Saturday, May 31, 2008

Effing madness or what?

Effing madness or what?

I think it is a beautiful old mansion. The government pays £3.18M for the property 3 days after it was sold for £1.35M! Then English Heritage spends £4M restoring it, only to offer it for sale between £4.5M and £5M. The new owner, if anybody is mad enough to buy it, will need to spend another £6M on further repairs. Then, it is claimed that the public must have access! If I had that kind of money, I would not want a place open to the general public. I think it is wrong for English Heritage to expect it both ways, sell the property and still keep it open to the public.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Mrs Sat Nav knows best

Guest post by Harry Haddock

Aaaah. A week away in the Outer Hebrides shooting and fishing. No database servers that have become possessed by the devil. No clients to chase for money that should have been in the bank 30 days ago. No financial directors ringing you up screaming, telling you that the printer your company has installed doesn't work, and that you are all incompetent bastards, only to find he has unplugged the device to allow him to charge his mobile phone.

We're nearly there. Setting off at stupid 'o' clock in the morning, we fly up the M6, missing an accident that closes the motorway just in time for rush hour, by about half an hour. Nip past Manchester, and are munching some rather tasty ham sandwiches at Carlisle by 8 in the morning. Superb. It's also pretty fine weather for this far up north at this time of year ~ only a few dark clouds interrupting the sun.

As we get further north, the weather only gets better. We skirt around loch Lomond, which is so calm it looks like glass. No, really ~ actual glass. Not a single ripple disturbs the reflections of the mountains. A car load of chubby American tourists stop, seemingly in the middle of the road, to get out and take pictures. Everyone is in such a great mood, we don't mind. 'Don't blame you', I think as I manoeuvre around their RV.

Even the 'surf's up dude' chaps in their Toyota Hilux, with an overloaded trailer that has a wheel that is about to fall off, don't alarm us; I wonder if they made it through the highlands without loosing it. It's approaching half past four. The sat nav says it's only 60 miles to Mallaig. Why is it insisting that we will be a further 2 hours?

'At the next junction, turn left'

That doesn't look right, but I turn left anyway. Onto a jetty that extends out into a loch. Now, I'm fairly used to all of the features on Dave's car after four hours driving, but unless I'm mistaken, there isn't a James Bond style 'turn this car into a submarine' option. There does appear to be a ferry, however, on the other side of the loch. Zooming out on the sat nav, we see what the plan is. Get the ferry, and cut about 40 miles off your journey. Super. But why the two hours to travel less than 60 miles?

The ferry trundles towards us, and after paying our fare,we take the short hop across the loch.

'Turn left' the sat nav chirps. But everyone else is turning right. Never mind, Mrs Sat Nav knows best. Oh no she doesn't.

We wind our way around what seems like every loch and bay on the west coast of Scotland. On a single track road. At about 20 mph, with mad post men and builders keen to get back to their wives after a weeks hard work hurtling towards us at break neck speeds. Dave appears to be turning slightly red in the face. 'Um, I might have programmed in the shortest, instead of the quickest, route', he explains. Really? The road gets smaller and smaller, the surface more and more pot holed. I start to wish we had come in my Land Rover.

Exactly two hours later, we arrive in Mallaig, set up camp, lock the guns away, and set off to the nearest pub. After several pints of Stella, it doesn't seem that bad at all. After all, we got to see all the best bits of Scotland, despite the best efforts of the mad postman.

A week of fantastic weather, sunburn, plenty of rabbits and fantastic scenery followed, although the fish remained elusive and couldn't be tempted from the sea with our bait. Perhaps we should have asked the Sat Nav where they were as well?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Is Milton better than Shakespeare

Ask a stupid question and you might get a stupid answer. This question, which forms the title of a book by Princeton academic Nigel Smith, is pretty odd. Shakespeare for a start was a playwright. John Milton was a poet and political controversialist. Milton's poetry is much more magisterial than Shakespeare's: he doesn't create characters as much as argue in verse. Shakespeare's poetry is tied to moments, whereas Milton's is tied to the great dramas of Christian theology- the fall (Paradise Lost) and the person of Christ (Paradise Regained). To compare them seems to miss the point- because in a sense they were never trying to do the same thing- Shakespeare touches on great themes by sketching individual lives, Milton touches on individual lives by sketching great themes. One wrote the most natural verse ever written in English, the other wrote the most artificial (Milton's lines are often filled with amazing music, but the music is much more difficult to grasp than Shakespeare's is).

Furthermore it seems to me a little stupid even to want to compare them. Milton is generally thought of as the lesser poet: but his poetry still repays great attention. He was one of the greatest writers to have ever lived and some of his lines- 'better to reign in hell than serve in heaven' will survive as long as the English language. He was also an amazingly fecund political thinker- a republican who defended the English experiment in government without a king in the 1650s, he was an early advocate for divorce and for freedom of religion. To say he was worse than Shakespeare is a bit like saying Einstein was a less important scientist than Newton- so what? It doesn't mean that you cannot understand science without understanding relativity or that you cannot really understand English literature or history without reading Milton. Milton understood that himself writing a eulogy of Shakespeare and so did Newton, commenting that those alive today stand on the shoulders of giants. Lists that rank authors are often pernicious: the idea that there are authors who you should read- a kind of top ten or even top one or top a hundred is barmy. You should read everything with any quality.

And yet.... there is a reason this book has been produced and its not because the question is a serious question... rather the question is a means. It is a means for Smith to introduce all the ideas about Milton that academics have had over the last forty years to a general readership, smuggled amidst the idea that one could prove Milton was better than Shakespeare. It is like the virtues of an Everyman catalogue: the idea of a list is epistemic nonsence- but it is didactic sense- it helps people enter the wonderful world of literature and art to know which painters and authors to look at, then they can move on. That is the purpose of this book and of literary lists or any kind of list in general, they are not meant seriously but as aides to people entering a subject for the first time. A question like this is a crutch- before you can walk unaided it is useful, once you can understand the subject, you can throw it away.

