Tuesday, December 20, 2016

East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands

This is a great book and a worthy winner of the 2016 Baillie Gifford non-fiction prize, in which Philippe Sands traces the development of the international law terms ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’. But this is no dry legal treatise, largely due to his extensive research and highly engaging writing style, Philippe Sands shows how the lives of Hersch Lauterpacht, Rafael Lemkin and his maternal grandfather Leon Buchholz came to be intertwined in the now Ukrainian city of Lviv. While Lauterpacht and Lemkin studied there – with Lauterpacht going on to an academic career in Law at Cambridge, where he developed the concept of ‘crimes against humanity’ in an attempt to protect the rights of individuals, Lemkin’s work was focused on the protection afforded to identifiable groups and races by calling for recognition of the crime of genocide. On the other hand, Leon Buchholz lived through the full horror of the Nazi invasion before escaping to Paris, where he was eventually joined by his infant daughter and later his wife. The crimes defined by Lauterpacht and Lemkin featured in the indictments used at the Nuremberg trials, where Lauterpacht’s ‘crimes against humanity’ gained wider support than Lemkin’s ‘genocide’. Although arguable that this has been reversed in the prosecution of post-WWII war crimes, Sands’ narrative has an edge-of-the-seat quality as legal argument and the preferring of charges show how the four prosecution authorities built their cases against the defendants. Hersch Lauterpacht looms large in the development of international law, but at Nuremberg his powerful intellect and professionalism are brought face-to-face with the accused – at a time when he did not yet know the fate of so many of his own family members. The last five years of his life were spent as the British judge to the International Court of Justice in the Hague; an appointment that was criticised by some in politics and the media on the dubious – and frankly worrying ground – that he was not ‘sufficiently British’. Sands’ work is a triumph of research and great writing, as a work of legal history it also stands as a salutary warning for today, perhaps best encapsulated in George Santayana’s telling observation that: ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 9780385350716 (print) ISBN 9780385350723 (e-book)

Monday, December 05, 2016

Royal prerogative - a lesson from the swinging 60s

Back in 1964 the BBC ended up in the Court of Appeal over a spat with the Inland Revenue, in which Auntie decided that it qualified to be treated in pretty much the same way as the rest of the establishment by using the Royal Prerogative (RP) to trump a tax claim. Now, the RP has a bit of a chequered history, mainly due to the activities of one Charles Stewart, or Charles I if you prefer (the only monarch to end their reign approx 10 inches shorter than at the start). The Beebs legal argument came to naught, largely thanks to the memorably pithy putdown from Lord Diplock, who said: it was "350 years and a civil war too late" to allow for a broadening of the RP. Strangely enough, the Daily Heil didn't come out against the noble Lord as an "enemy of the people" on that occasion (probably because he was putting the Beeb in its place?). But today we're faced with Paul Dacre and his band of scribblers busily casting themselves as the enemies of the Rule of Law, which is a far more dangerous place to be - and one that not even Art.10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Oh, irony of ironies: how wonderful if he ends up having to hide behind that to defend himself!) will stretch far enough to cover his twisting of fact and inflated, yet baseless, opinions.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Christmas is coming, the Bishop's talking out of his hat

A few years ago, I remember a vicar got into a spot of bother by revealing that Santa couldn't exist on the basis that no-one could travel fast enough to deliver all those presents in one night. Struck me at the time as a pretty lame way of getting some media exposure, but, sure enough, he got a panning from those who thought he was being a kill-joy. Now, Nick Baines - fast becoming the go-to bish for a press quote or three - has given an interview criticising 'intolerant liberalism': a phenomena he's come up with to explain why some Christians are 'afraid' to talk about their faith. I am a Christian and not afraid of talking. Any fear comes from being identified with dogmatic evangelicals and intolerant head-bangers who won't engage with anything outside of their very narrow views. While I agree that you can't - and shouldn't - take religion out of Christmas, one reason many don't want to talk about Christianity is the failure of Church leaders to address matters of faith in a way that people understand - trendy preachiness is far more harmful than intolerant liberals.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pendle - in mist and sunshine

Enjoyed a great walk on Saturday. Starting from Gargrave, headed on to Bell Busk via Coniston Cold. Stopping for a quick sandwich on Haw Crag. All the way round, heavy mist laid in the valleys and low lying land but from the top of the Crag, Pendle Hill's summit appeared suspended between the mist and clear blue sky. A bewitching sight of such a famous hill.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Now let us praise the President-Elect...

As politicians - mainly on the right (or very-far-right) - line up to congratulate JD Trump, here's a reminder from Auden where adulation for the abhorrent ends.
WH Auden Epitaph on a Tyrant
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after, And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; He knew human folly like the back of his hand, And was greatly interested in armies and fleets; When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
The prophetic voice from January 1939.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Royal Prerogative is a funny way of delivering democracy, isn't it Mrs May?

Welcome news that the government can't trigger Art 50 behind closed doors by claiming to use the pre-civil war powers of the sovereign. Back at my law school, we learned about the power of the courts in preventing the widening of prerogative powers, in the telling phrase of Lord Diplock in BBC v Johns that it is
350 years and a civil war too late for the Queen’s courts to broaden the royal prerogative
. A short, sharp reminder of the limits of the profoundly undemocratic power that the executive craves, but which judges can reign in as a defence against the untrammelled exercise of political power. The deluded Brexiters who rejoice that we've 'taken back' the country, now need to learn another lesson - that Parliament is the supreme law-maker and has the right to control the work of government ministers, particularly when they think it better to do shabby deals in closed rooms that will have a profound effect on our lives and the economy for years to come. An appeal would be most unwise...

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

55 - an age of wondrous new invitations...

Reaching 55 has led to an array of interesting offers and invitations: from hearing aid tests to pension drawdowns (Mr Osborne's special gift to the middle-aged); not to mention Michael Parkinson and his free pen and 'no questions' life insurance policy. But of far more pressing need today is the invitation to attend my local NHS hospital for bowel scope screening. Now, don't get me wrong, colo-rectal cancer is a serious disease that affects a higher proportion of those 55 and older, but one particular aspect of it, as announced in the invitation, caused me to have a brief smile at a long-ago Viz cartoon strip. The invitation, loving crafted on a standard NHS letterheading, came with a leaflet that explained the procedure before going on to tell me that I could watch the procedure on a monitor, if I so desired. And this is where Roger Mellie raised his head. In the late 80s cartoon, he was pitching an idea for a new TV programme - one that now seems oddly prescient. It was called Up the Celebrity Arsehole. Although he's since reprised the concept for the X-Factor judges, in the original, Mellie's idea is at first rejected as his producer tells him no celebrity would agree to be placed behind a curtain and given a stage-based colonoscopy that members of the public are then shown and the winner is the first to guess the celeb's identity. Mellie persists, however, and the final frame shows a man crouched on a table while Mellie urges 'Mr Slattery' to bend over further so they can get the camera in (reference to the ubiquitous TV personality Tony Slattery, although now TOWIE would probably provide a whole host of far keener 'celebs' willing to bend and pose. So, this afternoon, I'm going to struggle to keep a straight face when asked if I want to see my 'performance' on screen: the revolution might not be televised, but the endoscopy very well might be - over to you Roger.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tricky treats

