31 March 2010


Anent the current fuss about ISAs, see here and here. Basically, the banks lure you into opening an ISA account with the promise of a decent interest rate; subsequently, they quietly - without telling you - reduce the interest rate to peanuts. Further they make it difficult to transfer the money into an alternative better-paying account. They do exactly the same with ordinary savings accounts.

For example, I have a savings account with the Bank of Scotland. I recently discovered that it was earning interest at the princely rate of 0.2% per annum. I have therefore opened a new savings account on much the same terms which pays a more acceptable rate of 2.8%: less than wonderful I admit, but a lot more than 0.2%. In order to open this new account, I had to present my passport and driving licence at the local branch. (I have had an account with the Bank of Scotland for about thirty years - so I would have thought that they knew who I was by now, but hey we all have our bureaucratic crosses to bear.)

The story on ISAs is not much better. My cash ISA with the same bank now earns a meagre 0.2%. If I switch to an alternative cash ISA with slightly diffferent terms I can apparently secure 2.6%. So here goes again. The problem is how long before they reduce interest rates and I have to go through the whole damn procedure again?

That nice Mr Darling should have properly nationalised the bastards.

(Incidentally, do you remember all those Halifax adverts promising a fiver a month if you opened a "reward" account? Well, if so, forget them. Those ads didn't tell you that, in order to get this £5 bonus, you need to pay out £12.50 per month in insurance premia. They're sharks, I tell you. Venal, twisted, greedy sharks.)

30 March 2010

Quote of the day

Lucy at The Guardian (here):
Of course, just about anyone can look like a passionate hero if you stand him next to George Osborne, a walking justification for all the schoolyard bullying there ever was, is, or ever shall be. It shouldn't be possible for a stripling of 38 to patronise an adult audience this powerfully. If he reminds us once that government money is our money, taxpayer money, he does it a hundred times. And did you know "We're all in this together"? That's a shock. I was awaiting my Willy Wonka ticket to exempt me from all coming public spending cuts.
I appreciate that I was supposed to revel in the cut and thrust of the economic arguments, but I am afraid I became distracted by the suspicious colour of Osborne's hair: had he been at the Grecian 2000? And why was his jacket buttoned up so tightly?

28 March 2010

Once upon a time

Like so many other topics, they will talk about it occasionally but they never seem to get round to actually doing anything. Thus The Observer has a bi-annual bleat about the hour change:
Plans to change the clocks to give another hour of daylight throughout the year are being advanced by Labour and the Conservatives. Both parties believe it would result in reduced energy consumption, fewer accidents and generally improved health.
The paper is also careful to avoid mentioning the real reason for a permanent spring forward, namely to bring us into line with western Europe.

Me, I'm not much fussed either way; but then I don't have to go to school or feed the cows in the dark.

26 March 2010

It's not only smoke that gets in your eyes

When I read about this in The Guardian, I simply didn't believe it. But The Telegraph has the same story:
From January 1 next year, any cigarette longer than 8cm – excluding the tip – will be treated as another cigarette and have extra duty slapped imposed on it. For each additional 3cm, or part thereof, it will be treated as yet another cigarette.
Like any other smoker would, I immediately got out a tape measure. Although my fags are longer than usual (Dunhill International you know), the business bit measures slightly less than 7 cm, so phew!

But what a strange way to go about penalising smokers. They must have twisted minds in HMRC.

25 March 2010

Sometimes I make things up

Sunday 9 May 2010

How Labour won a 40 seat overall majority (although it was really the Tories that lost it).

Darling's successful and subsequently much-praised budget set the tone for the election campaign. Above all. it restored the faith of Labour MPs and activists that the election was actually winnable. And it was helped by the fact that the following day the Tory lead in the polls had declined to two percentage points (according to The Sun, of all papers).

We should have expected the Tories to panic - and panic they did. By the end of that week the backbenchers were up in arms, somewhat illogically blaming both Coulson and Hilton, as well as the rest of the Cameron clique, for failing to consult the party. After a stand-up shouting match between Coulson and Liam Fox, Cameron felt obliged to let Coulson go. But murmurs of disloyalty persisted, with the total absence of any mention of Europe in the Tory manifesto further stirring the pot.

It was the week after the budget, just before Easter, that Osborne dropped his clanger. In an interview with Newsnight on the Tories' economic plans. he managed to convey the impression that universal welfare benefits, notably child benefit and pensioners' winter fuel allowances, might be withdrawn from the middle classes. It was never entirely clear what Georgie-Porgie meant and, although he subsequently with increasing desperation sought to row back from his gaffe, within hours the clip was up on YouTube and the blogosphere was in a ferment. The press picked up the story and Labour milked it for all it was worth. Labour now had a two point lead in the polls.

