29 July 2009

For rugby fans only

I confess to some mild irritation that the 2015 Rugby World Cup to be set in England will to some extent be played on football pitches, including Old Trafford, The Emirates, Anfield and St James. My objection lies not in the direction of the old antagonism between rugger and soccer but is grounded on the size of football pitches.

The maximum length of an IRB-approved international rugby ground is 100 metres from goal-line to goal-line plus 2 x 22 metres for the in-goal areas, a total of 144 metres. Very few rugby grounds are actually this big but Murrayfield, Twickenham, Lansdowne Road and the Millenium Stadium are not far away.

By contrast, here are the lengths of the afore-mentioned football pitches:
Old Trafford 106m
The Emirates 104m
Anfield 101m
St James 101m

Given that the minimum size of an in-goal area is 10 metres, and the 22 metres between goal line and 22 metre line is sacrosanct, the size of the playing surface between 22 metre lines has to be reduced in the above cases to between 42 and 37 metres, compared with the 56 metres expected at an international rugby ground.

Thus the rugby play becomes cramped and the aesthetics of the game are diminished. That this should happen in the showcase of international rugby seems disappointing.

28 July 2009

Whatever happened to y-fronts?

Are you (like me) sagging a bit? Need something of an uplift? Not quite cutting it when it comes to the hind-quarters?

If you're rich and stupid, you might be interested in this:
The department store, Selfridges, is set to launch on the high street Britain's first range of 'control pants' for men.
The collection, by Equmen, promises to deliver a pert posterior and do for men's bums what brands such as Spanx have done for female thighs.
The range of 'power pants' comprises briefs, at £35, and leg-hugging trunks (colloquially referred to as 'meggings' - the macho form of leggings), £37, which feature Equmen's revolutionary 'Helix-Mapping compression technology', to improve lightweight posture and provide support 'down under', in addition to lifting and smoothing "in all the right places", to quote the press release.

Me, I'll stick to my standard boxers. And if my posterior is not pert enough, then too bad. Sorry, girls.

The fog of war

So operation Panther's Claw, or at least phase 1, is over. How do we, sitting at home, evaluate this? One would have to be desperately thrawn not to welcome the first two parts of the Prime Minister's statement (quoted here):
"What we have actually done is make land secure for about 100,000 people," the Prime Minister claimed. "What we've done is push back the Taliban – and what we've done also is to start to break that chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain."
although the hyperbole of the third part rather weakens the overall effect.

But I have yet to see printed anywhere a clear statement of the objectives and timing of the operation against which to measure what has been achieved. Sure, there is lots of vague stuff about clearing the Taliban from an area of the province (said to be the size of the Isle of Wight) with a view to preserving it for the elections. But which townships or strongpoints were to be cleared, by when and in what order? The Times has a nice graphic but it mainly illustrates what we don't know.

Then there is the question of troop numbers. We are told that 3000 British forces were involved. But what of the Taliban? According to The Guardian (here):
There had been up to 500 Taliban fighters in the area at the start of Panther's Claw.
Is this accurate?

And what about casualties? We have been told of the deaths of 10 (or perhaps 11) British soldiers, but nothing of the wounded (although I think I heard the figure of 50 mentioned on the BBC World Service last night). And, apparently, we don't count Taliban casualties.

The only other question I have is to wonder how this operation related to the parallel operation further south in Helmand by the US marines. Since Panther's Claw began, we have heard virtually nothing of what the Americans are up to.

Finally, I should record that I have nothing but admiration for the British troops, taking on a tough enemy in terrible conditions, no doubt with commendable skill and bravery. And perhaps for obvious reasons we should not expect to be kept fully informed about progress. But it is worth bearing in mind that truth and frankness are among the first casualties in the fog of war.

26 July 2009

Gutter politics

Is this now the way the Labour Party thinks? The Observer reports:
Plans to hold a referendum on changes to the voting system on the day of the next general election are being considered in Downing Street as part of a ploy to expose David Cameron as a roadblock to sweeping constitutional reform.
The idea, backed by senior ministers, has come to light amid growing recriminations within the Labour party over poor campaign strategy and a lack of fresh ideas for attacking Cameron, following Labour's thumping loss in Thursday's Norwich North byelection.

Perhaps The Observer is putting two and two together to make five, but it would not be the first time that Labour has adopted a policy in order to make life difficult for the Tories (see tax changes in Brown's final budget as Chancellor). As it happens, I believe that the proposed referendum may not necessarily be a bad idea - but to introduce it in order to set a conundrum (or a poison pill) for the Tories is simply cynical game-playing.

It's only July but football is back

I note that Celtic FC are engaged in some kind of tournament at Wembley, requiring them to play matches last Friday evening and this afternoon. Not the best preparation, I would have thought, for the important match against Dynamo Moscow on Wednesday (even if Dynamo are perhaps less dynamic than in days gone by).

I suppose that money has something to do with it.

