Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 and all that Jazz

Here's something a bit novel, - a blogger doing a review of the year. You can't accuse me of not being a trail-blazer! Anyway, for what it's worth, here goes.

Perhaps the most important thing to have happened this year is I became a blogger. Looking round Blogland, it is clear that it was waiting for the sort of sophistication, intellect and humour that only someone like myself could possibly offer. (People accuse me of being too modest!). Anyway, it's interesting to look back a re-read some of the posts, and I'm pleased to see that my writing has improved from the early self-conscious ramblings to the more confident (and possibly more long-winded) pieces I do now. When I started, I wondered if I would ever keep it going, but I've surprised myself at how much I've enjoyed doing it. The inspiration can come from anywhere, newspapers, something someone says, something glimpsed from the railway carriage or something I've done. It's all grist to the mill.

Of equal importance have been the visitors to my page. It still amazes me that someone thousands of miles away has visited, read and even left a comment on something I've written and of course, I always find it pleasurable to visit other people's blogs and share in their world.

Other things that have happened; Bethen, my eldest daughter, started Secondary school and seems to have settled down well. She has reached that age when she doesn't want to hold her Daddy's hand while out, - just in case she meets one of her friends! Jayne has survived Primary school without her sister being there; she was rather nervous at first. Christine got a new job and I went for, but failed to get a new job. I'm going to try again in the New Year, but it does have to be the right job. Dave, my best mate, gave us all a real shock by contacting a virus that appeared to put him at death's door. Fortunately, he recovered well, and we had a great night out just before Christmas. On a personal level, it's not been a bad year, and we are looking forward to the New Year and the challenges it is going to offer.

My key resolutions have to start with getting some weight off! I really need to lose about 30 pounds, so a lot less eating, a lot more walking and cycling (and possibly less real ale) . I have given up smoking, and my overall fitness is not too bad. Other than that, I've got no real plans for the year other than to continue to strive to love and care for those around me.

To all who read this, I hope you have a happy and successful New Year, and that, despite the Bushs and Blairs we move towards a more peaceful world.

See you next year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Was That It?

Well, that's Christmas over for another year. Back to work today, yippee!

Mind you, we had a pretty good Christmas. Christine was working the morning shift, so she wasn't there when the kids got up but tradition was maintained. No-one was allowed into the tree until we all had a cup of tea and had woken up a bit. The girls had already opened their stockings which Father Christmas had left them on their beds. One of the presents they had were baseball caps with lights! Lots of fun, which meant I couldn't have a lie-in! Jayne had been incredibly excitied during the last week and it was amazing she survived!

The girls and I, with our cups of tea, went into the tree and opened presents, - and what a lot of presents there were. However, we all saved one present to open when Christine came home. Breakfast, then dressed and ready to cycle up to Church. The weather was great. Blue sky, bright sunshine and cold and frosty air. Really beautiful, and the Church was lovely and warm. Bethen served the wine.

After Church, we cycled up to Haigh (pronounced Hay) Hall and apart from a few dog walkers, we seemed to have the world to ourselves. The girls had the swings to themselves, and when they got fed up with them, we went to the Hall and looked out over a mist-covered Wigan. There seemed to be something magical being there on Christmas Day. From there it is a fairly steep hill down from Haigh Hall to the Leeds - Liverpool canal, which, when you're free wheeling, you can get a really good speed on, - so much so, my eyes started watering. We visited our favourite little bridge on the canal, which has now been re-surfaced making cycling over it so much easier. From the canal, we cycled back towards Wigan to Top Lock and the Kirkless Hall pub which had a warming, strong Christmas Ale on tap. Sitting outside, the canal looked really good in the sunlight with mist rising and gently swirling above the mill-pond like surface of the water. Unfortunately, you will have to imagine what it looked like from my description, because, like a wazzock, I forgot to buy film for my camera!

When we got home, Christine arrived back from work and we opened the rest of our 'prezzies, after which, we started getting the meal ready. No turkey and all the trimmings for us, we had a fusion Chinese/Indian/Thai meal which was really tasty, did not take long to prepare and did not leave us bloated. After that we just chilled in front of the TV for the rest of the day.

Boxing Day and the 2 subsequent Bank Holidays were very similar. While the east of the country was getting a belated white Christmas, we were bathed in blue skys, bright sun and freezing temperatures which gave the world its own special type of beauty.

Three days to go before New Year's Eve; - can't wait!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Seasons Greetings

Christmas is almost upon us, and I would like to thank all my new friends and visitors for spending valuable moments browsing my page. I've tried to keep true to my purpose which was to write about whatever was rattling around in my head at the time, while attempting to maintain a personal history of events as they unfurled. I hope you have found it interesting, thought provoking or even funny. All your comments have been gratefully received and read. There are some lovely people out there.

I have no idea how you intend to celebrate the approaching season, but for many it will be a time of family (and all the stress that that can bring) with the giving and receiving of presents. Please ensure that you include the gift of your love as that is the best gift of all. It is the only gift I can give you, but, my friends, when I raise my glass on Sunday, you will be in my thoughts

Have a really good, peaceful, happy and loving Christmas holiday.

God bless


A Brief History of Christmas

Many of the traditions we associate with Christmas were celebrated centuries before Christ was born and can be traced back to the early Mesopotamians. Sacaea, celebrated by the Persians and Babylonians, was a similar festival during which slaves and masters would exchange roles which could be a bit dodgy if the slaves refused to exchange back afterwards!

The early Europeans believed in the battle between good and evil spirits and the dark days of winter demonstrated that the powers of evil were winning. In support of the good spirits, special rituals and celebrations were held to drive out evil and welcome back the sun. During winter above the Arctic circle in Scandinavia, the sun would disappear for many days. When it returned a Yuletide celebration was held and a special feast served around a burning Yule log fire.

The Roman's celebrated their god Saturn with a festival called Saturnalia which ran from 17 to 24 December. Celebrations included masquerades in the streets, festive meals, visits to friends and the exchange of good-luck gifts. The Romans used decorations of garlands of laurel and green trees lit with candles.

The fun and festivities in honour of a pagan god were frowned on by the early Christians who wanted to keep the birth of Christ a solemn, religious festival. Some theories claim that the Christmas celebration was invented by the Christians to compete against the pagan December celebrations. Eventually, the church brought in some of the merriment, lights and gifts from the Saturnalia festival into Christmas celebrations.

Celtic culture reveres all green plants, particularly mistletoe and holly. These were important symbols of fertility and used for decorating homes and altars.

The exact day of Christ's birth is not known. Traditions say that it was celebrated as early 98 AD. In 137 AD, the Bishop of Rome ordered Christ's birthday to be celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD, the then Bishop of Rome, Julius I, choose December 25th for the observance of Christmas.

The earliest English reference to 25 December as Christmas Day dates from 1043. Christmas celebrations have always been controversial as many of the festive traditions have their roots in paganism. Frivolity and feasting, the giving of gifts and frequent excesses have always been in complete contrast to the simplicity of the Nativity and are often condemned as contrary to the true spirit of Christmas. Although not the original purpose of the day, Christmas remains a traditional time for families to meet, enjoy a meal, and make merry.

A brief history of Father Christmas

The origin of Santa Claus begins in the 4th century with Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas' popularity throughout Europe. His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims he that he could perform miracles and devotion to him increased. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop's mitre. In Greece, he is the patron saint of sailors, in France he was the patron of lawyers, and in Belgium the patron of children and travellers. Thousands of churches across Europe were dedicated to him and some time around the 12th century an official church holiday was created in his honor. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity.

After the Reformation, European followers of St. Nicholas dwindled, but the legend was kept alive in Holland where the Dutch spelling of his name Sint Nikolaas was eventually transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. Dutch colonists brought brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the Anglican name of Santa Claus emerged.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

We're Getting Warmer!

Carbon Dioxide pollution is at its highest level for 620 thousand years. That is the conclusion of new European studies looking at ice taken from 3km below the surface of Antarctica. The scientists say their research shows present day warming to be exceptional. Other research, also published in the journal Science, suggests that sea levels may be rising twice as fast now as in previous centuries.

The evidence on atmospheric concentrations comes from an Antarctic region called Dome Concordia.

Over a five year period commencing in 1999, scientists working with the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (Epica) have drilled 3,270m into the Dome C ice, which equates to drilling nearly 900,000 years back in time. Gas bubbles trapped as the ice formed yield important evidence of the mixture of gases present in the atmosphere at that time, and of temperature. "One of the most important things is we can put current levels of carbon dioxide and methane into a long-term context," said project leader Thomas Stocker from the University of Bern, Switzerland. "We find that CO2 is about 30% higher than at any time, and methane 130% higher than at any time; and the rates of increase are absolutely exceptional: for CO2, 200 times faster than at any time in the last 650,000 years. We found a very tight relationship between CO2 and temperature even before 420,000 years," said Professor Stocker. "The fact that the relationship holds across the transition between climatic regimes is a very strong indication of the important role of CO2 in climate regulation."

