Sunday, October 28, 2007


It’s that one day of the year. The bright sparks in Westminster, 91 years ago, decreed that they would introduce the concept of British Summer Time.

The clocks go forward, or they go back. I’m getting to the age where I have to work out which is which, with the obvious result that one year, I got it wrong, and turned up to meet someone two hours before we had actually agreed to see each other. Instead of a perfectly reasonable 9.30am, his house was awoken by my push on the doorbell at 7.30am on a Sunday morning.

I don't think they were terribly impressed.

Each year, about now, we see a flurry of articles in the Press pointing out that, if we were really serious about minimising injury and loss of life among the population, we would change the way we do it, and keep British Summer Time going all year round. But, because a few shouty people in Scotland, who, if I’m not mistaken, now have their own Parliament, whinge on, as only Scots and Scousers can manage, we English withdraw from the argument, and keep the status quo. And a few more of our children, on the way home from school, are apparently sent for a terminal early bath, or at least suffer some unnecessary body modifications because we can’t be bothered.

If you look at the history of it all, it’s not quite as boring as you might imagine. Until the arrival of the railways in the early Nineteenth Century, each area of the country kept their own local time. It didn’t really matter that Nuneaton time was a few minutes different from Scunthorpe time. It took a day or so to get from one to the other, so what did a couple of minutes matter. The Railway timetables, over a period of 20 or so years put paid to that, although the more cynical among us might suspect that Virgin Rail has re-introduced it recently without telling us.

It wasn’t until 1880 though, that Parliament actually legislated to make UK time consistent with GMT throughout the country. Even at this date, Irish time, known as Dublin Mean Time (25 minutes behind GMT – Don’t even ask!) remained different. It took until 1916 for the Irish to come in line with the rest of the UK.

At the same time British Summer Time was introduced, and you’d have thought that that would have been it, until such things as Atomic Time was introduced. But No. The Government has fiddled about with this like a fiddly about thing. We even had double BST during the years of the Second World War. Intriguingly, the Government insisted that the reasons that it was removed after the war, were so sensitive that the papers were not to be released for 100 years. Intriguing.

Since 1916, in excess of 70 separate pieces of legislation tampering with our clocks have been passed, repealed, changed and reinstated since that time.
I had completely forgotten this, but we had a period from 1968 to 1972, when BST was kept on as an experiment all year. Apparently the forecast overall reduction of accidents did occur, but something (unknown) happened to make us revert to the previous BST/GMT arrangement at the end of that period.

And so it goes on. Scotland and Northern Ireland claim that a change to GMT+1 hour all year round would result in Sunrise in the most northerly parts of their countries not occurring until 10am or so. And this seem to have been the reason why successive attempts to change the system have failed.

Now I may be wrong, but I thought there were only about 25 people who lived north of Glasgow, so the whole of the UK is being disadvantaged by these guys. And now Scotland has its own Legislative Assembly, why not let them decide for themselves? What’s so difficult about a different timezone for Scotland if that’s what they want?

The whole thing seems to be very simple to me. Keep GMT in place all year round. It means the accident issue in England would be improved, it means I don’t face the possibility of arriving on a friend’s doorstep while his wife’s hair is still in curlers, and she’s only got the undercoat of her make-up on. It also has the passing benefit of getting up the noses of those north of the Border, who are getting a bit big for their boots. Remember Culloden, I say.

And most of all, this evening, when I was looking at the clock on this one particular day of the year, waiting at 5.45pm for the Sun to pass over the 6pm Yard-Arm, to break out the Gin, I wouldn’t have had to wait for a further miserable 15 minutes to demonstrate to myself, as a point of personal pride, that I am in control of my Alcohol Intake.


Thursday, October 18, 2007


I don't seem to have put up one of my own pictures onto this site for quite a while.

We live in the country, and have a distant, easterly view of Ironbridge. It has a power station there, and this evening, just as the sun was setting, I turned away from the sunset, and the scene which faced me was the one below.


Sometimes the results of Man's efforts in the landscape can look rather impressive.



