Friday, September 22, 2006


There isn’t that much of a lighter note to the Richard Hammond story (see Blog below), but there’s a picture in the paper today which will please Richard no end when he sets eyes on it.

Aficionados of “Top Gear” will be aware that Hammond is slightly more vertically challenged than Clarkson. Those of you with an analytical bent, where only the absolute figures will do, will be pleased to read that Hammond is 5’7” tall, whereas Clarkson isn’t. He’s 6’4”, some 9” nearer the sun. And, being Clarkson, he doesn’t ever let Hammond get away with his miniatureness.

But just look at the picture – I suspect the Picture Editor couldn’t resist.

Actually, I’ve just used Microsoft’s extremely helpful Spell Checker on this notelet, and it advised me that the word “Blog” doesn’t exist, and that perhaps I would like to change it to “Bog”.

Does it know something I don’t?


It didn’t take long, did it? A few hours after Richard Hammond’s sickening crash at nearly 300mph in a jet car, while filming for “Top Gear”, the Risk Faschisti are circling overhead like grey, miserable vultures.

The guy was driving a car called Vampire, which looks essentially like a B&Q ladder with a huge jet engine strapped onto it. He was blasting down a remote runway in Yorkshire, with only himself for company at the time, trying to break the UK Land Speed Record, which stands at 300.3mph. And it all went wrong, for reasons as yet unknown. So he now lies in Leeds General Infirmary, critically ill with serious brain injuries. My thoughts are with him.

And so the “Greys” emerge. One Superintendent Deacon, from North Yorkshire Police, said, most helpfully that “The organisers of the High Speed Challenge should have carried out a full risk assessment before filming began.” Maybe I’m being too simple here, but do you not think they did just that? Hammond was trying to become the fastest man EVER in this country, and do you not believe that he thought to himself “Jeez, this is Bloody Dangerous.” There is no doubt he would have conducted his own risk assessment before pulling on the 3” wide body harness which strapped him, Oh so tightly, into the projectile. And he would have come to the simple conclusion “Start her up, baby!”

He knew clearly what he was letting himself in for, and couldn’t wait for it to begin. People around him report that he was euphoric just before his last run in the machine. For someone besotted with motor cars, sitting in one which reportedly took 6 seconds to get to 272 mph from a Standing Start would have made him just a little bit happy. And who, exactly, apart from himself, was he putting at risk?

He was, let’s remember, careering totally on his own, down a deserted runway in the middle of nowhere, not trying to beat the record round the North Circular in the Friday evening rush-hour. Any risk to life which existed was going to be limited to himself and a few unfortunate rabbits and squirrels who lived alongside the tarmac strip.

And yet it took only a few minutes for the Miseries from the Health & Safety Executive to lick their pencils and issue their expected statement – “One (not I or We – this has to be impersonal and unattributable) would expect the BBC to have organisational arrangements and risk assessments for dealing with any production-related activity on a site like this and elsewhere.”

Why has everything today got to have a risk assessment? The whole of Life’s a risk, for goodness sake. It’s as simple as that. If none of us took risks, nothing would move on. I have no problem with some of the controls which aim to rein in such people as employers who do not see employee safety as at all meaningful, but Those in Charge have tried to broaden this and encompass the whole of the essence of human behaviour from a risk point of view. And it’s getting too stupid and too depressing by half.

I’m old enough to remember July 20th 1969 as, family issues apart, perhaps the most momentous day I’ve ever experienced - Apollo 11’s Moon Landing. An utterly astounding thing to happen in one’s lifetime. Even today, when I think about it, I get a huge thrill.

Now, say what you like, Kennedy’s decision to commit the USA to landing on the Moon was up there with the bravest commitments ever made. At the time he made it, they didn’t know how to do it, and how much it would cost. They took a risk, and a bloody big one.

A book I’ve read recently, called “Moondust”, which traces the subsequent history of the nine men still alive who have walked on the Moon’s surface, addresses, among other things, the issue of the risk level implicit in that Apollo Moon Landing programme. When you read about it, you quickly understand why it was not something that was discussed at the time. It concludes that the chances of a successful landing were estimated at no more that 30%. And yet they still did it – six times. Apollo 13 gave a glimpse of what could have happened. But, can you imagine trying to get such a venture moving today? The USA HSE, or whatever its name is (because there will be one), would bury it from Day 1, and none of it would have occurred.

Why can’t people take risks with their own lives? What is it about some people, mostly politicians, who feel they’ve the right to legislate about this unneccesary and improper intrusion on Individual’s liberty? It’s clearly what drives some people completely, and these are always individuals most of us admire and revere, whether it be Round the World Sailing, Climbing mountains, racing cars, going to the South Pole, and yes, swimming underwater near Sting Rays. Most of us, driven by the mortgage and suchlike, shy away from such danger, and so take a vicarious thrill at watching others who choose not to be so constrained. And sometimes the things they do make our minds soar with unalloyed pleasure and utter admiration.
And very occasionally, they pay the price, and their demise hits us all in a very personal way, because they were doing what we perhaps really wanted to do, but don’t have the courage.

So, the Meanies need to be brought up short. We live a small but very important part of our lives through these men and women, and it must carry on - NIL ILLEGITIMUS CARBORUNDUM

For those of you without a Latin upbringing – it means “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

The issue is – How do we go about it?

Answers on a Postcard, please.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


An article in a newspaper this week shows the latest development in CCTV technology. As well as photographing every move we make in our town centres, there are 7 new CCTV machines installed in Middlesborough, with loudspeakers attached to them which, if they see you doing something they consider unsavoury, give you a telling off. So it will now be “Oi, pick that chewing gum up”, or “Don’t drop that cigarette packet, you slut!”, or even, “Look girl, if you want to wander around showing us all of you navel region, you could at least go on a diet.” Actually, I quite approve of the last one!

There are I’m told, and I’m certainly not going to count them, over four million CCTV camera operating in this country. Four million! That’s nearly one for every ten of us. No other country comes anywhere near that number. Now, why on earth is that?

The scary thing is that we’ve now become accustomed to being scrutinised and tracked by someone or other, almost permanently. And am I the only one who is at all worried about this creeping surveillance? The younger generation, having grown up with it all, to a man, do not seem to mind. And by the time they decide that they do, it will be way too late.

The inexorably increasing list of ways we are digitally tracked in our lives is actually one of the few things which can stop me sleeping at night. I drove to Manchester and back today, a round trip of some 200 miles, and was photographed, along with my car, some 2-300 times. My car registration was recorded umpteen times, along with where I was, at what speed I was travelling, and at what time. How dangerous is all that. I spent most of the journey looking sideways up the motorway, to make sure they got my “right” side in all the pictures. Driving using only one eye is no laughing matter! In spite of this, I understand a car is stolen every 2 seconds in this country.

My Debit cards leave a continual personal, timed, smear of my existence, my purchases and my travels. My “Nectar” card (what a stupid name that is!) is recording all my personal peccadillos in Sainsburys, tracking everything I buy like a faithful Labrador. Actually, I know of no Labrador that could record what I buy in a supermarket, so that’s a bit of metaphoric licence. So, in order to put it (the Nectar card, not the dog) off the scent and make it think I’m a New Man, I now have to buy a whole pile of virtuous things like Tofu, Mung Beans and Lentils, none of which I can stand, binning them immediately in the Recycling Containers outside in the Carpark. Actually, I’ve just realised – there’s probably a CCTV camera out there recording my every action, product barcode by Product barcode as they go in the bin, and subtracting it from my Nectar Points total, so I’m probably stuffed anyway.

My phone is continuously telling someone all the time (God knows who) where I am, or more accurately where it is? Thank goodness I keep forgetting to take it with me. So some electronic cross-checker thing somewhere must be getting a fit of the heebie-jeebies trying to reconcile a Credit Card purchase in Hereford, with a phone being used minutes later in Birmingham, and then checking on the position of my car to arbitrate, finding that I’m actually in Cheadle Hulme. Sod them.

As if that’s not enough, we’re now faced with a grand plan by Those in Charge to remove the Road Fund Licence, and replace it with an electronic tagging system in every car. It will cost around £300, and you can guess who’s going to have to pay for that little gem. It will be a bit like the one used for Offenders on Parole, and will beam my every driving move to some faceless machine, so they will not only know where I am and when I’m there, but to add financial insult to it all, they will then issue me a bill to charge me for it.

This will be matched in a similar timescale, by our friend the Identity Card scheme, which as we all know, because the Government tells us so, will catch all the terrorists in this country, as well as stopping all Illegal immigrants, in a credit card sized flash. And all for the miserly sum of £18 billion. Do they think we came up the Clyde on a bicycle?