Visited my local Specsavers branch this morning to collect my new specs. I was served by a dispensing optician dressed as a witch while her boss was swanning around in full Dracula-mode. Why has the daftness of trick or treat now started to infect the grown-ups at work?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Time in the Lakes

Got back last night from a couple of days in the Lakes. We stayed in Windermere, which I never used to like very much, mainly because of the traffic, but the hotel was clean and bright, with friendly staff. Managed a couple of walks; on the first day the Coffin trail from Ambleside to Grasmere (where we had the obligatory afternoon tea - or coffee in my case). Then yesterday, we took an Ullswater Steamer from Pooley Bridge to Howtown and walked back on the low level, mainly lake shore path. From Pooley Bridge we went over to Penrith, not a town we'd visited before. A new shopping complex, the New Squares, was largely devoid of life, but home to a fair number of estate agents' signs. For a town with a fair few rather imposing squares already, the new addition seemed rather bland - cream walls in place of the traditional stone; still, with a large Sainsbury as the obvious 'anchor tenant' the local worthies obviously expect great things of the development. After the events of the past few weeks, the break was much needed and allowed me to recharge my batteries, and I also received an email from a prospective new client, which perked me up still further. Still, it's a shame so much has been 'monetised' - 20p for a slash, with railway-style entry barriers standing sentinel at the entry to all public loos, and parking at £8.00 for anything over 4 hours, means spending time in the Lakes equates with spending a lot of money doing things that used to be free.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Typesetting - a dying art?

When I started work in the printing industry in 1977, type was still set using the 'hot metal' process, and the job of compositor was key to the way words appeared on the page - in much the same way as they had for the previous 400-years. Within a few years, however, type was set onto film or photographic paper (called 'photo-setting'). This proved to be short-lived, due to the arrival of computers and typesetting software, which allowed text to be made ready for printing in a fraction of the time taken by even the most skilled compositor. Domination of the art by computer-based typesetting also met a swift decline with the advent of SGML, XML and HTML mark-up languages. The advantage here being that text 'captured' within the tags used for each of these processes can be used in print or online without having to be re-typed. But, and it's a big 'but', there is still a role for the hard-pressed typesetting compositor of yore. XML capture requires words in bulk, but some texts are destined for print that do not warrant the creation or in-depth application of XML etc tagging. There is, thankfully, work for the typesetter yet. Wonder how many apprentices are being trained in this essential work?

Friday, September 02, 2016

A private walk through public school grounds

Those dog-days of August can weigh heavy some years. So it was, with a new academic year soon to start, I decided to play pre-term truant for a day this week and go for a walk around the Cumbrian town of Sedbergh. I'd vaguely heard of a public school of the same name, but didn't know - until I arrived there - that the school pretty much is the town.
It has been there since its foundation in 1525, so I suppose it has earned the right to flex its muscles a bit. After all, if the locals can't afford to send their own kids there (and at £10,500 a year for boarders - after paying the £750.00 registration fee, buying the uniform and sundry other expenses - such as Combined Cadet Force annual camp fee - of which more later), a fair few earn their living from the place. The school is so intertwined with the town that the signposts mingle as well: one minute you're looking at a sign for the Tourist Information Centre and the parish church, the next you're being directed to the Bursary and Headteacher's Office. There is also a fair degree of latitude when it comes to public footpaths, and I wandered along the edge of playing fields as the current crop of ruby-playing Sedberghians were learning how to beat next term's opponents into a bloody pulp, and along the banks of the rivers Dee and Rawthey that mark the furthest extent of the school grounds. The ethos of the place proved to fascinating. Founded before the Reformation by Roger Lupton, a local man who became Provost of Eton and endowed the school with scholarships to St John's College, Cambridge University, the school boasts strong links to the Church of England, with a chapel that is larger than many English parish churches. The prospectus throws up a few anomalies here, however. While all pupils have to attend chapel, and are encouraged to both sing hymns in a way that's 'strong and heartfelt' and allow themselves to be prepared for confirmation into the Anglican Church, they are also expected to sign up wholesale to either the Navy, Army or Air Force sections of the Combined Cadet Force as soon as they start Year 9 (13-14). In addition, those who play percussion or wind instruments are automatically enrolled into the school's Corps of Drums. Exception from this Eton Rifles form of junior conscription is at the Head's discretion and must be sought in writing by parents. All have to attend annual military camp - the bill being added to the last invoice sent to parents/guardians for the current school year. All in all, this struck me as a rather 1950s anachronistic playing out of the old cries of 'Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition' or 'We come in peace, shoot to kill'. A more peaceful alternative so such 'robust' (or even rather confused Christian theology) can be found nearby:
the hamlet of Briggflats is home to England's third oldest Quaker Meeting House, where peace is very firmly on the agenda, and lusty hymn singing most certainly not - the silence reigns supreme.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Four Yorkshiremen? One's enough if you're Three Peaking

Called into the Coop garage and store in Ingleton this morning for some diesel on my way to Sedbergh for a day's walking. The man behind the counter was giving a masterclass in pure Yorkshire tyke upmanship, regaling a young couple with tales of his Three Peaks exploits.
Not only had he climbed Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent just last weekend, breaking off to bring a friend back who'd come down with sunstroke, but he was planning to do the route back-to-back, a double three peaker, towards the end of September.
The couple left, expressing their amazement at his prowess, while I was left pondering how - if the other three had turned up - they'd have told how they completed the whole thing half an hour before they'd set off...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A cardiac non-event, thankfully

Quiet weekend? Mine was, until about 3.15 on Saturday afternoon when the chest pain started. Nothing to worry about, I thought at first. Then it spread to my back and up towards the right side of my jaw. That's when we phoned 111. And after a very short conversation with the call handler, he said the words 'the ambulance is on its way'. Enter the freelance paramedics The arrival of male and female, green-clad, machine-bearing wonderbeings made me start to feel better (Brexiters look away now: one was Irish, the other had an indeterminate Spanish/Italian accent - both were utterly incredible). Getting rigged up to the ECG machine took minutes, and the print-out was clear, so I was assured. This first bit of good news was followed by blood pressure check and a once over with a stethoscope. I was then presented with a choice; go to hospital for a blood check to search out an enzyme that usually lives in the heart but tends to leach out if you've had a heart attack (cardiac event, in medical-speak - which I was rapidly becoming fluent in) or stay at home and avoid the late afternoon queue in A&E. No brainer, I thought; then I was put on to the paramedics' controller, who very efficiently scared the 'bejeezus' out of me, according to the Irish paramedic (not being stereotypical: that's really what she said!). In the ambulance, I learned that my paramedics were self-employed contractors working for Falck, a rather strange concept and one that - although grateful for at the time - does make me wonder, yet again, about the extent of privatisation in the NHS. A&E bound So, were away to A&E with my wife following on behind. At A&E, the service was so swift I'd had blood taken and been chest x-rayed before my wife had parked the car and found the cubicle. The chest x-ray was delivered to the supervising medics virtually instantaneously, but the blood test result took a little over two hours. But an all-clear, accompanied by the instruction to see my GP as soon as possible after the holiday weekend was worth the wait.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Playing doctors at the chemist

'Could I have some of those one-a-night sleep tablets, please?' 'You mean the sleep aid?' replied the assistant in the Tesco Pharmacy. I agreed that was the product I wanted, only to be then asked when I'd last taken them. Having said it was a few months ago - the annoying fact of insomnia strikes from time-to-time. The assistant scanned the pack and then finished by reminding me 'not to take them before driving'. 'No', I replied: 'I tend not to do that when I'm getting into bed' - like it says on the front of the pack.

