Thursday, 22 December 2011

National Identity

I have always felt lucky and proud to be British, or English, but it's not something I chose.

It seems that a rather mindless nationalism is taking hold again in some places.

Which got me wondering.

During WWII the great music hall act of Flanagan and Allen kept up morale in UK.  Perhaps nothing better summed up the English than Bud Flanagan and his partner Chesney Allen.  To those of a certain age and many others, songs like "run rabbit" "We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried line"  "underneath the arches" can summon up great emotions. Bud Flanagan even recorded the theme song for the TV programme, Dads Army - "who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler" which many people (wrongly) believe to date  from the second world war.

Bud Flannagan however,   (aka Chaim Reuben Weintrop) was born in the east end of London, but his parents were polish jews who thought they had been sold a ticket to new york to escape a pogrom.

Sid James star of the carry on films and who appeared in dozens of others was at one time the most famous cockney -   he was of course South African.

James Robertson Justice - star of the Doctor Films (Sir Lancelot Spratt - what's the bleeding time ?) is famous for being the bark worse than his bite irascible Scotsman -  playing much the same character and accent even when portraying a pyramid builder in Egypt !   He was born in London, brought up in Kent and  although his father was born in Aberdeen, his father loathed the Scots.    Even the Robertson was added to his name for effect!

Terry Thomas - who played the upper class cad and bounder in innumerable films and tv shows, was born into a typical working class family.

How strong the impressions we get from these people.  How much of it is an illusion ?

Monday, 5 December 2011

100 Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces

100 Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces by Gordon Kerr ISBN 13 978 0 85775 251 2

A beautiful book which does exactly what the title implies.

The quality of the prints is very good, and the explanation of the Pre-Raphaelites at the start of the book very good.  However, I think I would have liked  a little more comentry on each picture.

I liked some of the less well known artists, (e.g.Anthony Frederick Sandys) and not Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Banker Bonuses

There was a bit of a debate in Parliament about how many things the Labour Party is promising to pay for by putitng a tax on banker bonuses.

I can't help but feel that perhaps we would all be better off it the bankers (which seems to cover more thna just bankers) did not have massive bonuses in the first place.  Now it seems even the Governor of the Bank of England has spotted this too.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Pay increases

The news that the average pay increase for top executives has been 49% this year is deeply worrying.
The deputy Prime Minister says it is a slap in the face - I have to hope that is an understatement.
It is a total outrage and the real problem with these things is there will never be a rebalancing 49% cut.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


A man is beaten up by a mob and shot.  Should we be concerned ? Should we only be bothered if we like the person ? or do some people deserve to be shot and given a taste of their own medicine ?

I am not keen on the death penalty,  but I accept there are strong arguments for executing some people.
But death at the hands of a mob ? It's not a good way to start a new regime.

If it had been an action order by Gaddafi, it would rightly been seen as a crime, so do we wish to replace Gaddafi with something better or something much the same or worse?   It is strange to hear news report talk about people having waited 40 years for liberation form his rule, as if no-one had ever supported him. I suspect that at many times he had more popular support than our own Prime Minister.

Of course only a cynic would suggest this is about oil - which is why British Oil Companies are already trying to get lucrative contracts in place.

who do you think you are

Comedian Jeremy Hardy is well known to fans of Radio 4 programmes like the news quiz and I'm sorry I haven't a clue - but as he says, he not quite famous enough to be asked to do those ancestor research programmes like who do you think you are.

Instead he has embarked on his own research to trace his ancestors.

It is an amusing book, as one would hope.  Interestingly, like I suspect most people, it seems his ancestors are on the whole, ordinary people in his case, from surrey and hampshire,  so although he has a longing for something a bit more exotic and follows the trials of family legends about lost lands, decent from Sir Christopher Wren and mysterious deaths in police custody -  to find out what happens - read the book!  I like the bit where he get excited as having discovered the grave of Sarah Bell, only for his partner to point out that it is the grave of Sarah Bee.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Library Books

How to be smart with your money - Duncan Bannatyne  isbn 978-1-4091-1713-1

A very good book about financial management of household budgets. It's not about cutting out coupons or price comparisons or saving a tenner.  It's about the fundamentals of finance and your relationship with money.

It's very jargon free and offers advice on how to decide whether you need to buy stuff, savings, good and bad borrowing etc.   

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A return to feudalism

In feudal times, the serf I am told had to work two days on the land of their lord and had the rest of week for their own land.  We have a similar situation now in the UK where some people have to give the proceeds of 2 out of the 5 days they work in housing costs.  At the same time - a new breed of 'Buy too let Barons' - have property empires of tens, and in some cases hundreds and thousands of properties.    I am sure being a responsible landlord involves more than just collecting rent each month, but most of us might think it's hardly the toughest way  to get money.   Of course there are some awful tennants who can make the lives of landlords a misery and trash much love properties - but on the whole I wonder if a property owning democracy would be better is we had a maximum number of properties one person can own? Just a thought.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Comedy Rules - From the Cambridge Footlights to Yes Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn. ISBN 978-0-571-27795-7

150 essential rules of comedy.

Probably the best book on writing comedy ever.  It is not a how to do book, not a practical guide,  it is part memoir, part stories and part 150 views on what makes people laugh.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy - A Tragic Flaw by Greg Hurst ISBN -10:1-84275-176-X

The blurb on the covers says Greg Hurst understands the personalities and working of the Liberal Democrats better than any other political journalist...   a fascinating and often dramatic, insider account of Charles Kennedy's leadership.

