30 April 2011

Quote of the day

The Independent is seduced:
You couldn't really say, looking at all these people, most in jeans, some in frocks and fascinators, some in sequinned Union Flag top hats, or those funny antennae things that make people look like aliens, or giant insects, that this was the most beautiful nation on earth. But you couldn't look at all these people, of different ages, and colours, and backgrounds, and sizes, and not think that there was something beautiful in that mix, and something beautiful in their getting up early, on a grey Friday in April, to get together to celebrate "something nice".
We were here because a decent young man, with his grandmother's sense of duty and his mother's warm heart, had fallen in love with a sweet young woman. We were here because he had tested that love over 10 years, and decided that he wanted to make that love that had already been tested into something that would last for life. We were here not because we believed, as we wanted to 30 years ago, in fairy tales, but because we wanted to believe in happiness.
Pass the sick-bag ...

29 April 2011

There's a wedding on, you know

Me? Watch the wedding on the telly?

No, I don't think so. Even although it's gently raining outside, I have better things to do. A spot of ironing, some shopping, a glass or two of ale, lunch and then a siesta.

Not that I have anything against the happy couple. Indeed they appear to be among the more reputable representatives of that dysfunctional troupe known as the royal family.

(There goes my knighthood ...)

28 April 2011

Bathing in troubled waters

So the Hearts players will next season be displaying wonga.com across their chests.

I appreciate that there is little room for sentiment when it comes to decisions on commercial sponsorship but I have to say that I don't approve. This company makes short term loans, usually to the poorer sections of the community, and according to its website typically charges an astonishing APR of 4,214%.

Is this really the kind of company with which Hearts wants to get into bed?

25 April 2011

Footie footnote

It may have escaped your notice but six of the managers of the 20 teams in the English Premiership are Scottish: Ferguson (Man Utd), Moyes (Everton), Coyle (Bolton), Kean (Blackburn), Dalglish (Liverpool) and McLeish (Birmingham). This does not take account of McAllister in temporary charge at Aston Villa.

Why are we so good?

The Great Escape

It would have made a terrific movie. The Guardian reports:

Afghan and Nato forces have launched a huge operation to try to recapture 475 prisoners, nearly all of them Taliban insurgents, who staged an extraordinary mass prison breakout using a tunnel.
Officials said the inmates had escaped through the tunnel, dug from a house to the wing of the prison where political prisoners are detained in Kandahar.
In an email, Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the tunnel was 1,050ft (320m) long and had taken five months to construct, "bypassing enemy check-posts and Kandahar-Kabul main highway leading directly to the political prison".
He said just three insurgents inside the prison had known about the plot. They helped ferry the prisoners out of the jail in an operation lasting four and a half hours.

Unfortunately, it is the baddies who appear to have triumphed ...

The No 10 striker

So Larry, the No 10 cat, bags his first mouse after an empty two months on the same week-end as Fernando Torres gets his first goal for Chelsea.

Coincidence? I don't think so. After all, you never see them in the same room ...

24 April 2011

The Labour Party death-wish

OK, the latest opinion poll (in Scotland on Sunday) has confirmed that Labour is facing disaster in the elections, with fat Eck edging ever nearer an absolute majority. And you’re consoling yourself with the thought that a healthy thrashing might do Labour some good: a cleansing of the dross that clutters up the arteries of what was once a vibrant, wilful, campaigning organisation. Out of the miserable depths of defeat will emerge a phoenix, renewed in personnel and engaged in intelligent policy-making, ready to take on its opponents with refreshed vigour. No more complacency, no more tired reiteration of fatigued attitudes. Things can only get better. And all that …

Aye weel. Unfortunately, the debacle at the polls will likely leave in place the numpties, who have observed Buggins’ turn in their gradual elevation to the safer seats. They know that you don’t get on in the party by rocking the boat. Ideas are dangerous things; better to stick to the tried and true, even if it does not carry weight with the general population. What matters is keeping sweet with the party stalwarts. Like bed-blockers, they occupy for the sake of occupation. With the support of the local party hierarchies, they are an implacable obstacle to the emergence of new thinking.

