Wednesday, August 29, 2007


The West Coast of Ireland is a magical place. If you've been, you'll know what I mean. If you haven't been, you've missed out Big Time.

These pictures of Fishing Nets were taken in a small fishing village in Connemara.

They're really just pattern pictures - colours, shapes, textures, and compositions that please me.

Simple really.




Here we go again.

We all meander our way through our lives buying the food, cleaning the car, walking the dog and generally minding our own business. But, in a parallel universe, our friends in Westminster push away sinisterly and insidiously collecting more and more information about our children.

There is now a database, commissioned after the death of Victoria Climbié, which is being set up after someone seemingly concluded that the poor girl’s murder could have been avoided if the professionals tasked with looking after her interests had been able to communicate better. My own recollection of the appalling affair was somewhat different, in that the information had been there all the time, but the professionals hadn’t bothered to make use of it.

So, we now have the Government in full Orwellian cry, spending Taxpayer’s money (that’s ours, by the way) creating a monster (in both senses of the word) database, which clandestinely went through Parliament very recently. It will contain a record for every child in this country under the age of 18. Apart, that is, from the children of certain politicians and certain celebrities – the argument for their exclusion being that anonymity is retained for “children whose circumstances may mean that they, or others, are at increased risk of harm”.

Now call me simple if you wish, but isn’t that a simple, tacit acceptance that, from then outset, this database will not be, in any way, secure. The information on this database, coyly and anodynely called “ContactPoint” will list, among other things, each child’s name, address, gender, GP, school, parents or carers. It also, the report says, will include any contact with Hospital Consultants, and other professionals (Social Services, Midwives, Health Visitors, Police etc?), and could (I suspect you should replace that with “will”) show whether the infant has been the subject of any formal assessments or whether he or she “needs extra help”.
And who exactly in God’s name determines whether this “extra help” is necessary? The Parents, the Guardians, the people responsible for the children?
I don’t think so.

Wheel on the hairy sweatered, hairy armpitted, intruding, unsmiling Do-Gooders called Social Services.

Now, in my work, I sit in an office next door to a highly skilled IT Manager, who is a bit (actually a big bit) of a genius in the area of Computer system security. Having discussed this area of concern generally with him, I believe his considered view is that the weakest link in any system is not the system, but the person with his/her hand on the keyboard.

It will therefore be particularly comforting to us all to know that throughout this country, the people with access to our children’s records will be found among “vetted users” who number, apparently, around 330,000 souls.

Can someone explain how anyone could even begin to consider that a User Base which is equivalent to a city the size of Coventry, could have the remotest chance of retaining any degree of security?

And who then, for instance, actually vets the 330,001st member of the User base to ensure that, in a declared attempt to tighten up security among children, they are not in fact achieving the exact opposite by giving potential abusers or criminals access to far more information, far more effectively than they current have available?

Anyone remember Soham?

We are being conned here.

The simple fact that politicians and celebrities can (again, read “will”) be excluded from this iniquitous system, says it all. They are safe, and we are not. It’s the Blair MMR scandal formalised and writ large throughout the country. It’s Us and Them, and we are allowing it to go on under our noses.

Sometimes you can rightly argue that the newspapers can be much too intrusive in people’s private lives, but thank goodness there is some part of the country’s infrastructure where information about such frightening developments can be made public, because the Government seems hell bent on keeping it under wraps.

Don’t the Public care or don’t they know? If they do, where is the banner under which we all gather to say “Enough is Enough – Get off my Back and Mind your own Business.”?




Well there I was, standing in the queue at the Doctors waiting to collect a prescription for some drugs. Reading all the various notices adorning the Pharmacy my eye alighted on the notice below.

This had been issued by the local NHS Primary Care Trust to all GP Surgeries explaining about the use of non branded medicines.

Something tells me it was not written by someone nearing retirement.

Actually, having read it again, I’m now wondering about the 5th word in the second paragraph. Next time I go, I'll check!

Can I really be this sad?



