centre for rural economy, the financial crisis underlines the continuing dominance of agriculture in a department that is meant to focus on the wider countryside economy.

The department, he recalls, was formed to "break with the past" and address a wider rural agenda on the back of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic, which cost the taxpayer at least £2bn. In reality, however, Ward says the non-farming rural economy is still being marginalised, with farming taking the bulk of Defra's budget, despite the fact that 26,000 agricultural jobs disappeared between 1998 and 2002 alone, with 270,000 new jobs being created in non-farming rural enterprises.

"Agriculture is now recapturing some of the money that should be going to other rural interests," Ward complains. "It is still a very well protected industry, and although farmers complain, they are helped considerably when, arguably, the village post office is not."

In the next financial year, farming support is projected by Defra to cost almost £2.8bn directly - by far the largest slice of its budget - with "rural affairs and natural resources" getting just £488,000.

Quote of the Day: Adrian Sanders

Adrian Sanders, Lib Dem MP for Torbay, complains that his office did not receive credit for its help with this story in today's Daily Telegraph:
An inquiry was demanded last night into how British tourism chiefs were spending £10 million on an internet accommodation service which produced just over 400 hotel bookings this summer.
Never mind, Adrian. At least you have won an award for this quotation:
It would have been cheaper for the Government to pay for the 428 holidays!

Health news from the Welsh Border

I am afraid this story comes from yesterday's Shropshire Star. But the approach to hospital management it reveals is so novel that it is still worth passing on:
Concerned patients in the Powys area have been assured that they remain a key priority to hospital bosses.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

J. M. Barrie and Peter Pan

I am watching Alan Yentob's Imagine... programme on J. M. Barrie and Peter Pan.

He has interviewed Andrew Birkin, who wrote the 1978 television plays The Lost Boys. And if you are interested in the background to this tale, there is no better place to go than Birkin's website.

Death of a goalkeeper

So come all you Glasgow Celtic,
Stand up and play the game,
For between your posts a spirit stands,
Johnny Thomson is his name.

The injuries suffered by Carlo Cudicini and, in particular, Petr Cech at Reading on Saturday recall the sad story of the Celtic keeper John Thomson. As the club's official site tells the story:
On Saturday, September 5th, 1931, the Celtic goalkeeper John Thomson received a serious head injury while playing against Rangers at Ibrox. He died later in hospital, having never regained consciousness after the incident.

The death of a footballer in his prime is thankfully rare, and even rarer on the field of play. Even after this length of time, John Thomson's untimely death at the age of just 22 remains one of football's great tragedies. A young goalkeeper, already the first choice for his club and country, with a long and distinguished career seemingly ahead of him, dead as a result of an accident during a game.

Thomson was renowned for his bravery and fearlessness, and his dive at the feet of the Rangers forward Sam English as the player went to shoot was visible evidence of those virtues. As English shot, John Thomson's head took the full impact of the Rangers player's knee, leaving the goalkeeper unconscious and his head bleeding.

Quote of the Day: Alan Bennett

The great man in today's Guardian:
"I heard Jonathan Ross complaining recently that my portrayal of childhood in the 1980s was nothing like his and I thought: thank God for that."
It's not the most daring or original recommendation, but Bennett's Untold Stories - just out in paperback - is a wonderful read.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Madonna and the orphans

I am amused by the news reports that "children's rights campaigners" are trying to prevent Madonna taking a child out of Malawi.

Inter-country adoptions raise all sorts of issues, but it is a strange view of a child's rights that see them as being best secured by living in an institution. I am reminded of the Secretary-Superintendent of the Southern Railway Servants' Orphanage who, in 1944 wrote that large orphanages were just like public schools and asked why the orphan should be treated differently from the child of the rich man.

Lord Bonkers writes: I hope we are not going to see orphans treated as fashion accessories, but if by any chance you do want to treat an orphan as a fashion accessory, please ring the Bonkers; Home for Well-Behaved Orphans and ask for the Sales Department.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill

This morning Russell Eagling was one of the signatories of a letter to The Times on the government's Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill. It began:
We believe that the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill is a misguided response to a small number of tragic, but fortunately rare, incidents involving the abuse of children. The Bill will mean that up to a third of the adult working population — those who come into contact with children through their work or volunteering — will be subject to continuous criminal-records vetting. This could include babysitters and private tutors, as well as those who merely have access to information about children. The massive expansion of vetting is driven by suspicion and paranoia.
Russell writes about this issue on the Centre Forum's FreeThink blog.