The first part of that is undoubted true, the second part rather undersells a book which covers Kennedy's entire life and career as well as providing a clear account of the history and workings of the SDP and the Liberal Democrats.

The tragic flaw is of course alcoholism, which very sadly.  As a friends of Kennedy say - it is hard to tell when heavy drinking turns into alcoholism, even when Kennedy appeared to cut down on his drinking, his body was already less able to cope both with and without alcohol.  That is the cruel dilemma for addicts.

The events in the book often seem like a different age, how quickly politics can move on. Even Kennedy resignation as leader is almost 6 years ago.

Kennedy emerges as a politician of great judgement and rare ability to connect with the public. Rather than
'lazy' as he was sometimes painted, he comes over a thoughtful and unwilling to close down options and seeking to avoid unnecessary conflict.  Clearly he was not someone for detailed policy but that need not be a disadvantage for a party leader.

Little snippets -  the revolting Labour party by-election campaigns - particularly at Birmingham Hodge Hill.
The huge frustration of leading a party which gained over a million more votes and yet won only a handful more seats.   The huge reluctance of the Lib Dem MPs to be ruthless in getting rid of Kennedy,which made the process worse. 

Despite his easy TV manner and chat/game show appearances, Kennedy was a shy person, disliked long formal meetings, sometimes lacking in self-confidence despite his ability to master a brief incredibly quickly.

The book almost argues that Kennedy fatal flaw was being elected an MP at 23, being a gifted politician who would have been a Cabinet Minister in any other party but who instead chose the SDP and Liberal Democrats,  but in the end it concludes that failure to address his drinking until it was too late was the fatal flaw.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Kinks, Dave Davies

Dave Davies is the younger brother of Ray Davies of the rock band the Kinks.

Dave Davies website describes his autobiography as a cult.

It is an fascinating and incredibly honest read.
I do part company with his over his use of psychic powers and messages form UFO's :-O   but if you want a very good account of life in a  rock band and his complex relationship with his brother and other people, this is a very good book.

I think it is right to say that Dave has and will be over shadowed by his brother, but that his contribution to the music of the Kinks has been very undervalued.

Interesting for me, Dave is a fan of Tony Hancock and recently attended the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society Dinner as a guest speaker.

Monday, 29 August 2011

what's his name from the carry on films

Charles Hawtrey has been destined to be remembered as whatshisname, the skinny one with glasses from the Carry on films.  You know the one a bit like Kenneth Williams.

In a cruel irony, Hawtrey career was blighted by arguments over billing.  He would often lose out on work or put people off employing him because he wanted to be top or higher up the bill.

Far from being just that chap in the Carry on films, Hawtrey had a incredible career.

He started out as a child actor in silent movies and in the theatre, he was Englands leading boy soprano with 'hit' records. He worked with a vast who's who  of film and stage in the 1930's and 1940's.  Errol Flynn, Lawrence Oliver, Douglas Fairbanks Jr,  Max Miller, Alastair Sims, George Formby and on almost endlessly)    Admittedly he would exaggerate his links with such stars. 

He was a writer, director and composer. (although without great success, except in one murder mystery where he played a role in drag only to be revealed as a man at the end of the play, so convincing was he, even theatre critics were stunned by the revelation)

The Henry and Norman Bones Mysteries (No I've never heard of them either) which he starred in with Patricia Hayes ran for 17 years on Radio, yet his involvement ended over an argument as to whether the billing should be Charles Hawtrey with Patricia Hayes, or Charles Hawtrey and Patricia Hayes.

Our House - an hour long sitcom on ITV he starred in with Hattie Jaques and Joan Sims ran to 39 episodes and a spin off series best of friends a further 13.

More remembered are his film with Will Hay and perhaps his time in the Army Game, another early sitcom.

In his early days, Hawtrey was well known for being utterly professional and very talented as a performer.
Unfortunately, Hawtrey acquired a drink problem which descended into alcoholism.  For most of his later years the only people who would employ him were the Carry On Films and one organiser of theatre shows - Aubrey Philips who had to work round his drunkenness.

In another cruel twist of fate, Hawtrey felt he wasn't given big enough roles or high enough billing - which no doubt fueled his drinking and his awkward and rude behaviour - but these were the reasons people felt they could not give him bigger role or higher billing.

For the Carry On Film he was paid £2000 a time, (for 6 weeks filming) compared to £5000 commanded by Sid James and Kenneth Williams.  Although he grumbled about the films, he was usually keen to promote them, as it meant a free meal., drink and being treated like a star for a day.

For touring in panto and such, he could get £250 a week plus expenses. Not bad, but not the £1000+  a week top stars would expect.

Well known as an eccentric - he would buy cheap cigarettes and expensive champagne. He's drink tea and bring sandwiches when filming to save money yet take a taxi for ridiculous journeys.

He did become very reclusive towards the end of this life, but was not without friends.  It was his wish that few people came to his funeral.  Admirably he was one of the first stars to come out as being gay.

People would ask for autographs thinking his name was Kenneth Williams or Kenneth Connor, so much so that he started saying "I suppose you think I'm fucking Barbara Windsor" and would be incredibly rude.

