Saturday, March 31, 2012

the politics of disillusionment?

For the Labour Party, this must have seemed like a DREAM week in the lead up to the Bradford West by-election on Thursday. It had started with the (now former) Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas having been recorded telling the Sunday Times that a "premier league" payment of up to £250,000 would win a dinner in Downing Street. This was closely followed by Francis Maude’s advice for us all to store petrol in our garage in a jerry can - afterall, we all have garages don’t we (and don’t worry about the fire risks)? And, of course, there was “Pastygate” (George Osborne’s pathetic handling of his decision to impose VAT on pasties). It was, without doubt, the worst week (so far) in this government’s short history.
In Bradford, Labour was defending a majority of nearly 6,000. It had held the seat for the past 38 years.
It was a seat it just couldn’t lose… surely?
In the event, as you now know, George Galloway (Respect Party) annihilated the Labour vote, winning a 10,140 majority. I’m essentially a Labour Party supporter but, sadly, I’ve been embarrassed by its pathetic performance as “HM’s Loyal Opposition” thus far. For me, the leadership is poor (Cameron is generally running rings round Miliband) and there is no one in the Shadow Cabinet (with the possible exception of Yvette Cooper and Douglas Alexander?) who provides the desire, capability and wit to provide an effective alternative government.
Whatever you think of George Galloway’s political views (and I have a lot of reservations!), you cannot deny his charisma. Remember his response to the US Senate Committee regarding alleged improprieties surrounding the Oil-for-Food programme in 2005? This is what he told committee chairman Coleman:
“Senator, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader, and neither has anyone on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one – and neither has anyone on my behalf. Now I know that standards have slipped in the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice. I am here today but last week you already found me guilty. You traduced my name around the world without ever having asked me a single question, without ever having contacted me, without ever written to me or telephoned me, without any attempt to contact me whatsoever. And you call that justice”.
You can’t deny it… brilliant!
On facebook this morning, my good friend Rob commented:
“The difference between a charismatic and a non-charismatic politician is exemplified brilliantly in the first couple of minutes of this video. I can see why they chose him”.
I completely agree!
Frankly, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of difference between the three major parties these days. So, in the absence of any real alternative*, it will come down to presentation and salesmanship at the next General Election and, as things stand (and on the basis of presentation alone), the Tories are likely to win outright. Depressing or what!
I’m looking for a politician to excite and inspire me (Barack Obama has come closest thus far, but unfortunately…). In the meantime, it all seems very depressing out there and I feel as if I’m about to join the ranks of the politically disillusioned!

PS: You might recall that, seven years ago, Galloway had also humiliated Oona King (someone I personally rated fairly highly on the political/charismatic scale) by demolishing her 10,000 majority in Bethnal Green and Bow.
PPS: * Yes, I HAVE voted for the Green Party in local elections but, under the present electoral arrangements, there is absolutely no prospect of the Greens becoming a viable part of any government in the immediate (or long-term?) future.

summer(?) in the city

Moira+I went to Colston Hall early yesterday evening for a drink and to listen/watch live music (the music was free, the drink wasn’t!) in its great “foyer performance space”. Last night featured the excellent jazz musician Kevin Figes (alto sax and flute). There are free foyer performances every Thursday and Friday (approx. 5.45-7.15pm). Good atmosphere. We went on to have some excellent simple food at (my favourite) no.1 Harbourside Bar – AND they have free music there too – Mondays+Wednesdays from 9.30pm and Thursdays+Fridays from 10.30pm (way after my bedtime!).
The combination of the clocks changing last weekend and a week of glorious, sunny weather certainly gave the city a happy, lively, cosmopolitan feel last night (although I suspect it got MUCH livelier a little later!).
Photo: foyer performance space at Colston Hall.
PS: I think this penchant for free musical entertainment must run in the family - I’m aware, from various facebook comments/pics, that my brother Alan quite often pops into the Symphony Hall Cafe/Bar in Birmingham for similar free events.