There is more over at Spiked: articles by Josie Appleton and David Clements, and a link to the Manifesto Club report: The Case Against Vetting: How the Child Protection Industry is Damaging Social Relations.

This is one of those issues I worry away at, hoping that one day the Liberal Democrats will one day here something the Labourite mainstream of professionals might disagree with. The omens are not good. Already in this parliament John Pugh has been heard sounding regretful that "children are necessarily brought up by amateurs".

Somerset Tories' Upper Class Twit of the Year Contest

The betting for this prestigious event has been thrown wide open.

Jacob-Rees Mogg was such a short-priced favourite after his comment that people who had not been to Oxbridge were "potted plants" that bookies in Crewkerne and Midsomer Norton had already paid out.

Now (according to the Daily Mail, so it must be true) David Heathcoat-Amery has made a late bid for the title:
Black Labour MP Dawn Butler has made a formal complaint about former Tory Minister David Heathcoat-Amory, claiming he insulted her and a group of ethnic-minority visitors to Parliament, telling them: "The place is going to wrack and ruin. They are letting anyone in these days."
Thanks to Hot Ginger and Dynamite for the leads.

Jenni Russell smells the coffee

At last someone at the Guardian has woken up to the fact that Gordon Brown is no friend to liberty:
Essentially, Brown is promising the same policy as that pursued by Blair, except stronger, wider, tougher.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Oaten warning

A correspondent has just informed me that Mark and Belinda Oaten are being interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour on Tuesday morning (10-10.45 a.m.)

A spy in the sky from Brass Eye

The other day I suggested that John Reid's idea of paying foreign prisoners to go home may have owed something to Chris Morris's cashback scheme from Brass Eye.

Because I enjoyed Brass Eye so much I allowed the quotation to run on. Next we heard Rhodes Boyson agreeing that it might be a good idea to have the cashback scheme policed by Richard Branson hovering over the offenders in a balloon.

These days satire has to run fast to keep ahead of reality. The BBC reports:

Police have played down reports that spy planes could be flown high above the streets of Merseyside as a way to fight anti-social behaviour.

Merseyside Police's new anti-social behaviour (ASB) task force is exploring a number of technology-driven ideas.

But while the use of surveillance drones is among them, they would be a "long way off", police said.

Given a year or two, I am sure the police will catch up with Chris Morris.

Labour Watch

It's time for a plug for the Labour Watch. site.

It has some cracking stories and a bold new design.

Blog Britannia

Tim Worstall's latest BritBlog Roundup is in place.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Patrcia Hewitt Google bombed

David from Save Hemel Hempstead Hospital writes:
If you type "Hospital Hater" in to Google and hit the 'I'm feeling lucky' button, there's a little suprise awaiting
I don't usually go in for this sort of thing, but (assuming it is the old West Herts Hospital) I had my arm set at Hemel Hempstead Hospital when I was 4.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Playing Matron at three-card brag

And they're off! The first House Points from the new parliamentary season. This column appears in Liberal Democrat News.

Education gamble

Culture, media and sport questions are usually obsessed with organised games in schools. But a
less healthy kind of activity featured prominently on Monday:
The roulette match against Fettes was won. The first XI are playing Eton at blackjack this afternoon and I expect a large and enthusiastic turn out to support them. And the boy who has still not paid Matron what he owes her from playing three-card brag: see me afterwards.
Mercifully, it was not school gambling they were talking about. But the government is in trouble with the adult variety. The days when Labour ministers imagined families enjoying days out at casinos are long gone. Now their ambition that Britain should become a world leader in online gambling looks equally questionable.

Gambling will always be with us. It is impossible to ban and must be regulated. But it is hard to see why government should encourage it.

Later Alan Johnson made a statement on young people in care. He spoke with feeling of the problems they face. They are five times less likely to get five good GCSEs and nine times more likely to be expelled from school than other children. A quarter of people in prison today have spent time in care . And he pledged that the government would do better in future.