But the really worrying thing here is Why, and perhaps more insidiously, Who wants all these images and all this information? The police will, no doubt, tell you it brings the crime rate down having all these CCTV machines in our town centres. And if it’s not crime prevention, it will no doubt be fundamental to eliminating the terrorist threat. It’s always the terrorist threat. I mean we’re overrun with them in Oswestry. Quite what “they” in Cheltenham do with the trillions of inane text messages sent by the Great Unwashed who seem to spend their waking lives, their hands ablur on their phones, telling their mates that they’re “on the train”, or “outside MacDonalds”.

For reasons I can’t really explain, I feel hugely uncomfortable about this whole issue of the insidious erosion of Individual Liberty by the State. I am not a dangerous criminal, and have no plans to become one. I simply feel it’s an inalienable right of mine to go around, where I want, when I want, how I want, without permanently being tracked on some form of political chromatogram. Once that freedom has gone, it will never, ever return.

Can you imagine any Government back-tracking on all this? They’re all control freaks, by definition, so it will only get worse, whoever is in power. It all seems to be turning into a cross between Orwell’s 1984, and HAL, the computer in the film “2001: A Space Oddessy”, reading the two astronauts' lips, and then sending one of them to their death because it, the machine, was feeling threatened. Except it won’t be Gary Lockwood in Outer Space in a film, it will be you and me.

The only (slightly) comforting thought about it is that Those in Charge seem to be so pluperfectly incompetent in getting these systems firstly to work at all, and secondly to get them to integrate with each other, that it will be ages before the whole thing grips us to the point where we all feel completely imprisoned. The bad thing is – when that happens, it will be too late, and the good thing is – I’ll be pushing up the daisies, probably microchipped by then, so someone can keep track of my whereabouts!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Readers of “The Sunday Times” may have seen a reference to this item in last week’s paper, but it struck me as so surreal that it gets a bit of a repeat here. The world of Arms Manufacture is apperently not quite as nasty as you might have thought – it is now developing a green, friendly, warm and fuzzy face.

BAE Systems who are one of the biggest players in the game, are now involved in developing what they call “green” weapons. Their idea is to push towards such things as “lead free” bullets, and a reduction in the toxic compounds all the machinery the Armed Forces use as these “can harm the environment, and pose a risk to people!" I should bloody well hope they do!

The MoD is also proposing quieter warheads, and grenades which produce less smoke, thus reducing noise pollution and cleaner air. Oh, that's alright then.

The lady in charge of Corporate Social Responsibility at BAE Systems, whose name, I kid you not is Debbie, (Dr. Debbie mind you), says that “Weapons are going to be used and when they are, we are going to make them as safe for the user as possible, to limit the collateral damage, and to impact as little as possible on the environment”. The concept of a Multi-Megaton Nuclear whopper, which aims at minimum environmental impact, is a fascinating concept. Does it destroy somewhere like Sheffield, without anyone actually noticing? If so, what's the point?

They are also into safer and sustainable artillery, by producing “insensitive” shell explosives. These, it seem, do not blow up accidentally, which must be seen as a bit of a bonus for those people currently making them in South Wales. They will now have an unlimited shelf life, so you don’t need to dispose of them, although, if you do want to, they are also looking at converting the waste explosives into compost.

Make your grass grow with a Bang, Watch your plants explode with Life!

Sunday, September 17, 2006


"New England in the Fall" - the subject of a short series of pictures taken on a 3 week Fly/Drive holiday which started in Boston, Mass. and took us for 3,000 miles around Masechusetts, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
It's a particularly distinctive part of America, with most of the place names selected by the English settlers, after their birthplaces. You find Shrewsbury next to Lebanon, next to Chatham and so on. Manchester, for instance, is a very Yuppy, high class small clapperboard town, a bit like Chipping Camden in England.

We wandered up the coast for many hundreds of miles, and the pictures here show some of the sights and locations we saw.
A beautiful place with great seafood, a lovely drawl to the accent, and very polite and helpful people.







I suspect I now have your undivided attention.

What I really wanted to talk about was “The Sunday Times”. I have taken it (actually, as we shall see, that is totally the wrong way to say that) for most of my adult life – “The Sunday Times is the Sunday Papers” etc.

This morning, I bought it at the newsagents, making the flippant remark to the girl there – “I don’t suppose, by any chance, they’ve kept the price the same as last week?”, looking for the cheap laugh. She grinned.

“That’ll be £2, Sir.” Last week it was £1.80. Now, I concede that my mind is on the wane, but this ability to keep poking the price higher and higher is truly amazing, and it seems to have been going on for ages. By definition, you don’t keep old newspapers around, so a simple trip to www-land throws up the price in mid 2002 - £1.20. That’s 67% in 4 years – do you know any other business that could get away with that sort of rise?

With a circulation of 1.3 million, that’s nearly £60 million per year – that’ll pay for a bit of increased newsprint cost!

I don’t seem to get anything out of this apart from a slightly larger hole in my wallet each week. So, there’s a deal to be done here. My copy today comes in 14 different Sections, and it’s only as low as that because they’ve combined and rationalised a couple of sections from last week. It also weighs 3lbs 12oz (assuming that the Government still allows me to quote the weight of a Sunday newspaper in Avoirdupois). Yes, I know it’s not a tree in the Amazon, but it’s still a bloody big branch.

What’s the deal then? Now, for reasons I don’t understand, but really am secretly quite pleased about, I can’t stand soccer. And when I want to read about some of the sports which do interest me, I have to flip over what seems like millions, but is really only 20, pages of pictures and stories in the Sports Section, about yesterday’s footy matches. What they should do now is to put all the soccer news in one Easy to Throw Away section just like their sister publication “The Times”, so the 30 seconds I spend each week getting to the Golf bits can be saved in perpetuity.

So, who do I write to?

Oh, and one last thing - about the title of this piece. I was reading about the “Sunday Times” on the internet, and I shamelessly copied the title of one writer’s (phil2001) article for this one, simply because it amused me. He was saying that “The Sunday Times” was the only one big enough to allow him to line the bottom of his girlfriend’s cat’s litter tray for a whole week with - hence the title.

Saturday, September 16, 2006



I don’t watch a lot of television, so don’t see all the series which have come and gone over the years. I tend to stumble across programmes, usually by word of mouth, which means my introduction to good programmes starts around Episode 4, when all the character introductions are well in the past. So I normally end up waiting until the release of the DVDs or, in the past, the videos to get the story from Day 1.

If I cast a bit of a personal eye over all the TV drama series I’ve seen since I can really remember, I can only come up with four to which I would unreservedly give Five Stars in my personal list of “Really Great Programmes”.

The most recent is “The West Wing”, which has just played out its final episode, and I still have it recorded to watch. When I’ve seen it, I am sure fingers will be put to keyboard to record what’s so good about it – all 7 years and 156 episodes!

The one previous to that was “This Life”, a fly on the wall style of drama centred on 6 lawyer types and their friends and work colleagues, which caught brilliantly the pace, pressure, tensions and way of life of them all. Jack Davenport and Daniella Nardini, who showed very graphically and frantically in one episode why Canon needed to strengthen the glass plattens of their Photocopiers, head a cast which has become much more well known, since it came out in 1992. Hand held camera techniques, good acting, true to life issues and a really cracking script, pushed it along at a tremendous pace. It was an truly authentic taste of early 90s angst and pressure among the upwardly mobile 25 year olds.

The last two were broadcast in the Eighties – the first being “Edge of Darkness” (1985), a top class thriller which addressed the interaction of the increasing power of global high-tech companies and governments, the police and addressing the long term issues surrounding the ethics of nuclear power and waste disposal. Great cast, great screenplay, the best music soundtrack I’ve ever heard (played very evocatively by Eric Clapton), and a really spooky atmosphere throughout the 6 episodes.


Which leaves the last one, which was shown twice in very quick succession in 1987, and has then not been seen since on TV, Video or DVD for nearly 20 years – “Tutti Frutti”. If you want the best ever example you can find of a real Black Comedy, this is your Man. It’s a story of an ageing Scottish Rock’n’Roll band, the Majestics, who meander their way around the small towns of rural Scotland, playing what they see as their 25th Jubilee Tour. The typical Scottish pastimes are all there, as well as a couple of others like jumping in the middle of the night to your death off a suspension bridge, and self immolation via a can of petrol to get a bit of attention seeking. It sounds dreadful, but if I collect the 10 best Comedy Moments that I’ve ever seen on TV, two of them are in this series. Perhaps it’s me, and I’m just warped.