Friday, March 30, 2012

mysterious footprints in the mud…

As those of you familiar with Bristol’s “Cut” (the artificial waterway constructed 1804-09 to divert the tidal River Avon) will know, you do NOT see people trying to clamber over the shiny slime of its enveloping, muddy banks. Frankly, such a prospect would surely be both idiotic and potentially suicidal…
Well, I was walking along the footpath that adjoins the Cut this morning and, as you will note if you look carefully at the above photograph, spotted two sets of large footprints coming from the Cut’s murky waters (that is, in addition to the various tracks from its regular birdlife). No apparent sign of the people having been trying to carry a boat or anything and no sign of any footprints on the opposite bank. Have I discovered “monsters from the deep” or just a couple of lads messing around?
Answers on a postcard please…
PS: double-click on the image to enlarge!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

the kid with a bike

Moira was involved in various stuff this afternoon+evening, so I decided to pack myself off to the Watershed to see this Dandenne brothers’ film. It tells the story of a highly-troubled and petulant 12 year-old boy, Cyril (Thomas Doret), who’s abandoned by his father and taken under the wing of a kindly woman (Cecile De France), who agrees to foster him at weekends. Her attempts at giving him a proper childhood aren’t helped by the actions/inactions of four of the film’s key male characters. A “warm, heartrending film”… basically, all men are rubbish and women should be allowed to take over the world (or something like that and they're probably right!). I enjoyed it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

nhs bill… what’s the point? why bother?

Moira+I were up in Lancashire with Alice+Dave+family when the Government’s NHS Bill was passed and I’m only just coming to terms with the depressing implications.
At the end of the Tory Party Conference in 2006, Cameron insisted that the NHS was safe in his hands. "Tony Blair explained his priorities in three words: education, education, education… I can do it in three letters: NHS." He emphasised that change would be "driven by the wishes and needs of NHS professionals and patients". In January 2010, Cameron launched the Conservative health manifesto with his eye-catching poster promising “we will cut the deficit and not the NHS”.
In the event, of course, and despite passionate opposition from the vast majority of health professionals and the public, the Government steamrollered its political ideology and the Bill will become law early next week. Even the government must admit that, after more than 1,000 amendments, the Bill is now little more than a dog’s dinner – unfortunately, the dog’s dinner USED to be the NHS.
In January 2011, the health select committee concluded: “the white paper proposes a disruptive reorganisation of the institutional structure of the NHS which was subject to little prior discussion and not foreshadowed in the coalition programme”.
Most nurses, doctors and patients now understand only too well what the government is doing with the NHS. It’s broken its promise on reorganisation - breaking up area-based health service planning and replacing it with closed-door decision making by consortia, potentially managed day-to-day by private companies. Rather than a single body responsible for population health and commissioning the whole pathway of services for an area, NHS planning will be fragmented and chaotic. There are particular fears for specialist services, with charities and others voicing concerns about a loss of focus and a return of postcode lotteries.
Yesterday’s “Church Times” (gosh, how well-read am I?!) referred to a letter sent last week by a number of Churches in the north of England to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Secretary, setting out their concerns about the impact of the Bill on deprived neighbourhoods in the north: “We wish to state that we have no confidence in market forces as they are applied to health care in the long term because of the inevitable con¬flict between self-interest and the care of other people, and between shareholder expectations and patient needs”. I can only echo such views (but rather more nationwide).
My fear is that the NHS Bill will turn the health service into a market like the privatised gas, water or telecoms utilities – to my mind, anything that allows profit to be a motive in health-care provision will be instinctively distrusted.
A lot of people (me included) made a LOT of noise, wrote letters, signed petitions, pestered their MP about the proposed NHS Bill. Virtually all the professional health bodies put forward detailed objections. To what end? Cameron+his buddies have ended up inflicting their conservative ideology on OUR health service because they, as politicians, (obviously) know so much more about running a health service than the professionals.
It’s all very, very depressing.
Photo: Many thanks to David Stuart (via facebook) for the pic!