The trouble is that Frank Dobson was saying much the same almost 10 years ago. Progress has been made, but it is dreadfully slow.

Everyone agreed on the need for more social workers, but Johnson’s statement hinted at a move from the professional model of care towards more of a family model. He wanted children to have long-term relationships with individual workers and those workers to be able to give children small sums of money for days out like a parent would.

Another proposal to win widespread support was compelling the best schools to take children from the care system. Sarah Teather welcomed it for the Liberal Democrats without mentioning that it goes against our wish for applications to secondary schools to be made anonymously.

But it would be best if that policy were quietly dropped. Children -including children in the care system - are individuals with unique abilities and needs. We need an education system and a care system that recognises this.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Armenian genocide

The French parliament has voted to make it an offence to make it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered "genocide" at the hands of the Turks, although this view is unlikely to make it into law.

I am instinctively against such moves, even when they concern the Nazi holocaust, because as a Liberal I believe that the truth will out. However, the Turkish government's refusal to recognise this episode in its own history is shameful. People can still be prosecuted for mentioning the fate of the Armenians, and the existence of such laws make it hard to be enthusiastic about Turkish accession to the European Union.

Nor am I a great admirer of the institution of Holocaust Memorial Day. One of the reasons for this is the way the organisers discourage any mention of the Armenians because it may affect relations with Turkey today. One cannot admire people who lecture the rest of us while acting in such a shamelessly pragmatic way themselves.

For more information on the Armenia genocide, see the Armenian National Institute pages.

Army chief calls for Iraq withdrawal

The BBC is reporting tonight:

The head of the British Army has said the presence of UK armed forces in Iraq "exacerbates the security problems".

In an interview in the Daily Mail, Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, is quoted as saying the British should "get out some time soon".

Doug Henderson has been on the news saying that this raises important constitutional questions. No doubt it does.

But isn't the important point that what Sir Richard is saying is obviously true?

Calder 1 Bonkers 0

I have finally made it: I am the subject of an entry in Wikipedia.

I suspect thanks are due to Alex Foster. I am a little relieved that Lord Bonkers' entry did not survive. While it existed it was longer than mine.

Lord Bonkers writes: Quite right too!

Plane hits New York skyscraper

An aeroplane flies into a skyscraper in New York. Not yesterday's crash involving Cory Lidle. Not 9/11.

No, it is part of my campaign to prove that nothing is as novel as we think it is. As the Damn Interesting site tells the story:
On a Saturday morning in July of 1945, Army Air Corps bomber pilot Lt. Colonel William Smith was trying to fly his B-25 bomber through a steadily increasing fog. He was on his way to Newark airport to pick up his commanding officer when he appeared above New York Municipal airport (now La Guardia airport) about 25 miles to the east of his destination. He was requesting a weather report.

Municipal tower reported extremely poor visibility over New York, and urged him to land, but Lt. Colonel Smith requested and received clearance from the military to continue his flight. "From where I'm sitting," the tower operator warned, "I can't see the top of the Empire State Building." Despite the advice from the Municipal tower, Smith plunged into the soupy fog with his two crewmen, bound for Manhattan.

Partway through their flight, the pilot quickly became disoriented because he was unable to see the ground below, and he lost his way. Despite Manhattan regulations that forbade aircraft from flying below 2,000 feet, Smith made the decision to drop below 1,000 feet in an attempt to untangle his bomber from the densest part of the fog. When his plane emerged from the thick, his visibility indeed improved. All around his aircraft, silhouettes of skyscrapers towered above Smith and his crew… and the New York Central Building was directly ahead.

Smith reacted quickly and banked hard, pushing the lumbering bomber to its stress limits to try to avoid the collision. His plane just missed the New York Central Building, flying past its west side with little room to spare. Dozens of skyscrapers lay beyond the first one, leaving a forest of fog-shrouded towers in the plane's path. Smith tried to gain altitude as he weaved between the ghostly shadows of buildings, forcing the bomber to maneuver at its operational extremes.