Wednesday, October 17, 2007


80% of the front page of my newspaper yesterday, Tuesday, was dominated by a lurid report sparked by Dawn Primarolo, the well known anagram and part time Public Health Ministress, that, as part of the most highly oppressed section of the population, I am now being targeted as a potentially “hazardous” consumer of alcohol – the Middle-Class Vice.

Someone has worked out that the worst areas in the country for consuming “hazardous” quantities of alcohol are Runnymede and Harrogate, where apparently 26.4% of the adults living there are potential abusers. Don’t ask how they work out the last decimal place here, ‘cos I’ve no idea. But this is such an important revelation that four fifths of the complete Front Page is given over to it.

However, skulking away, at the top right hand corner of the front page is a pithy little comment, occupying 3.04% of the remaining 20% of the page’s area, and totalling 46 words, noting that Sir Menzies Campbell had resigned as leader of the Lib-Dems.

Hang on a minute. This guy is (or was, as of 6.30pm on Monday) the leader of the party that polled 5,981,874 votes out of a total of 27,110,727 votes cast in the 2005 Election in the whole of this country – that’s 22.1% of the electorate. Call me old fashioned but I think that’s a bit newsworthy.

Yes, the Lib-Dems seem to have got themselves in an almighty tangle in the manner of his going. We seem to have Simon Hughes and Vince Cable appearing on the doorstep of the Cowley Street Party Headquarters, apparently doing a pretty good impression of a couple of Division 2 undertakers, announcing, in solemn terms, Ming’s departure, with no Ming to be seen. Which gem of a PR person planned that one?

But none of that is any reason for the Times to pop a 46 word “obituaryette” on the Front page, and carry on as usual. They’d clearly had the time to do the in depth three page spread because it’s all there on Pages 2-4. So it wasn’t one of those stories which blew just at the wrong time of day. They presumably thought that unruly, Chianti slurping Runnymede housewives were more newsworthy than the sudden demise of third most important Party leader in the land.

Perhaps that’s the reason why he’s been pushed out.

He always struck me as a man with more than his fair share of integrity and honesty - commodities which seem to be in rather short supply in Parliament these days.


PS – As far as Lib-Dem future is concerned, is there anyone out there, apart from their respective Mums, who could honestly put hand on heart and either name or identify from a “Usual Suspects” line-up (and without a Chizz sheet), any of the potential Lib-Dem Leader replacements?

No, me neither.



Graph A below is copied from the front page of the “Daily Telegraph” today. In the fight for “Broadsheet Supremacy”, this is the Telegraph’s poke in the eye to “The Times”, and the graph shows a massive lead for the Telegraph over the Times. It says “Over the past two years, The Daily Telegraph has increased its lead over the Times from 198,175 copies in October 2005 to 236,491 copies in September this year.”


Well, that seems quite clear.

Graph B below is copied from the front page of the “The Times” yesterday, and the graph shows a (not quite so) massive lead for the Times over the Telegraph. In the fight for “Broadsheet Supremacy”, this is the Times’ poke in the eye to the Telegraph. It says “Full rate sales of the Times were ahead of the Daily Telegraph for the 35th consecutive month …”.


Well, that also seems quite clear.

I feel like writing to, say, "The Guardian", as the current, Independent (!) third place highest seller in the Broadsheet circulation battle, to ask them, as an interested and also hopefully a disinterested bystander, if they can help throw any light on all this, and possibly explain it to me.

Something tells me though, that it would all be a waste of time, because they’d have another graph which proved that the Guardian was the best seller of all.


Saturday, October 13, 2007


For anyone wondering where the most effective form of political opposition in this country has resided over the past decade, the answer is George Parr. He is the “Government Spokesman”, the Defence Minister, the Chief Executive of a thrusting NHS Healthcare Trust or a high profile businessman (in this case Sir George Parr), doing a “One to One” with a wide-eyed and incredulous, ever so slightly confused and disbelieving TV interviewer.