Friday, March 23, 2012

remember, we’re all in this together (episode 28)…

When it comes to passing comment on this week’s Budget, you might expect an old duffer like me to pour scorn on George’s so-called “Granny Tax”… but I won’t (even if I’m not at ALL impressed).
For some time now, I’ve been very critical of the super-rich and the tax-avoiders (eg.
Feb 2012, Feb 2011, Nov 2010 and Mar 2009 for starters). So, I was particularly interested in what Channel 4 News’ Economics Correspondent, Faisal Islam, has had to say (note: as some of you may be aware, Channel 4 is my television news channel of choice!):
“Apart from the leap in the personal tax allowance, what was the largest annual tax cut (in Wednesday’s Budget)? Expected tax avoidance this year. In fact you may have missed the mini fiscal stimulus at the heart of this Budget. There will be a £3bn fiscal loosening over the next year, followed by a £3bn tightening in the following years. What may be surprising is that this is almost entirely caused by £2.4bn of tax avoidance from Britain’s rich this year, that is then unwound in later years. Yes, this is the OBR’s expectation in this financial year that the rich will not pay out £6.5bn of dividends and bonuses in this tax year, but shift it into April 2013 when it attracts the 45p tax rate. Perfectly legal”.
Very depressing.
This year’s Budget was probably the most-leaked budget of all time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had made great play of his intentions to make this Budget an “Anti-Tax Avoidance Budget”. On last night’s Channel 4 News, Islam pointed out that the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) had looked back on the last 10 years of UK Budgets in terms of the expected revenue to be gained from tax avoidance. Its conclusion? That this Budget was the third worst!!
Very, very depressing.
And yes, remember, we’re still all in this together!

PS: Oh, and wasn’t this government going to be the ‘greenest government ever’ (in reality, not all that difficult)? Well, putting money into airport expansions certainly doesn’t hit the green button… and the extra investment into North Sea oil and gas extraction essentially smacks of short-term thinking… and there was absolutely nothing in terms of renewable energy investment. What a surprise!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

grumpy old man… and parking on corners

At the risk of someone accusing me of being a grumpy old man (who ME?), I’ve decided to post something about people who decide to park their cars on street corners. Our neighbourhood streets here in Southville are often pretty narrow and it makes visibility at junctions (for pedestrians and motorists alike) incredibly difficult AND potential hazardous. Back in December 2008, I blogged about a local blog here in Southville which essentially named and shamed guilty motorists in Southville (I note that they’ve subsequently made it a “by invitation only” blog – presumably after receiving hatemail from car owners!).
In my “retired state”, I am now a far more frequent pedestrian (and someone who often wheels a pushchair!) than driver and perhaps notice “pavement abuse” far more than I used to, but the Highway Code makes it ABSOLUTELY clear:
Rule 243: do not park opposite or within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction, except in an authorised parking space.
Traffic wardens (occasionally!) patrol our local streets but, as far as I’m aware, never hand out tickets to the parking culprits. Why not?
I can feel a letter to the Council coming on!
Photo: the owner of this car regularly ‘dumps” his/her car across pavements at road junctions and/or parks without due consideration for other road-users and pedestrians… it’s probably just as well that I’ve never met them!

february/march books

More books:
Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller): This was the first time I’d read the play and I found it profoundly moving. It’s a timeless masterpiece – that questions the American consumer dream (and perhaps consumerism in general?). It’s about false hopes, pride, family aspirations, financial struggles, reality and unreality. There are a couple of slightly spooky personal connections about the play: it was written in the year of my birth (1949!) about a man in his 60s (oops!)… glad I’m not a salesman!
Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1945-60 (Lord Moran): An absolutely fascinating, brilliant biography written by Churchill’s long-term doctor (who frequently saw him two or three times a week and accompanied him on most of his political excursions) about the post-war years. Insightful, intimate, illuminating and, at times, very amusing. A throw-back to times gone by – when Churchill, in his second premiership for example, did much of his work from his bed (“unless there is a Cabinet he does not get out of bed till luncheon”) and, on one occasion, had to check with one of his assistants to establish whether or not electricity was nationalized!
The Snapper (Roddy Doyle): I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every Doyle book I’ve ever read – and this was no exception (“snapper”: dimunition of “whippersnapper”). Absolutely hilarious at times (despite the F word appearing about four times every page). I particularly loved the Jimmy Rabbitte Senior character – the dialogue is absolutely priceless! I picked up the book free from a neighbour’s garden wall (she was clearly having a clear-out of her bookcases). First published in 1990.
The Genius and The Goddess (Jeffrey Meyers): The book recounts the lives of Arthur Miller (“genius”) and Marilyn Monroe (“goddess”) – including the five years of their difficult marriage. I’d originally been drawn to the book after reading Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” but, unfortunately from this viewpoint, two-thirds of it was focused on Monroe. Interesting book nevertheless – albeit in a considered, intelligent, somewhat up-market “Hello” magazine kind of way! For me, the most depressing part of the book was nothing to do with Monroe’s tragic life, it was a brief reference to Miller’s son Daniel (from his third marriage), who had Down’s Syndrome (Miller used the term “mongoloid”) and who was placed in a home for the mentally retarded; his wife visited him weekly for the next 40 years. Miller never did.
The Nail (Stephen Cottrell): Another journey through the Passion story. It imagines key witnesses describing Christ’s crucifixion from their points of view.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

