Friday, December 14, 2007

New Year, New Job

The last month has been one of the most difficult times I've had for a long time. The company I work for went into Administration which immediately sent alarm bells ringing about my long-term future. Administration then became Receivership which confirmed the company was in a winding-down process and that eventually, I would lose my job.

On top of that, I lost my Father-in-Law who died suddenly and with no prior warning, from a heart attack which has been devastating for my wife, and extremely sad for me to lose someone I greatly respected.

All in all, it was not a great prospect for a good Christmas.

However, I have now been offered a job in a new firm, and, from what I was able to gather from the interview, would be perfect for me. A company not too large so as not to know everybody, but not too small that would be in immediate difficulty if the economic winds of change should blow.

I start on the 3rd January 2008. A far better Christmas present than I was expecting.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Soldier's Lot

Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday which, for once, actually fell on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and while I was standing at Aspull War Memorial my mind began to wander and I started to think about the role of the soldier in a modern western democracy.

What is the purpose of the military?

First and foremost, defense of the Realm; to repel invasion and ensure that the UK's citizen's are free to follow their dreams.

The second, to buy the time for politicians to get their acts together, find reason and settle their differences diplomatically and responsibly. The military pay for that luxury of time with their lives, and at present it feels it is being squandered and treated with disdain.

The reality is that any conflict is ended once people of good intent sit down and start talking to each other. They may hate everything their opposite may stand for, but by talking, at least there is the possibility of understanding, and from understanding comes peace.

All it requires are the people of good faith to start this process, and until they are found, young men and women will continue to die and be maimed and hold the line, buying in the only way they know, the time for the rest of us to get it together.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Rememberance Sunday

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon (1914)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Administration - The Latest

A meeting on Friday provided some basis for optimism when the Administrators gave an update on the situation.

There is one company they are in negotiation with who wants to purchase the company as a going concern. Obviously, they couldn't give details, but I suspect it will be the same wazzocks that got us into this mess in the first place.

Obviously, everyone at work is very tense and concerned, and a lot of 'gallows' humor is doing the rounds. As a manager, I'm finding it totally exhausting, trying to remain positive and to keep my team's spirits up.

Working in customer services, also means I have our customers to deal with and explain to them that refunds can't be processed at the moment. The last week has been exceptionally hard work, particularly emotionally, and I never want to be in a similar position again.

According to the Administrators, we should know the final position within a couple of weeks. I hope so, because I'm not sure how much of this I can take!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Came back from holiday last week to be informed that the company I work for had gone into Voluntary Administration. This means that the day to day activity of the company is in the hands of administrators, and that the company is being prepared for sale.

The future is looking very uncertain at the moment, and not a little depressing. Obviously, I've now started looking for a new job, just in case, but the administrators are hoping to sell it as a going concern.

Not much to cheer about, however, I should know more about where the company stands by Friday.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Red Sox, Game 2 - Win

The Sox won their second match in the World Series to go 2 games to 0 up with three to go. Now the location moves to Denver and Colorado's home ground.

Fingers crossed that the Sox hold their nerve and win the one remaining match to secure overall victory.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Red Sox, Game 1 - Win

First game of the season and Sox thrash what appears to be a woefully unprepared. Josh Beckett ripped the heart out of the Colorado offense while Dustin Pedroia kicked it off for the Sox with a homer in the first innings.

See, I sound like a life-long fan now! Anyway, good luck to the Soxs for tonight.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Sox Go Marching On

My first season supporting the Boston Red Sox is turning out to be a bit of a success and is providing some lift to a bit of a deflated supporter of English sport.

After England rugby and Lewis Hamilton came second in their respective competitions, it was a moment of cheer when I read that the Sox have made it through to meet Colorado in the World Series.

Well done and good luck.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Game Too Far - England Lose

After yet another bruising encounter, England's men of Oak just couldn't do it one more time and beat South Africa to retain the Webb Ellis Trophy - the World Cup.

Mind you, they really gave it a go and Did not allow South Africa to get out of sight. The final score of 15 - 6 accurately, in my opinion, the difference between the two teams.When it really mattered, England were just lacking in some key areas, and South Africa made us pay for a couple of early mistakes.

But what disappointment. The disallowed try, the drop-goals that didn't go over - so many if only's, but one thing is certain, those men can hold their heads up high with pride, both at what they have achieved during the World Cup, but more importantly, with the manner of the way they turned their campaign around. After the defeat to South Africa in the group matches, when South Africa scored 36 unanswered points against them, The England team dug deep and came out fighting. Whatever their obvious deficiencies (lack of ability to score trys) they more than made up for it in heart and determination.