Is Milton better than Shakespeare? For those who have read them, silly question- for those who haven't read either- start with Shakespeare and move on to the later poet.

Should the McCanns be subjected to a media blackout?

Should the McCanns be subjected to a media blackout?

Watching the Breakfast News on BBC1 this morning there was a report on a genuine case of abduction. And when I heard that the abductors had asked for a media black out, I could not help thinking 'what a pity there was not a media black out in the McCann case'. Gerry and Kate McCann are still maintaining that Madeleine was abducted. Even though the evidence does not support this version of events.

Perhaps, the big tent on the McCann media circus is being pulled down by the PJ?

Yesterday, It was being reported that the PJ would not now be conducting a reconstruction because the PJ wanted all the Tapas Bar 9 to take part and 4 of them refused to return to Portugal. They are Jane Tanner, Russel O'Brien, and Rachel and Matthew Oldfield. Apparently, they are all concerned that they will be prosecuted for child neglect because, like the McCanns, they left their children unsupervised whilst out binge drinking.

Today, it is being reported that the PJ are seeking to prosecute the McCanns for child neglect.

Children and animals tend to get people all emotional. However, it is necessary to put aside all such emotions in the McCann case. The McCanns spin doctor, Clarence Mitchell, is claiming that their legal advice in relation to the McCanns conduct is “well within the bounds of responsible parenting”. I beg to differ, because the question is 'Is it safe to leave children under 4 years of age unsupervised?'.

My challenge to you all is to find on the internet support for the McCanns position that it is safe to leave children under 4 years of age unsupervised.

Under both English and Portuguese law it amounts to child neglect and/or child abandonment. If the McCanns lawyers are stating otherwise, I would argue that they should be sued for providing negligent legal advice.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on Sicily while we await the Master's Return

It's looking a little neglected over here at Nourishing Obscurity where there are usually at least four or five posts a day. I don't know what happened to all the other guest posters, as there is a long list of others besides me but they are all keeping quiet.

So I'll keep you entertained with a little more about Sicily, well a very special place in Sicily and perhaps James will get to see it while he is there. It's not so far from Modica as I recall. It's La Villa Romana del Casale, situated 5 km outside the town of Piazza Armerina in central Sicily.

Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is visited annually by more than half a million people. What draws these tourists there are the more than forty rooms with 12,500 square feet of mosaic pavement, the best collection of Roman mosaics in existence today.

A mosaic from the Corridor of the Great Hunt

I was fortunate enough to visit this wonderful spot in 2000, as a side trip from my stay in Taormina. A group of about fifteen of us took a tour arranged by the language school where I was studying and we had an excellent Italian guide, with the tour being in Italian of course. It seems that so many of the guides I have had on trips to Italy have been architects. I don't know if there is an over supply of architects in Italy and they cannot find work in their field, but they certainly make splendid guides.

Catwalks are used to traverse the mosaics and you can see the overhead
protective cover. Our excellent architect guide is in the blue shirt

The villa, which was the house of a large surrounding estate, was constructed over an older villa around 320 AD. While there is much controversy about who the owner was, he was certainly a man of wealth and power. From the mosaics we can see that he had connections in Africa, he loved hunting as well as music and poetry and that he was probably a pagan. The villa was thought to be destroyed by invaders about 150 years later although some buildings continued to be used until the twelfth century when there was a fire. The site was abandoned and finally the whole was covered by mud landslides. It is this fact that enabled the mosaics to survive and be so well preserved today.

Another part of the Great Hunt mosaic

At the end of the nineteenth century preliminary excavations were made of the site but most of the work was done during three periods in the twentieth century. The major excavations were done between 1950-60, when a cover was built over the whole to protect the mosaics.

The furnaces where the wood was burned to heat the water both
for the baths and the heating system of the villa itself

The extensive mosaics of the villa were probably done in the early fourth century by North African artists, for the materials are considered African in origin. A very detailed account of the mosaics is given here where the workmanship is discussed as well as the mosaics of each room. Of course when we talk about a room, we are basically talking about the floor because most of the walls, although there, are damaged, however some frescoes and wall paintings and niches for statues still exist.

A different style of mosaic, with a central so-called "erotic" image, in the
antechamber to the main bedroom in the private quarters

Visitors to the villa walk on catwalks built on the old walls which you can see in my photo. It is not easy to photograph the mosaics since you stand high above them. In addition they look rather dull because they are open to the air and covered in dust, although in fact when cleaned they have good colour on the whole.

The famous Bikini Girls mosaic

Of course the most widely known of the mosaics is the Bikini Girls Mosaic seen above. It is situated in the Sala delle Dieci Ragazze, The Room of the 10 Girls. But another mosaic floor, in the Ambulacro della Grande Caccia, The Corridor of the Great Hunt, measuring 60m or 197 ft in length by 5 m or 16ft in width, is surely more splendid. The mosaics depicted there are among the most impressive from the ancient world, showing the hunting and capture of wild animals and their transportation to Rome for use in the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus. I'm afraid my scanned photos do not do justice to this amazing place. Please click on them for a slight improvement.

I would consider my visit to this villa one of the highlights of my stay in Sicily and recommend it highly should you go there. As the Italians say, Vale la pena. It's worth the trouble.

Originally posted at Nobody Important. I apologize if you've read it before.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

La Sicilia

If you are a regular reader of the Sicily Scene, you know by now that James has landed in one of my favourite places in the world, the island of Sicily or La Sicilia as the Italians say. Just to give you a taste of this wonderful place I am posting here something I wrote about my stay there in 2000 at Taormina, which is not far from where James is now with Welshcakes at Modica.