Saturday, August 25, 2007


The Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Sir Liam Donaldson, is the UK Government's principal medical adviser and the professional head of all medical staff in England. He produces an Annual Report which is used to bring to the public’s attention, matters which he thinks are critical and urgent in realtion to the Country’s health.

This year, one of the subjects he addressed was Organ Removal and Transplants. He put forward his views on how the shortfall between the number of people waiting for an organ transplant, and the number of organs actully supplied from those who currently have registered their names on the NHS Organ Donor list, should be changed.

At present the law is enshrined under the Human Tissue Act 2004, which came into force in 2006. An organ can be removed from a dead person if that person is either on the NHS Organ Donor List (it currently lists 13 million people) or has given their consent prior to their death. If neither of these are the case, then the consent of a nominated representative, or a close relative is required. The CMO’s argument is that if a relative knows that a patient wants to donate their organs after death, the relatives will be much more likely to agree. Otherwise, if the wishes are not known, then relatives will refuse in 30% of cases.

He also cites a study which indicates that although 20% of the population are on the NHS list, some 70% of the population actually want to donate their organs after death. His conclusion is that the current “opt-in” system should be changed to an “opt-out” system ie you are assumed to be prepared to donate your organs unless you specifically record on a National Database that you don’t want to do it.
As an aside here, it does seem strange to be questioning a law which only came into force last year.

Spain has already changed to an "Opt-out" process similar to the one the CMO is advocating, and not unsurprisingly, their rate of organ donation has increased significantly.

This raises yet another area of Government takeover, this time of our bodies. Now I can quite understand anyone deciding that donating their organs to help others is something they wish to do. I can also argue that one’s body is one’s own, and in the final analysis, it is yours and yours alone to decide what happens to it when you die.

What perturbs me about the CMO’s argument is that, although 20% of the population are already on the NHS list, and a further 50% would be prepared to donate their organs, that still leaves 30% of the population who do not want their organs used for this purpose. Unless that 30% firstly even knew about a change in the law, and secondly found out how to register their non involvement, then those people, or their relatives, would be in for a very difficult time if the law was changed, when a medical team arrived to remove a heart or a kidney from someone close who had just died.

There are probably several reasons why there is a 50% level of people who want to donate their organs, but who have not signed up with an organ donor card, and one of the largest is probably apathy.

If you changed the law to be the reverse of what it is today, I would imagine you’d still get a similar level of apathy, combined with a lack of public knowledge about the change to the law. I can easily imagine that the advertising level put in place by the Government to explain the “opt-out” position would not be that high, seeing it’s diametrically opposed to what they are seeking to do.

Simplistically, that would leave around 15% of the population, ie c8 million people being duped by a change in the law, and put in a position they do not want to be in.

So what’s the answer? I would have thought it not beyond the whit of man, to ask everyone in the country to fill in a form to discover actually what each individual thinks. We do something similar when we vote – so what’s so difficult here? We even have something like 50% of the population with Internet access, so why don’t we start to use this medium for getting answers to questions like this. It’s not political, it’s simply an individual’s opinion, and if the Government really is concerned only to have those on the register who truly want to be there, it seems a simple enough task to do it correctly. So why don't they do it?

As always with such things, the issue is usually more complex and subtle than those in power want us to believe. If you are presumed to have opted in, then it is all too possible for the Hospital removing an organ from someone who has just died, to want to go ahead speedily. Time is hugely of the essence here, and it is literally an area where minutes matter. Checking on a database, which, if the Government’s current record is anything to go by, is quite likely to be riddled with serious inaccuracies, is likely to be rushed, with the obvious possibility of a major and rather binary error. Just imagine a relative voicing his opinion and saying one thing, only to be overridden by a Hospital administrator who says the opposite, because "that's what the computer says". You just know the outcome of that one.

And it may have been coincidence, but a couple of days later, we read in The Times, of a Doctor, albeit in America, who has been charged with deliberately hastening the death of a disabled man, so that he could “harvest” (sinister word, or what?) the man’s kidneys for the benefit of another patient.