Played interchangeably by John Fortune or John Bird, (Sir) George Parr points up the utter absurdities, the rank prejudices, the craven scandals and the simply unbelievable happenings which those in high places involve themselves in, seemingly without the individuals involved feeling the slightest hint of personal embarrassment.

Last night, I pulled a book off one of my shelves – the original 1996 issue of “The Long Johns”. This is a set of verbatim scripts by Bird and Fortune from a great TV programme which in the 90s was called “Rory Bremner – Who Else”. They struck me at the time as utter gems, lasting no more than 5 minutes or so, as inserts into Rory Bremner’s show. I religiously recorded them all onto video, and when someone had the sense to publish the best of the scripts on Audio cassette, and lastly in Book form, I felt that my Entertainment Cup ranneth over.

Spookily coincidentally, I noticed today, that His Nasalness Sir Melvyn Bragg is devoting tomorrow night’s South Bank Show to Bird and Fortune. At last someone I’ve heard of - so that’s a must to watch and record.

The pair of them have been on the scene for so long now that you almost forget what modern TV satire was before them. Actually you can’t forget it, it wasn’t there until they put it in place. John Bird was the Cambridge Director of the original Footlights reviews, which shot Peter Cook into the public’s awareness. A couple of years later, John Fortune followed in Bird’s footsteps. They have been tweaking the tail of the Country’s establishment ever since, and it comes as a rather worrying surprise to realise that John Bird is now 70. Many of his “fellow travellers” have gone to the great TV studio in the sky – Ned Sherrin only a week or so ago, Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore.

Between them, they’ve got the pompous, the frighteningly intense and humourless politician or the scurrilous businessman, well and truly taped. And they do so in a simple way – all they do is to get the infinitely flexible George Parr to tell the truth – about Youth Crime, Prisons, the NHS, Asylum and immigration, Old People’s Homes, The Armed forces, Defence Procurement. Apart from one glorious sketch on Prison reform where they got a complete fit of the giggles, they play it dead straight. No laughs from them – that’s your job.

The really scary thing is that, in their hands, the truth is horrifyingly funny. You really can’t believe that we elect or allow the movers and shakers in the world to do all these things, but we do. Paul Hoggart’s “Times” note today sums their view on one aspect of it all - British Defence - “With British defence policy, you don’t have to make up jokes. You just say it.”

Their disarmingly simple conversation slashes like a rapier, leaving its marks, Zorro-like, over the subject, and, by making no judgements themselves, they leave you with an inescapable and logical conclusion, after, that is, you’ve wiped the tears of hysterical laughter from your eyes.

I’m not going to put lots of examples here – just watch the "Bremner, Bird and Fortune" Shows, watch the South Bank Show, buy one of their compilation cassettes, or read one of their books.

As bursters of political and business Egos, there are none finer. Absolute National Treasures.



Friday, October 12, 2007


I believe Sebastião Salgado is the most important photographer in the world today.

He is a Brazilian who studied Law and Economics, becoming an Economist in the late 60s in the Finance Ministry in São Paulo. Clearly a man with a dead centre socialist view of the world, he travelled to Africa for the World Bank and, presumably as a result of what he saw, decided to change careers and become a photographer. He worked for a couple of photographic Agencies during the 70s, finally joining the World famous Magnum group in 1979.

He set out to document the lives of people, particularly workers, in the Third World and show to those in the Western World, who probably don’t want to know, just how wide the divide between Us and Them actually is. Since the early 80s he has travelled the world, relentlessly recording the unremitting life that is the working lot of a huge proportion of the world today – the struggle for survival.

His pictures range over the Kuwaiti Oil field workers just after the first Gulf War, African tea Pickers, people building dams in India with their bare hands, Indonesians working in fuming Sulphur Mines, Mediterranean Fishermen, Bangladeshi men cutting up derelict ships by hand with hacksaws and, most famously, Brazilian miners manually digging Gold out in an enormous man-made pit, and photographed like something out from the mind of Hieronymus Bosch.

