Mentioning the unmentionable!

We codgers realise that today we are the youngest we will ever be, but the years seem to be slipping by at an ever increasing rate. We often cheer ourselves up by telling one another that we don’t look a day older without mentioning the unmentionable, which is that the reason for that apparent miracle is that we met yesterday. I was reminded of this when yesterday I bumped into a chap I worked with some thirty years ago. After some hesitation he remarked that I had changed almost beyond recognition, and I refrained from replying that he has changed so much that I didn’t recognise him at all.

Nowhere is the ageing process more apparent than with the young. Visitors sometimes recoil with amazement when meeting my grandchildren who they haven’t seen for several years. Because I see them every day I hadn’t noticed their transformation, although it had occurred to me that a subtle change has evolved. It seems but yesterday that I helped to look after them, in recent weeks they have looked after me. They used to delight in visiting the allotments to see the chickens, now they come less enthusiastically to pick the beans which, during my post-operation period, represents a task akin to re-roofing the hen-houses.

I was reminded of all this when, after this morning’s hen-cleaning – which has become for me a sort of spectator sport – Tom referred to unmentionables. There have always been subjects that remain in that category in the hut given the wide variety of views on such matters as religion and politics. The latter is no longer a sensitive issue since, in common with most folk, we no longer respect its practitioners or see ideological differences between the parties. But it was only when Tom pointed it out that we recognised that some subjects are never mentioned as the new age spin-doctors bombard us with sound-bites.

The example Tom had in mind was the colossal national debt. Hardly a day passes but our dear leader and his pals rattle off new evidence of the miraculous economic wonders wrought by Saint Osborne. They rely on the fact that most of us would prefer to watch paint dry to thinking about economics, and confine themselves to talking about the ‘deficit’, the gap between what the treasury rakes in and what the government spends. Householders can relate to that, but they also know that breaking even is not enough if you have mountainous debts incurring mountainous interest payments.

And that is where we as a nation are right now. In fact it is worse than that, the deficit is growing too. It is when you examine the reasons for Gorgeous George’s failure to honour his pledge to balance the national books that you spot the unmentionable. Tax revenues are down by 4.8 per cent on the previous year, and that is due to a further fall in income from corporation tax which has now sunk to £6.56 billion. Why? More and more of our largest companies are practising tax avoidance. In the fiscal year to date the Government has borrowed £37 billion, compared with £35 billion for the same four months of last year.

In effect the misery being imposed by schemes such as the bedroom-tax and disabled benefit cuts is having virtually no effect. Neither will they have so long as the companies that make their profits from sales to UK customers are allowed to avoid tax. And transferring ownership of our railways and energy suppliers to foreign interests, governments even, will only serve to make things worse.

Of course Westminster is not alone in the art of the unmentionable. In a few weeks time people in Scotland have to decide whether to remain part of the UK. We codgers tend to sympathise with the idea but where are the financial projections? The voters are being bombarded with talk of utopia from Alex Salmond and Armageddon from Alastair Darling, but the facts that really matter are clearly regarded as unmentionable. We entirely understand the wish to escape rule by a remote bunch of rich Old Etonians who have just one MP in Scotland. But does it make any sense to base such an important decision on whether the BBC will cut them off from the dubious pleasure of watching the Eurovision Song Contest and Strictly Come Dancing?

Meanwhile the media is understandably preoccupied with the hunt for the British Jihadists who executed an American journalist, and the continuing slaughter of the innocent in Gaza. But study the coverage carefully and you will spot the near-unmentionables. It is reasonable to assume that if both horrors were being committed by, say, Methodists, every editor’s pen would be pouring vitriol over the heads of the followers of Wesley. But Israel and the British Muslim communities are, it seems, unmentionable.

Even the ever-sparkling Alastair Campbell doesn’t seem to have cottoned on to the concept of the unmentionable. He has today called for action to tackle the “mounting crisis in the nation’s mental health”. No chance Alastair, when it comes to the unmentionable mental health services are top of the list.

But be of good cheer! The Bank Holiday weekend is here. Just don’t mention the weather forecast!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Violence is the repartee of the illiterate”….George Bernard Shaw.

Leveson? The press go from bad to worse!

Regular readers will know that I, together with four of my fellow allotmenteers, have bought a Welsh cottage in a considerable state of disrepair. Visits are beyond me right now, but my pals were this morning preparing to spend the Bank holiday weekend armed with leeks and assorted hammers. Reasoning that a few bucketfuls of Welsh rain will lift their spirits, they enlivened this morning’s hen-cleaning with glorious tales of their Welsh heritage.

Separating the fact from the fiction is always challenging, and this morning was no exception. According to them ‘Machine-Gun Murray’, a member of Al Capone’s gang, became boss of that notorious mob when Capone was in prison. Murray, who was Welsh by birth, died in 1937, of herpes. When I pointed out that no one dies of herpes they replied they did if they gave it to Al Capone’s wife. They were also in high voice about the current Prince of Wales who was ‘crowned’ at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. Prince Charles took an oath, promising as Liege Lord of Wales to “serve, honour and protect the Welsh people from all manner of foes”. His new Welsh subjects have never seen him since.

I realise that salt is bad for me, but always feel the need to take a large pinch of it when listening to these geezers who talk so emotionally about their homeland yet elect to live in Wigan. On the league table of idiots they push Chris Grayling hard for top spot. But he held on to the leadership yesterday when he took to the air to insist that our prisons are not in crisis. Yes, he said, there is overcrowding, fights and assaults are up, as are suicides and attacks on warders but all is well. I would hate to be in a crisis as defined by him.

What Mr Grayling failed to recognise above all else is that our chaotic jails have become a breeding ground for terrorists, the perfect arena for zealots who love nothing better than a captive audience to bombard with their message of hate and paradise. Many young disaffected men find themselves as guest of Her Majesty and, in the lawless atmosphere of what we call prisons, are easy meat for madmen.

The odds are that many of them have already seen the depraved video clip of an American journalist being beheaded by a hooded murderer with a London accent. If this hasn’t woken Obama, Cameron et al from their complacent slumber nothing will. We are told that already some 200 British citizens have returned from Syria, one such was filmed on last night’s Newsnight boasting of beheadings, and warning America and the UK of terrorism to come. Why anyone living in the UK who so much as utters such words is still free to walk our streets defies belief. The time for political correctness has gone. Sadly the day of the oft derided lock ’em up brigade has arrived. There is no other way.

Of one thing we can be sure. Our newspapers will continue to provide the terrorists with the oxygen of publicity that they seek. What appals us excites them, for they seek above all else to frighten enemies into silent submission. But surely in this post-Leveson era the papers are more restrained? No. The government has had one of its cold-feet attacks and a majority group of the dailies has launched their in-house regulatory body, a classic example of poachers becoming gamekeepers – or pretending to.

The perfect example is the handing of the tragic Robin Williams suicide. Prompted by The Samaritans the so-called regulatory body advised editors “When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used”. Response? The Daily Star specified that Robin “hanged himself with a belt in his bedroom”.The Sun helpfully added that “The star’s left wrist had several superficial cuts and a blood-stained pocket knife was found near the body”.

The Samaritans warned of the risk of copycat behaviour due to “over-identification” and urged the media to avoid the suggestion that a specific problem justifies suicide. The Daily Mirror front page announced that “Tragic Robin Williams plunged into deep depression over money worries”. The Daily Mail screamed that money troubles ” tipped him over the edge”, and the Telegraph claimed that the cancellation of his latest TV show was the cause.

Another guideline from The Samaritans urges that the word “committed” never be used given its inferences. “Committed suicide” was used about Williams once each by the Star, Express and Telegraph, twice by the Mirror, 11 times by the Independent and no fewer than 41 times by the Mail online. Not surprisingly The Samaritans have complained about the “large number of articles detailing unnecessary information about the nature of Robin William’s death”.

Many of the opponents of outside regulation of the press bang on about ‘freedom’. But are we really happy to define freedom as the right to bully, lie and give publicity to mad people who desire it?
QUOTE OF THE DAY; “An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting to think about than sex”….W.H.Auden.

Northern Irish radio presenter Gerry Anderson dies aged 69

Broadcaster who famously outraged Middle England listeners of BBC Radio 4 passes away after a long illness

Gerry Anderson, one of Northern Ireland's most respected broadcasters, has died.

A presenter on radio and television for more than 30 years, Anderson's short stint as a presenter on Radio 4 caused listeners to rebel against him. He also won fame for coining the phrase "Stroke City" to describe his native Derry/Londonderry – the second city of Northern Ireland, which has two names depending on whether you are nationalist or unionist.

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Wild West End: Gulf tourists warned to avoid London’s ‘perilous’ shopping area

UAE risk map calls Oxford Street, Soho and Piccadilly districts 'dangerous' after recent attacks but police insist crime has fallen

Scotland Yard insisted on Wednesday that there was "absolutely nowhere" in London that should be avoided after the United Arab Emirates advised its citizens against visiting certain "hazardous" and "less secure" parts of the city centre, including some of its most popular tourist destinations.

Oxford Street and Piccadilly were among the areas identified as having high rates of pickpocketing, theft and fraud in maps published by the UAE foreign ministry.

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Not fit for purpose!

August 20th. 59 years ago she-who-must-be-obeyed and I were first manacled together and for the first time ever I had no card or gift to place alongside her cornflakes. I cannot yet drive the car and, since my walking distance would not exhaust an asthmatic ant, my only option was to ask Albert to shop for me. However since the only shop he visits is B & Q I was in a quandary. His idea of a present for his wife is a new stepladder and I suspected that no gift at all would be better received.

And right now he can’t drive either. During this morning’s hen-cleaning he somehow managed to pierce his big toe with a fork, and was driven to A & E by Tom. You may have read stories of accident units facing unprecedented demand – our irascible little fireball is probably the leading cause. When he made a visit last week,, having trapped a finger in a watering-can spout the nurse announced that they were considering granting him a life membership.

When some years ago John Reid coined the phrase ‘not fit for purpose’ when speaking of the Home Office he probably had Albert in mind. But since then the phrase has become common currency. Hardly a day passes but one minister or another uses it to describe his or her latest empire, as our dear leader rotates them around the hamster wheel. Today it is the turn of Norman Lamb, the Care Minister.

Mental health care for young people is, he tells us, “in the dark ages”. Young patients are housed on adult wards where nurses are as scarce as hen’s teeth. They are often transferred over “huge” distances and services are being cut to the bone and beyond. Throwing all thought of a knighthood aside, Mr Lamb has demanded that money be found to improve a service that compares unfavourably with any in the Western world. How would his political seniors cope with the prospect of their children being treated in this way, he asks. The answer is of course they wouldn’t need to, they would pay for gold-card treatment at the Priory.

Their approach to improving any of our not fit for purpose services is to privatise them. Yesterday provided the perfect example. The only rail franchise that operates under state ownership is Eastern, which has the highest record for punctuality and passenger service and provides substantial surpluses for the treasury. But it and most of the other franchise-holders are to be subject to a new round of tenders. And the leading contenders are the German, French and Italian state-owned railways! To quote Victor Meldrew I do not believe it!

And if by now you are poised with pen and paper to list your own not-fit examples do consider adding the Big Lottery Fund (BLF). Most of us enjoy a flutter and some of us console ourselves with the thought that some of our lost stakes goes to worthwhile causes. But there is growing evidence that people with vested interests are defining ‘worthwhile’.

The BLF granted almost £1 million to an organisation with closer links to David Cameron that made a series of claims on its funding application which are now being disputed. The money was handed over to a project designed to capitalise on the legacy of the Olympics, even though the organisation behind it broke promises on a previous project which had received £830,000 of lottery funding. Britain’s Personal Best never delivered the proposed weekend of volunteering to celebrate the Olympic spirit, and the BLF withdrew the grant. But £766,042 of the lottery money it received had already been spent.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow minister for civil society, has not reasonably expressed concern about the political connections between the Big Society Network (BSN), which was behind the project and was launched by the Prime Minister. “Huge sums of money have been wasted on an organisation with no track record but strong connections to the Conservative Party”, she says. Meantime the Charity Commission is conducting an “operational compliance case” into the charity over separate allegations that it misused government funding. It all stinks to high heaven!

On second thoughts it might be easier to list those national institutions that ARE fit for purpose. But don’t include the Banks, or even their new star Mr Carney who seems to change his mind more often than Mavis whose procrastination about tins of peas always enlivened ‘Open All Hours’ of sacred memory.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” No guide to Swansea would be complete without a mention of their fine football team. Although a fiercely proud Welsh team Swansea City play in the English Premiership despite the language barrier, but they are gradually getting to grips with Italian and Portugese”….Humphrey Lyttleton.

This is where we came in !