The rules in this area are quite strict, in that there is supposed to be a “very high wall” between those managing the patient’s care, and pronouncing death, and those who trigger any activity regarding organ donation. In my view, the slightest whiff of any collusion or osmosis across the wall here, is a potentially major downside to an “Opt-out” system.
You could even understand people starting to worry if they carried a Donor Card, or were on an Organ Donor register, that this would potentially open themselves up to a different range of treatments, when it would be just the moment when they needed everyone pulling their hardest for them.

Here we have another example of the State wanting to push its own boundaries of Control forward, and restrict further the rights of individuals - at first sight, it would seem, for the best of motives, but who knows, when there's a target to meet.

My view is simple – It’s my body, and it is my right, not a politician’s, to do what I want with it when I die. Those in power should not be looking to override that position, by presuming firstly on my lack of knowledge, and secondly on my apathy.



Tuesday, August 21, 2007


From a very young age, I have been much affected by religious music, even though paradoxically, I would not describe myself as a profound believer. It is only recently that I have given any real thought to this dichotomy, but that’s what age does to you.

It’s not difficult to see the impact and power of Religion on the Human race in today’s World, although today, in most of this country, you’d be very hard pressed to say that this power is on the general increase. But whenever you see the great set pieces of Religious music being played, you always get a full house. And, in my experience, even for an ecclesiastical fence-sitter, attending these occasions can be hugely intense experiences.

When you track how the sung Mass, in its varied forms, has developed over the centuries, it is not difficult to understand its position, centre stage, in the musical life of the Western World. Starting out around the 14th Century, the sung Mass developed from Gregorian Chant via composers like Palestrina, William Byrd and Josquin des Pres, who brought it into being an art form of its own. Originally sung as part of normal religious services, the genre developed through the Renaissance into secular performances of works written by most of the great composers.

Most of them were settings of the Roman Catholic liturgy, although the Anglican and the Lutheran Church versions were also used. Most were set in Latin because that was the Roman Catholic Church’s traditional language, although later ones were sometimes in other languages.

It is probably easier to list those Division One composers who did not write them, but almost all the Greats put their minds to the art-form at some time. Bach, Mozart, Listz, Schubert, Bruckner, Rossini, Verdi, all stepped up to the mark to create their settings, although in Mozart’s case, there is still controversy about the degree to which his Requiem, the last work he wrote, was completed by others, notably Sussmayr.

It is however strange how, in all cases, when you listen to these pieces of music, you always find yourself listening to a composer baring his soul musically, in a way you don’t find to the same degree in their other works. Although some of them wrote more than one Mass, there is usually one, and one only which stands as their final statement - almost a Monument.

None of those mentioned above, however, have burnt their way into my own personal list of immortal works. That list is much shorter.

Firstly Haydn, who wrote 12 Masses over a period of 52 years, the last 6, in my humble opinion being a series of quite remarkable works. Written at the end of the 18th Century, they are not scored with the power of the Great romantic Composers, but they are all magnificent settings, particularly the last – the Harmoniemesse – an absolute jewel.

Secondly, the greatest composer the world has ever seen, Beethoven, who wrote two masses. The first, written 5 years after Haydn’s last Mass and rarely played, sits in the shadow of the Missa Solemnis, one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Written at the end of his life, its power, its beauty and the passion which underpins the whole work is a unique experience if you ever hear it sung in a concert hall.

And yet there is another work, which few people would set in comparison with the Missa Solemnis, that I listen to most – Brahms German Requiem. I was introduced to this piece at school by a friend, who is now a European Member of Parliament. The music has been part of me for 45 years, and whenever I need to listen to something of this ilk, the Brahms Requiem gets it right for me. I’m not saying it’s a greater piece of writing than the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, it’s just more appropriate to me.