It was at this stage that Rupert Murdoch intervened. Never a man to back a loser (and by now the Tories were self-combusting), Rupe ordered The Sun and The Times to switch their allegiance from Tory to Labour.

The final straw was laid on the camel's back during the leaders' TV debate on economic matters. All those years at the Treasury enabled Brown coolly and cruelly to expose Cameron's utter ignorance of matters financial. Worse, the goading and the grinding into the dust caused Cameron to lose his temper; after 40 minutes, red-faced and spluttering, he walked off the set.

After that, it was plain sailing for Labour. They held on to more than enough of their marginal seats, as did also the LibDems, leaving the Tories condemned to the wilderness for another five years.

And the SNP? No net gains, no net losses. Salmond's vision of 20 seats and Westminster dancing to a Scottish jig vanished like snow off a dyke.

Silvio is losing it

I have to admit that politics in this country can be less than exciting (not least when facing yet another First Minister's Questions in the Scottish Parliament). How refreshing, therefore, to see that our Italian confreres know of no bounds when it comes to going over the top. Consider the following exchange, reported in The Independent:

And so the Prime Minister has gone on the offensive. His tirades against a judiciary and a media he believes to be pursuing a personal vendetta against him have the familiarity of a broken record. But eyebrows were raised in Turin on Tuesday night, when he opened both barrels on Mercedes Bresso, the bespectacled, centre-left governor of the northern Piemonte region.

"You know why Bresso is always in a bad mood?" the 73-year-old chortled. "Because in the morning when she gets up, she looks at herself in the mirror to put her make-up on – and sees herself. And so her day is already ruined."

Ms Bresso, 65, hit back immediately at the permatanned leader, who has admitted to succumbing to the plastic surgeon's knife. "I'm always in a good mood. And regarding make up, I don't use much; I don't need it as much as Berlusconi. I'm young, in good shape and haven't had a facelift."

Extraordinary. Impossible to imagine Brown or Salmond saying anything similar to il cavaliere.

(At least, not in public ...)

24 March 2010

A budget for marking time

So there you are. Steady as she goes. No boat rocking before 6 May. The odd smartie tossed - somewhat negligently, it should be said - in the direction of those who might put their crosses in the right box. A gentle kick in the goulies of those beyond the pale. Civil servants once again cursed with finding (or not finding) so-called efficiency savings.

But nothing on the biggie, where the serious cuts in 2011 et seq will fall. Trident? Aircraft carriers? Welfare benefits? High speed rail lines? Nor is there anything on the tax increases for the same period, but you can put your shirt on an increase in VAT. All this will be resolved in future budgets and spending reviews.

So full steam ahead for the election. As they say, bring it on!

This is getting silly

Let us, if we must, criticise the Chancellor for what he has done; if his forecasts are over-optimistic, then by all means take him to task. But it seems a trifle excessive to criticise him for the forecasts he might announce later today, when we do not yet know what those forecasts will be. The Independent reports:

The growth forecasts in Alistair Darling's Budget today could prove too optimistic, according to independent research carried out for MPs. The gap means that Labour could fail to achieve its goal to halve the huge deficit in the public finances in four years without raising taxes or making deeper spending cuts than it plans.

In his eve-of-election Budget, the Chancellor is expected to confirm his previous forecast that the economy will grow by 2 per cent in the financial year starting next month.

And so, the expectations of others are nowadays sufficient provocation for condemnation. I might thus expect the Chancellor to double the duty on beer and excoriate him for his wanton negligence of the pleasures of the working man. But building castles in the air rarely provides a secure foundation for the public house of the future. Let us wait and see.

Music of the week

One of the sad things about growing older is that more and more people keep dying on you. This week saw the passing of Lesley Duncan, one of the great unrecognised singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s. I bought the Sing Children Sing LP in 1971 or 1972 and for many years it was one of my most treasured albums; I have it still, scratched and battered as it sits in my bookcase, a minor monument to an obsolete technology. I never met the lady but for so long she was part of my life; if we had met, I'm sure I would have liked her. She seemed more real than the usual pop singers, but I suppose most fans feel the same about their idols. Anyway, here she is:

20 March 2010

Unvarnished truth of the week

Tina Fey tells it like it is (from The Independent here) in relation to plastic surgery:
"You've got a simple choice, girls," she said this week. "Either look old or look creepy. That's it."
Too right.