Another study reported in the same journal claims that for the last 150 years, sea levels have been rising twice as fast as in previous centuries. Using data from tidal gauges and reviewing findings from many previous studies, US researchers have constructed a new sea level record covering the last 100 million years. They calculate the present rate of rise at 2mm per year.

"The main thing that's changed since the 19th Century and the beginning of modern observation has been the widespread increase in fossil fuel use and more greenhouse gases," said Kenneth Miller from Rutgers University.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body which collates scientific evidence for policymakers, concludes that sea level rose by 1-2mm per year over the last century, and will rise by a total of anything up to 88cm during the course of this century.

The US Government, - which still refuses to sign up to the Kyoto treaty on climate change, - expects carbon dioxide emissions to rise by 47% between 2000 and 2025. Clearly they take this seriously having tacked on the funding for more oil exploration in the Alaskan widerness to the Defense Bill! For me, there is far, far more evidence of man's detrimental influence on the environment, than there ever was for weapons of mass destruction, - faulty or otherwise, - in Iraq. That being the case, there should be a similar resolve in tackling this danger to the freedom of all, - clean air!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A True Beer for Politicians!

The House of Commons all-party beer club - yes, of course there is such a thing - has just held its Christmas reception at which it laid on a selection of fine ales for the delectation of MPs and guests. Nestling amongst the pumps of beers with all sorts of exotic names was one brew simply labelled "Jokers"!

Was this a brewery having a not-so-subtle pop at our elected representatives? Well, no, it was an error in translation. The splendid ale was actually the Scottish "Deuchars" brew and had been mis-labelled by a member of staff who had taken down the name over the phone.

Well, just try saying Deuchars in a Scottish accent and you will understand.

Click here for the brewery web-site

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wigan - Town of High Culture!

I live in a medium sized town in Lancashire called Wigan. This is a no-nonsense, down-to-earth sort of place that takes now't from now't. Now-a-days, it has 2 main claims to fame, Uncle Joe's Mint Balls and Pies! In fact Wigan is the self-proclaimed capital of pie-making.

Yesterday, Wigan held the first ever world pie-eating championships (we take culture very seriously here), - but ended up having to eat humble pie. When it came to the selection of competition standard pies, the judges (what do they know), following a blind tasting, went for meat and potato pies made in the nearby town, - and arch rival, - of Bolton! What a crushing insult! Too humiliating for words.

Anyway, this highly skilful complicated contest requires contestants to eat as many pies as they can in three minutes, and fortunately, Wigan was able to restore some pride when local man, Anthony 'The Anaconda' Danson was able to down seven pies in three minutes. After the competition, Wigan's latest World Champion said that he was feeling fine and looking fine (even if the pies did come from Bolton).

'Pie-eater' is a traditional nickname for people from Wigan, perhaps owing to the large number of pie shops found in the town. Helena Martin from Yesteryear Pub Company who sponsored the event said, "Choosing a non-Wigan pie caused some trouble, but in a blind tasting, the Bolton ones just tasted better." It won't happen next year!

There were strict rules for the tornament pies; they were not allowed to be too dry, soggy or crumbly; they each had to be 12cm across and 3.5cm deep with a pie wall angle of no more than 15 degrees. We take our pies seriously in this part of the world! Next year, both the winner and the pies will come from Wigan.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Is Bush Due Another Holiday?

According to the Guardian, as of August 2005, George W Bush has had 319 days vacation in the 5 years of his Presidency. This means that America has not had a working President for 1 year over the past five. Who was running the country? Whose hand was on the trigger? Is the job so stressful, that he needs that amount of rest?

Maybe we need to re-think our feelings towards Dubya! If he needs so much rest, maybe someone should gently tell him that there is no shame in resigning. That it is OK to fall back to his ranch and continue his dream of being John Wayne. One interesting Bushism: "We need to counter the shockwave of the evildoer by having individual rate cuts accelerated and by thinking about tax rebates". Please! This man needs a rest!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bush Defends His Iraq Policy

President George W Bush has "accepted" responsibility for going to war in Iraq on the basis of faulty intelligence, but said it was still the right choice. He said: "Saddam was a threat, and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power." How that affected America or the World, I don't know. What I do know is that we are under increased threat from terrorists as a direct result of Bush and Blairs reckless decisions.

"Many intelligence agencies judged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and it's true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," said Mr Bush in the speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. But he added that Saddam Hussein was nonetheless a threat, and had been looking for the opportunity to restart his weapons programmes. Does this mean that he is willing to attack anybody even if they are just only thinking about weapons? "As President, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that," Mr Bush said.

Whose intelligence needs fixing? If his intelligence was wrong, how could he possibly be able to assess that Saddam Hussein was a threat? What about the "intelligence" that allows America to kidnap people and hand them over to other countries to be tortured? Also, should we entrust the "fixing" of this calamity to the bozo that caused it?

Here's a thought, did any of this "wrong" intelligence come from such sources? If so, does not this prove, - even from a pragmatic view point, that "rendition" does not work?

The president insisted that US troops would stay in Iraq until the country's forces were sufficiently well trained to fully take over security duties. A stable Iraq was in the interests of both the Iraqi and American people, he said, and he accused critics in Washington, many of whom had originally supported the decision to invade, of playing "pure politics". He said: "Victory will be achieved by meeting certain objectives: when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can protect their own people, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot attacks against our country". Does he not realise that terrorists were not using Iraq to plot attacks until his ill-judged and reckless invasion.

I'm sorry, America. I love your country, and most Americans I meet are pretty good human beings, but I've got two questions? What the hell happened, - how could you vote in such a wazzock as Bush? and secondly, What are you going to do about it?

P.S. We Brits have similar questions to ask of ourselves about Blair, - thanks Jay.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

To Help When Choosing a Yule Log

An old poem about the burning attributes of different woods:

Beechwood fires burn bright and clear,
If the logs are kept a year.

Chestnut, only good they say,
If for years it's stored away.

But Ashwood green and Ashwood brown,
Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown.

Oaken logs, dry and old,
Keep away the winter cold.

Poplar gives bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke.

Elmwood burns like a churchyard mould,
Even the very flames are cold.

Applewood will scent the room,
Pearwood smells like flowers in bloom.

But Ashwood wet and Ashwood dry,
A king may warm his slippers by.

Choose your Yule Log carefully.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Happy Anniversary

Exactly a year ago today, I smoked my last cigarette. No more yellowing hands; no more irritating cough in the morning; no more smelly clothes; no more disapproving looks from my children; more money in the pocket, - about £1460 more; more appreciation of taste; a 'slightly' expanded waistline; more stamina; more active.

Has it been worth it? You bet. It was difficult at first. I decided the best way for me was to go 'cold turkey', so I made sure there were no cigs in the house, and smoked what I had left (which meant I was up until about 1:00am). The following day Christine was at work with the car, - the shops are about a mile away, - and I got involved in a project my eldest daughter was doing. Although I was aware of not having a cigarette, I was to busy to want one (if that makes any sense). Eventually, I asked my daughter if she had noticed I hadn't gone outside all day, and the look on her face gave me the resolve to carry on, and it stays with me today. The look contained pride, relief, happiness, - real happiness and tears. Now, when I go to work, I choose routes that don't go near shops, and when I do go to the shops, I'm generally with people who would probably chop my legs off if I attempted to buy cigarettes.

It's been an OK year. The first couple of months I was thinking about cigs more often than sex (men are supposed to think about sex every 7 seconds!), but that has generally lessened. What I have to remember is that I am a smoker. Just like a recovering alcoholic, I have to have the same sort of resolve. The cravings have gone, and generally it is very easy, but there are occasions when a cigarette would be perfect such as sitting at the top of Winter Hill looking out over Horwich, or in the pub at the end of a really good bike ride or walk. So as they say, one day at a time until this time next year.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Law Lords Reject The Use Of Torture Evidence

Evidence that might have been obtained by means of torture cannot be used against terror suspects in UK courts, the Law Lords ruled yesterday. The decision means that the cases of eight detainees facing deportation are expected to be reconsidered by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke accepted the ruling but said it would have "no bearing" on efforts to combat terror. He said the government did not use evidence it knew or suspected had been obtained by torture but the ruling had clarified the appropriate legal test of what was admissible. Sounds like the Government has decided to swallow the sour grapes!