Did this mean he was right to be so concerned about billing all along ?

He felt typecast by the carry on films, yet without them and the endless repeats, for which he received no money, he would probably be hardly remembered at all.

whatshisname - the life and death of Charles Hawtrey by Wes Butters ISBN 13:978-0-9557670-7-4

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Jeremy Kyle

The Jeremy Kyle Show - shorthand for dysfunctional lives, trash television watched by students, the unemployed and housebound.

I have a big concern about  the "lie dectector' tests - as it ought to be well known that they do not detect lies and can be deceived.

I suspect Jeremy knows this, but doesn't tell his audience what he knows. But how cane we find out ?  Perhaps he ought to be made to take a lie detector test?

Deal or No Deal

Deal or No Deal, hosted by Noel Edmunds can be a compelling programme to watch.  The format is simple, but the psychology is interesting.

Noel Edmunds is well known for his belief in cosmic ordering - you order your hearts desire and the cosmos will arrange it.  Noel asked for a revived TV career or not depending on your point of view :-)

Despite knowing that they can't actually change the value of their box, everyone is encouraged to hold hands, cross their fingers, send vibes and above all be 'positive'  to help the contestant choose a low value box for elimination. This all switches of course when a deal is made with the banker and then everyone has to send positive or negative vibes wishes etc that the box is of high value.

I don't think anyone yet has just started with box number one and worked numerically through them, although mathematically, it ought not to affect the outcome.

The programme is quite sad in that people are encouraged to "be brave"  and believe that they are fated to have been dealt a high value box - and so plough on to the end,rejecting all offers from the banker, with usually disappointing results.  This is worse when it is people who would find even the relatively small wins
"life ttransforming"

I am sure there is a website somewhere which lists all the games ! 

Monday, 22 August 2011

Bring back national service ?

Brian Sewell, art critic sets out why he thinks national service wouldn't work.

Paul Daniels (Magician)  amongst other suggested young offenders be sent to help the troops in Afghanistan.
Tempting though this might be, it probably just shows why national service wouldn't work.   The army these days would like to think it has come a long way from squaddies mindlessly obeying order.  It it not very likely you would wish to put your life int he hands of a useless young offender.

When people talk about community work - it's usually something like litter picking or painting over graffiti.
Firstly this assumes there is an unending supply of litter and graffiti (there may be)  and that it is a suitable and worthwhile punishment.

Riots etc

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Custer, Sitting Bull, and the famous battle and other library books

The last stand , Custer, Sitting Bull and the battle of the little big horn by Nathaniel Philbrick - ISBN 978-1-847-920009-6

Probably more than anyone needs to know about the Battle of the Little Bighorn and more.

One of the advantages of being a historian in this day and age is so much more information is available for you to study. Not just in different recollections but also in archeology. Hilbrick does an excellent job in weaving all this into a gripping narrative.

A large amount of coverage is given to the fights involving the other part the Seventh Calvary led by  Bentine and Reno,  where accounts by survivors give a greater certainty as to what took place.

Buildings that changed the world - Klaus Reichold and Bernhard Graf - ISBN 3-7913-1945-0
Pyramids, Great Wall of China, Windsor Castle, Macgu Picchu, Taj Mahal, Chartres Cathedral, you get the idea. I was rather sad that Persepolis was destroyed by Alexander the Great - it is said in revenge for the Persian destruction of the Acropolis in Athens.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

It's Absurd - people are turning into rhinoceri

Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco is a play written in 1959.  The story is that people are shocked to see a Rhinoceros charge down the street. Soon it emerges that people are turning into Rhinoceros.  Eventually everyone has turned into a rhino apart from Berenger.  He wants to, he tries to, but he is for some reason unable to become a rhinoceros.  It is part of the Theatre of the Absurd - but it is not absurd, it is an allegory for conformity.

A film has been made and several stage plays - but I imagine that none have done it justice.  At one stage around 1963/4 plans were made to make it into a film staring the Comedian Tony Hancock as Berenger. In his prime, he would have been brilliant, perhaps even at the time, he would have been great, but for various reasons the film wasn't made.

In these days of computer generated special effects, a film version would be more fantastic than ever. 

In the lead role, someone like Jack Dee.

Articles that say something very well

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Who'd be a prison officer ?

Just read 'screwed - everybody serves their time' by Ronnie Thompson, "a prison officer reveals what really goes on behind bars." ISBN 978-0-7553-6265-3

Judging by the reviews on amazon, the main debate about this book is how accurate it is and whether there is too much swearing.

Firstly, the book states at the start that to protect former colleagues - the prison described is fictitious, as are the characters some of the conversations are imaginary or re imagined.  So documentary it's not.

As as narrator Ronnie probably captures the essence if not the reality of prison life. I found myself initially quite sympathetic to his 'get the job done' approach but by the end of the book, his drinking, treatment of his girlfriend and son, swearing and bending of the rules to his own advantage was quite tiring. The chapter on the celebrity rock star prisoner seemed particularly fake.  lol.

It does raise lots of interesting issues - are prisons under staffed ? are the regimes achieving what they aim to ? how extensive are the problems of drugs, smuggled phones and corruption?  What can be done to tackle them ?  Do prison staff get enough support ? 

Overall, the impression is that like many big organisations, procedures are out in place but they are unrealistic - so create more problems than they solve.