Return to the stone age

The new neighbours are having some work done. Not sure what the end result is intended to be, but it seems to involve a lot of stone cutting. They've engaged a firm of stonemasons, who seem to favour full throttle petrol-driven cutters and shouted instructions/banter. It was never like this with Fred and Barney. Yabba, dabbo, don't...

Friday, August 19, 2016

UK Passports - a beta work in progress

Remember Farage getting rather over-excited about the return of the dark blue UK passport during the referendum campaign? Strange to relate, but the UK government's application site is now a beta test version, which could suggest that Nige's dream could be about to be turned into internet reality. It that's so, it's to be hoped the pointy heads sort out the print function, as it just made my printer churn out 30-odd pages of unprinted, still pristine white paper, as opposed to the promised declaration form. All in all, the experience left me feeling that, once again, Brexit is going to be a lot harder to deliver in reality (whatever form that might eventually take) than the over-hyped, truth-free version promised to use by the Leavers during the campaign.

Monday, August 15, 2016

I'm a nursing algorithm

Strange things can happen when you register with online work/employment agencies, particularly those whose web presence is driven by poorly constructed algorithms. For example, having registered for editorial work with CareerBuilder.co.uk I've been sent a rash of NHS/nursing vacancies (and unsubscribing doesn't seem to stop them). Now, while I can very quickly and painlessly remove an unneccessary apostrophe you probably wouldn't want me to try the same trick with your ingrowing toenail or bunion. Not that the algorithm seems to mind...

Monday, August 01, 2016

Marsh Barton

First drove through Exeter 30-odd years ago and got lost at Marsh Barton due to poor road signing. Today, in pouring rain, got stuck at MB again. Exeter has park and ride now, but nearest location to where we're staying turned out to be the dreaded Marsh Barton and it was full when we arrived. Extricating the car from there took nearly half an hour of bumper to bumper queuing.
Great city - shame about the roads.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Stand at deliver(y)

An old workmate of mine used to complain that 'accountants make bad printers'. He was a very good printer, but became disillusioned when middle managers and beancounters began to infect the trade back in the 1980s. After all, that was a time when the trade was highly unionised, well-paid and very labour-intensive. Looking back, it probably reached its peak in the mid-80s, for after that time, the managers took over in earnest - and cutting costs was the mantra they followed with increasing ideological zeal. I remembered the phrase recently when I had to reject a print run. A series of monochrome graphics had not reproduced well; there were streaks running down the full page illustrations in every one of the books. The job had been printed digitally, not litho - the process I'd worked in. In litho, such marking would have been put down to gear wear on the press, but digital is the new kid on the block to me, so I just complained and asked for a reprint. But, while the process may well be totally different to working with viscous ink and printing plates - and the need to manage the ink/water balance during the run, the practice of taking a sheet at random from the delivery stack to check colour strength, image position and overall quality during the run would have meant that this problem never left the pressroom, much less made it through the bindery and out to the end customer. Then again, with staff numbers paired right back, the beancounters in charge now probably feel that the risk of such things happening, once the job is 'passed' by the customer, is something that can be written off. After all, if the statistical probability is small, why not run the risk of not checking? An occasional reprint is still cheaper than paying the wages of printers to stand around on the off chance that one of the sheets they pluck from the delivery might show something's amiss. Cost effective? Probably. Even if it runs counter to another old saw - when the fault is so obvious that it would've been 'spotted by a blind man on a galloping horse'. Are those hooves I hear?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Smile for the phlebotomist

Intrigued by a sign in the cubicle where I was having my blood test this morning which stated anyone photographing or recording their blood test would be asked to leave. I asked the phlebotomist (an inelegant job title if ever there was one) if this ever occurred when she was working only to be told that it did: in fact, young couples were the worst offenders - particularly if a female was upset by the needle and the male had his phone at the ready. I left supposing that this was a case of there being two pricks in the room...

Saturday, July 16, 2016

An invitation, and a pending birthday.

During the late 70s and into the 80s, I was a member of the Navy reserve. It was a good time, I met some great people and travelled, though only on the UK, unfortunately.
This morning, I noticed a reserve recruiting stall in Halifax- and also saw one of the matelotes on duty was someone I remembered from those far off days. We talked of mutual friends, and he introduced me to his companions, before asking if I'd consider rejoining. I was rather taken aback - and said that as I will be 55 next Wednesday, surely I was well and truly over the hill.
Apparently not, my former shipmate averred - before going on to reveal that he's 62 soon and into his 40th year in a blue suit.
Good on him. But I swallowed my particular anchor a long time ago, and, sad to relate some of our shipmates we reminisced about have sadly sailed for that other shore.
I salute their memory, and his long and enviable service.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

As British as a horse and cart?

An interesting piece of commentary wafted o'er the air while I was watching a heavy horse display at the Great Yorkshire Show yesterday. While we watched the two horse dray teams being put through their paces in the main show arena, the commentator waxing lyrical about tact and drivers' tactics, he suddenly changed tack and proclaimed - not just once - that the scene was just so 'British'. Indeed the repetition became something of an embarrassing verbal tic that he couldn't seem to let go. Now, I don't think there really is any historical evidence to suggest that it was an ancient Briton who first had the idea of getting a horse to pull a cart, so quite where the British pride came into it in the first place is perhaps something only the commentator could explain. But was really surprised me was the cognitive dissonance involved. This was because only a few minutes earlier, the self-same commentator was telling us how the introduction of the French Percheron and Belgian heavy horse, the Brabant, after World War I had brought competition to the two main British breeds, the Shire and the Clydesdale, before going on to rave about a new team of Canadian Belgians that were an exciting addition to the year's display. Exciting (and certainly very large) the Canadian Belgians might have been, but they ended up coming last in the show, which just goes to show that however loud someone shouts, if it's bollocks, time will usually tell. The whole British pride in heavy horse theme put me in mind of certain blow-hard Tory politicians who fall over themselves to announce their love of country and other patriotic credentials, but whose policies then lead to a reduction in standards and a general diminution in the eyes of the rest of the world. Bellowing 'British' through a loud-hailer doesn't make something true or better - that is down to proof and the test of time. There is also a parallel with Boris Johnson's empty wiff waff invention boast - nonsense dressed up with a union flag wrapping, rather like bellowing 'British' at irregular intervals, doesn't make for either a sound argument or an edifying spectacle - even if the declaimer has a post accent.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hoping for another great, Great Yorkshire Show