Classical Music performance has seen some major changes since 1960, with a much lighter touch, faster tempi, a drive for detail and the use of original instruments all having an impact. But I still feel that many pieces of music are not improved by these changes, and none more so than here.
The work is different in a number of ways from others mentioned so far. It’s sung in German and based on the Lutheran translation of the Bible, It seeks more to address the comfort and feelings of those left to pick up the pieces when a person dies, rather than being a requiem for the dead. It’s about hope, solace and consolation on the Human scale.

Brahms was not a particularly religious man, and you get the feeling that he wasn’t trying to align the work with any particular religious belief. The texts he chose are all almost religiously non specific, and in fact the words “Jesus Christ” never appear anywhere in the text.

Brahms himself described it as a “Humane” Requiem, probably instigated by the deaths of his mother a few months before its composition, as well as the loss of his great friend Robert Schumann some ten years previous.

The work is in seven movements, with the outer movements being quite sombre, meditative and dark, and the central movement, sung by a soprano, being the lightest and most tranquil.

The recording I have worn a groove in was made in 1961 by Otto Klemperer, with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I’ve listened to later versions, but Klemperer’s measured tempi, and the “hewn from granite” feel to the interpretation seem to suit the piece to perfection. Schwarzkopf’s singing is as pure and perfect as any human voice could be, and Fischer-Dieskau is also at the top of his huge form. A very moving recording.

I think it’s one of the greatest Classical Records of all time.

Friday, August 17, 2007


A Little snippet in The Times yesterday aroused my interest.

Whilst I would not claim to be the most avid reader of The Bible, whenever I do either read it or hear it read, I am often taken aback by the sheer simplicity, clarity and beauty of the language used. I am, of course, in King James’s country here. A version which started to be written in the Seventeenth Century, it has always seemed to me to be one of the most beautifully written documents I have ever heard. Its power and majesty, its “rightness” and the simple appropriateness of its language, as well as the elegance of both the words themselves and the order of the words and phrases used are timeless.

Quite why anyone feels the need to tamper and “improve” it, is beyond me. But, as a “waverer”, I suppose, it’s actually not down to me.

Anyway, back to The Times, and a paragraph in Hugo Rifkind’s column addressed this subject.

The Bible Society in Australia has presumably seen a new way to get the message across to the Human race’s younger members by the use of e-mail and text messaging –

“In da Bginnin God cre8d da heavens & da earth. Da earth waz barren, wit no 4m of life.”

Wicked, presumably.

On the same track, I’ve come across another translation, which I still can’t make out as serious or not. This one is by the Manchester (UK) house of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, apparently a union of gay/lesbian monks/nuns. They have, using a computerised translation system, translated the whole of the body of the King James version into Polari, the argot made famous by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddock in “Round the Horne”.

The same passage, in their version reads –

“In the beginning Gloria created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was nanti form, and void; and munge was upon the eke of the deep. And the fairy of Gloria trolled upon the eke of the aquas.”

Another line – Romans 6.23 –

King James version - For the wages of sin is death;

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Version - For the parkering ninty of kertever is death;

Mmmm. You choose.




If you look back to "WELL ANYWAY, IT AMUSED ME No.10", back on 21st April, you will see a little roadsign, just asking to be changed.

A bit like the opening batsman, who awaits the inevitability of the Bouncer, but doesn't quite know when it's coming, I've watched the sign everytime I pass it.

Yesterday, the "Bouncer" arrived, not painted on, but created "off-line", on a piece of card, and duly stuck onto the sign. Rather professional actually.

It may be that the Highways Authority, or the local Council have their eye semi-permanently on the same sign, expecting the same change as I did, but they (or at least some tidy minded citizen) have removed it one day later.

Let's hope this is a demonstration of their new found response time, and they are now going to attack the potholes around the county with similar zeal.
My breath is not being held!


Monday, August 06, 2007


I’ve watched Grand Prix racing now for the best part of 50 years, although today it’s mainly in front of the TV set. There is no doubt that the television coverage does allow you, as in most sports, to get a much better overall picture of what is going on.