Is there too much swearing ?  Well again, it's probably indicative of conversations in prison, but in a book it was repetitive, came across as gratuitous, the lack or variation and very misogynistic nature of the swearing was very off putting.

If the aim was to get people to have a bit more sympathy and understanding of the role of a prison officer, it suceeded with me at least.

I vote for the Dictator

I vote for the Dictator. Well actually, I don't, but plenty of people have.

It's a bit of a problem for democracy, what do you do when people negate the very principle ?

I'm not talking about the phony rigged polls where 98% vote for the President for life, but rather the tendency in some places to vote for a "strongman" to govern.

Russia is an obvious example - where support for Putin is based on him being in charge and doing whatever he wishes.  In Italy, President Bersuloni so dominates and controls the media and the laws that he is pretty much a dictator.

Even in places like Zimbabwe and Libya -  terrible dictators retain substantial support.

I am not convinced that mush can be done to tackle this problem - but to remmeber that Democracy goes beyond voting. It is about checks and balances on the use of power and active citizenship.

Democracy is a fantastic thing to see in action. People agree to pay more tax, to change how they work, to hand over wealth, to obey new laws all based on adding up the the votes cast in elections - where at least in theory, (and in the better electoral systems) each vote is equal
and everyone only has a single vote.

Friday, 22 July 2011

I am a feminist

Given the huge struggle for womens rights, perhaps one of the most depressing phrases in the English Language is when a women says"I'm not a feminist".

OK, so people have some strange definition of feminism to decide that that is not them, but,
at a fundamental level, feminism is about whether people should be stopped from doing things merely
and solely because of their female gender.

Do people really want to go back and reintroduce laws that stopped women from; voting, owning property, getting a divorce, going to university, becoming Doctors, ........

The latest madness is in Saudi Arabia where women are seeking the right to drive cars (and then only if a man is available) and huge efforts are being put into stopping them.

Where do you stand on this issue ? Not a feminist ? I think you probably are !

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Goodbye - News of the the World - please don't come back

The News of the World is to stop publishing on Sunday. If only we could have a bank Holiday to celebrate.
Sadly end of the news of the world day doesn't fall on a monday.

The News of the World - has not been a newspaper for a long while  - more scandal mag and purveyor of tripe. The reality is that for better or worse, printed newspapers are in decline and their news content is often low and poor.

This could be a dawn of something better - unlikley, the media is a bit like an eternal battle between the forces of good and evil.   For today at least, the forces of good have the won a battle even if they can never win the war.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Ed Milliband - “reckless and provocative"

Ed Milliband has perhaps, perhaps not, been slightly embarrassed to be filmed repeating the same sound bite 5 times in one short interview.    I think we can be sure that Ed Milliband wants to get the message across that the Government has behaved in a  "reckless and provocative manner" in trying to reform public sector pensions.    In political terms it might be quite popular.   Someone will have calculated that the peoplee Ed has to appeal to to win the general election will be exactly the sort of people who aren't taking sides in the strike but just wish it would go away.

Supporters of the strikes were unimpressed that Mr Milliband did not support the strikes.  Supporters of the Government will be unimpressed by his failure to back them.  But, many people will be inclined to give Mr Milliband the benefit of the doubt.  It sounds like he is agreeing with them.  In politics it is called reflecting - you ask voters usually by opinion poll or focus groups what they think, then you agree with them.  Of course one thing polls and focus groups show is that electors don't like politicians who do this - so politicians have to learn to project conviction.

All of which is good fun,  in an shallow way, we had a laugh at Ed looking silly and sort of let him off the hook as, well, that's what politicians have to do, to get their sound bites across.

But, what has been over looked in all the froth is the actual answer he gave doesn't really mean much.  I mean, even I can agree with it, sort of.

What would Mr Milliband do if he was Prime Minister ?  Act in a "cautious and conciliatory manner ? What would that mean ?   The Unions are complaining that people will have to work longer, pay more and get less, they are right.  That is fairly unavoidable for some people.  An alternative would be to  work less, pay less and get more ?  I don't think that works. 

So having put Ed on the spot - what would I do, I hear you cry ?  Lets be honest, very few of us have any understanding of pensions and we glaze over when people start talking about % contributions, defined benefits, with profits, career average schemes etc.  What seems to be the case is that some public sector workers (not a majority) get generous pensions compared to what they contribute.

Well I believe that the public sector should not be in the position of providing massive pensions to people.  Take teachers for example. Teachers themselves pay 6.4% of their yearly salary into a pension pit and the employers pay a further 14.1% of salary. So if a teacher is paid £50,000 a year, 20.5% of that, i.e. just over £10,000 a year is put into a pension pot. (£3000 paid by the teacher £7000 by the taxpayer)  But what if they are a "superhead" on £150,000 - The taxpayers contribution goes up to £21,000  a year - and that doesn't even cover the cost of a final salary pension.

So my proposal would be to cap the level of pension contribution by public sector employers at around £50,000.  Any highly paid public sector worker who wants a bigger pension ought to pay for it themselves, not rely on the taxpayer to fund it.    I am all in favour of the low earners and medium earners being provided with  a living income pension, but do we need Chief Executives of £240,000  a year getting £50,000 paid into a pension fund by the taxpayer each year ? 

