Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

So snow causes a few problems – stop whingeing about it.

snow

Every so often there is some snow in the UK.

Not very often.

Actually it would be probably better to say – about once a year, but actually not even as often as that, about twice every two years – but sometimes we go three or four years in between – we get some snow in the UK

And it usually causes a few problems – we get traffic snarl ups, road closures, public transport problems, and sporting fixtures postponed, Oh and we get schools closed and people sent home from school.

And every time that happens we get something else – people who whinge about how the snow causes so much difficulty when we have so little of it.

Predictable lines are as follows :

How is it that [ Canada / Russia / Germany / Norway / insert country that gets more snow than us ] can have [ 12 feet /  18 feet / insert improbably large depth ] of snow EVERY DAY for three years, and the trains aren’t even 5 minutes late once  – but when we get [ a few centimetres / millimetres / a light dusting / insert improbably slight amount ] of snow everything GRINDS TO A HALT

Back in 1963, our school never closed  – we used to walk to school through 100 foot high snowdrifts and if we were 2 minutes late our teacher used to hit us with a big stick and we’d say thankyou; but nowadays they close every school at the drop of a hat.

When Stanley Matthews wor a lad, they used to play football even when the snow was up to their necks; and the balls were made of pigs bladders filled with concrete; and the crowds were 80,000 strong, and sometimes it was so cold that they couldn’t move from the terraces because their feet had frozen to the spot; but they clapped every goal and then walked home forty miles in a blizzard; nowadays they call off every game at the merest hint of a snow flake.

You get the picture ?

Well the fight back starts here.

You want to know why snow causes problems ? Want to know why we don’t all have snow chains for our cars ? Want to know why we don’t grit the roads three or four times every night between September and May ?

Easy – it’s because it hardly ever happens, and when it does it rarely lasts longer than a day or so.

Want to save a bit of your car maintenance budget ? – Easy ! –  don’t get winter tyres or snow chains – I’ve never had any in my whole life – because I’ve never really needed them

Want to keep council spending down ? Easy ! – don’t waste it all on salt and grit that usually gets washed away before the snow lands, and tends to make everyone’s cars rust a bit quicker.

Want to keep your costs down in your football stadium ? Well postpone  a game or two every couple of years – and don’t switch that expensive under soil heating on.

Snow tends to give us all a bit of excitement once every blue moon, something we can tell our kids about in years to come. It really doesn’t inconvenience us much though in the long run.

So to answer the points above -

How come those countries can carry on when they have loads of snow ?  Easy – it’s because they invest a lot of time and effort in doing so – because it makes economic sense because they get loads of snow. We don’t – because it doesn’t and we don’t.

How come the schools stayed open in 1963 and they all close now ? Well lots of schools did close in 1963 – but many of them didn’t because most of their pupils lived within walking distance – which they had to because most people did not have cars. Today pupils can travel several miles to a school – and staff often travel far further due to the mobility – both geographical and social  – that the car has given us. The big problem in a school is ending up in a situation where you have children who can not be supervised properly because staff have been unable to get to work.. There is also a great deal of pressure on schools to let parents know a school is closed as soon as possible  – and schools do sometimes have to close on a probable threat of further snow rather than waiting for it to happen. My kids are now in the 6th form – I think this has happened maybe four times since they started school when they were 5. Hardly  a massive inconvenience – they loved every one of those “snow days”.

“Snow days” by the way is one of those expressions we’ve borrowed from the big snow countries – where extra days are built into the school year because they know that they’ll probably  have to close several times.

Snow Football

And what about the sport ? How did they they manage to keep going back then ? Well – they didn’t !

In the much talked about winter of 62/63 there was barely any Football, Rugby League, or Rugby Union played in England or Scotland between late December and February – some FA Cup ties were re-arranged more than 10 times.

In the UK only one Horse racing meeting took place in Scotland, with none at all in the other nations, between 23rd December and 7th March – with 97 race meetings cancelled.Today in 2013 on the day after the most significant snow falls of the year throughout the country, not a single Premier League or Championship match has been postponed – and fans have been able to travel throughout the country to watch those games, on motorways that have been open throughout the day.

So we do pretty well actually – we could do a lot better – but it’s really not worth it – it doesn’t happen often and it’s rarely around for long.

Now excuse me I’m off to build a snowman before it all melts

Stop Whingeing and enjoy the snow !

Stop Whingeing and enjoy the snow !

January 19, 2013 Posted by | Football, idle banter, news | , , , | Leave a comment

Profiteering ?

Hut 4, sited adjacent to the mansion, was used...