When the Empire State Building emerged from the fog right ahead of his craft, Smith banked his plane and pulled back as hard as he was able, but the bomber lacked the maneuverability to dodge the large tower looming over it. At 9:49 a.m, in the middle of a desperate, climbing turn, the ten-ton B-25 slammed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building.
Fourteen people died as a result of the accident.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Disenchanted with the testing culture in schools

Now and then you do get an interesting article in the Guardian Education section.

Today Mark Piesing writes about moves amongst parents and teachers to break away from the state system:

Fiona Carnie, from HSE [Human Scale Education], who is also a consultant at the Centre for Educational Innovation at the University of Sussex, says: "These teachers and parents just want to bale out. They are disenchanted with the testing culture and spoon-feeding found in schools. By setting up for themselves, the teachers are reclaiming their professionalism."

For others it is about the needs of their community. After the shop and pub closed in Priors Martin, Warwickshire, the headteacher and villagers were determined not to also lose their primary school when the LEA wanted to merge it with a school four miles away.

Trustee Carolyn Bath says: "The initiative came from the whole community, not just the parents. They raised the money to employ a teacher and in 1996 it reopened with one teacher and 12 students ... Sir John Harvey Jones opened the school and gave us three years. We're still going strong after 10."

Lancet article on deaths in Iraq

Today's news has been full of the Lancet article on deaths in Iraq since the invasion of 2003.

You can download a .pdf file of the whole thing from the journal's website. Here is the abstract:

Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey

Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, Les Roberts

Background An excess mortality of nearly 100 000 deaths was reported in Iraq for the period March, 2003–September, 2004, attributed to the invasion of Iraq. Our aim was to update this estimate.

Methods Between May and July, 2006, we did a national cross-sectional cluster sample survey of mortality in Iraq. 50 clusters were randomly selected from 16 Governorates, with every cluster consisting of 40 households. Information on deaths from these households was gathered.

Findings Three misattributed clusters were excluded from the final analysis; data from 1849 households that contained 12 801 individuals in 47 clusters was gathered. 1474 births and 629 deaths were reported during the observation period. Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5·5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4·3–7·1), compared with 13·3 per 1000 people per year (10·9–16·1) in the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.

Interpretation The number of people dying in Iraq has continued to escalate. The proportion of deaths ascribed to coalition forces has diminished in 2006, although the actual numbers have increased every year. Gunfire remains the most common cause of death, although deaths from car bombing have increased.

A family day out at the casino?

Last night I wrote my first House Points of the new parliamentary season and touched upon gambling.

I am sure that when changes to the law were first proposed a Labour minister talked about families enjoying a day out at the casino. I have a feeling it may have been Peter Hain.

Yet when I searched for the quotation last night I could find no trace of it. Can anyone remember who said it or supply me with a link?

Fruitcake feud continues

The Devil's Kitchen has a reply to Richard Sucharzewski's resignation letter from within UKIP.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

John Reid meets Chris Morris

The Guardian reported this morning:
Prisoners from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA ) - which comprises the 25 EU nations plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein - will be offered a package worth between £500 and £2,500 to go home, rather than face detention while they are considered for deportation.
Nick Clegg asked:
"What has the Home Secretary been doing for the last six months if his efforts to solve the foreign prisoner crisis now amount to a vague pledge to sort the problem out by next spring, and an even vaguer plan to bribe them to go back home?
But I was reminded of Chris Morris's Brass Eye and his cashback scheme for criminals:

STUDIO: (David Compression, the interviewer, and "Mad" Frankie Fraser on either side of a desk, current affairs interview style)

CM: "Up NEXT... A new scheme, for young offenders."

DC: "Take the cashback scheme, that they're gonna try in Toxteth, where young offenders are on a fourteen-week sentence - costs about two grand a week to keep them in - so rather than spend twenty-eight grand to keep them inside, they give them twenty-five grand, and say "here you are, use that, for a positive reason."

TITLE: ("Mad" Frankie Fraser, ex gangster)

MFF: "I think that's a smashing idea. Yeah, I do, honestly."

DC: "If someone had done that to you, what would have happened?"

MFF: "I don't think you'd have ever heard of me again."


