Thursday, 4 December 2014

Jeremy Kyle again

The Jeremy Kyle show constantly uses so called 'lie detector tests'
Calling it a lie-detector suggests that a polygraph machine can detect lies. The device actually measures nervous excitement. It operates on the premise that if a person is telling the truth they will remain calm.
If fact the polygraph has been shown to have a 50% chance of detecting the truth ie. it is entirely random see Lykken, D. (1984). Polygraphic interrogation. Nature, 307, 681-684
the National Research Council an organization of scientists conducted a systematic evaluation and concluded that the test is lacking in scientific validity

Yet despite this being easily available public knowledge - Jeremy Kyle uses polygraph tests to humiliate people, to accuse them of lying to get them to end relationships, to stay in unsuitable relationship.  This is surely a breach of the relevant codes

The programme ought to be taken off air.

Friday, 28 November 2014

How might the Lib Dem 8% poll rating break down ?

How might the Lib Dem 8% break down ?

Assuming the Lib Dems don't contest in Northern Ireland or the speakers seat:

Reasonably the base Lib Dem vote is 2% - even in there worst 126 seats they should average 2% of the vote.   At the other end the Lib Dems have 57 seats they hold, rounded to 63  for the maths and to reflect a few wild cards. In line with the Ashcroft polls I've gone for a 31% average in these seats - for some that might mean 20 -25%, almost certainly not enough to win to up to about 40% in other place pretty much a sure win.

To stand any chance of winning their held or target seats the Lib Dems will need to be polling abysmally in half the seats where they won't even keep their deposit.
But what of the seats the Lib Dems did well in last time but didn't win - thee seats where they polled above their 23% average? Things don't look good - in most of these seats the Lib Dems will do well to poll 5% and save their deposit. In the old days the Liberal party was famous for losing deposits but that was when you needed 12.5% to save it.

1% across 631 seats =1% national vote
126 seats where they get 2% adds 0.2%
126 seats where Lib Dems get 3% adds 0.4%
126 seats where Lib Dems get 4% - adds 0.6%
63 seats where Lib Dems get 5% - adds 0.4%
63  seats where Lib Dems get 7% adds 0.6%
63 seats where Lib Dems get 21% adds 2%
63 seats where Lib Dems get 31% adds 3%

Total Lib Dem vote nationwide 8.2%

Monday, 17 November 2014

Laurel and Hardy

I hope this report is true, more importantly, I hope they recreate the sketch 'birds of a feather' that Laurel and Hardy performed on this tour - the script is available.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Yes Minister - a very courageous decision

This is a great book - as well researched as the TV programme it covers.

Yes Minister was one of the truly great BBC sitcoms - it was a worthy contestant for best sitcom, where it came 6th.  It works on TV on radio, in the magnificent books, and also as recent events show, as a stage show.  Few comedies can cope so well with different mediums.

I think the thing that stops Yes Minister being the funniest is that it is bound by reality and is perhaps too serious.

What is interesting is that not only was a lot of the comedy based on real events, even comedy the writers thought they had invented turned out to have real life counterparts !

One strange thing highlighted is the episode where the Health Minister proposed to clamp down on smoking with a variety of suggestions that seemed funny then but which pretty much became Government policy 20 years later.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Graham Nash - Wild Tales

Graham Nash autobiography - is very frank and revealing.  Starting with his childhood in Salford, greater Manchester after WW2, having an out door toilet and no hot running water and often feeling hungry - a salutary reminder of how recently such poverty was widespread.  It covers his love of music at school and church and how rock and roll and skiffle changed his life - leading through various bands to the Hollies and then Crosby Stills and Nash (and Young)  and various combinations.

He is very sweet about leaving the Hollies and instant that it was a Joni Mitchells (not at Cass Eliotts of the Mamas and Papas) that he, David Crosby and Stephen Stills first sang together

There is a lot about the drugs and the women in his life, even more about the effects of drugs on David Crosby, Nash's best friend and musical collaborator.

It is very sad to read about Crosby's drug addiction, even if it has been covered by Crosby himself in his autobiography - how can one not feel sad when after a 3 hour intervention meeting by family and friends. Crosby goes off to the bathroom to smoke some more heroin, smokes more all the way to rehab and checks himself out of rehab within hours and takes drugs all the way back to his house.

Crosby became unable to sing properly and in some concerts his mike was turned down and another person sang his parts.

It slightly odd to hear so many Crosby Still and Nash songs described as political - at best most are quite obliquely so, but perhaps that's no bad thing, most directly political songs have a short lifespan if any at all.  What is undoubted is that they certainly played a lot of benefit concerts and did a lot of awareness raising. 

Perhaps strangest of all, when Crosby Stills and Nash were looking for a label, they sang for George Harrison and an Apple employee, they turned them down, the sang for Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, they didn't get it either.

Monday, 29 September 2014

RIP Maggie Stables

Of all the Big Finish Dr Who new companions - she was my favourite.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Scottish Referendum

What strikes me is the way the three main parties have been out manoeuvred again and again. It was the Lib Dems who blocked a referendum and instead installed an minority SNP administration – which unsurprisingly showed the SNP could govern and strengthened support for the SNP, while the Lib Dems became an irrelevance in the Scottish Parliament. Holding a referendum years ago when support for independence was lower and the referendum not controlled by the SNP – does it really need hindsight to say that was the wrong decision.