19 March 2010

This has put a damper on Friday

I'm not happy. And a lot of other "elderly people" will not be happy. The Scotsman reports:
ELDERLY people may have to pay to use Edinburgh's trams despite previous assurances that the scheme that offers pensioners free bus travel around the country would include the city's flagship new transport project.
Council leaders have admitted they do not yet know whether the £545 million project will become part of the Scottish Government's concessionary fares scheme when the trams are ready to run.
So it's the fault of the First Minister and his chums. Well, they better wake up to who does the voting in this country - it's not generation X or Y, it is we silver seniors; and we'll not take kindly to being asked to pay on the trams.

18 March 2010

Some of us manage without a car at all

I saw this headline in The Indie:

For sale: One's very best Daimler
The Queen's personal motor, modified to cater for her handbag and corgies is on the market
and thought: gee, the public spending cuts are going further than I thought they would.

But then I read on:

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the latest departure from its car pool, which still includes eight state limousines (two Bentleys, three Rolls-Royces and three Daimlers), several Volkswagen people carriers and a London taxi fuelled by LPG (liquefied petroleum gas).
And I thought: Does Her Maj really need all these motors? At most she and the kiltie greek can only use two at a time. But then what's the point of being a monarch if you can't splash out on an extra roller or three ...

17 March 2010

Poem of the day

Achilles, by Carol Ann Duffy

Myth's river — where his mother dipped him, fished him, a slippery golden boy flowed on, his name on its lips.
Without him, it was prophesied, they would not take Troy.
Women hid him, concealed him in girls' sarongs; days of sweetmeats, spices, silver songs...
But when Odysseus came, with an athlete's build, a sword and a shield, he followed him to the battlefield, the crowd's roar,
And it was sport, not war, his charmed foot on the ball... But then his heel, his heel, his heel...

(But it doesnae rhyme ...)

Hollowed out

What is shocking about this story is not the imposition of an all-women shortlist nor the selection of a young parliamentary researcher as candidate. It is the fact that the Airdrie and Shotts constituency labour party, as close to labour heartlands as possible, has no more than 160 party members.

16 March 2010

The next chancellor?

Slasher Osborne puts on his Mr Angry face:

He's as bad an actor as Tom Cruise. Apart from his Mr Angry face, he has a Mr Happy face; like Tom, the rest of the time he just looks a complete berk ...

SNP - cause to nurse its wrath

Oh dear, Fat Eck will not be pleased. Once again, the SNP plays the role of Cinders, not invited to the ball. The Times reports:
Lord Mandelson is to go head-to-head with Ken Clarke in a live televised battle over the state of British business, as part of a series of debates between the Cabinet candidates from the three main parties.
The BBC will screen nine “Cabinet Contender” debates, in which Labour ministers will take on their Shadow counterparts, as a supplement to the three party leader debates between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg that will be shown by the BBC, Sky and ITV.

Will anyone watch? Probably not but that's not the point.

15 March 2010

Tram wires cross northern skies ...

For those of you obsessed with the introductory music on the current Wallander series, the artiste is Emily Barker, the song is Nostalgia, and the album is Despite the Snow.

Quality television

Nice to see that Shaun the Sheep is back.

Lost in cynicism

Don't you wish that - just for once - the Labour Party would seek to do something because it was the right thing to do? Instead, The Guardian reveals the underlying tactical considerations:
Ministers are working on proposals to transform the House of Lords into a democratically elected second chamber based loosely on the US
The justice secretary, Jack Straw, will publish his proposals in a draft bill before the election and these will feature prominently in Labour's manifesto. Labour strategists hope that it will create a new dividing line with the Tories, allowing them to portray the Conservatives as being anti-reform.

For if the justification for a proposal is primarily tactical, then why believe that the proposal will be implemented when, after the election, the need for tactical considerations is diminished? Furthermore, the party leaders appear to be blissfully unaware that setting up dividing lines is unlikely to commend the Party to the electorate; they do not even pretend that doing right is a justification in itself.

13 March 2010


The Tories are still the nasty party. The Independent reports:
A landmark move to protect the world's poorest countries from debt sharks was blocked yesterday by a single Conservative MP during extraordinary scenes in the House of Commons.
"Vulture fund" investment companies buy up defaulted third world debt and sue for immediate repayment. The Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill was designed to curb their activities, ensuring that creditors cannot pursue debt repayment beyond the level assessed as fair and sustainable by the World Bank. Liberia lost a £20m lawsuit against two vulture funds in a London court late last year.