Hut 4, sited adjacent to the mansion, was used during wartime for naval intelligence. Today, it has been refurbished as a bar and restaurant for the museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A quick blog this.

This afternoon I visited Bletchley Park – home of the legendary codebreakers – it was a Christmas Fair – mainly in aid of Milton Keynes College, and was quite a fun event.

While I was there we had a coffee in the Cafe in Hut 4 – one of the original buildings in which code breaking activity took place.

Displayed on the wall were several war time posters – which added lots of atmosphere : This was one of them :

2012-12-09 14.45.28

So the message in the war was clear – Don’t pay more than the legal price for anything – and clearly no worries about how big the state is, or going against the free market ethos.

When I went to the counter, I thought about getting a cold drink instead.

I was deterred though by the fact that it cost £1.30 for a 330 ml can of Diet Pepsi.

Currently the cost of 8 cans of Diet Pepsi in nearby Asda (less than half a mile away) is £2.00

That’s 25p per can. It could be a loss leader – but I suspect it’s not – 2 litre bottles can be had for £1.00.

This makes the price at Bletchley Park a 700% mark up on local market prices.

It just struck me as ironic.

English: Pepsi Cola and Diet Pepsi soda delivery

Pepsi Cola and Diet Pepsi soda delivery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

December 9, 2012 Posted by | idle banter | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Much ado about nothing : e-petitions

The Daily Mail apparently will run this front page in the morning : MPs to vote on death penalty

The crowned portcullis, symbol of the Parliame...

Want to change the law ? With e-petitions you can. Or not. It depends

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a little misleading.

You might be surprised to find out, just how wide of the mark it probably is.

The headline is a reference to the Government’s latest initiative – e-petitions.

This is an on-line method of petitioning parliament – you put a petition on-line, leave it for up to a year, and if it gets over 100,000 signatures, it becomes eligible to be debated in the House of Commons.

More specifically it’s a reference to high profile blogger Paul Staines, who “blogs” as Guido Fawkes, and his campaign to bring back the death penalty via an e-petition. Although clearly his intention is to embarrass parliament and increase his own notoriety as much as any desire to see criminals hung from Tyburn tree.

The Mail’s sub-heading is “MPs face being forced into a landmark vote on restoring the death penalty”

If the headline is misleading, then this statement is simply untrue.

Any petition placed on the site has to satisfy the conditions for eligibility http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/terms-and-conditions

One of the conditions is that it’s not allowed to be a “joke” – well Guido’s petition might fall there, but hey ho …

It then has to get 100,000 signatures – sadly Guido will have little trouble.

It then becomes “eligible” for debate.

It might be worth considering that ANYTHING is already eligible for debate by the House, should the House decide to debate it.

Just because it’s eligible though doesn’t mean it will be debated. The same is true for a petition on e-petitions with 100,000 signatures.

So who decides if it WILL be debated ?

That job falls to the Backbench Business Committee – who I’m sure will be excited by being dumped with the job given the privilege of  selecting which petitions get to be debated.

Note that they don’t have to select any of them. They can ignore them, and will ignore many. They can’t be forced to debate anything.

Even if they do debate it, they don’t have to have any kind of vote, and it doesn’t have to lead to any change in the law.

Pretty much the same as if nobody had signed the petition in the first place.

Oh and even if they did have a vote, don’t forget that there have been a great many votes on capital punishment in the commons since its abolition, and all have soundly rejected the idea. The last was in 1994 when re-introduction was opposed by 403 votes to 159, and there is little evidence to show that any other result would occur if such a vote were to take place in the current parliament (source UK Polling Report )

So no change there then.

August 3, 2011 Posted by | idle banter, politics | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Public Sector workers better off ? Pull the other one !

This morning saw the publication of a paper “Public and private sector terms, conditions and the issue of fairness” by right wing think tank Policy Exchange.

The sound byte from this paper is essentially that Public Sector pay is now significantly outstripping that in the private sector to the point where it is becoming unfair and reaches the conclusion that “significant reforms will need to be made to limit job losses in the public sector and to achieve equity and fairness in the labour market.”

There’s a fairly comprehensive debunking of the paper on the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog by Richard Seymour* “Public sector pay – the myths exposed”, but for myself I’m not even going to bother checking the methodology of the research, or fisking the report.

No – as someone who has spent most of his life working in the public sector, there are some truths which I hold to be self evident :

I’ve been a highly qualified teacher for some time – on occasion I’ve been also a highly paid one. I’ve never been paid what could really be considered a low salary since I qualified with first class honours in 1989.