Looking from Taormina, across the Bay of Naxos
Mount Etna in the mist on the upper right

As a longtime italophile and having made quite a few trips to Italy over many years, in 2000 I made my favourite Italian trip to Taormina, Sicily, where I spent two weeks taking an Italian course at the local language school and there I fell in love with Sicily.

The Greek Theatre at Taormina

This was the second of three trips I have made to Italy to study at language school and to make a homestay with an Italian family. This time my "family" was a little old Italian widow, who was at least 10 years older and I was 65 at the time. She lived in an apartment on the second floor of a building just four doors from the school, Babilonia, so I didn't have far to travel each morning. My room was very spartan, tiled floor, with a single bed, a wardrobe and a small desk. We shared a bathroom and ate breakfast and dinner together at a tiny table in the kitchen. She did have a large combined living-dining room with a huge TV but we only sat in there to watch the odd soccer match for she was una tifosa del calcio, a true soccer fan and sometimes invited me to watch with her. Usually after dinner I had homework to do, so we mainly socialized over dinner.

I think she was quite delighted that I was an older person because usually the students from the school were young girls with whom she had nothing in common. During my first meal in her home she waited on me, but I invited her to eat with me and from then on we always sat together at meals. She was a good cook and we ate well. Lots of fish, often pesce spada or swordfish, a favourite of mine and it was so fresh there. We also had some delightful and interesting conversations in her kitchen.

She herself was not Sicilian, but came from the central region of Italy. There she met her Sicilian husband who was the chef at a large hotel in her hometown and she herself was a member of the hotel staff. He was a widower, older than her and with grown children, while she was in her thirties. They married and moved back to Taormina where he became the chef at a very exclusive hotel and she stayed home and raised her two children. One thing I found very intriguing was that she spoke the dialect of her region to him and he spoke his Sicilian dialect to her, but they never spoke the same language. Somehow, it worked for them. Fortunately she spoke Italian to me, as I do not know the Sicilian dialect at all and those with whom I came into contact in the small town always spoke Italian with me, thank goodness. She had a grown daughter who came to inspect me and I think approved of the fact that her mother had a "student" more her own age for a change.
Bougainvillea and oleanders tucked against the wall of the Greek Theatre

Taormina is one of the most beautiful spots in the world, to my mind. Since the early Greeks discovered it as a holiday destination, it has been the favourite spot of many famous people. In 1787 J.W.Goethe discovered the beauties of Sicily and, in particular, of Taormina. He described the beauties of this land and its people and pronounced Taormina a "patch of paradise". The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw many artists, writers and intellectuals spend time in Taormina, including D H Lawrence.

Perched on the side of Mount Tauro, it has a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea with the Bay of Naxos below and the nearby, often smouldering volcano of Mount Etna can be seen from anywhere in Taormina. In fact Mount Etna erupted the day before I arrived and the gritty ash was around for quite a while. I was there in June so it was not yet crowded although it was still quite hot. The streets were narrow and hilly but it was easy to walk around, while dodging the cars and crazy traffic jams.

Language classes were from 9 am to 1 pm and we quickly found favourite spots at outdoor cafes for lunch or to take a cooling granita, in the middle of the afternoon. We often made side trips in the afternoon, one being to Etna although we could not get very near because it was so active at the time. We visited the rocky beach below which you reached via a funicular or cable car and took a boat tour on the surrounding waters. We spent time at the open-aired Greek Theatre which was remodelled by the Romans and explored the stores along the Corso Umberto. The public library, formerly the Church of St Augustine, was a favourite spot for us for it was very cool inside and sometimes we sat in the shade of the trees in the Botanical Garden. One afternoon we climbed the path to the sanctuary of the Madonna della Rocca at Castelmola, a small town higher up Mount Tauro, with even more splendid views of the surrounding area.

The facade of a house, decorated with ceramics and frescoes and a lovely painted door

So why did I like Sicily so much? The bright light and the blue of the Mediterranean Sea around Taormina were beautiful. There were flowers everywhere, especially the bougainvillea and the oleanders which reminded me so much of Australia that I was drawn to it immediately. In other parts of Sicily where I travelled later, I found eucalypts had been planted, rather disasterously in fact since they sucked up the precious underground water, but this further reminded me of Australia. As always the Italian people were friendly and welcoming and I just felt very comfortable in Sicily and hopefully I'll return there some day.

Sadly my stay in Taormina was before I had a digital camera so my photos are limited. If you have an interest, a very wonderful photographer, Galen Frysinger, has posted many of his photos of Taormina here. These will show you why you should visit this beautiful town should you find yourself in Sicily and of course it goes without saying you should visit Modica which I have yet to do.

I can only say that I am very envious of James and his soggiorno in Sicily. I am sure you will be hearing a lot more about this wonderful place on this blog in the very near future when James gets his act together and returns to blogging here.

We all know how much James loves snow and the cold weather so I do hope the very hot weather of Sicily does not do him in. But then he survived the climate in Australia for a very long time so I am confident that he will enjoy Sicily which will remind him of Australia in so many ways.

Have a wonderful time in Sicily, James. We hope to see you back at Nourishing Obscurity very soon.

Posted in days gone by at Nobody Important

Monday, May 26, 2008

Silbury Hill

I am not sure my posts are worthy of posting on such an esteemed blog, but I will share with you a recent blog post that my readers enjoyed.

The May edition of Heritage Today has a very interesting article on the latest discoveries regarding the mysterious Silbury Hill. The hill is near Marlborough just on the edge of the A4.

