Tuesday, February 27, 2007



Following on from the piece on 13th February, one of the more disturbing things to come out of the Watergate saga is the story of airline flight United 533. There have been untold stories coming out of Watergate since the early 70's, but this one is still an open book which gives the conspiracy theorists something to chew on. If you give up on Princess Diana, David Kelly, John Lennon and even John Kennedy, and if you still want a real conspiracy theory, consider Howard Hunt who died recently, or more precisely his wife Dorothy.
They both worked in shady areas of the world for the CIA. Hunt was suspected of being implicated in Kennedy’s assassination. He was in charge of the Watergate break-in, and when that went horribly wrong, he had his political back against the wall. To protect himself, he set about blackmailing the government to stop him spilling the beans on what he said he knew, including, he said, evidence about Nixon’s role in Kennedy’s death.

Dorothy was acting as broker with White House aides to negotiate a pay-off, which apparently was agreed to be around $250,000, whilst at the same time she was also talking to journalists and members of Congress. It seems quite clear that John Dean, Council to the President, told Richard Nixon that she was “the savviest woman in the world. She had the whole picture together” – the implications being she was a dangerous woman, and that the White House, at the highest level, knew that.

One day, Dorothy Hunt, who was being used as a messenger for the White House to distribute Watergate “Slush monies”, got on a plane, together with a very clued up Watergate journalist, Michelle Clark, a Member of Congress and fifty or so other people, nine others of whom it later turned out were involved in Watergate.

She had just bought $250,000 of Life Insurance, the payee being Howard Hunt. The plane crashed landing in Chicago, killing almost everyone on board. She was certainly also carrying $10,000 in cash, although there seemed considerable evidence that up to $2 million of pay-out money and cheques was also with her, as well as the original copy of the papers which reputedly linked Nixon to Kennedy’s death.
One writer claimed that just hours after the crash an anonymous call was made to the WBBM Chicago (CBS) talk show. The caller described himself as a radio ham who had monitored ground control's communications with 553, and he reported an exchange concerning gross control tower error or sabotage. CBS, the employer of Michelle Clark killed in the crash, kept this information from the authorities investigating the accident. One FBI agent went straight to Midway's control tower and confiscated the tape containing information concerning the crash. Apparently, the FBI did this before the NTSB (National Transport Safety Board) could act - a unique and illegal intervention.

This writer also pointed out that FBI agents were at the scene of the crash before the Fire Department, which received a call within one minute of the crash. The FBI later claimed that 12 agents reached the scene of the crash. Later it was revealed that there were over 50 agents searching through the wreckage.

It was completely irregular for the FBI to get involved in investigating a crash until invited in by the National Transportation Safety Board. The FBI director justified this action because it considered the accident to have been the result of sabotage. That raises two issues: (i) How were they able to get to the crash scene so quickly? (ii) Why did they believe Flight 553 had been a case of possible sabotage? This question is not answered by Freed, the writer, but it could be argued that it is possible to answer both questions with the same answer. The FBI had been told that Flight 553 was going to crash as it landed in Chicago.

Another writer has pointed out that the day after the crash, one of Nixon’s close White House aides Egil Krogh was appointed Undersecretary of Transportation, supervising the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Association - the two agencies charged with investigating the airline crash. A week later, Nixon's deputy assistant Alexander P. Butterfield was made the new head of the FAA. Coincidence?

When you delve into this story, there then seems to follow a continuing trickle of extremely convenient murders, which further adds to the mystery. Dorothy was rumoured to have been poisoned by cyanide during the flight, and her body was cremated with indecent haste, apparently following considerable pressure from CBS, the employer of the journalist travelling on the plane with Mrs Hunt – though just how a News organisation has any power to influence such a thing is beyond me. The undertaker who carried out the autopsy, was murdered shortly afterwards – a crime still “unsolved”.

Just to add to the mix, two or three other people, involved with the White House on other, non-Watergate matters, apparently received phone calls that day advising them not to go on the flight, or to take a later one.