I have however found that on several occasions friends and acquaintances with similar qualifications working in the private sector have earned considerably more than me – not just a thousand or two a year – but sometimes double or three times the salary that I earned. Almost all of them have suffered periods when their salary has dropped – not just frozen – but drastically reduced – because most have suffered unemployment on one or more occasions.

It’s become clear to me that the cycle of “boom and bust” is something which affects the private sector more than the public. When times are good, the rewards are great, and the hardworking and the successful reap the rewards in fistfuls. Meanwhile, the public sector plod along with below inflation rises – without bonuses and with seemingly uncompetitive salaries.

When the lean times come though the public sector still plod along, they get low pay increases, sometimes pay freezes but they are far more likely to keep their jobs, far less likely to actually suffer a loss of salary, and generally are protected from the ravages of the storm. The private sector meanwhile get pay cuts, lost bonuses and lost jobs – fairly quickly.

So over a cycle of several years it all tends to even out. For those brave enough to take the risks it more than evens out for the private sector big wheels – as they can make enough in the years of plenty to enable them to “buy low” in the lean years.

What Policy Exchange are asking for then is “an end to boom and bust” – which surprised me a little.

Perhaps they should employ Gordon Brown as chancellor

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown wanted an end to boom and bust - Do Policy Exchange want the same ?

( There is a flip side to this however – during the past 12 months I’ve gone from earning c. £79k per year, to struggling to gain a permanent contract on around half that – I’d say that this is generally the exception rather than the rule – but does prove that public sector workers are certainly not immune to economic tribulation )

*Some of the more diligent of my readers may well have noticed that the Richard Seymour who did the blog isn’t the same one which WordPress has automatically linked to – thought I’d leave it anyway as it’s mildly amusing !

May 9, 2011 Posted by | idle banter, news, politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Base, common & popular

Tony Blair & Margaret Thatcher - Royal London ...

Blair & Thatcher visit the wax works - Image by Alanna@VanIsle via Flickr

There have been a flurry of rumours on Twitter and on the internet more generally that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died, or is about to.

All so far have proved to be false, but have already shown that there are many – particularly within the Labour fold, that will almost literally dance for joy when she finally does pop her clogs.

I’ve despised her for many years. I won’t be dancing on her grave though – displays of joy at the demise of other human beings only serve to upset people further, and such displays will only weaken the public opinion of Labour.

Many on the left see Margaret Thatcher as possibly the most despised figure in politics in recent memory. She’s certainly the one I despise the most.

We should beware of deluding ourselves though. The real reason why so many people dislike her, is actually because so many more people thought that she was the best thing since sliced bread.

It’s also common place amongst certain Labour supporters to decry Tony Blair as some kind of demon as well.

Perhaps some people think he is. Most do not.

You’ll often hear people say that “Everybody hates Manchester United”

Why ? It’s because they’ve been the most consistently well supported, and most successful club of recent years. It’s because they’re so popular with so many, that they are so unpopular with a few. (And I’m certainly no Manchester United supporter)

The most popular, and the most significant post-war  Prime Ministers have without a doubt been Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Whether you like them or not, it is an inescapable truth that there are many millions who did – and probably still do.

So I’m just saying !

May 9, 2011 Posted by | blogs, idle banter, politics, twitter | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Perfect Day for a silly story !

Britains Got Talent Runner up Susan Boyle

Su-Bo on Britain's got talent

Former Velvet undeground star Lou Reed

Lou Reed - the writer of Perfect Day

Half way through the afternoon today I suddenly spot links on Twitter to a breaking news story relating to that darling of the media – our very own SuBo – AKA former Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle.

It would seem at first glance that she’s been the victim of some rather caddish behaviour from legendary former Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed.

Within what seems like moments this story is all over the net. With many outlets – such has the Mail On-Line claiming  America’s Got Talent 2010: Susan Boyle banned by Lou Reed from singing his song (also here at Ace Showbiz Susan Boyle Cries After Banned by Lou Reed From Singing His Song ) with other sources seemingly suggesting that Lou Reed has somehow banned Su-Bo from taking part in the America’s Got Talent 2010 show – for instance the Hello Magazine website Susan Boyle pulls out of US show over Lou Reed song and also The Metro Susan Boyle ‘in tears’ after Lou Reed pulls the plug on her America’s Got Talent performance

What all of the sources (and many many others) report is that Susan was due to sing a cover of Lou Reed’s song “Perfect Day” on the enormously successful America’s Got Talent – the counterpart to the Britain’s Got Talent show that shot her to fame. It would seem that permission from the copyright owner of the song is needed for her to perform the song on television, and that Lou Reed, the writer of this song, has denied permission – only two hours before the performance, and the only reason given that he’s not a fan of Susan Boyle.