Never pretty, it was so ugly it was beautiful!

Well done South Africa, you played well and deserved to win. England, I am proud of you.

Finally, the Boston Red Sox have pulled it around and thrashed Cleveland in the penultimate game of the play-offs. One game to go and it's even stevens. Why can't I support a team that is predictable?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Game 5 - Win

Last night the Boston Red Sox came back strongly against the Cleveland Indians to win 7 to 1.

This brings the series score to 3 - 2 in Cleveland's favour with 2 matches left to play.

Nail-biting stuff all this sport!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

D-Day Minus 2

Two days to go before England's World Cup final against South Africa, and Brian Ashton has only made one change to the side that crushed France's dreams last Saturday.

Mark Cueto has been drafted in to take the place of Josh Lewsey who pulled a hamstring in last week's match.

Mark, who has been an England 'nearly' man, now has the chance to shine and show his true worth.

I have to admit that the tension is now getting to me. England have gone from zero's to hero's in less than 5 weeks, and have a chance to make history by being the first team to successfully defend the World Cup - wouldn't that just make the Aussies sick!

This weekend is going to be a sporting weekend supreme, and by the end of it, England rugby could be World Champions, and Englishman Lewis Hamilton could well be the Formulae 1 World Champion. Not to forget that the England Cricket team are actually performing quite well out in Sri Lanka, the only team to be letting the side down is the football team - nothing new there!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Game 4 - Lost

This is not looking good.

The Sox went down again, to Cleveland which means they now have to win their remaining games.

Haven't lost hope yet, but from my limited knowledge, it does look tough.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Game 3 - Lost

Oh dear,

Looks like they are going to put us through the wringer! Boston lost again, last night leaving them down 2 games to 1. Now's the time to get their heads together and get out there and make it happen.

I do not want my first year of supporting the Red Sox to end in failure and defeat! I wonder what colour socks the Yankees wear?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Game 2 - Lost

The Red Sox had a stumble on their way to glory when they went down to Cleveland on Saturday, 13 - 6.

However, the record speaks for itself, the Sox have won 9 out of the last 12 matches against Cleveland so the omens are positive.

With England doing the unexpected in Paris, who knows what the mighty Sox will do. We have to remain positive to the bitter end.

Thanks Jen for the explanations, and I didn't realise there were rule differences between to 2 divisions. Mind you, the deeper I get into this the more confusing it gets (a bit like the offside rule in Rugby!).

Anyway, good luck for tonight and hopefully the result will go the right way.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

We're In The Final!

Not bad for a bunch of losers!

England rugby team, 80/1 outsiders just 6 weeks ago, have an opportunity to defend the trophy in the final of the Rugby World Cup. After a tense, and at time, pretty ugly match, they prevailed against the hosts and, after last week's win against New Zealand, favourites - France.

From the moment England were the grateful recipients of a big slice of luck, and hesitancy in the French defense to score a try in 80 seconds, to the Johnny Wilkinson (who else) drop goal in the dying moments that finally broke French hearts, England battled and defended to the point of insanity.

England's defensive line is totally unrecognisable to the team that went down by over 30 points to South Africa just 4 short weeks ago. What England lacked in endeavour and opportunity, it made up with heart, soul, guts and sheer bloody mindness.

The players left the Parc de France as heroes and now have the opportunity to be the first team to successfully defend the World Cup trophy in the history of the competition.

Roll on next Saturday - can't wait.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Game 1 - Won

It is in this blog I finally demonstrate my appalling lack of knowlede of the American version of Rounders - Major League Baseball, but in consideration of my blog friend Jen, I have been following, and in more recent days starting to properly support, the Boston Red Sox in their bid for World Series glory.

Last night they played their first game in the ALCS (whatever that is) Championship against the Cleveland Indians and won 10 - 3, which seems pretty comprehensive to me.

My understanding is that if they win 3 out of 5 games, then they will be in the World Series against the winners of the NLCS (whatever that is). The World Series is a best of 9 matches to win the overall championship.

Apparently, the New York Yankees sank without trace this year, which, according to my friend Jen is a GOOD THING - and who am I to disagree?

Just one question - why is it called the "World Series" when only teams from the Major Baseball League can take part? Seems a bit dismissive of the rest of the world.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

We Were Supposed To Lose

Australia 10 - 12 England

What the hell happened? Where was the runaway Australia victory? Where was the revenge for what happened four years ago when a Johnny Wilkinson drop-goal destroyed the hopes, dreams and self-image of a nation?