The ruling centres on how far the Government must go to show that no improper methods of obtaining information from suspects have been used. In other words, they have to show that the information they present came through legitimate, civilised and legal means.

The Court of Appeal ruled last year that such evidence could be used if UK authorities had no involvement. But eight of the 10 foreign terror suspects who were being held in detention at Belmarsh Prison without charge, backed by human rights groups, challenged that ruling.

They argued evidence obtained in US detention camps should be excluded from court hearings. Hopefully this will mean one less customer for America's terrorism.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) must now investigate whether evidence against the suspects facing deportation was obtained by torture. The Home Secretary said the Government had not been planning to rely on evidence it knew or suspected had been obtained under torture, - so at least that is an admission that they are in possession of information gathered through 'dubious' means. Nor did he expect the ruling to affect the outcome of the men's appeals.

Mr Clarke said: "We have always made clear that we do not intend to rely on or present evidence in SIAC, which we know or believe to have been obtained by torture. So this issue is hypothetical." What is hypothetical is whether that evidence would have been presented if this ruling had not happened.

Lord Bingham, the former Lord Chief Justice, who headed the panel of seven law lords, said English law had abhorred "torture and its fruits" for more than 500 years. "I am startled, even a little dismayed, at the suggestion (and the acceptance by the Court of Appeal majority) that this deeply-rooted tradition and an international obligation solemnly and explicitly undertaken can be overridden by a statute and a procedural rule which make no mention of torture at all," he said.

Another member of the panel, Lord Carswell, said allowing evidence from torture to be used would "involve the state in moral defilement".

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said the "landmark judgement" showed judges had "once again been more effective in defending individual rights than this government".

Amnesty International said the "momentous" ruling overturned the "tacit belief that torture can be condoned under certain circumstances".

The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, said it was untrue the UK Government did not use information from torture. He had been told the UK did not use torture itself or ask that any specific person be tortured. "As long as we kept within that guideline, then if the Uzbeks or the Syrians, or the Egyptians or anyone else tortured someone and gave us the information that was OK".

Over to you America, and the Supreme Court. It's time for you to put your foot down and tell the Administration their moral duty.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Britain Could Be Guilty Of War Crimes

Britain could be guilty of war crimes if it is proved that officials co-operated with America's movement of terror suspects to countries in which they are tortured, according to a former Law Lord. Lord Steyn said yesterday, 'If the British authorities were fully aware of the purpose of the flights, British authorities may themselves be guilty of war crimes'. His comments will fuel the row over claims that secret CIA flights carrying uncharged and innocent detainees stopped at British airports to refuel on their way to secret prison camps in eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Condoleezza Rice said her government did not condone torture and pledged to make good any mistakes the administration had made. Speaking in Germany with the new German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, she added: 'Policy will sometimes result in errors and, when it happens, we will do everything we can to rectify it'. This isn't someone from the administration actually stating that they may have, just possibly, purely by accident have made an error. I thought they never made mistakes.

This is a hideous policy, and America should not be given any support in their practice of it. The door of co-operation needs to be firmly shut in their lying hypocritical faces.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Condoleezza Rice Defends Extraordinary Rendition

Following on from the previous post, Condoleezza Rice admitted yesterday that America does fly terror suspects abroad for interrogation. Al-Qaeda suspects are moved under a process known as 'rendition', which she claimed was 'a lawful weapon'. She said, 'Renditions take terrorists out of action, and save lives. Such renditions are permissible under international law.' She did add, '... That allies' intelligence agencies worked with America to extract information from detainees.

Some questions seem to be raised by this:
  • These are suspects! Innocent people. People who have not been charged with anything. Why is America so keen to get these people out of US legal duristriction?
  • If what America is doing is legal under international law, why can't they extract information in the US where it can all be overseen by a legally accountable committee?
  • Rice claims that the US seeks assurances that transferred people will not be tortured. What value are assurances from countries such as Egypt, Syria and Libya?
  • As I said in the last post, how does this make America different to the kidnapping, torture and execution of people by terrorist groups in Iraq, - I thought Bush and co were supposed to be setting an example.
  • What happens to those people who turn out not to be terrorists?
  • How credible is the information extracted from these people?

I know many people have said it before, but for me, this activity destroys any moral credibility the present US administration had left. In the 21st Century, this is not a civilised way to behave. It is now time that Europe pulled together on this issue and tell America that they have grossly overstepped the mark in civilised behaviour.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Torture Flights Must Stop

The scandal of CIA 'rendition' will not go away. Inspite of all the protestations of senior US officials, including those of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the evidence is now overwhelming that terror suspects are being flown beyond the reach of US anti-torture laws to be questioned in countries where torture may be used.

It is Condoleezza Rice's intention, this week, to warn European countries to 'back off' their concerns in this area and this is guaranteed to inflame the issue further, smacking as it does of bullying and blackmail. What it does tell us, is how far the administration of President George W Bush has gone beyond international norms and conventions, as it deliberately constructs legal loopholes to circumvent anti-torture legislation on US soil.

This does not mean that every CIA flight identified flying through Europe is involved in this 'out-sourcing' of torture, but the fact that this repugnant practice exists shames an administration that sets so much stock on words such as democracy and freedom. Moreover, what value is the information gained from duress.

The consequence of this cavalier approach to human rights, as witnessed from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib and beyond, is to undermine the very values that the "War On Terror" was supposed to encourage. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Iraq, where torture and death squads have become common currency.

How can the administration remonstrate against kidnap, torture and murder, when they themselves are doing exactly that. That is why Condoleezza Rice must be disabused of the notion that reassurances and bluster are sufficient response when she visits Europe this week.

Friday, December 02, 2005

America Reaches A Milestone In Civilisation

December 1st 2005 was the day that America executed its 1000th convicted killer since 1976. This is a glorious record that I presume all Americans will celebrate with pride. In terms of national league tables of state murder, America now lies 5th behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. What a shining example of the way to treat your own population. It surely teaches that killing is right, and that if it is OK for the State, then it must be OK for the individual.

Of course, the reason is deterrence, - clearly that must be working well in Texas, as they indulge in the killing more of their population than any other state. Mind you, the 1000th executee, Kenneth Lee Boyd, of North Carolina, doesn't seem to see it this way. His comment about the death penalty was that it doesn't deter, and that it is 'nothing but revenge'. What a shame he couldn't see that his death would progress civilisation. What a selfish wazzock. At least he gets out of a lifetime of penance for his crimes!

State Executions (since 1976)

Texas 355
Virginia 94
Oklahoma 79
Missouri 66
Florida 60
Georgia 39
N. Carolina 38
S. Carolina 34
Alabama 34
Louisiana 27
Arkansas 27
Arizona 22
Ohio 19
Indiana 16
Delaware 14
Illinois 12
Nevada 11
California 11
Mississippi 6
Utah 6
Maryland 4
Washington 4
Nebraska 3
Pennsylvania 3
Kentucky 2
Montana 2
Oregon 2
Colorado 1
Connecticut 1
Idaho 1
New Mexico 1
Tennessee 1
Wyoming 1
Federal Govt. 3

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Is This Why I Drink Beer?

  • An = number of units of alcohol consumed
  • S = smokiness of the room (graded from 0-10, where 0 clear air; 10 extremely smoky)
  • L = luminance of 'person of interest' (candelas per square metre; typically 1 pitch black; 150 as seen in normal room lighting)
  • Vo = Snellen visual acuity (6/6 normal; 6/12 just meets driving standard)
  • d = distance from 'person of interest' (metres; 0.5 to 3 metres)

Scientists believe they have worked out a formula to calculate how "beer goggles" affect a drinker's vision. The drink-fuelled phenomenon is said to transform supposedly "ugly" people into beauties - until the morning after.

Researchers at Manchester University say while beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder, the amount of alcohol consumed is not the only factor. Additional factors include the level of light in the pub or club, the drinker's own eyesight and the room's smokiness. The distance between two people is also a factor.

They all add up to make the aesthetically-challenged more attractive, according to the formula.
The formula can work out a final score, ranging from less than one - where there is no beer goggle effect - to more than 100.

Nathan Efron, Professor of Clinical Optometry at the University of Manchester, said: "The beer goggles effect isn't solely dependent on how much alcohol a person consumes, there are other influencing factors at play too. "For example, someone with normal vision, who has consumed five pints of beer and views a person 1.5 metres away in a fairly smoky and poorly lit room, will score 55, which means they would suffer from a moderate beer goggle effect."

Some how I missed the opportunity to be a researcher on this study.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Real Bit Of Fun

If you are in need of a pick-me-up or a smile, or you just enjoy something different, just click the link below, make sure your sound is on, sit back and relax. It goes on for a while, but it is really worth it.