I walked round to the allotments just in time to watch my fellow codgers wheel the output from their hen-cleaning away, a process that involved Albert losing control of his barrow and depositing his load on a prize flower bed. It reminded me of those long gone days when even the smallest town had several cinemas, then accurately known as bughouses. Ferret racing apart, there was little to do then and few bothered with the niceties of starting times. You simply rolled up when it suited you and watched whatever was flickering on the screen. You then sat tight until the film started again and at the appropriate moment muttered “this is where we came in” and staggered out of the smoke-filled palace of escapism. Knowing how the story ended didn’t seem to diminish the pleasure of finding out how it started.

Come to think about it little has changed. No, we wouldn’t wish now to know who shot CJ without first watching the build-up, but in our national life we are well used to announcements heralding this or that governmental triumph without having the faintest idea of the story behind it. Take for example the recent rejoicing at the news that Nick Clegg has championed the “most progressive change to our school system for a long time” in the form of free meals for all four to seven-year-olds.

Of course we knew that many parents can well afford to pay, but everyone liked the idea of avoiding stigmatisation and the universal benefit of nutritional content determined by experts. Three cheers for Mr Clegg, we cried, he clearly isn’t as daft as we imagined. Unfortunately we came in on the story a little late.

We now learn that no funding was provided to support this wizard wheeze. Cash-strapped local authorities have been told to find the wherewithal from their already diminished education budgets. Last night headteachers condemned a “reckless failure” in planning, and warned that they are now in an “invidious position”. The cash will have to be taken from the repair programmes aimed at improving facilities in classrooms and, in many instances, repairing ageing premises with leaky roofs. And there is the need to expand kitchen facilities.

Another ending without the beginning is provided by this morning’s news that the Home Office, having already shelled out £259.3m on a computer system to monitor immigration that didn’t work, has now to hand over another £224m to the American company Raytheon for breach of contract. Had we seen the story from the beginning we would have known that the company signed a nine-year deal with the Labour government in 2007 to provide the e-Borders IT system, which would record all people entering or leaving the UK. It seems that the then governmnet failed to specify its requirements, a basic starting point for any IT project.

When Theresa May took over she terminated the contract without realising that the “not fit for purpose” UK Border Agency had itself contributed to the foul-up. The result is that an arbitration court has ruled that Raytheon is entitled to a substantial payout for breach of contract. Can you imagine any other walk of life in which the squandering of £483.3 million would be shrugged aside as ‘disappointing’? Clearly Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, can’t for he yesterday said that those responsible “should be held to account for failing the taxpayer in such a costly way”.

Perhaps the old Ealing Studios should be commissioned to make one more film. We could arrive to watch the ending first and see schools serving hot food cooled down by leaking roofs, whilst in London town an odd bunch of people in posh suits were pouring millions down the already swollen drains. The problem would be that when we watched the beginning we would complain that it was too ‘far-fetched’.

At least we are about to see the first part of the story in which the police and BBC flouted every rule in the book by staging an SAS-style raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s Berkshire home. Both the BBC director-general and the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police are to be summoned before MPs to reveal the story’s beginning! Right now they will be commissioning a script about suspected Isis terrorists hiding behind the singer’s sofa.

Our dear leader will have noticed none of this, and not merely because he has headed off on his second holiday. He has been busy explaining his policy on Iraq. Few of us understand it, but this of course is where we came in.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Critics get hate mail from people when they reveal too much about the endings of thrillers. Here is the ending of ALL thrillers: the bad guy gets killed”….Rich Elias.
FACT FOR TODAY; Six million people arriving by train do not undergo advance checks. 20% of sea passengers and 5% of air travellers are allowed to slip through the net by what remains of eBorders.

If it ain’t broke don’t mend it!

It feels good to be up and about again, and even better to be able to stand and watch as my fellow chicken-keepers chase the hens and, having failed to grab them correctly, end up with a flurry of wings accompanied by language that would have shocked my Aunty Ethel. As I stood there this morning I felt rather like Professor Sir Mike Richards, who yesterday pontificated about some of the hospitals he has inspected. As plain Dr Richards he was not renowned for his administrative skills, but now that our dear leader has elevated him to judge those of others he is transformed into the nation’s greatest expert. Perhaps we should both remember the old maxim that talks of them that can’t teaching.

We seem to have become a nation of meddlers. Back in the days of Clem-the-clam Attlee there were few government ‘advisers’, let alone an army of highly paid management consultants. Now Whitehall is awash with them and the result is constant tinkering with our institutions and services. The latest example concerns our GP services, which once provided excellent care for every family. Along come Lansley, Hunt and countless supposed experts and the tinkering begins. Now the service is in chaos, the GPs utterly demoralised and waiting times in the legendary London bus category. And today we hear that ‘failing’ practices are to be put into “special measures” with teams of yet more ‘experts’ parachuted in to put things right.

Who are these ‘experts’ in diagnosis who are freely available? When I chaired a Primary Care Trust I met some of them. They comprise doctors who have never run a practice, rather like football coaches who prefer to forget that they were never able to bend it like Beckham. The only way to restore our family doctor services to its previous glory is to stop meddling and to leave the only real experts to run their own show. The vast majority of GPs know when they need help, and would prefer to devote their time to treating their patients and keeping up to date with current research than to spend their days engulfed in bureaucracy and advice from people less expert than themselves.

It is not just in the field of medicine that a bloated top-down system of government is creating havoc. There is now quite rightly a growing sense of panic at the threat of Isis militants. David Cameron yesterday used a newspaper column to talk of the need to counter it both at home and abroad. But it’s one thing to sound like a statesman and another to provide a coherent, consistent and intelligent foreign policy that makes you one. The sad fact is that Western foreign policy, backed by Britain, has contributed to the conditions that have allowed Isis to thrive.

Our opposition to Bashar al-Assad in Syria allowed Isis to grow. While parliament refused to authorise direct intervention we encouraged the flow of money and arms from some of our Gulf allies. In Iraq our reluctance to contain the sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nourial-Maliki created the conditions for Isis to thrive there too. And our silence on Israel’s onslaught on Gaza has created emotional support for Isis throughout the Muslim world. Cameron inherited a foreign policy already in disarray after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is substantial evidence that none of these errors of judgement would have occurred when the advice was provided by seasoned on-the-spot civil servants who drafted policy proposals for ministers. Like Blair before him, Cameron has surrounded himself with ‘advisers’ more concerned with political sound-bites than reasoned risk analysis.

So it is with the police. Experienced observers could long since have warned successive Home Secretaries that the leadership of the police was becoming enmeshed with vested interests and delusions of omnipotence. The ultimate shambles manifested itself in the Cliff Richard affair. Trust in the police has all but vanished, and now we are told that officers are to be disciplined. Too little, too late. The regular statements of trust drafted for ministers by political advisers now look what they were – political hogwash.

It occurs to us codgers that what has been lacking for some time is a brake, one that only MPs can provide. Back in the days when ministers were not surrounded by armies of advisers it mattered little that parliament closed for lengthy holidays. Now these increase the extent to which Downing Street becomes an executive hub, one populated almost entirely by political advisers in the Andy Coulson mode.

At the very least what is now needed is a formal standing committee present during holidays and empowered to hold ministers to account. We know several of our regions MPs well and they regularly tell us that they now feel marginalised and no longer able to bring influence to bear. A Labour MP told us that even the leader of the opposition now has a a large office of ‘advisers’, and no ear for his elected colleagues. A Conservative summed the dilemma up perfectly.

He told us that his government is now a London fixated clique of unelected ‘know-alls’. Someone should remind them, he said, that if something ain’t broke the best policy is not to mend it! Perhaps we need an anti-meddling law?
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it!”….Steven Wright.

A container of human misery!

Back to the allotments! Well, not exactly back but at least I made it to the main gate this morning. Given that two weeks ago today I provided target practice for a surgeon, my expedition on a walking stick represented progress. And it was good to exchange insults with my fellow chicken-keepers. I was surprised to see such a transformation amongst the plants which are beginning to show the first signs of autumn, but there are still plenty of beans and onions to be garnered. My fellow codgers were in good voice and hastened to reassure me that I haven’t been missed – reassuring perhaps but not quite the welcome back that I secretly desired.

Clearly relieved by the end of his daily clashes with she-who-must-be-obeyed, Albert urged me to venture in. But since the place contains zillions of traps for the less than nimble-footed I declined his offer. Given that he later tripped head first into the compost heap, it was probably a sensible decision. But I did have time to gain an insight into what the codgers are discussing, and I relished that since this blog was born from the idea of reflecting the daily opinions of a cross-section of society, albeit a rather ancient one.

A lot of my pals were genuinely shocked by the story of the the 35 illegal immigrants discovered “screaming and shouting” inside a shipping container at Tilbury Docks. The stowaways were suffering from hypothermia and dehydration, and included women and children. One of the number died at the scene. Police described the group as “victims of the crime of people trafficking”, to us they represent a reminder that we in this country are a good deal better off than we tend to acknowledge. That fellow human beings are prepared to go to such horrendous lengths to get here says everything about the deprivation that exists in the Indian subcontinent. It may be the case that we cannot accommodate illegal immigrants, but we have a moral obligation to help to improve lives so dreadful that risking a terrible death is a reasonable option. One container of human misery has changed our view on overseas aid!

No such problems for the Blairs. Today we learn that Mrs Blair’s law firm Omnia Strategy is reviewing Kazakhstan’s “bilateral investment treaties”. We have no idea what that is but it clearly pays well. The first stage is worth £120,000, and the second £250,000. Meantime our former saviour Tony is busy as an adviser to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the all-powerful president who has ruled Kazakhstan ever since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It is good to know that the expertise needed to run 10 Downing Street translates so easily.

Meanwhile the present occupant has joined the scribes of the Sunday Torygraph. We may be in a minority but we believe that what he says makes good sense. He warns that the creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq, and extending into Syria, is not a problem miles away from home. It is our concern here and now, because if we do not act to stem the onslaught of the “exceptionally dangerous” terrorist movement, it will grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.

Unfortunately, apart from giving dire warnings of the fate awaiting British citizens who “walk around with Isis flags or try to recruit people to their terrorist cause, our dear leader is somewhat vague about what we should actually do. He is surely right to propose supplying weaponry to the Kurds, but we codgers tend reluctantly to the view that only troops on the ground under a UN mandate will stop the madmen who now enjoy weaponry donated to the Iraqi army. it is a tad unfortunate that the Government ignored military advice and reduced our armed forces to the point where G4S may have to be contracted.

Meantime my pals seem to be as preoccupied as I was with the chilling story of the collaboration between the police and the BBC in regard to the raid on the Berkshire home of Sir Cliff Richards. And they are not alone. Today Dominic Grieve, until recently the attorney general, has suggested that national guidelines have been breached. He can see that police might not want to warn somebody about a search, but sees the decision to tip off the BBC that they were carrying out a raid as “very odd”.

What happened, says Mr Grieve, was beyond understanding. The police violated their own ground rules and violated the rule that, save in extreme circumstances, the details of those arrested or suspected should not be released to the press or public. And Sir Cliff has not even been arrested or questioned. It is reassuring to learn from someone who has forgotten more about the law than we will ever know that the police have violated the basic principles of a democracy. Perhaps they should send for the Blairs whose experiences in Kazakhstan would appear relevant.

Never mind, the Premiership is back. A world in which the introduction of shaving foam to mark free kick distances can cause great excitement, and where one manager last night defended a mediocre performer by explaining that he is no star and only earns £37,000 per week!

As a mediocre performer myself I can only say that I could get by on that.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “The golden rule when reading a menu is, if you can’t pronounce it, you can’t afford it!”….Frank Muir.

Orwell’s ‘memory hole’ becomes a reality!

It is now apparent that the BBC spent a good deal of licence payer’s money on the helicopter and camera crews that awaited the arrival of the police convoy that descended on Sir Cliff Richard’s Berkshire home. The police have now grudgingly admitted that they briefed the broadcaster, yet failed to advise the absent owner of their intentions. Even those who advocate publicity as a means of encouraging any other ‘victims’ to come forward admit that this was an outrage. The accused has not even been questioned, let alone arrested, and has had his name blackened for something that he most probably didn’t do.

The importance of the public having trust in the police cannot be overstated, yet everyday that passes brings new evidence that all is far from trustworthy in the kingdom of Knacker. To crown the revelations about Scotland Yard’s corrupt links with the Murdoch empire, we now have strong suggestions that its head faces actions relating to the handling of serious sex abuse evidence. And today we learn that the behaviour of two undercover officers has undermined an important method of obtaining inside information on criminal activities.

Mr Justice Bean, a High Court judge, has ruled that the Met can no longer use its policy of “neither confirm nor deny” over whether an individual officer was an undercover agent. He has done this in response to damaging claims brought by two women who were tricked into intimate relationships with men using a false identity. The Met’s response is that “sexual relationships” are not an authorised tactic and were simply the result of “genuine feelings”. Have they no awareness of codes of conduct?