England had been given no chance in this quarter-final match. If one believed the newspaper reports, all Australia had to do was to turn up and victory was assured. No-one gave England a chance, including this writer - except the 30 players from whom the team would be picked.

They were magnificent, bold, courageous and determined. Defense was resolute, and with the kicking of a resurgent Johnny Wilkinson, slowly, but surely, we kept pace with the Australian score, before taking the lead with about 30 minutes (or a life-time) to go!

Here is the Observer's report, the Sunday Times report, The Sunday Independent report - I could go on, but reading those, you get the drift. It was magnificent, and I still can't quite believe it.

But that wasn't the end to the surprises, France beat the mighty, and firm favourites, New Zealand by 20 points to 18 which will mean an England/France semi-final next weekend. It should be a great one and I can't wait.

Friday, October 05, 2007

God Bless American Business

With all the troubles going on in the world, it is good to know that the Recording Industry Association of America was able to get its pound of flesh from a Minnesota woman who shared 24 songs she had down loaded. Personally, I felt that the $222,000 (yes TWO-HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS) was a bit lenient, baring in mind the difficulties the recording industry is facing!

The recording industry on Thursday won the largest judgment so far against consumers who illegally download music over the Internet when a federal jury ordered a 30-year-old Minnesota woman to pay $222,000 for copyright infringement.

The victory could embolden (a nice George Bush expression) the industry in its four-year legal campaign against piracy at a time when illegal sharing of music online is exploding and dramatically reducing music sales.

The decision by the jury in a federal district court in Duluth, Minn., against Jammie Thomas, an Indian reservation employee, is the first case of its type to come to trial. The verdict could convince others accused of pirating music to settle their cases.

Goodness knows how this poor women is going to pay it, but I suppose she now knows what path the rest of her life is going to take.

Of course, it does raise a question on how did the RIAA know she had downloaded and shared the files. Surely they weren't spying illegally on her aka the White House?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Troops Come Home (Well Some Of Them)

One has to be cynical about the timing, but the decision is welcome enough. In an attempt to clearly take the spotlight away from the Conservative Party Conference, Prime Minister Gordon Brown flew to Iraq to 'meet the troops'.

He confirmed that the troop level will be reduced by 1,000 by the end of the year and the Basra province be handed over to full Iraqi control within 2 months. This will reduce our troops in the area to 4,500.

Of course, the Conservatives branded the announcement as 'cynical', which of course it is, but I would prefer to have seen a complete timetable for total withdraw, and not just a 'token' in an attempt to spoil the Tory conference.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Another Chance For Burma

During 1943 to 1945, my father had the honour to serve alongside the Burmese Rifles as they strove to remove the Japanese from Burma. In difficult terrain and conditions, these brave men and women, along with the 13th Liverpool Regiment, fought long and hard to remove a murderous and oppressive regime.

Eventually, the Japanese were defeated in the South-East Asia theatre of World War Two, and in 1948, Burma won its independence from the UK and had the opportunity to forge its own destiny. The Burmese Republic, called the ‘Union of Burma’ was born and its progress into the 20th Century was rapid and significant. In 1961, its UN representative, U Thant was elected as the United Nations Secretary General

This fledgling democracy was strangled in 1962 when the oppressive military junta of General Ne Win took control through a bloody coup d’etat. Since then, under a procession of cruel and oppressive military leaders, Burma or as it now wants to be known, Myanmar, the population has been held in check.

Throughout that time, pockets of opposition have grown up, only to be brutally wiped out when it became too much for the leadership. In 1990, elections were held and, of the 489 seats available, the democratic opposition won 392. This election, of course, was ruled null and void by the ruling junta. At that point, the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest – though that did not stop her from being awarded the Sakharov Peace Prize in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Released from house arrest in 1995, she was told that if she left the country, she would not be allowed back in. Her British husband was in the UK with their children and was dieing of cancer. She never got to see her husband, and has not seen her children from 1990.

The junta is widely believed to be at the centre of human trafficking, enforced labour and slavery, and commonly uses to torture and execution to maintain control. That situation remains.

The recent demonstrations by monks and the population are yet another effort by those who see a democratic future for the country to persuade their ‘Government’ to abdicate and allow genuine free elections. It is a window of opportunity for the rest of the world. Already, George Bush has announced sanctions to be imposed against Burma. Anyone who has read my posts knows I’m no admirer of Bush, but in this act, as far as it goes, has to be applauded. This time, there is no reason for the rest of the free world not to follow suit. As I write this, reports are coming in of 3 monks shot to death by the military. There is no time to waste. We must act now.