Prickle-Eye Bush

Friday, November 25, 2005

Blair 'betrayed' and 'Why did our boys die?'

Former US Ambassador, Joe Wilson, said, on Radio 4's Today program, the Prime Minister Blair had been 'betrayed' by George Bush's aides in the run-up to the Iraq war. Apparently, the Prime Minister actually believed he was joining a disarmament campaign! !Mr Blair came to the US when Mr Bush was talking about regime change, and when he left, Mr Bush started talking about disarmament as the objective, but I think Mr Blair was double-crossed by the regime change crowd.' Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was allegedly 'outed' as an undercover CIA agent by the administration in retaliation for his criticism of the case for war. For an extended resume of the interview, click here.

Yesterday, families of British troops killed in Iraq went to the High Court to demand 'the truth' about why Britain went to war. The were challenging the Governments refusal to grant a public inquiry into the decision to war in May this year. They have demanded the Prime Minister be held publicly accountable if it is proved that there was no legal case for the conflict. At the same time, MP's are trying to get enough votes to force a debate in Parliament asking for a full public enquiry.

It's not just in America that the families of the fallen want an answer to why their children have died, what the 'noble' cause was for which they spilt their blood, - it certainly wasn't defending their country, that's for sure.

Finally, George Best, ex Manchester United and Northern Ireland striker, has died from multiple organ failure following a lung infection. He was 59. Although he played for a team I don't support, there was never any dispute about his brilliance with a football. He was one of those that epitomised the '60's having glamour, charm and talent. Will the modern game ever produce someone as good as him. For the past 30 years, he has battled alcoholism, - a legacy of those heady days. Today he lost that battle.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving Day

Tomorrow, the 4th Thursday in November, is Thanksgiving Day in America. The first Thanksgiving Day was in 1621 after a very successful harvest. The day was celebrated with 91 Indians who had, the previous year, help the Pilgrim settlers survive appalling conditions.

The story can be read here and it is one that all mankind would do well the think on.

I wish all Americans the most peaceful of Thanksgiving Days.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

How I Live My Life

Thanks Jen for the following. Interesting.

How You Life Your Life

You seem to be straight forward, but you keep a lot inside.
You're laid back and chill, but sometimes you care too much about what others think.
You tend to have one best friend you hang with, as opposed to many aquaintences.
You tend to dream big, but you worry that your dreams aren't attainable.

Monday, November 21, 2005

For Those Who Give Their Lives For Us

Two articles in this Sunday's Observer are worth a second read.

The first is an article by Jimmy Carter who is fearful for an America that appears to have abandoned its fundamental values; "This is not the country that I once knew".

The second article by Henry Porter compares culture, way of life and managing the budget in Canada and America; "It's great up north".

On Friday, PC Sharon Beshenivsky and PC Teresa Milburn responded to an emergency 999 call that a robbery was in progress at a travel agent's in Bradford Town Centre. Seconds after arriving at the scene, PC Beshenivsky had been shot dead, and her colleague and friend, PC Milburn had been wounded in the shoulder. Sharon Beshenivsky, 38 mother to 3 children and step-mother to 2 more had been a mature recruit, having only joined 9 months previously. From all accounts, working in the Police was her dream career. Her husband has said that her killers were "cowards", - I can only agree. To make the tragedy even worse, if that was possible, Friday was her daughter's 4th birthday. My thoughts are very much with her family at this time.

However, it immediately raised a number of issues, the 2 main ones: hanging for those who kill police men and women, and routinely arming all police.

Even after this calamitous tragedy, I am totally opposed to both those sentiments. For me, the proposal for executing police killers is no different to capital punishment in general. Killing is wrong, whether judicial or criminal, there is no evidence that capital punishment ever deters, - just look at America, and so it just becomes a tool of vengeance. This is not the way for a civilised society to behave. Society should be higher moral standards than those who kill during criminal activity.

Secondly, arming the police will only make things worse. If criminals know that if they were to be confronted by police wearing arms, then they will carry guns as well. The police themselves say that the main problem they are faced with is not guns but knives, which is why their body armour is geared towards stopping stabbing than stopping bullets. I do not want the UK to go down the same road as France and the USA where police routinely draw their weapons when making an arrest. I am proud that I live in a country where the vast majority of the police are unarmed, and generally operate in an atmosphere of consent. Maybe the percentage of armed officers needs to rise, but the routine arming of the police, - no thanks.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Am I Being Punished or Something.... ?

Having just survived an horrendous week with an abscess, I've now developed a zit on my nostril, just where I blow my nose. Clearly I have started my journey back to second childhood, and I've just reached second puberty!

I ask you, a zit at my age! I'm spending the weekend in bed.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Something So Small!

Today is the first day I've felt human enough to contemplate doing a blog. Nothing political, as I've not got the attention span, - I assume the same old morons are doing the same deceitful moronic things, - I'll get back to it over the weekend!

Anyway, I'm still off work, though I'm going in tomorrow. Monday I saw the dentist who prescribed anti-biotics to treat the abscess, which seems to have worked, but the left side of my face swelled up like something in a horror movie. It was very tender and hurt like hell, and of course, being a man, I suffered very much in silence. Even though the swelling has much reduced, it is still not right, but nevertheless, I'll struggle in to work and just ignore the excruciating pain! Christine is off work today, so it's no day-time TV and she keeps finding things to do! She has no idea!

At the dentist, I had a look at my old friend on the X-ray. It's amazing how small the offending abscess is in comparison to the amount of pain it can produce. If we could bottle the pain and convert it to energy, then we would be energy rich for life!

Anyway, normal service will be resumed, and I promise to visit all my friends in blogland soon and catch up. Many thanks for the kind comments on the previous post. I may be using the computer, but it belongs to Mastercard at the moment! For Cell13 and anyone else who is interested, it is a bundled package we got from our local superstore. It has a 1Gb memory; 180GB harddrive and an AMD chip which is reputed to be faster than the comparable Intel chip. It has a 17" Flat screen and comes with a colour printer. We're very pleased with it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

New Computer

At the moment, I am at home feeling very sorry for myself. My lifelong companion, an abscess in my upper jaw, has flared up this weekend and my face feels as if it has been kicked by a horse. The dentist had a look at it today, prodded it to ensure that it was hurting, and gave me some antibiotics. Hopefully should be back at work on Wednesday.

However, it has meant that I've been able to set up our new computer. It's really nice not having to wait for the steam to get up to pressure! Now, when I click on Open, the file opens! In the past, I would go off, make a cup of tea, cook the dinner and by the time I got back, the file would be open.

Anyway, this is my first post on our new machine. Hope you like it.

Finally Jay, isn't it time we saw your photos?

Here's a picture of me taken by my youngest daughter on our recent trip to London. Some really excellent Real Ale has gone into the creation of that stomach! Clearly I'm going to have to do something. I'm going to use it as a good excuse to get out of household chores, I think, and go cycling instead! (Mind you, I keep coming across really good country pubs that need my support to keep going, - its one step forward, one step back!).

Finally, nearly all the pictures we took in London are now on Flickr, - I've still got one film yet to be developed. I've put them into sets, so you can see Jayne's, Bethen's and my pictures separately.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Falling Bush

I wasn't planning to blog today, but I happened across this and felt it was just too funny for words. The game requires no skill, it is an absolute no-brainer, a real time waster. Enjoy!

Falling Bush.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Is Iraq No Longer Politically Correct?

Just a thought. It seems to have been some time since a major politician has gone over to Iraq to "rally the troops" or indulge in a photo-op from either Britain or the US. I wonder why? Is Iraq no longer a cool thing to associate oneself with?



Yesterday President (sorry, Prime Minister) Blair was defeated in the House of Commons on the government's proposal to hold terrorist suspects for up to 90 days. Instead, Members of Parliament voted for 28 days.

This defeat is significant in a number of ways, not least to his authority.

Firstly, I believe that holding anyone without charge is extremely serious and has major implications for all civil liberties. I understand that suspected terrorists are difficult to investigate, and that it can take time, but to lock someone up without charge for 3 months seems very excessive. I can live with 28 days internment, as long as there are proper legal safeguards in place. Suspects, by their very name, are innocent people, and remain so until convicted. Once charge, of course, then they can be held until trial if enough evidence exists to support that action. We tamper with civil liberties at our peril.

Secondly, Internment in Northern Island taught us that holding someone without charge for a long period of time, builds up resentment and martyrs; thereby escalating the problem. I thought we were supposed to learn from history, not ignore it.