Yesterday a former officer was sent to prison for repeated rape committed whilst he was in uniform. Interviewed on last night’s Newsnight, another victim described her ordeals and talked of numerous complaints to the police who took no action. Asked why that was, she replied that “the police look after their own”.

We are surely in the last chance saloon here. The Home Secretary has shown that she is prepared to stand up to the police, and she needs to do so now. Nothing short of a complete purge at the highest level will do. That are a lot of decent, committed people in the lower echelons of the police and they, and those they seek to protect, deserve leadership of integrity and impartiality which sadly are only to be found right now in the armed forces.

If you add to all this the wave of censorship now sweeping Europe, and you regard justice as important, you may well share the concern that has descended upon our bunch of law-abiding old codgers. Following a ruling by – you’ve guessed it – the European Court of Justice, organisations such as Google are obliged to respond to G-notices. These are “notices of removal” which require records of past events or misdeeds to be wiped from history. Already there have been 12,000 requests in the UK, and the subject matter relates to everything from crimes committed to IRA suspected outrages. Think about it!

This new law will permit politicians to wipe the slate clean on the Iraq invasion and a zillion other matters of public interest. And, yes, it will allow the police to conveniently erase details they would prefer to expunge.

In ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, Orwell talked of the ‘lifting of the flap of the nearest memory hole’. Despite getting the date wrong, the man was a visionary and, although there are still ways and means of tracing information expunged here, his scary prophesies loom larger as each year passes.

Meantime I am planning to take my first steps outside today, with only Albert as a crutch. It will make a pleasant change from watching the Indian captain Dhoni attempting, for the umpteenth time, to demonstrate the art of batting to his decidedly inadequate team!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” If everyone told the truth, everybody would wish to be buried at sea”….John W Raper.

Police handling of Cliff Richard case is disgraceful!

I knew from Albert’s hangdog demeanour when he made his pastoral visit this morning that something had gone wrong on the allotments. He told me that someone – meaning him – forgot to open the hen-coop doors yesterday. It means that my hens have spent a whole day in the avian equivalent of Guantanimo Bay, whilst their owner has spent his waking hours stretched in front of the TV watching Dominic Cork watching the rain pour down at Lords. My old adversary left with a flea in his ear to add to those in his beard!

These things happen was the only defence offered, and it left me wondering if the South Yorkshire police are resorting to the same explanation for their astonishing handling of a single complaint made by an alleged victim of Cliff Richard. It seems that someone has come forward with an allegation concerning an assault of some 29 years ago. Yesterday a convoy of investigators descended on the singer’s Berkshire home without notice except, it would appear, to the press.

Tabloid photographers and helicopters were waiting to film the arrival of the Thames Valley Police, acting on behalf of their Yorkshire colleagues, and in due course an officer solemnly announced that they were responding to a complaint against a 73 year-old male who was not present. Meantime the media was surrounding the Portugese holiday home of Sir Cliff.

We codgers cannot pretend to know whether the ageing pop star is guilty or otherwise, but his incredulous response seemed heartfelt. What appalls us – and should appall everyone who believes in the principle that every person is innocent until proved guilty – is that once again the police have taken it upon themselves to act as judge and jury. We are all aware of the cosy relationship of some police officers with the Murdoch crowd, it appears that little has changed. What they have done is create a climate in which anyone can blacken the name of a celeb at will. The Home Secretary should insist that the names of anyone accused should only be released when and if, charges are made. This is not a police state and it is high time that this was made clear to Knacker and all his henchmen.

Heaven knows the tabloids need little encouragement to make rash judgements. When a few days ago Robin Williams died some of them rushed to tell us that he had no reason to be depressed. It has now been revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and was finding it difficult “to see his ability being stripped away from him”. It would seem that the new age of self-regulation has made little difference to what Denis Thatcher once described as the reptiles.

Perhaps ministers are too preoccupied with their privatisation obsession to remember Leveson. If we ever get around to actually doing anything to significnatly help the victims of madmen in Iraq, or the disproportionate onslaught by Israel on Gaza, we confidently expect the task to be contracted out to G4S. But meantime the awarding of NHS contracts to private healthcare firms is proceedng apace.

Today we learn of the outcome of one awarded to Vanguard Healthcare in Somerset. Dozens of NHS patients have suffered serious damage to their eyes including partial loss of sight, after routine cataract operations were botched. The Department of Health has solemnly announced that it will “hold this company to account”. Too late.

I recently had a cataract operation, and the surgeon told me that most of his work is now contracted out to a company unprepared to meet the cost of consultants on the Silver or Gold pay scales The result is that he now receives a steady flow of emergency referrals resulting from dubious treatment. Maximum profit and high quality healthcare are dangerous bedfellows!

Never mind, it’s time to watch the Indian batsmen give their latest exhibition of cricket a la Eddie the Eagle But I would like to thank all those readers who have sent good wishes and to refute the claims by some that my indisposition is due to a diet of Tesco doughnuts.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” The other night I ate at a really nice family restaurant Every table had an argument going”..George Carlin

Goodbye to the service all of us may need!

In my pathetic experience inactivity increases ones sense of incredulity at what one reads and hears. Television is my constant companion between the occasional visits by Albert, whose habit of tossing his bike into the rose-bed infuriates she-who-must-be-obeyed. O
ne programme I watched featured Immingham, a port near Hull. I was surprised to see large cargo-ships delivering huge amounts of coal, and even more surprised to learn that coal still generates almost half of our electricity. It took my mind back to the miner’s strike and the man we loved to hate – Arthur Scargill.

At the time many of us swallowed hook, line and sinker the Government’s claim that here was a man hell-bent on opposing modernisation, a sort of Marxist Luddite. When he claimed that the secret plan was to close down every pit in the land, we echoed the Thatcher scream about the man being capable of invention on a grand scale. We now know that he was right, and that the importation of coal is driving our trade gap ever wider. Is anything that we are told accurate and truthful I ask myself as I pursue my Eric Pickles convalescence programme. Probably not replies my reclining chair.

But with the prospect of this afternoon being, with the exception of an odd geezer in Bacup, the sole viewer of Sky coverage of cricket from a near-empty Lords I must hasten to complete my examination of the news headlines. First up is the latest hoo-hah about the new Peers appointed by our dear leader. It seems that just two months before his ennoblement Michael, now Lord, Farmer handed over £300,000 to the Conservative party. This brought his total donations to a cool £6 million.

Another of the new additions to the increasingly crowded House of Lords is Ranbir Singh Suri. He, we were told, is the “former General Secretary of the Board of British Sikhs”, but a nosey hack has discovered that the Board has not existed for more than 20 years and even then only involved four people. Lord Suri is, countered the spin-doctors, a “leading figure in Britain’s Sikh community”. The most prominent Sikh organisation reacted quickly. That, it told us, is a “barefaced lie”. No one mentioned that he has donated more than £300,000 to Mr Cameron’s party.

But it was good to note that G4S, the absent stars of the Olympics, are back in favour with the Government. Despite having to repay nearly £100 million, after charging the state for tagging criminals who were dead, the Government has lifted its ban on new contracts and G4S has won a deal to manage community work placements for the long-term unemployed who, presumably, will now be unemployed for even longer. And the company is now running facilities at Guantanamo Bay, which President Obama promised to close down but subsequently forgot to do so. Given the drastic reductions in army numbers we can surely expect to see G4S trooping the colours before the Queen celebrates her next birthday.

But let us turn to the serious news, and I am not referring to the Beeb’s instruction to Gary Linekar and company to look rather more interested in the football matches they are analysing.

The tragic death of Robin Williams has reminded us that mental illness is, like cancer, something that can hit any one of us. Should that happen we need help as never before and, before Andrew Lansley set the destruction of the NHS in motion, it was at last beginning to look less like the Cinderella of all essential services. Today the service lies in the dust. An investigation by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) has described the service as “dangerously close to collapse”.

The HSJ has revealed that there are 3,640 fewer nurses and 213 fewer doctors than was the case just two years ago. There have been huge cuts to mental health funding and the number of beds has been slashed. On numerous occasions over the past few months patients in crisis have had to be moved, sometimes hundreds of miles, because there was no bed for them at local mental health units. HSJ found patients switched from Yorkshire to the Southwest – a journey of more than 300 miles which left them beyong the regular reach of family and friends. Across 45 mental health trusts covered by Freedom of Information requests 846 beds had ben axed.

It is hard to find words to react to the return of such an essential service to the dark ages. Perhaps David Cameron should devote less time to cronyism and more to undoing the Lansley destruction of what is a lifeline in the last chance saloon?

But few people out there will be concerned. Mental illness is something that happens to others, they mutter. According to today’s Ipsos-Mori poll most people are more concerned with the need to install Bonking Boris in Number Ten. Given him as leader the Conservatives would now be six points clear, rather than trailing in the wake of the near-invisible Ed.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” The Sunderland football ground is known as ‘The Stadium of Light’. The name was borrowed from Benfica’s stadium in Lisbon, because of the obvious similarity between the two cities. Lisbon is a coastal city of constant sunshine, boasting Baroque and Romanesque architecture, whose cultural heritage makes it a Mecca for writers and artists. Sunderland is also on the coast”…..Humphrey Littleton.

Just a pebble in the ocean!

Like Bovril a daily dose of boredom can change your life. Having been confined to the house for over a week now, I find myself seeking amusement in places that hitherto have passed me by in the manner of an HS2 train. Yesterday I actually read the hundreds of Spam messages that land in the comments box of every blogger. I counted twelve messages urging me to buy cheap jerseys, eight offering escorts not of the Ford variety, the same number introducing drugs that I have never heard of and handbags that sound too exotic for Wigan market. All lead with complimentary remarks about the blog, and I had to remind myself that I was but one of a million recipients. It is a fair bet that the writers of this universal rubbish are equally bored.

I also listened in to, rather than slammed down the phone on, a series of cold calls. Before the salesmen could get into their set patter I asked them why they earn their living working in call-centres. Most rang up on me, but one Indian gentleman told me that he had no other way to earn a crust than to spend his days ringing everyone listed on tabulations purchased from Barclays.

On a more positive note several of my allotments pals called in bearing veggies garnered from my plot. Amongst them was Harold, whose style of conversation always fascinates me in that every subject is accompanied by a detailed description. He told me that last week he drove over the Humber suspension bridge. It was, he told me, opened by the Queen in 1981 and was at that time the longest and most expensive single-span, concrete supported bridge in the world. It is, he added, unique in that it connects Willerby and Barton-upon-Humber, two places that no one wants to go to. And to think that I imagined it to be yet another feature of tedious journeys.

Things brightened up no end when I tuned in to the European athletics. Forty year-old mother of two Jo Pavey produced the performance of her life to win the 10,000m race. No weary acceptance of the ageing factor for Jo, this down-to-earth star has enough determination to achieve anything. But as she performed her lap of honour I did wonder if the sudden introduction to her life of hordes of idiotic autograph hunters and tabloid photographers just might trigger the realisation that fame can be a two-edged sword.

That certainly proved to be so in the tragic case of the much-loved Robin Williams, whose death has shocked us all. I have always wondered if most psychiatrists are barking, and their outpourings in this morning’s papers have reinforced that suspicion. The most eminent amongst them solemnly declares that external factors play no part in depression. I wonder if the grieving relatives of Stephanie Bottrill read that. Yesterday she committed suicide, leaving a note blaming the effect of the “bedroom tax”.

The ministers responsible for that penny-pinching illogical scheme won’t have read it. They, it seems, have other more important things to deal with. Such as supporting the new boss at Serco, the villains of the multimillion-pound offender tagging scandal, which was obliged to pay back £70m to the Government as atonement for over-charging. You would have imagined that, in the much lauded new world of competition, that would have been the end of contracts for Serco. But no, new boss Rupert Soames reports that the Government is “back on side”. Could that mean that the old-boy political network is back in action? Mr Soames is Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson!

But in the feeble minds of codgers such as us the appalling situation in Iraq continues to loom above everything else. One of Britain’s most respected commanders, Col Tim Collins, has compared the massacres in Iraq at the hands of Isis with genocides carried out by Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot, accusing the Government of failing in its “moral obligation” to intervene. Col Collins, famed for his inspirational speech on he eve of the 2003 Iraq war, says that politicians have “left for lunch” and warns that ancient civilisations will be “extinguished” unless Britain gives a lead by joining air strikes and providing arms to Kurdish forces. He also urges that troops be stationed in Iraq to help bring to an end the appalling atrocities being committed by the new so-called Islamic State.

Yesterday the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate on Mount Sinjar where 30,000 refugees are trapped by the Islamic extremists. The United Nations warned that Iraq will descend into a “mass atrocity and potential genocide” unless “action is taken within hours”. Frankly the chance of the UN taking effective action within weeks let alone hours is minimal. Britain helped to create Iraq in 1920 and we do have a moral responsibility to help. We have used the Kurds as a public convenience for too long, now they represent the only hope of stopping the Islamist murderers, but their lack of weaponry prevents them from resisting as they would wish. Isis has the latest hi-tech weaponry in abundance, most of it supplied by the Americans and us to the Iraqi so-called army.