In 2000 a large hole opened up and archaeologists and engineers teamed up to find a solution. The hole was caused by a shaft that had been sunk by the Duke of Northumberland in 1776. Furthermore the soil was seeping into various tunnels that had been channeled into the hill over the years. The largest tunnel was created by Professor Richard Atkinson in 1968. The BBC sponsored him to carry out the dig and Magnus Magnusson presented a programme from within. The entrance can be seen in the following picture (from Heritage Today magazine). To repair the hill all the voids had to be filled from the middle outwards with bags of chalk followed by a chalk and water mixture. The door to the entrance has now been placed in the nearby Alexander Keiller Museum in Avebury.

Silbury Entrance

There have been many theories as to the significance of the hill; burial chamber for an ancient king, a platform for druid sacrifices and astronomical observatory are among the suggestions. The stabilising of the structure enabled archaeologists to shed a bit more light on the hill. It is now certain that there was no burial beneath the mound. A piece of pottery at the site has also established that the Romans had a settlement there.

Due to radiocarbon dating using pieces of antler it has now been established that the hill was started around 2400BC and probably went on for several hundred years. It is composed of a series of layers secured by stakes, then gradually built on top of. The mound eventually got covered by different layers of local material; clay, chalk, topsoil, turf and even some sarsen stones. Whilst looking in the main tunnel the archaeologists realised that the hill had started off as several mounds which later joined into the single mound, initially it stood 5 metres high. The mound grew to 25 metres high, the top part consisting of chalk that had been quarried from an adjacent ditch. At this stage it appears that the mound was left for a while as there is a layer soil showing signs that grass had colonised it. After this rest period more chalk was piled on top until the hill eventually stood at 37 metres high. It is the largest prehistoric mound in the whole of Europe that has been hand made by humans.

Silbury Hill

Click on photo for a larger view.

I shall leave you with the final paragraph from the article.
Silbury Hill has been called the British equivalent of the pyramids, but why did Stone Age man build it? Nobody knows, exactly. Quite apart from any ritualistic significance Silbury may have had for its builders, just constructing it would have been its own reward. Having such a great shared purpose would have helped the community to cohere. Perhaps future generations will say something similar of the people who came to repair the monument in the early twenty-first century. why has Silbury been mended? Because our nation is strengthened through doing it.
More interesting facts about the mound can be found on the Silbury Hill page of the English Heritage website.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Where Has James Gone?

James has gone on a travel adventure. One of the challenges will be to suppress his blog addiction. I doubt that it will be too long before he is amongst us again.

Where do you think he will pop up from next?

Click Here to take the survey

I will compile the results and post later.

Let's hope it is not like this.

Seems that James's blog readers are pretty discerning.

[hiatus] not for too long - farewell

Once I was crazy enough to try bobsleigh - well actually luge, feet first.

It's an interesting phenomenon - once you're over that lip at the top, there is only one way down and there is no choice but to lie back and let the skids become part of you, using miniscule bodyshifts to minimize bends, on e false move and I think you can imagine.

Therefore, even though the heart was doing awful things, you had to suppress it and get the breathing going for when you hit the compression bends. There was one particular bend to the left and I remember the overhanging trees as I came into a short straight and the skids came back to the fall line and picked up speed - you couldn't sneeze or move the head except to strain the eyes downwards but in so doing, this lost speed.

Fat lot that mattered to me, speed - perfectly happy to lop a few seconds off and live. Halfway down the straight and it became fairly obvious that ... er ... there was almost a right angle left at the end [or so it seemed] and to go from semi-vertical to semi-horizontal in a microsecond was going to do interesting things to the metabolism.

At this point I thought of putting the legs out to stop before the turn but then realized that the walls would snap the legs back behind me and anyway here it was ... aaagh. The turn was bad enough, crushing the chest but when I shot up to the ridge, hanging centrifugally before flattening out to the fall line again with the skids wobbling left and right, it seemed it might be a good idea to ... um ... stop if you don't mind ... please?

Vague feelings now of high up near the ridge on the left, snap back, high up on the right, back to the line and then the final drop where it felt like taking off before the tube became gradually shallow and then severely reversed upwards and the blades finally stopped.

Um ... right. Exhilarating? For some perhaps but you could keep it as far as I was concerned. Count me among the spineless please - I'd prefer not to meet my lunch coming up on my way down. With thoughts like these, the base of the chairlift was beckoning again and there was a free chair.

Seems to me there's a huge difference between you brave people who go on the Oblivion, Megaphobia and so on and actually trust the damned thing not to come off whilst you're flung out into space. In my case, it was always going to be in my hands what happened and somehow that was more comforting.

Tomorrow is entirely out of my hands.

I'd like to sign off now and hand over to Colin Campbell for some time, trusting and hoping you won't shun the blog but will come to read some of the guest posts. One way or another I'll let you know what happened. Thank you so much too, those friends who put up with the maudlin mood in the last few weeks and stuck with me.

Cheers and let's leave on a good note:

Thousands of private counselors are offering free services to troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health problems, jumping in to help because the military is short on therapists.

Now that's altruism for you. So don't miss out - apply today.

[sunday notes] bumbling around, getting it done

As Russia sweeps to Eurovision victory, this blogger quietly exits [yes that visa came through] Good luck to Russia who sustained me for so many years. 99% of the population and I got on fine but unfortunately, the wrong 99%.

Sorry to disappoint but there'll be no cutting expose from Higham - time to move on to new disasters [no, no - good things]. This week sees the action. As it will be pretty busy the next few days, I might not pop up again in that time, if at all.

In the meanwhile, may I leave visitors to this site in the most capable administrative hands of Haggiso, aka Colin Campbell, whose job it is to keep a motley collection of guest posters roughly in line or indeed - even posting.

Actually, we have quite appropriate weather just now - bitter grey skies, intermittent rain, plus 7 degrees and a chilly wind. It's been like this for some days but hey, this is meant to be summer, you know.

The big ask

Tomorrow, between 10 a.m. and 12 a.m. London time my companion and I will pass through a most dangerous time and a number of things can and might go wrong which will change the game plan so significantly that I end up in a different country to the one I had in mind.