David Cameron agreed a deal with the SNP and gave in on timing of the referendum, the franchise and the wording – he won only on excluding the option of Devo-Max, something that would have changed the whole nature of the debate.

There are clearly two debates going on – the one reported in the English Media and the one going on in Scotland – time and again the party leaders speak out on a issue – but the majority of people are engaged in their own grass roots debate and aren’t listening to the political establishment. The parties aren’t connecting with the voters.

The party leaderships nod and agree they need a more positive No campaign only to launch the next negative scare story and while they argue that independence has so many unknowns, so does devo max and they have no answer as to why they haven’t already introduced devo max.
Labour signs up to better together but then has to have its own Labour campaign – Labour tribalism and hostility to pluralism is as strong as ever. They ought to have decided either they should be part of better together or not.

The yes campaign is headed by Alistair Darling – except when it isn’t. Tellingly it’s never the leaders of the opposition MSP’s and I bet that even now most people couldn’t tell who leads for example the Conservatives in Holyrood. As with the more positive No campaign, everyone nods and says its a matter for the Scottish people and then they are cancelling PMQ’s to tell people how to vote.
I believe the SNP didn’t expect to win a referendum and the plan was always Devo Max followed by Independence in 10 or 20 years – looks like they have got exactly what they want.

I expect the SNP are set to do very well at the next general election – the sheer volume of campaign data, contacts, activists they have generated is enormous , more than that they have changed views. I’d go further and say the Lib Dems are most at risk of losing votes – people who are already looking for an alternative to Labour and Tory are easier to shift.
Lastly aesop’s fables – although negative campaigning does work, if you want someone to take their jacket off, sunshine is better than wind. The interventions of Danny Alexander et al – you can’t have a currency union, there is no going back, etc doesn’t make people feel like loved and valued.
People talk about head and heart – but people are both and the shopping list approach to politics with no narrative is not cutting the mustard.

Seriously Funny - a new play about Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams by Iain Barton and Wink Taylor

One never knows with a new play whether it will live up to hopes and expectations, this one did.

Playing someone well known can be difficult - the danger is looking like a shop mannequin rather than a Madame Tussaurd look alike

Iain Barton was great as Tony Hancock - he had the full rang of Hancockian facial expressions, voices and was always in character. Wink Taylor was so like Kenneth Williams it was uncanny.

The play is partly a run through some of the funniest sketches from Hancock's Half Hour - as Kenneth appeared in only 6 TV episodes only one of which survives as a recording, the sketches are bar one from the radio HHH.

Spoiler - skip this paragraph if you don't want to know what episodes - ok your still reading so her they are: The Alpine Holiday, the test pilot sketch,  the television set, the conjuror, Hancock in the Police, the wild man of the woods, the Ralph Reader Gang Show.

The sketches are occasionally adapted for the play with a few new jokes and some great ad libs were thrown in in response to the audience. The audience loved it, even though many probably knew the sketches by heart - seeing Wildman of the Woods acted out was just hilarious.

The play also covers the off-mike relationship between Tony and Kenneth - their initial friendship, the discussions about the nature of comedy, the discussions on philosophy and religion and the meaning of life, the falling out over the "Snide" character - Kenneth's best known voice and the one that made him a star. Hancock said Snide wasn't real life - Kenneth is the play points out that it was an exact copy of the voice of someone he met in real life !  At some points Kenneth acts as a narrator for events in Hancocks life, but this comes across as if he was talking on a chat show or to his diary not as exposition. The play recreates the desperate phone calls from Hancock to try and get Kenneth to take part in his disastrous show at the Festival Hall, Wink Taylors performance of the sadness and anger Kenneth must have felt is fantastic.  The play lasted just over 30 minutes for the first act and about 40 minutes for the second with an interval in between.

It is very sad to think both of these comedy geniuses committed suicide.  As the story goes - the Dr says to the patient go and see Groc the greatest clown ever, he will make you feel better, and the patient bursts into tears and says - but Dr, I am Groc.

The play made me think about Kenneth Williams, who rightly complained in his diaries that he had all the disadvantages of being a star but none of the money. His career is seen as being stuck in a  rut with ever worsening Carry Ons, but actually - many of the Carry On's were very good films, at least up to 1970's Carry on Henry.  Outside the Carry On's he had  a career many people would have relished - from jack-a-nory to chat show host, author and radio star - and these don't seem to be so acknowledged.

While he occasionally yearned to be given more serious parts, on stage at least Kenneth could often not resist doing the funny voices and cheap laughs.  It is a great shame the film was never made to go with his amazing performance of a diary of a madman - perhaps he would have got some better offers  listen to it here

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Falling Down

Lovely tune by Joe Walsh and Don Henley

Friday, 29 August 2014

Three more books

Parkys People - by Michael Parkinson - a collection of interviews by Michael Parkinson. A good book to dip into -

I am not convince that Michael Parkinson is a great interviewer - for example in 1999 still asking Paul McCartney about his first meeting with John Lennon - surely something that had been covered endlessly.  On the other hand, the rather dull and banal nature of the questions often lets the interviewer get across what they want. Occasionally this results in the person going through the motions and repeating answers to the well known top 10 questions I am always asked, more often it does allow someone with something interesting to say to say it.  Putting people at their ease to be interviewed is a skill and Parkinson has that and he does try some tougher questions too. Overall I prefer his style to the interviewer who is all about themselves.

Hitler - the Victory that nearly was by Bruce Quarrie plots an all too convincing alternate version of WW2 in which Hitler wins. 