My father always said that the Burmese people were some of the gentlest, yet bravest and compassionate people he had ever met and it tears him apart to this day. From his descriptions, it is definitely a country I would want to visit, but not until a true democracy exists.

Aung San Suu Kyi once said: ‘It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.’

Friday, September 21, 2007

American Jackass

How typical, I thought, as I read Rudy Giuliani's disparaging comments about 'socialised medicine', in other words, our universal and free National Health service. It is all fine and good for an ex-mayor of New York and 'White House hopeful' on a cynical photo opportunity to bolster his flagging campaign, to say he had beaten prostate cancer because the survival rates are better in the US than in the NHS. I really do not know where he got his figures from, but from what I was able to find, our survival rates for prostate and a number of other cancers are as good as anywhere else - private or free!

However, if Giuliani looked at the figures for the rest of his countrymen, and not just the rich and privileged like himself, he would find that the vast majority of people would not be able to even walk through the door of the hospital he was treated in.

OK, the NHS is not perfect, and it is a perennial subject for complaint and criticism, and maybe they aren't as good as the best private hospitals in the world, but it is definitely better than Medicare or any other half-baked system the Yanks can come up with!

Maybe Mr Giuliani could explain how are health service would be better if, as in the US, 40 per cent of Britons could not even afford to see a GP? Or how those without expensive healthcare insurance have to sell their homes to pay for even the most routine of operations? Or how it would be better for us to have insurance companies refuse to insure our children due to 'existing medical conditions'?

When the US finally drags itself out of its Victorian attitudes to healthcare, in other words "the rich get the best and the rest can die", then he can comment.

Finally, he personifies the prevailing attitude amongst right-wing Americans, the arrogance to openly state that if other countries do not follow the American path, then they are wrong, degenerate or even a threat and this gives them the right to interfere and comment in such a crass manner.

The NHS is our health system. It is the jewel in the benefit system in the UK and is regarded with great affection by the vast majority of the UK population, and I take it as a personal insult when someone who knows nothing about it, and is a guest in our country, pipes up ind basically condemns it.

Go home Rudy, your opinions are not welcome here.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Rugby World Cup 2007 - Day 1

France 12 - 17 Argentina

Opening day of the World Cup and the hosts, France - everyone's second favourite to lift the cup after New Zealand, were in action at the Stade de France in Paris. Their opponents, - The Pumas, Argentina.

The expectation was that this would be a match worthy of the opening ceremony with a spirited performance by Argentina, but France coasting to a reasonably comfortable win. Lets face it, France were at their national stadium, performing in front of the fans, what could go wrong.

Unfortunately, Argentina had not read the script. They had the audacity to take the game to France and actually apply pressure leading to uncharacteristic mistakes by the normally dependable backs. This pressure finally led to a French handling error, giving a penalty to Argentina. Inside-centre, Felipe Contepomi stepped up and slotted the kick over the bar to score the first points of the tournament.

France came back quickly to score a penalty of their own, but Argentina had still not learnt due reverence and continued to pester and challenge France, scoring another couple of penalties. Even when France attempted to play their own game, they came unstuck, leading to the first try of the tournament, and the only one of the match, being scored, again, by the Pumas. In, what can only be seen as a desperate attempt to get some movement, Remy Martin threw an interception pass which Argentina's Felipe Contepomi shipped on the ball quickly to racy full-back Corleto, who outpaced the covering defence to score in the right corner.

At half-time, the score was France 9; Argentina 17 and the French nation was in shock.

In a second half dominated by mighty defence and enterprise by Argentina, they restricted the French to just one more 3 point score, and held on to conclude a mighty and historic victory - one, this rugby fanatic will remember for a very long time!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

This Is Happening Here!

This sign, erected in a small town in America, is a heartfelt response to the destruction of local culture by big business and globalisation.

Every Pound spent in our big supermarkets, is a coffin nail in local markets selling local goods at a fair price.

In Wigan, the town's market is a shadow of it's former self, having been effectively strangled by the competition of the 'Big Four'. How long before it is closed for good!

As shoppers, we have the power to change that, it just requires will and effort - and if you think I'm preaching, then be aware, I am just as much to blame as anyone else, for being seduced by the cheapness and easy shopping, big supermarkets bring.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Mum and Dad's Wedding Day

Mum and Dad's Wedding Day
Originally uploaded by markhsal.
Sixty years ago, today! Still full of love and happiness.