Howard Hunt, who at the time of his wife’s death was under arrest, caved in following the crash, and pleaded guilty to his involvement in the burglary.

And it goes on – there’s more if you want to find it. See
http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKhuntD.htm. It’s got the makings of a bloody good film, and as the real people involved die, perhaps there really still is more to come. Howard Hunt’s autobiography is, apparently, just about to be published …….

It does make the “Cash for Honours” issue a bit tame, but you never know. Watch this space.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Now I’ve just re-read last night’s piece about the Stornoway Moles. Now, I just felt that in the verbage, there was something just a tad irritating about my writing style, and I think this has been creeping up on me insidiously over the past few weeks. Now I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but I’m going to see a specialist about it, to try and catch it in its early stages.

Now, for those who are still interested, the programme is called NOW. Now this is a TLA for the Now Obliteration Woutine (as you can see I type with a lisp, which I’m also getting specialist help over), and it involves facing the problem head-on, and coming to terms with it, well….Now.

Wish me well. I may be some time.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


There you are, browsing through the newspaper, and suddenly, you read something which makes you look at the date, wondering if two months have suddenly fast-forwarded, and it really is April 1st. The double-take last week was the story that plans are afoot to build a tunnel from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, to near Ullapool, somewhere near where the Arctic Circle crosses the Scottish mainland.

The tunnel is planned to be 41 miles long, some 10 miles longer than the Channel Tunnel, and since it was reported in the “Independent” it must be true. Subsidiary paragraphs reveal alternative plans to build a much shorter tunnel to come out just near the bridge on the Isle of Skye – this one being only 25 miles long.

One’s first thought is “I didn’t come up the Clyde on a bicycle”, which is actually quite a nice phrase in the circumstances. Perhaps some clever marketing person is trying to get The Western Isles “on the map” so to speak, and get a hefty dollop of good publicity by using the lampooning style of Ryanair and Sir Montgomery Cecil (see
www.unlimited-spurt.org for details) in trying humour to get their messages across.

Now I’m only a bear of very little brain, but, assuming this isn’t an example of that rare commodity, Northern Scottish humour, I would have thought that the cost of such a venture would not be trivial. If the Channel Tunnel cost $21 billion, then a 41 mile tunnel would cost proportionately $28 billion. Take a bit off for improved efficiency, and put a bit back for Inflation since the tunnel was finished in 1994, the fact that the Western Isles are a long way from anywhere (so why then do you need a tunnel - No, don’t go there), so everything and everyone has got to be moved enormous distances, it’s difficult to see how you get much change out of $30 billion.

Now, at the last 2001 Census, the population of the Isle of Lewis was 16,872, excluding the sheep. Now that’s clearly not the whole story, because there also is an influx of tourists which increase that number significantly each year. But you have to ask why they go there. I suspect, for the sort of people who go, the difficulty of getting there is actually a small part of the pleasure - the other part being the profound sense of isolation when you're there.

Now I may sound as if I don’t like the place. But we used to go to Skye, the next island down, almost every year for our family holidays, and I don’t believe I can think of a more beautiful place than that part of the world. Just as a taster, here are some of the images I've taken of the island.

For the tourist, there is undoubtedly something quite addictive about the place, with the mountains, the sea, the beaches, the long walks, the history, the isolation (the nearest Marks and Sparks is 4 hours hard drive away in Inverness, so heaven help you if you forget the Vanilla yoghurts). Its infinitely variable weather can present the place one day as a Greek island, or a 60 mile long carwash the next day. Its culture, its occasional rawness and its almost religious feel can cast a spell that’s very difficult for a Southern Jessie like me to resist, although, on occasions, dark clouds of marauding kamikaze midges sometimes do show you another side!

As a tourist, you can’t really see it from the inhabitant’s viewpoint, and I suspect that life on these islands is a bloody sight harder than anything we have to go through in the cosseted South. The influence of religion is utterly different from England. They still observe the Sabbath, and, as far as I know, the only place open on a Sunday on Lewis is a petrol station, and that’s only for 4 hours.

We have little idea what it’s like for the ferry not to arrive, and supplies simply not be available. The wind, the rain and all the other myriad testing things that hit the inhabitants are almost unknown to us. But that’s not the point. We all live under different pressures, and the ones in Southern England are literally a different world from those which mould the Highland Scottish character. And I’m afraid, if it all gets too much, there is always the option to gird up your loins and “Go South”. Croydon awaits!

That’s not to say that development of the area should not exist. As a family, we watched the effect of the bridge which was built to join Skye to the mainland. The act of joining something to the mainland which previously was an island hit some islanders very hard, and some of them thought it would ruin the place. I have to say, from our viewpoint, it didn’t. The volume and the type of tourists seemed little different – it’s still a good 5 hours drive (admittedly along some of the most beautiful roads you’ll ever find) beyond Glasgow, so that sorts most of them out!

But that was financed privately, and only (!) cost £30 million. I know it’s not all about money, but if anyone expects to get any form of Cost Benefit Analysis to work for a tunnel, then it’s beyond me. My simple sums for that work out at $1.8 million per Lewis inhabitant (again, excluding the sheep).

There is a lovely web-site where a guy reckons that the Channel Tunnel was so expensive because they used rogue British (probably English) and French cowboys to build it. His idea instead was to go to Norway where he says building tunnels is much more of a core skill, and he knew someone there who could knock it out for £110 million. Well that sorts the money side of it.

As a confirmed Englishman, who still does not even know the answer to the West Lothian question, it seems to me very simply that this is a purely Scottish issue. They didn’t start too well with the Parliament building costs – Yes, I know it was only an extra Zero, but to us miserable money men, that’s sometimes quite important. So if they really want to drill a hole 40 miles long, where the only benefit would seem to be that the pizza deliveries from Ullapool would still be warm when they got to Stornoway, then let the Scots work out how to do it without it costing me a bean.

If I go there again, I’m quite happy to take the ferry – it’s much more romantic!

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I'm on a Watergate kick at the moment. A couple of postings ago, I showed a tremendous set of images taken from the "Washington Post" archives which had, as well as showing the all "Usual Suspects" without their Prison Numbers, a really smoky, atmospheric "You were there" feel to it all.

The one guy who was completely missing from this set of images, and who became an overnight star through the film "All the President's Men", was Deep Throat. Deep Throat was the insider who knew everything that was going on about Watergate inside the President's team. It was he who kept Bob Woodward, the "Post" Journalist, on track throughout the whole investigation. The two of them held meetings, just like in the best Spy films, in Multi story Car parks at 2am, so as to avoid Deep Throat's identity ever being revealed. In the film, he was only ever seen in sillhouette, rim-lit with cigarette smoke drifting very artistically against the car park safety lights, but his existence spawned a whole raft of theories about who he was.

He had to be someone very, very near the Top in the Government System, otherwise he simply wouldn't have had access to the Gold Standard information he knew. So he had to take great care not to pass on anything that would allow his identity to become obvious to those seeking him out, bent on destroying the "Post" and its sources.

And throughout the whole time the story was developing, no-one apart from Woodward and Bernstein knew who Deep Throat was. Even Ben Bradlee, the newspaper's editor, was not in the know - and still he backed his journalists with the story. Brave man.

But now, some 30 odd years after the event, following innumerable efforts, books, investigations, rumours, claims and denials, he has been identified as W Mark Felt. Felt was the Assistant Director of the FBI at the time. Almost everyone in the Administration came under suspicion, but it is really quite amazing that Felt's name has been keep secret for so long, thus putting the last big piece of Jig-saw into the Watergate puzzle. When you read about him, his fasacinating life, and the cunning way he involved himself with Woodward, you imagine a real James Bond type.