Meanwhile, and since forever, those of independent minds and independent thinking are condemned to marginal seats, most likely to face obliteration at elections (or to have little chance from the outset). Out of office, they have little opportunity of influencing party policy. And why should they, the bed-blockers say; they haven’t served their time. You need to fulfil a minor office in the constituency party for twenty years, keeping your nose clean all the while, before you earn the right to seek to become an MSP.

It makes me weep ...

Something of a paradox

The Observer offers some advice to Scottish Labour on how to win the election:

Above all else, though, Labour must now seek to warn people about the ultimate threat from a confident, two-term Nationalist administration and they must be very insistent about it: a vote for the SNP could make it just five minutes to midnight on the toxic independence clock.
Very dramatic. Is it true though? Even if the SNP takes power once again, are we really any nearer independence? It seems doubtful if the Scottish Parliament would vote for it, unless the SNP had an absolute majority. And even then there seems little prospect of the Scottish people agreeing to it in a referendum.

Arguably, the impending success of the SNP at the election stems from the proposition that no-one (apart from Observer columnists and their like) really believes that a vote for the nationalists would advance by an iota the cause of independence. Labour must look elsewhere for salvation.

22 April 2011

It's not raining in my heart ...

Ach, it could be worse. Nevertheless, the weather out here this week has been a bit wet and changeable. And it is not expected to get any better over the weekend.

So the London papers can continue to crow about their smog-ridden city:

... the first of an estimated 2 million holidaymakers left the UK for supposed hotspots, many of which are currently cooler than southern England's daily highs of 24C (71F). Pullovers were evident on flights to Barcelona and Corfu, where the temperature was 16C (61F) and 17C (63F), while relatives seeing travellers off were in T-shirts.

In my experience, the short-term travellers determinedly stride about in their shorts and t-shirts regardless of the weather, while those of more permanent residence are shrouded in sweaters and cardies.

But hey, the sun will probably be back for later next week. And for now, temperatures of 20 to 22 degrees are not unpleasant.

21 April 2011

Whither Mr Gray?

Whither indeed? The Herald reports:

THE SNP have swept into an unprecedented lead as the election campaign gathers pace, according to a new opinion poll that puts the party within reach of an outright Holyrood majority.
The analysis of voters intentions delivers Alex Salmond’s party more than 60 seats and a thumping lead over Labour. A working majority could comfortably be achieved if Greens and independents chose to back the Nationalists.
The ipsos-MORI Scottish Sun/Times poll suggests Labour would end up on 45 seats, some 16 behind the SNP, a result that would inevitably result in a major post-mortem on the party’s loss of control in Scotland and the disastrous nature of its current campaign.

Never mind the post-mortem. If this poll proves accurate, Mr Gray is finished. There is no pleasure to be had in kicking a wounded man as he lies bleeding on the ground, particularly when that man seems an essentially decent sort, even if totally uninspiring. And there are others in the Scottish Labour Party hierarchy who have little to boast about.

The prospect of another 5 years of Salmond looms, like the thunder before the storm. It will end in tears for all concerned. We're doomed, I tell you.

Wardrobe malfunction

I really do not care if Mr Cameron does or does not wear tails but it is stretching credibility to suggest that he hasn't changed his mind. The Guardian reports:

Downing Street announced that David Cameron, in an apparent U-turn, would now be wearing morning dress and not a business suit. Reports that the prime minister, who eschews formal dress for fear of reviving his privileged Old Etonian image, would wear a plain suit provoked criticism from many quarters. Bruce Anderson in the Daily Telegraph fulminated that the move could be evidence of "idleness, contempt for tradition, or merely a lack of self-confidence".

But it has emerged that the wedding story has, apparently, all been a misunderstanding – the result of an ill-judged and incorrect briefing to journalists by a No 10 aide.


15 April 2011

Fine words?

So Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy are putting their backs to the wheel? The Independent reports:
Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have stated their determination to keep bombing Libya until Muammar Gaddafi steps down or is deposed. The leaders of the United States, Britain and France said, in a jointly written article, it would be an "unconscionable betrayal" of the populations of rebel towns to cease operations with Colonel Gaddafi still in place. It was "unthinkable" that a leader who has "tried to massacre his own people" could be allowed to continue in government, they said.
Sounds good. But what if bombing Gaddafi does not achieve the desired end of removing him from power? After three weeks of bombing, we are no nearer to regime change; indeed, if anything, the Gaddafi regime has become stronger. At what stage do the allies walk away, saying that at least they gave it a good try? Impossible? But if the only viable alternative is US, British and French boots on the ground ...

14 April 2011

Music of the week

Something you won't see often

The Scotsman sandwiches its report of the mighty German/Italian confrontation between those of the slightly less mighty matches at Arbroath and Dumfries:

Arbroath 2 - 0 Clyde: Arbroath take another step toward title glory
Schalke 2 - 1 Inter Milan: Schalke set up tie with Man United
Queen of the South 1 - 4 Morton: Visitor's push for fourth gathers pace

Make your mind up

After an ill-judged lurch to the left, where the Prime Minister considered it appropriate to criticise Oxford University for the inadequate racial make-up of its student intake, Mr Cameron will today lurch back to the right by making a speech about immigration, implying that there has been too much of it. As far as I can see, in neither case are Mr Cameron's remarks a prelude for action. He seems to be just letting off steam, seeking no doubt to create an impression of being all things to all men. A more settled policy direction would be welcome. But don't count on it.

Lost in showbiz

Most of us just get depressed, but celebrities suddenly develop bipolar disorder.

Quote of the day

Andrew Lansley (here):
"I am sorry if what I set out to do has not communicated itself."
A strangely convoluted formula. What he set out to do (allegedly) was to reform the NHS in England. It is as if that action plan itself bore the responsibility for communicating with the nurses, the medical profession and the general public, thus neatly shifting that responsibility away from Mr Lansley. It didn't work of course. Rightly or wrongly, Lansley will be forever associated with what is turning into a major disaster for the coalition government.

11 April 2011

Getting off lightly

Ah yes, that banking commission is really going to put the wind up the banks. Er, I don't think so, judging by the way their share prices have reacted. Barclays is up 3.43%; Lloyds by 1.35%; and RBS by 2.90%. So, after all, they probably won't be seeking to transfer to New York or Zurich. What a disappointment ...

07 April 2011

It's not a holiday ...

... it's my alternative residential location.

Whatever. By sparrowfart tomorrow, I shall have entrusted myself to the not so tender mercies of Ryanair in my bi-annual emigration to warmer climes. On arrival, I will have to acquire the necessary emergency provisions (beer, bread, butter, beer and eggs) and re-acquaint myself with my favourite hostelries, before seeking a well-earned siesta. So blog-posting over the next 24 hours is unlikely to be copious.

And don't expect a normal postcard ...

A simple soul writes ...

Given that Portugal has a problem with excessive debt, you might wonder if (and how) the solution to her problem is to lend her €80 billion.

That's because, like me, you don't understand the mysteries of international finance. The gnomes of Brussels and Frankfurt must know what they are doing. Otherwise we are all in deep doo-doo.

06 April 2011

Those elections

It can't be that bad, can it?

Even Iain McWhirter says it is (here):
It's being called the "me too" election. Everyone is being accused of stealing everyone else's policies in the campaign for the Scottish parliament election on 5 May.
With the parties pinching each others' manifestos, you wonder what will there be left to talk about for the next four weeks until polling day.
I'm sure they'll find something to say?

Oh yeah. But it will be a beauty contest, where the personalities of the party leaders assume the front and centre ...

So they won't be telling us where the public spending axe will fall?

If you believe them, none of them proposes to make cuts (except possibly Bella who appears to be adopting a masochism strategy). All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. (Voltaire? Who he?)

So who's gonna win?

Remember, the system is specifically designed to prevent the emergence of a clear winner. But, at present, Labour and the SNP are running more or less neck and neck. And it doesn't really matter, cos whichever wins you won't be able to tell the difference ...

Do say: The impact of the voting for constituency MSPs will be mitigated by those elected on the regional lists, thus enhancing the drive to the centre ground.