Perhaps we need a far flatter rate pension for public sector workers so those on the lower end of the pay scales get £10,000 a year (more than the £6,000 that is typical now) and those at the top get no more than £20,000.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Library Books July 2011

Sid James Cockney Rebel by Robert Ross iSBN 978 1 906779 35 1

Sid James is usually regarded as one of those strange (is it only British) Phenomena, an actor who played the same character time after time. You knew what to expect with Sid James.

James Robertson Justice, Terry Thomas, Kenneth Williams, Sean Connery - the line between acting and just being the persona they had adopted was far from clear.

Perhaps surprisingly given the number of films he was in, as well as plentiful TV and the unforgettable radio of Hancocks Half Hour - I believe this is only the second biography of Sid. It scores heavily over the previous attempt in that it has a lot more information and reminiscences from friends and colleagues. There is an obvious and undenied element of hero worship on the part of the author - but that works well in capturing the appeal of Sid James. It is interesting to note how much Sid resisted becoming a top of the bill star - and how he was concerned about his image and keen to see it evolve.

Paintings that changed the world by Klaus Reichold and Bernhard Graf ISBN 3-7913-1983-3
The first thing I liked about this book was that the introduction starts by saying "Of course, no painting really changed the world !"  But it works very well as an overview of different paintings from cave painting from over 17,000 years ago to Andy Warhol in the 1960's.  A page of text and often a few other relevant pictures offer context and explanation for each of the main pictures.  I am always surprised about how small many original artworks are, quite often, no more than 60cm by 40cm.

Do you think that's wise - The life of John Le Mesurier by Graham McCann
ISBN 978-1 84513 583 6

A very warm and well written book. John Le Merurier is probably best know for playing Sgt Wilson in Dad's Army, but also memorable for host of films where you remembered he'd been in them, even though he might have been on screen for just a  few minutes.   As self-described jobbing actor, Le Mesurier was more than capable of taking on more challenging roles, which sometimes came his way.  The book is excellent in dealing with his complicated relationships with Hattie Jacques and Tony Hancock. The only error I spotted was the claim Hancock used teleprompters for the HHH episode the lift - when that was recorded before the car accident that that led to Hancock using such machines.

My life in Comedy - Nicholas Parsons ISBN 9781845966218

Nicholas Parsons has already written an autobiography - so this book

Nicholas started as a straight actor but has had a career that has covered:
straight man, game show host, west end stage, cabaret, film and radio.

This book has anecdote's about lots of famous people he has worked with over the years,
rarely gushing and not afraid to be critical of some people !

the chapters on his role as a straight man and as chair of just a minute were interesting
as well as his reflections on comedians. His insight into the early days of TV and post war films
were good too.

The elephant to Hollywood - Michael Caine - the Autobiography ISBN 978-1-444-70003-9

A very chatty style - a rags to riches story and a remarkable 50 year career, he must be doing something right. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Todays Song

Well I built my life around you
Did what I thought was right
But you never cared about me
Now I've seen the light
Oh darlin', there ain't no pleasing you

You seem to think that everything
I ever did was wrong
I should've known it
All along
Oh darlin', there ain't no pleasing you

You only had to say the word
And you knew I'd do it
You had me where you wanted me
But you went and blew it
Now everything I ever done
Was only done for you
But now you can go and do
Just what you wanna do
I'm telling you

Cos I ain't gonna be made
To look a fool no more
You done it once to often
What do you take me for
Oh darlin', there ain't no pleasing you

You seem to think that everything
I ever did was wrong
I should've known it
All along
Oh darlin', there ain't no pleasing you

You only had to say the word
And you knew I'd do it
You had me where you wanted me
But you went and blew it
Now everything I ever done
Was only done for you
But now you can go and do
Just what you wanna do
I'm telling you

Cos I ain't gonna be made
To look a fool no more
You done it once to often
What do you take me for
Oh darlin', there ain't no pleasing you

And if you think I don't mean what I say
And I'm only bluffing
You got another thing coming
I'm tellin' you that for nothing
Oh darlin', that's what I'm gonna

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Sunday, 26 June 2011

recycled paper

I paid a lovely visit to Wakehurst Place in West Sussex the other day. Wakehurst Place is run by the people who run Kew Gardens, the National Trust and also gets government funding (55% of it's income).

It is an amazing combination of nature reserve, beautiful grounds, and conservation work.

It had lovely explanations about the delicate balance of nature.

One of the displays was about all the uses of wood by local crafts people: e.g. wooden bowels, furniture, baskets, spoons, fences, sculpture etc.   All loved wood for the way it could be sustainably harvested.
Which makes me wonder about the wisdom of the emphasis on recycling paper.  usually the alternative is top access documents electronically or online. Now I haven't got any estimates, but it seems to me not entirely unlikely that most electronic devices are powered with non-renewable energy.    Paper was perhaps a good item to start recycling because there was a market and the process of producing paper can be at quite an environmental cost.Yet, I suspect that compared to say the environmental cost of discarded metals and rare elements in computers etc, the cost of paper is not so high.  That doesn't mean I against recycled paper, I use lots  myself, but it does make me wonder if the message on recycling is quite right.  Reduce, reuse and then recycle should be the sequence. In the commercial world, reduce is often the last thing on anyones mind, but actually, some of us might be a lot happier if we reduced our consumption of consumer goods.