As you read this whole families are dying in despair, and arguably the greatest threat to world peace is being allowed to advance at will. What we have done so far amounts to what Col Collins describes as a “pebble in the ocean”, and what Cardinal Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England, has described as “not enough”. The failure to recall parliament is a national disgrace.

I have just been interrupted by an Indian lady inquiring about my vitamin intake. I told her that I lie in bed all day and have no need for such supplements. I added that I am thinking of setting up a call centre in Wigan. She rang up on me.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Life is like opening a tin of sardines. We’re all looking for the key!”….Alan Bennett.

Deaths, Prison and horse’s arses!

Albert tells me that, when cleaning out the hens this morning, my pals on the allotments could talk of little else but the tragic news of the death of Robin Williams. We have often recalled his brilliant performance in ‘Dead Poet’s Society’, ‘Good Will Hunting’, ‘Mrs Doubtfire and a host of other memorable films. This wonderful actor inspired and entertained millions over many years and had a worldwide fan base.

Early reports from California suggest suicide. It is so hard to understand how someone so universally loved and admired could reach such a situation but, sadly, depression can hit any one of us and the uplifting light of joy can find no way into the dark night of the soul. By coincidence I have just finished reading Sheila Hancock’s book about her life with John Thaw. He died from cancer but also endured a long battle with depression. Many of the best actors are at heart private people and one wonders if the constant pressure of public acclaim eventually overwhelms them, and turns an identity crisis into a living nightmare. We simply don’t know but for us codgers the world is a darker place without two men who so often brightened our mundane existence.

It is, as they say’ a funny old world. People we admired from afar are dying, madmen are slaughtering fellow human beings in the name of their imaginary God, Ministers are resigning because they see £120,000 a year as poverty, and man’s lack of respect for the environment is destroying the balance of the earth’s climate as the ice caps melt. But right now there are armies of ‘experts’ studying such things as the need to widen deckchairs to accommodate the ever increasing size of the human posterior. Perhaps they should advise the government to replace the ones they are rearranging on the decks of the Titanic?

Amongst the rearrangements is the Prison Service. A report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons tells us that the conditions in our prisons are “not acceptable in a civilised country”. Cells are “dangerously overcrowded”, and there is a total lack of rehabilitation. Staff cuts and privatisation have led to a sharp increase in inmate suicides. Inmates are locked up for 23 hours each day and the situation, says Nick Hardwick, is “horrible”.

People who study such things tell us that immigration is a major factor here. But whatever the causes for the rise in the prison population it is surely time for action. The possibility of rehabilitation is crucial, and locking up first-time offenders cheek by jowl with hardened criminals makes that near-impossible. Putting untrained employees of private companies in charge of chaos serves only to create even more chaos and lack of order.

Inevitably the chattering classes have been quick to come up with their solution – stop sending people to jail. What a wonderful message to would-be law breakers that is. The only logical answer is to build more prisons and to house miscreants in humane conditions in which they are no longer a danger to the public, yet still have the opportunity to reform if they are willing to do so. Yes, an expansion programme would cost money but, as with many essential services, cuts eat away at the heart of society.

Has any thought been given to converting the many empty tower blocks and outdated office blocks that we regularly see being demolished? Such sights have become a spectator sport. In our patch a large block built in the seventies has just been bulldozed to make way for up-market houses. Has any thought been given to tax avoidance which creates a huge void in the nation’s piggy-bank?

The answer is undoubtedly no. We live in a political system where the only motivation is to hype up the promises with the next election in mind. Have you ever wondered what society would be like if the only candidates were Independents, free of political dogma and unproductive point-scoring?

Dream on!

The American standard railway gauge (the distance between the rails) is 4’8.5″. Why this very odd number? Because that is how we build them in England, and English ex-pats designed the US railroads.
Why did the English choose the number? Because the people who built the first tramways used the same jigs and tools used for building wagons which used that wheel spacing. Why did the wagons have that spacing? Because had they used any other spacing the wagon wheels would have broken on some of the old long-distance roads in England, because that was the spacing of the wheel ruts
Who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built them for their legions. Roman chariots formed the initial ruts which everyone had to match for fear of wheel damage. Thus today’s American standard railway gauge is derived from the original specifications for a Roman war chariot.
Imperial Rome army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.
When you see a Space Shuttle on its launch pad you may notice that there are two big booster rockets attached to the side of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters (SRBs). They are made by Thiokal at their factory in Utah. The design engineers would have preferred larger SRBs but they have to be shipped from the factory by train. The line runs through a tunnel which is only slightly wider than the track width which, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses behinds.
So what is arguably the design of the worlds most sophisticated method of transport was determined over 2,000 years ago by the width of a horse’s backside.
It reminds us that horse’s arses control almost everything!
(With thanks to reader G)

A back rub, then dinner at the Ivy: ex-crime boss’s poverty plea unravels

Terry Adams pleaded poverty but MI5 and the CPS's proceeds of crime unit uncovered a pampered lifestyle

A former gangland boss who frittered away tens of thousands of pounds on Royal Opera House tickets and private health treatments was ordered to pay back £650,000 of his criminal earnings, after a high court judge rejected pleas of poverty.

Terry Adams, described in court as the former leader of one of the most notorious crime gangs in the UK claimed that he and his wife were scraping by on £200 a week. He told Mrs Justice Nicola Davies he got by on £23,000 a year and felt "like a ponce" living off his wife, Ruth, who is an actor.

Continue reading...

Government shows its true colours on tax avoidance!

Our bedroom ceiling features a lot of cracks. Hardly a world-shattering revelation with which to open today’s opus but presumably even Rebekah had days when real news was hard to come by. My enforced examination of the surface I once painted did prove one thing – we seldom notice the minute details that surround us. Now I am downstairs and have taken to examining the intricate surface of the flower vase, but being occasionally upright does at least enable me to avoid looking up at Albert, a posture I once assumed to be a physical impossibility.

He called this morning with tales of mud, feisty hens and battered roof panels. He handed over a box of chocolates from my fellow codgers. This breathtakingly unusual gesture was somewhat offset by the news that my chickens have become ‘mixed’ up with those of other owners, and I am wondering if that was Albert-speak for they have all escaped given the absence of my sheepdog Preston who has developed a remarkable capacity for patrolling the boundary edge.

None of which is remotely important but seemed a gentle way of moving into the increasingly appalling news from Iraq. It seems that Jihadists have massacred hundreds of non-Muslims, many of whom were buried alive whilst the assassins performed dances of homage to what is surely the strangest God yet invented by man. Meanwhile tens of thousands are trapped on mountains in searing heat whilst the UK government proudly boasts of aid drops comprising “1,200 reusable water containers and 240 solar lanterns which can be used to recharge mobile phones”. The UK strategy of benevolent detachment is utterly untenable.

The response of the Americans is equally pathetic. It is not difficult to imagine the feelings in Washington at the performance of the Iraqi £25 billion army which fled 1,300 fighters at Mosul in what Patrick Cockburn calls “one of the greatest military debacles in history”. But the fact remains that the botched war and “reconstruction” by Bush and Blair, and the recent flirtation with Syrian rebels has created a vacuum which has provided religious zealots with the opportunity to establish an extremist medieval caliphate, pursued with carelessly abandoned 21st century weaponry.

The Western powers started this and they must, however reluctantly, finish it. We have a straight choice between putting troops on the ground to create a safe haven or making empty gestures whilst one act of genocide follows another, and the middle east returns to the dark ages and becomes a base for Jihadist atrocities in this country and many others. To our eternal shame the people who supposedly run our island are on holiday!

But they have been active in a matter that concerns everyone of us. Tax avoidance is robbing the treasury of amounts far in excess of the savings being made from cuts to public services and benefits, and the pollsters have revealed that this is a major issue with the vast majority. This morning the right-wing press has been briefed to headline a supposed crackdown. Gorgeous George Osborne intends to extract inheritance tax before death from anyone using accountancy ploys to reduce payments when they depart for the wide blue skies up yonder. He may be right in principle although we should remember that such ‘offenders’ have already paid full tax on the money they wish to protect.

But why is there still a total silence on the majority of our large companies who make their profits from British customers yet pay little tax? The answer is of course that they have friends in high places. A few days ago the curtain of secrecy parted slightly.

Take a look at the latest peerages announced by our dear leader. The list is of course packed with party political donors, but some of the appointments tell us something more significant. Take as an example the peerage awarded to Joanna Shields, who is now the prime Minister’s digital adviser and chair of Tech City UK. Just one year ago she was in charge of Facebook in the UK. The media giant’s British operations paid just £238,000 in corporation tax the previous year, despite having UK sales revenue of £175 million. Ms Shields achieved this by diverting most of its sales via Ireland, where tax rates are lower. Before her years at Facebook Ms Shields ran Google’s European operations. That company has also been accused of avoiding tax in the UK.

Yesterday Richard Murphy, the tax specialist and anti-poverty campaigner, said: “It is surprising that David Cameron, who has made tax and transparency one of his highest priorities when president of the G8, has appointed a person as a peer who has been a director of companies that appear to have made tax avoidance and opacity their highest priority when pursuing their corporate goals”.

Surprising? Not really Richard. The wealth divide in Britain is greater than at any other time in the past century, and the rich folk stick together.

As Ms Shields is measured up for her ermine I find myself wondering just what those starving thousands make of their solar lanterns. And choke back tears of rage and impotence.
QUOTES FOR TODAY; “Thousands of people, among them many Christians, banished brutally from their houses, children dying of hunger and thirst as they flee, women kidnapped, people massacred, violence of all kinds, destruction everywhere…all of this deeply offends God and deeply offends humanity”….Pope Francis in Rome yesterday.

“Taxpayers are understandably angry when they see companies not paying their fair share, and this appointment won’t sit well with many”….Andy Silvester, Taxpayers’ Alliance.

English taxpayers are funding Salmond’s yes campaign!

My fellow chicken-keepers report that some of our hen-run roof panels headed off to Manchester airport during the night, and they are having to stage a form of mud-wrestling as they struggle to restore order on the allotments. I feel guilty as I lie here, but she-who-must-be-obeyed constantly reminds me that one false move could put my one week-old incision back to square one. The result is that I feel as useless as an Indian test batsman.

Faced with such a dilemma it is always wise to reflect that millions are in a much worse situation. And for proof of that I need search no further than the impending genocide in Iraq. It is hard to feel other than disappointment in President Obama, who seems to be torn between a desire to keep out of other people’s wars and the need to help those in desperate need. The hard fact is that his predecessor, and his stooge Tony Blair, created the situation in Iraq and an act of barbaric genocide is now being threatened by the madmen who have leapt into the void created by Western intervention.

Up to 150,000 desperate refugees were last night trapped on a barren stretch of mountain surrounded by Islamic extremists. There are reports that thousands of Yazidi Kurds, including children, may already have lost their lives after being trapped without food or water in searing heat, and those that survive face massacre by the advancing barbaric terrorists. Two American aid flights have made it to the mountains where they dropped off more than 36,000 meals and 6,000 gallons of bottled drinking water. But they were dropped from a height of 15,000 feet and self-destructed upon impact.

The response by the Western powers to this appalling tragedy has consisted mainly of hand-wringing. Once again the world seems prepared to stand aside whilst a colossal act of genocide takes place, this time at the hands of Isis which is armed to the teeth with sophisticated weaponry originally donated to the hapless Iraqi army. And to our eternal shame the murderous hordes include British citizens radicalised here whilst the authorities turned a blind eye for fear of being accused of racism.

Hats off then to Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army. He has demanded that soldiers be stationed in northern Iraq to help create a “safe area” for the refugees, and he rightly points out that Britain has a moral obligation to join the air strikes on Isis forces. In the face of a human crisis on this scale this is not, he says, the moment for decision-makers to be on holiday and parliament should be recalled. Sadly this government has emasculated our armed forces but something must be done and done quickly. Just for once Cameron, Miliband and Clegg should come together for a greater good. Attending special services will not save the helpless victims of fanaticism, the like of which we haven’t seen since the 1930s!

When such horror fills our screens and newspapers it is almost a relief to turn to latest example of what our politicians have actually been doing. I for one was astonished to learn that taxpayer’s money has been poured into the case for the Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum. It is clear that the Scottish Government is breaching its own Civil Service code, which states that those serving the Government must “maintain political impartiality”.

The website run by the Scottish government claims that if Scots vote Yes, the country could be “£5 billion better off each year” and promises “new and better jobs”. The work of civil servants funded by all of us. Public funds have also been used to produce booklets that have been delivered to all 2.5 million households in Scotland at a cost of £550,000, and that say life will be “easier for families” with lower energy bills and other benefits”. There has been a publicly-funded roadshow visiting, so far, 29 venues across Scotland where ministers, supported by civil servants, have exlained the supposed benefits of independence. A further £1.3 million has been spent in producing and distributing 140,000 copies of the Scottish Government’s independence case, with another £85,000 on billboard advertising to promote it.