Although he sees fit almost to make light of his photographic abilities, the factor which catapults him above all others is the amazing power and drama he gets into his pictures, with the individual worker taking centre stage in the action. He works exclusively in Black and white, and seems to have the ability to get right in with the subjects, but in a way where they seem to treat him as part of them rather than as an outsider.

In almost every image, you are looking at back-breaking toil, merciless effort and (to these Western eyes) appalling poverty. And yet he brings a remarkable sense of dignity and even nobility to his images, which is uniquely uplifting. He uses light in an almost religious way, and similarly, his compositions often invoke religious overtones – the Cross, the Virgin Mary, even the 12 disciples appear frequently in his pictures.

He also possesses the “decisive moment” touch identified by Henri Cartier-Bresson. All the images he shows, you feel he’s hit the shutter at JUST the right millisecond. An instant earlier, or later, and the shot would not be as good.

And yet he describes his work as “militant photography”. Now there’s an interesting discussion.

It is this dichotomy of Subject vs Beauty which makes his pictures so important. The terrific quality of his work is what makes it stand out and makes Western eyes look at it, and by looking, get the Third World issues onto people’s tongues and into their minds.

His unique power to do this is the reason I’m writing this today.

In a strange way, I find it quite disquieting to go to an exhibition of his or turn the pages of one of his books, and feel the contrast between the beautifully constructed images staring out at me, and the harsh, unrelenting pressures on the people who are the subjects of the pictures. I can almost feel ashamed of myself for enjoying what I see, but the simple fact is they are quite remarkable pieces of work, and I rationalise it to myself by concluding that’s what he actually wants to achieve.

Salgado himself recognises this - a couple of quotes of his recently –

“I don’t want anyone to appreciate the light or the palette of tones. I want my pictures to inform, to provoke discussion – and to raise money.”

“If you take a picture of a human that does not make him noble, there is no reason to take this picture. That is my way of seeing things.”

Those two sentences give you a strong clue as to where he is coming from. He wants to use his skills to get a massive message across, and because he’s so good, he can make it work. But, as a means to get an unwelcome message across, his work, created by a single person, just taking and publishing pictures, punches way, way above its weight.

I don’t think it’s either fair or even possible to compare the ability of say, a Franco Fontana taking beautifully simple Landscape images, or an Elliott Erwitt taking humorous, quirky urban shots, with Salgado’s exquisite and hugely thought provoking output. What they do is so different – yes, they all take photographs, and very good ones, but there it ends. So, I’m not sure it’s meaningful to say “This Man is the Best photographer on the Planet”. However, if a straw poll was to be taken among photographers throughout the World, I’ll bet that Salgado, out of them all, would come out top.

I think, it is much easier to say however, because of what he is doing, and because of how well he has done it, and in the final analysis, because of the real change in human perception he, personally as one man documenting some quite unpalatable facts, has made throughout the Western World, that he is without doubt the Most Important.

I’ve borrowed a few of his images from one of the books of his I’ve bought, to give a flavour of just how good he is. His books are real works of art, although he probably wouldn’t call them that. You handle them lovingly, but always consciously thinking about the subject matter.

I hope that is what he wants to achieve.

Monday, October 08, 2007


It is one of life’s real, real pleasures watching a new grandchild taking their first steps in the world, both literally and metaphorically. Grandchild No.3 is now 16 months old, and walking like a good’un, as well as starting to speak. Today, I taught him the word “Excellent”, to be spoken each time after building up a pile of five building blocks, and then demolishing them with something that looks as if it could develop into a very useful late Cover Drive in years to come.

The second year of a child’s life brings on some remarkable, and really rather humbling changes – walking, talking, a sense of humour, and the simple genius of interaction.

There is however a downside. I thought that, having gone through the cycle twice already with Nos. 1 and 2, that my days with Bob the Builder would now be over.

But No.

As a result of the march of technology, we now have it on DVD rather than a Video tape, but the change of medium does nothing to reduce its Irritation Quotient. Even the introductory music gets at you. You can’t bear the thought that people who you want to look up to you (you know who you are!), will hear you humming it or even worse, singing the words. But it’s so infectious that you find yourself coming out with it, and an incipient sense of almost self loathing comes over you as, in spite of your efforts, you can’t get it out of your mind.