Going for walks in the streets and roads near where I live, I am struck by the amount of litter. This evening I resolved to do my bit for the bit society and clear some up if I came across any in my walk.  I took two carrier bags with me - one for waste and one for recycling.  Now obviously I straight away ran into a problem.  No I know you daily snail  mail readers will be thinking health and safety gone mad, but no, it's more obvious than that. Two carrier bags just wasn't enough. So I got home and emptied 42 aluminium cans and plastic bottles into my recycling wheelie bin.

Blame it on the wombles if you like, but I have always found littering one of the most anti-social activities.  Well, no actually the wombles thrived on litter, they could set up a colony round here.  I like the Pam Ayers poem, littering, and the Flanders and Swann song Bedstead men.   But their comes a point when humour and education have had their trial period.  

There are  powers for on the spot fines for littering - although these are such a rarity, the figures I have seen that people with these powers average less than one fine each per year.

I don't know what the answer is.    It should be self evident that littering is bad. Words fail me

Coalition Government

As a student of history and Liberal Party politics,

Three books are covered by this review, Coalition by Mark Oaten's, 22 Days in May by David Laws and Hung Together by Adam Boulton and Joey Jones.

Firstly, it is quite interesting to read what were current events but are already history.  The rush to political memoirs has gathered pace - so that instead of waiting years for notes and recollections, they are availible in months.

David Laws, Lib Dem MP for Yeovil and  one of the Lib Dem negotiating team and has produced an instant warts and all account of events.

It is rather strange, not to say disheartening to see Laws make fun of his own parties policies and internal democracy.  The over whelming impression is that excessive concern was given to "the markets" and the "24/7" media. 

The Adam Boulting and Joey Jones both work for Sky News. Again it is a surprise to see how freely key people were prepared to talk about their part in events.  Probably the best of the books in being more balanced, as long as you can quickly skip through the bits of the book which read like a plug for Sky news and the two authors.  The "row" between Boulting and Alistair Campbell (Labour party spin doctor) goes on interminably and unintelligibly.


Brian Cox, light speed, amazing.

There was a very funny parody of Professor Brian Cox on Radio 4's the Now Show on 24th June. It was "amazing". (it seems the popular scientist Brian might over use that word)

Still,it got me thinking that the Universe really is amazing.

Light travels at about 300,000 kilometre a second.

It would take a human a long time to walk that distance!

In a minute, light travels around 18 million km, that more travel than a human is likely to do in a lifetime.

It takes approximately 8.31 minutes for light to travel from the Sun to the Earth Don't you like the approximately?

In a year light will travel 9,460,730,472,580km, a light year.

Current interpretations of astronomical observations indicate that the universe is around 13.75 billion years old and that the diameter of the observable universe is at least 93 billion light years.

All of which make an omnipresent God a startling concept.

 Here is a being that is not only present ever where and at all times but also instantaneously and simultaneously aware of all the thought and deeds of billions of other creatures. I mean, I thought my broadband was fast.

And following the logic of creationists who argue for "intelligent design"
the creator who designed God, must be, as Brian Cox might say, amazing.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Favourite Links

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Gay Bishops

The Church of England seems to be going through one of it's agonising debates about whether to appoint homosexual Bishops.  Well, they think that is the debate, but in reality there have been plenty of gay bishops, just  few of them have been openly gay.   So what does God think ? Lets ring him up and ask. Can't be done ? So lets turn to scripture and see if that can help us.  Quite clearly the answer is yes, no and maybe.
So whatever your view- you can reinforce that. But that leaves a more interesting question - why would God be bothered ? 

Monday, 20 June 2011

Why Caratacus

Caratacus was the King of an Ancient British Tribe who resisted the Roman invasion.
he was defeated and taken to Rome in chains. There he was allowed to address the Senate (presumably by a translator)

Tacitus records a version of his speech in which he says that his stubborn resistance made Rome's glory in defeating him all the greater. Cleverly he argued that if the Romans let him live, "I shall be an eternal example of your clemency."

The phrase that has always stuck in my mind however is that he is recorded as saying
"And can you, then, who have got such possessions and so many of them, covet our poor tents?"

This is often taken as that he was impressed by Roman with it's huge wealth and buildings but surely a the more subtle message is why are you so greedy ?

It may be that his words were embellished by others. Historians has a long history of doing such. Recorded history is littered with examples of "noble savages" - idealised versions of barbarians, native americans, etc who recorded words were 'adapted' to make the authors point rather than the speakers. But some how the words attributed to Caratacus ring true. He was after all a King who had a lot of possessions of his own he fought to hang on to.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Local Elections - Now there's a good idea

The Liberal Democrats had a pretty disastrous set of local elections. It would be fair to say that the Party has suffered the biggest setback in it's history. The results from the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament were unrelentingly grim.

For a party which based a lot of it's success and appeal on it's local Government base, it may be catastrophic. There is no law in politics that says parties will recover. More often than not, parties, especially smaller one come and go. The reasons for the drubbing are fairly obvious, and without going into details - the words tuition fees, Nick Clegg and coalition spring to mind.

But, here's the problem, while some of the electorate had taken upon themselves to give the Liberal Democrats a good kicking - it very rarely had anything to do with local government, their local council or the merits of the candidates in their ward. Now fun though it is, it not very healthy for democracy. It is already pretty evident that the value placed on democracy in the UK is rather low. Now it is treated like a vote for Anne Widdecombe on strictly come dancing or for Jedward on the X-Factor.