STUDIO:(David Compression, the interviewer, and Sir Rhodes Boyson on either side of a desk, current affairs interview style)

DC: "Do you think perhaps enlisting somebody like Richard Branson to sell the cashback scheme... _might_ just work, might just get through to them."

RB: "I wouldn't say no to that."

DC: "I suppose if there was an element of... stick, you know - Richard Branson up in a balloon, watching the situation and saying, "there's your twenty-six thousand pounds, but I'm watching you from a balloon, and I can see a very long way.""

RB: "I'd go along with that."



Farm subsidies close canals

The BBC reports:
Some of Britain's waterways may have to close amid funding cuts which have led to 180 job losses, the organisation which runs the 2,200-mile network says.
British Waterways blames the cuts on a £7m drop in its funding from Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
Defra's cost-cutting follows a £200m overspend - which it blames partly on bird flu fears and new farm subsidies
Farm subsidies do great damage to the third world, as the kickAAS blog emphasises. They have also led to the despoilation of the British countryside, as Graham Harvey's The Killing of the Countryside shows. Now they are threatening our canal system.

The way that the agricultural industry is pampered never ceases to amaze. After the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 the government compensated the farmers and allowed other rural businesses to go to the wall. The Youth Hostels Associations had to close many hostels, but there was no sign of government help for it.

Chris Huhne called today for "Defra's bungling of single farm payments" to be met from the contingency reserve. This would be an improvement if it prevents the closure of canals. But really we need to question the need for huge subsidies to farming in the first place.

Chinese non-interference?

Jane Macartney writes in this morning's Times:
If Beijing is not to find itself too far out of step with much of the rest of the world, it may even be forced to consider sanctions. It is a measure that Beijing abhors because of its foreign policy principle of non-interference.
A passing Tibetan lama remarks: Bollocks.

Parliamentary Idiot of the Day

Parliament has only been back for a day and we already seen a prime piece of idiocy.

A little improbably, Sir Stuart Bell (sometime author of the steamy Paris 69) was answering questions on behalf of the Church Commissioners. Here is the supplementary from Mark Pritchard, Tory MP for The Wrekin:
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that bishops should be appointed on their spiritual and administrative attributes and skills, not time served? If so, what is the Church doing to recognise such skills earlier in those clergymen who have not served 20 or30 years?
Where to begin? Perhaps by asking what "spiritual skills" are supposed to be. And if you must have bishops, isn't wisdom one of the attributes they ought to possess? And doesn't that usually come with age?

That is the sort of truth that Conservatives used to understand. No longer apparently. Instead, Pritchard dreams of fast-tracking thrusting young vicars into mitres before they turn 30.

The man is a fool. I predict he will be in the shadow cabinet before the year is out.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Conkers: Now the good news

Fair Deal Phil has the most toe-curling blog name in the known universe, but he does link to the website of the World Conker Championships.

I don't care if it is a twenty-sixer, you're nicked

Nanny Knows Best mentions (but strangely does not link to) a story about children in Littlehampton being stopped and searched by police because they were throwing sticks at trees to bring down conkers.

Never fear: Littlehampton Today has the story:
Angry mothers have blasted police after they stopped and searched four children – for knocking conkers out of a tree.
The children were issued with stop and search tickets by a police officer at Littlehampton on Saturday and had their haul of conkers confiscated.

But they went back the next day with their parents' permission after they called police to demand an explanation — but no-one got back to them.

The same officer returned and again warned the children to stay away from the tree, in Church Street, claiming there was a conservation order on it and it was on private property.
The report suggests that there is no such order on the tree and it is not on private property. In any case, Littlehampton must have a remarkably low crime rate if the police there are free to devote so much time to such a trivial matter.

A voice of good sense comes from Mark Everson, Arun District Council's tree officer, who said:
"The youngsters of Littlehampton do what boys normally do in the autumn, throw things to get conkers. We all did it. The tree does not seem to have been mortally wounded."
If there was any cause for concern, it was that children were stepping into a busy road to collect the conkers they had brought down. But couldn't the police have dealt with that in a more proportionate way?

Nanny Knows Best story found via the Adam Smith Institute's daily blog review.

Farm of the Week

Perhaps this would only count as a story in the South Shropshire Journal:
Little Dowie Owen follows in lots of his family’s footsteps whenever he enters Onny School.