Have a great day, see you both tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Llyn Bochlwyd
Originally uploaded by markhsal.
This lake, Llyn Bochlwyd, is three-quarters up a mountain in Snowdonia, and to reach it requires a reasonable amount of stamina and resolve. The path is steep, and at times, can become a bit of a scramble.

Generally, the only people who would see this lake, I assumed, were people who enjoy being out and about in the countryside, and would respect it. After a pretty strenuous climb, the chance to sit and rest awhile in such a peaceful and lonely spot was very welcome, before continuing onwards and upwards.

Sitting by the side of the lake, and soaking up the atmosphere was a truly wonderful experience, but all that was shattered when I looked down into the water and saw a beer can lying at the bottom.


It is the sort of thing I would expect to see in the more accessible areas of Snowdonia, but not here! I was so saddened by this, that even (almost) pristine wilderness can be polluted by such thoughtless action.

If you've carried it up a mountain, then bring it back down - don't drop litter!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I've Passed

I've Passed
Originally uploaded by markhsal.
Today, I took the third and final part - the practical test, - to become a fully licensed motorcycle rider, and I passed!

I am now able to ride any size of motorcycle and on any road, and I can remove the 'L' plates of my bike and carry passengers.

I still can't quite believe it. Last Saturday was my worst ever lesson when I just couldn't do anything right. I felt I was facing failure in the face. This morning, I was very nervous and tense, and did an hour's practice with my instructor, Kevin, before getting to the test centre and meeting my examiner, Peter.

Peter was just great! A perfect gentleman who, I felt, would be firm but fair. Once on the road, with him following behind, it became a lot more straight forward, and I was able to relax and I completed the test committing only 4 minor faults (you are allowed up to 14 before they fail you).

After the test, I returned to the riding school with Kevin to have a cuppa and a chance to calm my nerves. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Safety Last

I don't know whether I've become more observant as a consequence of riding a bike, or there has been a sudden upsurge of the problem, but I've recently noticed a lot of cars with defective brake or tail lights.

The other night, on my way home, I counted 7 (seven!) cars in front of me with at least 1 tail light out. I only started counting after seeing another two or three. And that was on a journey of less than 15 miles!

When I think of the stats on this one, the maths become mind-blowing. The vehicles I counted were those immediately in front of me; there were probably lots more going in the opposite direction and elsewhere on the road. I believe that there must be many cars on the road with a tail light out - with all the inherent danger that brings.

Doesn't anyone do their weekly vehicle checks anymore. Once a week, we are supposed to check our vehicle is in a road worthy condition. That all lights are working and properly adjusted, tyres are at the correct pressures, oil and water are topped up and windscreen wash is not empty. My understanding is that these features are there to protect the driver of the vehicle and other road users. At night, I want to know whether the vehicle in front is a car or a motorcycle, and a major clue to that is the number of tail lights. One tail light generally means bike rather than car.

If the owner is so casual about something so obvious, what else is wrong with the car?

If people are going out on the highway, then please, do so in a car that is fully road worthy. They may not value their life too highly, but I do value mine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Die Is Cast

Four years ago, the England rugby team - known affectionately as "Dad's Army" due to the relatively old average age of the squad, packed their bags and left this fair isle to ply their trade in the Rugby World Cup in Australia. With almost the final kick of the game, in the final against Australia, Johnny Wilkinson broke the deadlock and gave England victory.

That moment is still crystal clear to me today - England had won the World Cup.

The final squad for next month's World Cup in France has now been named and it contains 13 of that victorious squad (highlighted below) - including the 35 year-old Lawrence Dallaglio at No. 8.

Backs (14):
M Cueto (Sale - Age 27, 19 caps); J Lewsey (Wasps - 30, 48 caps), J Robinson (unattached - 33, 45 caps), P Sackey (Wasps - 27, 3 caps); D Hipkiss (Leicester - 25, 1 cap), J Noon (Newcastle - 28, 25 caps), M Tait (Newcastle - 21, 12 caps); M Catt (London Irish - 35, 70 caps), A Farrell (Saracens - 32, 4 caps ); O Barkley (Bath - 26, 17 caps), J Wilkinson (Newcastle - 28, 59 caps); A Gomarsall (Harlequins - 33, 26 caps ), S Perry (Bristol - 29, 11 caps), P Richards (London Irish - 29, 6 caps).