Thirdly, Draconian action is exactly what the terrorists want. That way, they don't have to do anything to keep a population frightened. Moreover, the use of the terrorist threat by Western governments to control their populations is obscene.

Congratulations to all those who stood up for common sense yesterday in Parliament. Maybe we still have a democracy afterall. CNN has a good report about the vote.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My Father's Latest Joke!

I heard the following joke from my Father this weekend.

There once lived a family of balloons; Daddy Balloon; Mummy Balloon and Baby Balloon. They all lived very happily in a snug little honeysuckle and ivy covered cottage in the woods.

When Baby Balloon had just been an air bubble, he shared his parent's bed, but now he had blown up, and they could not all share the same bed, so Daddy Balloon bought Baby (or should I say, Toddler) Balloon his own bed.

At first, Toddler Balloon was very excited, and before going to bed, he arranged all his toys and balloon pumps around the bed to make him feel snug. All was well, and at bed-time Daddy Balloon took him up to his new bed to go to sleep. He told Toddler Balloon some of his favorite stories: the Zepplin Histories; the Discovery of Gas; Gone with a Bang (this one is a bit of a horror story) and Up, Up and Away. Daddy Balloon settled him down, and very soon he was asleep.

Some time during the night, Toddler Balloon woke up, and was a little frightened being in the bed and room by himself. He got up, relieved the pressure in his bladder and went into his parents bedroom. Toddler Balloon wanted to get back into his parents bed.

First he went round to Daddy Balloon's side of the bed, but he had taken up all the space, so he went round to Mummy Balloon's side, but there was no room there either. Toddler Balloon then had a great idea. He went round to Daddy Balloon and let a little air out of him, then he did the same with Mummy Balloon. Unfortunately, there was still not enough room, so he opened his own valve and let some air out. Now he could fit into the bed.

In the morning, Daddy Balloon was very cross. At breakfast he confronted Toddler Balloon. He said, "Look son, I am very disappointed with you. You've let me down, you've let your mother down, and worst of all, you've let yourself down."

I just want to point out that I have been subject to this type of humour for over fifty years, and I consider it cruel and unusual humiliation. (P.S. I know the photo has 4 balloons in it, - it's the only picture I could find! Photo courtesy of

Monday, November 07, 2005

Is Iraq Blair's Fault?

A new book written by Sir Christopher Meyer, former British Ambassador to the US has opened a door on the relationship between Tony Blair and the US Administration, - both Clinton's and Bush's. However, it is on the subject of Iraq that he makes the most controversial revelations.

He claims that the Prime Minister was so "seduced" by US power that he failed to exert the pressure that was available to him on Bush who was desperate to win allies. In fact, Sir Christopher goes on to suggest that Tony Blair offered such unconditional support to Bush, that he effectively negated the influence he may have been able to exert, particularly for post-war Iraq. "We may have been the junior partner in the enterprise but the ace up our sleeve was that America did not want to go it alone. Had Britain so insisted, Iraq after Saddam might have avoided the violence that may yet prove fatal to the entire enterprise."

All this goes to support the view that Tony Blair was effectively Bush's "poodle". Sir Christopher goes on to confirm that, although Blair was denying it here, he was in favour of regime change. However, he does go on to say that Blair chose his stance from the "highest of high moral ground; but the high moral ground, and the pure white flame of unconditional support to an ally in service of an idea, have their disadvantages. They place your destiny in the hands of the ally. They fly above the tangled history of Sunni, Shia and Kurd. They discourage descent into the dull detail of tough and necessary bargaining; meat and drink to Margaret Thatcher, but, so it seemed, uncongenial to Tony Blair."

Sir Christopher also describes a picture of a prime minister taking US Presidential politics as his personal template, and a Downing Street organisation that has taken all Government power into its own hands. The former ambassador says he discovered very early that, as had been the case with Margaret Thatcher, relations with the US would be controlled by Downing Street with the Foreign Office relegated to second fiddle.

"The Foreign Office never stood a chance. America belonged to Downing Street."

Sir Christopher's memoirs are also littered with anecdotes that throw some light into the smaller corners of the Prime Minister's lifestyle. For example, on Alastair Campbell, he says: "My eternal memory of him will always be his standing over Tony Blair, on some flight or other, gesticulating forcefully while the prime minister sat meekly in his seat like a schoolboy under instruction.

One of the great strengths of British politics has always been the checks and balances over the executive, but recent landslide election results have, in the main, rendered those controls mainly redundant. Those checks have, in the main, been brought about through the blood of the common man; the Civil War, Magna Carta, Tolpuddle Martyrs and the suffragette movement, yet that can so easily count for nothing, if the control and patronage of the Government is complete enough.

One fact of interest: Sir Christopher Meyer was, himself, in favour of the war in Iraq!

And finally; the sooner we get rid of all monachastic trappings the better. Sirs, Lords and Graces should all be done away with, and everyone becomes a Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms., - at least then we would have a legitimate Tony Blair presidency!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Bonfire Night and the Gunpowder Plot.

Tomorrow, November the fifth, is when we celebrate Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Day. As most people now only have a skimpy idea about the Gunpowder Plot, I thought it might be interesting to outline the main story behind it. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the plot.

The Plot

In 1605, Guy Fawkes (also known as Guido - yes, really) and a group of conspirators attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
After Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, English Catholics who had been persecuted under her rule had hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of their religion. James I had, after all, had a Catholic mother. Unfortunately, James did not turn out to be any more tolerant than Elizabeth and a number of young men, 13 to be exact, decided that drastic action was the only answer.
A small group took shape, under the leadership of Robert Catesby. Indeed, he felt the best thing to do was to blow up the Houses of Parliament. In doing so, they would kill the King, maybe even the Prince of Wales, and the Members of Parliament who were making life difficult for the Catholics. Today these conspirators would be known as extremists, or terrorists!
To carry out their plan, the conspirators got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder - and stored them in a cellar, just under the House of Lords.
But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th, but was the letter real?
The warning letter reached the King, and the King's forces made plans to stop the conspirators.
Guy Fawkes, who was in the cellar of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed it in the early hours of November 5th. He was caught, tortured and executed for treason.
However, it is unclear if the conspirators would ever have been able to pull off their plan to blow up the Parliament even if they had not been betrayed. Some have suggested that the gunpowder itself was so old as to be useless. Since Guy Fawkes and the other conspirators got caught before trying to ignite the powder, we'll never know for certain.
Even for the period which was notoriously unstable, the Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called "the State Opening of Parliament". Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition.
On the very night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. The event is commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.
Some of the English have been known to wonder whether they are celebrating Fawkes' execution or honoring his attempt to do away with the government!

Was Guy Fawkes Framed?

Was there really a Gunpowder Plot, or were the "conspirators" framed by the King?

There was no doubt an attempt to blow up Parliament on November 5th 1605. But Guy Fawkes and his associates may have been caught in a Jacobean sting operation which would have served the authorities by casting Catholics as an enemy to be pursued.
By the time Queen Elizabeth died, after ruling for about fifty years, most people only remembered living under her rule. When James I succeeded to the throne, many saw an opportunity for change. Those who felt particularly hard done by, both by Elizabeth I and James I, even felt that the situation was so bad as to require, in Fawkes' own words, "a desperate remedy": it was an opportunity to simply replace the current king.
These were unstable times indeed, with several smaller plots being discovered in the years preceding 1605. In fact, many of the Gunpowder plotters were known as traitors to the authorities. For this reason, it would have been difficult, if not unlikely, that they could gather 36 barrels of gunpowder and store them in a cellar under the house of Lords without the security forces getting suspicious.
Furthermore, the letter warning one of the members of government to stay away from Parliament is believed today to have been fabricated by the King's officials. Historians suggest that the King's officials already knew about the plot, that one of the plotters in fact revealed the key points of the plot to the authorities. The suspected turncoat? Francis Tresham.
The letter, then, would be a tool created by the King's officials to explain how, at the last minute, the king found out about the plot and stopped it just before it wreaked its havoc on Parliament and himself. At the same time, the letter was vague enough to give the officials all the latitude they wanted in falsifying confessions and to pursue their own anti-Catholic ends.
There are two fundamental problems with the letter:

Firstly, the letter was unsigned. Any and all of the conspirators, once apprehended, might have saved themselves from torture and perhaps even death if they could claim to have written it. None did. Not one of the conspirators who was caught appears to have known about the letter.

Secondly, the letter was very vague in its content. It said nothing about the details of the planned attack. Still, the king and his men knew exactly the where and when to catch the conspirators and stop the explosion just hours before it was to take place.

How did they know? Things don't change much in 400 years of politics.

Further details can be found on the BBC website

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Our Response to Disasters

A UN report has exposed the dire discrimination when it comes to aid and development in the developing world as compared to westerners caught up in natual disasters.

