31 December 2007

New Year Messages

Official government New Year messages are a waste of space and time. Nobody reads them (except anoraks like me).

But if politicians are determined to persist with them, then I have to say that the First Minister's effort this year is one of the more polished examples of the genre. Commendably brief, optimistically up-beat, with a hint of self-deprecation, even humour, it was obviously not written by a civil servant. Mr Salmond can be extremely effective when he eschews his trade-mark bombast. So well done to him.

By contrast, the Prime Minister's effort is woeful. By attempting to cover the entire range of government policies, it is excessively long and clunky. It reads as if each government department has been invited to contribute a paragraph. It is defensive, impersonal, pessimistic and, above all, boring.

It is also in parts politically clueless. Consider this extract:
And in 2008, with firm conviction and resolve, we will make the case for the United Kingdom - standing up for the cause of the Union and against secession, showing people in all parts of the country that for so many of the challenges our country faces - from climate change to terrorism - there are no Wales-only, Scotland-only or England-only solutions.

As far as I am aware, nobody - least of all the SNP - has ever suggested that climate change or terrorism could be addressed by a Scotland-only solution. So what is Mr Brown's point? That UK-only solutions will work in these areas while Scotland-only solutions will not? It hardly seems credible. This is the kind of boilerplate Labour HQ thinking that caused Labour to lose the election last May. Mr Brown seems to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. He really needs to get up to speed and fast.

Finally, while on the subject of messages, I wish all three of my readers a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2008.

29 December 2007

Gretna hits the big time

I know, I know - the Spanish football league is one of the best in Europe. In Barcelona and Real Madrid, it possesses two of the most glamorous and successful European clubs; while Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico Madrid have more than respectable records at European level. So why would one of the major Spanish terrestrial TV channels choose to undertake the live broadcast on a Saturday afternoon of a match from Scotland (la Liga Escocesa)?

Nevertheless, it is a fact that this afternoon TVE2 is showing the Celtic-Gretna match to the entire Spanish nation. Surreal.

Out of a sense of duty (and misplaced patriotism), I will therefore be forced to relinquish the sun-lounger in the gardens and come indoors to watch the Gretna galacticos strut their stuff. We all have to make sacrifices.

28 December 2007

You don't see that every day

It would probably be inappropriate to say how splendid it is to see some footballer in England charged with affray. Not just common assault, nor a boring breach of the peace, but good, old-fashioned affray. This source defines it as follows:
AFFRAY in law, the fighting of two or more persons in a public place to the terror (a l'effroi) of the lieges. The offence is a misdemeanour at English common law, punishable by fine and imprisonment. A fight in private is an assault and battery, not an affray. As those engaged in an affray render themselves also liable to prosecution for Assault, Unlawful Assembly (see ASSEMBLY, UNLAWFUL), or Riot, it is for one of these offences that they are usually charged. Any private person may, and constables and justices must, interfere to put a stop to an affray.
You must not upset the lieges, you know, especially at 5.30 in the morning outside a McDonald's in Liverpool.

27 December 2007

Two wheels bad

Maybe he errs towards the bloodthirsty, but it is eminently understandable all the same. Parris on cyclists (here):
A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists. It’s not just the Lycra, though Heaven knows this atrocity alone should be a capital offence; nor the helmets, though these ludicrous items of headgear are designed to protect the only part of a cyclist that is not usefully employed; nor the self-righteousness, though a small band of sports cyclists on winter’s morning emits more of that than a cathedral at evensong; nor even the brutish disregard for all other road users, though the lynching of a cyclist by a mob of mothers with pushchairs would be a joy to witness.

I do not as a rule indulge in shouting but here is my New Year message for cyclists: STOP CYCLING ON THE PAVEMENTS!

26 December 2007

It makes you wonder ...

There are times when I despair of the British people. The BBC reports:

The BBC scored a festive ratings success with nine of the 10 most watched TV programmes on Christmas Day, according to overnight viewing figures. The second half of an EastEnders double bill was top show - with a peak of 13.9m viewers watching as Stacey and Max's former affair was discovered.
Dr Who was second on 13.8m, while the return of To The Manor Born got 10.1m. Coronation Street was ITV1's sole Top 10 entry, with a peak of 9.6m, as it went up against Strictly Come Dancing.