Churchill Defiant - 1945-1955 by Barbara Leaming. This is a great book setting out the political life of Winston Churchill from 1945 to 1955 a period usually skipped over with a brief oh he became Prime Minister again didn't do much and resigned.  This book gives a great insight into Churchill's  struggles within the Conservative Party,(where many people were keen he should step down as soon as WW2 was over, (some before that even had never wanted him to be leader at all) and his efforts to secure a peaceful settlement between the USSR and the USA and Western Europe which would avoid a war, use of nuclear weapons and more besides.   As this elderly and quite ill man out manoeuvred his Cabinet and US Presidents, they couldn't quite decide whether he was senile or in possession of  devilish cunning.  It seems he had the cunning but not in the end the ability to shape events as he would have wished.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Prime Ministers who never were

The Prime Ministers who never were - edited by Francis Beckett. A collections of political counterfactuals, I found it rather disappointing in that a couple of the examples seem to stray a bit to far from reality and into wish fulfilment.  On the other hand, they weren't afraid to paint some less than rosy pictures - George Brown being PM instead of Harold Wilson ending up losing his seat in the following general election. The most interesting and convincing was though the idea that Oswald Mosley might have stayed in the Labour Party and ended up party Leader and Prime Minister if he hadn't gone off instead to form the New Party and later the British Union of Fascists.

Treblinka - A survivor's memory by Chil Rajchman

Chil Rajchman was 28 when he was arrested and sent to Treblinka death camp where more than 750,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis. This is the story of how he survived long enough to take part in an uprising and escape. Writing down while he was in hiding it is an almost matter of fact description of the horror of mass murder.  Unpublished until 2009 this is a horrific reminder of the evil humanity is capable of.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Re-writing the 'Myths of Churchill'

Blood sweat and arrogance the myths of Churchill's war by Gordon Carrigan

A strange book that not only points out that Churchill interfering ways sometimes hindered his generals in World war II but also tries to blame Churchill for budget cuts to the armed services after 1918.

Quite frankly the later of these charges is rather odd, Churchill, even in his few years as Chancellor of the Exchequer was not single handedly responsible for Government policy neither was there any real chance in the 1920's or early 1930's of anyone keeping up the levels of military expenditure advocated by the author.

The earlier charge that Churchill interfered and often made things worse, is already well known, and on the other side of the argument has to be set the fact that he often led or interfered and made things better.  Surely on balance his contribution to the allies winning WWII is undoubted. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


So far the death toll in Gaza is 600 people form a population of 1.8 Million.   A similar death toll in the UK as a proportion of the population would be something like 20,000 people.

The actions of the Israeli Government is illegal under international law and is counter productive in terms of Israel's self interest.

The death toll in Gaza is now 700 - just from this recent action alone.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Thursday, 3 July 2014

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Private schools - the truth is out ?

Interesting article here by the often dreadful Toby Young

Those educated at state schools – earn an average of £193,700 more between the ages of 26 and 42, to be precise. But this premium falls to just £57,653 once family background and cognitive ability are taken into account.

It may need some more study, but one implication of this report is that for two people of the same ability, one will get an income £58,000 higher (over 16 years) simply because they attended a private school.    The second point is that the aim of making state schools just as good as private schools is inherently flawed, as 3/4 of the advantage enjoyed by private school pupils has nothing to do with their education and the other 1/4 is largely down to the 'old boys network'.

I would add several caveats, not having read the report, but one is the often misleading nature of averages.  Another is the cumulative effect of higher earnings - the very existence of a higher income gives one money to make money.   I suspect that in terms of wealth people who attend private school are much more than £200,000 better off by the age of 42. 

The Curse of Brink's-Mat

By Wesley Clarkson - a comprehensive account of the theft of £28 million of gold bars from the Brink's Mat Warehouse in 1983.

With the increased price of gold and the 'investment', VAT fraud and money laundering the value of the theft and it's impact on other crime is estimated at many times that, up to 100 times.

Ironically, the haul was a mistake, the gang were expecting to find £3 million in cash.

Over 20 deaths are linked to the aftermath of the robbery.  The saddest that of an unarmed over cover police officer stabbed 10 times, supposedly in self defence (his killer was acquitted of murder, but got sent to prison for killing another innocent victim later, that time his self defence plea was not believed.)

Corruption in the Police hindered the investigations and unfortunately low paid clerical staff seem to be a weak link when files go missing and people are tipped off.

Crime has moved on and armed robbers are usually caught and usually quite dim for even attempting it. The trouble with greed as motivation is that it leaves people trapped - incapable of normal relationships, incapable of a normal lifestyle and often betrayed by their inability to keep a low profile.

The life of a gangster doesn't seem to have any attractions - as the police commented about one person involved, they could have been a millionaire quite legitimately had they used their skills as an honest businessman.  Tellingly most of those involved seem not to want it for their own family's and relations. 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Wasteful spending

Yet more evidence that actually many people aren't better at spending their own money than Governments.

This is probably the tip of the iceburg.  How many millions have a poor deal on their mobile phone, on their

While their is plenty of joy for the canny bargain hunter most people tend to adopt differnent strategies for buying products - such as always buying the cheapest, most expensive, the one recommend, the branded one, etc

Thursday, 19 June 2014

you don't know what a deficit is do you.