The list goes on and on, and it is clear that Alex Salmond and his colleagues are guilty of a massive misuse of public money. It is as if, with the general election looming, the Conservatives used taxpayer’s money to fund the promotion of their manifesto, yet all of this corruption has passed almost unnoticed by the media and establishment alike. It doesn’t augur well for the conduct of government should Salmond win!

A rough calculation suggests that the amount of public money purloined by the Scottish Government equates to the savings made by cutting A & E services. Yesterday in many parts of the country ambulances waited for up to six hours outside of emergency units. Perhaps someone should have explained to frightened patients and their relatives that their ordeal was indirectly related to political sleight of hand that would be acceptable only in downtown Lagos?

Stop the world, I want to get off! But Albert has just reminded me that I already have.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” We live in an age when pizza gets to your house before police or ambulances do!”…..Jeff Marder.

The greatest threat to world peace since Hitler!

It is, I suppose, an idealistic fantasy, but I have always imagined the Government of the day to be responsible for the running of the country in the way that a Board of Directors runs a company. I was reminded of this when younger members of our tribe arrive to visit grumpy Grampy and reported that they had spent hour after hour locked in motorway tailbacks. it struck me as similar to a hotel allowing endless guests into their establishment without making any attempt to relate capacity to demand. I suppose the reality is that no one ‘runs’ the country, we simply elect politicians who spend the next five years bickering, seemingly oblivious to the logistical problems that beset everyone who fancies venturing beyond their front gate.

Which reminds me that i haven’t ventured beyond mine since my operation of a week ago today. My allotments pals pop in to exchange insults from time to time but, such moments apart, life has become somewhat boring. Others who have suffered similar fates tell me that this is the time for deep introspection aimed at working out the meaning of life, but I become preoccupied with less weightier issues, such as the disinclination of the Old Trafford ground-staff to cover up the renowned mud-patch on their outfield when the heavens open.

Even the news that Albert yesterday dropped a tray of eggs for the zillionth time when he was bitten by his own dog didn’t lighten my mood, proof positive that hilarity flourishes only in the company of others. But I did derive some small satisfaction at being right in predicting that the newly privatised Royal Mail would lose no time in cutting services. Yesterday it announced that the latest time for posting is being brought forward to 9.30 am. Wonderful – our postal services were sold off at £1.5 billion below market value and are now in the hands of overseas investors. The plan to invite Uncle Vince Cable to become the treasurer of our local cricket club has been abandoned.

Standing – or in my case lying – back from the real world does at least filter the news into what really matters, and what doesn’t. Today my narrowed eyes swept past tales of our dear leader and Rebekah’s horse and Boris hanging from a trip wire, to focus on what increasingly looks like the greatest threat to world peace since the corporal with the Charlie Chaplain moustache. We didn’t take him very seriously during his early mad rants and we all know what happened next. Now we increasingly hear, or see TV reports of, the equally mad voices of the jiadists. Already they have us referring tn the new Islamic State of Isis.

Right now wars are being waged around the middle east and the madmen are never far removed. When the so-called Arab Spring dawned the Western world rejoiced, only to find that the Muslim Brotherhood was not a sort of Lib Dem revival in robes. In Gaza fanatics have goaded Israel into conducting a massacre of the innocent which has rightly been condemned around the world, and in so doing has once again won support from even peace-loving Muslims. And we all know the story of the Bush/Blair invasion of Iraq.

And it is there that the greatest threat of them all is building. Religious minorities have been driven from their homes by Isis, a movement hell-bent on building a caliphate. Offered a choice between death or conversion, they have fled into the countryside to seek a perilous refuge in the wilderness. The Yazidis and Christians have become isolated on a mountain, suffering from starvation and dehydration. Unaided, they face certain death either by natural consequence or beheading if the fanatics arrive before they expire.

There has been an understandable reluctance on the part of President Obama to “return to Iraq”, given painful memories of the effort to build a nation there after the 2003 invasion. But it is precisely because the West played some role in creating the circumstances in which the Islamic State flourished – with a mix of too much action in Iraq and, arguably, too little in Syria, where the terrorist army was incubating – that it surely has a responsibility to act now.

And act they have with a combination of bombing and humanitarian aid. Sadly the time has come to stop Isis before its evil influence spreads out across large swathes of the world including the UK. Negotiations with people who believe that death is a ticket to paradise is futile. If we learned anything in the 1930s it was that unbridled fanaticism has only one antidote.

To this day historians still reflect on Chamberlain’s naivety. Let us hope that Barack Obama will not one day be similarly regarded!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: “I will only shake my finger at him,” he said, “and placed it on the trigger”…Stanislaw J Lee.

Unemployment down but where are the REAL jobs?

It is only when you are reliant on nurses that you realise just how important they are. Recovering at home has its benefits but there are inevitably moments when you feel the need for expert advice, and a call to the hospital nursing station is always met with patience and helpful guidance. Just as well since the chance of seeing a GP in our neck of the woods is akin to my getting to Old Trafford to gloat over the demise of the Indian batsmen. There is no doubt in my mind that the Coalition’s enforced reduction in nurse numbers in our large hospitals is a huge disservice to patients. Frankly I could never again vote for a party that contains incompetent nincompoops such as Lansley and Hunt.

And it is not only in healthcare that the present bunch of ministers has shown its lack of understanding of the consequences of its actions. Albert called this morning with a supply of beans, eggs and moans and told me of the grandson of one our allotments gang. Some three years ago he responded to government propaganda about the career prospects for social workers by enrolling on a university degree course. Earning his qualifications was a hard slog but, he imagined, the effort was worthwhile. Now he finds that there are no vacancies despite the fact that those social workers who have survived the cuts are overworked to a dangerous state, dangerous to their health and to the clients who desperately need their help. A vital service has been reduced to ruins to save costs dwarfed by the amounts denied the treasury by tax-avoiders and the hordes of £1,000-a-day management consultants covertly employed. Run the country? Employment may have fallen but where are the real jobs? Politicians would struggle to run an Eric Pickles chip shop.

Test match apart, the rest of today’s news isn’t too cheering either. The first public pronouncement by Education Minister Nicky Morgan tells us that the madmen who have conspired to turn many of the new Academies are also taking similar action in regard to nurseries, where toddlers are being indoctrinated with extremist views. Apparently there have been hundreds of complaints from worried parents, and the government has decided to withdraw funding from nurseries linked to radical mosques or run by organisations with extremist views.

Action surely needs to go further than this. Anyone even suspected of promoting such lunacy should be barred from holding office in any company or registered charity. Since any director of any company can be banned should his or her company be late in filing accounts, such action would hardly be draconian. And even if it was, the time to consign political correctness to the bin has arrived. If you doubt that take a moment to read this morning’s updates on what Isis, the heroes of these people, are doing to the Christian and non-Muslim communities in Iraq!

But despair not. Today we will learn that the cost to the taxpayer of the House of Lords is to take another boost. All of the political parties pledged to reduce the size of this institution of privilege, but the numbers of ermine-clad cronies continues to rocket. Amongst today’s new entrants you will find Ranbir Singh Suri, a jewellery tycoon who has personally donated £129,380 to the Conservative Party, and whose company has handed over a further £183,055.

Another major donor, Sir Michael Farmer, will also be taking the bow. He has donated more than £2.3m to the Tories. When Lloyd George came up with the wizard wheeze of selling honours he set quite a precedent, and we Brits treasure our old traditions. If Ed Miliband would only stop agonising over his appearance when eating bacon sandwiches he just might find that there are some pledges that, unlike his sandwich, might go down rather well with the disgruntled electorate.

There are some iniquities that beat even that in the twit-of-the-decade stakes. Today’s papers carry warnings from the society of beancounters that the gender pay gap will remain in place for another 60 years. Why? What is so complicated about making equal pay for equal work mandatory? Could it be that the people pulling the strings are men?

Never mind, it is time to draw the blinds to block out sight of what the Met Office tells us is to be the worst storm in living memory. Just a quick peek. How very strange, the sun is shining and all is well.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans!”…Woody Allen.

Bonking Boris makes his move!

It is only when you are confined to the house that the weather becomes irrelevant. Pouring or scorching has no impact on me as I sit, propped up, waiting for the umpires to lead out England or India for the latest instalment of the Jimmy Anderson F-word contest. Which will come first – the Burnley bomber’s first wicket or umpire’s warning? As you will gather my search for diversion has plumbed new depths. And I have just realised that the weather is relevant for the match is being played at Old Trafford!

Being an enforced absentee from the allotments I no longer enjoy a free read of the morning’s newspapers, and am missing my daily updates on the latest miracle cures lauded in the Daily Mail and doom warnings of the Express. But she-who-must-be-obeyed has brought a wide selection back from her efforts to boost the flagging fortunes of Tesco. I quickly note that our dear leader is still dithering over an arms-embargo on Israel as advocated by Ed, Nick and Boris. But wait a moment – a second scan reveals just one name on the headlines. The Bonking Boris has made his move. Some lucky London constituency is about to gain a Tory parliamentary candidate who really should be representing the Monster Raving Loonies.

In fact, according to the Daily Torygraph, Boris is already earmarked to be the Business secretary should his arch-rival Old Etonian triumph in the 2015 general election. Business leaders are already issuing chastity belts for secretaries, and those with guilty tax-avoidance consciences are wondering if they can do a Bernie Ecclestone.

Those sad souls who delight in reading the political tea-leaves are doubtless wondering about the implications of a Tory defeat. This was to have been the moment when Gorgeous George Osborne made his leadership bid, now the possibility of the party being split down the middle looks a reasonable wager.

The rest of us who regard Boris as a lovable, fat version of Norman Wisdom rub our hands in anticipation of politics entering a custard-pie age. But at the back of our minds alarm bells are ringing. Yes it would be great to see Number Ten transformed into Fawlty Towers, but we have no great desire to see Vladimir Putin whipped into a blind and vengeful rage.

Sadly the media has, with a few honourable exceptions, lost its appetite for exposing skeletons in posh cupboards. That may be fortunate for Boris who has enough to fully furnish one of those old time fairground Ghost Trains, but it does mean that the real motives and actions of our political classes remain hidden. It wasn’t always thus.

Today we learn of the death of Chapman Pincher. He passed away yesterday at the age of 100, having requested on his deathbed that it be announced that he has”run out of scoops”. The former Daily Express journalist developed a prodigious knack for uncovering the secrets of the British state. In 2005, he was named by Press Gazette as one of the 40 most influential journalists of the post-war era. The ‘Lone Wolf, as he became known, exposed the full extent of Soviet penetration of MI5 and MI6, and regularly exposed the secret misdeeds of the Thatcher and Macmillan governments.

At one point Macmillan asked in a “Secret” memo : “How can Pincher reveal decisions that we reached at Cabinet only yesterday? Can nothing be done to suppress or get rid of him?”. For her part Mrs Thatcher’s initially warm relationship with Pincher was reduced to “stony stares”. One of his detractors – the historian E P Thompson – described him as a “kind if official urinal in which high officials and permanent secretaries stand patiently leaking in the public interest”. It was, said Pincher, the greatest compliment he ever received.

It is always fun to wonder at the outcome of figures in history meeting up in a version of Dr Who’s time-travel. Fortunately for Britain’s number one bonker it can’t actually happen. If the ‘Lone Wolf’ was still haunting the corridors of power, Boris would step less certainly!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” I’m at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I’ve just had a mirror put over my kitchen table!”….Rodney Dangerfield.

In praise of small hospitals!

In his first column after the second World War Cassandra famously asked: “Now where was I when I was so rudely interrupted?”. My absence has been somewhat shorter than his but my sense of bewilderment is similar. On Friday last I promised to be back in action on Sunday. I now realise that my knowledge of the effects of intrusive surgery is akin to my understanding of outer space.

In the light of my regular criticism of the Coalition’s NHS privatisation plans I am somewhat embarrassed to report that my operation was performed in a private healthcare hospital now under contract to the NHS. Of course the chefs in white hats are no longer in evidence and the surgery is carried out by NHS surgeons. But there was one noticeable difference, the hospital is small and the sense of overcrowding one feels in large units was conspicuous by its absence. Even more important was the ability of the nursing staff to spend time with the patient both during the day and in the long hours of the night.

Now that I am back at home I still have the number of the 24/7 nurse’s station, and already have gratefully used it to gain advice on changing dressings and the rest. I am sure the nursing staff at our larger hospitals would also help but the sheer size of their institutions would make continuity of patient contact impossible.

This is not a sudden conversion on my part to the idea of privatisation, but it is a belief that small can be beautiful. Yes, there is a case to be made for large specialised units for such as stroke treatment, but the government’s obsession with reducing the number of small local hospitals is not in the patient’s interest. When nurses have time and space in which to care they are beyond diamonds, their working conditions and needs deserve far more respect than idiots such as Lansley and Hunt can muster.