Great Yorkshire Showtime comes round again: three days of horse, sheep, cattle showing; men in appallingly coloured trousers and dodgy merchandise. Three days in which farmers and townies are coralled together in a showground on the edge of the Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate, with the prospect of quagmire or just muddy clothing adding to the mix. I attended my first GYS on a school trip in 1976. Aged 14, and sporting my best grey-flared trousers, complete with non-school approved turn-ups, along with my blazer and tie (and all this in the middle of the hottest Summer I'd then known), I saw animals judged by arcane and indecipherable standards - at least they looked that way to my town-grown self - and wandered round stalls selling everything a Tyke would need, from sheep dip to improbable-looking vegetable chopping implements. The highlight of the day then was the discovery of black cherry yogurt; the result of a free pot, handed out by someone on one of the dairy stalls - still my favourite, and the taste even now can transport me back to that warm, sunny afternoon where the air carried the unmistakable tang of the farmyard. And we're off again tomorrow to look askance at the clothing styles of the landed and not-so landed, the agricultural and the businesses and banks that service them. Sure there'll be improbable kitchen implements on show, but will there be free yogurt?

Saturday, July 09, 2016

When the Florist's out to lunch...

It was all rather reminiscent of Monty Python's Cheese Shop sketch. An anniversary looming, I needed a bouquet so went into the local florists, only to be met by an assistant who told me no such thing could be procured until 'after one' because the florist was having lunch! A shop stacked with flowers and bouquets awaiting collection (a fair few ordered, no doubt, by spouses better organised than I), but nothing resembling a wodge of oasis could be fitted with blooms until the florist returned. I used to work in the printing industry, where demarcation disputes were an entertaining way to pass many a happy hour, but I never thought that demarcation of labour would still persist in floristry. Perhaps the sisterhood have managed to keep this quiet - but it seems that a florists shop is a closed shop. Unfortunately, I was pushed for time, so I headed to Tesco - doubtless their Finest won't come up to the quality of the lunching florist's finest, but needs must when you need flowers to go.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The frightened, small-minded people have spoken...

Should've known the news would be bad when I saw that Nicky Morgan had called it for Remain in a BBC report just before I went to bed. But the then touted result of 52 remain, 48 leave turned out to be reversed, and we're on our way out. Cameron is toast, but not until October. I would've thought it would be better if he cleared off now, but a long drawn-out and hopefully humiliating exit could prove to be a fitting punishment for a failed leader. The demographics seem to suggest a lot of older voters went for leave, thereby doing over the futures of their children and grandchildren. Smart move; the coffin-dodgers put two fingers up to those who fight for the jobs that pay the tax which funds their pensions. That's interdependence for you - and that's what Gove et al are fully paid up and in thrall to, because globalisation and privatisation will continue apace. The deluded outers (particularly those who fell for the UKIP line, or the £350 million extra per week for the NHS) are in for a hell of a shock: you're going to see a lot of foreigners, but they won't be coming to work, no - they're coming to buy, buy, buy - your NHS, your workplace/pension provider - all at bargain basement prices, and without any of those troubling EU regulations. Some people are going to learn the very hard way that not all 'red tape' works against them.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Intolerant of lactose intolerance

After a long day in the office when I'm in London, I like nothing more than a beer and a bite to eat before heading to King's Cross for my train home. Last night was no exception - a bottle of Sam Smiths Pale and a plate of stifado (stop smirking at the 'stif' bit - it's Greek beef stew, and very tasty it was too). The problem with dining alone at just after 6.00 is that you get the full-on Billy-no-mates treatment, with waiters tucking you away in a corner at a table for two, but I'm used to it by now and rather like the solitude. Except for my fellow lone diner. He arrived just after me and ordered bolognese - in a Greek restaurant?? Anyhow, he then told two waiters that no cheese should be offered or indeed sprinkled as he was 'lactose intolerant'. No problem, I thought, taking a few draughts of Tadcaster's finest. But he then went on to proclaim his intolerance every time a waiter drew close or asked him if he would like anything else. Offered a coffee by the head waiter, he then went on to describe exactly how ill he would be if perchance he did ingest dairy products. Way too much information, nearly baulked on my stifado (I've told you before, it's a well-known dish, oh grow up...).

Thursday, June 09, 2016

A glorious day in the Dales

Photographic evidence of last Friday's truanting. Marvellous. The road to Hawes, White Scar CavesLooking back to Ingleborough on the way to Catrigg ForceCatrigg Force, the falls and the cave behind them.

And or, that is the question

Walking through Wakefield this morning, I came across this sign which made me wonder what they were trying to achieve: a healthier option or double frying to give that genuine myocardial infarction feeling with every meal. If the former, then it has to be Or not +; if the latter, why not go the whole cow and bung in the lard as well?

Monday, June 06, 2016

Don't mention the war, if you're pining for the fjords...

The Sun has pissed Brighouse off by insinuating, wrongly - as per usual where matters even vaguely 'European' are concerned - that the town's fourth 1940s' weekend was gatecrashed by people turning up in German uniforms.
One of the organisers has asserted that this is wrong. The only two foreign elements turned out to be a bloke in a Polish uniform and someone who claimed to be Norwegian, but who was asked to leave, just to be on the safe side. Dangerous thing, history. Don't mention the war- or the sodding great Christmas tree our erstwhile and ever grateful former Norwegian allies send every year.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Bigging up Harold Wilson

An interesting late afternoon in Huddersfield's St George's Square with the Labour for EU bus tour.
A group of young 'Thick of It' wannabes handed out placards, stickers and balloons before a warm up speech by the town's long-standing Labour MP Barry Shearman climbed onto the plinth of Harold Wilson's statue. Having invoked the late Prime Minister's name as a blessing for the Remain campaign, Shearman handed over to Wakefield MP Mary Creagh, who made a rather strange speech. Referencing Godfrey Blood's infamous 'slut' speech before going on to say how she'd found 4 steak knives when she did clean behind her fridge, she then handed over to Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson. His speech tied Wilson's legacy of the 1975 Euro referendum, equality legislation and employment rights, before going on to contrast this with Tory EU disunity, the perfidity of Johnson's EU volte face and the dangers an EU-free, unrestrained right-wing Tory party would undoubtedly pose to employment rights and the manufacturing industries.
The speakers were accompanied by Linda, an MEP with unspecified surname and Paula Sherrif, MP for Dewsbury. Conspicuous by her absence was the clearly still unforgiven Jo Cox, MP for Spen Valley and recent Corbyn critic of 'Knifing' infamy.
Stage-managed to a tee, the event did at least provoke applause in the right places for a northern Labour audience, but a low turnout (why a Friday afternoon and only 24 hours' notice) might not exactly have the Brexiters quaking in their boots - even if Watson did take a couple of swipes at UKIP.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Royal Mail - a guide for teenagers: is there an FAQ for that?