Don't say: If you stand in the middle of the road, you are liable to get run over.

Told you so

The Independent catches up:
So that went well. The RAC reports that, on average, petrol now costs 2p a litre more than it did before the Budget a fortnight ago, when George Osborne produced his 1p cut in duty with such a flourish. We might give the Chancellor some credit – without the 1p reduction petrol would, of course, be 3p a litre more expensive – but not much: this was a piece of political grandstanding that proved to be an empty gesture in the context of pressures from the oil market.
Aye, and it's going to get worse - the price of oil is now over $122 per barrel.

Quote of the day

David Cameron patronises the Pakistanis (here):
You are not raising the resources necessary to pay for things that a modern state and people require," he said. "Too few people pay tax. Too many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all. And that's not fair."
You might think that the prime minister of a country that
1. is prepared to excuse some of its largest companies from paying the level of tax that might have been expected,

2. confers knighthoods and government advisory positions on blatant tax avoiders, and

3. allows many of its crown dependencies and overseas territories to act as tax havens, sheltering the wealthy and powerful
is in no position to preach to others.

And you would probably be right.

05 April 2011

You might not have noticed, but ...

So you thought Slasher Osborne's budget would at least stabilise petrol prices? Well, forget it. The oil price has resumed its fateful upward course, to $121 a barrel.

We're all doomed, I tell you. (Even those of us who don't have a car.)

04 April 2011

Music of the week

Kate & Anna:

Capitaine Laure Berthaud

Yeah, Spiral. Satisfactorily gloomy. Two episodes, two murders. You can catch up on the i-player.

A bit worried about the admirable Laure. How does a pretty, mid-30s lady get to the level of Capitaine? And what about those previous blunders? Will we ever get to hear the back-story? Will she ever wear a skirt?

But good. A pleasant two hours.


Is the Cameron government even vaguely competent?

You might, if you felt charitable, write off the forests fiasco as just one of those unfortunate incidents that afflict governments from time to time. You might put down to bad luck the fact that the government failed to understand that the regulator did not have powers to dictate the level of tuition fees at universities and that, as a result, the policy (designed to save money) would now cost the government rather more than it had bargained for. Furthermore, let us move quietly over the plan to abandon school milk subsidies.

The chaos into which the NHS in England has been plunged is rather more serious. Not content with casting a blight on the NHS administration pending the passing of the current bill, Mr Cameron and his chums now propose to give themselves a three month breathing space, during which the disintegration of the service will doubtless continue. Oh, and remember that pledge to create 3,000 midwives? Abandoned, with the inevitable results.

What next? You may well ask. And I'll tell you. It's this crackpot idea to introduce new more generous old age pension arrangements for those who qualify in 2015 or 2016, while leaving existing pensioners to cope with the existing system. Those of us who receive an old age pension at present or who will qualify before 2015 will be forced to look with envy on our younger counterparts who will be rather better off. Is this a sustainable policy? Of course not. So we can look forward to yet another government climbdown.

Does the government know what it is doing? The evidence seems incontrovertible: they couldn't run a booze-up in a brewery.

02 April 2011

The girl with the woolly jumper

I regret to say that The Killing proved too complicated for me and, despite my admiration for Sarah Lund, I gave up after the seventh episode.

But hope springs eternal, so perhaps I will get on better with Spiral, yet another gloomy Euro-policier which starts tonight on BBC4.

Poetry of the week

Yesterday evening, I had occasion (don't ask!) to look up the lyrics of The Red Flag. We all know the last two lines of the chorus but forget (or never know) the rest. So here it is and what a splendid, stirring piece of poetry it is.

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.
Then raise the scarlet standard high.
Within its shade we live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,
The sturdy German chants its praise,
In Moscow's vaults its hymns were sung
Chicago swells the surging throng.


It waved above our infant might,
When all ahead seemed dark as night;
It witnessed many a deed and vow,
We must not change its colour now.


It well recalls the triumphs past,
It gives the hope of peace at last;
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.


It suits today the weak and base,
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place
To cringe before the rich man's frown,
And haul the sacred emblem down.


With head uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward till we fall;
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.