Having been temporarily cut off from my allotments pals I am out of touch with what is happening in the wider world, or to be more precise what they feel about it. But I did read all about the Warsi resignation. Regular readers will know that she has never been adored by the codgers, but I have to admit that I admire her for her stand on the UK response to Gaza. It has been nothing to do with being pro-anyone, what the Israelis have done has been disproportionate and cruel beyond words. Yes Hamas are a nightmare, but nothing can justify the massacre of innocent children. And where does the targeted destruction of the central plant treating 40 million litres of sewage fit into a plan to destroy tunnels?

i quite enjoyed watching the Salmond v Darling punch-up. Mind you, after watching repeats of Last of the Summer Wine, almost anything is exciting. It didn’t surprise me to learn later that the effect of the hoo-hah on public voting intentions was zero, but it was good to learn that beneath that boring mask Alistair has the capacity to become as angry as a punter finding a rattlesnake in a lucky dip.

Unlike Cassandra I am resuming my hogwash whilst propped up in bed and my one typing finger is rebelling. That apart I have heard the doorbell ring which will mean that Albert has arrived with his tales of beans and hens and he will not approve of my using a laptop, something he regards as part of Satan’s kingdom. I can hear him clumping up the stairs..straighten the sheets for the arrival of Compo!

My thought for the day arrived in one of the cards from kind friends. It said; “Today you are the youngest you will ever be. Make the best of it!”. As Ena Sharples used to say; “Think on!”

Instant news, instant contact, instant lunacy!

The danger of our crops dying of thirst has disappeared, the monsoons are back. But as we codgers waddled about in our waterproofs this morning the usual moaning which greets the wet stuff was noticeably absent. Clearly a few weeks of working in the equivalent of an oven triggers the perspective button in the mind. Even Albert seemed happy this morning, but who wouldn’t be after a fortnight in heaven, or Blackpool as it is known in these parts?

We were all mightily relieved to hear that a short ceasefire has taken place in Gaza. Given the hostile tone of the Israeli leadership on last night’s Newsnight we can only assume that Israel’s protectors, the United States, have followed up on their description of ‘totally unacceptable’ when responding to the slaughter of innocents. But what continues to infuriate us is the media coverage of what it describes as ‘The blame game’. Do they really believe that this is a game of football? Gaza is small and soon there will be no hiding place for its terrified civilian population. Blame is irrelevant, does the best equipped army in the world intend to alienate every friend it ever had by slaughtering the entire population, most of whom have no connection whatsoever with the madmen of Hamas?

Once settled in our dry shed it was a relief to mull over some potentially good news. Scientists have today announced that Chemotherapy will be ‘history in a generation’. Any cancer victim who has endured the ghastly effects of the treatment will welcome that prediction, even though the breakthrough will be too late to spare them.

By the time children born today reach adulthood, invasive drugs and their devastating side-effects will have been replaced by sophisticated medicines that can fix faulty genes, according to those behind a new project. Britain is to be the first country in the world to embark on a mapping programme in the hope of identifying the genes responsible. In a joint £300 million project, universities across the UK are working alongside the Department of Health, the Wellcome Trust, Great Ormand Street Hospital and the Medical Research Council. David Cameron said yesterday that the venture would “unlock the power of DNA”, and he deserves credit for backing the initiative. Britain has always pinched above its weight in discovery and pioneering advancements, and it is good to learn that when it comes to things that really matter we are still in the vanguard.

Of course many of the dramatic breakthroughs that pour forth almost monthly from the United States, and their competitors, belong in the not really important category. Many of them relate to what we like to call the new worldwide social network. When VHS, mobile phones, laptops and the rest first hit the market it seemed that a new bright age had dawned. Since then the improvements to the technology have been breathtaking. We now have access to instant news and instant communication. Even a stroll down the aisles of Tesco takes one past customers talking into a phone or texting Aunty Mabel about the cost of custard.

Everywhere you go people are talking, texting or transmitting pictures. Nothing wrong with that but what is unnerving is the constant impression of urgency and deadlines that we once associated with 999 calls. What is even more unnerving is the growing evidence that the gadgets are taking us over. As a means of fun or communication they are excellent if used properly. The problem seems to be that we are no longer using them, they are using us.

Yesterday Marina Usaceva was jailed for six years after Peterborough Crown Court heard how her Jaguar crashed into the back of Sukhdeep Singh Johal’s Peugeot 206, killing the 27-year-old biomedical science graduate. The life of a promising young man with everything to live for was ended because Usaceva was sending a text message whilst driving. Police investigations had revealed that in the 20 minutes leading up to the fatal crash she had used one handset to send a text message at 4.15pm and receive another two minutes later. She had used another to send a message, made one phone call and received three incoming calls. And now Mr Johal is dead and Usaceva is in jail.

Judge Sean Enright told her: “IF you were not sending texts at the time, then you were fiddling with your phone and that is what caused this collision. Mobile phone use while driving is a plague on our society”.

There but for the grace of God go many of us. No news is so crucial that it cannot wait for a few minutes. Mr Johal’s father has said that the only hope he has is that others will learn from this. I hope that he is right, but yesterday I saw a truck driver manoeuvring his vehicle in heavy traffic whilst holding a mobile to his ear.

Those whom the (technology) Gods wish to destroy they first make mad!

For the first time in years there will be no blogpost tomorrow. The news service will continue as normal.

At the crack of dawn I have to attend hospital for what the NHS calls a hernia repair. All being well I shall be back with you on Sunday. If I am not you can reasonably assume that I am either still sitting in the waiting room clad in my new Tesco dressing gown, or have joined that great fellowship of doughnut-eating hen-keepers in the sky.

Have a good weekend!

Equality – Cdr West must walk the plank!

We codgers are not, as some readers have suggested, anti-Israel. Indeed we have always felt enormous sympathy for that so-often persecuted nation. But that sympathy is rapidly evaporating as the massacre of innocent children continues in Gaza. The attack on the Jabaliya elementary girl’s school was, for us, the last bloodstained straw. It was yesterday described by top UN officials as a possible war crime, and having seen graphic pictures of mutilated and terrified children it was hard to disagree. The Israeli authorities were told 17 times that it was full of refugees, the last warning message delivered at 8.50 Tuesday evening. Just hours later a series of shells smashed into the building, killing 19 and badly injuring more than a hundred others.

We all know that Hamas continues to fire its amateurish rockets into Israel, but they do little damage and the Israeli response is totally disproportionate. And whatever the provocation, however mad the provokers, nothing can justify this targeting of the innocent, one of whom cried, as she lay on her improvised hospital bed: “What have we done to earn this?” The UN secretary-general yesterday described Israel’s action as a “source of universal shame”, and even Israel’s staunchest supporter, the United States, felt compelled to condemn its actions.

There is nothing a bunch of old codgers can do, but the repeated sight of terrified kids is creating a fury within our hearts. Our understanding of international politics is poor, and we can only wonder why the United Nations security council cannot act. Our greatest fear is that countries in possession of nuclear weapons will act, the Gaza crisis is infinitely more threatening to world peace than Ukraine, terrible though that is.

We realise that this is hardly the happiest opening for what attempts to be an entertaining blog, but if adults across the world are prepared to stand by whilst small children are murdered or maimed one can only conclude that the human race has lost its soul. We expect little else from mad jihadists but Israel, no stranger to persecution, should surely recognise that if the Bible teaches us anything it is to spare the little children.

This nightmare occupied our thoughts as we cleaned out the hens this morning, and it wasn’t until we reached the hut for our brew that our attention switched to the usual target, the Big Six energy firms. According to a report to be published today by watchdog Ofgem, the profits of the members of what is effectively a cartel will double over the next twelve months. The expectation is that over that period the Six will make £106 in profit for each customer – up from £53 – with margins doubling from 4 to 8 per cent. Most galling of all is what the energy monopolists do with their profits – which is primarily paying dividends to shareholders in foreign countries, rather than investing in vital new infrastructure in Britain.

But now, as Monty Python used to say, for something completely different. Regular readers may recall that we codgers welcomed the appointment of the first woman in history to take charge of a Royal Navy warship. Many old-guard opponents of women’s rights rose from their slumbers to warn that this was a step too far, that a woman would lack the presence or stamina to command a crew of hardened sailors in times of crisis. We contended, and still do, that the ability to lead and inspire is not the sole prerogative of men. Commanders should be the finest leaders irrespective of gender.

Sadly Cdr Sarah West has let us, and herself, down. A fundamental rule on any warship is that the captain should maintain a distance from his or her subordinates. The slightest hint of personal friendship can cause hesitation in a crisis when orders must be obeyed without question. An affair with any officer or crewman is even worse than a special friendship and every male commander found guilty of such an indiscretion has been relieved of his command. The same must now happen to Cdr West.

There will now be an outcry from the old-guard demanding that the ‘experiment’ of a woman commander be discontinued. This would be wrong, a return to the prejudices of the past. Others will argue for clemency, and that is equally wrong. Equality must not be sacrificed, men and women must be treated alike. And that means that Cdr West must walk the plank. Those amongst us who once served on warships know that cliques form and tensions sometimes mount. The captain must be above all that, and provide the stability and sense of order that detachment brings. Sleeping with subordinates destroys that. Cdr West failed not because she was a woman but because she was stupid.

But all is not doom and gloom here on the allotments. Our neighbours are enjoying the fruits of our labours as we hand out eggs, runner beans and tomatoes. And we are really enjoying the cut and thrust of the Commonwealth Games, plus the sudden improvement in the form of the England cricketers.

Having said that Jimmy Anderson really must, like Cdr West, learn to keep his hands to himself!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “Perhaps in time the so-called Dark Ages will be thought of as including our own!”…..Georg Christopher Lichtenberg.

Welcome to the silly season!

Albert has taken delivery of his new car, having at last accepted that his ancient Morris Minor was somewhat past its sell-by date. The rest you can guess – he is hopping mad because some of the instrument gauges are not working. We tried to reassure him that he is not alone, but he still hangs on to the outdated belief that Quality means that everything has been checked and works. In today’s world that is as unrealistic as imagining that joiners on estate building sites still take the trouble to screw in, rather than hammer, the screws.

The fact that I lead with this piece of non-news demonstrates that we are now in what the professional newshounds call the silly season. With Parliament in recess, schools and courts quieter those who still have to satisfy the new round-the-clock demand for news do so by inventing it. Sadly there have been this time major disasters such as the mass murder of children in Gaza and the shooting down of MH17 which are obscene rather than silly, but those apart the media has been busy tapping into the invention industry.

They made a solid start with a possible EU ban on busty barmaids. Today they have been helped by an even more ridiculous tale from, supposedly, Andy Burnham who, if it is true, must have decided to resurrect Old Labour. The story claims that Labour plans a “death tax” to pay for care in old age. The figure being bandied about is a 15 per cent levy on all estates in addition to inheritance tax. A quick calculation shows that this would amount to £46,000 for the average Brit. If ever there was a return to the Old Labour belief that anyone having saved up more than ten bob is stinking rich and an affront to the working classes, this is it. It is stupid, unfair and an outdated class-based attack on every hard-working family which has exercised prudence in the expectation that the next generation would benefit. There has to be a solution to the problem of funding elderly care, but has the thought of tackling tax-avoidance by the truly rich occurred to whoever in the bowels of the Labour Party dreamed up this political suicide plan?

The one redeeming feature of that silly season item is that it is at least slightly rational. The same cannot be said for comments from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Their last idea on a fag-packet before they fled to Barbados was the transfer of student loan responsibility to universities. This would allow them to raise fees in exchange for accepting liability for loans not eventually repaid. One snag – the universities would then have a vested interest in rejecting students from poor families and women because their earnings potential would be smaller. One suspects Baldrick was involved in this loopy idea.

Of course it being the silly season any remark from a senior politician as they head for the airport is an opportunity to fill column inches. An apparent example was the headlined response from Yvette Cooper to our dear leader’s plan to cut EU migrant benefits, even though he doesn’t know how many currently hold out their hands. “We need less talk from the Prime Minister on immigration and more action”, said Yvette. It was the ultimate in non-stories since the reporter forgot to ask her what action she has in mind given that her party opposes any controls.

But today’s clear evidence that the silly season is now really upon us surely comes in the form of extensive commentary about Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’, which is to return to the London gallery where in 1999 record crowds queued for admission to gaze at the unmade bed, strewn with empty vodka bottles, cigarette butts and discarded condoms. This masterpiece was created by Tracey in her Waterloo council flat in 1998, and was bought for £2.54 million by a 70-year-old German Count. He, Count Christian Duerckheim, has decided to loan the display back to the Tate for ten years.