For me, one of the most depressing phrases I have to deal with is: "we are currently experiencing higher than normal call volumes...". And when it trickled into my ear barely 15 minutes after the advertised start of business at the mobile phone insurance company's call centre - on a Monday morning - I saw more than a hint of red. On visiting the website - where all claims can be managed (apparently) and taking a glance through the FAQ, only to find that my AQ hadn't made it into the Frequent category, I then found the only way to interact with a human - aside from making an open-ended time commitment to Vivaldi - was to write a letter. The problem was (and still is) my son's phone. It was returned to us last on Thursday of last week after having a new screen fitted owing to a distressing pocket fall, pavement impact scenario - made no less distressing by the fact that it took place out the front door, as he tried to retrieve his key from the same pocket as his phone. By Friday, the repaired/replacement phone (can't tell which) had ceased to play sounds via the earphone jack (thereby rendering the device utterly useless to anyone under the age of 30). On Saturday evening, the screen froze - meaning that all control was thereby eliminated and the phone then went on to emit a series of alarm signals. As the battery was by this time at 75% capacity, my son decided the only way to deal with the issue was to lock the phone away in the garage, where it could emit whatever the bloody hell it liked until its sodding battery ran down. Now, while I appreciate that a FAQ specific to this precise train of events could be somewhat difficult to put into words, I do think the company was being overly optimistic by not providing generic instructions as to what a policyholder should do in the event that they need to return a repaired/replaced handset if the repair/replacement itself doesn't come up to snuff. My letter pointing out a) the problem and b) the shortfall in FAQ information was duly typed, printed out, signed and enveloped before being handed to my son, who was on his way out to College. He looked quizzically at the stamped addressed envelope and asked what he should do with it (he's a bright guy, but it was Monday morning and he is sitting an exam today, so might be forgiven for not being up to speed with older forms of written communication). I answered by pointing out that red pillar boxes can be found on most streets and that there is an added sense of excitement in that they come in both free-standing or wall mounted forms. The week, I fear, has not started well...

Friday, May 13, 2016

'Hiring for free' - oxymoron or HR inspired nightmare?

Judging by the BBC report, Sainsbury's in Camden look to have got the kicking they so richly deserved by advertising for a local artist to decorate the store's staff canteen for free. But when did expecting things to be done for nothing become an accepted part of the employer-employee relationship or commercial life in general? Is this something that has crept in from the egregious practice of unpaid work experience/internships? Or has the employer-employee relationship now become so slewed in favour of the former that the latter is expected to receive no consideration in return for expending their skill and labour? Either way, the practice is contrary to the rules governing formation of a contract - where there is a presumption in favour of creating legal relations where a person (be they employee or contractor) is taken to have entered into a binding contract if the circumstances are those where payment is usual. In this case, an artist would expect payment for carrying out a commission (or a painter and decorator would expect to be paid if they painted the walls or hung some wallpaper). I suppose you could try to see if the opposite applied: see how Sainsbury's would react if several hundred Camden folk entered the store, loaded their trolleys and then left without paying?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Leeds - the Northern Powerhouse?

After the rejection of its planned (and long needed) supertram system, Leeds went all out on a trolleybus replacement. However, this has just been rejected by Tory Transport Secretary, Patrick McLouglin. As city councillors and rapid transit supporters go back to the drawing board, the 'northern powerhouse' seems to have relegated Leeds to the status of cramped garden shed. Another fine mess, and more years of choking in traffic. I can remember when Leeds styled itself 'Motorway city of the seventies' - it's now 'Gridlocked city going nowhere'.

High horse or high heels - HR disaster for Portico

This all seems so obvious. It's sexist to demand that female temporary workers/colleagues/staff (delete as appropriate) wear shoes with a heel of between 2-4 inches when male temporary workers/colleagues/staff don't. It's also - arguably - discriminatory on disability grounds, so why did the outsourcer Portico stick to its guns - even to the point of sending Nicola Thorp home without pay when she refused? Presumably we're now going to see hordes of HR types hastily checking employment handbooks and policies - shame it took a temp to teach them what should, after all, have been the bleeding obvious. Oh, and if the temporary worker/colleagues/staff member showing you to your important business meeting or corporate function appears a bit tottery or unsteady on their pins, you might just want to ask HR/temp agency (delete as appropriate) a few questions.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Brenda, in her own words

Royal protocol apparently dictates that the Queen's conversations should not be revealed, so if Brenda said nasty things about the Chinese at her garden party that were picked up by the only camera crew there (on the Palace's instructions, presumably) then either she or one of her flunkies must have authorised the leak. Similarly, Cameron's unintentionally ironic corruption comment must also have been known to her Maj - it was recorded in Buckingham Palace after all. Aside therefore, from Nicholas Witchell and a few other professional toadying sycophants, neither 'indiscretions' (if that's what they were) merit anywhere near the media coverage they're getting. This has all the feel of a late Summer silly season, rather than serious political cock-up.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Up to London to (not) see the Queen

Journey back from London saw me fall prey to guilty pleasure of listening in to the conversation of four people seated at the opposite table. Dressed in their finery, the two couples had been invitees to a Buck House garden party. Of the four, however, it soon transpired that only on had managed a glimpse of the Queen. All in all, it sounded quite a rigmarole to go through to stand around in the rain to munch on cucumber sarnies.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Time wasty McTime faces

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is going to review the process by which the public voted overwhelmingly to name the new Arctic and Antarctic exploration vessel Boaty McBoatface, even though the aptly named Nerc (the Natural Environment Research Council to use its Sunday name) - shades of Fletcher's great Porridge putdown - has decided to depart from democratic precedent. Do they really want to waste time and money trying to justify what is, after all, merely the great British sense of humour having a communal laugh at their expense?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Senior moment at the Chippy

How many carrier bags does it take to hold fish and chips three times, a sausage, three lots of curry sauce and a portion of mushy peas? I plainly thought just the one, because as it was handed over, I turned on my heel and left Blakeley's fish and chip emporium in Ship St, Brighouse.
On my arrival back at home, however, it was pointed out to me - somewhat harshly I feel - that my solitary carrier only contained three portions of chips and one fish. A hasty phone call to the shop revealed two further bags were still there. At this point the owner offered to bring them round for us, and I was able to thank him in person, albeit rather embarrassed for my momentary lapse into a senior/craft moment.

My ideal Sky TV bundle, apparently

Junk mail from Murdoch's minions urging me to 'discover' my 'perfect Sky TV Bundle'. I very much doubt it. In my case, it would be an endless loop of Rupe being bundled into a van (shades of the Night Manager finale), intercut with Kelvin being doorstepped by Channel 4.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Peaked too soon?