At the time in 1987, you might be forgiven for not knowing quite who the main members of the cast were, but time has changed that a bit. The lead singer of the Band was one, Robbie Coltrane, his girlfriend was Emma Thompson, and the group’s Manager was a very Victor Meldrew-like Richard Wilson.
Try getting that lot together today.




Written by John Byrne, it is excrutiatingly good in its toe curling depiction of the downward spiral, the fits and foibles, and the gradually dissolving egos of the four members of the band. Robbie Coltrane is simply brilliant as a very large, but (I’m told!) surprisingly sexy lead singer, who can actually sing. His rendition, towards the end of the series of “Love Hurts”, aimed directly but sung tangentially at Suzi Kettles, his girlfriend, played by Emma Thompson, would hit the top of the charts if someone was adventurous enough to release it – it’s very, very moving. The increasingly manic actions of Eddie Clockerty, the frantic Control Freakish Manager, and Janis, his (very) cynical young sidekick, form another super thread of the storyline through the whole piece.

I’ve written in the past to the BBC, gently imploring them to release this on a DVD, but, in true Public Servant style, they are still composing their reply. The reason this scribble appears today is that John Byrne, the author, has just finished a Musical of the series, which debuts in Aberdeen next week. Rumours, unsubstantiated at present, (but as they say, we’re on the case) are that the problems which have prevented this truly excellent series from being made available to a whole new generation who will enjoy it immensely, have been finally resolved. Hopefully, 2007 will see this masterpiece issued onto a very deserving public.

In the meantime, my precious video copy of two episodes of it is sitting in the player, and I’m just off to live a couple of magical hours with the Majestics.

Rock on, Tommy!


My first attempts at punditry on this site last week, suggesting that Michael Schumacher would drive competitively in 2007, and that Tony Blair would try to last out as PM until 2008, have both crashed violently in flames over the last few days. So, Played 2, Lost 2 – not a great start. No doubt the “Blaircrash” will return to haunt us here, but let’s think now about our German friend.

Schumacher has decided that he has had enough. It’s probable that he will clinch his 8th World Championship this year - a quite remarkable achievement. But does that make him the best driver ever? That’s a very different question.

In cold statistics, at first his figures make everyone else seem like also-rans. He could end up winning 93 Grand Prix, with the next highest being Alain Prost on 51. He has scored 1,248 points so far in his career, with the next best being less than 800. And so on, and on. But there are other ways of looking at numbers, and there is a much bigger issue about not just How Many, but How?

How important is it in any sporting arena to balance the actual achievement, with how it was all done? Are the figures in the record books the sole judge of greatness, or at the highest level, is it a more subtle combination of the individual’s attitude, moral approach and style as well as the cold numbers?

There is no right answer, although I lean very heavily towards the combination of How and How Many. On the one hand. there is little doubt that for anyone to be considered great, they must have an excellent record of success just to get on the board. Try to think of one individual who you would consider to be The Greatest in any sporting field, with a limited or minimal level of success in the record books, and you’ve got a real argument on your hands to convince the world you’re right. So you do need the numbers.

The real Greatests, the Mohammed Ali’s, the Sampras’s, the Navratilova’s, the Lance Armstrong’s all have the numbers in the book. But they have something else, as well. And this is where the Schumacher debate gets interesting. I scribbled a piece the other day called "Michael Schumacher – Flawed Genius". He undoubtedly can drive a Grand Prix car better than anyone else today, and has been able to do that for 10 years. He has stamped his authority on the sport like a vice. He has taken the physical and mental conditioning of the Driver to new heights, he has forged a team around himself at Ferrari in a way no-one has ever done before – all prodigious Firsts.

And yet, there’s always a But with the man. Insiders keep telling us that he’s a really warm hearted individual away from the circuit, how he loves his kids and family. From The Greatest’s point of view, those things are not that important. It’s the conduct “on the field” that matters. The fact that, in his professional career, he has been guilty of several underhand and quite dirty actions, of which most drivers would be rightly ashamed, is enough, in my view, to push him off the top rank of drivers who could be seen as The Greatest - in spite of his record. You just don’t do those things. It’s as simple as that.

So, who is the Greatest? There has been much ink spent this week, ruminating on Schumi’s retirement, and the list of names which comes up time and time again, is very small. It contains Schumacher, and the only others are Fangio, Senna and Clark. And that’s it.

Interestingly, Alain Prost, with the 2nd highest total of 51 wins, never gets a mention. So that’s one good argument to prove that it’s not just the numbers. He was a good driver, nicknamed “The Professor”, but you’d never get out of bed to watch him race, whereas the other three, well, that’s the last thing you’d say about them.

Senna, because of his death, has become almost immortalised by the media. You don’t have to look too far however to see some of Schumacher’s Win at all Costs approach in the way Senna raced. One of life’s “What Ifs” is Senna vs Schumacher. Senna was killed just as Schumacher got into gear, and I actually think Senna had already seen how good Schumacher was, and that may have had an effect on the way he drove in 1994.

Sometimes, you could be forgiven for thinking that the racing car has become so safe these days, that forcing an accident has become a deliberate tactic and fair game to drivers over the last 20 years. The other guy nowadays will likely be forced off the track onto an acre of gravel, and – so what? In the 50s, 60s and 70s, such actions could easily kill you opponent, so you treated such actions with a totally different level of seriousness. It’s the sort of issue which actually means comparing champions from different eras is almost impossible. Jackie Stewart, himself a 3 times World Champion, was asked to make such a comparison, and parried it quite simply with “All I could do was to beat the guys around me at the time.” Which he did.

I think in areas such as this, with no real right answer, you are affected by a raft of other side issues, one of which is your own age. I think that the things which impact on you when you are at your most impressionable, around 18-25, take on an almost over-riding importance which lasts all your life. I know it did with me. Music and Musicians, Writers, Films, Actors, Singers, sportsmen and women, and I suppose, friends and people in general, drill into you very deeply at that age.

I missed seeing Fangio in those years, and if you read his life-story, he gets many people’s shout, including people like Stirling Moss and Murray Walker, but look at when they were both 18-25. See what I mean? But I still put him at Number 2 - just.

It will not come as a surprise then, that my Greatest Driver EVER is Jim Clark. I was loopily passionate about Motor Racing in my adolescent years, and Clark was in a completely different class from all the others for all that time. If you look at the cold numbers, compared to more recent drivers, there are very few categories where he now comes top. He won, ONLY, 25 races, and scored, ONLY, 274 points and so on. But, with statistics, you need to look a bit deeper to see the reality. He ONLY started 74 races, and because car reliability was nothing like it is today, he only finished 40. Starting with that number, winning 25, including all his days as a driver starting out, takes on a whole new meaning. He NEVER finished second. In fact, you could say, that if his car was running sensibly and well at the end of a race, he would win. Simple as that.

It must have driven his team-mates mad. It wasn’t like Schumacher, who has always ensured that his team-mate is more like a domestique in a Cycle race – there solely to support himself. Clark spent a good part of his career with Graham Hill as his team-mate, and Hill was already a World Champion, so it was a case there of Fastest Man wins in the Lotus team.

As an example, Clark drove what many people, including myself, think is the finest race ever, at the 1967 Italian Grand Prix. Monza, in those days was a mad rush with no chicanes to slow you down. A third of the way through the race, Clark was in the leading gaggle of cars, but suffered a puncture. He lost more than 1 lap while the tyre was being changed, and we then saw just what a racing driver can really do. He drove at his maximum for the rest of the race, starting back in 16th place, firstly unlapping himself, and just before the end of the race he had caught up the whole lap on everyone, including his team-mate. He passed them all and took the lead. Coming down the final straight, his car faltered, and ran out of fuel. He coasted round the last corner and finished 3rd.

It was the only time he was seen to get angry, having driven the race of his life, and then been thwarted in victory, for the want of a cupful of petrol.

He was as unassuming a man as you could imagine, being a sheepfarmer from the Scottish Borders. He could drive anything, literally anything, and his David and Goliath exploits in a tiny Lotus Cortina up against huge American Ford Galaxies is the stuff of legend. His car only ever seemed be on three wheels, and if he was trying really hard, on two – you wouldn’t have believed it had you not been there. You thought he was there for ever, so good was he, but…..

In the cruel way of the sport in those days, he was killed in April next year, in an inconsequential Formula 2 race in Germany, and for me, and I suspect many other people, the passion for the sport died with him.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006



Most people think of Birmingham as a bit of a dour place. How wrong they are!

It's in the middle of almost a complete revamp, and the centre has a real buzz about it. The centrepiece of the new Birmingham architecture is Selfridges Department store. Rather than going for the safe option, the designers have produced an absolute cracker of a building, like nothing you will have seen before. There isn't a straight line on it, and the outside is studded with what looks like 10,000 silver hubcaps. For once, someone's had the guts to make a hugely distinctive architectural statement, and they are to be hugely applauded for it.