Dowie is the first member of the fifth generation of his family, local farmers who have lived in Onibury for more than 100 years, to go to the school.
But I did like the name of the family farm: Stepaside Farm.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

When fruitcakes fall out

The Tory-leaning West Brom Blog has an important story on feuding within UKIP.

It seems the UKIP Wales Chairman, NEC member and former leadership candidate Richard Suchorzewski has resigned from the party.

His resignation letter (which West Brom links to) accuses the new leader Nigel Farage of "scurrilous behavior, defamatory comments and downright dishonesty", because Suchorzewski was subjected to extreme slurs including that of BNP connections. This being despite the fact that "these scoundrels knew that my grandfather was murdered by the Nazis in a concentration camp and my Great Grandfather was discovered hanged by them from a lamp post near his home by my 14 year old Father".

Found via The UK Daily Pundit.

The new constituency boundaries

The UK Polling Report has posted a comprehensive guide to the boundary changes that will probably take effect before the next election.

It gives a list of the notional results last time using these boundaries - there is good and bad news for the Liberal Democrats - and of our best prospects next time. It will also allow you to keep track of candidates as they are selected and discuss the prospects in each of the constituencies.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

This afternoon's football

I expect us to beat Macedonia easily.

A classical historian writes: Ah, but that's what the Athenians and the Persians said.

More Rees-Mogg

Wikipedia quotes an extract from Ali G's interview with Jacob Rees-Mogg:
Ali G: So what if you got busy with my sister? You wouldn't like it 'cos she ain't the cleanest girl out there! Um, well it can be arranged. She'd be keen!

Rees-Mogg: You speculating on my having a relationship with somebody I've never met and that leading to a child being born and then as to what class it might be is so ... uh ... far fetched ... um ... as to be ridiculous. I have no idea what..

Ali G: What you think you is too good for my sister?

Rees-Mogg: Certainly not. No I wouldn't dream...

Ali G: You is. No, you is though. She's is rank. She's nothing. Believe me, even my mum cuss her, tell her she's a slag!

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Hot Ginger and Dynamite notices the recent travails of Jacob Rees-Mogg and remarks:

I’m sure he’ll be hoping for better luck than his predecessor as Conservative PPC for the seat, Chris Watt. During the 2005 general election, mischevious constituents visited the roadside farmland on which his large ‘WATT’ signs were displayed, and added a ‘T’ before his name.

Photograph of Rees-Mogg by Colin McPherson.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The first school shooting

Only it was far worse than that.

In the past I have written about London's first suicide bomber and the first car bomb. Now Mark Ames on Comment is Free points us towards the extraordinary story of the Bath School disaster.

As Wikipedia records:
The Bath School disaster was a series of bombings in Bath Township, Michigan, USA, on May 18, 1927, which killed 45 people and injured 58. Most of the victims were children in second to sixth grades attending the Bath Consolidated School. The bombings constituted the deadliest act of mass murder in a school in U.S. history, claiming more than three times as many victims as the Columbine High School massacre.

The perpetrator was school board member Andrew Kehoe, who was upset by a property tax that had been levied to fund the construction of the school building. He blamed the additional tax for financial hardships which led to foreclosure proceedings against his farm. These events apparently provoked Kehoe to plan his attack.

Politicians and clothing

I think we are beginning to see a pattern develop:
  • Jack Straw asks Muslim women to take their veils off;
  • Mark Foley asks teenage boys to take their shorts off.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Stop bashing Basha

You have to admit that PC Basha is a wonderful name for a policeman. Beyond that I cannot find much encouraging about the extraordinary prominence his request to be excused duty outside the Israeli Embassy received today.

I understand why the Sun put it on its front page. The paper wanted to show people that you cannot trust Muslims. Even when they join the police force they are not really like us and cannot be trusted. But why did the BBC make it the lead story on the morning news and the subject of the main interview on the Today programme?

It is now clear that PC Basha was not unhappy about being on duty at the embassy because of his religion or because of his disagreement with Israeli policy. He was unhappy about it because he feared for the safety of his wife's family in the Lebanon if he was photographed there.