Not yet 10 and I've already had Twitter exchange with Ian McMillan on the dangers of food debris from onboard train catering.
Fear the rest of the week's going to be something of an anti-climax...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Nidderdale rambling

Good walk today with Leeds Ramblers from Hampsthwaite to Birstwith in Nidderdale. A 5.5 mile circular walk in great company with fields full of lambs and dozens of wild rabbits on the homeward leg beside the River Nidd. They seem to like their Cricket in Birstwith, judging from the two matches taking place simultaneously in adjacent fields, the match in the field closest to the village centre had a bit of an after-thought feel to it, being played, as it was, on a strip of recently mowed grass to the right of a marked out rugby pitch,the fielders keeping an eye out for the H posts as they went about their task. On our return to the start on Hampsthwaite's village green, the group rounded off an enjoyable afternoon with tea/coffee and cake at Sophie's Coffee Shop and Delicatessen cum Bed and Breakfast further along Hampsthwaite's main street.

. The scones were of an enviable height, and so substantial in heft and mass that a few dozen would provide an effective road block, should the revolution ever come to Nidderdale. The only discordant note of the afternoon was provided by the waiter when he queried my pronunciation of scone (forget the 'e', it rhymes with Ron - as enunciated beautifully by Michael Palin in his brilliant rendition of the Lumberjack Song,listen and learn my be-pinnyed friend, listen and learn...

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Rhubarb lurking amongst the apples - if you can't trust pies, what hope is there?

Arrived back from Tesco to find that my impulse buy - an apple pie for a quid is actually rhubarb. And I hate rhubarb... As a child, my rhubarb-loving parents often tried to pass rhubarb off as plum. I soon learned that plums aren't cube-shaped and don't change the inside of a pan when you 'stew' them. Rhubarb is cubed and 'stewed' - left to simmer in boiled water with a large amount of sugar, in an attempt to make the vegetable (oh, yes it is) vaguely edible. Not even the 'clearing out' properties of rhubarb (as my Dad was keen to proclaim - roughage was important in our house) made it a substance even remotely suitable for human consumption If this damnable imposter of a pie is going to be rendered even remotely edible it's going to need custard in a quantity sufficient to float a battleship.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Pirate of Olympia

Last Tuesday, I attended the first day of the London Book Fair, keen to explore the myriad intricacies of e-book production and online archiving, with, perhaps, a sidelong glance or two at marketing and more traditional forms of book selling. Imagine my surprise, then, on entering an exhibition hall to be met by a man in pirate costume, waving a toy sword and generally making free with such stock phrases as 'shiver my timbers' 'pieces of eight' and asking if I wanted my photograph taken with him! Short of slamming my bodily extremities in a chest of drawer or signing the national anthem in public, I couldn't think of anything I'd like or need to do less, although I didn't couch my refusal in such absolute terms. I did, however, check the identity of the stall he was associated with, and was surprised to see that it was one that only seemed to sell books by one particular author: L Ron Hubbard. Now, Scientology's choice of a pirate theme seems rather strange - given their recent run-ins with others who adopt that style and title. Then again, the decision to book a stall at the LBF by the Scientologists also struck me as rather unusual, given the general air of liberal enquiry and hard nosed, hard sell commercialism that seemed to pervade the rest of the attenders and exhibitors.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Four Yorkshiremen versus Six Londoners

My Norman no-mates table-for-one dinner in a Bloomsbury curry house was unwittingly enlivened by the table chat of an early evening work outing. Six Londoners, all male, held forth on their favourite strip and lap dancing joints. Enlivened by a few Cobras, a couple of them then went on to describe the services they'd enjoyed from their favourite sex workers before the k member of the group broke into the hackneyed refrain about satellite TV owning benefit claimants. The conversation then took an unexpected turn as they then did a High Fidelity-esque list compilation of their favourite violent and supernatural films.
All in all, I prefer the Python parody. The London boys were a loud, grotesque throwback to Viz's Cockney Wanker character.

Sights and sounds of London

Just did an impromptu King's Cross tour guide routine for 2 Californians on a viewing platform overlooking the plaza and Regents Canal. One thanked me for using miles as a distance measurement. Had to explain that we always use them. Feel a bit ashamed for pointing out the spot where Churchill fell in as he was chased by King George for farting at teatime but you can't be nice to them all the time, can you?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

DIY blind fitting sends blood pressure soaring

Came home from pleasant week in Cornwall to a re-hanging blind situation. I'd set off knowing the fitting connecting blind to ceiling had come off, causing the blind to fall and hit spouse on the way down but gave the issue little thought until I ventured into the back bedroom soon after we arrived home, to find the blind laying on the bed. So today, out came the drill and rawlplugs. To get a good 'fixing' I tried to drill up into the top of the window reveal, only to find that, even using a masonry drill bit with the drill on 'hammer' setting, I was getting nowhere. Then I spotted a second hole at a right angle to the first, that allowed for a wall fixing alternative.
Things went swimmingly for a while. New hole drilled, fitting screwed to the wall. All that remained was to re-hang the blind. And that's when disaster struck. Attempting to lever the blind into position between the two retaining clips, I managed to snap the flimsy plastic connector on the left hand side (see photo), sending the blind back down onto the bed, to the accompaniment of several choice Anglo Saxon epithets from my self as balanced on the bed in the recently acquired knowledge that the re-fitting is going to cost more time and money.
I need a holiday.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Cycling the tramway

Spent a pleasant couple of hours cycling around Portreath on north Cornwall coast. This is, or rather was, mining country and the area is littered with former mine workings and engine houses pepper the landscape. Many of the mines were linked by a tramway that took the ore from the inhospitable - and frequently storm-tossed north coast - to the more sheltered and deep waters of the Carrick Roads at Devoran, between Falmouth and Truro. Bike rental from Elm Farm at Nancekuke came to £30 for three adults. The Farm also has a cafe, licensed bar and a camp site. Good times in Cornwall.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Interviewed and dumped

Had a interview for work at a university with a big white tower in Leeds last Thursday. Four member panel questioned me for an hour for a job I was more then amply qualified for. Got the rejection this morning. Apparently I can 'phone next week for feedback. Hope no-one waits in for the call.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A word about our Patron...