I think it's an absolute gem. What do you think?


The beaches in Norfolk are quite exceptional - miles of rolling sand, with Big Skies and very few people on them.
Brancaster is one of the best, and the picture here was taken one evening in August, just as the sun was setting. A small girl was dancing in the shallow water, and the picture just cried out to be taken.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


So, I’m driving along one evening in the gathering twilight – it’s becoming clearer that Autumn is approaching and the seemingly endless daylight of Summer is no more. The headlights on my Golf, which are a fancy sort of Xenon construction, are designed to be really bright - enough, not just to show me the way home, but to drill neat little holes in the scenery they illuminate. However, they only work on the dipped beam, and the main beam lights are ordinary halogen.

I like cars with all the gizmos on them (another clue for the budding psychiatrists out there), and this set of lights cost me a cool extra £780 when we bought the car some 5 years ago. Completely illogical I agree, but in my defence, all I can say is they have given me considerable pleasure over the years. And the only thing which has suffered in all this is my Bank Balance.

Except however, tonight, they are not doing their job, and a check at home shows that one of them has suddenly become an “ex-light, it has gone to meet its maker, it is no more …….” – Monty Python fans, fill in the gaps and correct the syntax.

So the next day we head off asymmetrically illuminated, and presumably, from the Police’s viewpoint, a common criminal, to the Volkswagen garage to buy a new bulb. We enter the Parts Department, and start the negotiation ritual with The Parts Man.

“Good evening, I’d like a Xenon bulb for the headlight of a Mark 4 Golf, please.”

The Parts Man’s fingers are immediately a blur on the keyboard of his computer. A drawing appears on the screen, which looks either like the innards of a very expensive mobile phone, or a particularly crucial part of the Space Shuttle. This is not looking good. He turns to me, and his face is suddenly frozen in a rictus of absolutely nothing.

“That’s what you need”, he says, pointing at a bit of the screen. Seeing that it looks for all the world like a Xenon bulb, I can’t help but agree with him. Now, there is clearly some coded message on the screen that tells Mr Parts Man that “This is really going to piss the Punter off in spades, so make no facial expression whatsoever from this point onwards”, because he now seems to be in some suspended state.

"That will be “nidhriejnenhrnh, Sir”.


“Nienirutm sennmrven pocundrsds, Sir”,
he replies.

“What?”, says me. “Speak English, it’s our common language, man?”

“Ninety seven pounds , and a few (number unrecognised) pence, Sir.”

Pause for thought. We now enter the ritual discussion which always occurs now. We all know where the next few minutes are going to end up, but we simply have to go through this stylised verbal fistfight, as if it’s some form of Vehicular Rites of Passage.

“Look, I don’t want to buy the dealership/business/car/headlight assembly, I just want a bulb, please.”

“It’s ninety seven pounds and a few (number unrecognised) pence, Sir.”

“It’s only a bloody bulb, for goodness sake, are you sure you haven’t got the price for Ten of them, or something.”

“No Sir, that’s the price. And with the VAT, that will be £115, Sir.”

I am now jibbering. Our other car, which is a Mercedes, we take to the garage, we tell them a bulb has gone, and they ask for the keys. They take it away, and a few minutes later, they return and nonchalantly throw me the keys, with a carefully off-guarded “No charge, Sir. All part of the service.” Now we all know that the standard Mercedes Hourly rate of around £70 has built into it a few pennies for just this eventuality, but at the time it’s going on, it generates a warm glow of satisfaction – a bit like that porridge you give kids on cold mornings, whose name I can’t remember (the porridge, not the kids).

I think I am now in the middle of the perfect definition of the phrase “Between a rock and a hard place”. If I say “Yes”, I lose £115, and if I say “No”, the Fuzz will be feeling my collar very shortly.

“OK, so if I bring the car in, you can do it tomorrow?”

“Well, no Sir, we don’t have any in stock. We don’t get much call for these.”

Me, calmly – “Well actually, I’m calling for one now.” It turns out they will take two days to get one, so my criminal state will be extended by at least 48 hours.

“I assume that includes the fitting?”

“Oh, No Sir, these things are absolute pigs to fit. It will take about an hour, Sir.”

“An hour, to change a Headlight bulb?,
(John McEnroe voice now) – You cannot be serious!”

He was. Apparrently, the gubbins surrounding the light unit is so tight, that the formal first step to changing the headlight bulb on a Mark 4 Golf is to take off The Front Bumper. Pause for hysterical laughter.
If, however, you know someone with 15” long fingers, each no more than ¼” in diameter, and all universally jointed in six places, you don’t need to do that. That last bit was me extemporising a bit, but the gist is right. It reminds me of the way you apparently land a Boeing 747. I understand, if you do it by the book, at some point during the procedure, the Pilot needs four hands and arms, and three legs. No wonder, I don’t like flying!

It’s at this point that you sneak a glance at your watch, but April 1 was a long time ago.

“And how much will that cost me please?”

“Around £65, Sir.”
Pause. "Plus the VAT, of course, that’s around £75, Sir.”

“So that’s £190 to change a light bulb.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Now, having a slightly jaundiced view of the commercial world, you start to think. Just (hypothetically, of course) you are in the Parts and Service section of a Motor manufacturer, trying to make some money for you company. It is just possible to imagine a discussion along these lines –

“What about arranging for our lights to fail at around 80,000 miles, you know, significantly after our warranty runs out?”

“Hey yes, and what if we made the light design so daft that you needed a limbo dancing keyhole surgeon to replace them?”

“We’d make a fortune!”

“Brilliant! Good day’s work, that!”

Actually, it’s “Reddibrek”, I’ve just remembered!

This is me now.

There have been some 5 million Golfs made. Now I know they are not all Mark 4’s, so lets assume they made around 1½ million of them. Let’s assume around 10% of purchasers were daft enough to put down £780 for this optional extra. Each one has two headlights, so when they pass around 80,000 miles, around 5-6 years after they’ve been built, someone is going to pocket around £57 million in revenue for just this one part.

My mind has just boggled.

The only worrying thing from my point of view is that we’ve just ordered a new car to replace the venerable Mercedes, the hero of our story a few paragraphs above.

And what have we done? Ordered the same option on the new car, except this time, instead of the one bulb each side on the Golf that’s Xenon, the unstoppable march of technology has meant that you can now get both dipped and main beam lights in Xenon form. And all at Mercedes parts rates. Oh Joy!

So, no holiday for us in 2011. We start saving now!

Monday, September 11, 2006


Do you know anyone under 21, who has had the awful misfortune to lose one of their parents? I suppose, if each of us casts around, we can come up with one, maybe two people we know who fall into this category. Apparently, if you delve into the official Government statistics on this, (and I found these figures in a very large newspaper, so they must be right!) the average figure for the whole of the country is around 1%. So 1 in 100 people are in this situation – that seems to match my own personal experience.

Now, if you make the sample a little tighter, what happens? Let’s take British Prime Ministers, for instance. If you do the same investigation on all the UK’s Prime Ministers since records began, the figure comes out differently.

It’s 61% - that’s 60 times as high as the average person.

Don’t you think that’s very odd? What is it about the top job in the country that attracts people (well, men really) who have had to live through the most formative parts of their lives not with a Single Parent, but with the thoughts, impact and effects of one of the two parents they originally had, dying?

I’m also told that if you do the same investigation on US Presidents, you get a similar result. Extraordinary! I’m not a psychologist, so this is very much “Answers on a Postcard”, please.

Now, let’s look at the current bun fight in the Government’s internal spat for its next leader after the impending “Blaircrash”. The man coming through strongly at the moment is Alan Johnson, with my other pick, “Old Jug-Ears”, ridden by Charles Clarke, still hanging back on the rails. What all of the non-Brown contenders – Alan Milburn, Alan Johnson, Charles Clarke, John Reid, John Prescott (actually, one in that list was a jape, can you guess which one?) need is time to get their faces and images in front of the British public. Even we are not likely to vote for someone we can’t actually recognise.

But the real issue here is anthropological. You can’t change history, it’s all in the genes, and, if the 61% figure above is right, all you have to do is to delve into the parental history of each of them, and Hey presto, we have the winner.

I’m still looking into a couple of them so this is still Work in Progress. What is clear is that Brown does not fit into the 61%, and to date, my sleuthing indicates that Alan Johnson does. He’s currently 5 to 1 against as a bet, with Brown at 5 to 1 on.