23 December 2007


I do not approve of royalty as an institution.

But is worth needlessly insulting an 81- year-old woman in order to attract a few more viewers to your television programme or to sell a few more copies of your book?

21 December 2007


How surprising - even fortuitous. The BBC reports:
Fulham have sacked manager Lawrie Sanchez with immediate effect.
The 48-year-old's departure comes just a day after former Fulham midfielder John Collins's sudden resignation as Hibernian manager.

Isn't serendipity amazing?

The cosmopolitan residents of Earlston

The BBC reports:
A street in the Scottish Borders is to be renamed - after residents complained about its Italian name.
The cul-de-sac in Earlston was called Cappella Maggiore after a request by the community council to honour the town they twinned with in 2004.
However, residents moving into the new homes - which cost between £160,000 and £240,000 - have complained that it sounds "ridiculous".
Scottish Borders Council has agreed to rename the street Station Brae.
Ah, Station Brae. How imaginative, how romantic, how mellifluous. Or maybe not.

20 December 2007

Milking the reindeer

If you missed it last night, you can watch Heston doing his thing here, at least for the next six days, at least if you are located in the UK. The guy is daft as a brush - who else would use a cement mixer to prepare the feed for the goose he is going to feed his guests at Chrissy? But he has an enthusiasm for what he is doing which is infectious; and he is not afraid to make himself look ridiculous. The programme is not exactly fabulous but it is good solid entertaining television, of the kind that is seen increasingly infrequently on telly these days.

Iraq - getting better?

I never thought that the Surge would work. But Simon Tisdall in The Guardian, a journalist not given to accepting US propaganda at face value, reports:
... current figures, spurious or not, are finally favouring Washington and its Iraqi clients. Since the US military surge began, civilian deaths have fallen by roughly two-thirds across Iraq. The latest Pentagon assessment recorded 600 killings in November, compared with more than 2,500 in January. At least 3,600 members of al-Qaida in Mesopotamia were killed or captured in the same period.
A key factor is said to be the so-called Sunni Awakening. The Pentagon says the decline in sectarian conflict has been matched by the recruitment of 69,000 mostly Sunni volunteers hostile to foreign jihadis and determined to reclaim their communities.
The ceasefire by the Iranian-backed, Shia Arab Mahdi army, wisely adopted as the surge troops advanced, has helped cut the killing, too.
Economic indicators also colour Washington's rosy picture. The Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, says Iraq's Saddam-era debt has been significantly reduced and the economy is growing by 5-6% annually, buoyed by oil receipts. In this developing US narrative, the thousands of returning exiles, and Iraq's improved relations with its
neighbours, tell their own story.

If this proves to be true, it would be an occasion when I would be pleased to have got it wrong.

19 December 2007

Northern Crock

According to the BBC (here), the government/Bank of England commitment to Northern Rock amounts to £57 billion. Sounds a lot, doesn't it? It is a lot. But when sums get that big, they are beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals. I could tell you that £57 billion would buy every man, woman and child in the UK an HD flat screen telly, or that £57 billion would buy 19 road bridges across the Forth (with associated road links and at 2016 prices) or that £57 billion would buy 11 new trident submarines (without missiles), but it would not really make the amount any more meaningful. So just accept that it is an awful lot of money.

How did the Treasury and the Bank of England get into this mess? Well, you begin by seeking to stave off a run on the bank, leading to a guarantee to retail depositors of their savings - because otherwise the entire banking system might be in danger. But it doesn't end there; as nobody will lend to Northern Rock and as its business model depends upon continued lending, the Bank of England has to step in and make more funds available. And then still hoping that a white knight will come along and take it over, the Government has to extend its guarantees to cover commercial lenders, which it did yesterday.

Where will it end? The Government appears to be hoping that inter-bank lending (now virtually suspended in the light of the Credit Crunch) will settle down and that the system will return to the status quo ante, so that Northern Rock can return to its usual practices, repay its Bank of England loans and continue on its merry way. But what if the Northern Rock business model is irredeemably broken? At what point do the authorities say enough is enough and no more Bank of England loans or guarantees -even if that forces them to write off the loans and guarantees offered up until now? Or do they just keep pouring loans and guarantees into the black hole, running ever-greater risks in so doing?

It will end in tears.