25 July 2009

Quote of the day

From a former window cleaner who, after a day's training, is employed in the call centre dealing with callers worried about swine flu (from here):
"During the training they were telling us what an important job we were doing allaying people's fears and potentially saving lives. I thought, if it is such an important job, shouldn't we get paid more than £6.60 an hour? "

Well what did you expect? People with some medical training?

20 July 2009

My sweet lord

Suralan becomes Lord Sugar. He'll probably be no worse than the rest of the desk jockeys, troughers and hangers-on that populate "the other place".

In praise of ...

... Shane Warne. Ex-players do not usually make for good commentators but Warne is an exception. Witty, knowledgeable, diplomatic and down to earth.

And if he is occasionally biased towards the Aussies, then it is a useful corrective to the massed ranks of English triumphalists - Atherton, Gower, Hussein, Botham (unbelievably pompous) and the execrable Lloyd (who feels obliged to fill every potential moment of silence with inconsequential babble).

Furthermore, on Friday evening, Warne managed to persuade Russell Crowe (yeah, that Russell Crowe) to join him in the commentary box. Well, I was impressed.

19 July 2009

Young at heart

Fairy tales can come true ... but not today. Nevertheless, the great Tom Watson has given hope to all of us 59 year olds. For this, much thanks.

18 July 2009

Quote of the day

The incomparable Simon Barnes is always worth a read:
This is the country of the BBC Wildlife Unit and the incomparable Sir David Attenborough. This is the country with the remarkable organisation called the RSPB, with its million-plus members. We are the country that shows the way when it comes to the understanding of wildlife and its conservation.
And it’s all true apart from the last word of the last sentence. When it comes to conservation, we are not leading the world. We are not even leading our own region. Take a hard look at the figures and you cannot escape the conclusion that when it comes to practical conservation at government level, we are crap.

17 July 2009


Lots of heat and not a lot of light in the arguments over helicopters for Afghanistan.

I have no specialised knowledge but I have seen enough movies to know that helicopters come in different shapes and sizes. You need relatively big ones to transport troops whereas smaller ones may only serve as gun platforms. Not that you'd know from the exchanges between Cameron and Brown; these have focussed on overall numbers - or rather on percentage increases in overall numbers, which must be relatively meaningless when it is troop carriers in which we are interested.

Anyway, The Guardian has (at long last) come up with some figures:
Britain's 9,000 troops in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province have fewer than 25 helicopters – 10 Chinooks, five Sea Kings and eight Apache attack aircraft – at their disposal.
The problem has been compounded by the purchase of eight Chinooks from Boeing, which were not fitted to British standards.

Is ten Chinooks enough? Probably not, but who really knows? Is there an accepted ratio of helicopters to troops? Meanwhile, the argument does not appear to be going anywhere sensible.


The Times has more:
In addition there are eight Chinooks which have never flown and are being taken apart by engineers at Boscombe Down, Dorset. These are the infamous Mark 3As which were bought for £259 million for special forces and delivered to the RAF in 2001, but had to be parked for seven years in an air-condioned hangar because the MoD had failed to ask Boeing for rights to the avionics software.
Without it, the helicopters were mere hulks that could not be flown.
They are now being “reverted” to Chinook Mark 3Rs for regular troops in Afghanistan. Robert Key, the Conservative MP for Salisbury, whose constituency includes Boscombe Down, revealed that each Chinook was having “24,000 bits of wire” removed as part of the modification.
This is because the Chinook Mark 3As, which were designed for the digital age, with digitised wiring and an advanced cockpit for covert operational flying, are being turned into ordinary utility helicopters — with analog wiring.

I'm not sure that MOD should be allowed to buy anything more complicated than a meccano set - and, even then, it should be carefully supervised.

Chequered hospitality

It's Mrs Brown I feel sorry for. Imagine having to entertain such people as Bruce Forsyth, Davina McCall, John Motson, Kay Burley and Sir Fred Goodwin.

14 July 2009


Stuff happens

Two years ago, the SNP came first in the Scottish parliamentary elections, in large part because its party organisation was effective and disciplined.

One year ago, Labour lost a parliamentary by-election in Glasgow, partly because it lacked the party organisation to deliver its vote and partly because it messed up in the selection of its candidate.

The SNP is now casting around for a third or fourth choice candidate for Glasgow North East and denying meltdown.

Dare one say that, in terms of organisation and discipline, the SNP is looking a little like the Labour Party?