Hmmm.

Sounds a bit mean.

Or does it ?

What I’d have liked some of these intrepid reporters to have done was to dig a little deeper.

This is a major television show – it’s as big as they come. I wonder why no one has asked why the issues concerned with copyright weren’t sorted out – BEFORE the day of the performance ?

I wonder why no one has asked why the production company didn’t have another song lined up ? She is after all a fairly prolific recording artist now – it would not have been difficult to have had a reserve song up her sleeve – particularly if they were having difficulty chasing up permission to perform the original song.

I wonder why no one’s got a statement from Lou Reed’s team ? or Lou himself  ?  Because, while I’m sure he’s not a fan of Susan Boyle’s, I can’t imagine he was a fan either of many of the people who covered the song for Children in Need a few years back – although he did describe the recording as the best cover ever of his song.

Could it be perhaps that the sheer number of people involved in that recording, and the charitable nature of the recording, complicate the copyright issue ?

Is it not feasible that someone working for Lou, faced with a request for permission to perform a song, given just a few hours notice, and unable to contact the man himself, knew all of that, and erred on the side of caution by not giving permission. It’s possible in fact that Lou Reed was never even consulted.

Of course it’s also possible that he’s being unreasonably difficult, and nasty to Susan Boyle – but let’s be absolutely clear – if he owns the copyright (do we know that he does ?) – then he has every legal right to deny her permission to perform it. The issue is also not raised of how much they were willing to pay in order to perform it – remember that although this song was made popular by Lou Reed among his own fans, it was made immensely more popular among the general public by the BBC recorded cover which raised many many thousands of pounds for charity.

So America’s Got Talent are rather piggy backing on that success in performing the song, and such a lucrative show should presumably not get this song free of charge. Would it be morally right though for Lou Reed to take a whacking great sum ? These are interesting things to ponder over – and I’d suggest that the pondering would take longer than a couple of hours.

So I’ll be interested to see if any of these news outlets investigate further and give us the full story.

I’m not holding my breath though.

September 9, 2010 Posted by | idle banter, news | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Do you want milk in your black Americano ?

cappucino

... and what size would like your small black coffee ?

In the last two days I’ve found my self in two very different, but superficially strikingly similar, coffee bars.

The first, a branch of Costa, in a semi-rural middle-class market town within easy commuting distance of London.

I ordered a black Americano.

“What size would you like that ?”

“Small please !”

“Er, well we do medium & large”

“Well I’ll have the one that’s the smallest please”

I was starting to get a bit tetchy, and before I could reign myself in had already blurted out in my best “I know bloody everything” voice :

“You know, by definition, you can’t really have a medium size unless there’s at least one size smaller and at least one size larger !”

I regretted it before I’d finished saying it, my shortness due to similar conversations I’ve had in other coffee shops – including a particularly stroppy one in America – of which more later.

However the young woman behind the counter was made of pleasanter stuff – “Yes I see what you mean that is true”

“Actually I’m not sure that we do do medium and large, I think it might be small and medium”

Anxious to redeem myself, I quickly struck up a more friendly conversation, after glancing at the menu which showed the two sizes “Primo” and “Medio”

“You know in America some branches of Starbucks won’t take your order unless you use the words Tall, Grande, or Venti”

“Yeah, I know – they come in here asking for Tall – what’s it supposed to mean ? It’s supposed to be Italian – but my Dad’s Italian and he’s never heard of it. In Italy they’d ask for ‘piccolo’ if they wanted a small one – only they wouldn’t anyway, because Italian coffee tends to always come in the same size. I suppose Primo means ‘first’ and Medio is medium – but yeah it doesn’t mean anything unless there’s a large”

And with that she gave me my Primo Black Americano. (Which was pretty large by anyone’s standards)

It might be worth recounting the experience I had in America some two years earlier. I’d gone into Starbucks and ordered exactly the same drink – A small black Americano.

I learned many years ago that an English style black coffee is not easy to get in Italy, and after drinking a heck of a lot of Espresso, and Cappucino in my efforts to get the drink I wanted, I finally made the break through and asked for it “American Style” – Americano !  This of course is a black coffee – an Espresso topped up with hot water, to resemble the filter coffee drunk in America, Britain, Germany & Northern Europe.  There’s no white version – because there’s no problem ordering white coffee because English and American white coffee lovers really like the Italian milk versions. I’ve learned though that in the world of the modern coffee shop, it pays to specify “black Americano”

I digress.