Labour proposed to cut the deficit by half in this parliament, the coalition has cut it by a third, that means Labour would have made more cuts. We are now in the absurd position of the coalition criticising Labour for not being tough enough on the deficit when the coalition have missed their own targets and have done worst than Labours plans

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

All politicians are the same

Really  - at 31 parties standing in the UK European Elections were identical.

Here I go again

There are few cover versions of Country Joe McDonald songs. This one reached no 17 in the UK charts. Val Doonican did a version too.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The woman who wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare

Shakespeares dark lady - Amelia Bassano Lanier: the woman behind by the Shakespeares palys  John Hudson ISBN 978 1-4456-2160-9

A thought provoking book on the theory that Amelia Bassano Lanier was the author of the plays of Shakespeare. I started off unconvinced but by the end, I was very open to the idea.

Unfortunately I am not enough of a scholar of Shakespeare and his/her plays to say whether the theory is sound.  I would recommend everyone to read it.

Opinion polls in Lib Dem held seats

Lord Oakeshott commissioned opinion polls in the constituencies of 5 Liberal Democrat MPs - it is alleged by Nick Clegg and other that he did this to deliberately damage the party.

That is utter nonsense.   Lord Oakeshott was first asked by someone else to commission a poll in Vince Cable's constituency.  This he did and it showed the Lib Dems in second place - worrying you would think as Mr Cable had a majority of 12,140 or 20% of the vote.

Most people - me included would have it in our list of dead cert Lib Dem holds at the next general election.

It can't be stressed strongly enough the opinion polls are opinions polls - if they had shown that the Lib Dems were set to romp home in Twickenham - then how on earth would that damage the party.
If on the other hand the polls showed the Lib Dems doing badly, they ought to act as a warning to the Lib Dems not to be complacent.

The weird reaction to the polls is unfortunate - because one only has to look at the local election results in Twickenham (part of the London Borough of Richmond) to know the Lib Dems are in trouble, and the polls confirm they apply to the parliamentary seat.  Vince Cable was elected in 1997, if any Lib Dem is going to have an incumbency factor where years of hard work and high name recognition are going to help them keep a seat, it is surely someone like Vince Cable. As the Lib Dem general election strategy is based on such an approach, it is just as well to know now it is not likely to work.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The suffragettes in pictures

The suffragettes in pictures by Diane Atkinson.

An amazing book and quite traumatic to read.

The  book is full of photos of the suffragettes - a fascinating insight into their campaign. The organisational achievements are truly impressive and the inventiveness of the campaign inspiring. the massive rallies before the use of public address systems and loud speakers is astonishing.

The text doesn't hold back from high lighting the splits that hit the movement and the change from militant tactics to arson attacks on houses, letter boxes and other places that served mainly to alienate support for the cause of votes for women.  It is dreadful to think of the suffering endured by women who endured hunger strikes and force feeding often shortening their lives and giving them permanent injuries and health problems. More dreadful still to think of the apathy towards voting expressed by some women today.

It is quite melancholy feeling to see how they plainly had right on their side but were essentially unsuccessful in their aims until the first world war undermined most of the arguments against women suffrage and more importantly changed attitudes towards women.

The whole episode was a shameful chapter in the history of the Liberal Party - and Asquith in particular with his opposition to woman's suffrage caused immense long-term harm to the Liberal Party.  In their defence - of perhaps which more in another post - it is often forgotten that plenty of men did not have the vote and the Liberals didn't have a majority in the House of Commons. let alone the House of Lords to secure  votes for women.  The political tactics of the suffragettes also seem somewhat counter productive - harassing Cabinet Ministers although understandable is perhaps poor psychology if you wish to win people over. Also supporting Conservatives in by-elections who opposed votes for women even if the Liberal candidate supported votes for women didn't make much political sense.

After votes for some women was achieved in 1918 - it seems people forgot what the fuss was about and it was soon extended to all women over 21 in 1928. The leading suffragettes all went separate ways - some like Emmeline Pankhurst became Conservative candidates for Parliament, some Labour some gave up politics, and some just suffered from ill health and went to an early grave.

I'm european, and british and english and human

One of the worst ever party political broadcasts (and there has been a lot of competition) is surely the mind numbingly awful English Democrats.

I've never had much truck with mindless nationalism and xenophobia - I love being English, I feel very privileged, but I don't imagine for one moment that I was offered a choice of nationalities before  was born.  I feel English, I feel British, I feel European and I feel like a citizen of the world.

The English Democrats do not  - in fact so strongly do they feel that they are no European, not British but English, they keep repeating it in their 5 minute long party political broadcast.

Oddly, or rather typically for a party promoting mindless nationalism they seem to have very little idea about their country.  There broadcast was full of unEnglish things they were proud of:
Boadicea - well, she rule a tribe in ancient Britain, in 61AD she led a revolt against Roman rulers.   England was  takes its name from the Angles one of the Germanic tribes who settled during the 5th and 6th centuries AD.  England didn't become a state until 927 AD at the earliest and really only from the time of Edward the Confessor 100 years later.  So Boadicea missed out on being English by, oooh, almost 1000 years !

The English Democrat song played in the background told us to be proud of England - from Lands End to Hadrian's Wall - ah yes, we ought to be proud of Hadrian Wall, built by the Romans and lets not mention the Cornish Nationalists while discussing Lands End.