But it’s the “cast” of characters which gets me. Bob’s such a wus – as a role model to the under threes for the male of the species, he’s a complete disaster. It always has to be him who staples his mobile phone under the asphalt roof he’s just redone. It’s always him that makes a fool of himself. And, always humourlessly pointing out the errors of Bob’s way’s there’s that ghastly, simpering, whining female Wendy, who as far as I can see has never, ever done anything wrong. If she is the style upon which society’s “new females” base themselves, then I can understand how Hazel Blears and the like have got to where they are. And what about Wendy’s sister, Jenny? It is difficult to get the word “tart” out of your mind here.

The really awful thing about it all is that the episodes that I watched, or at least were on when I was in the room today, were written by a man. What’s this guy doing? Whose side is he on?

We need to get a few episodes written by someone like Geoffrey Boycott or Michael Winner or even Ricky Gervais – TV is supposed to be a matter of balance after all. We need Bob ringing Wendy telling her in no uncertain terms to get the dinner on, and clean the whippets out – and NOW!

And what about the machines? We have a digger called Lofty who is afraid of heights (male, you’ll notice), and a range of other dysfunctional creations aimed at moulding today's under fives’ characters. Oh, and particularly nauseating is the little cement mixer Dizzy, who, in each introduction to the programme, overtakes some of the other machines like an idiot on the blind side of a hill, and clearly needs to be done for “due care and attention”. She (at least I think it’s female), is really irritating and, in my balanced view, needs a bit of a slap.

The Jesuit comment of "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." comes to mind. If this is what we give the toddlers of today as aspiration, I start to worry about the horde of individuals whom I need to earn the money to pay my pension.

To think that grandchild No. 3 is going to have to fight not only the world, but also the massed band of Bob’s worryingly unnerving collaborators. If he manages to grow up along the straight and narrow after being subjected to all that, he’ll have played a blinder.

Bring back Muffin the Mule!



Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Well, off we go. The inquest into Diana’s death started today, a mere ten years and one month after a phone call from a friend woke us at 8.30 one Sunday morning to tell us that Diana had been killed in a Paris underpass. It was one of those Kennedy/Lennon/Twin Towers moments which you remember for ever.

Why is it with things of this magnitude, that the review which inevitably follows, takes so long to come to the boil? First the French authorities, and then the British investigate it, and now 121 months later, we finally get to a formal inquest.

You could be easily forgiven thinking that the passing of time was seen as a key factor in diminishing the public’s interest in the proceedings. We’ve had the 10th anniversary, we’ve endured the concert, and the two princes asking for the "book to be closed". Today, at the inquest, less than 25% of the public seats were taken. That wouldn’t have been the case 5 year ago. So perhaps, for most people, excluding Mr Al Fayed, the thing is starting to fade a tad into history. And perhaps, that is what “they” wanted all along. You can’t help but wonder if the huge delay is simply Plan A from the Establishment.

But you see this almost as a trademark in all the big political set-pieces. Put some time and distance between the event, and the time when the report is issued or the court case finally gets heard. People have died, emigrated, changed, companies are not run by those under suspicion, and the thing takes on a degree of academic, almost impersonal review, where it is also now, conveniently, too late to exact any meaningful penalty.

Think of Maxwell. He died, either accidentally, suicidally, or at the hand of others, in 1991. The report which the DTI produced on the matter took 10 years to surface. By which time, he was a bit of folk-lore/notorious gangster/spy/businessman/potential war crime suspect – add more to suit yourself. The fact that he destroyed 30,000 pensioner’s lives by his actions seems to have been lost in time. The fact that his Auditors, Coopers and Lybrand, were finally, 10 years after the event, hauled over the coals seems to have been lost in time as well. They had even become a different company in 2001, and whilst contrite about their actions a decade previously, life for them seemed to move on without too much change. A decade can make things look so different.

Looking back at another case however, you conclude that Diana’s inquest and the Maxwell report have actually surfaced with a deal of what can only be described as unseemly haste.