Time was, being asked to be a patron of a charity was nice gesture to a local big-wig. Or maybe an automatic response if you were a large charity and the sovereign deigned to grace your letterhead. However, some Tory MPs - particularly those who decided to toe the party line and support the £30 weekly reduction in Employment Support Allowance - are now finding their charitable patronage of disabled groups facing serious and sustained opposition. None more so, it seems, that Stephen Crabb MP, the replacement for the suddenly principled IBS at the Department for Work and Pensions. Crabb is Patron of the Pembrokeshire branch of Mencap, even though he supported the ESA cut and has some rather strange views on 'curing' homosexuality. Suddenly being a figurehead is nowhere near as much of a safe sinecure that it used to be.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

George would really like to do a Trump

Here's a scary thought. After his failure to hide his lack of economic success behind a slogan-strewn Budget, Osborne seems to have set his sights on becoming Cameron's annointed successor. Forget financial probity and economic management skills (he plainly has), Budget 2016 was an attempt to push all the right buttons with those Tories who aren't yet unhinged enough to go with Boris, or those who aren't attracted to Mrs May's stern treatment. But - and this is the scary part - while Donald can (and hopefully will) be stopped by enough Americans voting for anyone but him in a full election, here Cameron's successor will only be chosen by the Tories themselves. British parties that change PMs mid-Parliament don't generally accede to the inevitable calls to let the country have a say - remember Brown/Blair? With the Tories, the end of the old and launch of the new tends to be even more brutal, as Thatcher's famously tear-stained last 'we' on leaving Downing Street showed. The question remains, will George be a blow in - and will we have any say in the matter whatsoever?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cameron's cannon fodder aims to get 'em young

Cadets in schools. First mooted during Gove's tenure at DfE and now the focus of a wodge of cash to enable state schools and academies to get their pupils into uniform and learn some discipline. Just think, the young learning how to wear a decent suit (khaki, navy or air-force blue), do up their ties and sing the national anthem - oh, and how to shoot straight should they come across some goddam liberal pinko surrender-monkeys. I can think of a many more worthwhile places where that cash could go, and none of them involve indoctrinating the young.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Academies can be as bad as LEAs - would've thought it?

Wilshaw's criticisms of multi-academy groups - and the pay awarded to senior management - highlight the danger of weakening public control over education. The government obsession in breaking local government control over schools is shown to be based on ideological, as opposed to educational grounds. The current crop of academy leaders, while doubtless keen to justify their salaries, are drawn from the ranks of teachers who have proved adept at climbing the greasy pole of school management and, as such, highly adept at 'talking the talk'; which in educational terms is another language to that of the everyday life of the classroom. Good teachers have to learn to swim in this pool of 'talent', the alternative being to remain in the classroom - promotion is predicated on management. And this is where Wilshaw is now aiming his axe. However, this is the very pool that Wilshaw - a former academy head, came from. Taking aim at his former colleagues and irritating the Tories, will probably only hasten his replacement by an American import.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Keeping pace with the Pacers - for 36 long years...

The best part of 36 years ago, the British Rail (remember that?) took delivery of some new trains for use in the north of England, they were called Pacers. Apparently, British Leyland had some bus bodies left over, so some bright spark decided to turn them into trains. From the start, they were a disaster - early crews nicknamed them Torville and Deans, because the brakes were so bad, and the bodies so light and badly-balanced, that some trains used to slide past platforms if the brakes were applied too hard, or the track was wet (it rains a lot up here...). Well, we've been stuck with the damned things ever since. Except, now that Gideon had decided we live in his virtual-reality Northern Powerhouse, and rail franchises are up for renewal, even the blighted old north can expect some relief from the Pacer. So the BBC has, very-belatedly, discovered the joy of Pacer travel. Thirty-seven years too late.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The end of love on Valentine's Day

They were packing away the red hearts and gaudy tackiness in Tesco at 3.00 this afternoon. No time for a quickie in the novelty aisle. Must be getting ready for the headlong rush towards Easter. Shame that love - even plastic-wrapped and commercialised - has to be over so soon. Still, plastic-wrapped erotica is probably still available in other forms and outlets at all hours of the day and night, if you're desperate and know where to look...

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A salute from the past

Taken in August 1942, the photograph shows my Dad (left, front row, with the gravity-defying forage cap) and his fellow Sappers just after passing out at Weston-on-Trent Camp near Derby. I've seen this photo many times, but last week I noticed something that I'd previously missed. Nearly all the men have followed the instruction to give a thumbs up - in Dad's case he's gone for both thumbs. Compare this image of joyful soldiery to the man at the opposite end of the front row, who's giving a full-on, reverse-Churchill, two-fingered Roman salute (and seems to be wearing slippers without socks!) The 'Roman' connection is striking, because many of this group ended up in Italy - Dad included - and landed either at Reggio or Salerno. Don't know the guy's name or anything about his subsequent military career but for a full-on reposte to the staged mateyness of the photo his 'two fingers to the lot of you' takes some beating.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Managing failure in the classroom - the ghost of the 50s and 60 returns...

Michael Rosen's open letter to Nicky Morgan about the dangers of the return of creeping selection are a timely reminder of the waste engendered by the grammar school system. Talk about helping the brightest tends to be a diversionary tactic. Selection now, with its emphasis on critical reasoning test results, means that children from poorer backgrounds won't even get to sit the 11-plus in the first place because parents can't afford the tutoring fees. I live in an area with two selected grammars - and a well established system of private tutoring that takes kids as young as 7! I also grew up in Leeds as the 11-plus was ending. Mine was the first year that didn't have so to sit the exam, so my parents never got to find out if - in the not-so-infallible view of my primary school teachers, I was/wasn't 'university material', aged only 11. Primary teaching in those days - as Rosen so well illustrates - was about managing failure for around two thirds of pupils. Now, in selective grammar areas, its about letting parents battle it out to get their children the supposedly best tutors so they can pass the 11-plus. A grammar school place has little to do with helping the clever working class, more ensuring the sharp elbows of the middle class get what many of them view as their just reward.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Same-sex marriage: ignoring the view from the pew

The YouGov poll showing that more Anglicans now support same-sex marriage in the Church of England than oppose it, will - unfortunately - have little if any effect in changing the rules any time soon. This is due to the fact that the CofE is anything but democratic when it comes to listening to, much less acting on, the views of its ordinary members. The Church long ago adopted a system of 'synodical government' that locks the broad mass of the laity out of any real decision-making. While each parish elects members to a parochial church council, election to the next level - the deanery synod - is down to the PCC members (in reality, the vicar's choice or buggin's turn). Depending on size of parish, this could mean 2-4 PCC nominees take a seat in the deanery synod. From there, the deanery synod elects members to sit in the diocesan synod. And it is this group that then gets to elect members of General Synod - the actual decision making body of the CofE. Now, one problem with General Synod lies with its structure. Here there are three 'houses' - one for the laity, one for the clergy and one for the bishops. And all have to agree before a rule change can be made. Even then, the matter isn't sealed, because - being the established church - the CofE's canon law is made for it by Parliament - the law is made in the same way as an Act of Parliament, only its called a Measure, to show that it only concerns the Church. A second problem with the General Synod is the narrow mind-set of its house of laity members. While Anglicans at parish level are broadly representative of wider society, General Synod members most certainly aren't. The synod meets for two weeks per year, usually once in Canterbury and once in York and has a far reaching committee structure. In effect, this means that lay members have to make a large time commitment, meaning that only the retired or those of 'independent means' need apply. The more reactionary do tend to float to the surface here, too (remember, it was a narrow vote in the house of laity that scuppered the first attempt to change to law to allow the consecration of women bishops in November 2012). Synod members at all levels also tend to accept the prevailing mood of the houses of clergy and the bishops, which can also restrict free thought and progressive decision-making. A personal example - and one of the reasons I left the Church after nearly 50 years - came in a conversation with a Canon (a senior priest in the then Diocese of Wakefield). Personally affected by what I saw as a high-handed and unaccountable decision reached by an Archbishop, I questioned the outcome with the Canon, who rather fatuously said: 'everything a bishop does is for our benefit'; I suspect to shut down the debate and silence dissent (and certainly not a line of argument Peter Ball's victims would ever agree with). Having an apparently greater understanding of Church history than the Canon, I disagreed - but challenging nonsense like this is hard for the more authoritarian-minded, who tend to sit on PCCs and synods. The CofE won't be allowing its clergy to marry same sex couples for quite some time. In the meantime, its also been granted a statutory power to discriminate by Parliament, which has legislated to deny the possibility of same sex marriages taking place in Anglican churches, even though other denominations already offer same-sex marriage or are far more likely than the dear old CofE to accept change in the not too distant future.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Trident and IS, a new strategy