The English Democrats love Nelson  (British definitely, Britain was formed by the act of Union in 1707, Horatio Nelson was born in 1758 )  Winston Churchill (Half American) and Enoch Powell (who sat as an MP for North Ireland - which isn't in England)

And England is of course the land of Saint George (probably born to a Greek Christian noble family in Lydda in Palestine,  between about 275 AD and 285 AD) who didn't become patron Saint of England till about 1350 and was largely forgotten by about 1800.

And they couldn't end the broadcast without mentioning that well known English City - Jerusalem !

All in all as bout as English as a kangaroo.

the best party political this year

Almost makes me want to live in Northern Ireland

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

the wooden horse

The film the wooden horse was show the other day.

It is quite amazing to think that the men who tunnelled out of a prisoner of war camp in the escape known as the "wooden horse" managed to tunnel 100 feet in three months. Only the shaft had wooden shoring meaning the rest of the tunnel carried a high risk of collapse.   The three men who escaped made it back to re-join the war effort. It makes me wonder about their bravery and whether their return made any difference to the war.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Remaking Hancocks Half Hour

What a pleasure to be in the company of Kevin McNally and Neil Pearson.

Kevin is playing the part of Tony Hancock in the remakes of 5 Hancock Half Hours radio episodes that were made but were wiped from the BBC archive. Neil Pearson is the producer.

The first thing to say is that Kevin McNally has been a  massive Hancock Fan for 50 years and the second thing to say is he is absolutely brilliant.  Superb people like Richard Briars and Alfred Molina
have played the part of Hancock but no one has done it better than Kevin McNally.

Things we learnt.
1. The scripts are played using the more fully developed Hancock character/performance from series three onwards
2. It is hoped that the other 15 missing radio episodes will be remade and perhaps even the missing TV episodes adapted for radio.
3. The OTT Kenneth Williams like mannerisms and performance of actor playing Kenneth Williams (Robin Sebastian) started to get on the nerves of the actor playing Hancock - an echo perhaps of real life
4.  The actor playing Bill Kerr (Kevin Eldon) was so good "It was like having Bill Kerr in the studio
5. The cast were all the first choice to play the parts - an advantage of radio's short time demands.
6. The cast had one day of getting to know each other and then 2 days for rehearsals /  recordings
7. Prior to the recording, the studio audience were given modern day equivalents to think of when contemporary figures from the 1950's were mentioned in the script.
Questions - Will the recording be released on CD or download.

500 million people voting - wheres the democracy in that

500 million people are entitled to vote for their representative in the European Parliament.

In April in 2014 more than a billion people were eligible to vote in a sudden flurry of national elections in some of the world's largest – and newest democracies. 800 million  In India, another 190 million have the right to vote in Indonesian.  Algeria 21 million could vote to decide on 17 April about whether to give President Abdelaziz Bouteflika a fourth term. And smaller electorates in Hungary, Macedonia and Guinea-Bissau were also be able to exercise their democratic right last month.

Of course democracy is more than about voting - but without voting it is not democracy.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Pam Ayres - Perfectly Pitched

Pam Ayres 2 hour show (plus interval) was brilliant.  Years of performing meant a finely honed performance and it was clear that Pam works hard to keep the show new and fresh whilst not disappointing old fans.

She even joked that doing "I wish I'd looked after my teeth" was like Frank Sinatra having to do my way.

Pam thrived on the appreciative audience - a couple of times even laughing at the laughter she provoked and she revealed at the end of the show she was getting over a but had been lifted by the warmth of the reception.

A mixture of poems, stories and reading from her memoirs had the audience in stitches. Describing the dull pubs in her village in the 1950's she would hear some old codger say "it's dead in here tonight"   long pause before someone else would chime in with "that's a fact" - thank heavens it was or Pam might never had had the feeling that there must be more to life than that nightly ritual.

Just because Pam poetry is usually comic, it is sometimes sniffed at, but writing a funny comic poem, especially one that bears repeating is no easy task.   To keep a packed concert hall entertained with nothing on stage apart from a small table, a few books and a glass of water is quite marvellous.

Pam once said a woman approached her and said "Aren't you pam Ayres ? Didn't you used to write limericks. To which she replied, yes that's right, but what she thought was "Poems and I am better than ever."  Pam your right, your poems are better than ever and being comic doesn't stop you being profound.

UKIP - lacking the courage of their convictions

Why do UKIP want a referendum ? Why not say vote UKIP and the UK will leave the EU. Then if people wanted to leave the EU, they have a mechanism to achieve it. The Farage referendum is no better than Camerons. Neither actually tells us what a post referendum UK relationship with the EU would be like. Funny how the people suggesting the UK will play hardball with Scotland if it votes to leave seem to think the EU will have a happy divorce from the UK, instead of a bitter and destructive one. I think the EU would mind taking a few hits on its own short-term finances and trade with the UK if it sets an example to others. UKIP says it has a whole range of policies on other issues - which again begs the question - why not have a policy on the EU, a referendum is not a policy, it's not even British its a dreadful European device that undermines the parliamentary system.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

the insanity continues

The average price of a three-bedroom home in London's most expensive neighbourhoods has increased by £729 a day over the past year, according to estate agent Marsh & Parsons.
The firm said the price rise of 19% since April 2013, to an average of £1.6m was equivalent to £5,120 a week – or eight times the £658-a-week median salary for Londoners.

Conservative MPs are revolting

over High speed rail 2, with upto 35 threatening to vote against the Government - frankly I remain unconvinced about the merits of HS2 and it would be great if there was a free vote for all MPs. This is a massive decision and nobody can know what is right and wrong - it is all estimates and guesswork.  the opportunity cost of not spending he money on other things is also a matter of judgement as to whether they would be more worthwhile, whatever the merits of HS2. 