Stupid as well as nasty. And the Tories still wonder why they have not "sealed the deal" with the electorate. We will no doubt find out in due course that the MP concerned is in bed with a vulture fund.

11 March 2010

Bring back the peseta!

Just when I'm about to spend a month or two in Spain, the pound crashes against the euro:

Source: here

10 March 2010

Criminals vote Tory

It can't be easy to write a brief essay on four or five days of the week and keep it entertaining and relevant. Which is why I admire the sketch writers, Treneman for example:
Labour unleashed its attack dogs on the subject of crime yesterday and so I fear this is a “man bites man” story. It has made me realise that we should think about microchipping Alan Johnson. The Home Secretary is dangerous when let loose.
The man that Alan bit was Dave. The occasion was the unveiling of Labour’s latest YouTube effort. As the lights dimmed, the only real dog in the room, a guide dog who is actually named Chip, closed his eyes and began to dream of a world in which dogs kept men on leads.

Well worth reading the whole thing.

Quote of the day

Iain McMillan of the CBI (here):
Iain McMillan, Director of the CBI in Scotland, said he was appalled by the behaviour of the MSPs. He said: “The Scottish Parliament is the seat of democracy. There is a duty on the members of parliament to make every effort to keep the parliament open and to conduct the business they are supposed to do. If they don’t turn up, they risk aiding and abetting this kind of militant behaviour throughout the civil service.”

He's easily appalled then. Since when did an official picket constitute "militant behaviour"? If he cannot keep out of matters in which he has no role to play, he should save his criticisms for the Westminster government which is unilaterally tearing up future redundancy contracts for public servants.

09 March 2010

A contrarian writes ...

I was going to post something about the proposal to shut down 6music, but I thought that I should perhaps listen to it for a few days, so that I knew what I was about to condemn.

But now I find that I quite enjoy the station. The music is good and the DJs are not up themselves to the same extent as Chris Evans and Steve Wright (and the execrable Jeremy Vine). So long live radio 6music.

If the BBC needs to save the pennies, it could get rid of the BBC3 tv channel. Programmes such as Snog, marry, avoid and Hotter than my daughter are hardly adornments to the Reithian mission.

Military intelligence is an oxymoron

How novel, how delightful, how deadly:
They are a secret tribal militia, the controversial creation of US commanders in Afghanistan eager to buttress local opposition to the Taliban. So clandestine are the units formed to protect villages in a critical valley in southern Afghanistan that US officials and special forces commanders in Kabul refuse to discuss them.
But the Guardian has learned that in one important regard, the Local Defence Initiative forces are not so secretive after all. As they patrol villages close to the key southern city of Kandahar, the fighters are being forced to wear bright yellow reflector belts so that their special forces mentors do not mistake them for Taliban.

Alternatively, you could paint a target on their chests and get them to carry a sign saying "We are working for the Americans".

08 March 2010

Music of the week

How can you not love someone called Vonda?

Over-egging the pudding

The Herald, never knowingly under-panicked, dwells upon the gloomy side:
The Scottish Parliament will be plunged into chaos today as staff go on strike for the first time as part of industrial action involving 270,000 civil and public servants across the UK.

Oh dear, oh dear; chaos is it? The world coming to an end? The country ungoverned?

Maybe not. Parliament doesn't really work on Mondays at the best of times, at least not as far as the MSPs are concerned, so no real chaos there. As for Tuesday:
Staff working in every area of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, from security guards to committee clerks, will take part in the strike action. As a result, meetings of the justice and finance committees, usually scheduled for Tuesdays, have been cancelled.

Will anyone outside the hallowed committee rooms notice the resulting chaos? Thought not.

06 March 2010

Cleggy goes over the top

I suppose it's a vote of confidence. The Times reports:
Only early on did the rhetoric threaten to go out of control. He described Tavish Scott, the party’s Scottish leader, a few yards away, as one of the “most dynamic leaders we have had”, an intrepid “Viking” figure, a “whirlwind” figure, a “true people’s politician”. Over the stunned features of Mr Scott, a rich blush spread. He had never heard anything like it.
That makes them both plonkers then ...

An unashamed idiot

This guy is apparently the shadow secretary of state for education. The Times reports:
“I’m an unashamed traditionalist when it comes to the curriculum,” Mr Gove said. “Most parents would rather their children had a traditional education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, modern foreign languages. That’s the best training of the mind and that’s how children will be able to compete.”