I saw The Bed during its first exhibition and wondered in what way it differed from hundreds of similar scenes I had witnessed in junior doctors quarters. I also estimated that creating the rubbish had probably taken the artist no longer than it took her to get up for breakfast.

Perhaps at this very moment she is creating another masterpiece to fill tomorrow’s news gap. An updated bed with a few pictures of Werrity scattered around perhaps?
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “What do you think of modern civilisation? I think it would be a good idea.”….Mahatma Gandhi.

Hard facts are better than fiction!

All of us are old enough to remember when a Chinese Chippy was a foreign carpenter, but we allotments codgers cannot remember weather such as this. Having been baked to a cinder, we welcomed the low clouds and reduced temperatures this morning but we did spare a thought for the good people of Worthing whose relief from the oppressive heat proved to be instant flooding, featuring underpasses transformed in an instant to death-traps for all but the strongest swimmers. We find it worrying that there are still those who deny climate change. Perhaps they reside in air-conditioned burrows, perhaps they are all relatives of Spike Milligan.

Once we had cleaned out the hens, and filled our purloined Tesco trolley with runner beans, we settled in the hut for a touch of the Eric Pickles and a look at the morning papers. We had a surprise. After a week of Ed Miliband hunting by the predominantly right-wing press we had expected to see the Labour Party down with the Monster Raving Loonies in the latest ComRes survey. To our amazement, and possibly theirs, Labour’s lead over the Conservatives has jumped to 6 per cent, giving them an overall majority of 74. The hapless Lib Dems are down at 8 per cent and Nigel Farage is on double that.

So it begins to look as if the economy is providing a “voteless recovery” and the great British public is resigned to having a Prime Minister for whom eating a bacon sandwich is the cue for a Les Dawson impersonation. So just what is going on? We have a theory. We have long realised that the public has lost all trust in politicians, and has taken to raising eyebrows to Spock levels at the constant outpourings of spin. As a result an unprecedented search for hard facts has overwhelmed the diet of fiction. Since few are readily available people in pubs, clubs and homes are attempting to construct their own. That doesn’t necessarily lead to the truth, but people have eyes and they are beginning to trust them as never before.

On the economic recovery the odds are that few indulge in the mind-boggling analysis of economists. Instead they look around in their own neighbourhood and see food-banks, closed libraries and care centres, and ever rising energy bills. They probably note rewards such as the £9 million given as solace to the sacked head of Tesco, the continued tolerance shown to tax-avoiders and the influence purchased by party donors.

The same degree of cynicism has probably greeted this morning’s fanfare of trumpets accompanying our dear leader’s latest ‘initiative’ on EU immigration. Britain will cut migrants’ entitlement to benefits after three months as evidence that the UK is not a “soft touch”, and not a place where migrants can expect to get “something for nothing”. But, with the exception of a bloke we know in Bacup, people are not daft. They know perfectly well that the only issue is the one of border controls. Until and unless EU member states are free to control incoming numbers in line with capacity the long-suffering people of eastern Europe will move west. The near certainty is that Brussels will not concede a change to free movement, and no amount of posturing about benefits will conceal that reality.

Having said that it seems only fair to add that, Ukip apart, the Conservatives are the only party even discussing this issue, albeit in a somewhat misleading manner. The Lib Dems adore everything about Brussels and propose welcome mats at every port. Perhaps that explains their 8 per cent support.

There is also growing evidence that the public is looking beyond political spin in regard to the NHS. Today Andy Burnham has ‘demanded’ that the coalition freeze the privatisation process. Most people know that it was started by Patricia Hewitt on behalf of Blair. Most people also know that things have passed the point of no return, a classic example being a major hospital in our region which has ‘rented’ out wards to private healthcare companies who provide minor ops only to find that they now have to open a new NHS unit dedicated to handling emergencies and ops that cannot be completed in a specified cost period.

There is much about NHS administration that needs improvement, and use of private know-how in that area would be welcomed by many. But once you involve profit in treatment decisions you create a two-tier health system, and we are well down that road. Lansley wasted £3 billion on reforms that failed, and the opposition will have to work hard to convince people that they will not spend an equally large amount putting things right. The hard fact is that few now believe anything any politician says about the NHS. Only the creation of a new apolitical body comprised mainly of clinicians – with the sort of independence afforded the Bank of England – can save the NHS now. Until a party accepts this no one will listen to fiction which has no resemblance to what patients now see daily.

We suspect that the dawning age of what our dear leader likes to call ordinary people, goes beyond the machinations of British politics. Right now we are seeing appalling images from Gaza. The hard fact is that innocent children are being slaughtered. Israeli ministers appear on Newsnight to talk of Hamas tunnels and subterfuge and we know that this is true. But nothing justifies the mass murder, and the only hard fact is that it is happening. Viewed against that obscene reality all else is fiction.

A new international survey has asked the French and Germans to nominate someone who personifies Britain. Number one choice by a mile is Mr Bean. But the Beans are changing, the age of blind acceptance of whatever bilge politicians choose to pour in our direction is almost over!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” The only reason men say ‘Women and children first is to test the strength of the lifeboats”…Jean Kerr.

Punching the poorest!

I shall be brief. Whenever I use, or hear, those words my mind goes back to the little chapel in the village of my childhood. Attendance at the Sunday services was mandatory since every adult put on their Sunday best and headed for what they called the foyer of heaven. When I was very young I as allowed to take pencil and paper to wile away the time during sermons, some of which lasted longer than a Boycott innings. As I grew older the doodling was declared sinful, and the choice narrowed to watching June in the choir or the local coalman banging on about the sins of the flesh. How he became such an authority on the subject I never knew, but on the days when he was perhaps in a hurry to explore them further and promised to be brief he became my hero.

As you will gather from the absence of chickens, Albert and doughnuts from the opening paragraph, I was not on the allotments at cockcrow this morning. Instead I was on my way to Darwen and the head office of the Debt Advice Foundation, which I serve in a voluntary role. The charity provides independent help and advice to people in financial trouble, and has developed a powerful programme involving many secondary schools aimed at improving education on money management. The lessons for Primary schools are taught by pupils from ‘secondaries’and have taken us to some surprising places. The pupils have interviewed Mervyn King, Robert Peston, Ed Balls, George Osborne and others, all of whom have been impressed by the text books produced by the pupils themselves.

Right now I am frustrated by the contrast between the constant assertions about the economy having recovered and the impression I gain that there are more and more people living in the shadow of increasing debt. A survey has revealed that in London alone nearly 16,000 people have been referred to bailiffs for non-payment of bills. In fact lurking behind the official good-news blurbs there are some daunting statistics.

No fewer than 2.31 million have seen their council tax increase as a result of support being substantially reduced or taken away altogether. Those hit include 409,000 disabled people, 112,000 carers and 3,600 recipients of pensions relating to being a war widow or a disabled veteran.

Coalition ministers would doubtless argue that under the new system decisions on the provision of support rest with local authorities. What they might forget to mention is that councils have lost nearly £500m that was previously provided by central government to cut or eliminate the council tax bills for those on low incomes. As a result, millions of poor families have received council tax demands for the first time and hundreds of thousands face being summoned to court.

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau said yesterday: “The number struggling with council tax payments has rocketed since council tax benefit was replaced by localised council tax support schemes. Between January and April 2014, 42 per cent of those approaching us for help with arrears were employed”. The explanation is that many of the ‘new’ jobs are low paid or Zero contracts.

There may be some idlers and scroungers out there, but I have never met any. The people in debt that I come across are hard-working but simply unable to cope with rising energy bills and, now, council tax bills.

It really doesn’t help when a Government spokeswoman says – as one did yesterday – that “Welfare reform is vital to tackle Labour’s budget deficit”. Labour has been out of office for four years. And why is the reform slanted so heavily against those least able to pay?

Yesterday Esther McVey declared that there but for the grace of God go I. She won a lot of friends by demonstrating that she at least understands that the plight of so many at the bottom of the heap deserve support not political points-scoring!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “Men are like linoleum floors. Lay ’em right and you can walk all over them for 30 years!”….Betsy Salkkind.

Democracy under real threat!

Given one wish we codgers would opt for whoever up there controls the weather stopping the controls right now. If every morning of the rest of summer was as today life would be a wonderful experience. There had been enough overnight rain to satisfy every anxious gardener, the sky was reassuringly blue and the temperature high enough for any beach, without threatening to turn us into melted blobs. The wilting flowers were standing proud again as we cleaned out the hens, and even those lethargic creatures seemed to have gained a new lease of life.

Whether our dear leader felt equally uplifted as he tackled his cornflakes this morning was however open to some doubt. At the end of a week in which, according to the pundits, Wallace Miliband had committed political suicide he has climbed back to the top of the weekly opinion polls. It seems that his fear about being outclassed in the PR stakes may be groundless. No one would dispute that David Cameron is an accomplished actor, and those who enjoy movies will be well aware of the ability of such as Sean Connery to convince an audience that he is James Bond, but the illusion fades when he is spotted standing in a Harrods caviare queue.

The Prime Minister may also be mulling over the recent evidence that the idea of an EU foreign policy is also an illusion. Asked to unite in sanctions against that other consummate actor Vladimir Putin the leading member states have proved to be as disunited as Millwall supporters on match days. France intends to continue the supply of carriers, Germany cannot risk its gas pipeline being turned off..every country has a different agenda. The idea that such a disparate collection of nations, each with their own priorities and cultures, could ever become as one is absurd.

And as he folded up his morning paper before popping round to see Rebekah, ‘Dave’ may have spotted leading articles claiming that Gorgeous George Osborne is busy intensifying his struggle for the Tory Party leadership, with a little help from his friend Boris. With them on one side and Wallace on the other, he undoubtedly rode off on his ex-police horse wishing that Andy Coulson was still at hand to spread the word that such creatures are very pro-immigration.

But back in the real world – if an old shed littered with discarded Tesco doughnut packets can be so described – our minds were focussed elsewhere. We Brits often make the mistake of imagining that we can export our form of democracy to places such as Iraq. In reality there is little chance of achieving even stage one, ballots conducted in a fair and proper way overseen by unbiased and diligent officials. No surprise in that, but suddenly there are alarming signs that in parts of our much lauded multicultural society our long-standing tradition of honest elections is under serious threat. We, who have for so long observed with superior disdain the antics of Mugabe-style elections, have reasons to observe with horror what is beginning to happen here.

Tomorrow a damaging dossier of evidence regarding alleged ballot fraud in Tower Hamlets will be submitted to the High Court. The dossier contains dozens of specific and detailed allegations of electoral malpractice, by and about named individuals compiled by Labour and three other parties involved in the election held for an executive mayor of Tower Hamlets. The winner was Lutfur Rahman.

According to the dossier Bengali voters, especially women, were intercepted by Mr Rahman’s supporters outside polling stations, they were “accompanied into the polling booths” and “directed how to vote”. In Lansbury ward, Labour votes were “crossed out” on ballot papers and “Tower Hamlets First” (Mr Rahman’s party) votes entered with a different colour pen. In Weavers ward the Labour votes “appeared to have been erased” on a “substantial number of postal ballot papers. Count agents for Whitechapel ward “reported that many postal ballots (and the accompanying declarations of identity) appeared to have been completed in the same handwriting”. The counting venue, a converted cinema, was owned by the partner of one of Mr Rahman’s key allies.

The dossier also alleges that Rahman supporters were allowed to conduct “campaigning inside polling stations”, handing out leaflets telling voters that the Labour candidates were racist or had “sided with a non-Muslim”. “Hostile and threatening Rahman supporters mobbed polling station entrances”, and one voter describes physical intimidation. Voters in the Proom Street area had their blank postal ballot papers taken from them by people claiming to be from the Labour Party.

The dossier contains many extremely worrying allegations. Perhaps even more worrying is what happened in the St Peter’s ward to a Labour council candidate, Sanu Miah. He came top in the first count, with 2,270 votes. However Mr Rahman demanded a recount and the votes were stored at his party headquarters. The following day Mr Miah’s vote fell to 1,722 and he alleges that seals on the ballot boxes had been “tampered with and opened”.

Subsequent to Mr Rahman’s election as Mayor, auditors are believed to be focusing closely on deals where lucrative council assets were transferred to close associates of Mr Rahman at a fraction of their true value. One such is the sale of the Old Poplar Town Hall, valued by officers at £1.5 million, to a company called Dreamstar for £875,000. Dreamstar’s principal shareholder is Mujibul Islam, the owner of Mr Rahman’s 2010 election campaign website. Dreamstar has now been given planning permission to turn the listed building into a 25-room hotel, expected to raise its value to around £3.5 million. The permission was given in secret.

If only half of the allegations are correct this is a very serious development centred around Mr Rahman, who was expelled from the Labour Party in 2010 after his links with an extremist group were exposed by the Sunday Telegraph. To us the most worrying aspects of all is that even the officials in charge of the ballot appear to have failed to impose the standards we take for granted in this country.