Monday, 31 March 2014

A recent opinion poll suggests that just 49% of people in the UK believe in God ( bit of a biased question for those who believe in two or more Gods) and 55% believe in the super natural.

actually both figures are slightly down from a similar poll in 2008  - 58 percent believe in the supernatural, including paranormal encounters, while 54 percent believe God exists.

Predictably, certain commenters - like Melanie Phillips
trot out the usual line from G.K. Chesterton "when people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything." The implication is that people abandon religion and take up belief in anything from psychic healing, telepathy, astrology, ghosts and demons etc

My experience is that actually, the self declared atheist is actually far more sceptical of super natural claims - its inherent in rejecting a super natural God.

Plenty of religious believers I have met have had no problem reconciling their religious belief with astrology, crystal healing, and all sorts of super natural phenomena.

So it would be interesting to see the polling data broken down to see whether my anecdotal evidence is backed by the polling figures. Mostly, I just find the assumption by people like Melanie Philips rather odd.

With just 6% of the population claiming to be regular church goers, I suspect even believers in God have but a vague comforting idea about karma, things we don't understand, everything being OK when you die etc  just in the same way someone guessing the person calling them on the phone - might find it comforting to think it was a sixth sense that made them 'know' who it was.

Making Fire

Lovely article by Ray Mears on what sets humans apart from other animals

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Shout - the Beatles by Philip Norman

A strange book - packed with details and information but one is left feeling short changed.

Norman obviously has a bee in his bonnet about George Harrison, described pretty much as an average guitarist who ought to be grateful he played with Lennon and McCartney and constantly referred to as grumpy, etc. 

Rather weak on the music - The Revolver Album for example is covered in two pages,  it lacks a joy that the Beatles music brings.

Tiny things niggle - in the Film a Hard days Night, the The frequent reference to McCartney's grandfather (played by Wilfrid Brambell) as a "clean old man" sets up a contrast with the stock description of Brambell's character, Albert Steptoe in Steptoe and Son as a "dirty old man". But Norman misses this and attributes it to reference in Gilbert and Sullivan !

Magna Carta - did she dies in vain

1215 is a great book about the Magna Carta - or great charter signed by King John of England in the year 1215 AD in order to placate the Barons. 

Taking most of the major clauses in turn it explains the background and reasons for their inclusion at the same time giving a great insight into life in England at the time.

A final chapter covers some of the myths about Magna Carta - from being only about the rights of Barons (OK it was mainly about the rights of Barons!) to being a foundation of liberty (Ok it has a place as rallying point for human rights)

Strangely enough King John soon went back on his word, meaning the immediate impact of the document was very small.

Two snippets - English Law moved from trial by ordeal  to trial by jury (whereas most of the rest of Europe rediscovered roman law which use torture on both accused and accuser to get to the truth)

The loss of the French Lands by King John (at one point the English Kings ruled more of France than the French King did!) was a pivotal moment in the development of both England and France.  Prior to John, England was ruled by Kings based in France. 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

the ukrianian situation

Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, moved in during 2011. A typical oligarch, Akhmetov made his money during the collapse of the Soviet Union by acquiring public assets at bargain-basement prices, and has since denied allegations of past links to organised crime. He is the owner of System Capital Management, a holding company that from its headquarters in Donetsk runs a steel and coal empire, as well as banks and media businesses, and the football club Shakhtar Donetsk. As an ally and backer of the departed pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, he sat as a powerfully influential member of the Ukrainian parliament. In January, his companies reportedly won nearly a third of state tenders while his son's companies won most of the rest. Forbes magazine estimated his wealth at £10bn in 2011.

Akhmetov paid £136.4m for two flats spread over the top floors of One Hyde Park, – Akhmetov is liable to pay Westminster council £1,353.48 a year.  Band H, the top band.

every day sexism

Saturday, 15 March 2014

No need for feminism ?

I am indebted to Sandi Toksvig for supplying the figure that women own just 1% of global assets.
If you want to quibble that it's really 2% go ahead, the fact remains distribution of wealth is incredibly uneven and unjust.

solicitors "regulation" biased - well there's a surprise

Having solicitors regulate themselves is laughable - it like having the Police investigate themselves.

Conduct that in most other walks of life would be gross misconduct and lead to dismissal gets no more than a letter from the SRA, if that.

Tony Benn RIP

Tony Benn ..... "continued to make the case that a world in which the richest 400 have the same wealth as the poorest 2 billion is probably a bit wrong, and could do with putting right. And he did it to the end, in such a way that made anyone listening believe it was possible."

three of my favourite Tony Benn quotes:

1. "After the war people said, 'If you can plan for war, why can't you plan for peace?' When I was 17, I had a letter from the government saying, 'Dear Mr. Benn, will you turn up when you're 17 1/2? We'll give you free food, free clothes, free training, free accommodation, and two shillings, ten pence a day to just kill Germans.' People said, well, if you can have full employment to kill people, why in God's name couldn't you have full employment and good schools, good hospitals, good houses?"
To a PBS documentary in 2000.
2. "If one meets a powerful person - Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, -  one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system."

3. When you think of the number of men in the world who hate each other, why, when two men love each other, does the church split?"
On equal marriage and the Church of England. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

More emigration please

The latest figures provided by the British government - and gathered by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) - are an estimate. They're the best guide we have as to where Brits who have moved abroad are living in the EU.