Forwards (16):
G Chuter (Leicester - 31, 12 caps), L Mears (Bath - 28, 16 caps), M Regan (Bristol - 35, 37 caps); P Freshwater (Perpignan - 34, 7 caps), A Sheridan (Sale Sharks - 28, 13 caps), M Stevens (Bath - 24, 13 caps), P Vickery (Wasps - 31, 54 caps); S Borthwick (Bath - 27, 28 caps), M Corry (Leicester - 33, 56 caps), B Kay (Leicester - 31, 46 caps), S Shaw (Wasps - 33, 36 caps); L Dallaglio (Wasps - 35, 79 caps), N Easter (Harlequins - 28, 5 caps), L Moody (Leicester - 29, 45 caps), T Rees (Wasps - 22, 5 caps), J Worsley (Wasps - 30, 59 caps).
Since that famous win back in 2003, England have not suffered the best of fortunes on the international front, and my confidence in an England win is based more on hope than conviction. However, when one takes a cool look at the squad, there is quality and experience everywhere. The forwards are really impressive, big, beefy men who give no quarter when the chips are down, and on their day, there is no pack in the world that could live with them. And if the pack is on song, then they will give time and space for the talented backs to conjure up their magic.

I suppose, my one concern is that the reactions from some of the older players may not be as sharp as they should be, and on the counter attack or in defence, may leave a few holes to be exploited by the opposition.

Ah well! This is the team that is going to cause me such joy and grief (probably at the same time!) and I wish them all the best. Whatever the result, I know they will have given their all, and if England pull this off, then I'll probably stay drunk for a month!

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Lesson In World Economics

As the World's financial markets start to recover from the 'jitter's' over the weekend, it is interesting to see just how entwined we, in the free world, have become, economically with the fortunes or otherwise of the US.

Some financial institutions in America offering 'sub-prime' mortgages, - those are loans and mortgages to high-risk lenders, were facing severe problems, which in turn, led to cobby-wobbles in the larger institutions which, if the crisis continued, would have led to the interest on my mortgage in the UK going up to pay for it.

Thanks America.

What, I think, was interesting, was that it was the non-US financial institutions, and in particular, the European Bank, that led the support and rescue operation, releasing funds to ensure the whole tottering edifice remains. Perhaps we are starting to see the end of the mighty dollar dominating my world - at least I truly hope so.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

We Were So Young

I recently received an email from my mate Dave who had unearthed a few shots of a holiday we had shared many years ago. This particular picture was taken in a folk club in Douglas on the Isle of Man back in 1970.

We had decided to take a week away, so with a loaned tent, we grabbed the next ferry out to Mona's Isle for a week of R & R. A couple of our friends were already over there working the summer and we had a great time. The club was an opportunity to earn our beer, so I made a real good effort on the guitar while Dave (clearly suffering from earache - but then we all did when he sang!) provided the vocals. We did seem to go down pretty well, and the beer flowed freely that night if I remember correctly!

The other picture was taken after we had walked up Snaefell - Isle of Man's tallest "mountain", - from Laxey on the coast. Fortunately, there is a cafe at the top which sold beer - so we felt pretty chuffed at the top.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Not Taking It Seriously...

Not Taking It Seriously...
Originally uploaded by markhsal.
The first decent day, this summer, and a chance to stretch the legs over the West Pennine Moors.

We left the car in Rivington and climbed over Winter Hill to Belmont where we had lunch at the Black Dog Pub, before heading back over the hill via Rivington Pike. A great walk, and I felt a lot better for it.

Now, if only I can get some people to take this sort of thing seriously....

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Change In The Weather?

The weather forecast for this weekend is looking a bit better than it has been throughout this week. For those living with the floods it could be an opportunity to get back to homes and businesses and start to assess damage and its effect on lives. For all those affected, I hope they can resume their lives.

For me, this weekend, it will be an opportunity to get out for a decent length walk. Unfortunately, I'm working on Saturday, but Sunday is looking good, and a brisk walk over the hills will be a good step up. It'll also give some quiet time to Christine, who had a carpel tunnel operation this week and is not able (or allowed) to do very much.

What I would like to do is walk from Rivington, over Winter Hill to Belmont, have lunch at the Black Dog, then walk back over the hill. The great barn, in Rivington, on a Sunday, is a meeting place for bikers and there is generally a Bar-B-Que and a chance to check out bikes and meet people. If the weather holds up, it should be a great walk.
Biker Afternoon

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Britain's Katrina

As large tracts of southern England spend another submerged day, it is becoming clearer how ramshackle the response has been. The success of meeting the demands of the situation were down, more to luck and the dedication and skill of many in the emergency services, than design.