“What size would you like that ?”

“I just said ‘Small’ “

“All our sizes are Italian sir – we do Tall, Grande or Venti – which would you like ?”

“I’d like the one which is the smallest”

“It’s part of Starbuck’s ethos – all of our sizes are in Italian”

“I don’t speak Italian – could I have a small black Americano – per piacere ?

He huffed around and slammed my change on the counter

“Grazie !”

It stuck in my mind.

The day after my Costa experience I visited Starbucks this morning – this time in central London –  Bloomsbury to be exact.

“I’d like a small black Americano please ?”

“I’m sorry” – the woman serving had a strong Eastern European accent – not Polish – I’d guess at Latvia or Lithuania, but it would be a fairly wild guess.

” A small black Americano please ?”

“black Americano – certainly sir – and what size would you like that ?”

Surely I wasn’t going to get a repeat performance of my American Starbucks experience

I kept my cool.

“A small one please” as politely as I could

“Would you like that to take away ?”

“No I’ll drink that here”

She grabbed a paper cup. “No – I’d like to drink it here please”

“You want to drink it here ? Sorry !”

She carried on writing on the paper cup. Ticked a box that said Americano and then asked

“Would you like any milk in your black Americano ?”

I stood there dumbfounded for a second or two – and she asked me again

“Would you like any milk in your black Americano ?”

“Er .. No !  …. I’d like it black !”

“Tall black Americano !” she shouted across to the “barista” – (I half expected to see Magic Johnson walking in the door – but no she was talking about the coffee.)

When I got the coffee it was in a paper cup. The rest of the customers had ceramic mugs. “Could I get this in a real cup please ?”

Blank Looks. I repeated my question

More blank looks, and then they handed the paper cup to me smiling and said “Tall Black Americano !”

I took it away and sat down.

Now I’m not really making any kind of point here – just expressing my frustration. If it’s so difficult to order a cup of coffee in your own capital city, or in a country that speaks the same language, then what chance do we have for eliminating world poverty, and promoting lasting international peace ? Much as I felt only anger towards the smart alec in the American Starbucks, I felt only admiration for the intelligent young woman in Costa in England – dealing effortlessly with a potentially difficult customer (me), and demonstrating a knowledge of English and Italian, whilst engaged in a relatively menial job.

I felt quite sorry though for the women in the London Starbucks. Clearly struggling with English – I suspected also that they struggled to communicate with each other because of different first languages, and in all likelihood were paid a very low wage, barely enough to pay the rent demanded in a city like London.  Their lives must be difficult.

And if that wasn’t hard enough, things are made even more difficult for them by asking them to do business in a mock Italian language, which neither they nor their customers (including the Italians) understand.

So I relate all this only because it made me think a little – I hope it makes you think too.

If you are interested in the size’s of coffee at Costa and Starbucks; Starbucks originally served “Short” and “Tall” coffees – as was the custom in English speaking Seattle – they then introduced the Italian “Grande” – which is large or grande, and eventually dropped the “short”, and introduced the Venti – which again is Italian –  but means 20 – referring to the number of fluid ounces in the cup. Bear in mind though that these are are US fLuid ounces – so a 20 ounce contains around 1.20 pints – 24 Imperial fluid ounces (It’s not there to make it easy for Latvian baristas is it ?). So in effect they have Large, Very Large, and Stupidly Enormous.

Costa have primo – which is “first” – and “medio” medium – but many of their stores also have “massimo” – maximum.

Oh and by the way – if you ask for a Latte in Italy, you will be served with Milk not coffee – you need to ask for Latte Macchiato.

If you ask for Lartay however they will know you are English – and you may or may not get the drink you were after.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | idle banter | , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

What’s the big deal with St George’s Day ?


On the Sky News channel today, during the televised leaders debate featuring five candidates for the Labour Party Leadership, a question was posed of the candidates ( YouTube – 2 of the 5 Labour Leadership candidates knew that St George’s day is on 23rd April )  which caused a bit of a flurry on Conservative home Only two of Labour’s putative leaders know when St George’s Day is – LeftWatch

The question quite simply was to give the date of St George’s Day – and 3 of the candidates got this wrong,

(For those of you who don’t know, St George is the patron saint of England, with St Andrew, St Patrick and St David being the patron saints of Scotland, Ireland & Wales respectively)

There is a long tradition of wrong-footing politicians with unexpected questions – like how to pronounce Barnoldswick, or Slaithwaite – or indeed what Menzies Campbell’s name really sounds like. Asking candidates who their favourite Spice Girl or Tellytubbie was, proved a novel way of exploring knowledge of current affairs, and more recently quizzes about Bill Shankly and Ferry Cross the Mersey have been used to try and catch unsuspecting political hopefuls out.