Interestingly, they suggest that the number of Brits living outside the UK but in another EU country is 2.2 million - about the same as the number of EU citizens who are now living in the UK (2.34 million).

Tough to take for UKIP who want to get rid of all the non British EU citizens in the UK - but the flip side of that will be  taking back 2.2 million Brits who live in other EU countries

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Co-op divvy of £3.6 million

My touching naivety is still intact and I was actually shocked to find that the new head of the co-operative group is being paid £3.6 million for less than 8 months 'work'.

For older readers - that is a lot of green shield stamps !

I can't help but feel that this is hugely at odd with the philosophy of the Rochdale Pioneers, usually seen as founders of the co-operative movement.

co-operative members believe in the ethical values of:
  • Honesty
  • Openness
  • Social responsibility
  • Caring for others

  • Once again I have not heard anything from any politicians of any party on the subject.

    Monday, 10 March 2014

    Thursday, 20 February 2014

    Churchill and Adolf

    The hugely talented Pip Utton performed two of his one man shows as a charity fundraiser in Frome at the lovely Merlin Theatre.

    Churchill is a brief run through he life of Winston Churchill.  As he complains, 100 word in a guide book is not enough to sum up someone who packed so much into 90 years of life.  An hour barely scratched the surface either.  The play is brilliantly performed, packed with detail and littered with some of Churchill's famous and not so famous witty comments - as well as a few topical jokes.

    The stage set up is small but effectively used, changing pace and feel.  The speech, after the battle of Britain was deeply moving.  I am in awe of Utton ability to transform himself into someone, capturing the mannerism, the gait, the voice, to remember and deliver lines in the right spot with the right gesture or tone of voice, or pause, all done without a slip.  Brilliant.

    Adolf, after an interval was rather disturbing, no doubt it's intention.  After being harangued by Hitler with his imagined last testament, Utton continues the play as himself - trying to draw people into to accepting more and more of his views on life and politics.  Sounding like a UKIP supporter after a few pints, it is uncomfortable to listen to. The twist comes at the end, when he starts to morph back into Hitler and asks what will we the audience do when we hear the voice of Hitler - for in a sense he has never gone away.  I am not sure that this is enough.  I would hate to confront Hitler on a talk show or in a  debate.  There is no doubt Hitler was a brilliant orator and had a steamrolling charisma, in an utterly bad way.   99% of the play seems to put forward Hitlers case, of course it is not its intention to promote Hitler, just the opposite - but does it , I am not sure.

    Most of us have seen film of Hitler on TV or actors playing the part, here though, he was recreated - yes it was in English, yes it was play but it is about a close to experiencing Hitler as one could wish to get. As Utton said at the start, speaking as Hitler, you wish I would go away, but I won't.  What I find most disturbing is that the debate in the UK at the moment is crowded with little Hitlers, not in the old sense of the words, the petty bureaucrat or parking metre attendant, but the people who hate people on benefits, who attack the disabled, who lump all Muslims together, how see the unemployed as worthless, who think people with mental illness should just pull themselves together, who think every problem can be solved by punishing people.  Yes, Hitler hasn't gone away. 

    Sunday, 16 February 2014

    The non-triumph of a by-election win

    By-elections have a important role in the mythology of British Politics. Shock by-election wins - like the Liberal Winning at Orpington  in 1962 send earthquakes through the political parties.
    Labour have and will try to make much of winning the by-elections held on 15th November 2012, but the reality is that they are dire results for all the political parties and

    At least Labour won and their share of the votes cast is up - so a triumph.

    The result from Cardiff South and Penarth was

    Labour        17,262 now 9193
    Conservative12,552 now 3,859
    Lib Dem        9,875 now 2,103

    Plaid Cymru   1,851 now 1,854
    UKIP             1,145 now 1,179
    Green                554 now 800
    Christian Party   285 now 0

    Socialist Labour     0 now 235
    Communist Party 196 now 0

    Although I could be posting the result from the latest by-election in Manchester - where Labour again 'won' but 70% of electors didn't bother to vote.  It ought to be a real wake up call for politicians of all parties, but more importantly, electors need to realise that not voting doesn't help. No politician has failed to take a seat because they were so embarrassed by low turn out.  Not voting makes it too easy for the bad politicians to win.  Tell them your not voting and they can stop canvassing you, stop leafleting you, stop paying you any attention what so ever. Russell Brand is a complete idiot with his call for people not to vote. People have different views - some method is needed too determine what si to be done - if anyone has a better system than voting, I'd like to know about it. As Churchill said democracy is the worse system, apart from all the others.  If you think democracy is bad, I recomend a year in Afganistan, or imbabwe or Syria or North Korea and see what you think then.

    David Steel from rising hope to elder statesman

    David Steel - Rising hope to Elder Statesman - by David Torrance iSBN 9781849541404

    Cabinet Ministers reach the top, if they are lucky they hang around a bit, get resuffled and hope to do some good. Few are remembered even at the time, let alone years later.  There are exceptions, but even Prime Ministers come and go and fade from the memory.   So David Steel deserves at least recognition of having a  longer and more lasting impact on British politics than most others, without ever having 'reached the top'.

    David Steel says he became a Liberal because he knew he wasn't Conservative and he wasn't Labour, so by elimination he became a Liberal. Positive commitment for Liberalism followed  as he listend to others more committed.