According to the UN, governments have pledged £125million to help 2.3 million people on the Democratic Republic of Congo, - or £50 per head. In contrats, the western world has offered £35 billion to the 500,000 Americans displaced by Hurricane Katrina, - the equivalent of £70,000 each.

Most UN members, lead by Britain and the US are still well short of their promises to spend 0.7% of Gross National Product on overseas development.

Other telling statistics included in the report are: £737 million donated to help 2 million people left homeless in last month's earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir, - £370 each; £3.5 billion in foreign aid to the 2.4 million victims of the tsunami, - £1,500 each.

This is truely disgusting. I am both ashamed and angry about the apparant discrimination in aid relief and development support. I'll leave the last word to Oxfam director Barbara Stocking, who said, "The way rich countries respond to emergencies is scandalous. Is a child's life in Africa really worth 1,400 times less than a child in the West?"

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

American Civil War; Part 2?

What on earth is Bush up to? After one of the worst weeks of his Presidency, any sensible person would be looking for ways to mend fences, not looking round to destroy others. Bush has now offered up his latest nomination for the Supreme Court, an Appeals Court Judge, Judge Samuel Alito, a man clearly on the right of the political agenda.

From where I sit, this is going to divide Americans far more than unify them. The majority of Americans would seem to want a more central, liberal administration, while Bush is intent on pandering to a white, protestant, probably racist, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-choice minority. How much longer are the silent majority going to remain silent. The longer they wait, the more difficult it will be to reverse the changes. From this side of the Atlantic, we don't get to hear of any action from the Democrats. The only one who ever seems to be quoted here is Senator Kennedy. Is there no-one who is prepared to put their head above the parapet for the sake of the soul of America?

Over here we, too, are suffering from a lack of an effective opposition. All kinds of draconian measures are being pushed through at the moment. Recently, I signed the pledge to not apply for an ID card when they come on line. Mind you, it does raise a strange surreal thought; if I don't have an ID card, - how will they know?, and if they arrest me, how will they know it is me if I don't have an ID card?, and if they do know it is me, then why the hell do I need an ID card?

Why don't we have Governments that govern for all the people and just for themselves and their friends.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

We're Back!

The girls and I got back from London yesterday evening. We are all pretty exhausted, and well we might be, considering the amount we have done. Many thanks to those who wished us well, we had a great time.

We traveled down on Tuesday, leaving Wigan in torrential rain, and arriving in a London bathed in lovely autumn sunshine. Got the bus to Stoke Newington where my sister lives, and where we were staying. Gerry, the person Carole shares the house with, was at home to greet us and was preparing a meal for use, - chicken curry with saffron rice. However, have arrived mid-afternoon, we just dumped the bags, and went up to Clissold Park at the top of the road. This is a fabulous city centre park, well maintained and a wonderful place for children.

After tea, we watched TV, and waited for Carole to get back home. Carole works in the film business and so she has to take the work when it is offered. Originally, she was going to be off this week, but a 3-day shoot for an advert came up which she really couldn't refuse. However, she wasn't working on Friday, and as the train back to Wigan wasn't until 4:45, the girls were able to spend the best part of the day with her.

Wednesday, we did the Eye, which was brilliant, after which we went on a river cruise up to Tower Bridge and back. We then walked to Trafalgar Square and then on up into the West End, eventually ending up on Oxford Street. Fortunately, there is a bus direct to Carole's from there as Jayne was pretty tired by then. The following day, we had a lazy morning, during which, Carole's son, Ryan, came round. Ryan plays bass in a Jazz/Funk band called Alta & The Funkadome. They've just release an album, which, even though I say so myself, is pretty good and Ryan is a superb bass player. Well worth a listen. He also teaches music, and patiently sat and listened to Jayne practice her flute. After lunch, we went off to the Science and Natural History Museums which were, surprisingly, a great success, - especially the Science Museum. They could very easily have spent a further hour in each without complaint.

After the museums, we headed back to Covent Garden to have a meal and prepare to go to Carole's treat, - the stage production of The Lion King. This was the icing on the cake. An absolutely fabulous show and well worth seeing. Jayne was entranced, and Bethen got well into it, - sing along and cheering and booing. It's fair to say, they enjoyed themselves.

All in all, it was a great trip and pictures will be posted onto Flickr once I've got them developed. I'm now looking for a quiet weekend before back to work next week.

Finally, Dave is out of hospital and doing really well. No plans to see him this weekend, but we'll have a good chat on the phone. Will see him next week when we go across to see Dad and celebrate his 86th birthday.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dave Latest

Saw Dave again yesterday, and he was looking really good. It now turns out that he hasn't had a heart attack, which is probably why he wasn't responding to treatment when he first came in. He suffering from an, as yet, unknown virus that attacked the nervous system and knocked him all to pieces, but he is now on the way to recovery. He's just about gained control of his hands, though he is still unable to walk. His feet are very tender and can't, at the moment, support his weight, but it's only going to be a matter of time.

I did have a go at him for causing so much distress and disruption to my routine, and could he be a bit more sensitive to others next time, but I'll still send him a Christmas card this year!

It was good to see him and talk to him and discuss plans for the future, - something I was a little wary of last week in even thinking of doing. One plan we have briefly discussed is next summer doing Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk. We haven't done anything like that together for a long time, and this fright has told me that we shouldn't put it off.

Next week, me and the girls are off to London to see the sights and stay with my sister. I'm really looking forward to it, and the girls are very excited. Unfortunately, Christine is working and can't come with us, but I think she'll enjoy the piece and quiet. Probably won't blog much now before next weekend, but as Arnie says; - I'll be back!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Dave Update

Just spoken to a friend who told me that Dave is a lot better. The doctors now think that the attacks were caused by a virus that he picked up on one of his jaunts abroad. Teach him to go trekking over the Himalaya without me.

Anyway, he's now conscious and lucid to the point that he told my friend that if I try to tell him any jokes on Saturday, he's going to pretend to be asleep. I ask you, what type of friend is that!

This is great news, and I can't wait to see him.

Katrina Survival

Priorities, originally uploaded by OfficeGeek.

Just come across this picture posted on Flickr of a couple of survivers to Hurricane Katrina. These are my kind of people!

Do click the picture to see the survival list these people had!

I'm on holiday!

Last day at work for just over a week. I'm on holiday tomorrow, all next week and the following monday. Blogging could be a little erratic.

My plans? Tomorrow is going to be a lazy day, - probably watching daytime TV or sleeping or both. Saturday, grab the kids and shoot across to the Wirral to see Dave (Christine is working this weekend) and then next tuesday, me and the girls are off down to London (again, Chrisitine is working, butI guess she's looking forward to the piece and quiet!) to stay with my sister and "do" London.

The girls, particularly Jayne, is really looking forward to this trip, and have been for sometime. I must admit, I'm looking forward to it too, - it should be good fun.

The following weekend is Dad's birthday, and my elder brother Iain will be up. Not sure whether thats a good thing or not, but generally we can survive a couple of days in the same building without doing serious harm to each other!

Dave is still with us. I've not had much of an update, so I'm working on the basis that no news is good news. It's now been a week and I'm really looking forward to seeing him this weekend. He'd better not do anything silly while I'm in London or he'll be in trouble!

To all my friends in blogland, thanks for the support, look after yourselves and I will be looking in from time to time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 8 out of 10 correct!
Question: Do I want to?
My thanks to Cherokee Sage Woman for leading me to this site.

Bush and Blair's recovery starts here

Saddam Hussein's pre-decided 'trial' began to day. Any chance that he will be found innocent or not receive the death penalty are just about zero. The coalition, and the US in particular will have ensured that arrangements will be in place to have him killed. This is a show trial in every sense of the word, and it is being choreographed from the White House. I've no doubt that he should be facing charges and trial, but not while there is a powerful occupying force, able and willing to exert its will. There is no way that Bush can suffer that man to live (even though that would be the Christian and morally superior thing to do), his popularity standings require that Hussein must die, and die very soon. As usual, he will be supported by his tame poodle, Tony Blair.

It just seems to me that any opportunity to stir thing up a bit more is the hub of Bush and Blair's Foreign Policy. Do they not see that by leading by example will convert more hearts than promoting vengeance. Saddam Hussein sickens me, I've got no doubt about that, but the antics of mine and America's Government depress and concern me even more. They clearly want to climb down into the same gutter the terrorists presently occupy. Well, not in my name!

One other thing I saw was that Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, has said that the British will stay until Iraq has a stable democracy. He also said, in another speech, that Iraq could take 10 years to get a stable democracy. Well, there's a joined up policy! I suppose that'll be when Iraq's oil will start to run out, in which case democracy in Iraq will be irrelevent!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sacked for being too friendly!