So this unexpected question is perhaps also entirely predictable.

Does it matter that they couldn’t answer ?

Well I’d probably have got it right – I had the 4 patron saints’ dates for the UK drilled in to me as a Cub Scout between the ages of 9 and 11. Assisted in no small part by Blue Peter, who never failed to remind us when there was one coming up (I preferred Bleep & Booster myself).

I remembered St. Andrew’s Day because it was my brother’s birthday – and also Winston Churchill’s – as my working class Tory grandmother was very fond of reminding him. 30th November

I remembered St. David’s Day because it was easier to remember because it was on the 1st day of the month – and also because it was more or less in daffodil time –  1st March. My working class Tory Grandmother would also remind me as this was one of the 12 days per year when she said “Rabbits Rabbits Rabbits” to everyone she met.

I found St Patrick’s difficult to remember because that was the other March one. It was also difficult because my racist working class Tory Grandfather claimed every thing was the fault of the bloody Irish (except for the things that were the fault of Arthur Scargill and Joe Gormless), and my working class Tory Grandmother felt it best not to rattle his cage.  In later life I’ve remembered it because it’s the only one of the four patron saint’s days that ever gets celebrated by anyone March 17th

St George’s day was a funny one to remember because it’s the Queen’s Birthday on the 21st April, St George’s day, and Shakespeare’s birthday on the 23rd of April and my birthday on the 27th. Or was it the Queen on the 27th, me on the 23rd and St George … – you get the picture . My working class Tory Grandmother also had lost interest by this time as it was Spring, and she was getting ready to provide me with a suitably wonderful birthday present. Usually I could just about work out when it was though.

Having lived in England all my life and as an Englishman, how have we celebrated our patron saint’s day ? Well I can honestly say that except for 3 years I never have. Nor do I remember any body else doing, although I’ve seen a few things on pub black boards promoting Happy Hours & the like in recent times.

Those 3 years were of course when I was part of the Cub Scouts. I was the “sixer” of the Yellow Six, and as most of Yellow Six turned up and paid their subs I got to hold the flag at the St George’s Day Parade. This involved meeting with all the other scout and cub groups in the area, and walking down the middle of a road for about half a mile to a Church of England church (this remember was in a fairly secular area, where such Christians as there were, were far more likely to attend non-conformist churches or “chapels”) , where we then had to sing a few hymns and listen to a vicar. The hymns invariably included “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “I vow to thee my country”, “Stand up Stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross”, and “Soldiers of Christ Arise”. All of which to be fair were fairly standard fare from my County Primary School.

As an adult I’ve looked back on those times and felt saddened that as children we were effectively schooled in a para-military fashion – donning uniforms, waving national flags, swearing allegiance to our monarch, and to the established church, with it’s militaristic soldiers of Christ. In truth I can’t say it’s done me much harm. It seems a bit weird though.

So that’s what I associate with St George’s day – jingoism & indoctrination – which are thankfully far less common now. As an atheist who’s spent some time swotting up on Christianity as well, I have to say also that the whole cult of sainthood is one of the weaker aspects of Christianity, which stretches the credibility of the movement as a whole.

So what I’d have liked at least one of the candidates to answer would have been this :

“I’m not interested in St George’s day, because I’m not a Christian, I don’t support an established religion, and I have no wish to prop up the church and it’s non-elected leader the Queen by promoting it”

That would have made news. Sadly it would have also played right into Sky and Adam Boulton’s hands, and have lost Labour votes for many years to come. So maybe it’s better that they didn’t rise to the bait.

It wasn’t that tough a question really I guess – and the candidates I’ve voted for as first and second choice  both got it right.

A far easier question actually than predicting when Ash Wednesday falls – something which Sky News’s Kay Burley has found difficult in the past :

September 5, 2010 Posted by | idle banter, politics, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Slightly Silly pictures of William Hague

In the last two days I’ve had a lot of traffic on my blog – well it’s all relative I know, but far more than usual.

Is this because I’ve upped my game and started writing eloquent and incisive prose ?  or because I’ve hit some important political nail right on the head ?

No it’s because last February I posted some silly (ish) pictures of William Hague (who’s almost exactly the same age as me and has bugged the life out of me ever since I was a schoolboy – cringing as he wowed the Conservative Party conference). On reflection it was a little childish of me – but I didn’t say anything untoward about him. I just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Now William Hague is in the news because of ill-informed gossip on political blogs. So what does every one do ? They Google “William Hague” in Google Images, and head off to my blog.