Overheard a man walking past a peace vigil in Huddersfield the other day. He looked at the banners and anti-Trident slogans and then said out loud 'you'd let ISIS just kill us all'. Paying billions for US missiles won't make a blind bit of difference to IS, not that the pavement field marshall seemed able to grasp the finer points.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Politeness in confined spaces

I traveled from Manchester to Huddersfield on the rather grandly named, but oddly spaced and capitalised TransPennine Express. The name is not borne out by the mundane layout of the carriages, which - although intended to convey passengers from Liverpool and Manchester to Scarborough and Middlesbrough - are cramped, with narrow aisles that frequently host standing passengers. In my case, I was carrying a rucksack and a small wheeled suitcase and a ticket with a reservation. The seat allocated for my exclusive use between Manchester Piccadilli and Huddersfield was stated on the ticket as being seat 1 in coach B. There were two problems, however, first I couldn't find seat number one, no matter how many people I squeezed past, with 'excuse me' falling frequently from my lips. The second problem was that seat number two, which I could find, was occupied by a woman who had only just realised that the seat was reserved - and that she wasn't supposed to be occupying it. Having found the seat, and seeing when she moved that number one was the aisle seat (she'd obviously bagged the window seat, as you do) I then had to find room to allow her to pass down the carriage, while the rightful holder of the seat number two reservation, who had just made her presence felt, took up her rightful occupation. The train was now moving, so we had to balance, push and excuse as the usurper removed herself and the holders of tickets with reservations for seats one and two heaved their luggage into the space where our legs should have been. This took up an interesting first five minutes of the journey, before myself and my window-seated companion unpacked a surprisingly wide selection of snacks and what looked suspiciously like student work, that she proceeded to mark. Between mouthfuls of crisp and sandwich she also bemoaned the lack of civility of those who take up seats they aren't entitled to. That's the great thing about the English: we are polite to each others' faces, no matter how uncomfortable the immediate circumstances, but once the annoying impediment is removed, we love to complain like hell about the cause of it. Huddersfield couldn't come soon enough. Massaging feeling back into my legs, I left the station and took the expensive option of a taxi home. The cheaper bus would have entailed a 30 minute wait - but more to the point, one public transport-located game of balance, push and excuse was more than enough for one day. Calder Valley Flood Appeal - please donate now.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ziggy Stardust and the Confused of Leeds

One afternoon after school as we wandered around Woolworth's record department, my mate Carl tried to explain to me how David Bowie had 'killed' Ziggy Stardust, but that it was OK because they were the same person. And that Ziggy Stardust wasn't real anyway. He then took me way out of my depth by saying that Ziggy was from Mars and bisexual. How could he be from Mars if he wasn't real? I asked, not unreasonably in my opinion; think I used my follow up question to ask what a bisexual was. Carl got annoyed at this point and I think either stormed off or hit me, possibly both. I wasn't a fan, you see (we didn't even have a record player at home) and some kids even had Aladdin Sane by then. He probably didn't know what a bisexual was either. After all, he had also said he knew what condoms were for, but this turned out not to be for contraceptive purposes, rather to prevent you from catching a scary sounding (but entirely made up) disease called Red Knob. Memories of that conversation still make me want to crack up with laughter, which isn't appropriate today of all days because, over the intervening years, I've learned that David Bowie was a great talent in music and art and that he'll be sadly missed. China Girl and Heroes are my favourites and will be played in tribute when I do the ironing later. But what happened to the Spiders from Mars? Were  they despatched  by a huge rolled up intergalactic newspaper or humanely removed by interstellar transport under a tumbler shaped starship with a heavy-duty detachable cardboard safety deck...?

Friday, January 08, 2016

They need books at Ted Hughes' old school

The village of Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire was badly affected by the Boxing Day floods, with homes, shops, businesses, schools and churches inundated by water when the River Calder and the Elphin Brook burst their banks. Burnley Road School, which is situated across the road from the river, bore the full force of the flood and everything in the school, including the library books and bookcases, have had to be destroyed. The school's most famous former pupil was Ted Hughes, the late Poet Laureate and children’s author; in honour of that link, and the inspiration the village and its surroundings played in Hughes' works, it would be great to have the school library fully restocked with donated children's books. Calder Valley Flood Appeal - please donate now.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Black hole burps - why science geeks will never be cool

Black hole 'burps' gas at nearby galaxy. Not a bad headline, 'black hole' and 'burp' have a degree of alliteration, but there's something missing, something that would have made the whole story immediately live click bait for non-science types. At school, the science geeks (we didn't call them that then, but language moves on and I'm happy to adapt to change - sometimes...) mainly sat at the front and got overly excited over writing up their experiments. They also seemed to understand algebra and knew how to use it, which marked them out as very different in my mind. But science is interesting and you need to engage with those who never got the bug first time round. After all, this is what Prof Brian Cox is for. Returning to the 'burp', how can we improve it, make it more relevant to the non-scientists? Well, off the top of my head, let's think about black holes: they're a long way away and on-one seems to know what they really look like. That much is common to scientists and non-scientists alike. However, the science geeks missed something else. Farts are funny (and that is much better alliteration, by-the-by). The behaviour of forcing gas into someone, or something, else's direction is more commonly associated with flatulence - it is, to employ a 'rule' of probability (and scientist like these) one of those instances of the law of 'who dealt is smelt it'; which, again by-the-by, is what we non-geeks were laughing at to the general disbelief and consternation of our far more lesson-engaged classmates at the front of the lab all those years ago. And if you still want some alliteration, try this: Black hole blasts botty-burp at next door galaxy. Now that's funny. And if you don't laugh, we'll get you at break time. Calder Valley Flood Appeal - please donate now.