Now, there is a passage in Matt 18:19-20:

Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

So, reading the fine print here, it needs a minimum of two together, it seems but whether that means two or three in collusion at the end of an e-mail or whether it means you have to be actually together is not clear, as Matt's internet connection was down at the time.

Well anyway, I'll leave that one up to you.


May I recommend to the romantics amongst you [sorry to be sickening] not a bad profile of Kate Middleton, the latest Gordo bashing is not worth the effort on Positive Sunday, we needn't bother either with the Hillary stirring in Florida but tomorrow being Memorial Day, here are a few articles about it.

Let's remember all vets everywhere.

So, best head off as a few people will visit today and I have nothing to put on the table just now. Back later in the day.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nuts From The Chipmunk's Pouch

Notwithstanding the amount of hostile press she generates (and, ahem, requests to blog about her), Hazel Blears is possibly one of the least interesting characters about whom one could find anything interesting to write. Vapid and immature, her utterances remind one of a review once given to the actress Trish Van Devere, that she was little more than 'a smiling hole in the air'.

However, last night a whopper of a nut fell out of the Chipmunk's pouch; and right on the Channel 4 News.

For what it's worth, my own analysis of the Crewe & Nantwich bye-election result is that it does represent a political paradigm shift. If you want to register a protest vote, go for the Lib Dems; the fact that the Tories got so big a swing would indicate that the people want change and, above all else, stabilitys-something they won't get from a party of alcoholic coprophiles.

When Jon Snow confronted her with the result, Blears started gabbling the usual litany of New Labour achievements; and one of them was the enactment of new rights for agency workers. She justified this by saying that it had been done 'to prevent wages being undercut by agency workers'. There is only one class of workers she could have been talking about; migrants.

Yes, folk, last night, unless my ears were greatly deceiving me, Hazel Blears as much as admitted that migrants have been driving down wages. It would be very interesting to hear the recording again in full. If what I can recall hearing is correct, the Chipmunk has managed to chew through the hull of the good ship New Labour far below the waterline, and has handed the Tories a majority of at least 100.

Friday, May 23, 2008

[perception] more vital than the reality

It's never actually your situation which counts but your perception of it.

At the blackest point today after that visa stupidity which kicks off again tomorrow at 11 a.m., this blogger was as low as he's felt for years and that was reflected in the last post.

Then came the prospect of one particular lady, well two actually, who not only dropped in and lifted the mood exponentially but got down to helping clear out the flat, did this, did that and all I had to give them was a tub of salad, sweets and tea - felt so guilty.

They made as if it was a monarch's repast and by various nuances, the solidity of their friendship really came home, to the point I just had to sign off tonight in a much more cheerful mood, coffee and whisky beside me.

Now I'm actually looking forward to the adventure.

[bumper post] one size fits all tonight, including thought for the day

So far, in a day best left entirely forgotten for its shocks, disappointments and sheer bloody-minded callousness, I'll have to put everything into the one post now, as arrangements etc. have to be made later, in a number of 11th hour moves.

Crewe and Nantwich

Labour leader Gordon Brown said the result showed his task was to tackle people's concerns about rising prices.

No, you prat - the result showed people finally recognizing the total moral bankruptcy of Nu-Labour which I've been saying ever since Brownair came to power. The moment Blair said:

Enough of talking, time now to do ...

... it was clear Britain was doomed.

People don't want you to "tackle their concerns" about prices - they want you to either get the bloody prices themselves down, the wages up or else just get out of the way and let someone professional do the job.


By 17:30 today, our university still had a girl in a huge queue at immigration trying to get a visa in order for me to leave the country. Having said that I must leave the country because my visa is only for May, yet they now say I need a visa to actually leave as well, on the basis of not having a visa to continue.

Presumably at the end of that time, one makes a mad undignified scramble for an airport in order not to be incarcerated for not having a visa which they failed to issue. I'm told the visa will be there tomorrow - let me report back to you then.

I have no further comment at this time and refuse to hit the whisky.

Thought for the day

Click the thought for its translation. Have a lovely Friday evening, readers.

Media censorship and the McCanns

People, don't let this post go by. Follow it through - it's quite extraordinary.

Media censorship and the McCanns

This particular story for me started here "McCann advances against "T&Q", 16 May 2008". You will need to scroll down the page until you find it. It concerns a news report in T&Q on 24 August 2007. On 31 August 2007, BBC Radio 4 ran with the story and conducted an interview with the director of T&Q. I blogged it here. But, it wasn't until I blogged the same story on the My Telegraph blog here that I discovered that I had been...

However, whilst the My Telegraph blog team were able to censor me on their blog, they were unable to censor the Google cache as evidenced here.

I did manage to post the same post a second time with the same result of being censored, and when I posted again including the Google cache link this post also got censored.

Eventually, I received an email from the My Telegraph blog team in response to my two emails and they had this to say:


Our team of moderators respond to complaints about material on My Telegraph and remove anything which they consider to be potentially defamatory or abusive.

Best wishes,

Ceri Radford".

So, they censor first on the basis that it might be potentially defamatory or abusive rather than actually is?

Given that the story had already been printed in T&Q and 24 Hours, and aired on the BBC, it begs the question whether the My Telegraph blog team were being honest in their reasons for the censorship?

Xklamation also reports that the three posts she did on the McCanns were also censored by the My Telegraph blog team.

I would argue that we are going down a slippery slope here and that the brakes need to be applied to those intent on preventing freedom of expression.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

[thought for the day] thursday evening

No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

[John Donne]

Well, if we can just stop talking of death and other fun concepts like that, the general principle is right though.

In these current weeks, for me personally, this principle has been brought home quite strongly - we can't go it alone, no matter how much we like to think we make the play. We depend on others, as those others might then depend on us.