Meanwhile virtually no one has read my last two blogs.

So to cut out the hard work, instead of writing a new post, I thought I’d republish the pictures – and generate a bit more traffic.

While I’m at it I’d just like to say that I think William Hague has been treated appallingly over this episode, and I believe that he has nothing to reproach himself for. That is all. Enjoy the pictures. And come back and read my more thought provoking articles at some point in the future

William Hague at Prime Ministers Question Time

William Hague once claimed to have drunk 14 pints in a session

William Hague once claimed to have drunk 14 pints in a session

William Hague at Prime Ministers Question Time
Former Tory Leader William Hague

Former Tory Leader William Hague

William Hague wearing his trademark flat cap

William Hague wearing his trademark flat cap

William Hague at the Tory Conference with Aunty Maggie in 1977

William Hague at the Tory Conference with Aunty Maggie in 1977

September 3, 2010 Posted by | blogs, idle banter, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pussy cat pussy cat …

In one of the more astonishing little stories of the silly season, we’ve been treated by several websites to video footage of a woman – apparently one Mary Bale, aka Cat Bin Woman stroking a domestic cat she was passing, before throwing it in a wheelie bin.

Well as every Daily Mail reader knows, this is the kind of behaviour up with which the British public will not put. Cat bin woman Mary Bale: Please forgive me, says bank worker | Mail Online . Just have a read of some of those indignant outraged comments :

(and remember that they’ve been ‘moderated in advance’ ! )

Clearly these people are in no mood for forgiveness -

You think you deserve to be forgiven?!?!=


Absolutley no forgiveness here lady. Despicable evil specimen

(all spelling errors are verbatim by the way – not mine !)

Remember though, this woman’s been subjected to death threats. Over the top ? Not necessarily …

Death threats over the top? If they were actually carried out, yes.

On the other hand, I would say that the fear this woman now (rightly) feels for her personal safety is more or less proportionate to the terror felt by her small, uncomprehending, innocent victim trapped in the wheelie bin.

And in case we’re in any doubt about just how low the Cat Bin Woman has sunk, and how swift and harsh society’s vengeance should be …

Let the public reaction to this case put the nation’s law enforcement authorities on notice that a weak response (such as that with which the public has become depressingly familiar in recent years) will not be tolerated. This behaviour warrants a custodial prison sentence. The public snivelling the woman has treated us to today certainly demonstrates that she has a classic criminal mindset.

And plenty more commentators agree :

Keep covering this monster!!! Make her life miserable like she made the cat’s life miserable.

Not even if hell froze over could i forgive you for what you have done to this animal.

But some of the outraged members of  the public are worried that the punishment might not fit the crime :

… this wicked,cruel woman …  deserves all the criticism she gets. No doubt in our present sick society she will end up with her own TV show or a judge on the X-Factor.

A judge on X factor ? – whoo ! – that’s going some – you’d have to be pretty evil to deserve a fate like that.

Lest we allow ourselves to diminish her wickedness though, another commentator reminds us -

some people are just instinctivly evil, and shes clearly one of them.

This disgusting woman represents all that is wrong with our society

And while we’re occupying the moral high ground let’s get another thing straight :

she is pretending to be a “good woman of god” wearing that dispicable karaoke compere style pearl sequin blouse

The mob is well and truly baying now …

*JAIL*

Miss Bale, honestly..who are you to decide to mess with innocent lives?

and this time it’s personal …

No wonder she’s not married.

which clearly makes her even more worthy of eternal damnation. After all …

I don’t see what the police protection is about, she’s only a rather unpleasant spinster.

Yes this is Britain damn it ! We can’t be letting unpleasant spinsters do what the hell they like. Wait though, it’s not as though this unpleasant old spinster is really all that old …

I can’t believe this woman is only 45 years old !

Outrageous – not really an old witch at all (who’d obviously be quite entitled to put a cat in a bin), not someone who casts spells or puts plagues on people.

No that’s left to our commentator from Australia who sends her hex halfway round the world to dissenting Mail readers :

I’d like to wish a special pox upon every person who said ‘it’s just a cat’. It was part of somebody’s family and a little girl’s pet. That sort of remark just proves that the humanity has been totally sucked out of the human race.

All of which obviously demonstrates the Mail readers’ compassion for those living beings less fortunate than themselves, and if they are so vociferous in defence of a mere cat (not ‘just’ a cat – I don’t want a special pox !), then surely they will be even more compassionate about unfortunate human beings.