family time continues…

After spending last weekend looking after Iris+Rosa, Moira+I have just returned from a lovely few days in Leyland with Alice+Dave+Mikey+Dan+Jemima. SO good to see them again (first time since Christmas) and so good to see them continuing to develop in their own different and fascinating ways. Mikey’s greeting to us both is the stuff that just takes your breath away and makes you want to cry with joy (instant recognition, despite the gaps between our visits); Dan is a lovely, sensitive, happy boy – we shared lots of giggles+jokes together and he took great pleasure in taking us to his pre-school; and it was lovely to see Jemima growing up, smiling, dancing and chatting away (her current favourite phrase is calling everyone and everything “gorgeous” – as in, “hello gorgeous”!). Great too to have some chill time with Alice+Dave (it’s just amazing/wonderful how they cope with the three children!).
Grandparenthood is a VERY good thing!
Photo: Dan, Moira, Mima, Alice+Mikey on the sofa (three of them are watching TV!).
PS: if you’re not on facebook, you can see other pics by clicking

Sunday, March 18, 2012

iris+rosa long weekend extravaganza

Ruth+Stu have had a long weekend break in South Hams – without the children! I’m pretty sure Iris+Rosa have “enjoyed” their stay with us. We’d had lots of fun together, including a zoo visit (on the bus), pizza-making, swan counting (and charts!), art sessions in the basement plus various café trips (as you do!). The three days were slightly complicated by the fact that Rosa was at the end of her first week of toilet-training (I won’t go into details – although, on the whole, it was pretty successful!). Fortunately, the girls also both slept beautifully, so the nights were entirely peaceful. It’s lovely that the girls are so relaxed about staying with us over prolonged periods and we feel very privileged that this is the case.
Photo: Iris+Rosa “sprinting” down the cheetah running track at Bristol Zoo.
PS: a number of people have commented that I no longer seem to be posting pics of Iris+Rosa on the blog and on facebook (except for family members)... this is a conscious family decision (especially given Iris's distinctive and very recognisable red hair). Hope people understand.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

floating flower

I spotted this single rose earlier today floating in a quiet corner of the harbourside.
I clearly don’t know why it was there, but it seemed quite touching in its own way. Had it been cast into the water in memory of a dead partner? Or as a symbol of lost love or the end of an affair perhaps? Or a poignant offering of an unspoken or impossible love? Or a completely different reason?
Who knows?
A sad secret message in the water.
I ended up singing bits of Joni Mitchell’s “Roses Blue” on my way home:
“I think of tears, I think of rain on shingles
I think of rain, I think of roses blue…”

(fortunately, I don't think anyone heard me!).
Photo: the rose IS floating - the harbourside is just VERY grey in colour!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bloomin Big Boat in Bristol…