But, and it’s a hugely important “but”, you lose out on the atmosphere – Big Time. The buzz and feel of the place, the anticipation, the smell (the reek of the oils? – why doesn’t some brave cosmetics company produce a “Castrol R” Shower Gel?), the real feeling of the utterly absurd speeds these things move at – all get lost on the small screen. But the thing that you lose most is THE NOISE.

The noise these things emit is something else, and either you like it, or you don’t. At its best, it is an intoxicant, and you often see addicts standing far too close to these cars warming up, with no ear protection, absorbing noise pressures which the Health and Safety mob would have a blue fit about, if they were there. Over the last few decades, there have been some truly glorious sounds which you could hear in Grand prix paddocks, but anyone asking “What’s the Best ever?” gets, from me, an immediate unequivocal answer.

The original BRM V-16.

We’re back now in austerity Britain. The year is 1945, and to give some colour to what is a grey, drab country, a man named Raymond Mays started an appeal, almost on the lines of a nationwide Co-operative to build a National Grand Prix Car. The engine was designed by Peter Berthon, and took the form of a 1½ litre V16, the cylinders of which were no bigger than a small Whisky glass. Now you may think 1½ litres is no big deal, but the plans were for this engine to deliver in excess of 500bhp at 12,000 rpm. Remember this is 60 years ago, and it ran on tyres the same size as my VW Golf today!

Four long years later, it took to the road, a fearfully complex machine, the like of which had never been seen before. In the end, it’s fair to say that its staggering complexity was its undoing. It suffered from continual material and design failures, as its highly stressed parts failed to stand up to the tasks they were being asked to perform.

It took to the racetracks in 1950, and pretty continuously failed to put itself on the racetrack where its specification said it ought to be. And then, in 1952, the future regulations for the World Championship were changed, leaving the car with only non F1 races to run in. It was gradually developed, and had a good deal of success in the lower formulas, but, as the Great Hope of so many British people, it was a continual disappointment, winning only 1 World Championship point during its whole existence.

All of which is of nought when you actually see the thing, admire its construction, and then listen to it when it runs. It produces quite simply the most incredible noise anyone with a mechanical soul in them could possibly imagine. A deep, pulsating bass throb which is physical in its intensity, joined to a supercharger wail as the revs increase which is visceral in its power. I like Pink Floyd, I like Wagner (try the closing pages of Götterdämmerung for his cataclysmic view of the End of the World) but I also like, just as much, listening to the sound of this racing car tearing round a track.

Nick Mason, Pink Floyd’s drummer, owned one (a Mark 2) for a time, and wrote a book “Into the Red” which described all the (stupendous) cars he owned. The really great thing about this book is to be found in the Inside Cover. There is a CD where the sounds of these cars have been recorded in high quality stereo sound. To get a feeling of what this piece is about, do the following.

- Buy or borrow a copy of the Book. Get hold of the CD
- Find someone with the largest and loudest Loudspeakers you can
- Get rid of wives and other cissies, pets, and children for the duration
- Turn on the amplifier, and push the Volume Control round to 11 on the Spinal Tap scale
- Insert the CD into the player, and select Track 5, entitled “BRM V16 Mk2 – Push Start and two laps of Donington Circuit – In car".
- Note, the Book advises a “Suggested Volume Setting = Loud”
- Sit back, and


At the end, I guarantee you will have a huge grin on your face, and be laughing hysterically. Your neighbours from quite a way down the road will be outside wondering just what exactly is going on, and you can invite them all in to hear it again.

I heard it through a pair of large Mission 782 loudspeakers, with a big Sub Woofer to fill in the Bass. Now the specifications for these speakers claim a maximum sound level of 111 db before something untoward happens to the unit’s innards. Suffice it to say, that the first time I played it through, I blew the fuses on both speakers.

The word “awesome” is a bit overused these days. It is not “awesome”, as the Check-out operator in Sainsburys suggested a couple of days ago, that I can add up the prices of my shopping at the same speed as she keys them into her machine – that’s just showing off. But the sound of this machine in full cry does merit the use of the word.