What about this man -Manchester railway staff ignored disabled man’s pleas for wheelchair ramp | Mail Online who was ignored (allegedly) by railway staff in Manchester as he sat helpless in his wheelchair, unable to board his train. Surely the Mail readers will give those guards a piece of their mind !

But wait – what’s this :

Looks like the thin edge of a compensation claim to me. Where were his family? why was he not accompanied by them knowing he would need assistance getting on and off public transport, had any effort been made to notify the station of his needs. A set up if ever I saw one.

A set up ? Ooh never thought of that. I  wonder, could the Cat in the Bin thing have been a set up as well – what with the video and everything – STOP -I won’t go there ! That poor animal doesn’t deserve such doubt. (And I don’t deserve a special pox) – Let’s see what else they had to say …

i do think there is more to this than the disabled man just being ignored. I find it disturbing that one of the first comments he makes is about the other driver being sacked. I find it amazing to believe that 3 men all working on the railways would put their jobs at risk just to cause him an inconvenience. We only have his side after he started recording and I am sorry but he came across to me as someone out to cause trouble

A trouble causer eh ? Of course -
Being disabled does not exclude you from being a prat.
Oh right. So he’s a trouble causer AND a prat – well I suppose it could be worse – he could be a foreigner  -

Maybe he should go back to Saudi Arabia or wherever he’s from

And the hits just keep on coming …
maybe he’s the kind of guy who loves causing trouble and stirring things up! He’s acting like a dork – no sympathy for him…

What a real nasty little man being in a wheelchair ..does not give him the right to be rude & offensive..he se out looking for trouble ..and will no doubt now be asking for compensation..

Oh right. Obviously I’ve picked a bad example – this man must be EVIL like the Cat Bin Woman – my bad !
Let’s try and find another one, one where something really bad’s happened to someone, like being put in a bin, or … I don’t know … stabbed to death or something.
Here’s one from year or so back. I’m sure they’ll demonstrate some positive humanitarian concern here :

Refugee stabbed to death during illegal immigrant gang battle in Paris | Mail Online

This tells the story of a young 18 year old Afghani refugee was stabbed to death near the Gare du Nord in Paris – and within a few hours someone else was found near the channel tunnel – imagine that – I mean there’s a railway line linking Paris and Calais – if this young man had wanted he could have gone there too. If he hadn’t been stabbed to death.

I’m not quite sure about the details of this one, as the story says they were illegal immigrants who were fighting, but since they hadn’t come to Britain yet I don’t know how they could have been illegal immigrants.  Anyway though, if it says it in the Mail – it must be true. Fact is, a very young man was murdered – 18 years old. Whatever the ins and outs of this, it’s a tragedy. As the French Police said “He was just a kid who clearly fell into the wrong company”

Surely the Mail readers were up in arms about this. Let’s have a look -

Well thats one less parasite we have to worry about. We doesnt this stupid Government stop all the benefits and hand outs. they will soon stop coming.

That’s the best rated comment – surely some mistake – this man’s from Afghanistan – the country where our troops are dying each day in order to make it safer for the people who live there, surely he’s our friend not a parasite.

A spokesman says ‘Tragically this man was stabbed….’. The real tragedy is ours, the people of Britain, seeing more and more scum like him

Well I don’t know anything about him, except he was only 18 and came all the way from Afghanistan to Paris only to die of stab wounds. Sounds like “real tragedy” to me.

Have we not got enough violence in this country without more dangerous people heading for the UK

Well there’s a fair bit of violence in the UK. Not many roadside bombs. Not many Improvised Explosive Devices, not many Rocket Propelled Grenades. Not many troop surges by thousands of foreign troops. This man was a refugee – maybe he was looking for somewhere with a little less violence.

Well I had thought the Mail readers might care about this but no -

I really don’t care, sorry. If your stupid enough to get into such a horrid trade, then I don’t care what happens to you

and the bottom line is :

Oh dear, what a shame…one less person to ruin this country…

Joking aside, I can’t defend anyone who puts cats in bins. It’s a stupid act which anyone with any knowledge of the United Kingdom would realise is guaranteed to deeply upset many millions of animal lovers – it’s what our country is like. It’s not a particularly evil act though.

Evil is more like murdering an 18 year old man with a knife. Or perhaps hearing of such an atrocity, and saying that the victim was merely a parasite – an animal. If only he was an animal –  perhaps Mail readers might have more respect for him.

People are entitled to be outraged and angered by a crime against a cat. I’d like to suggest though that they’re only entitled to, if they are just as angered by offences against human beings as well.

August 25, 2010 Posted by | Disability, idle banter, news | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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