If you lean towards History creating the Future, and you’re a betting man, it strikes me that a Tenner on Johnson (Alan not Boris) would be a savvy move right now.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Breakfast Time

Taken on the River at Lancaster, at a totally antisocial hour in the morning, this fellow was stationary for a few minutes, presumably looking for food.

It was absolutely freezing, a Monday Morning, and I had to drive to Birmingham to be there by 7.00am. In spite of all that, catching our friend in such lovely light had already made my day.


Last year, we moved house for the first time in 12 years. During that time Thea, my wife, had masterminded the creation of a stunning garden, and, although it took a lot of work, leaving the garden was something which left us with very mixed feelings.

I decided to take a series of pictures during 2005, to have a permanent record of the many plants and shrubs we had left.

From a photographic viewpoint, I was looking to concentrate on the form and shapes of individual blooms or flower heads, together with looking to set the colour of the foreground against a possibly unusual and distinctive background.

These are the first 6 pictures in the series, which I have named Thea's Garden.




One day Lily




Chapter 1 – Harold Wilson (Prime Minister – 1964-76) “A Week is a long time in politics.”
Absolutely right mate. Just take last week. For quite a while now, we’ve seen a whole raft of people and groups around the country, issuing veiled comments and innuendos suggesting to Our Glorious Leader that it was about time he resigned, and let the next man have a go. As one wit in the paper today noted, Blair’s legacy is already in place – “… New Labour, the Millennium Dome, The Third Way, Saddam Hussain’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, Spin, Intractable overseas Wars, John Prescott and Supercasinos….”. I think he missed the Integrated Transport policy, Identity Cards and MRSA, but there you go.

The week before last, Blair attempted to push away the issue of when he would retire by refusing to name a specific date, no less than 8 times – thus in media terms pulling the pin right out of that particular grenade. This week, it all went off!

No-one, but no-one, was going to let him get away with that! Over the last few days, we saw a concerted effort by 15 totally unknown Labour MPs (the 2001 intake) writing a secret letter to Himself, pleading for Tone to “stand aside”. The fact that they probably all owe their position in Parliament to Blair, does not seem to have occurred to them.

The first sentence of the letter is a tad ironic – it starts “Dear Tony, We are writing this private letter as a group of MPs, ……..”. Lovely word that - “private”. The whole smarmy text took until around Wednesday to become public knowledge. Their bitch seemed not to be anything specific about his policies, simply that his continued presence as PM was making them increasingly unlikely to be re-elected. How charming to have friends and colleagues like that.

It now transpires that there was actually a concerted, four stage plan to push Tone over the edge, with an expectation that He would be gone by Saturday (that’s today). Having started with the aforementioned 15, it was to be followed firstly by the 2005, and then the 1997 intake. These last two letters did not get sent, either because they decided that the 2001 salvo had already holed him below the waterline, or they just chickened out when they realised that Saturday was not going to happen. Very noble.

So now we’ve got Blair on the run and most of the Labour MPs on the “Night of the Long Knives” bandwagon, looking to Brown as their Saviour. But no, that’s not what everyone wants apparently, so we now get our Gordon throwing a hissy fit. If he really thinks he’s our next Prime Minister, a modicum of statesmanlike behaviour would have been more appropriate. We’re now subjected to the two top men in New Labour behaving in a way which should have resulted in both of them being sent to their bedrooms - with no tea. But, given who they are, they’re still there, running the country.

Chapter 2 - Lyndon Johnson (US President 1963-69) “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

Not the nicest image you can imagine, but Oh how effective!

One of Margaret Thatcher’s biggest strategic errors was how she continually sacked her most highly skilled Ministers, converting them, at a stroke, from loyal foot soldiers, to powerful enemies. If you want a perfect example of this, just look up Geoffrey Howe’s Resignation speech in the Commons. It was actually written by his wife Elspeth, and as an example of “Hell hath no fury ……”, I know of no better. But his gentle, almost apologetic delivery, was a needle sharp, very accurate scalpel.

At least in the Roman Empire, she would have had them executed, which would have resulted in them being a lot less troublesome, but Health and Safety these days…………. . You’d have thought that Blair and Brown would have learnt from that – it was only 15 years ago. But no. Enter, or more accurately Exit - Charles Clarke, who was dumped as scapegoat for the botched Foreign Prisoner’s release scandal in May this year.

Charles Clarke is an intellectual heavyweight and one of the two best thinkers in New Labour. He’s not averse to a fight, and he feels very, very sore about the way he was cavalierly ejected from his job as Home Secretary in May this year His blood has not yet dried on that one. So he now decides that he’s worth a bit of air time himself. In the ways of politicians, he does it, not by pushing himself forward, but by poking a big stick at Brown, who he described as “a control freak, …deluded and uncollegiate”, and commenting that Brown’s actions were “absolutely stupid, a stupid, stupid thing to do” – how brilliant is all that! He presumably felt no need to take a swipe at Blair, as Blair had done that to himself well enough already. So he finishes off his part of the game by putting everyone off the scent by recommending Alan Milburn as Prime Minister material. Not you will note, as Prime Minister. You have to read the words quite carefully here. Actually, read his interview in total, it's the most refreshing piece from a politician for quite a while. Clarke still has some big cards to play here.

You can now see a range of up and comings, jostling for the ultimate position. They all want Blair to carry on for as long as he can, as this gives them all the best chance of getting themselves better known than at present, to give Brown a run for his money when the time comes next year.

Chapter 3 - It all brings to mind two final quotes.

The first from Harold Wilson again -

“The Labour Party is like a vehicle. If you drive at great speed, all the people in it are either so exhilarated or so sick, that you have no problems. But when you stop, they all get out and argue about which way to go.”

The second from Billy Connolly –

“If you wouldn’t go out for a drink with them, don’t vote for them.”

Perhaps that’s why nearly 40% of the electorate couldn’t be bothered to cast a vote in 2005. You wonder what the figure will be next time.

This story is really bubbling up nicely now. There’s nothing like a bit of internecine strife, Brother fighting Brother hand to hand, as well as Ministers of the Crown shrieking at each other with handbags flailing, to get the interest back into Politics.

This has got a long way to go yet, so keep rubbing your hands.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Tomorrow, the Italian Grand Prix week-end starts at Monza.

Not only do we get another round of the 2006 Alonso vs Schumacher Show, it’s also, or so the media have hyped it up to be, the time when Schumacher announces to the world whether this is his last season in Formula 1.

He really is a strange character. Without doubt, by a country mile, the best driver we’ve seen for the last 10 years, and possibly a lot longer. He is an undoubted genius at the wheel of a racing car. But on the basis that “The Lord Giveth, and The Lord Taketh away”, there has been a stream of occasions over the years, when all you see of the man are his feet of clay. At the very least, you can say that it always makes watching his continuing progress interesting, but on the other hand, it can seem that some of his antics push him off the topmost rung if you ever try to compile the “The Best Driver Ever” list.

He’s now, at 37, by quite a margin the oldest driver on the Formula 1 circuit, and yet his mental drive and physical fitness still leave all his fellow drivers fighting for second place. You can only marvel at whatever it is that makes him still so absolutely focussed on winning the Driver’s Championship yet again. It can’t be money. The idea of him needing the 307th Million pounds he will soon be putting into his Bank account simply doesn’t make sense.

I think it’s a straightforward case of personal arrogance and desire for everlasting domination in his chosen profession. You just don’t become a Grand Prix Racing driver, if you are a shrinking violet. They’ve all got egos the size of a small county, or in his case, Länder. And I think it’s the desire for domination, almost at all costs, over his fellows, which sometimes results in his less pleasant actions appearing. His seemingly deliberate collisions with Damon Hill in 1994, and Jacques Villeneuve in 1997, his stopping across the track at the end of practice for Monaco this year, are all major issues which make you question his personal integrity and balance in a sport where foolhardy acts can result in injury and possibly death. It doesn’t happen very often, but the issue is whether it should ever happen at all.

In spite of this, he’s a truly great driver. Yes, he often has the best car, but equally often he doesn’t, and his racecraft, his intellectual reading of a race, his ability to bang in a series of amazingly fast laps just when they are needed, are the marks of a true genius.

Will he quit?

Good question. Even for someone as pivotal in the sport as Schumacher, there comes a time, and it’s now, when he has to “put up or shut up”. He’s centre stage of a Billion Pound industry, and the manufacturers and the sponsors need certainty in order to plan for next year. So, he needs to decide now, and the decision is actually very finely poised. If he was way back in the Championship, I could easily see him throwing in the towel. There’s no fun for him in grimbling around as a Bit-Player. If he had won the championship already, making 8 in total, I suspect he would say “OK Guys, if any of you can get to Nine, you’ll have played a blinder, so, I’m off”.