As a pale taster of BRM-lite, try the snippet below from “Youtube”, but remember, if you’ve only got those diddy little speakers attached to your computer, it will be like watching the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” on a mobile phone.


Go for it Big Time, and then tell me you aren’t impressed.



Sunday, August 05, 2007


It will be 30 years ago, in a few days, when Elvis Presley died. You almost now have to be middle aged to remember just how big an impact he made, not only on Pop music, but actually on the whole cultural relationship between the young and old of the Western World.

Before he hit the news, we all pranced around to songs like “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”, “Mr Sandman” and “How much is that Doggy in the Window?”. Then came along this guy singing things like “All Shook Up”, “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel”.

Bloody Hell. I was 11 or so at the time, and the sound of these songs hit me and, literally, a whole generation of youngsters (the term “Teenager” hadn’t been invented then) like a Hydrogen Bomb, except that hadn’t been invented either.

However you look at it, the man and those that followed him, brought about a whole new shape to society. Pop music and the focus on youth today, in its various forms, is all-pervasive, and you only have to look back at others who were in the absolute forefront of this change and hear them all say that “If it wasn’t for Presley, we wouldn’t be here”, to realise just how powerful his influence was.

Can you really think of a trio of songs from one person, which have a greater claim to be the Most Important Pop Songs ever? The last Channel 4 “Top 100 Pop Songs of all Time” came up with John Lennon’s “Imagine” as its Number 1. How could anyone put this mournful, drab little dirge in the same league as “Heartbreak Hotel”. You just have to listen to Presley’s first verse, with that terrific voice, and that fantastic beat and atmosphere to know you’re in the presence of something really special. Now try and imagine hearing it in 1958, when this country had only just finished with Ration Books, and no-one owned a pink Shirt, apart from a few slightly weird characters in Chelsea. You cannot believe the impact he had.

He had more Number Ones that anyone else (including the Beatles), in spite of his career taking a rather tortuous course for a good number of years, including slightly cringe making “U” Certificate “feel-good” films. He had several come-backs, some working brilliantly, others not.

And then he died – at the age of 42.

A couple of days ago, the “Times”, in anticipation of the anniversary, published a few articles about him, and rather bravely I thought, reprinted the Leader they wrote on the day of his death. It was then a newspaper where Hipness and Coolness were alien concepts, and the leader referred to The King, firstly in quotation marks making you feel they had donned rubber gloves for the occasion, and secondly with the following summary – “an indifferent singer and musician, performing for the most part mediocre songs, a poor actor and, it seems, a totally uninteresting person”. They did redeem themselves a little by saying he “was not strictly the first to sing it (ie Rock’n’Roll), nor was he the best, but his influence was unquestionably pre-eminent”.

Tim Rice wrote a suitably fulminating letter wondering just how out of touch they were, and the other Letters of the Day backed him up 100%. The beautifully English one which ends the “Letters to The Editor” tirade got it beautifully right.

From a Betty Hurstfield of Hampstead –

Sir, In 1956, the year when Elvis Presley’s extraordinary talent burst on the world, I started to teach in a large mixed comprehensive school in north-west London. I shall never forget the elderly senior mistress coming into the staffroom one morning and saying sternly “I must speak to a boy called Elvis Presley because he has carved his name on every desk in the school”.

Yours etc.

This leader is in pretty complete contrast to another one written in the same Newspaper, which talked about the Rolling Stones, or more particularly Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Following an extremely well publicised “Drug Bust” at Keith Richard’s house Redlands, there was a showcase trial which included some fascinatingly lurid police evidence, involving Marianne Faithfull, a fur rug (and not much else in the clothing line) and several other men. The police evidence was damningly boring – “Sitting on her right was a person I now know to be male but at the time I had thought was a woman. He had long fairish hair and was dressed in what would best be described as a pair of red and green silk 'pyjamas'. I searched him and this was all he was wearing. I formed the opinion he too was wearing make-up. All the time I was in the house there was a strong, sweet, unusual smell in all rooms.” It went on – “It was not the smell of burning wood."