    Several things are really striking for David Steels Liberalism

    1. His willingness to work with people of other parties and none to put Liberal values into action. Notably on abortion reform, anti-aparthied campaigns, on the EU referendum in 1975, the Lib/Lab Pact of 1977-78 and in the creation of the SDP and the SDP/Liberal Alliance

    2. His liberalism was rooted in people being nicer to each other. 

    3. His willingness to stand up for what he believed, even if it was unpopular, e.g anti-aparthied,

    David Steel will always be association with legalising abortion, the 1967 abortion Act.  Actually, abortion was already legal in some circumstances, but still 40 women a year died from illegal abortions.

    Steel wanted to take the Liberals back into Government - his willingness to build links with Liberals in all parties is a skill sadly lacking in Nick Clegg.

    A life on unemployment benefit ?

    Unemployment stands at around 2,500,000
    900,000 people have been out of work for over a year,
    of these 467,000 – have been unemployed for over two years.
    of these accord to Iain Duncan Smith 300,000 have been unemployed for over 3 years.

    As you can see, the longer time goes on the fewer people remain unemployed.

    If things continue at the same sort of rate,the number of people unemployed for 4 years or more will be
    about 150,000,  at 5 years 100,000

    So who exactly are the families that have had three generations without a job.Largely an urban myth or a number so extremely small it makes me wonder why we are so concerned about people who don't want a job when we seem unable to provide jobs for people who do.  And where does 3 generations take us back to.  A miner or steelworker or manufacturing worker who lost their job in 1980.

    Cutting too far too fast

    In 2010 Conservatiev Chancellor of the Exchequer  George Osborne said that "The formal mandate we set is that the structural current deficit should be in balance in the final year of the five-year forecast period, which is 2015-16 in this Budget." But he was going to go even faster: to eliminate the structural deficit in 2014-15. "Or to put it another way, we are on track to have debt falling and a balanced structural current budget by the end of this Parliament."

    The contrast with Labour, who lacked "a credible plan to reduce their record deficit" was inescapable.

    Which makes what happened next rather awkward. Not only did the Chancellor miss his target spectacularly – the ambition has now been deferred to the next Parliament – but deficit reduction has been slower than under the Alistair Darling plan he denounced as a "reckless gamble".
    Mr Osborne wanted the deficit down to £60 billion by 2013-14; Mr Darling's timid plan only reduced it to £85 billion by 2013-14. According to the OBR's last report, the actual deficit will be £120 billion – twice as bad as the Chancellor planned.

    Paddy Ashdown low point

    Paddy Ashdown was having a difficult time, the social and liberal democrats had just come fourth in the Euro elections - whe asked if he was doing a good job leading the Lib Dems. his net ratings in the opinion polls were minus 26%.   Recently Nick Cleggs apporval rating have been net minus 58%. 

    "Benefits Street"

    The channel 4 programme benefits street will have delighted the makers with its high ratings (5 million for the 2nd episode) and it impact in newspapers and other media.

    Questions have even been asked in Parliament,  sadly ones which say a lot about the poor level of debate in parliament.

    Despite the name of the programme - no one is actually able to say how many people on the street get benefits or what those benefits are. A huge number of people get benefits - but strangely we have a weird debate in the country where some people who get benefits - child allowance, state pension, winter fuel allowance seem to think their benefits aren't benefits. 

    Tax credits are another benefit. Arguably - lots of tax allowances are benefits. People can get many thousands of pounds in tax breaks.

    What is very noticeable is that while there is some anger and some sympathy directed at some of the lead 'charecters' on benefits street, few people seem to want to swap places with them. Which is odd when you think about it - people are being wound up to feel jealous about people who they have no reason to be jealous of.  Would I want to be the alcoholic or the shoplifter who doesn't even try to conceal what he is doing but just grabs stuff and runs out the shop - and has as a consequence spent a long time in prison.  Does anyone think the boredom and drudgery of "a life on benefits" is so marvelous that they  are chucking in their job tomorrow.  I doubt it.  I hear people ranting about people on benefits having big TV screens and tattoos - as if people could have their tattoos removed if they become unemployed or that a second hand TV could be sold for a fortune. 

    Winter Olympics

    Of all the prejudices, anti-homosexuality makes the least sense to me. It is heartbreaking to see the discrimination practised in Russia, and around the world, including many states in the USA and even the bullying in schools in the UK.  Being Gay or Lesbian harms no one.

    Saturday, 15 February 2014

    Wythenshawe and Sale East By election - Conservatives

    The three messages chosenby the Conservatives in the Wythenshawe and Sale East By-election were -  fill potholes, cut street crime and clean the streets more." - utterly bizarre.  I couldn't believe it. It is a sign of a party that has lost it sense of purpose and confidence and message.

    Take the EU - the Lib Dems want in, UKIP want out, the Conservatives want a referendum and most of them want to stay in but after a slight renegotiation. Conservative splits are unresolvable - Gay Marriage - the antis can't understand supporters, the supporters can't understand the antis. Climate change, green energy, recycling - was it all a socialist scam, a rebranding tactic, political correctness or a genuine expression of Conservative stewardship of the countryside ? Deficit reduction - if it was so urgent why is it so far behind schedule ?

    So it's the bland leading the bland - more bobbies on the beat, fewer potholes and less litter - policies every party in every constituency in every country can sign up to - unless there really is a party promoting higher crime, more litter and dirtier streets.