But it’s not like that. This year, the Championship is a real and genuine fight. German against Spaniard. Ferrari against Renault. New against Old. Alonso against Schumacher. And it is totally and genuinely unclear who will come out on top. So Schumacher must make his decision before he really wants to.

I think he will stay on. The risk that he will only end up with seven Championships will, I believe, be the nagging point in his mind. It’s not enough. He knows he will probably be up against Raikkonen as a team-mate in 2007. In Martin Brundle’s words – “That will keep him honest”. Raikkonen is, along with Alonso and Schumacher, one of the three best drivers today. It will be quite fascinating to see Schumacher in a team alongside a real driver like Raikkonen, rather than the guys like Massa and Barichello, who are clearly employed as Rear Gunners for the German. There is no way that Raikkonen will do the same, and the thought of Schumacher fighting one of the next best drivers, in the same team as himself, makes one really look forward to 2007. I don’t think Schumacher would disappear from the Grand Prix scene, looking as if he had chickened out on this.

If he ends up winning this year, then that would be 8, and if he could stuff the Finn next year, that would probably be 9, and that’s a real way to burn a hole in the record Books. Besides, the act of doing that would lead to him winning more that 100 Grand Prix, and that’s so far ahead of anyone else that I think, inwardly, he’s after that record as well.

So my money’s on him staying. He looks keen to be up for it. We’ll see over the week-end.

But back to the beginning – Good, no Great, though he is, he’s not the best ever. That accolade belongs to - actually that’s the subject for another day.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Note - this piece contains graphic non-visual images, which some people might hopefully find offensive.

One of the highlights of the working day is my journey to work, which uses the busiest section of road in Europe, the M6 around Birmingham. You may not be aware, but very occasionally there is so much traffic on it that a jam which comes to a complete halt, can occur. It was thus, this morning.

Rather than read my customary book, or finish the ironing, while stationary, I spent my time in the jam looking at what could well be called, I suppose, my fellow Human Beings. At just before 7 o’clock in the morning, you would struggle to describe some of them as “a pretty sight”.

Today, I seemed to have landed unintentionally in the centre of a Battalion of members of the Worshipful Company of Nasal Mining Engineers - West Midlands Branch apparently nicknamed The BogeyMen.

Whilst one’s mind is not at its most agile at that time in the morning, some urgent questions immediately arose.

- Why does this activity seem to be exclusively a Male phenomenon?

- Whilst I am totally against unnecessary Government legislation, should there not be an Emergency Bill laid before Parliament, which makes the installation of Dark Privacy Glass on all cars used by Company Representatives, compulsory?

- Where did Men practice this activity before the invention of the Motor Car, and what about Men who do not drive?

- Is there a covert section of the Worshipful Company, comprised exclusively of Women, presumably, in the interests of Political Correctness, called “The BogeyWomen”. If so, where, and when, do they practice their art?

- Alternatively, is the overall name for both branches of the Organisation a composite one - “The BogeyPeople”?

- One then notices, with gruesome fascination, that the process tended to consist of a First Phase of Right Hand, Right Nostril transferring, after presumably a standard “Seek and Destroy” time, to a Second Phase Right Hand/Left Nostril, followed by Phase Three which was a “Sweeping Up” operation with a free flow variable time, operator driven strategy, followed finally by Phase Four, where the finished results were stored for safekeeping. I did notice a couple of matched Right Hand/Right Nostril, Left Hand/Left Nostril exponents, but these were definitely in the minority, and seemed to occur in cars with Irish Number plates. Perhaps there are varying National Training Standards. If that is the case, when are the EU bureaucrats in Brussels going to issue a Europe wide Directive on Nasal Mining Harmony? Who nose?

My sample was quite large (actually I’ve just realised that can be read two ways), but I don’t recall seeing any totally Left handed exponents, which is odd, given that 10% of the population is Cack-handed. Is this down to rigid Training methods during our youth eradicating any variations, or is it a natural occurrence?

Too many questions.

I feel a Research programme coming on. Anyone got a University Grant?


The Sun” newspaper this morning reveals that Our Glorious Leader will hand over power to his successor on 31st May 2007. Well, that’s nice and clear then, except that it’s obviously wrong.

We are clearly now in Stage 1 of a “Confuse the Voters” campaign by OGL’s Downing Street stormtroopers, who have slavishly modelled their strategy on the Allied Forces’ hugely successful 1944 D-Day “Make Hitler think we’re going to land via St Tropez” campaign.

In that exercise, we had dead bodies in the sea purporting to be British Officers, carrying what looked for all the world like secret copies of the British/American Invasion strategies. This and a whole raft of other wheezes worked amazingly well and our German friends were hoodwinked totally. As a result, their fighting strength was in quite the wrong place when the actual Invasion day arrived.

That’s what Blair’s trying to achieve here. We get various Ministers braying that Tone will be gone within a year, we get a “leaked memo” (perhaps this is the British Officer floating up the Thames with the Secret Papers in his pocket), we get people naming dates of May 31st for him to resign and July 26th for his departure from Downing Street.

The real date, and it’s the result of a simple analysis, which totally bypasses the Spin Doctors’ snake-pit in Westminster, is actually way later than that.

It’s 2008, and here’s why.

The Prime Minister is clearly encountering a “little local difficulty” at present, to borrow a couple of words from one of his predecessors, and he needs a bit of time for that to blow over. The real issue with every Prime Minister, or US President for that matter, which totally consumes his last stint in office, is THE LEGACY.
“How am I going to be remembered in 2020 and beyond? Where is my place in history”

This is where the real strategic planning has been going on in Downing Street since last May. This is why no Bills of any significance have been put forward by the Government – they’re mostly men, so they can’t multi-task. This, in conjunction with the only other major item on Blair’s agenda - “Stop Brown at all costs” is what has consumed the PM since May 2005.

Blair is already watching the raft of Millennium policies he pushed forward, crumbling gently away. Where is the Integrated Transport policy? Why are people finding so many alternative expansions of the Acronym PFI? It can’t be just because the middle letter “F” is so helpful in thinking of alternatives. Why do people get discharged partway through a course of treatment in hospital to finish it, because it’s safer at home? Perhaps even Tone himself might accept the possibility that the Iraq war has not been a totally qualified success. Have you ever tried ringing for medical help at night? Can someone explain in simple English exactly how an £18 Billion Identity card process is going to stop a terrorist getting into this country if he wants to? Is there a thread here? Can you see what it is yet?

He needs time to think of something new to go out on, to develop into the one thing he will be remembered by – The Legacy. So, what we do is issue a leaked memo to The Daily Mirror which implies that The Time is Near. Lots of details – and believable, at least until you read it.

Actually you ought to read it, it’s quite riveting. We have it explained to us that “Time is not an unlimited commodity…”, we are told that “He needs to go with the crowd wanting more”. More what? “He should be the star who won’t even play that last encore”. Please God, not the guitar! His departure will be “As much as possible a farewell tour”, and “He needs to embrace open spaces… He needs to be seen with people who will raise eyebrows.” I wouldn’t have thought that would have been too difficult.

All this will be done apparently using an exit strategy based on Blair making appearances on Blue Peter, Songs of Praise and Chris Evan’s radio show.

The real reality is he needs time to get Brown off the stage, time to bring on people like Alan Johnson, John Reid and (dare one even mention) P**** M******** to become real contenders. He needs to keep Prescott in place as a Doomsday threat so that if Blair goes prematurely or gets shot or even stranded in Sir Cliff’s Barbados villa, you get the DPM immediately taking over. Now that should keep him secure!

But let’s look at the facts. He’s got to go by end April 2010, when he finishes his 5 year term. We’re now 17 months (is it only that long?) into his tenure. He will agree that leaving Downing Street the day before the next election is probably not a great strategy, so will give his non-Brown successor around 18 months for the opprobrium of the electorate to be successfully transferred onto his replacement, which puts us around the end of 2008. The real killer here is there’s still no legacy. Strangely here though, the solution comes from a most remarkable source.

Enter Margaret Hilda Thatcher. Just muse over her time as PM and say what you like about her – she was the longest serving Prime Minister this country has ever, ever had. What a record. She took office on 4 May 1979, and left it on 22 November 1990, a total of 4,220 days. Now, let’s just see where 4,221 days takes us……….

Ah, 19th November 2008. I can’t do Peter Sellar’s accent, but “Verrry interesting”.

So, back to the beginning. The Daily Mirror has been duped and used as a Spin Doctor’s Tool, The Sun has (for once in its life) got it completely wrong.

The date, quite obviously, is 19th November 2008. It's the only thing left for him to do.