Eye of the media tiger

Guest post by the Jailhouse Lawyer:

I was asked to climb aboard an anti-McCann bandwagon. Like the McCanns saying they have reservations about returning to Portugal for a reconstruction, I pm'd Tigger on the 3As forum stating I had reservations.

I was concerned about libel, once you step out of the relative safety of the blogs and forums. Any allegation made needs to be supported or the McCann camp will jump on it and exploit it for their own ends. In the end, I agreed to offer support on the legal and media fronts.

This has already received a McCann response on local radio in the areas of distribution. If the mainstream media (MSM) is not going to ask the right questions, then they will have to play catch up.

n.b. The report of the local radio is single sourced and has not yet been confirmed by a secondary source. It could be the source was hearing voices :)

[shopping malls] safety issues and crime profiles

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel collected data on more than 22,000 crimes reported at 13 South Florida malls from 2003-2007.

The vast majority of crimes involved shoplifting and petty thefts inside malls and car thefts and break-ins in parking lots. There were at least 508 violent crimes — mostly robberies, followed by aggravated assaults and batteries and a handful of sexual assaults and homicides.

Check out the video first and then some questions arise:

My most immediate thought is that potential attackers are going to avoid camera areas for sure. I read that many carry guns - how? Clearly no check on entry for fear of losing custom. Also - how empty was the mall? Seemed not many people shopping.

Even with cameras in most places, how trained are staff to know what to look for, as they said? Even then, how can the attack be prevented if security are not armed? One more thing - did you see the bit of the video which caught the two youths casing the place? Did you notice the ethnicity?

Seems to me that after a certain period of time, from the stats, a certain profile of criminals - ethnicity, gender, age, socio-economic status, general appearance - would have to emerge. Human rights advocates would say this is outrageous to profile this way but if there is a clear pattern [and I'm not saying there is] then what does one do?

Ignore the stats?

[geographical logic] sad but real

It's the old, old story about political and ethnic boundaries.

In the republic in which I live there is an ethnic Muslim population, a little over half the total, together with Russians and many other groups. Russian is the language of the people generally and the local language is more for local government level.

The problem here is the proximity to Moscow. From 1552 and Ivan Grozny [the Terrible], it's always been a problem and Moscow has seen the problem in reverse. There is no doubt that Russia insisted on its language becoming the universal one throughout all republics, even the nominally autonomous ones and it has kept relative peace across the land.

Westerners see brutal regimes and precious little democracy but the thing, truly, that people hanker for more is stability. For whatever reasons and you can put your own construction on these, the majority, entirely uncoerced, did go for Putin and breathed a sigh of relief when the power changed hands smoothly.

No one is doubting that Putin is still largely at the reins but the thing is - it's not necessarily seen as a bad thing, on balance. Many major issues, yes and hot debate on them at local level, if not at national level. What people fear most is the rein of lawlessness and in this town it was once so, with a devastating pall of anxiety hanging over the local populace.

Now the town seems to be flourishing and most people, particularly the young, don't wish to go back to the old days.

Returning to Tibet [at the end of the link above], it suffers from two things of course - proximity and its strategic value, not entirely as we have here. The issue will never be resolved but will wax and wane according to China's territorial consciousness of the time.

I claim no particular wisdom in this matter but I may see or feel a perspective the average westerner, even the widely travelled one, does not share. One can see China's point of view and can't blame it for pursuing its national strategic interests.

A glance at the map above, then superimposing that map on the all important silk road to Israel and Europe, alone is strategic reason for the TAR to exist, as such. Then we come to the Americans who are right in there, in Tibet, with their psy-ops and again, one can't blame America for wishing to encircle the new potential world hegemony. It would be failing its people if it did not do so.

As usual, the people in the middle are the meat in the sandwich and atrocities occur but nothing to the ones which are coming up later as this issue blows out of all proportion.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

[thought for the day] wednesday evening

Once saw a highly entertaining table tennis final between an attacking and a defensive player. In the end, the defensive player won, through superior technique.

How many times have you gone with playing it safe - safety first, prudence, responsibility, maturity, increments, step by step, measured response? How many times have you gone with a more cavalier approach, hoping to win the day through elan, chutzpah, roguishness, style, aggression, pressure, lateral thinking and sharp reflexes?

He who hesitates is lost. Look before you leap. If you had to choose between the approaches, which would it be?

Who am I?

Who am I?

I think public speaking is different from talking to people via a blog. I can and do speak to people, and listen to what they have to say. Even if I would rather not listen sometimes. Particularly if they are shouting and/or being abusive either to me or to others.

I think a public speaker must be able to speak down a heckler. Or laugh it off and continue with the speech undaunted.

I prefer one to one conversations or with two or three others.

This afternoon I spent about an hour or so with He came to do an assessment of Rocky for the court.

Rocky is innocent ok?

However, it is being alleged that he was dangerously out of control. And, the CPS is seeking a destruction order for Rocky. For me, they are seeking to award me with an ASBO. It is alleged I committed an assault at common law by telling Rocky to bite a Park Ranger.

I have read prison reports that alleged I was, at times, anti-social. And others describing me as a psychopath. After 23 years in prison, some bright spark decided to test me for psychopathy. I failed to make the grade. I wasn't a psychopath.

One day in prison c.1983 I was in Principal Officer John Burnett's office engaged in wordplay with Chief Officer Eddie Stoker. He was getting redder and redder as he argued away with me, and angrier and angrier, when I had tired of playing with him I said "Anyway, I'm supposed to be a psychopath. What's your excuse?". John Burnett clasped his hands over his mouth and ducked his head under the desk so the Chief Officer would not see him laughing.

Now, I no longer had that excuse to explain my behaviour.

Did I need one?