Very few people have any real idea about how elections in the UK operate. The answer is on the whole, not terribly well. Most elections aren't really contested. Sure, two or three of the parties usually make the effort to ensure they have a candidate but few of them will even put out a leaflet and even fewer do so in the expectation that they might win ! All the parties struggle to find candidates - especiually ones that want to be elected and are reasonably competent. More often than not candidates agree to stand only after reassurance that they won't be elected

The actual mechanics of election campaigning are quite onerous - imagine if you were going to stand for election - you have to design, get printed, pay for and then deliver your own leaflet. You are likely to need between 2,000 10,000 copies. On when you have delivered it will you discover that perhaps 1 in 5 voters might have looked at it before it was binned ! That's if it is well designed and eye catching. Optimistically, some of those reading it might be interested in what you have to say and even remember it or have their vote influenced by it. Don't get to technical though, otherwise voters switch off. So what do you have in most places - people who don't want to be elected trying to appeal to people who aren't interested and who are almost deliberately ignorant of the facts.

Library Books - June 2011

The mystery of Lewis Carroll - by Jenny Woolf 2010 ISBN 978-1-90598-68-6

Probably the best book to read about Lewis Carroll aka Charles Dodgson.

It clearly and authoritatively sets the record straight. The new information she uncovered about his finances and falling out with the Liddells is particularly interesting. It has probably been said that more nonsense has been written about Lewis Carroll than appears in his books - if not it should have been :-)

Pete and Dud - An Illustrated Biography by Alexander Games.
Conventional wisdom is that Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were very funny in the 1960's and never really reached those heights again. This book tries to argue that perhaps some of the Derek and Clive stuff was very funny - but misses the point that conventional wisdom could be right and it doesn't really matter. Where conventional wisdom might be wrong is in arguing that Peter Cook in particular wasted his comic potential, whereas anyone who achieved so much is surely allowed a bit of slack !
The book is a good attempt to paint a warm and human picture of two complex and very different individuals.

Further Adventures of a Grumpy Old Rock Star by Rick Wakeman -  This book has me laughing out loud with genuinely funny stories from his life. True I don't think I've ever listened to any of his music, but as when the old lady asked him if he had made any discs, he replied yes, 136, she said "Have you sold all of them yet". Full of self-depreciating humour like the time he did a signing in Woolworth's and no-one turned up !

Fathers Day

David Cameron (Prime Minister of the UK) has written an article saying that runaway dads should be stigmatised, and the full force of shame was heaped upon them. They should be looked at like drunk drivers, people who are beyond the pale, they need it rammed home that what they are doing is wrong - leaving single mothers to fend for themselves simply isn't acceptable.

I think I know who the Prime Minister is getting at. But I'm not sure. I am never keen on "naming and shaming". Partly as many people no longer feel shame and partly because I'm not sure that even if they do, it leads to positive outcomes.

There are so many assumptions behind his article. Are drink drivers really beyond the pale for everyone ? What about runaway mums ? How many runaway dads are there ? Is it really a problem of deliberate fecklessness or is it more complicated ?

Cameron came up with a plan to offer £150 a year tax breaks for marriage - now I can accept that financial pressures put marriages under strain, I can also spot that plenty of very rich people get divorced - so the question is - would £3 a week make a difference to most marriages? I doubt it, so the argument retreats to it being symbolic, to sending out the right message, etc hmmm

145 times

Ed Milliband (Leader of the Labour Party in the UK) made an interesting speech the other day.
In it he noted a number of points:

In the last ten years the pay of someone at the top of a company has gone from 69 times the average wage to 145 times.

Every time a chief executive gives himself a massive pay rise - more than he deserves or his company can bear it undermines trust at every level of society.

But then he rather spoils it.

He says Labour was seen "however unfairly" as the Party of those ripping off society. Even as he acknowledges that Labour "Was intensely relaxed about what happened at the top of society".

How "unfair" to blame the "intensely relaxed" Labour Government for the massive pay rises!
But Ed has a solution - He rules out the Government setting maximum pay ratios - perish the thought.

The solution Ed offers is - well it's sort of make a speech and the top paid people will see they error of their ways and change. Job done. So as my only contribution to "sending out the right message" I just like to say that noone deserves to be paid 145 times anyone else.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Big Brother and the Holding Company

Another historic 1960's band. It started when Sam Andrews (guitar) heard the sound of Peter Albin (bass) playing guitar coming out of a high up window. in the spirit of the times he went up to speak to him, and that's how the band started.

James Gurley has been described as the father of psychedelic guitar. I don't think this is disputed. Before Janis Joplin joined the band, he was the star with his unique sound, due in part to being entirely self taught.

BBTHC had a raw, powerful sound that complimented Janis Joplin's raucous vocals. In the recording studio they suffered from trying take after take but, the very essence of their live performance had always been the impact of their sound, not being note perfect.

The irony is that Janis was persuaded to leave the band to be backed by technically better musicians, and perhaps had greater commercial success, but for most fans the BBTHC years (months?) were the best and most enjoyable. Perhaps she was right, she felt she needed a brass
section so help her sing. 3/5 of the band is still going now, had Janis lived, would she still be touring ? or retired like Grace slick from Jefferson Airplane.

Great Bands No 2 - The Great Society

The Great Society was Grace Slick band before she joined Jefferson Airplane.