Just come across a lovely story about a police dog called Buster who has been sacked from South Yorkshire police after being too friendly and laidback towards criminal suspects. The German shepherd fell asleep on a manhunt, let drunken yobs stroke him, and cocked his leg during the arrest of a burglar found by his handler after Buster had failed to spot his hiding place.

I hope the police force went through proper channels, and exhausted the disciplinary procedures before taking such drastic action, otherwise they could be faced with an unfair dismissal charge.

The force did described Buster as lovely and loyal, but not cut out for police work. His new owners, Norton and Jane Arnould, of Sheffield, said his training had made him the perfect pet. He never barks. Mind you, he does sound like my sort of dog.

Dave update: at the time of writing, Dave continues to make progress and has now been moved from Intensive Care to an ordinary high support ward. He's yet to come round, and his blood pressure is all over the place, but hope springs eternal, and that he is still on the path to recovery.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Not out of the Blue Grass Yet"

Many thanks to those who left comments of support for both me and Dave. They are very much appreciated, and mean a lot.

Yesterday, after work, I went across to the Wirral to see Dave. I met up with another old friend, Hilary, and we both went to the hospital together. When we arrived, Angela, Dave's wife, was in the hospital cafe. She told us that we probably would not be able to see Dave as the doctors wanted to take him off the ventilator and had therefore removed all sedation. This meant that Dave was extremely restless and they needed him to calm down naturally and that visits could stop this.

This gave me an opportunity to give some support to Angela, and attempt to re-assure her that things will be OK. She told us of the night when she was woken by strange noises, and was immediately aware that something was seriously wrong. She called the ambulence which arrived within 4 minutes, and the paramedics got him onto oxygen in a short space of time. A 10 minute run to the hospital and he was into the emergancy department. Apparantly, the staff struggled for over an hour to stabilise him enough to attempt to get him to Intensive Care, but at all times, a nurse kept Angela and Heather informed of progress. At one point, they asked Angela to go into the room as they felt they were losing Dave, and 7 times, when they attempted to move him to Intensive Care, he arrested. That night, he was given hours to live.

However, he got through, - heavily sedated and on a ventilator, but he got through! Dave is a pretty fit guy. He does long-distance treks over the Himylaya and Andies for charity, and he is a stubborn bugger (a bit like me!). I believe it is that fitness and stubborness that has got him through this far.

Saturday night, I got to see him for about 10 minutes, but the doctors didn't want him to be disturbed, and so I kept quiet. I couldn't even touch him. However, he was breathing on his own, his body was maintaining his blood-pressure and he was being given oxygen and steam to help with the breathing.

Today, I was able spend a lot more time with him. I held his hand and spoke to him. Told him a couple of jokes, - we both have a pretty bizzare sense of humour! and told him that everything was going to be OK. At times, he tried to open his eyes, and occasionally would role a bit in the bed and growl, but on a couple of occasions, he did squeeze my hand. He may be 'out' of it, - but not totally. The doctors reckon it could be another 3 to 4 days before he comes round, but each day that goes by, the chances of recovery improve. At present, things are looking positive, and everyone around him is keeping a positive attitude. Angela is getting incredible support which will enable her to help Dave properly.

For me, it is very distressing to see my mate lying so helpless, and knowing that all I have to offer is me, somehow doesn't seem enough. I will be going across again next weekend, and hopefully I can spend a bit more time with him and tell him all the things he needs to know; not least, how much I love the guy and what he means to me.

He may not be out of the woods, but he seems to have found a path that may lead him out; or as my youngest daughter, Jayne, said; "He's not out of the blue grass, but he's looking for the path". Couldn't put it any better myself.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

David Tolcher

Yesterday a friend phoned to say that David had suffered a major heart-attack and is in Arrowe Park Hospital in intensive care. Apparantly, the prognosis is 50-50.

David is a husband to Angela, a father to Becky and Heather, a life-long Tranmere Rovers fan, an amateur thespian, a legal-adviser to a teacher's union, my Best Man at my wedding and my best friend of 35 years.

I'm feeling crushed, all the more so as I can't get to see him until Sunday. While trying to maintain a normal persona at work, I am scared, angry and totally frustrated with my feeling of helplessness. My thoughts are with everyone, and I pray they will be OK.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Autumn Term Starts

After a short 3 month break with an all expenses paid holiday (sorry, conference) in a lively English seaside resort, our glorious Members of Parliament return to the fray. Labour MP's with a new raft of policies to rubber stamp, Conservative MP's to select their next losing leader and the Liberal Democrat MP's attempting to get reason and logic heard above the noise.

Today was Prime Minister's Questions. An opportunity for MP's to question Tony Blair on any issue of the day. Michael Howard, the out-going leader of the Conservatives spent most of his time asking Tony Blair about when he will be standing down. Clearly this was more important to our right wing Torys than Labour's draconian anti-terrorist proposals, or Iraq and the increasing influence of Iran in the insurgency, or the earthquake in Pakistan, or the blocking of a UN envoy from speaking about Dafur by John Bolton the 'acting' US Ambassador to the UN. No, when was Tony Blair going to stand down was his major concern.

The Conservatives are supposed to be the main loyal opposition. The problem is that they have no idea how to oppose, only carp and whinge and Tony Blair can play that sort of thing all day with a straight bat.

It took an intelligent question from Charles Kennedy, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, to get the Prime Minister back to a real issue, - anti-terrorist legislation. He asked about the 90 day detention proposal, and in particular what the Attorney General had to say about it. Tony Blair repeated that the Police had put forward a 'compelling' case for it, but was now prepared to '...have a debate about the strength of these proposals'. This strikes me as a softening of resolve from just yesterday. Mr Kennedy said that other offences in the new bill, such as "acts preparatory to terrorism", meant the 90-day detention limit was not needed.

I think that we are about to sleep walk into a major shake up of our hard won civil liberties, and out MP's need to wake up and question everything presently being proposed. Liberal Democrats were right about the war in Iraq, they have a viable solution to withdrawal from Iraq and they have been talking quite a lot of sense about the terrorist threat. It is about time we started to listen. The Liberal Democrats are the only major party in Parliament who are offering intelligent opposition to this increasingly authoritarian and dictatorial Government.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Police State is born.

Slowly, but determinedly, our protector of liberties, the Prime Minister Tony Blair, is moving us ever nearer a police state. Today, Tony Blair has warned it would be "irresponsible" to ignore police calls to let them hold terrorist suspects for up to 90 days without charge. At his monthly news conference, he denied criticism from civil liberties groups that he was "authoritarian". But the Tories criticised Mr Blair's "aggressive" approach and the Lib Dems also still oppose the detention plans. Currently, suspects can be held for up to 14 days without charge.

Personally, I feel it would be "irresponsible" to hold people for up to 90 days. We went through all this back on the '70's with 'Internment' in Northern Ireland. It didn't work then, and it won't work now. All that will happen is that we will create even more martyrs for the terrorists to exploit.

Mr Blair said the police had provided good evidence for extending the time limit - such as the complex nature of terror cases, which involved gathering large amounts of evidence. He continued: "If they are right, then how can I responsibly refuse to something that will actually protect - as I say - the most basic civil liberty which is the right to life?"

He also decided to get a 'first strike' on the new Chief Justice in England and Wales, Lord Phillips, warned politicians not to interfere with the judiciary or browbeat judges. Mr Blair said he was not "browbeating" judges but he was in the "decision making seat." "All I'm saying to the judiciary is be aware there's a proper role for the judiciary and a proper role for Parliament," he said.

All sounds a bit threatening to me, along the lines of "...Ok, your independent, but you do what I say!"

The Conservatives, of course, who are the natural party of control, couldn't or wouldn't argue with the sentiment, but attempted to exploit the apparant differences between Home Secretary Clarke and Blair. David Davis suggested the government was not speaking be with "one voice". "The prime minister's aggressive stance seems rather at odds with the constructive approach of the opposition parties to achieve both the security and the liberty of the British public," he said. Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said Mr Blair had still failed to make the case for extending the detention time limit. "It would be far better to charge suspected terrorists with a lesser offence and hold them on remand while investigations are ongoing," said Mr Kennedy. For once, I'm not sure whether Charles Kennedy's responce is the right one, however, the one thing it does bring into play is Habeas Corpus, which ensures that civil rights are protected.