I exist. I am different. I have Autism. The Aspergers Syndrome means I am different. I live with it and manage to get by. I like to walk out of Myhaven and go for a walk with Rocky, and not have any conflict. But life is not always that smooth. I am a realist enough to realise that we don't live in an ideal world.

There needs to be public power: there needs to be an effective check on abuse of power.

I once committed the most serious abuse of power. I killed someone. Admittedly, the mitigating factor was the state of my mind at the time of the index offence. This legally diminished responsibility for my act. And yet, the life sentence was not diminished. It was justified according to the authorities on the ground of perceived dangerousness. However, this was at the time of the offence. By the time the case came to court, I would argue that I was not dangerous. But, it was in writing. No less than 3 psychiatrists had written it in their reports for the court. Psychopaths are not amenable to treatment.

Time is a wonderful thing.

A prisoner knows all about time.

At the time I went to the Dog Rescue Centre I was looking for a dog as a companion. Rocky was not my first choice. I liked the look of an Alsation, but the staff said it was not good around small children. My next choice was a Golden Retriever with a lighter than normal coat, but that was reserved. I looked down the line of cages and Rocky caught my attention. He was laid down, yelping or yapping pitifully, trying to poke his paw out of the wire mesh. It was as if he was saying, "pick me, pick me, pick me". I told him, "alright, I'll give you a try".

Rocky pulled on the lead a bit, but other than that I was happy with his behaviour.

Two weeks later, May 15 2005, I did the last of the film shoot with Ch4 News in the morning and went to pick up Rocky in the afternoon. He couldn't wait to get out of there and did not stop dragging me until we got to my car. Once home, Rocky went from room to room having a good sniff around. I sat down on the sofa. Rocky came down the stairs climbed up onto the sofa and laid down beside me and put his head in my lap. He looked up at me, and I think he said "I'm home dad".

Almost 3 years on and there was the incident in Pearson Park with the Park Ranger C*** W*****. Our version of events are markedly different.

Like I said, Rocky was assessed by the dog trainer and he passed with flying colours. However, he may recommend that Rocky has some more training. And, then he assessed me. Perhaps, I didn't do as well as Rocky. That's because I'm different.

There was the time that the Mad Dog of Pudsey gave me a wide berth. He thought I was dangerous. It was mind games. Psychological survival.

Mad, bad, difficult or dangerous?

The Treasury Solicitor said I was a pain in the arse. Roughly translated it means he found me difficult to deal with.

[the saint] george gives his blessing

George Soros says the worst is yet to come and when he speaks, I do believe we ought to sit up and listen, if only to read between the lines. As one close to the action, he is well placed to speak on this issue and I, for one, would like to know what is planned for us:

Mr Soros believes that central bankers are partly to blame for the credit crunch because of their past behaviour in bailing out the financial sector whenever it got into trouble for over-lending, the so-called moral hazard problem.

He said that the central banks should explicitly target asset bubbles such as housing booms and try to stop them getting out of control, which is something they have resisted doing so far.

And he said that tougher but smarter regulation would be needed in the future in order to reduce the excess supply of credit in the economy.

Probably, George and you might also altruistically add that funding insurgency in Latin America, exploiting women in Eastern Europe and contributing to crashes in Asia, not to mention the narcotics and porn rackets should be rigorously quashed by vigilante groups headed by people like ... well ... like yourself.

[bumper pre-hiatus quiz] perhaps

Tonight's quiz:

1. Which is the most unusual name:

a] Negroponte
b] Slartibartfast
c] Brown

2. Which food is best for you:

a] Death by chocolate
b] Frog's legs
c] Big Mac

3. Who is the best singer ever:

a] William Shatner
b] Kate Bush
c] Louis Armstrong

4. Who is an absolute fruitcake:

a] Bjork
b] A fruitcake
c] Ultrachav

5. Who has the best body:

a] Woody Allen
b] Jabba the Hutt
c] Brown

D'you think there are any I've left out?

[arthur] the grail, defenders of the faith and so on

The Quest for the Grail

Is Defender of the Faith the same as Defender of the Faiths? Will Charles and Camilla defend the faith or the faiths? Is the evidence for the latter his royal princeness's own words or is it: has become increasingly common to see the prince donning both Jewish and Muslim skullcaps in visits to Jewish and Muslim communal events and putting on religious ceremonial garb for the openings of Sikh and Hindu temples...

Well, I've actually done the first two myself but was I worshipping another G-d? I don't think so. Moving on, did the following dialogue take place at his investiture as Prince of Wales?

Queen Elizabeth II: "This dragon gives you your power, your throne and your own authority." Charles: "I am now your Liege-man, and worthy of your earthly worship."

Is this by any chance based on Revelations 13:2?

"And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority."

Nah, has to be a different other dragon. After all, the dragon is associated with Wales and Wales with the Britons, the Britons with Arthur and Arthur with Graham Chapman. That's all right then.

Speaking of Arthur:

Charles [Charles Philip Arthur George] and William [William Arthur Philip Louis] are both Arthurs ... although Arthurs generally come a cropper vis a vis the kingship.

And would it be Charles anyway? The Queen has the right to abdicate but not to hand the throne to William. On the other hand, age does come into it, twenty years from now.

Will Arthur return in Britain's hour of need?

Could this [below] have been the fabled round table? Is Arthur actually this man, thereby fulfilling the tale of the strolling minstrel? And what's the connection with Sparta?

Best stop or this will go on forever.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

[thought for the day] tuesday evening

My best friend in this country has a particular set against the humble cucumber and I find him supported in this by Samuel Johnson, who said, on the 5th of October, 1773:

A cucumber should be well sliced and dressed with pepper and vinegar and then thrown out as good for nothing.

Well I don't know about that - I'm quite partial to the odd cucumber and a lady friend of mine seems quite partial to them as well.

Clearly this is a debate without resolution.