All the pictures of the man show him now as a very frail 91 year old, but there are a couple of pictures which show him much earlier in his life. The one below, in one simple image, briings into stark relief, the gulf which exists between the way things are in America and the way they are here. Just remember, this man is 2nd in Command of the America's premier policing body, reporting through J Edgar Hoover, directly to the President of the United States.

In your wildest imagination, can you imagine in this country, Stella Rimington having a picture to match this in her personal picture albums. If she has, someone would pay an awful lot of money for it. This is the best we can do in the meantime!

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We’ve had “The Producers”, a spoof film about Hitler by Mel Brooks. We’ve had "Thatcher – The Musical”, and now, as if we haven’t suffered enough for Goodness sake, we look forward to “Prime Minister – The Musical”, a frothy confection about the life and times of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

But, bless it, the letter’s page of the "Telegraph" has, over the last couple of days, tried its hardest to remove the cloud of depression that this ghastly thought has generated in me at least. One correspondent (a Mr Miller of Liphook Hants) firstly spilt the beans that the poor soul under consideration to play John Prescott in this new masterwork is, heaven help us, none other than Meat Loaf. Now, if ever you want a definition of the word “inspirational”, you’ve just read it.

But one wonders here whether our letter writer has stumbled on something akin to Anthony Blunt, The Third Man or Deep Throat (the Watergate version!) and discovered one of the great hidden secret stories of our age. The more you think about it, the more you conclude that there’s more to this tale than meets the eye.

Let’s look at the evidence. It’s fair to say that Prescott’s behaviour patterns are not what you’d expect of a Premier League politician. He is the very model of incoherence, grunting monosyllabically when you’d expect some attempt at rudimentary use of Common grammar and syntax – you know the sort of thing – Subject, Verb, Object. You expect from such people a vision, a way forward, a mesmerising, blazing oratory to energize us all to take up his new ideas and follow him at least towards, if not into, the Sunset.

And what have we got? A potentially great Croquet player. A man who spits his teeth out at audiences. A fairground employee’s level of ability in the noble art of Fisticuffs, just because someone landed an egg on him. A “serial groper”, who “just leapt on me at one party and his tongue was halfway down my throat” according to an ex (is that surprising?) - Labour Party Press Officer. A man who thrives on big cars, big houses and Big Macs. Now doesn’t that sound more like a rock star than a humble politician.

Perhaps our doughty correspondents have just seen what should have been obvious to us all along. We all thought when JP went to the USA last year and “allegedly” accepted hospitality at the ranch of Philip Anschutz, the billionnaire owner of the Millenium Dome, he was pushing the position of the Deputy Prime Minister a bit close to the line, seeing he was the Government official responsible for the regeneration of the site.

Perhaps, however, this was all a brilliant cover-up. Perhaps he was actually in the recording studio in America covertly working on the album for this new Musical. Perhaps they’re getting Meat Loaf to write all the songs, before he goes on tour with the show when it’s finished. There have been rumours that Meat Loaf and JP have been working together for some time on this project, Mr Prescott piecemeal, Mr Loaf more on a well, wholemeal basis. Perhaps even all the timing kerfuffle surrounding the PM’s departure is actually being arranged to allow Blair (Tony, not Lionel) to join the cast as lead guitar when his current job is over.

The second “Telegraph” correspondent (a Mr Lisney of SW6) even scoops the name of one of the songs in the show, which really confirms everything written above. You may still think all this is conjecture, but, as the BBC says in these instances, a document has just “come into my possession” which shows things to be far more advanced than we’d previously suspected.

The album cover for the Musical is already completed, and this blog presents it as a World Exclusive. Clearly derived from Meat Loaf’s previous albums, it shows our Prezza riding the famous motorbike which started Meat Loaf’s recording career off. The colour of the new album’s cover reflects JP’s new found Green, low non-Yeti sized Carbon Footprint leanings - only one car, only one House, only one woman.

And the title, which is so brilliantly scooped in My Lisney’s exposé confirms it all – “Bat Out of Hull”.

Remember, you saw it first here!



Tuesday, February 13, 2007


A short while ago, this Press release hit the newspapers, confirming that much of South East England were no longer under the grip of the hosepipe ban which had been in place since early 2006.

Press Releases

Four water companies lift hosepipe ban

Thames Water, Three Valleys Water, Southern Water and Sutton and East Surrey Water today announced they are lifting their hosepipe ban effective immediately.

On the same day, in sunny Shropshire, the pictures below were taken of yet another major flooding which had hit the county. Now I know it's not as simple as all that, but on a day like the one in the pictures, a young man's thoughts turn to a National Water Grid, or at least a bloody big pipeline from Shrewsbury to somewhere like Croydon.

Yes, I know it would cost a lot of money, and yes, I'm know there are many reasons, all of them very carefully explained on the various Southern Water Company's Websites, why such an idea simply wouldn't work. But I'll bet you if old Isambard Kingdom B was still alive today, he'd be turning in his grave about it.

You can just hear him saying - "Let me at it."


The death of Howard Hunt, a few days ago, went relatively unnoticed, but here was a man at the centre of the greatest political scandal of the last century – Watergate. Even though Watergate was only 35 years ago, it seems to have faded in people’s memories, so the other day, I took another look at the Dustin Hoffman/Robert Redford film “All the President’s Men” to see what the fuss was all about. The film itself was good rather than great – too much of what didn’t suit the story was left out, and the narrative itself stopped way short of the real climax – Nixon’s resignation – the first President so to do.

However, when you re-read the story from this time-distance, and just look at the list of casualties it threw up, the whole thing was simply seismic – I don’t think America has still recovered from it. Trust (or more precisely, lack of trust), cynicism and lack of belief in the honour of those who govern them still remain. When Watergate claimed its final Presidential victim, the list included the Attorney General and his Deputy, Nixon’s Chief of Staff, and several front line “Counsels to the President” – many of the biggest cheeses around. This was in addition to a raft of lesser lights of whom Howard Hunt was one – the whole saga took down 40 people in the White House administration.

The almost complete ineffectiveness of the FBI investigation into Watergate doesn’t leave a warm feeling at all about the checks and balances in the American political structure. In the end it was down to a huge part played by the American press, almost exclusively “The Washington Post”, to piece together what had been going on. Had it not been for brave people like the Post’s editors Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee, and the dogged reporting of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the likelihood is that the scandal would not have turned out as it did.

The internet is a treasure-trove of little snippets about the goings-on in Washington during 1972-4, and as a taster just look at a terrific selection of the atmospheric photographs which “The Washington Post” has on its website. These pictures, which I think are a truly superlative set of images go straight to the heart of the story, and give you an unmatchable feel about the people involved. I do not apologise for showing quite a few of the collection, simply because they are all such good pictures.

I know of no better set of images covering a story which have come from one source – remarkably well done “The Washington Post”.















Monday, February 12, 2007


Having gone on a couple of nights ago about Hairdressers, and the punny names they all seem to like to call their emporia, I seem to have started to notice this little quirk a bit more. DrivIng home from the vets on Sunday, I went through a little village not too far from home and the road-sign which welcomed me was the one below.

With a name like that one's attention is immediately on alert, and passing through said village, I duly came across the Village Shop.

Need I say more?

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Gridlock on the roads around Shrewsbury last Friday - if this what Global Warming is going to do to us, I think I'd rather it stayed cold.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


The name on the façade of the shop where I have my hair cut is “Shirley Walker”, mainly because the name of the young lady who cuts my hair’s is - no bating of breath here – Shirley Walker. But for some reason, there’s something about being a hairdresser which drives them to dream up all manner of slightly heavy handed puns to name their businesses. There’s something about Hairdressers, and the way the world perceives them, which probably prevents you from ever confusing them with, let's say, a Hod Carrier. Probably the same reason which resulted in Nissan producing 100 or so of its new Micra C+C Convertibles in a hugely desirable shade of Barbie Pink - a case of Nissan vada-ing a bit of really bona Niche Marketing.


From a very cursory inspection, Fish shops run them close but, in reality, they must take second, er, plaice.

This name thing is a bit like when you buy a red Fiat, you suddenly start to see millions of red Fiats around. They’re there all the time, but normally we just don’t notice them. But, having seen a couple of Punnish Hairdresser’s names, I decided to make good use of my Double First in Advanced Sadness, and had a quick look around at the local Hairdressers to see if I was seeing “Reds under the Bed” here. If Shrewsbury, my local town, is even halfway normal, then the clear answer, at least on the Hairdresser front, is NO – they’re all at it.

Just from a skim of the local Yellow Pages, the following examples surface –

- Hair-Lines
- Hairlooms
- Alibarber
(you just knew there had to be one of those)
- Razor Sharp
- Chopping Block
- A Cut Above
- Barnets
- Capability Brown
- Funky Barnetts
- Gold-E-Locks
- Guys’n’Molls
- Hairborne
- Hairline
- Hairport
- Headmasters
- Head Quarters
- Miles A Head
- Million Hairs
- Scizzor Sisters
(I like that one)
- Sweeneys

And that’s just within a few miles of home in rural Shropshire, so Goodness knows what they call themselves in more literary places like Oxbridge. You don’t have to look much farther afield to come across a few more –

- Beyond the Fringe
- Urban Roots
- Talking Heads
- Under Your Hat
- Barbarella
- Blow Your Top
- Off Your Head
- Snippets
- Wavelength

- Hair Are We, and even
- Mad Hackers
(At least you’ve been warned!)

Having now spent a worrying few minutes exploring the wit (or otherwise) of the Hairdresser, you start to wonder about other professions. If you want to change your kitchen floor, for instance, it would seem you can go to Croc-a-Tile (I need my floor laid, but make it snappy!), Versa-Tile, or even The Bonny Tiler!

And if for any reason, Taxidermy is your bag, you could approach (very carefully I would suggest in the case of the first one!) S&M Taxidermy, Chris Hackett, Bird Stuff, and (yes, you’ve guessed it) – Get Stuffed.

IAN RICHARDSON - 1934-2007

How very sad to read of Ian Richardson’s death yesterday.

Most of us, of non-Shakesperian stock, knew him through his acting on Television and in films, and it’s only when you read his “credits” that you realise the sheer volume of his work. He almost had two careers, firstly as a leading Shakesperian actor with the RSC until 1975, and latterly, following a nervous breakdown, as a hugely distinctive actor on TV and film. Think of the raft of “good” series on TV, and Richardson seemed to have been in most of them - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Porterhouse Blue, Blunt (was ever a man better suited to a character?), Gormenghast and Bleak House to name but a few.

But his portrayal of the monstrous Francis Urquhart in the masterly "House of Cards" Trilogy is the one part of his which will stay in my mind for ever. Strangely, having very recently got a bit sick of the current Government dancing around their individual handbags over the “Cash for Questions” affair, I played “House of Cards” again. Once you start watching, you can’t stop – it’s riveting stuff, even 15 years on. It loses none of its sinister blackness, and Richardson’s cold, dark, precise and deliberate playing of Urquhart gives you a real sense of the creeps, and makes you believe that the things that went on in the three series could actually happen.

Of course, in the cold light of day, the idea of the Prime Minister throwing one of his advisors/mistresses off the parapet of the Palace of Westminster does strike one as a tad improbable. But, I’ll bet there are a lot of High-Up politicians over the last 15 years whose personal video copy of that sequence has worn a bit thin through overzealous use of the pause button. You can just imagine them thinking – “I just wonder…..”.