Rosa+I had just finished our Monday morning coffee/orange juice+cake mid-morning break in the wonderful No.1 Harbourside Café (as you do) and were making our way to catch the small ferry across to the SS Great Britain when we suddenly became aware of an enormous boat making its way around the Capricorn Quay bend (accompanied by two tugs/barges). As you can see from the photograph, it absolutely dwarfed the SS Great Britain (even allowing for perspective!) and caused quite a stir amongst passing swans and pedestrians. I’ve checked the local news sites, but couldn’t find any reference to today’s visit (despite rumours that I’d bought it for Moira’s birthday). Thanks to Google (what WOULD we do without it?), “The Super Yacht Times”(!) provides the following key details: “The fabulous 74 metre yacht Mogambo is available for charter through the Hill Robinson Antibes office. Mogambo accommodates up to 12 guests with a spectacular Master Suite on the main deck which includes a private terrace, a VIP cabin on the bridge deck plus two double and two convertible cabins on the lower deck. Designed by Reymond Langton, Mogambo’s sleek and contemporary interior is a sensational blend of sophistication and extravagance which is certain to please even the most discerning guest. The sun deck features an air conditioned gym, Jacuzzi and on the lower deck, the beach club with sauna, steam room, massage room and rain shower all open onto the swim platform. Mogambo features Quantum zero speed stabilisers and is capable of a remarkably smooth and quiet 17.5 knots. With a 12m Novurania Chase tender and a 7.5m Novurania Launch tender, guests are taken ashore in style and comfort”.
I have to say, it seems somewhat farcical that this ENORMOUS boat only accommodates “up to 12 guests” (plus 19 crew)… but what do I know? It probably belongs to George Osborne.
Steve Broadway… Channel Four News… Bristol.

Photo: SS Great Britain and Mogambo.
PS: double click on image to view larger.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


This has been a week of catch-ups. After meeting up with Alan+Lesley and then John+Jean-Anne in Cornwall, it was great to get together with John+Laura in Bristol over the weekend (John was a Town Planning student back in our Oxford college days). We’d last seen them just before we moved to Bristol in 2003, so we had LOTS to discuss – retirement, old friends, families and the like. The sun shone and Bristol looked good!
A lovely weekend.
Photo: Laura, Steve, John+Laura enjoying Saturday breakfast at Bordeaux Quay.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

st ives wiv me bruvva… (and lesley+moira!)

Moira+I absolutely adore St Ives. We didn’t think we’d be able to get there in 2012 (we were last there in 2009) but then, a few weeks ago, received an invitation from my lovely brother Alan (and Lesley!) to join them for a couple of days. We’ve just got back – after a really relaxing time: walking, talking, eating, drinking, reading, chilling (you get the general idea)… so good to be able to have an opportunity for the four of us to “hang out” together. The excellent place we stayed is owned by one of my brother’s friends and is in a very different location to our former “holiday homes” in the town (which have been on Porthmeor Beach) – on one of the hillsides at the “station end” of the town (about a 5 minute walk to Porthminster Beach), with views across St Ives Bay. The weather was pretty kind to us. As well as the excellent company(!), I particularly enjoyed mooching from beach to beach; the dawn walk along Porthminster Beach on a bright, sunny morning; our usual coastal walk towards Zenner; wandering through the largely deserted streets; and, of course, The Tate Café – although the exhibition itself was somewhat disappointing.
A magical time.
Photo: wooden tables on Porthminster Beach (I love the colour combinations).
PS: A real bonus was lunch with Jean-Anne and John in Truro on our homeward journey – they’d been neighbours from Percy Street, Oxford days (and went on to have three daughters too). Bizarrely, although we’d exchanged Christmas letters, we hadn’t actually seen them for something like 30 years!! It was lovely to meet up again.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

bird on the wire

For the past two weeks or so, I’ve been aware of birdsong from the moment I awake (usually just after 5am). This isn’t mass, dawn chorus birdsong, this is the song of just one bird – a blackbird. He (I'm pretty sure it's male) starts somewhat slowly but, within a quarter-of-an-hour, is in full song. He usually just sits on a telegraph wire and sings to his heart’s content (well, that’s how it comes across to me!) - for some THREE solid hours. In fact, I suspect he sings for longer than this, but I’m just doing other things and am not around to witness it. I occasionally catch his song again in the evening (last night, for instance, he sang for at least an hour before dark). According to the RSPB website: “Blackbirds tend to be solitary birds… Male blackbirds establish a territory during their first year, which they will hold throughout their lives”.
It really is rather beautiful.
It’s made me realise that there are so many things that go on around us which we fail to notice. Over the years, I think I’ve become much better at “learning to look” and noticing my surroundings, but the blackbird has reminded me that we also need to listen!
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

(lyrics Paul McCartney, 1968)
Photo: pretty poor pic of “our” wonderful songbird in action.