Mr Gove was not born until 1967. Accordingly, he missed the traditionalist education which we children of the 1940s and 1950s suffered. Otherwise, he might have known about the deadening hand of excessive regimentation and the hatred of traditional history and traditional maths fostered by the system of learning by rote. No doubt he eould like to bring back the tawse (although he dare not admit it).

Do the Tories deserve to form the next government? (That's a rhetorical question, by the way.)

Did Chilcot let him off the hook?

Is this clash of views inexplicable? I don't think so. The Guardian reports:
In four hours of testimony shorn of the electricity surrounding Blair's grilling a month ago, he also risked the wrath of military top brass and bereaved families by firmly rejecting criticism that he deprived the armed forces of equipment. "The one fundamental truth", he said, was "that every requirement made to us by military commanders was answered; no request was ever turned down".
Former senior military figures took issue last night with those comments. Admiral Lord Boyce, the chief of the defence staff up to the beginning of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, said that the MoD had been "starved of funds". "He's dissembling, he's being disingenuous. It's just not the case that the Ministry of Defence was given everything it needed," he told The Times.
Colonel Stuart Tootal, a former commander of 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, said: "I am quite staggered by the lack of any sense of responsibility. He was the man with the purse strings."

The point to bear in mind is that the extra costs attributable to the Iraq war (and subsequently to Afghanistan) were financed from the Contingency Fund and not from the Ministry of Defence's regular financial allocation. Mr Brown and the Treasury may well have approved the extra costs demanded under the former arrangements (although it should also be remembered that military supplies cannot be picked off the trees - additional helicopters and armoured vehicles, even body armour, take time to arrive). At the same time, they kept the regular financial allocation to MoD firmly screwed down. It is thus possible for Mr Brown to argue that "no request [for extra war equipment] was ever turned down", while the military chiefs argue that they were short of resources.

Unfortunately, neither the Chilcot Committee nor the commentators, still less the military top brass, appear to have grasped these distinctions. Was Brown dissembling? Well, he was not entirely frank, let us say. But nobody on Chilcot put him on the spot.

05 March 2010

Fairness for all?

MPs to get 1.5% pay rise.

Hey, 1.5% is no big deal. A measly extra £1000 a year. And it's the least we deserve after all. It's not all jolly trips abroad, you know. Apart from our duties in the House, we are at the beck and call of constituents. So apart from the usual skiing week in February and the three weeks in the West Indies in August, it's work, work, work.

And don't tell me about how other public servants will get less or even nothing at all. These are little people motivated solely by envy and, anyway, who cares what a teaching assistant or a dinner lady might think or, even less, what they might receive by way of remuneration. The yobbos of Unison and Unite will complain - let them.

You have to understand: MPs are special; we are different; the rules don't apply to us.

03 March 2010

Guilty as charged

When I was a bit younger, record players used to have a facility known as a graphic sound equaliser. I never really understood them and, after some initial twiddling about, ignored them. The same applied to woofers and tweeters.

Today, my washing machine has twelve settings, as well as various options such as 'rinse hold' (which I think I understand). Nevertheless, I only ever use one setting: it makes the clothes clean and does not cause the colours to run from deep colours to my whites. What else does one need from a washing machine?

I dare not buy the modern equivalent of a video recorder - far too complex for a simpleton like me.

But still they complain. The Independent reports:
The nationwide poll of 3,000 people revealed although consumers made the most of their traditional electrics - such as microwaves and washing machines - half the functions on their higher-tech gadgets were left idle.
Expensive new high-definition (HD) TVs proved particularly costly, with nearly half (47%) of those surveyed unaware an HD TV needs to be connected to an HD set-top box to see the benefits. Two per cent even believed you needed to be born with HD Ready eyesight to watch the new format.

Ha ha, very funny, you techie types can be patronising bastards.

Well sorry I bought your stupid machines. Who needs all these fancy functions anyway? And if you didn't make them so complicated, I might understand them.

(Editor: Reading the instructions might help.)

01 March 2010


Spring is sprung, the grass is ris
I wonder where dem boidies is.

They sure ain't feasting on midgies which are perishing by the billions.

Perhaps they are tucking into earthworms and sludge worms (don't ask), mites and ticks as these are apparently plentiful.

Hey, don't ask me, I'm a city lad = pigeons and seagulls form the avian population down my way.