A report in 2004 made clear that the diversity of responsibility in the face of a natural disaster leads to confusion, delay and potential loss of life. It recommended that the Environment Agency would, in situations such as we are seeing today, take overall responsibility for co-ordination and decision-making.

In 2005, the Government agreed to this and said it would be in place by summer of 2006. We are still waiting.

Now I don’t believe that this is due to lack of Government concern or care, it was just that it was not a priority, and with a hot summer in 2006, followed by cabinet in-fighting, the risk of flooding receded. But this year, the flooding has been the worst since 1947, and the problems have been made worse by the way development and growth has been managed - Green Belt development and house building on ‘desirable’ green field sites, mean there is less land for the water to soak into.

Gordon Brown has already announced the intention to build 240,000 homes over the next 10 years or so – many of those have been earmarked to flood plains which, from where I sit, doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Clearly we need houses, but much more thought is required at the planning stage into foreseeable environmental problems, as well as social issues, and their solutions. Clearly, not everything can be planned for, but much can, it just requires will.

Monday, July 23, 2007

And Then The Waters Came!

Large areas of Southern and Eastern England are under water after some of the heaviest rainfall to hit the UK in half a century. Last Thursday saw an unprecedented "one month's" rain in less than 3 hours, and it has continued to rain since then. Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire is the meeting point of the River Avon and Severn, and as a result of both rivers bursting their banks, the town is now, effectively, an island.

Unfortunately, although the rain has eased off, both those rivers are fed from Wales, and so there is likely to be a flood surge over the next few days. Emergency services are in full flow, but there are real problems now emerging. The most ironic is a scarcity of drinking water! Large tankers are being brought in to help with the supply, and food is being brought in. The government has agreed to offset 100%, local authority clean-up costs in all emergency areas, which should mean a quicker and more efficient response to need - lets just hope that the insurance companies (which make big fat profits each year) are just as quick.

However, the problems that remain are practical and unsettling for those involved, and will be with them for many months to come. Saturated homes which will take months to dry out; lost crops in the farms, businesses not able to do business and just the general mess and muck something like this brings.

Finally, I hope this will bring about a re-think on planning for weather driven disasters. Building on flood-plains needs to be assessed. Flood-plains existed to allow rivers to burst their banks and let the surrounding ground to soak up the over-flow. Better flood defenses, with more thought going into how water can be channelled away from population centres. Clearly, I'm no expert on these things, but we can't keep allowing our country to drown each time El Nino decides to burp!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Four-Wheeled Idiots

I have only been riding my bike for a month or so, but I am already aware that, as a biker, I "share" the road with a whole range of imbecilic "drivers".

Twice, I have had someone pull out in front of me without once looking to see if anyone was coming. Mind you, the drivers were very busy on their hand-held mobile phones at the time, which probably is a good enough excuse. But what about the woman busy in an animated conversation with her friend, who changed lanes without realising that I was alongside her at the time! Maybe I am being unfair, as she did have one hand on the wheel, while using the other to describe what she was talking about, and of course, she had to look at her friend/partner to ensure she got the point.

No, it is the "faffyness" of drivers that gets to me! Do drivers not realise that crawling at 2 mph is very difficult for a motorcyclist. The other day, I was in a queue, when the cars in front started to crawl forward - not very far or very fast, so I decided to wait until the queue started to move properly before attempting to move off. Eventually, there was a gap of about six to ten feet in front of me and it was at this point that the wazzock behind me beeped his horn! Now I was both enraged by his idiocy while admiring his bravery. Beeping a large hairy (well in my case - hairless) biker is likely to lead to a short ride to the nearest hospital. In this particular instance, I took pity on his mental illness and just gave him the finger. Sensibly, he left it at that.

Another guy was indicating right - and turned left; someone else turning right, but not moving over to the middle of the road (of course, I am describing driving in Britain where we drive on the proper side of the road) and of course, the nightmare that is the "school run"!

But I am left with the impression of how bad drivers are - something I hadn't really noticed before, and I am aware at how well my driving in general has improved since taking up the bike. I have greater road sense and awareness now and my road positioning and signalling is a lot more clear (the number of drivers that don't indicate on round-abouts are legion). I now also understand the desire of bikers to get to the front of the queue - it helps to keep them away from the idiots. In the UK, there is a big debate about congestion charges, and of course the majority of drivers are up in arms about it, but lets face it, cars cause congestion - bikes don't.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Like A Virgin

Like A Virgin
Originally uploaded by markhsal.
Moving on up the bike size. I'm about to have my first ride on a 500cc motorbike. It was absolutely fabulous. At one point I was feeling so great I let it all out in one great expletive filled scream - good job no-one could hear me!