The Judge, an ex-Naval commander named Leslie Block sentenced Keith Richard to 12 month’s imprisonment, with Jagger’s sentence being 3 months. After a night in the cells, the Appeal Court let them out on bail. There was a public outcry, with candle-lit vigils and oddly, William Rees-Mogg, then Editor of the Times, wrote an impassioned Leader on the issue entitled “Who breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?”.

This piece is renowned as being hugely influential in the Appeal Court quashing the prison sentences and replacing them with conditional discharges. One of the closing sentences from Rees-Mogg’s piece reads – "If we are going to make any case a symbol of the conflict between the sound traditional values of Britain and the new hedonism, then we must be sure that the sound traditional values include those of tolerance and equity. It should be the particular quality of British justice to ensure that Mr. Jagger is treated exactly the same as anyone else, no better and no worse. There must remain a suspicion in this case that Mr. Jagger received a more severe sentence than would have been thought proper for any purely anonymous young man."

This case is seen as a point of real change in British public opinion on popular culture, rather like the “Lady Chatterley” trial earlier in the decade.

So, in two “Times” Broadsheet leaders we see firstly a progressive view which significantly influenced the ways of popular life, and secondly a mystifyingly odd view from the musty tables of Upper Class-land. The interesting thing about them is that the Rees-Mogg article was written almost ten years to the day before the “Times” summary of Elvis Presley’s death on the world.




Thursday, August 02, 2007


Who’d have thought that a company making Jelly Beans would dream up the idea of using, of all things, the England Cricket team, to spearhead a new Marketing campaign.

And, although Kevin Peterson took umbrage on the field at having been accused by the Indian batsman, it would seem that Alistair Cook may well be the Secret Jelly Bean thrower, although he claims today to be “more of a fruit pastille man”. Cook, until now, looked, for all the world, to be the model of propriety in the England test team.


You look at his 22 year old, “Butter wouldn’t melt in the mouth” features, and you can’t imagine him getting on the sledging bandwagon, but the simple answer these days is that they’re all at it. Sometimes it’s picked up by the wicket microphone, and depressingly too infrequently there’s actually bit of wit about what’s heard.

My favourite snippet was one involving the rather “porky” Sri Lankan batsman Arjuna Ranatunga as the victim. Shane Warne (who else?), trying to tempt the batsman out of his crease mused what it took to get the plump character to get out of his crease and drive. Wicketkeeper Ian Healy piped up, “Put a Mars Bar on a good length. That should do it.”

Excellent. Unfortunately, they’re not all like that.

Anyway, back to Mr Cook, and his ability to behave as if he still hadn’t completed the growing-up process. Eagle-eyed readers will perhaps understand the reasons more when they recollect that he went to the same school as myself – Bedford.

Now, one of the compulsory subjects there, in my day, was Applied Childishness. There was not then (at least, I don’t think) an ‘O’ level in it, although I guess it may well now be on some Examining Board’s offerings, but in the 60s, it seemed to be a significant part of the growing up process at Bedford.

Some examples - My brother-in-law, who also was educated there, recalls doing a most effective Chemistry Practical, by proving that the School Swimming Pool would indeed turn a very satisfying shade of pink (actually PINK!), when a cupful of Potassium Permanganate was added to the water.

His other exploit, on the very last day of his school life, was at the Final Assembly of the term, which was then held at the unbelievable time of 7.00am in the morning to allow Boarders the maximum time to get home. Rather than enjoying for the last time the stentorian tones of the School Grand Piano accompanying the rendition of the School Song, it was decided (note use of Passive Tense here to avoid long term incriminations) to put a bunch of bamboo canes into the piano. The change from poignant classical chords, to Chas and Dave, did not apparently go down too well with those in charge.