Fortunately some people are talking sense this evening. Two of them are quoted on the BBC website. Peter Herbert, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said the row was:

a "ridiculous fuss about nothing" and attacked Sir Ian over an "unwise judgement" on opting so quickly for a review.

"From a security point of view, the Met would be seriously criticised if this guy has relatives in Lebanon and his picture was used around the world to demonstrate the irony about having a Muslim defending the Israeli embassy in the UK."

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said just one two-hour slot outside the embassy had been affected.

The officer had not refused to do duties and had made a simple request which it was "fairly sensible" to grant, Mr Smyth said.

All those bloggers and rentaquotes who rushed out statements about how civilisation would collapse if police officers were allowed to pick and choose their duties ought to feel rather silly now.

And the most important question - as Bartlett's Bizarre Bazaar asks - is who leaked the detail of this incident and why.

National Poetry Day

Despite what I said yesterday, I am afraid my choice still involves death. But at least it is a lighter (though still poignant) take on the subject.

I first came across this poem almost 30 years ago when I had a Saturday job in a secondhand bookshop and have always remembered it with affection.

The Postilion Has Been Struck By Lightning

He was the best postilion
I ever had. That summer in Europe
Came and went
In striding thunder-rain.
His tasselled shoulders bore up
More bad days than he could count
Till he entered his last storm in the mountains.

You to whom a postilion
Means only a cocked hat in a museum
Or a light
Anecdote, pity this one
Burnt at milord’s expense far from home
Having seen every sight
But never anyone struck by lightning.

Patricia Beer

Havel nice day

Cicero's Songs reports that it is Vaclav Havel's 70th birthday.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Liberalism: Something to Shout About

I have mentioned this book a couple of times - including one posting which gave the full contents.

If you would like to order a copy it is available from the Liberator website for £5.50 (includes postage) or £6 outside the UK.

October sets the gypsy blood astir

Common Ground's page for the new month is in place.

All Poets' Eve

Will Howells reminds us that tomorrow is National Poetry Day. Like Will I shall be posting a favorite poem to help celebrate it. Why not do the same yourself? There is a theme this year - "identity" - but you needn't worry too much about that.

I shall try to be more cheerful than in the past. In 2004 I offered Geoffrey Hill's elegy for a child gassed by the Nazis and in 2005 Edwin Muir's vision of life after the nuclear apocalypse.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Violent Bonham Carter

There is a lovely piece by Stephen Bate on Comment is Free. He looks at the recent revelation that the authorities feared that militant suffragettes were planning an attempt on Asquith's life. (I hope the first Lady Bonkers had a good alibi.)

Bate writes:
In fact they attacked him physically at least three times: twice when he was playing golf on holiday, at Lossiemouth and Lympne - when he fended them off with the aid of his doughty daughter Violet and doubtless a handy mashie niblick, and once more seriously when they waylaid his car outside Stirling, when he was on his way to the unveiling of a memorial to his predecessor Campbell-Bannerman, and set about him with dog whips.
And a letter in this morning's Times suggests that Bate's supposition about the Asquith family's choice of weapon is correct:
Sir, Suffragettes apparently practised shooting with the possible intention of assassinating the Prime Minister (reports, Sept 29, 30 and Oct 2), and those about Mr Asquith were also armed. Once, when they were playing golf together at Lossiemouth, his brother-in-law, H. J. Tennant, MP (my grandfather), protected the Prime Minister by fending off suffragettes with his mashie-niblick.

Alford, Aberdeenshire

The new Tory candidates

I have just half-watched a Newsnight report on the background of recently selected Conservative candidates. I did not write the figures down, so I shall have to make them up.

Of the new candidates:
  • 59 per cent are men;
  • 65 per cent went to Eton;
  • 83 per cent are called "Rees-Mogg"

I expect you can find the true figures somewhere on the Newsnight site, but you take my point.