The draft Terrorism Bill will also outlaw indirect support or glorification of terrorism. Mr Clarke said there had been a "fantastic transformation" in the world towards democracy in recent decades, including the former Soviet Union, South Africa and Latin America. He said: "My argument is that we are moving to, and have moved to, a different political era." Labour MP Dave Winnick asked whether anyone who supported Nelson Mandela's African National Congress would have been prosecuted had the proposals been in force during the apartheid era. Mr Clarke would only reply "...that people would not have been guilty merely by not condemning the ANC."

There's a prize for anyone who can translate Mr Clarke's last sentence into something like coherent English.

I just can't help feeling that we are doing the terrorist's bidding with all this destruction of civil liberties. I personally would prefer to live with an increased threat to my life, than live in a cage. Blair is learning his lessons well from Master Bush!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Shoot first, ask questions later.

I've just read that a new law enacted by yet another of the Bush clan (are they breeding like rabbits over there?) that allows a defense in law for people in Florida to shoot first if they feel threatened. A ready made defense for any hoodlum: "I'm sorry Judge, but I thought the old lady was going to attack me with her walking stick, so I shot her!" I understand that this is probably going to be rolled out across the country.

I'm sure that there will be some restrictions, but it is the psychological aspect of this that worries me. I just feel that this is going to make the problems of guns and the suffering they cause, even worse. People will feel safer carrying the weapons, and quicker to resort to their use. Instead of relaxing laws on guns, they should be tightening up and trying to take guns out of the equation. What is this love affair the Americans have with guns? Anyway, has more information on this major social advance.

Friday, October 07, 2005

God's Choices for Action

The BBC is about to release a series of programs looking into the background and talks over the Middle-East peace process, and some quite startling revelations have come to light. The primary one; and most disturbing, is that God told Bush to invade Iraq!

The comments were attributed to Mr Bush by the Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath in the upcoming TV series Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs. Mr Shaath said that in a 2003 meeting with Mr Bush, the US president said he was "driven with a mission from God".

"President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did, and then God would tell me, George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq... And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East. And by God I'm gonna do it.'" Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who attended the meeting in June 2003 too, also appears on the documentary series to recount how Mr Bush told him: "I have a moral and religious obligation. So I will get you a Palestinian state."

What concerns me about this, are the actions that God has not told Bush to take. For example, God didn't tell Bush to do anything for 2 days after Katrina hit; God has not told him to take positive action in Dafur, or Niger or Malawi where people are suffering and starving to death. God has not told him to look after His planet; God has not instructed him to take action against the Aids Pan-demic in Africa. God just wants him to take actions that maximise death and suffering! Not the sort of God that I envisaged or appears to have been described in the Bible.

Jesus hated war, he hated executions, he hated injustice and charged us all to do better, if you get slapped on one side of the face, offer the other, but don't retaliate. What was he talking about; - clearly he was off message with his Dad! Bush has the direct line to God, and all the time I thought it was the Pope.

On the face of it, this would be funny, except I find it difficult to laugh. It frightens me to a large extent that we have someone in one of the most powerful positions in the world, talking in the way he does about God, religion and policy. What is it with Republican Presidents that they eventually turn wacko; Reagan getting policy direction from his wife's astrologer; Bush Senior getting direction from goodness knows where, and now Bush. I'm afraid that if someone in this country said they were getting messages from God, they would probably be referred to the Psychiatric services for assessment.

Of course, the White House have denied he ever said it, - but when was that last time you believed anything that came out of the White House.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Small Light Flickers On

Amnesty International and Reprieve have asked the UK Government to intervene in the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay. Presently, at least six UK residents are among 250 detainees at the base who are refusing food. The human rights groups state that some detainees are being restrained and force-fed. They want ministers to seek a US pledge to allow independent observers access to the detainees, who are being held without trial or being charged. The call came as US senators voted overwhelmingly to outlaw cruel or degrading treatment of detainees held in US custody abroad. Unfortunately, it is my belief that our Government will sit on its hands and do nothing to upset the Administration.

However, it is the vote in the Senate by 90 votes to 9 to outlaw cruel or degrading treatment of detainees held in US custody abroad that is the small light. Of course, President Bush opposes it, and says he will veto it when it come to him for ratification. Presumably cruel or degrading treatment of detainees is a Christian value that he needs to uphold, but with so much support for this amendment to the Pentagon Funding Bill, he is going to find it hard to defeat these servants of the Devil who are trying to thwart God's plan to humiliate the vulnerable!

apparently the amendment was proposed by Republican Senator John McCain, so maybe that Bush's excesses are too much even for regular Republicans. Or possibly, and here my knowledge of American politicians deserts me, Republicans are now positioning themselves for the next Presidential race in a couple of years time and are trying to put some clear water between themselves and the Bush Administration; but for me, the time has come for the greatest nation in the World to end and put this shameful episode behind them. This behaviour reflects on us all.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

It's the little things

Former TV presenter and ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson's daughter, Anna Carey, suffered a rare form of cancer and died about 6 years ago. During the last few years of her life, she would treat herself to days out; going shopping in a stretch limo, a Robbie Williams concert, football matches and day trips to France. She found that for days before and after, the adrenalin and 'feel-good factor' of her red letter days, helped alleviate her pain. Moreover, it had a positive effect on her family and those around her.

Bob Wilson was so impressed with the effect these special days had on Anna's morale, that when she died, he and his wife Megs set up a charity to provide them for others. Over the last six years they have provided 1,000 special days for seriously ill young adults aged between 16-40, mainly in the Hertfordshire region. These range from horse whispering and sky diving, to pampering and sports events, one woman even wanted to learn how to drive an articulated lorry. Now the Willow Foundation, named after Anna's nickname, is to go national. Each trip is especially tailored to recipient's needs and dreams and funded completely through the charity.

Bob said that they had been fortunate enough to be able to help Anna live out some of her dreams - and that it was important to try and do the same for others. Cancer specialist Professor Robert Souhami, a member of the Willow Foundation's independent Advisory Board, helped care for Anna said, "Most people need times when they can simply enjoy themselves and do something that they have always wanted to do but somehow have not managed. For someone who is seriously unwell the sheer effort of organisation, and the cost, is often enough to make longed-for occasions unrealisable."

This is another story that doesn't make the headlines, but, for me, is so important that it is heard. Bob Wilson has quietly and patiently built up this charity that can provide so much for relatively so little that it has to be admired. Every year, he runs the London Marathon to help raise funds for the charity. He and his wife, Megs, are truly to be commended, - and he wasn't a bad goal-keeper, either.

Truely, it is the little things that can make a huge difference.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Iraq's Constitution

Clearly the interim government in Iraq is learning from its American masters. Because of the possible rejection of the draft constitution by the Sunni Arabs, the Iraq Government have changed the rules. This despite strong criticism from the UN. This report from the BBC.

If you don't like the result, then change the rules so you get the result you do like!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Beauty at the Beach

Conservative chairman Francis Maude has opened the party's annual conference in Blackpool with a stark warning they have "no God-given right to survive". Well, thank goodness for that!

Britain's second Tory party after New Labour have started their annual conference at the seaside resort of Blackpool - home of candy-floss, chips, donkeys, chips, kiss-me-quick hats, chips, trams, chips and the Pleasure Beach, and the possible site for Britain's first mega-casino, if the mob get the bribes right.

The Conservative conference has always been the most staged-managed of affairs - there will be no dissent and no 80 year-olds thrown out of this Conference (most of the membership is over 60 years old!). However, the 'debates' are less likely to be heard this year than most other years as we are having a beauty pageant - sorry, I mean a leadership campaign and hustings. The details of all the candidates can be found here - 7 Conservatives looking to lead their party to failure at the next election, and a rum lot they are too.

The problem for the Conservatives is their identification with the Neo-Con agenda in America. Anti-abortion, Anti-Gay Marriage, Lower Taxes and Flat Taxes which have always proved to benefit the better off, 'Family Values' and just about any other anti-liberal issue they can get hold of. My personal feeling is that, hopefully, they have had their day and that people won't be conned into buying their destructive, negative and divisive agenda again. It was Margaret Thatcher who said that "there was no such thing as society". Just individuals, living isolated lives, easy pickings for the big corporations and concerns. It's taken a good 10 years to repair the Thatcher legacy, and we've still away to go, and I'm not sure we're going to get much further with our present Tory Prime Minister and Bestest Friend to Dubya; Tony Blair.

I suppose the good thing is that the leading runner is very Right-Wing, and after the experiences with that beacon of democracy at the moment - America, it's doubtful if the party would be elected if he was leading it. Ken Clarke, on the other hand, could just do it. In some areas of policy, he is actually to the 'Left' of Tony Blair. But the thrust of all debate now must be to stop the Tory Party from ever taking power again, and a true left of centre party like the Liberal Party needs to be encouraged.