17 December 2007

It's no' fair

According to the BBC (here), the Trump boys are feeling sensitive:
The Trump Organisation said: "The Trump Organisation is dismayed at the political attacks.
"These attacks are more than misguided, they are malicious, inaccurate and potentially destructive and they threaten to once again endanger a £1bn project which has the overwhelming backing of the north east of Scotland.
"The politician responsible should cease and desist before real and permanent damage is done."

I do admire the "cease and desist"; tautology can be fun.

Don't you feel sorry for the little Trump organisation, being attacked by such a dangerous ogre as Nicol Stephen?

After all, Alan Cochrane of The Telegraph thinks that Mr Stephen "has emerged ... as easily the most effective opposition leader at Holyrood". (You may think that Mr Cochrane has fallen off his trolley.)

But perhaps we should all calm down a bit.

Quote of the day

Charlie Brooker in The Guardian (here):
"Speaking of embarrassments, the Spice Girls have managed to imbue their long-awaited comeback with all the glamour and class of a hurried crap in a service station toilet by whoring themselves out to Tesco. The first instalment, in which the Girl Power quartet try to hide from each other while shopping for presents, represents a important landmark for the performing arts: Posh Spice becomes the first human being in history to be out-acted by a shopping trolley."

15 December 2007

What happens next?

I suspect that the following memos (found in a photocopier in Victoria Quay) may be fakes:


Hey boss, these Scotch guys are really into process. We were all prepared to deal with dune stabilisation, protection of sites of special scientific interest, architectural quality and so on. But all they wanna talk about is who said what to whom and when. Our meetings with the Scotch gov'mint have caused what is known locally as a great stooshie.

Salmond and his team have been as helpful as possible in the circumstances. But they have had to concede that it will no longer be possible for the development in Aberdeen county to be given immediate planning approval. Any such decision would be immediately reversed by something called the Session Court. This has been confirmed by our own Scottish lawyers. Accordingly, the only way forward is a lengthy public local inquiry. I am advised that this would take three months to set up, nine months to conduct and a further six months to come to a recommendation. At best, therefore, we cannot expect a decision (and we could not start work on the project) until mid-2009.

I guess this means curtains on the project. Who wants to sit around for that length of time?

Boss, can I come back to NY now?


George - you're fired.

14 December 2007

Twa dugs (plus friends)

Look, it's just embarrassing. President Bush is bad enough but why Tony Blair has to appear is beyond me.

Well, if you must, you must, I suppose. You can watch the video here.

Let them eat cake - or maybe a biscuit

Who said the EU was a remote bureaucratic organisation? At least, the high and mighty European Court of Justice deals with the important things in life. The Guardian reports:

Confusion over the chocolate-covered teacake - a dome of marshmallow on a biscuit swathed in milk chocolate - could cost the British government £3.5m after an EU court adviser said the retailer Marks & Spencer should get a refund of the tax it paid during the decades that tax authorities insisted they were biscuits.
The European court of justice's advocate general said in an opinion - which is not binding on the court but is often followed in final rulings - that a company had the right to a full refund of any sales tax wrongly charged.

Quote of the day

From Gordon Brown (here):
"Where there is a toleration of second best, my motto will be: fail no more, second best no more, tolerating failure no more."

Obviously a fan of the Proclaimers.

13 December 2007

More Trumpery

Some fairly explosive stuff from the BBC:
In a statement, the [Aberdeenshire] council's chief executive Alan Campbell said he had conducted two phone calls with the [Scottish Executive] chief planner on the afternoon of 4 December.
"The first call was about the procedure which Aberdeenshire Council were likely to adopt at their special meeting. It was in that context that the chief executive was informed by the chief planner that members of the Trump organisation were in the chief planner's room.
"The chief executive asked that they leave the room. The discussion then took place."

How can the Executive be seen to maintain its impartiality in respect of the planning application when at such a crucial juncture the chief planner entertains the Trump organisation in his room? Taken with the First Minister's meeting the previous day with the Trump representatives, I would have thought that the Executive's position must be wide open to judicial review. And the RSPB is astute enough and has sufficiently deep pockets to pursue the matter.

The mystery is how such astute operators as Mr Salmond and Mr Mackinnon (the chief planner) have allowed themselves to be entangled in this mess.

Picture time

Any idea why the BBC website should choose this picture to accompany an article on a possible reprieve for Sportsscotland? No? Nor have I.