Ironically it was the two Great Society songs "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" that became Jefferson Airplanes biggest and probably best known hits.

The Great Society versions are quite different.

Somebody to Love, written by Darby Slick, is much slower and melancholy.

As Darby says; "Our version was sadder. I'm not saying it was better ...."

White Rabbit is also slower and has a long instrumental intro.

Undoubtedly Jefferson Airplane were the better musicians but the Great Society recordings perfectly capture the transitional evolving folk-rock sound of 1965/66

Great Bands No 1 - Country Joe and the Fish

Country Joe and the Fish are one of the great bands to come out of San Francisco in the 1960's. They never made a big impact on the charts - their first single got to about number 98 in the American hot hundred, but they were a truly innovative group. As bassist Bruce Barthol said recently, ""It was real easy to be a genius, there were probably some folk songs that I was the first guy in the world to play electric bass on." Although they are sometimes viewed as a hippie band - Country Joe and the Fish weren't really hippies in that they all seemed to have shared left-wing political views, whereas the hippie view was against politics. Their first (and to most people, best album) was called "electric music for the mind and body". It ranged from the politics to folk - instrumentals to rock.

When they were making their 'difficult' third Album, the band almost split up. Indeed Country Joe left for a short while. The reason Joe gave for leaving was that he and lead guiaterist Barry Melton were arguing, Barry could "play anything" while drummer "Chicken" Hersh didn't want to play repedative beats while Bassist Barthol emulating Paul McCartney was strugglingto stay in tune. but, these were the very things that made them such an interesting band.

The Skeptic's Bible

The Skeptic's Bible is an excellent project to show how silly the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon are if you take them literally.

Of course too many people, the Bible, Koran and other books are not to be taken literally, or only selectively literally. A bit like political manifestos?

The trouble with this view is that it is there is no guidance as to which bits should be taken literally and which bits shouldn't.

Personally, I always find the more literal approach to be the more sensible.

Great Bands No 3 - Moby Grape

Rock music has it's fair share of bands that wow the critics but don't sell the records.

Moby Grape is one such band. Their first album, Moby Grape, is usually described as the perfect debut. Five members all of whom could sing, play and write songs produced a masterpiece.

After that everything seemed to go wrong for the band. The record company knowing the album was great released all the tracks as singles at the same time - thus ensuring that people thought the band was over hyped and that none of the records got enough coverage to be a hit.

Management problems, drug busts, a not quite so good second album, an even less good third album, members leaving, a trio struggling on, disbanding, occasional reunions, etc etc
Two band members ended up homeless and destitute.

It is one of the sad stories of rock music but the best music the band created still sound great.

Amazingly the 4 surviving members of the band reunited for the summer of love festival in San Fransico in September 2007.

Just one more God to go

When someone comes up to you in the street and asks if you believe in God, what do you say ?

Which God are you asking about ?

I think about the Gods of Ancient Roman and just find them all a bit implausible.

The Greek Gods are similar, but do they live on Mount Olympus still ?

I used to love tales of the Norse Gods in my younger days, Loki, Thor, Odin - they still have a small neo-pagan following.

There have been so many Gods over the years people have written encyclopedias about Gods, that have only scratched the surface.

The two most popular religions - Christianity and Islam insist that there is only one God. They dismiss all the others. Hundreds and thousands of Gods. Which leads to one of my favourite saying - most people are just one God short of being an Atheist.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Vogon Poetry


The books all kept like the library of Alexandria
Are all read now
Read and reread till the words fall dead
All knowledge squeezed out
All meaning removed
Till like an ancient earth mound
One can only guess at their meaning

The music all kept for the alien races
Is all played out now
All listened and heard till the tunes fall dead
All wisdom removed
No meaning is heard
Till like silence in space
No noise at all

The pictures all kept, like rare artefacts
Are all blank now
Seen and re-seen till the colours fall dead
They conjure no more
From the vaults of the mind
Till like a small Cheshire cat
There is nothing at all

The life once kept, like a child’s’ dragons hoard
Is all gone now
All acted out till the players are dead
Crumbled to dust
Like a closed down museum
The curator has left.

We hate socialists and capitalists, moralists and men,
Religious freaks, the middle class and those at number ten
Militarists, and pacifists and those who know their wrong
and people wearing glasses (oops, where did that one come from)
We’re out to smash the system to bring it crashing down
But, just for now we’ll go get pissed and hang around downtown
We boycott Barclays and Jaffa fruit cos apartheid must be fought.
Then smoke some unsound cigarettes cos we’re overwrought
It doesn’t help the third world when they could be growing grain
But when your desperate for a drag you’d rather not explain
We never vote at all you see, it’s really not expected
But, we always have a little moan when the bastards are elected.
Yeah, I’ve got a fanzine going you must read it, is that clear
Well, issue one should be out soon, ‘bout February next year
I despise the fat cats in the city who do nothing for their money
So I signed up for the dole, now don’t you think that’s funny?
Yes, I suppose I am a parasite but, it isn’t quite that bad
Because I’ve never really had to work for anything I’ve had
Of course I’d like to do something positive
But, all the jobs are so unsuited
I’d rather not use my hands
Cos I know I’d get polluted
I’m a fulltime revolutionary, I’m sure you will agree
I lie in bed and do sod all but dream of anarchy