Remember, you heard it here first!

Monday, September 04, 2006



The good thing about bad weather is that it keeps most people at home, so your pictures are not cluttered with the Human Race. Except, of course, you need one person, as daft as you, to be out there, in a raging storm, walking his dog on the beach, to give your picture a focal point. The dog, as you can see, is having the time of his life - his owner, out of view, is not.
So - Enter the pooch Stage Left, Wait a couple of seconds and - PRESS. Bob's your uncle!
Taken, believe it or not on the sea-front at West Hartlepool. If I hadn't cropped it from the final image, you would have seen the sprawl of the massive Chemical Plant at Redcar. Trust me, it did not enhance the finished picture!


A simple picture taken near our home in Shropshire. My wife and our two dogs on a local hill-top, all silhouetted against the setting sun.

The great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the phrase “The Decisive Moment” – the exact fraction of a second when you should press the shutter for maximum impact.

This is my best take on it.


I love photographs and photography.

The power and the emotion which can be created by an image created by somebody who knows how to use a camera has amazed me for as long as I can remember. I’ve already put down a few thoughts (Blog - PHOTOGRAPY IS*/IS NOT ART – 14 Aug 2006) to put the case that Photography can be just as much an Art as painting or music. That Blog was a bit of an abstract, general view of the photograph as an Artform – this one is my own personal take on the emotional side of it all.

I’ve spent most of my adult working life immersed in equations, numbers, spreadsheets, financial analyses and Cost benefit calculations. A blend of an unconsummated Engineering training combined with the slightly detached and unemotional view of an Accountant has allowed me to earn my lifetime’s corn – for which I will be eternally thankful. But there’s more to life than that.

My father was a keen photographer in the 50’s, and this, I’m sure, set me off on the road to picture taking. It has always struck me, looking at images in Books, Newspapers and Magazines, as well as watching the moving images on TV and the cinema, just how powerful the well taken picture can be. It has the power to excite, offend, educate, disturb, inform, make you cry, make you angry, make you almost squirm with pleasure, comfort you or blast you with one image into seeing life from a different angle.

We all see images that burn their way into our consciousness, images that we will never forget. Some of them, by the very nature of things are barbaric, violent and horrible and show us things we would rather not see. Anyone who has seen the image of the small girl in Vietnam, running naked towards the camera to get away from an American napalm attack in 1968, will have willed their eyes to look somewhere else, but they stay transfixed. I know mine were. A single picture which changed American Public opinion, and saved many lives, simply by making the war shorter. It is not a picture you would want on your wall, but think of a more simple but potent architect of change.

Life is marked by these iconic images, pictures which gradually form part of our lives without us filing them away consciously in our minds. Think of Gazza crying, Christine Keeler astride “that” chair, Che Guevara, the knickerless tennis playing girl, the student in front of the Tank, the emaciated Sudanese child’s claw-like hand nestling in a Westerner’s huge well-fed grasp – the list is literally endless, and the impact these simple two dimensional pictures generate is a real part of all our collective pasts.

I love and admire pictures such as these, for what they are, for what they have achieved, and the hardships, even on occasions deaths, which have been endured in their creation. But they are not ones I could take in a million years. They portray the hard edges of life, the wars, the conflicts, the famines and the media, both good and bad.

I come at picture taking from a completely different view. One of life’s continuing whinges is that there is no Good News. Whether it is always the news creating the pictures, or the pictures creating the news is sometimes a debatable point, but a day’s newspaper or News Bulletin with an unremitting positive, uplifting thread of stories is almost unknown. There needs to be a counterbalance, and my photography heads off in this direction.

The world around us is simply a magical place, with colour, texture, shape and above all, Light, all of which are continually on the move. The seasons change, the landscapes change, everything is different from the way it was an hour ago, and the excitement of this is something which I am led to try to capture through my camera lens. I know that will sound a bit pretentious and “luvvie”, and I would not have the temerity to call it Art – Artistic Endeavour, yes, but not Art. But it is something which can drive me in a way nothing else can.

Standing outside, usually at the start or the end of the day, always alone, with a landscape spread out in front of you, can sometimes leave you with an awesome feeling of privilege and gratitude for being alive - it can be almost religious. And I have a fervent desire to capture it for all time. Of course you can’t, but that doesn’t stop you wanting to try. Occasionally the results give you some pleasure, and very, very occasionally, you can achieve something which makes you feel quite proud – but not very often.

It’s an intensely personal view, with you being the sole judge and jury, with no Court of Appeal. Others may see them, and they may like them, or they may not. It’s nicer if they do, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. That sounds a tad selfish, but I think all Artistic Endeavour is, in the end, individual – name a great piece of Art produced by a committee. Exactly!

I think, with photography, it’s so easy today to produce an image, that it’s an absolute essential for anyone going at it at all seriously, to develop their own style. I belong to a local Photographic Society, and the best compliment anyone can pay me is when the say “I recognise that one as one of yours.” They may of course mean it rather differently from how I take the comment, but, eitherway, one’s personal imprint on an image is utterly fundamental.

The purpose of this piece is to act as a bit of a heartfelt introduction to the pictorial side of “42@60”. You can say what you like about the Internet, but it’s here to stay, and it’s an amazing medium for individuals to empty out their slide boxes, and display pictures which otherwise might lie unseen. The skill is picking images which should be seen, rather than ones which should not have been left undisturbed in the drawer!

My intent is to put pictures progressively onto the site, in three distinct groups.

Group 1 will be called “Pick of the Pics” and will consist of pictures taken by me over the years. They form what the Pop Industry would call “One Hit wonders” – these stand to be looked at on their own, with no significant thread or connection to any other picture. They might have odd similarities – over a time, you may note an unhealthy pastoral fetish for single trees in the landscape, something about which a psychologist would certainly have something to say! But they are loners, to be viewed on their own.

Group 2, called “Six of the Best” will be selected from what I call my “Concept Albums”, to carry on the musical theme. I like to set myself photographic projects – to take a series of pictures over a period of time on a given, self selected theme. The name alludes to me adding them to this Blog six at a time, rather than showing graphic pictures of my Public School misdemeanours! I like to feel this allows me to build up a sequence of images giving a more complete view of something or somewhere, compared to what I can achieve with one single picture. You will see sets of images from London, Western Ireland, Skye, Norfolk, Italy as well as more esoteric subjects such as 1960s racing car exhausts – don’t even ask!

Group 3, called “The Finest Photos – Ever” consists of images taken by other people, some already mentioned in this piece already – images which rightly and easily sit in my own personal list of “The Best pictures Ever Taken”. Now some of these ARE Art, and I will add a few personal comment about them, and the people who took them. Rest assured you will have no difficulty in identifying this Group from the other two!

So there we are, and off we go. Happy viewing

Sunday, September 03, 2006


I’ve heard of a Mug Shot, but this is ridiculous.

The image of Our Glorious Leader’s (OGL) left hand just “happening” to hold a cup which just “happened” to show, in letters which just “happened” to be readable by the Press Corp’s lenses, and which just “happened” to have, in capital letters, the name ANTHONY and an astrological description of that name underneath it, is, for all the wrong reasons, quite unforgettable.

As an attempt to ruin the enjoyment of your last Thursday morning’s Wheetiebangs, it was the greatest front page cover picture since, well, the last time he tried to do something just as crass. What is it about the man? He’s supposed to be the elected leader of the fourth largest economy on earth (that is unless Google has just relegated us to fifth place) and he turns up to a Press conference playing to a script straight out of Morecombe and Wise.

Just in case you haven’t read the words on THAT cup, they say –


Your refined inner voice drives your thoughts and your deeds.
You’re a man who’s in charge, others follow your lead.
You possess great depth and have a passionate mind.
Others think you’re influential, ethical and kind.

And just when you thought the pain was over, you turn the mug round (the ceramic one, that is) and the cup holder’s personality is further examined.

He is, apparently, “Humble and Private, you view the world through a dreamy and reflective lens.”

The name Anthony’s meaning is “Priceless One”, his Lucky Number is 7, his “Colour” is Yellow (!), his “Animal” is, and Ah! now we’re getting somewhere, a Marabou (apparently an African Stork often seen hanging around rubbish dumps), and finally, and we know we’re onto something here now, his “Lucky Plant” is Garlic. Just as I thought.

Having got past the beauty of this exquisite little vignette, the smile fades from your face when you realise that all this is not some ghastly error, but a carefully planned piece of New Labour Spin Doctoring. This has been carefully researched, planned, reviewed, tested against Focus Groups to see if it plays well among the masses, and released on a day when he had a strange non-message to give that he would prefer to be smeared over by the Media with something else, to the point of invisibility. And didn’t he do well.