12 December 2007

How many golf courses does Scotland need?

It seems to be a 'given' that Mr Trump's proposed development in Aberdeenshire will deliver economic benefits for Scotland as a whole, particularly in terms of golf tourism. Me, I'm not so sure, at least on the extent of those benefits.

The crucial issue is not whether the Donald will deliver a flock of American golfers to Aberdeenshire, but how many extra golfers would be coming to Scotland. There is no significant economic benefit at the Scotland level if we are merely diverting golfers to Aberdeenshire who would otherwise have gone to St Andrews, or Carnoustie, or Troon, or Royal Dornoch. Of course, Aberdeenshire would benefit - but this would be offset by disbenefits elsewhere in Scotland. And why should we encourage US-owned golf courses in Scotland to the detriment of our domestic golfing entrepreneurs? It all depends on whether you think there is a pool of American golfers who would not be interested in playing Muirfield or Turnberry but who would leap at the chance to swing a club in Aberdeenshire. I doubt it.

But, hey, I always thought that a round of golf spoiled a nice walk.

How not to do it

Pathetic, really. The Independent reports:
Gordon Brown will travel to Lisbon tomorrow to sign the new European Union treaty but will miss the official signing ceremony.
... Mr Brown will be the only one of the 27 EU leaders not to be at the official ceremony at the historic Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon. He will sign the treaty later.
His planned absence from Lisbon raised eyebrows in other EU capitals and at his own Foreign Office, provoking fears that it would be seen as anti-European. But aides insist that he always wanted to fulfil both engagements and had now found a way to do so.

Neither one thing nor the other. Discourteous to his Portugese hosts. What hope of future co-operation from his counterparts in Europe? The Prime Minister is being stupid.

11 December 2007

Rambling on

The Guardian is suitably impressed with Led Zep's reunion concert:
Tonight, however, after a tentative, feedback-scarred opener of Good Times Bad Times, it's difficult to believe this is a band who have barely played together for the best part of three decades. They sound awesomely tight.
The riff that powers In My Time Of Dying is authentically churning and queasy, Ramble On sounds not like a song that's been brought out of mothballs for a benefit concert but wrigglingly, obscenely alive; Trampled Underfoot's conjunction of jittering funk and squealing, metallic guitar seems more bizarre and beguiling than ever.

I don't know. What does it mean when Jimmy Page looks, em, distinguished? Perhaps old rockers should just fade away ...

Cashing in your chips

Look, there's no need to laugh. Just because The Herald reports:
A major conference on global production will form part of Scotland's contribution to the UN Year of the Potato in 2008.
Every vegetable needs its place in the limelight (sunlight?). Besides, the conference might be more interesting than you anticipate:
Among the speakers will be Dr Pamela Anderson ...
I can't wait.

10 December 2007

A cri de coeur

Hey, it's no fun. Being deprived of the internet, that is. Forced to frequent the dingy surroundings of the Spanish internet cafe, to put up with the (loud) conversations of the three Turkish gentlemen sharing the computer at the adjacent station, to tolerate the puerile musical choices of the cafe manager; it is no place - I assure you - to compose my elegant (well more or less) contributions to this blog, Nor will I dwell on the lengthy conversations with Telefonica, which in the absence of a functioning telephone line had to be conducted from the nearest public telephone booth. Ok, so they offer an English language service but to me computerese is as incomprehensible in English as it is in Spanish. I suppose it's partly my fault for my aversion to the mobile telephone - Mr Ludd, thou should'st be living at this hour.

But there are advantages. You discover old friends, like Radio 4: the beautiful diction of the newsreaders, the civilised urbanity and understanding of (most of) the foreign correspondents, the variegated delights of Pick of the Week. And music - re-discovering the Indigo Girls, Counting Crows, Thin Lizzy.

You get a chance to think. For example, is this blogging business not a rather silly thing for a 58-year-old expat to be doing? I mean, who cares? Am I simply casting bread on the waters for it to be consumed by the ducks? But I will no doubt be back at it tomorrow morning.

Finally, a thought on the new technology. For what is supposed to be a wireless connection to the internet, my living room is surprisingly littered with wires. I suppose that I shouldn't complain - after all (and that's been quite a lot in recent weeks) it does - touch wood - actually seem to work.