Ian Mcwhirter Now and Then

The other day I quoted Ian Mcwhirter's very sounds views on John Reid:
If Labour installs him as its leader, the party will complete its transition to an authoritarian party of the populist right.
It turns out that he has his own blog at Ian Mcwhirter Now and Then.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The loss of rural pubs

There is a worrying story in the Shropshire Star today:
The landlords of three village drinking holes - The Swan at Frodesley, The Tally Ho at Bouldon, and The Woodcock Inn at Pulverbatch - have put forward plans this summer to convert the pubs into houses.
The licensee of the splendidly named Cross Foxes at Longden Coleham in Shrewsbury says:
“I think it is the money side of it. In the town, unless they’ve got darts and dominoes teams or real locals to keep them going during the week, there isn’t really anyone.

“People just haven’t got the money with interest rising and mortgages going up.

“The Friday just gone was the last Friday of the month, when people got paid, and we were very busy. But you can almost tell what time of the month it is by the pubs, because at other times it is quieter and you know it is because people don’t have the money.

“We are lucky as we have been here 20 years, so we are well established. But it is getting harder and harder, and overheads are getting more and more.”
Another landlord forecasts:
“When the smoking ban comes along, a lot of those rural licensees, if they had been borderline before, are going to have to go for development.”
Certainly, the smoking ban has reduced pub takings in Scotland.

I suspect that the real reason why pubs are closing is the continuing inflation in property prices. If a pub is struggling - and when I passed The Tally Ho at Bouldon at on a walk a few months ago I assumed from its appearance that it had already closed - then selling it as a private house is increasingly likely to make economic sense.

A council can refuse a change of planning use: we did so for The Crown in Theddingworth when I was a district councillor. I believe it was only the second case of its kind in the country. The Crown remained open for years afterwards, though I believe it has now closed. But ultimately if no one can make a living from running a pub, it will close.

It is not just the loss of pubs that is threatening rural Shropshire. The same issue of the Star reports that there is a shortage of vicars.

This could be my chance to move to my favourite county. I don't believe in God, but I understand that is no longer an insuperable barrier in the Church of England.

PE and childhood obesity

In my essay in Liberalism: Something to Shout About I argued that politicians put too much emphasis on PE and organised games in school. In fact, children's free play and general levels of activity have far more to do with how many calories they burn.

It is hard to resisit quoting an expert who agrees with you. Here is Professor Neil Armstrong, pro-vice chancellor of Exeter University, as quoted in the Guardian this morning:
The focus of government policy, said Prof Armstrong, should be on everyday exercise, rather than school sport and regular PE lessons and diet. He said his own research had shown that school PE lessons do not necessarily produce active children.

In an exclusive interview he explained how initiatives were being rolled out with no background of hard research to support them. "We published research over 15 years ago, in the British Medical Journal in 1990. We looked at how inactive children were and how that became worse as they went through their teens. It drew a great deal of publicity at the time. I had meetings in Westminster with ministers, but it disappeared off the agenda."

Prof Armstrong also said that recent changes to school canteens would not stop children getting fatter. "Obesity is about the balance between energy intake and energy expenditure. We need to get children active as part of their normal lifestyle."

The topless towers of Cherry Hinton

Everyone knows that King Arthur's Camelot was situated at Gumley near Market Harborough.

Now I have come across a site which argues that the Troy of legend is to be found just outside Cambridge.

Lord Bonkers live

Suddenly everyone is putting videos on blogs.

I cannot imagine Lord Bonkers speaking to the nation whilst doing the washing up. Perhaps he could have a scullery maid doing it in the background when he gives his address?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Jane Eyre

As I write BBC1 is repeating the first episode of its latest adaptation of Jane Eyre. And very good it looks too.

I am left wondering again at those who argue that the Victorians had no concept of child abuse - see my discussion here if you are really interested. Do they imagine that the first readers of the novel sympathised with the authorities at Lowood Hall?

Lord of the Flies

Those nice people at the Guardian gave a way a free DVD of Peter Brook's 1963 film of Lord of the Flies yesterday.

I have watched some of it and feel more secure in my theory that Golding's novel was not so much a repository of eternal truths about human nature so much as a reflection of the times in which it was written.

One bit of good news: it seems James Aubrey (Ralph in the film) has managed to find work since playing David Chidgey last year.

At least it's British

Tim Worstall's latest Britblog Roundup is in place.

Headline of the day

Or headline of last Friday to be exact:
David Cameron saved me from a shoal of hideous giant jellyfish