Brother-in-Law was offered the option, with about a minute of his school life remaining, of being expelled, of having Six of the Best (Corporal Punishment then being encouraged as part of School life’s rich pageant). He chose not to be expelled.

My own contribution was much less flashy, but potentially a good deal more dangerous. My Sixth form education was in the Sciences, in the middle of the time when the Americans were getting ready to send men to the Moon. We forget now just how exciting that was. I was fascinated and caught up in the whole thing, and read avidly everything written about it. One thing which caught my eye was the fact that the fuels used by the American Titan rockets were Red Fuming Nitric Acid and (even after 40 years, I’m word perfect here) Unsymmetrical Di-Methyl Hydrazine). These two rather noxious substances are what is known as Hypergolic, that is they ignite on impact. The simple schoolboy view was that all you had to get the two substances in contact, and QED, you went to the Moon. How prophetic that thought nearly was!

So, as the year’s Organic Chemistry course wound its way forward, one day we ended up studying Hydrazine and its associated compounds. It didn’t take much thought to wonder using a tad of lateral thinking that, with the Di-methyl Hydrazine we had just made, and the Red Fuming Nitric Acid, which was sitting there unused in the Science lab Fume Cupboard, there might be an interesting practical experiment to be undertaken here. Now the Di-methyl Hydrazine I had made was apparently symmetrical, but I concluded that the symmetry issue was probably the icing on the cake, so what the hell.

I poured a small thimbleful of each out into separate containers in the fume cupboard, and with the mechanical arms used to pour corrosive liquids into containers, gingerly poured a small amount of one into the other. Thank God I was behind the wooden stanchion at the corner of the Fume Cupboard, because I think we (actually I) demonstrated just how powerful this fuel was. With a very smart explosion, it neatly blew the Fume Cupboard out and the panes of glass all over the Laboratory - thankfully no-one was hit by the flying pieces, but one’s blood runs a bit cold thinking about it even today.

The strange thing was that no-one seemed to make a song and dance about it. I was told off, and it was suggested that perhaps I shouldn’t do anything like it again, but that was it. Can you imagine the Health and Safety Investigation that would be set in train today?

However, as a sure-fire way of remembering what these substances were, well, it has all stuck in my memory without sign of brain fade, ever since.

Talk about a picture speaking a thousand words. I think it’s a better way of education than the H&S restricted book experiments undertaken today, but then, I’m only a Grumpy, Rose coloured spectacled, Old Git.

Comments on the last clause in the last sentence are NOT welcome.



Wednesday, August 01, 2007



I’m sure all the vigilant Sub-editors are on holiday at the moment, because “The Times” today has published a couple of items where the only conclusion you can draw is that Kenneth Horne is alive and well and living in Wapping, or wherever “The Times” is published these days.

I don’t think it needs any comment from me, except to say that the picture, taken by Brian Thomas, is an exquisite example of The Decisive Moment – pressing the shutter exactly at the right time. Easy to say, usually extremely difficult to do.

Picture by Brian Thomas

Not only do we have a whole article on “Ball tampering”, we have a super sporting image, and even a rather tongue in cheek, or is it ball in hand, medical evaluation of the potential effects of this manly cuddle, by the omnipresent Dr Stuttaford.

The article seems to set out to get as many “double-entendres” into the piece as it can, following a three match ban on Rugby League star, Leon Pryce, for grabbing the attention of a Bradford player, Sam Burgess. Apparently Pryce made “two tackles on his tackle”, using what the Australians apparently call the “squirrel grip” - grabbing a handful of nuts!

This is seemingly not an infrequent occurrence in Rugby, particularly in Neath, where, following one incident, the Australian coach referred to the place as “the bag-snatching capital of Wales”.

It also seems to go on in Cricket, American Football, Soccer, where one guy in Spain, celebrating a goal rather exuberantly, bit another team member on the penis, Wrestling (including Sumo), and most worryingly Bullfighting, where it would seem the bulls horns sometimes get into the act.

I must have led a very sheltered life.