Why didn't I do this sooner?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fifteen Years Ago

Fifteen years ago, Christine and I got married. It is important to say that I have never regretted a day of those years. Many ups with very few downs, and I love her as much today as the day she refused to say "I obey" at the altar steps!

Two children and a move away from our beloved Wirral to Wigan and the adventures continue. The time seems to have flown by - frighteningly so and who knows what will happen tomorrow, but I don't care as long as it is with this woman. All I can say is that I am looking forward to the next 15 years.

By the way, our grateful thanks to all America for joining us in celebrating our marriage, you do it every year and it means so much!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Thick As Thieves

Former White House aid and criminal Lewis "Scooter" Libby has, in the face of a jury and a number of senior judges, had his sentence commuted by George Bush. No longer will he have to serve a prison sentence for his treasonable role in obstructing an inquiry into the leaking of a CIA agent's name.

Makes me wonder what form of blackmail was used to twist Bush's arm. I wonder if Libby had actually gone to jail, he might have started talking about the rogues that dumped him in that situation. There does seem a major air of desperation and cover-up over this, because if there was nothing to hide, then there would have been nothing to fear and America's "Rule of law" President would not have got involved.

Come on America, the Bush is now on the run - get after him before its too late and he causes any more damage.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Under Attack

Over the past few days, terrorism has, again, raised its ugly head. Two car bombs were discovered in London over the weekend and a third attack took place at Glasgow Airport which did go off, but did very little damage and no loss of life. Those are the basic facts of the case, and there are a lot of reports and information about them, which I don't want to go into here.

I was more interested in the nature of the public's response to these criminal attempts. We, in the UK, have lived with terrorism and terrorist attacks for a long time - certainly we have had the car bomb since the late 60's when the IRA stepped up it's attacks in both Northern Ireland and the UK mainland. More recently, we suffered, attacks in July 2005 which killed and maimed a lot of people (and incidentally, was the subject of my very first post). We must be one of the most terrorised and fearful countries in the Western World.

So if we are terrorised, why aren't we showing it? We do we always have the same spirit after these attacks - "it isn't going to make me change what I do, or where I go" is the general refrain from people. Even when the guts of Manchester city centre were destroyed by the IRA in the 1996, people were more concerned that the reconstruction of the city was better than what went before (it could hardly be worse!).

What is really fascinating is that there doesn't seem to be any deep-rooted anger or hatred of the perpetrators - in some way, we feel sorry for them - but that is not to say that we don't get angry at all. And when we do get angry, it is because we know that the attacks will provide ammunition to those who want to screw ever more tightly the "security" lid on our society, couched in friendly terms as "protection of the innocents".

Just being alive is a risk, and these sad, stupid people just make that risk a bit bigger, but most of us accept that at a personal level, we can do very little but carry on with our lives. To the security forces, yes, protect me, but don't swaddle me or constrict my freedoms through fear or physical restriction, because if you do, then the terrorist wins. I intend to continue to do the things I like doing, and enjoying the good things this beautiful world can offer. It saddens me, that these people do not seem to be able to appreciate the goodness and beauty of the world that I see every day.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Change Of Government

This week has seen a change of government in the UK. A new Prime Minister, a new Cabinet and, we are informed, a new direction. This has come about without anyone casting a vote or meaningfully voicing an opinion. No! One person resigns and another takes his place without the mess of an election.

Not sure how I feel about this. As a democrat, I have always believed that the people should have a say in who governs us. However, a change of Prime Minister between an election, seems to be an increasingly common aspect of British politics. Harold McMillan and Lord Home in the 1963 at the height of the Profumo affair; Harold Wilson and James Callghan in 1976; Margret Thatcher and John Major in 1990 and now Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in 2007. What is interesting is that, John Major apart, the transition led to the party of power losing the next election - John Major survived only because the Labour party under Neil Kinnock imploded on the eve of the election.

I do have a lot of time for Gordon Brown. I feel he is principled and focused. I hope he can stand tall and true on the world stage and provide a riposte to the criminal activities presently being formulated in the White House. He seems to be surrounding himself with talent rather than 'Brown's Cronies' and, even in these early days, he is looking to place his own stamp on the office. I wish him well.

When I've had time to reflect, I'll write something about Tony Blair. He wasn't all bad, and Iraq should not be the only measure for his Prime Ministership.