[hiatus] admin and guest posters needed

Here is the original Higham Guest Posting "Team" and it needs updating:

Ruthie Not Saussure FlyingRodent dirty dingus Gracchi Croydonian Matt Martin CityUnslicker Praguetory Tom Paine Trixy Devil's Kitchen Ian Appleby Welshcakes Limoncello Colin Campbell Bryan Appleyard Mr Eugenides jmb Reactionary Snob

Some fine people here have departed the sphere and yet others might be shocked to find themselves here at all. Clearly it's time to add to the list, taking into account recent regulars to this site and also taking into account the hiatus starting late Sunday afternoon, May 25th.

If you feel you could do a post or two - many bloggers see it as an opportunity to post unusual things they might not otherwise get around to on their own blogs - this will carry us through the hiatus and would be interesting to readers.

If you would be willing to help out, please e-mail me at before the weekend and I'll send the invitation.

What I'd ask is that if you do post, please use the justify function and double space between paragraphs and could you keep the graphics to under 80kb and maximum width 500px? Bigger pics should not be uploaded "Left" as text tends to creep up the right side and looks ugly. Better to upload "Center", even if it is only 350px wide.

I'll need to have an admin during that time as well who can edit things and it needs to be a blog savvy person who comes here pretty regularly. Tom Paine did a sterling job last time.

If you're willing to lumber yourself with that task, could you please also e-mail me?

Big ask but the result might be good, as it was last time:

Bryan Appleyard - Help!
Buckeye - Indianapolis
Buckeye - Lay off Sauce
CityUnslicker - Short Trip
Colin Campbell - Public
Colin Campbell - Strap
Delicolor - Gordon Brown
Delicolor - Kingdom Keys
Delicolor - Shading Obscur
Deogolwulf - Nothing Avails
Devil's Kitchen - Flooding
Devil's Kitchen - Prions
Fabian - Marketizing
Flying Rodent - Love PM
Flying Rodent - The Ref
Gracchi - Celebrity
Gracchi - Football WW2
Gracchi - Spell Aisle
Gracchi - Wallace & G
Ian Appleby - Loveletter
James at Ellee's [1]
James at Ellee's [2]
JMB - Funerals & Life
JMB - Immigrant Exp
JMB - The Latin
Lord Nazh - Gaza
L'Ombre - African Obscur
L'Ombre - Blue Wave
L'Ombre - Price of Oil
L'Ombre - Stem Cells
Martin - Brit Economy
Martin - Hypermobility
Martin - NW Order
Martin - Productivity
Mr Eugenides - Greece
Praguetory - Moscow
Ruthie - True Journalism
Tom Paine - Elderly
Tom Paine - EU
Tom Paine - Why Blog?
Trixy - Probably Should
Welshcakes - Epistle
Welshcakes - Moving Day
Welshcakes - Urban Wet
Hope you enjoy some of these.

England's Problem Wife

Pic courtesy Theo

Martin Kelly leaps into print again with a timely reminder on an LPW:

The recent brouhaha concerning concerning Cherie Blair's memoirs places the lady quite firmly in that dubious historical category marked 'Leaders' Problem Wives'.

Some LPW's, such as Marie-Antoinette, achieve the status by being at best misunderstood by, or at worst indifferent to, the people. The late Queen of the French was never guilty of being the bloodthirsty incestuous lesbian she was widely thought to be; other LPW's like, say, Winnie Mandela and Madame Mao, might have a slightly harder time beating their respective historical raps.

Mrs. Blair joins the club for no other reason than that she has thought herself and her doings to be of some interest. Whether this has been motivated by vanity, or just the simple character fault, common amongst lawyers, of not knowing when not to talk, is anyone's guess; and it seems to have been a gross mistake against taste and good sense.

However, the apparent peculation and lack of discretion she has broadcast at the top of her voice, from a mouth as wide as the Mersey, show her to be not unlike the LPW she succeeded as the New Girl in the Club.

That was Hillary Rodham Clinton. Just a thought...

[down on the farm] and all that

About bloody time.

[liberty] precious commodity increasingly rationed

There are those who smile at this statue being represented as an icon of personal freedom. That's for you to decide.

I think it was my old mate Simeon Strunsky, in 1944, who said:

Famous remarks are very seldom quoted correctly...

... and this can be taken for various dialectics as well, for example the Hegelian, which is nearly always misrepresented, as stated by Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus ...

... a thesis, giving rise to its reaction, an antithesis which contradicts or negates the thesis, the tension between the two resolved by a synthesis.

This, in turn, also gives rise to an interpretation which some are wont to call the Hegelian dialectic, which states that governments and virtually any higher body who want to bring in some policy do so via a threefold progression:

1. create a crisis;
2. people demand a solution;
3. government propose a solution which includes the policy they wanted in the first place.

In turn, this idea can be refined to read this way:

1. think of a policy you want, e.g. ID cards and the restriction of personal freedom;
2. go to a group of people designated as the baddies, known for going off the deep end easily and stir them up on their home patch;
3. when they commit atrocities, which somehow they most surprisingly get past your defences to do:
4. wait for the community reaction;
5. draft general draconian laws to counter the perceived threat;
6. thereby put in place that which you wanted in 1. above.

Governments are only the outward manifestation of the people of power behind them. Many of these people take the point of view expressed by Hegel himself, this time correctly quoted from 1830:

Only in the state does man have a rational existence ... Man owes his entire existence to the state and has his being within it alone.

Needless to say I reject this utterly or if not utterly, in large part. Such a philosophy gives rise to tyranny and the constant attempt to reduce the common man to a serf and a malleable serf and that is what we're seeing right now.

Whether you are a businessman just needing the right to trade freely or you are an individual just needing the right to express your opinion without being vilified by powerful lobbies or incarcerated by the state, the desire is the same: