Thursday, May 31, 2007


Trolling through Waterstones today, I was looking at the Photographic Books. The next section along on the racks was Buildings (don't ask me why), and I was taken by a slender tome entitled "Building Regulations In Brief", written by a gentleman named Ray Tricker (not sure about that name either).

I picked it up, just to admire it. It ran, including the index, to a closely typed 823 pages, and was well over two inches thick. My request to the staff to see the Non Brief version did not seem to appeal to their sense of humour.

Ho Hum.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


A comment on a friend’s blog set me thinking over the weekend. If you’re into things computational, then Chris Linfoot’s blog is the place to go. Although some of it is very technical and written in a language known only to a chosen few (of which I am not one!) there is a range of light and shade in many of the subject matters on which he writes, which allows us mere mortals occasionally to understand and appreciate what’s going on. Last Saturday he wrote the following, under the title “Yet more on lazy journalism and dangerous wi-fi”.

(See and read the 26th May entry)

Won't somebody, please, think of the children? Three weeks ago, I received my favourite email of all time, from a science teacher. "I've just had to ask a BBC Panorama film crew not to film in my class because of the bad science they were trying to carry out," it began, describing in detail the Panorama which aired this week. This show was on suppressed dangers of radiation from Wi-Fi networks, and how they harm children.

There was no science in it, just some "experiments" they did for themselves, and some conflicting experts. Panorama disagreed with the WHO expert, so he was smeared for not being "independent" enough, and working for a phone company in the past. I don't do smear. But Panorama started it. How independent were the "experiments" they did?

It seems that the Grauniad is as incensed as I was about that silly wi-fi exposé.

Apparently, the school where the documentary was being filmed became aware of the slant of the Panorama investigation and asked Panorama to leave on the grounds that the study was unscientific. Bravo.

My favourite quote.

Chris makes an important point. We rely on the BBC, as much as we can rely on any large organisation for an impartial, unbiased and disinterested view on the things which go on around us. Especially when those things are shown on something like the flagship Current Affairs programme "Panorama". That’s why it’s such a disappointment to read what Chris has written here.

From my viewpoint, I can add two more instances of the failings of the Panorama programme, which I have seen over my business life. I have worked for almost all of my life in the Motor vehicle industry, and given the huge changes which have occurred in that industry over the years, it is no surprise that some of the changes have been weighty enough to be seen as national “News”. As such they have garnered the interest on two separate occasions of those who create the "Panorama" programme.

Now, when you are immersed in the middle of these stories, you probably feel that you know, as much as anyone can, what the real truth behind the story actually is. You know the people, you know what has happened, as well as what people say has happened. You know who has done what to whom and how the various strands of what is actually quite a complex story, knit together.

You therefore watch with considerable interest the TV teams appearing where you work, watch them talking to people, and seeing what they record and take away to be edited into their final programme. After all, they are involving themselves in “your” story.

In both cases, the programmes which were finally broadcast were, in my opinion biased, disjointed, lop sided and badly unbalanced pieces of sensationalist journalism, none of which sat comfortably with the brand of Integrity and impartiality one expects from such a highly thought-of programme. I was not alone in my thoughts in that many of my colleagues were appalled by the misleading way some of the material had been used. It seemed to many of us in retrospect that the team of reporters had already decided on “The Story” when they arrived, and had collected their interviews and edited them in such a way as to fit in with their own preconceived ideas.

We all felt let down by a serious lack of professional journalism. These programmes were made between 10 and 20 years ago, but Chris’s piece shows the same things happening again, in 2007.

These programmes have a duty to present an unbiased case – there are so few places today where you feel an independent approach is ever taken, adn if you can't rely on this programme, where is there to go? If these three cases are anything to go by, they seem to be failing in that requirement. On the personal basis of Played 3, Lost 3, it is difficult to retain any trust in the way such a flagship programme is controlled.

The BBC can and should do better than this. At the very best, they are letting themselves down.


Monday, May 28, 2007


Double click on the image to see a larger version

The world today suffers, or enjoys, depending on your viewpoint, from an utter surfeit of images. They are everywhere – on television, in books, magazines, films, hoardings, newspaper, and here I am adding to them even more over the Internet.

They all compete, in this unstoppable torrent, for your attention, and, as a result, most simply appear before you, get a cursory glance, and are then committed to oblivion. A good example of More is Less.

This is particularly true in the Newspapers. By definition, the newspaper is a transient thing. The date on it is today, and tomorrow, it’s gone. But, within its pages, you find the occasional picture which stops you in your tracks, or at least stops me in my tracks. So, rather than toss these on the pile to be taken to the tip, I’ve started to keep the ones which strike me as exceptional, and keep a record of them.

This is No. 1 in a series which you will see I’ve called “MUCH TOO GOOD FOR FISH AND CHIPS”. For any foreign reader who may think I have just lost my marbles, old newspapers in the UK used to be collected and used to hold Fish and Chips, the staple British Meal, until Chicken Tikka Marsala took over a few years ago. Actually, I think the Health and Safety Faschisti who blight so much of our lives today, have probably banned even this little avenue of pleasure, probably due to their belief in the possibility of the nation being wiped out by catching some form of life threatening disease from the printing inks in the newsprint which might conceivably come into contact with your piece of Cod.

Anyway, this picture appeared in "The Times" a couple of days ago. It shows what is becoming a frighteningly common image these days of an Iraqi boy throwing a rock at a burning Allied Security vehicle. Now, the truth is we really don’t know who did what to whom in the run up to the picture, and we are asked as always to read the story as presented, and assume it’s accurate. In this situation, I simply don’t know, but that’s not the point here.

I’m looking at the photograph, as a photograph, and I think it’s a terrific image.

Just look at it.

The composition is hugely powerful. The boy fills the frame, and your eye is led through the image, past the burning vehicle to a band of bystanders who are watching the goings on. They are cut off by the left side of the image, and you are left wondering how many are actually there. The whole flow of the picture from bottom right. diagonally upwards to the top left hand corner of the image gives great strength to the image. The background, of swirling smoke, acts as a very pictorial background to the shot. It masks a lot of unnecessary detail, and makes your eyes concentrate on the main action of the photograph.

The road alongside and in front of the burning vehicle is littered with rocks, which photographically adds ominous detail to what otherwise would have been an uninteresting bit of the photo, and yet around the boy, there are none to interfere with that part of the image - you're just left with the boy to look at here in this part of the image, with nothing to compete for your attention.

Even the colour and tone of the smoke adds to the image’s power. It’s darkest on the right hand side, and gradually fades to almost nothing on the far left hand side. The boy’s pale coloured shirt is perfectly caught against the dark part of the smokescreen, giving a very dramatic backdrop to the most important part of the shot – the boy himself.

And just look at him. The photographer has caught him at just the right moment. Look at the shape of his body and the power he is bringing to the act of throwing the rock – the line through his left leg, up through his body and onto his arms – Talk about Rage against the Machine. It’s all here in one glorious image.

You can get a bit philosophical about the whole picture. Normally, in the Western World, largely because we write and read, from left to right, in your mind, pictures have an inate comfort if they also “read” from left to right.

Here the picture reads the opposite way round. This is most definitely a right to left picture. But just think how the Arab world writes - Right to Left. So just perhaps, there is a metaphor underlying the image – this image is for the Arabs, not the Western World. It may just have been that way round on the day, but it does get your mind chewing it over.

And the photographer – we are not told. The caption on the image in The Times simply says “Reuters”, which I’m sure is true, but I must say the man (I assume it’s a man) who took this one deserves a bit of credit. It appeared on Page 7, but, in defence of the Picture Editor, he did spread it across the whole page of the paper, so I suspect he thought he got a good one there.

Anyway, it’s a great photograph, and one which deserves to be kept a long, long way away from a Large Haddock and Chips!


Thursday, May 24, 2007



I am assuming that I now have your undivided attention.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then, I’ll begin.

I've been thinking about times past at university. For reasons that are lost in the drifting sands of the last 40 years, at school I wanted to study Aeronautics, so ended up doing so in Imperial College, London. I found it a really strange place. It's situated right in the centre of Kensington – I mean, when you pop down to the nearest local shop for some bread and a bottle of milk, the shop you come to first, is Harrods. I remember once pootling around it one afternoon, believe it or not in the carpet department (don't ask why an Aeronautical Engineering Student was there, I can't even begin to remember – perhaps I was really wondering if they could actually fly), and a disembodied very Sloane-y female voice rang out across the piles of not inexpensive carpets and rugs, to a little boy whom she clearly thought was lost – "Come along now, Cyclops!"

Can't think why anyone could have inflicted such a name on a little fellow. Perhaps the single eye in the centre of his fore-head might have had something to do with it.

All of which has nothing to do with what I was going to get round to. Ah yes – a strange place. There was a slight sexual imbalance in the students – 3,500 males and 137 females (allegedly). Actually, what I really meant to say there was, "There was a slight imbalance in the sexes of the students". Actually on reading it again, I think the first was more correct! Interesting that I know the female number (allegedly) to the nearest integer (although you would not have wanted to meet the one you had to "round up"!), and the males only to the nearest 100. Wheel out the psychiatrist.

It was quite a sterile place – all earnest Engineers (apart from myself and a couple of close friends), who lived in digs in Ruislip or suchlike, and were anally anal about Boyles Law, and Avagadro's Hypothesis, winning Nobel Prizes etc. As a completely irrelevant Trivia point, which might get your team into the Final at the Pub Quiz Night, Imperial College (or at least its inmates) has won more Nobel Prizes than the whole of France. Actually forget the Quiz night, just tell it to some stroppy Frenchman who stops to ask you directions.

On the other hand, WE seemed to spend most of our waking hours in one of the many local pubs. Probably why my 2nd Class Honours were seen by those who were supposed to know about these things, as a bit of a failure to meet my potential. Given the amount of alcohol which I subsequently recall had passed through me during my three years there, I actually think a 2nd was a bit of a result, but as always, these things depend on who you are and where you’re coming from.

Ever keen on student ritual, on occasions such as Birthdays etc, we used to go on a pub crawl along Knightsbridge – there was a sequence of around 8 pubs (I never got to finish counting them) along it. Goodness knows what the Upper Class clientele thought of the Rabble we must have looked like.

One evening, at around Pub No.6, I felt the call of Nature and went to the loo. OK so far, except, I ended up on the (raised) loo seat, and promptly fell asleep. The Gaderene Swine who, up until that point, I had counted as friends moved on to the remaining pubs, and I was left soundly sleeping. That's what friends are for - today, they'd have photographed it or videod it on their mobiles and sent copies to my parents, girlfriends, employers etc. Closing time came, and apparently, no one checked, and the place was locked up with me snoring splendidly on their ceramic throne.

I think they had got back to the Hall of Residence, and were well into the obligatory Toast, Butter and Coffee, when apparently someone finally noticed my non-existence. In the end, I was woken up by a none too happy Pub landlord who in turn had been woken up by several probably very silly sounding Engineering students at around 2 o'clock in the morning. I have to say the colour of the loo seat shaped ring enclosing my naughty bits was a most remarkable flaming red shade, reminiscent of a newly polished Traffic Light. Oh the joys of studenthood!

Onto a completely different wavelength, but one which actually knits together with the ramblings above. A while ago, I read about the death of John Profumo, aged 91. I don't know if you remember him but he was War Minister in around 1964, and had an affair with a young lady called Christine Keeler, who in turn had a relationship with a Russian Spy. For those of you who are either very young, very female, or have no idea what makes the world go round, the picture at the top of this piece is the good lady herself, taken in a magnificent image by Lewis Morley.
They all met through, and were very "friendly" with, a bisexual osteopath (That’s SO 1960s London!) called Stephen Ward. He had access to a small apartment at Cliveden, where they all met, surrounded by the Upper Classes of the country. Things went from bad to worse, and Stephen Ward was accused of something I can't now remember, but was sent for Trial at the Old Bailey. In the middle of the trial, he committed suicide, and the story got away from them all, and into the public domain.

What a cocktail – a War Minister, a prostitute, a Society suicide, a Russian Spy and the promise of really juicy goings on in high places. Profumo was implicated in this, but, and this was his big error, claimed, in response to a direct question from the Prime Minister, that he had had nothing to do with Christine Keeler. This was subsequently shown to be untrue, and one day he got up in the Commons, and very dramatically admitted he had lied, and promptly resigned, starting the process of the demise of Harold Macmillan's Government.

The comparison between Profumo, and his equivalents today is stark. He was found out, resigned, and spent the last 40 years of his life helping to raise funds for an East End of London Boys Home. A strange character – clearly a rogue, but I suspect a man you would really have liked if you had come into contact with him. He apparently declined a Knighthood during the 40 years of his rehabilitation. But what a contrast with today, with Blair, and the “Loans, Not Donations” issue. The rest of the list is almost endless – Ecclestone, Hinduja Brothers, Geoffrey Robinson, Peter Mandleson, David Blunkett, Tessa Jowell etc, and still the man is there grinning liked a Cheshire Cat. I think the contrast between the two is remarkable, rather sad and proof that, in life, not everything gets better.

Anyway, you must be thinking, what's Profumo and Christine Keeler got to do with my 3 years in Imperial College in Knightsbridge. The reality is that she paired up with another girl named Mandy Rice Davies, and the both of them lived in a small Mews apartment which was right next door to the Hall of Residence we were in. Being boring, drink soaked Engineering students, none of us even knew this until after it was all over. There is technically a small possibility that she probably wouldn't have even fancied me, but who knows?

What an opportunity she missed. If only she had come round to our Hall, maybe to have watched The Magic Roundabout with us all early one evening, perhaps she would not have been dragged into the Clivedon Set, and the Conservatives would have been in power for years to come.

Sliding Doors, eat your heart out.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007



Way back in the 1950s, this country was criss-crossed with Railway lines. They went everywhere, until one day a certain Dr Beeching, who knew all about these things because he had been a director of ICI, came up with a plan to hack the network to bits – which duly happened.

One of the lines removed wended its way across the North Norfolk Coast, and rejoiced under the evocative name of the Poppy Line. Since a certain part of the male members of this country have a “thing” about railway trains, sections of the old Poppy Line were saved, and have been restored and put into use as tourist Attractions.

The old line from Wells-next-the-Sea, to Walsingham, via Whighton and Wharham St Mary (you can see why the W on Norfolk typewriters wore out so quickly) was one of these. One man (it’s always one man, isn’t it?), whose name is Lt Commander Roy Francis had the drive and determination to convert the 4¼ mile line to 10¼” gauge, and, by dint of working from 1979 to 1982, completed the longest line of that size in the world.

It runs today across some beautifully understated English Countryside and offers a unique flashback in time for the many people who take the 30 minute journey. The pictures below show Today’s driver and guard, Benedict and Eric, who escort you onto the train and take charge of you as you wend your way inland. Polite, enthusiastic, happy, knowledgeable and very keen – you wonder what they have got that their equivalents on Monday’s 7.42am to London Euston haven’t.

The engine seen here is a modern One-off Garrett 2-6-0 0-6-2 design, built specially for the line in 1986, and very beautiful she is too. She shares the duties with a Diesel, very reminiscent of Toby The Tram Engine, and named, very poetically, Weasel.

All in all, a super day out, very evocative of times past, and a true demonstration that you can run a railway that is on time and is a pleasure to ride on.














A long time back, actually around 35 years ago (cue "Round the Horne" impression), we lived in Kidderminster, having bought our first house there. After a couple of years, we decided to start the climb up the property ladder, and used one of the local Estate Agents to sell our house.

Picture of Estate Agent's window today, below.

And for those interested, as far as I recall - Yes they did. And Yes, they did.



Monday, May 21, 2007


One of the little games played out in the newspaper world, I’m convinced, is by those who write the articles trying to get things “under the radar” and past the Sub Editors, whose lives are there partly to check for, find and ruthlessly eradicate these gems.

It’s probably just me, but this short piece of news in today’s "Times" tickled me.

A holidaymaker was taken to hospital after being trampled by a herd of cows while walking his dog near Clehonger, Hertfordshire. Villagers were alerted by his screams and came to his aid to find one of the cows on top of him. He suffered a serious chest injury, but was said to be in a stable condition. (My italics).

Now I’m not trying to make light of the poor guy’s injuries. If you’ve ever had an animal the size of a horse or suchlike either stand on your foot or even lean you onto a wall, it is absolutely no laughing matter, but this one is One-Nil to the writer.


Thursday, May 17, 2007


The West Coast of Ireland is a glorious place to be. The whole coastline is a series of large inlets, which cut into the mainland, forming hundreds of miles of endlessly varying and very beautiful coastline.

We have spent half a dozen thoroughly enjoyable holidays there. One of our jaunts was to Connemara, a beautiful area to the west of Galway. If you want desolation and “getting away from it all”, that’s your place.

For some unknown reason, whenever we’re there, the weather seems to turn into something more akin to the West Indies than the permanent rain cover which everyone I know who’s been there says is the Status Quo. In Connemara, we’re known as “Sun Gods” – we brought 14 days of continuous sunshine, something which has never happened before.

Wandering around the coast there one day, I came across a big boat called the SS Pibroch, moored on its own on a very unkempt jetty.

I could see a raft of photographic opportunities appearing so got myself aboard, with camera and tripod, and wandered about on the boat for an hour or so. One of the little details which a Photographic Eye picks up on such boats is the areas of rust, paint, which has been painted on top of other paint, and the lumps of machinery which produces lovely shapes, colours, textures and compositions. You need to home in quite close to see these shapes, some of which are no more than a couple of inches across.

The pictures below are the result.



Tuesday, May 15, 2007


A rather bizarre little vignette played itself out this morning.

Just outside where I work, in the suburbs of Birmingham, the road is straight with a pedestrian pathway on each side. Normally, the cars tear along the road at speeds which bear no resemblance to the 30mph Speed limit.

Today was different. Around lunchtime, I was greeted, on the opposite pavement, by the sight of two disabled carriages, charging along the road, at what seemed to me to be a highly inappropriate speed. They were the sort which seem to be about a foot wide, and six feet high, with the plastic side covers which act as combined sails and water collectors, depositing their catch on the luckless internees. The sort of vehicle where you wondered how they ever kept upright, going at sane speeds, let alone what we were witnessing here.


It was very much a double take, and the drivers turned out to be a couple of quite mature ladies, wearing what for all the world could have been Fireproof Macs. You could certainly describe them both, to use Billy Connolly’s very descriptive phrase, as “No Stranger to a Fish Supper”. They really did look as if both should have known better.

There was no doubt in my mind – they were racing. A few other guys from work were also standing outside watching this Pythonesque snippet, one of whom decided that an encouraging “Go on, My Son” was warranted.

The fun started when they came up to a lamp-post, which was mounted in one of the slabs on the pavement. We saw a very Grand Prix style of Late Braking, Take the Racing Line and carve the loser up to get through the gap at minimum loss of speed. The loser, clearly with a slight but real Power to Weight Ratio benefit (actually, I suspect it was all to do with the weight rather than the power!), managed to pull alongside, and stayed there until 50 or so yards further on, when the next Lamp-Post chicane came into play. We were then treated to the same Schumacher-like driving style, and a very unladylike scrabble for leadership through the gap, seemed to overcome them again. They came to a left hand side-road, and blasted, or so it seemed, around the corner, and disappeared.

Most entertaining.




It has been pouring with rain in Shropshire for the last 48 hours, so my journey to work this morning along the M6 around Birmingham was even more pleasurable than usual. The spray, the über-jams, the general time-wasting – an excellent, character building start to the morning!

On the principle that every sword has two edges, sitting in the stationary traffic however does allow time for rumination about one’s fellow travellers, and two or three things cross one’s mind.

Firstly, have you ever noticed how, when driving along a Motorway, than everyone who drives faster than you is a Maniac, and everyone who drives slower than you is a Cretin? Mmm, yes, so have I. And also, it doesn’t matter whatever your speed is, it always applies. Uncanny.

Secondly, is there some law which says that, in spray ridden conditions, anyone with an M, or prior, registered car must drive at 30 mph faster than everyone else, showing, under no circumstances, more than one headlight?

And another one. I must have missed the bit where the recent legislation insists that people whose number plates are arranged in those hilariously funny ways which just about allow you to work out their names from them, as long as you realise that a 4 is actually an A, a 7 is a Y, and a 6 is a G, MUST use a hand held mobile phone at all times when the spray is of such a density that they can’t possibly see where they’re going.

And, lastly, who precisely operates those eye-wateringly expensive airborne signs which now grace the inner two lanes of our Motorways these days. They must go on a course run by the Sybil Fawlty School of the Bleeding Obvious. You have just spent the last 25 minutes edging your way between J9 and J8 of the M6 in first gear, and to help you with the final piece in the “What’s going on Jig-saw” we get “Queue – Caution”. Ah, now I understand.

The other really helpful piece of advice this morning was “Delay at J5”. Now there are only 5 Motorways, (M’s 6,5,40,42,54) within spitting distance of the sign you’ve just read, so that’s particularly clear. And don’t think they mean it’s the closest Motorway to the sign – Oh No.
Last week, as we sat in the jam near Walsall, wondering whether we could get round the sweep in the Motorway to Birmingham without needing an involuntary “Comfort Break”, we learnt to our immense relief (if that’s the right word) that Bristol was only 80 minutes and 82 miles away – presumably by train. What clown thought that was of any interest, at just gone 7am on a wet Monday Morning, to anyone within 50 miles of the sign?

This all follows the much cleverer game they play where, when they do advise you of an impending delay, they clearly have to arrange to show the information for the first time, on a sign JUST past the last junction where you have any chance of getting off the Motorway to take any meaningful avoiding action. There is obviously an Advanced School of Motorway Sign Writers somewhere, where a key part of their course is to study, hone and perfect the timing and location of these messages to maximise their power of irritation to us Gaderene Swine who swarm lemming-like underneath them.

Why don’t they show us the time, the temperature, the football results, the cricket scores, the Lottery Numbers? Something really useful. Actually, I’m not sure about the Lottery one – “Man Dies in Motorway Smash, seconds after becoming £8M Lottery Winner”. Perhaps not.

Anyway, that was quite cathartic and I feel much better now, and I haven’t even got onto the Trucks overtaking on Dual Carriageways yet. So I’m going to have a large cup of coffee and cancel the Samaritans on Ringback.


Sunday, May 13, 2007


The local fete is one of the set pieces of the Village year, and ours took place yesterday.

In our neck of the woods, it takes place in a field which sits between the Church and the Cricket field - a location which is quintisentially "English". Some years, we have a brass band, some years a Maypole and always there is a range of stalls selling cakes, flowers, teas and, a range of books, old records and other bits and pieces which you feel, after attending for a few years, seem to reappear with annual regularity. All that seems to change for these nomadic items is the loft in which they spend the next twelve months.

But it is a time when the local community relaxes a bit, wanders around and catches up with the gossip and the happenings since the last "get together" which, in our rural calender, is the Annual Christmas Carol Concert. These pictures were taken a couple of years ago, but not much changes!

A little bit of England which I suspect may well be gradually on the wane, as the way of life changes. We shall see.



One of our daughters took the name of Clarke when she married. So the short letter which appeared in "The Times" last week, strikes a chord.

Sir, A friend of mine, who once gave his name over the telephone as “Clarke, with an ‘e’ ”, subsequently received correspondence addressed to “Mr Clerk Withany”.

Delia Ives, Brighton

Monday, May 07, 2007


We watch today the horrendous goings-on in Darfur in the Sudan. No-one knows how many people have been killed in the latest outbreak of violence, or is it genocide? We, in the West, simply read the paragraph about it in the paper, and move on. There is no doubt that these terrible acts are causing the deaths of numbers of people, which if only 1% of them were occurring in places we actually believed to be more “important” there would be the most horrendous outcry. But because they happen in parts of the world where we seem to believe that “Life is Cheap”, somehow it doesn’t seem to matter so much.

We’ve seen it in Ruanda, to a large degree in Iraq, and here it is going on in the Sudan – all places where the price of life seems to be very different, at least to us, in the West. And yet, the way these places have developed, and the way the culture of the countries is so different from our own, makes you wonder if we have the right to impose our own values on the way life works in these places. Even over the last century, we’ve seen, particularly in the Middle East, the way the western nations have tried to change the cultural basis of so many nations, just because it doesn’t conform to the way ours works. Just look at “Lawrence of Arabia”, in the early 1900s, and the way a Westerner with an Arabic view of life made his mark. Look at the whole way Africa has changed, or been changed over the last 100 years. Look at the Balkans, which make the issues in Ireland look like a simple One-Dimensional problem. Even Iraq, where the Americans simply didn’t bother to look at the history of the place before blasting their way in, is the result of too little understanding before taking military action.

The thread joining all these is the complexity of the issues, and the length of time these issues have been festering, making an understanding by an outside agency almost impossible to get right. As with Ireland, where you can still get someone believing “Well, it’s all the result of what one of your forefathers said/did in 1641”, and 400 years later, the fall-out of that is still with us. Except in the case of the Balkans, the date is much earlier, and someone probably is still blaming what some Roman Invader said/did nearly 2000 years ago.

All of which brings me back to Darfur. I am in no way knowledgeable enough to comment at all authoritatively on the current troubles, save to say that I can guarantee that the issues are more complex, and more deep seated than anyone can imagine. We, in the West, either do not understand, or choose to ignore the hundreds of years which have led up to today’s way of life in these areas.

To make the point, the following passage is from a book I have just been re-reading. It is probably my favourite single book of all time, and I read it every three years or so, to give me a continuing pleasure throughout my life. I will write a short piece in the near future giving my own opinion about why this particular book is such a terrific read, so I will keep its identity hidden until I get round to that.

But, as a taster, this excerpt was written in 1971, about the way the author saw the way life was in Darfur in the early 1900s. It is presented as simple fact, and I believe, knowing the author, that what is written is true and accurate. It does make you realize that we simply have no real idea about the way of life in these regions, and the way one person there is dealt with by another. It is so far away from “Our Way” that you almost can’t imagine it to be true.

It doesn’t make it “right”, it simply is the way it is, or was. And anyone looking to form a judgment about a region, and how best to take any action on involving themselves in creating a new way forward, could do a lot worse, than to read pieces like this and assimilate them into their minds, before deciding on a course of action, aimed, probably with the best of intentions, at improving things there.

"Ali Dinar (the "Black Sultan")
had turned against the Allies in 1916 and had been hunted down and killed somewhere near Abu Sela and now the governor lived in what had been his palace, and a pretty remarkable residence it was, at that. In the office was a picture of the dead Sultan and his magnificent red and gold velvet chair of State. The living-room had been his dining-room. All the doors were most beautifully inlaid with ivory and so were the window-doors, some of which were left open to form cupboards within the three-foot-thick walls. Big stone steps led up to a balcony, parts of which had been enclosed to make separate rooms, and at each of the four comers of the main room were the shelves on which the naked slave girls sat during dinner — and, one would imagine, without too much fidgeting either, since an elderly fellow who had worked for three years for Ali Dinar as a boy, when asked what he was like, replied, "I never saw him. We were not allowed to look above our knees!" Over the main gate was still to be observed a sort of wickerwork cage in which offenders were made to sit and roast in the sun during the Sultan's pleasure. For more serious offences he simply had them thrown down the well. Retribution in this savage part of the world is simple and direct. Ibrahim Musa, for instance, would simply order the man to be taken a mile or so from the village and in the full heat of the midday sun cause his ankle to be attached to a large log, the size being nicely calculated to ensure that the victim might, or again might not, just succeed in dragging it back into the shade before perishing from thirst and the heat. In other parts of the Arab world it is common-place, when a man has been caught thieving, to bring forward a bucket of boiling tar and a stout chopper and cut off his right hand. There is a refreshing directness in this, as against our own, as I think, more barbaric methods, and I often wonder whether the train robbers would not have opted to lose a hand rather than spend thirty years without seeing a woman or a blade of grass.

The Sudan remains a savage, barbaric land, its surface scratched by civilization in the shape of the Sudan Civil Service, who tended to be "outdoor" types, as against the classical scholars of the Indian Civil. Laurie was a case in point, Some time previously a fellow DC (District Commissioner), John Wilson, was surprised, on emerging from his courtroom, to see a spear, plunged into his back by a dissatisfied litigant, come out through the front of his stomach. By some miracle it had missed the vital parts and not only did he recover but he and Laurie, neither having rowed for eight years, returned home on leave and together won the Coxwainless Pairs in the 1948 Olympic Games.

Already, though, the writing was on the wall, and I had noticed in Laurie's bungalow in Nyala a huge volume of Gray's Anatomy, He resigned and became in due course a successful doctor at home. What Darfur has reverted to I do not know. I do know, however, that I should want a very powerful escort before I ventured down there today."

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Yesterday afternoon, I wandered around the centre of Shrewsbury, the nearest town to where I live in Shropshire, taking a few photographs. It was a beautiful afternoon, with the sun lighting up the alleyways, streets and buildings of the town, making it look its best. The town football team was playing its last game at the ground it had occupied for many years. Although the team is probably not one which even its most fervent supporters would suggest is likely to win the FA Cup in the near future, the supporters were out in force.

The place was throbbing with life – shoppers of all ages everywhere, good natured (apart from a very small, drink affected minority) football supporters, street entertainers and one lonesome guy inviting us very volubly to seek repentance for our sins – all making the centre of the town simply a nice, enjoyable and relaxing place to be.

I went home and put some footbally atmospheric pictures of Gay Meadow on my blog, including one of the local Police officers, waiting patiently outside the ground near the river, looking to help all the visiting Grimsby supporters after the match back to their trains home.

And then, today, we wake up to find death and murder on the streets of the town. And you don’t quite know what to say. It wasn’t like that yesterday, and I have to say, ambling around the town this morning, with it in a much quieter but very amiable mood, it didn’t seem to be much different.

But for some poor souls, it was, and their lives have changed forever.

Perhaps it doesn’t seem quite right, but just for a sense of balance, here are a few of the pictures I took.








Saturday, May 05, 2007


Shrewsbury Town, the local Football team, is on the move. The current ground is right by the river in the centre of town, and some rather astute person has realised that there's money to be made somewhere by moving to a brand new site out of town, and selling the current acreage off to a Property Developer - which is what they've done.

Of course, it may have nothing at all to with that - it may just be that they are totally fed up with the "Nudge-Nudge, Wink-Wink" jokes that go on about the name of the ground.


Anyway, today, on a lovely afternoon, the small ground was filled to its 8,000 capacity for the last ever game there. Your intrepid reporter was walking past/around, and took a couple of pictures which celebrates this momentous day.






Friday, May 04, 2007


I remember reading this a while ago in the newspaper, and thought it was worth repeating.

Peter Sallis (Wallace's voice from Wallace and Grommit) was being interviewed on Radio 5, and a fan rang in.

"What an honour to talk to you." raved the caller.

"Tell me though, are there any plans for more Pink Panther films?" he continued.

"He's dead" said Sallis.

"Wot?" said the man.

"Peter Sellars, he's dead".

The caller hung up.



Thursday, May 03, 2007


One of the real pleasures in our lives is to own two dogs, both Flat Coated Retrievers, named Poppy (Senior Dog), and Millie (Junior Dog). Of course, it isn’t as simple as that – of the two, Junior Dog is in reality the Alpha Dog, and jumps all over Senior Dog, who, in truth, is quite happy to be jumped over.

All of which means that one of life’s requirements becomes a Vet, and here, I must say we have fallen, absolutely squarely, on our feet. She practices (a very strange word, that, because there is not the slightest element of practice involved) in a rural part of Shropshire, and is quite simply one of the most impressive Professional people it has ever been my pleasure to know. She is clever, interested in the animals to a degree I have never experienced before, has the openest mind I have ever come across in a medical person, and, when the chips are down, which, with animals, happens far too frequently, she exudes an attitude and a sense of comforting which is, in my experience, unique.

If there was a “Vet of the Year” competition, anyone finishing above her, would have to be a quite exceptional person.

All of which leads me onto her Wisteria. Her practice is located in a set of rural farm buildings which surround a large courtyard. On the East facing wall of this courtyard, is a Wisteria. I visited it today, to see the plant in bloom, and to take some pictures of it. Now, I’m not an expert, by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but this Wisteria is HUGE.

Richard, the husband of our vet, told me that they had needed to cut it back recently, because one side of it was creeping its way onto the house, and they did not want that. This morning, I measured it, in its cropped state, to be 34 yards ((102 feet) from “Wingtip” to “Wingtip”.

The beast, for that is what it is, was planted in 1975, so has been growing for 32 years. The pictures I took, which include the 6 foot high Richard, as a Human Scale, show it stretching almost the whole side of the barns making up the farm’s East face. Standing in front of its roots, you get a real sense of scale which, to me, is remarkable.

Just feast your eyes on these –








To my knowledge, I have never used the words “Wisteria” and “Bus” in the same sentence ever before in my life. So here we go, even at my extended age, pushing the boundaries of one’s artistic output.

The Wisteria is like a Bus – Just when you’ve been waiting for a story about one Wisteria, along comes a second straight behind it.

A small amount of personal history to set the scene. 13 years ago, we bought a lovely house which had just been converted from a Seventeenth Century Shropshire Barn. It was situated in a fabulous location, with which we immediately fell hopelessly in love. We bought it.

One of the downsides of the place was that the garden had recently (very recently!) been a field, so its horticultural qualities were still a bit latent.

My wife took up this challenge with alacrity, and in a few months a total transformation had been wrought on the 1 Acre+ which we had bought. We (actually she) built a series of “rooms” in the garden where you went from one horticultural experience to another, and in less than a year, the basis for a beautiful garden had been created.

In the garden just outside our kitchen window, a Pergola was built, which caught, quite beautifully, the evening sun, and where sipping a Gin and Tonic, watching the sun disappear was quite near to Heaven on Earth, at least in this writer’s alcoholically induced opinion.

In order to enhance the Pergola, we purchased a hugely expensive Wisteria. These plants, as you may know, grow quite slowly, and it is usually quite a few years before they deign to flower. Ours, in 1994, cost us £110, which I can recall from a distance of thirteen years, made me blanche just a touch.

Nevertheless, the Wisteria was duly planted, and it duly grew gradually up the side of the pergola, and started to provide a lovely cover for the evening G&T.

But, for the next four years, it resolutely refused to flower, and each year, there was a mounting degree of anxiety about whether “this year” would be the year it blossomed forth. Each year, it simply sat there, huddled shoulders, biding its time.

One day, however, when pottering around the garden, I noticed that the Wisteria had simply disappeared. What the previous night, had been a plant stretching many feet up, and over the top of our Pergola, simply didn’t exist, and all that remained was a stump of trunk about a foot out of the ground, where this magnificent virginal specimen had once lived.

You feel such a twit asking your wife “This is going to sound really stupid, but, have you done anything with the Wisteria?”, and suffering THAT look, as if you have finally tipped over the edge. But the simple issue was, it had disappeared, and neither of us had a clue where it had gone. We formed a search party (I can’t believe I’m writing this) and quartered the garden, but to no avail.

Our area of review gradually expanded, into the outbuildings, and in our Haybarn, up in the eaves, we noticed a regular pile of sawn off pieces of small tree, which looked remarkably like 6” sections of our beloved Wisteria. They only looked like that because, upon closer investigation, that is what they turned out to be.

The story was completed, by the sight of a squirrel, peering over the top of the woodpile, as if asking what his new home had to do with us, and would we please go away, as we were disturbing his privacy.

He had dismembered our Wisteria, literally in bite-sized chunks, transported them to his newly chosen house location, and formed them into a Des Res for himself and his family.

Best pleased, I was not. For some years, I had listened to the surrounding farmer’s views that Squirrels were vermin, and everyone of them shot or returned in some way to its maker was a real plus, with my “But they’re lovely little things” not getting much Airplay with them.

In an instant, this view was changed absolutely. Someone had to pay for this. You could see the beast, for that was now what he was, sitting on the fence, mentally, and I actually think, physically, waving two fingers at us, and the desire for some form of violent retribution took hold.

I borrowed an air-gun from my next door neighbour, and took up guard at the bedroom windows to give me a good field of view (no possibility of Friendly Fire here), and waited. At the appointed hour, our furry friend appeared, sat on the fence, and stared insolently towards me. You could almost hear the “Go on Punk, make my Day” wafting across the lawn.

I picked him up in my sights, took a breath, as you are taught in Rifle practice in the CCF, to become quite still, and did absolutely nothing.

Pathetic. So, I decided, if I couldn’t do it, I’d have to take out a contract on him. Someone else could have the blood on their hands. So my teenage next-door neighbour took on the job, a bit too Rambo like for my taste, and after a period of a few days, declared the deed Done.

I have to concede a degree of remorse at being the instigator of a violent death to such a beautiful creature, but “An Eye for an Eye” and all that. Except, of course, a couple of days later, who should appear but what looked suspiciously like my Squirrelish Master Builder, sitting on the fence, as large as life, and clearly very much still with us.

I have no idea how long squirrels live, but, for all I know, he is still alive, although, having sold the house to someone else, any plant in the garden he disassembles, is now someone else’s responsibility.