Are you sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin.

Between 1978 and 1982, our Government provided assistance totalling £77 million to a company called DeLorean, to build a brand new sports car in a brand new manufacturing plant in Belfast. The grand plan was to produce 30,000 cars a year, and employ 2,000 people over 5 years in a politically highly charged, UK unemployment black-spot.

One year after production started, the company went into receivership, having produced just over 8,000 cars, and with a workforce of 2,600 people – what we would probably see in hindsight as a significant, negative variance to Plan.

The saga about who did what, to whom, and when, is contained in a 61 page report issued by the Northern Ireland Audit Office. The report, were it not for the fact that it is trying to explain how our leaders stood in a suburb of Belfast ripping up our five pound notes as quickly as they could manage it, is almost high farce. It sets the UK Government, and its team of lawyers against Arthur Andersen, later to star in the Blockbuster Enron affair, and if you want a good hour’s reading to convince you that the Government should not be trusted with your money, download it. You will not be disappointed.

By the way, the date on the NIAO’s report, should you be interested, is 12th February 2004, some 22 years after the company failed.


The claim against Andersens is similar to the Coopers and Lybrand/Maxwell in that both companies were being accused of failure to declare fraud in their Audit reports on the respective companies.

In the case of DeLorean, the Research and Development for the car was to be performed by Lotus Cars Ltd, under an agreement with a Swiss company (GPD) who retained the services of Lotus. The original agreement provided for GPD/Lotus to receive $17.65 million, although DeLorean paid a further $23 million on a “cost plus” basis to Lotus/GPD for, allegedly, additional development work on the car. It later transpired that none of the initial $17.65 million ever reached Lotus.

In the end, following a culture clash between the American Andersen partnership, who, reading between the lines in the report, were very keen to string the proceedings out until the UK Government got fed up with it all, and the UK Government, who, equally clearly, wanted the whole thing to go away, and like a boomerang, the further they threw it, the speedier it came back. In the end, out of claims lodged against Andersens of £73 million in the UK, and a further $100 million in the USA, the DTI finally agreed a settlement of £20.72 million.

In addition, a further recovery of £15.64 million was obtained from the Receivers, following realisations of the DeLorean Company’s assets, as well as settlements of court actions arising out of the GPD misappropriations.

There were a few other “sundries” which built the total receipts up to £40.45 million, BUT, the DTI’s external costs in all this amounted to £20.72 million, and when asked what their internal costs over the years 1982-2002 were, they were unable to proffer a figure. The NIAO’s view was that “these costs amounted to a substantial sum”. So, in all probability, after 20 year’s work the net receipts were probably as near zero as makes no difference.

Interestingly, there are a few paragraphs relating to the Lotus saga strewn around the report. It is well known that the Government wanted to charge John Delorean with something, but being American, that came to nothing. They would have prosecuted Colin Chapman, the Lotus chief Executive, and probably the greatest racing car designer ever, except he had died from a Heart Attack three years previously. The poor sod they managed to charge, because he was a non-American who was still alive, was Fred Bushell, the Lotus Finance Director.

At a trial held in Belfast, Lord Justice Murray sentenced Bushell to 3 years imprisonment, and a fine of £1.6 million. The judge’s closing remarks in Bushell’s trial went on “…….and had Delorean not been American, and beyond the court’s jurisdiction, and Chapman alive, each would have been given 10 year prison sentences.”

If you rummage around in the Appendices to the NIAO’s report, you find entries relating to subsequent successful court actions for recovery of monies against Lotus (£1 million), Fred Bushell (£3.0 million), John Delorean ($9.5 million), and Colin Chapman’s estate (£4.67 million). Now, I don’t remember reading that in any of the Colin Chapman books I’ve seen.

The whole sorry saga, however, started its amazing story way back in 1978, and the benefit of the 22 year timescale between deciding to spend £77 million of our my money in building 8,000 cars in Northern Ireland, and producing the report which documents what happened, is that the extreme redness in the faces of those responsible in Government is now completely invisible.

Job done?