You can see, in your head, the planning that will have gone into this. There will have been someone in Downing Street tasked to look specifically into this. His Acronym, for they live there by acronyms, will be SAICOMS (Special Assistant In Charge Of Mug Selection). SAICOMS will have researched the past, and Yes, there is a past. Newspapers report a past sighting of a mug in 2000 announcing, not quite subliminally, that “THE WORK GOES ON” and that “BIG ISSUES NEED A BIG CONVERSATION”.

He will then have looked at other mugs available, and soon found one for DPM which announces that JOHN has

“ ….a wide circle of devoted and caring friends,
Compassionate and kind, a helping hand you always lend,
A successful man by nature, you succeed at what you do,
Your mind is nimble and alert, to your instincts you are true.

Well, that’s another real plus for Tone. Our intrepid researcher will also have found that these mugs are available for £4.99 each, which means that the planned marketing wheeze would not need another Millionaire “loan” to be arranged.

The final point, which will have immediately clinched the idea in OGL’s mind is that when he asked what the Chancellor’s Mug said, SAICOMS reply, and this will have been spoken with total and absolute gloating pleasure, would have been that the Retailer did not bother with GORDON Mugs because the name was not popular enough.

Result of Meeting - ACTION THIS DAY!

Friday, September 01, 2006


I watched the revelations about Charles Kennedy and the extent of his alcoholism and who knew about it last week, with that fixed fascination which always seems to accompany tales of the “Mighty Fallen”.

It immediately reminded me of the goings on of another Liberal politician, who, in the early 1970s, set off a far bigger story – one which today seems almost unbelievable but equally is almost forgotten – Jeremy Thorpe.

Jeremy Thorpe, with his Edwardian style tailored topcoats, fancy waistcoats, brown trilby and dandified demeanour, seemed as close to the heart of a Country Tory as could be imagined - or if not that, a rather ambivalent Undertaker. Yet, following an Eton, Oxford and President of the Union education, he became a Liberal politician. With his youthful looks and flare for publicity, he soon became Leader of the Liberal party in 1967, presiding over a significant party revival over the next 7 years. He even entered into significant discussions with Edward Heath, the well known sailor, conductor and Prime Minister, to form a coalition and become not just Liberal leader but to take on the position of Home Secretary in the Government –serious stuff then!

Rumours abounded all through his life about his sexuality, with a particular focus on an alleged affair with a former male model named Norman Scott. Scott said he had a homosexual affair with Thorpe in 1961, at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal in this country. Scott tells of his first physical liaison at Thorpe’s mother’s house where, in order to remain silent, he had to resort to “biting the pillow”. A compulsively delightful image!

Scott pushed these allegations during the early 70s, even selling love letters, purportedly from Thorpe, to the Press, one of which included the classic line “Bunnies can and will go to France”. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

In 1975, Scott was out walking on Dartmoor with a friend’s dog, when he was confronted by a former air-line pilot named Andrew Newton, who was armed with a gun. Newton shot and killed the dog, whose name was "Rinka", and pointed the gun at Scott, but it apparently jammed.

Newton was sent for trial and found guilty of the offence in 1976, with Scott, still presumably wanting his pound of flesh (no pun intended), reviving his claims of an involvement with Thorpe during the trial. The pressure from all this ultimately led to Thorpe resigning as Party leader.

When Newton was released from prison, he claimed he had been hired as a “hit-man” to kill Norman Scott. A year later, Thorpe, David Holmes (Deputy Treasurer of the Liberal Party) and two other were charged with Conspiracy to Murder. Thorpe was also charged with inciting Holmes to murder Scott. Heady stuff, what?

Another Liberal MP named Peter Bissell claimed to have had inside information within the Party about the conspiracy, and sold his story to the Press, appearing as a witness in the trial in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Thorpe elected to remain silent throughout the trial, his defence’s case being that – Yes, he did know Scott as a friend, and that in order to put a stop to Scott’s continuing blackmail claims, Thorpe and his colleagues had discussed putting the frighteners on Scott, but not to kill him.

The case itself has gone down as one where Mr Justice Cantley was heavily criticised for showing a hugely “pro-establishment” bias. As part of the exquisitely balanced summing up required from any judge, he described Scott as follows –

“He is a fraud. He is a sponger. He is a whiner. He is a parasite. But, of course, he could still be telling the truth. It is a question of belief.”
That believe it or not is the judge speaking, not the Prosecution!

This amazing, one sided nature of the summing up was perfectly satirised by Peter Cook, at “The Secret Policemen’s Ball”, with a short piece cobbled together just minutes before the show. If ever you have the slightest doubt as to Peter Cook’s Comic capabilities, just read this.

Quote from The Secret Policeman's Ball (1981)

Judge: [aloud] Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is now my duty to advise you on how you should vote when you retire from this court. In the last few weeks we have all heard some pretty extraordinary allegations being made about one of the prettiest, about one of the most distinguished politicians ever to rise to high office in this country - or not, as you may think.

We have heard, for example, from Mr Bex Bissell - a man who by his own admission is a liar, a humbug, a hypocrite, a vagabond, a loathsome spotted reptile and a self-confessed chicken strangler. You may choose, if you wish, to believe the transparent tissue of odious lies which streamed on and on from his disgusting, greedy, slavering lips. That is entirely a matter for you.
Then we have been forced to listen to the pitiful whining of Mr Norma St.John Scott - a scrounger, parasite, pervert, a worm, a self-confessed player of the pink oboe; a man, or woman who by his, or her, own admission chews pillows! It would be hard to imagine, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, a more discredited and embittered man, a more unreliable witness upon whose testimony to convict a man who you may rightly think should have become Prime Minister of his country or President of the world. You may on the other hand choose to believe the evidence of Mrs Scott - in which case I can only say that you need psychiatric help of the type provided by the excellent Dr Gleadle.
On the evidence of the so-called "hit man", Mr Olivia Newton-John, I would prefer to draw a discrete veil. He is, as we know, a man with a criminal past, but I like to think - ho, ho, ho - no criminal future. He is a piece of slimy refuse, unable to carry out the simplest murder plot without cocking it up, to the distress of many. On the other hand, you may think Mr Newton-John is one of the most intelligent, profound, sensitive and saintly personalities of our time. That is entirely a matter for you.
I now turn to the evidence about the money and Mr Jack Haywire and Mr Nadir Rickshaw, neither of whom, as far as I can make out, are complete and utter crooks, though the latter is incontestably foreign and, you may well think, the very type to boil up foul-smelling biryanis at all hours of the night and keep you awake with his pagan limbo dancing.
It is not contested by the defence that enormous sums of money flowed towards them in unusual ways. What happened to that money, we shall never know. But I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that there are a number of totally innocent ways in which that £20,000 could have been spent: on two tickets for Evita, a centre court seat at Wimbledon, or Mr Thrope may have decided simply to blow it all on a flutter on the Derby. That is his affair and it is not for us to pry. It will be a sad day for this country when a leading politician cannot spend his election expenses in any way he sees fit.
One further point - you will probably have noticed that three of the defendants have very wisely chosen to exercise their inalienable right not to go into the witness box to answer a lot of impertinent questions. I will merely say that you are not to infer from this anything other than that they consider the evidence against them so flimsy that it was scarcely worth their while to rise from their seats and waste their breath denying these ludicrous charges.
In closing, I would like to pay tribute to Mr Thrope's husband, Miriam, who has stood by him throughout this long and unnecessary ordeal. I know you will join me in wishing them well for a long and happy future. And now, being mindful of the fact that the Prudential Cup begins on Saturday, putting all such thoughts from your mind, you are now to retire - as indeed should I - you are now to retire, carefully to consider your verdict of "Not Guilty".

(Note – the line in pink italics was contributed to Peter Cook’s script by an up and coming young comedian named Billy Connolly.)

And Not Guilty, it was.
The jury spent 15 hours trying to break a 6-6 stalemate. But they came down on Thorpe’s side. It seemed that the Establishment had circled their wagons around Jeremy Thorpe, and the ring had held. His Establishment friends soon showed their other face however, when, as soon as the trial had finished, he was totally shunned in the world of politics. He disappeared from the public arena immediately, hardly ever having been heard of again.

There are continuing attempts to bring this story back to life – it beats anything Peter Mandelson, David Blunkett, Edwina Currey or any of the Division 2 scandals we see today. I suspect it will take Thorpe’s final demise to allow the 6 part TV drama, for that’s what it deserves, to be written and transmitted.
The only problem is, when it’s shown, most people will see it as a fanciful work of imaginative fiction. Those of us with a slightly odd interest in juicy political scandals over the years will know differently.