12 July 2009

Nobody's child

It is not as though the UK parties have totally disowned their bastard child - or at least not exactly. But there seems to be a general reluctance to put the Calman recommendations on top of the priority list. We already knew that Labour was not proposing to take any action in advance of next year's general election. Now The Sunday Times reports that the Tories are getting cold feet:
Holyrood is unlikely to gain any additional powers for at least six years after the Conservatives ruled out introducing constitutional change in the next parliament.
David Cameron, whose party is widely expected to win next year’s general election, has decided a future Tory government would have more important priorities, such as rebuilding the UK economy and getting public finance in order, than re-opening the Scotland Act.
It means the recommendations of the Calman Commission, whose establishment was supported by Annabel Goldie, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, will be shelved until 2015 at the earliest.
Cameron is said to be unwilling to give MSPs greater power to cut taxes until the Barnett formula, which determines the level of public spending across the UK, is replaced with a needs-based system.
2015 is a long way away. And if nothing is to happen until a needs-based analysis has replaced Barnett, the long grass is very deep.

It is almost enough to make one feel sorry for Mr Gray and Ms Goldie.


Le Carre's The Spy who came in from the Cold. On Radio 4, Sunday afternoon at 3 pm, repeated on Saturday evening at 9 pm. Brian Cox as Alec Leamas.

Episode 2 airs this afternoon. But you can catch up with Episode 1 on the i-player here.

11 July 2009

Arrogance ...

... or the art of ignoring criticism? I might have thought that, having been severely criticised for sending more than 400 people to Glastonbury, the BBC would rein back attendance at T in the Park.

Not a chance. If it takes 324 people to cover a pop festival then that is what the the BBC will send. Never mind that in recessionary times it might be wise to pull in your horns a little; who cares what the licence-payer may think. The BBC - after all - can apparently do no wrong, at least in its own eyes.

09 July 2009

They should have stuck with Sardinia

L'Aquila. Pronounced lakwila or lakeela? BBC televison seems to favour the former, while BBC Radio just seems confused. I think I would go for lakeela.

But I'm so pedantic that I get upset by people (especially football commentators) pronouncing the first i in Giovanni (instead of noting that it is merely a marker to indicate that the preceding g is soft).

But hey, worse things happen at sea - or so I am told.

08 July 2009

People and places you'd never heard of until last week

Uighurs, Han Chinese, Xinjiang, Urumqi.

Greased lightning

What the Ministry of Defence is not. You don't necessarily expect them to move quickly, but this amounts to dragging it out. The Independent reports:
The Government has announced it will set up the first strategic defence review in 11 years to shape the future of Britain's armed forces at a time of military commitment abroad and economic hardship at home.
However the final process is not due to start until after the next general election and the Conservatives said they would have their own agenda for the review if they won government.
Ministry of Defence officials have spent eight months preparing for a wide-ranging study. The Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, told the Commons yesterday that a Green Paper would be published next year setting out the parameters of the review.

If you need a review, why not get on and do it?

07 July 2009

Mustn't grumble, but ...

Well there I am. I rush home from Spain (it was getting too hot for me anyway), ready and willing (well, at least reluctantly prepared) to fulfil my civic duties by acting as a juror in the sheriff court tomorrow, only to find that they do not need me until Friday.

I suppose I should be grateful that there is now a telephone number to call after 5 pm to find out if you are needed or not for the next day. I do feel slightly deflated, however, that my (perhaps) momentous date with the Scottish justice system has been postponed. But chances are that I would never have been chosen.

06 July 2009

Music of the week

In memory of those days in SF:

Summit strain

Are they putting on the beef or do they just not know how to buy suits that fit?

The bonfire that never quite gets lit

Those who take pleasure from watching politicians do the same thing over and over again without any practical result will have noted Mr Cameron's interest in quangos. The BBC reports:
David Cameron is pledging to cut the number of unelected quangos to save money and increase accountability.
A Tory government would close one schools quango, while another - media regulator Ofcom - would be stripped of its policy-making role, he will say.
The Tory leader will ask shadow cabinet ministers to identify which bodies within their areas should be cut back.
This weekend the government announced a review of public bodies in a bid to ensure cash goes to frontline services.

The threatened bonfire goes back at least to the 1970s. Politicians of all parties have at various times (usually near an election) dug out a box of lucifers and gathered up the driftwood of quangos. For some reason, however, the conflagration never takes place. Could it be that, on reflection, the pols conclude that quangos are actually quite useful? But never mind, a threatened bonfire is always good for a headline or two.

(Incidentally, don't imagine for a moment that governments set up quangos and then forget about them. There is a whole industry within the civil service devoted to reviewing them which you can read about here.)

02 July 2009

His lips are moving

Quote of the day, by our Prime Minister:
"I always tell the truth. I have always told it as it is."

Two weeks after he blatantly denied considering the replacement of Darling as Chancellor with Balls, only to be thwarted by the resignation of Purnell?

Even after he has given three different versions of future public spending at PMQs over the past three weeks?

Hard to believe, I know but there was a time in the early 1990s when Mr Brown as Shadow Chancellor was witty and quick on his feet, and ran rings round Major, Lamont and, to a lesser extent, Clarke. Sad to see the tired hulk, exhausted and bad-tempered, making u-turn after u-turn (MPs' code of conduct, ID cards, Royal Mail). Interested only in his own survival.