This dangerous cancer must be tackled now before it spreads to many more areas!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife!”…Prince Philip

Big Society project bites the dust!

The forecast is fresher, cooler air for tomorrow and we codgers repeated that like a mantra as we cleaned out the hens this morning. Some of us have long delighted in talking about the sweat of working-class brows, but it has rarely been seen. Now we are shedding it in bucketfuls. If at some future date we complain about icy winds, and express a yen for golden summer days, do log a sharp reminder of what I am about to say. So weary are we of very hot days followed by very hot nights that we have formed a new society. SARAC is the Society Against the Roasting of Codgers, and we are its founding members.

There will of course be no cash involved, for we are only too aware of the popular practice of creating seemingly laudable ‘charities’ as a cover for decidedly un-charitable purposes. It may surprise you to learn that our dear leader’s much trumpeted ‘Big Society’ was more than political claptrap, it was an actual organisation registered with the Charity Commission. I say was because it has suddenly been wound up as Commission investigations are launched into allegations that it misused public money, and made inappropriate payments to its directors – including a Conservative Party donor. It seems that the Big Society had some rather dark secrets.

The Network, launched by David Cameron in 2010, was given at least £2.5m of lottery funding and public sector grants despite having no record of charitable activity. Two senior figures on Government grant awarding-bodies have alleged that they were pressured by Downing Street into handing over money despite reservations about the projects they were instructed to support. Liam Black, a former trustee of the charity Nesta, said they had been “forced” to hand over £480,000. Another senior figure involved in the decision to award £299,800 from the Cabinet Office said they had initially turned them down for funding but were told to “go back and make it work”.

It seems that ‘making it work’ involved some rather dubious handouts. Some of the “restricted funds” given by the Cabinet Office for a childhood obesity project were transferred to pay down the deficit of a linked company.There were allegedly also payments to two directors of the charity and its chairman, Martyn Rose, for “consultancy services”. Mr Rose helped set up the network and also contributed over £54,000 to the 2010 Conservative election campaign. Several of the staff involved with Big Society had previously worked with Conservative ministers.

Equally disturbing are the facts and figures relating to Big Society Network projects. Your Square Mile, whose supposed purpose was to enable people to improve their community, was awarded £830,000 despite Lottery Fund officials assessing the application as “weak”. The prediction was for one million signed-up groups, in fact only 64 signed on the dotted line. Britain’s Personal Best, which aimed at building on the Olympic Games by encouraging people to excel in athletic, educational or creative challenges, was given £997,960 in April 2013. It claimed it would sign up 120,000 people but in fact signed up none and was wound up within months.

Those are but two examples of the many projects funded under pressure from Government or its puppet ‘Big Society’. Clearly what happened was corrupt, clearly many genuine charities were denied funds to pay for a political stunt.In a way it illustrates what Ed Miliband was yesterday trying to say. Without doubt our dear leader is an expert in the art of presentation and spin, but what lies behind his almost weekly new launches has at best little substance and at worst yet more cronyism and paybacks.

That doesn’t solve Mr Miliband’s problem though. In our view the main reason for his poor poll ratings has little to do with his not being able to spin a good tale. It surely has more to do with the fact that people still don’t really understand what his policy is on such as the NHS, immigration and Europe.

But cheer up and not just because it’s Saturday and yet more Commonwealth Games events, or if you hale from Scouseland, more giant Grannies and horses. There still are some politicians who retain a vague awareness of just how hard life has become despite the supposed economic miracle wrought by Gorgeous George Osborne, the perpetual visitor to building sites. The so-called thigh-flasher Esther McVey is getting her feet under the desk in the Department of Work and Pensions and has already shown that she is refreshingly candid. Yesterday she refused to criticise in any way those dependent of benefits. “There but for the grace of God go I”. Benefits, she said, provide a vital service and support, and she admitted that her perspective “differs from that of some rich colleagues”. Good for her, but whether she will still be in high office if Mr Cameron wins re-election is perhaps open to doubt.

To be fair not all of Esther’s ‘colleagues’ are rich and out-of-touch. Some are just potty. Yesterday David Tredinnick recommended that astrology should be offered to NHS patients as an alternative to traditional medicine. Loopy or what? I’m less than sure having spent hours yesterday in an NHS waiting room. A group of us gradually bonded and for an hour watched a large ball of fluff bounce around in the manner if a tumbleweed. It was better that attempting to read the zillions of notices pinned on every available surface.

It was certainly better than talking about the Big Society!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “As I hurtled through space one thought kept crossing my mind – every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder”…..John Glenn.

The sleazy world of political party funding!

It is said that there are still people out there who believe that our political leaders are both honest and inspiring. Perhaps it is true, but we codgers have yet to meet any of them. Perhaps they are, like the greater spotted woodpecker, in danger of extinction. Then again it is said that like attracts like and perhaps our allotment gang’s perpetual cynicism repels the trusting in the manner of a cat-scaring device. Since these days we receive around 100 comments we will perhaps receive a whole bunch tomorrow telling of undying trust in those to be seen filling the VIP seats at the Commonwealth Games. But there are a lot of ‘perhaps’s in this paragraph!

Having cleaned out the hens, which had no wish to get-up this morning, we spent quite a while on this vexed subject, not least because gossiping involved minimum physical effort under the blazing morning sun. We were particularly intrigued by reports that Ian Taylor, one of Britain’s richest men due to the massive profits of the oil-trading giant Vitol, has donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party since 2006. His public profile is, like that of Vitol, extremely low. But he has been wined and dined by our dear leader at the flat above 11 Downing Street and, by way of an encore, has enjoyed the Prime Minister’s hospitality at Chequers. Perhaps the Tory party fundraisers missed the fact that the guest was running a company with a questionable past in Iraq, Iran and the former Yugoslavia – Reuters reported that Vitol bought two billion barrels of Iranian oil at a time of international sanctions, and Vitol had to pay $17.5m in connection with giving what Manhattan District Attorney said were ‘kickbacks’ to Iraq for oil bought under the UN oil-for-food programme.

Rather more importantly it seems that Vitol arranges its business to pay a fraction of the standard UK tax rate for its hugely profitable London operations. An investigation by the Independent newspaper has revealed that staff in London are presented as “intermediaries” when they are actually the brains that make millions of dollars in profit. This means that the profits on their trades are shifted to low-tax Switzerland. Documents reveal that over the past nine years the company has paid an average of only 10.5 per cent on its global profits, which totalled nearly £8.8bn over the period. Last year it paid 2.6 per cent global tax on profits of $846m, and company insiders have confirmed that its multimillionaire London staff are not “brokers” but actual traders whose trades are “confirmed” in Switzerland as part of the approach to the UK tax scheme.

Tax avoidance, although legal, has made the effects of the Chancellors austerity programme hit the low-paid and public services vicious in the extreme, and both Messrs Cameron and Osborne have described it as immoral. It appears that they speak with forked tongues.

The same can be said in regard to our dear leader’s attempts to persuade the EU to ratchet up the pressure on Vladimir Putin in the wake of the MH17 outrage, via sanctions against his cronies and oligarchs. Yesterday the Prime Minister was obliged to admit that Vladimir Chernukhin, who served as deputy finance minister in Putin’s government, paid £160,000 to Conservative Party funds in exchange for a tennis match with himself and Boris Johnson. Boris was characteristically honest: I know about this tennis match they volunteered me for with some geezer. It is very important full checks are carried out to make sure this is not someone who is an intimate or crony!”. Indeed.

It may be consolation to know that the Old Etonians are not alone in all this. Russian business magnate Kirill Babayev triggered a storm when he told an audience at a Moscow business conference in 2008 that inveigling ones way into the British establishment was easy. Hire a few ‘grey-haired’ members of the House of Lords to act as ‘consultants’, or non-executive directors, he said. After that, securing a UK stock market listing, signing lucrative deals with British firms, or simply getting invited to all the right London parties becomes “a piece of cake”.

The rest, as it is said, is history. The speech was leaked and became the basis for the documentary ‘Lords, Billionaires and the Russia Connection’. Today the Daily Mail publishes pictures plus chapter and verse on ‘The Knights, Peers and Royals in the pay of the oligarchs’. The Labour Party is in no position to express horror given that leading figures of the left are there amongst the mercenaries. And royals? Lord Frederick Windsor, son of Prince Michael of Kent, tells us that his father has no problem paying the £120,000 rent on his Kensington Palace apartment because he “makes an awful lot of money in Russia”.

We cannot pretend to be shocked by all this. But can we be allowed to make a suggestion to our dear leader’s speech writers? Your master is far from alone in the sea of sleaze, but a few less references to tax avoidance or punishing Russia might be sensible for the time being!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” I’m offended by political jokes. Too often they get elected!”….Will Rogers.

Put children first!

Just a few wet and cold weeks ago we codgers would never have believed that we could tire of a heatwave, but we have to admit that we are now doing exactly that. One reason is of course the constant battle to water not only the greenhouses but also the row after row of drooping beans. The other is the mounting feeling that we are auditioning for a new version of ‘Ice Cold in Alex’, in which John Mills and others spend their days in the desert dreaming of an ice-cold lager in an air-conditioned bar.

But our burden is someone else’s delight, as was demonstrated by the return of Albert from his Blackpool sojourn. That once pale face is now a deep brown and his tiny torso redder than an overripe beetroot. Even more striking is the change in his demeanour. As we cleaned out the hens this morning he was glowing with goodwill, and uncharacteristically patient with the hens which were staging a modern version of an Arthur Scargill ‘sit-in’. And they were not alone in their lethargy, when I walked down through the beaming sunflowers to the big pond armed with fish-food not one gaping mouth surfaced to do an Eric Pickles.

By the time we retired to the hut there was much mopping of ancient brows but no hot tea. Orange cordial is not a great stimulant for conversation, but our flagging energy levels soon perked up as we reflected on last night’s Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. To be honest such preludes always strike us as repetitive and over-congratulatory but this one was different. For the first time someone had come up with the innovative idea of giving the event a real purpose. Throughout the proceedings we saw images of children around the globe who are suffering deprivation and poverty, and whose young lives offer nothing but suffering and lack of opportunity. The climax involved an appeal for an instant mass donation aimed at transformation and hope for a better tomorrow. Wonderful!

It was an inspiring and unique moment, one that enabled millions of adults across the Commonwealth to remember and help the forgotten victims of want, war, exploitation and repression often in the name of religious fanaticism. We were all children once, but few of us can remember turning fearful or pleading eyes to parents who are powerless to do more than clutch the beseecher to their own breaking hearts.

As we went to bed last night it was not difficult to bring to mind so many images stamped in our memories by countless TV reports. Children with skeletal frames, children with eyes of terror in the midst of wars they cannot comprehend. What have we adults allowed to happen to the young, defenceless and innocent? Do we ever pause to look beyond the strutting politicians, mad advocates of war, greedy despots and supposedly religious leaders and ask ourselves about the fate of the children?

There are so many examples but inevitably we found ourselves reflecting on the latest one, the merciless assault being launched on the Gaza strip by Israel. Yesterday Israeli naval shelling killed four small Palestinian boys as they played on the beach, whilst terrified children cowered from missiles which brought down the buildings in which they sheltered, clutching at their mother’s hands. Some saw their parents rent asunder before being rushed to the only available hospital, which was then itself struck by lethal weaponry.

At the United Nations Human Rights Council, Israel was condemned for “disproportionate and indiscriminate” attacks and 29 member states supported a motion claiming that humanitarian law has been violated in a manner that could amount to war crimes. The United States voted against and all nine EU members abstained. They did this for political reasons but did any of them so much as pause to consider the children now mutilated, traumatised and without parents or hope of any kind?

Of course the employment of children as soldiers reflects equally badly on Hamas. But are we now so obsessed with political alliances, and proving enemies equally culpable, that we no longer care if those who have no understanding of such things, and have certainly played no part in them, are blown to pieces or maimed for life? Conflicts in which both parties believe that all blame rests with others are hard to resolve, but would they be so if children were at the top of the agenda. In this instance Israel may well have right on their side but does that justify infanticide?

Somewhere at the heart of so many conflicts are religious beliefs. In the name of a seemingly cruel God men dress up in fancy dress to claim that children must be denied education, suffer genital mutilation or be forced into child marriages. What sort of God has ordered such cruelty? The answer of course is that such madness is the invention of power-mad adults for whom an imaginary God is merely a cloak behind which to hide. God is love, anything that is other than love is man made, the product of perverted and distorted minds.

We codgers are not so naive as to imagine that one spectacular show aimed at highlighting the plight of children will suddenly transform their future. But last night’s event attracted an audience of many millions around the world and hopefully has served to put the welfare of children at the top of the international agenda. Who knows, it might even have caused President Obama, a kind father in his own life, to wonder if supporting the slaughter of kids playing on a beach is morally wrong, however well disposed his nation is to the murderers!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” More than 680 Palestinians have died as well as 30 Israelis in the past 15 days. About 74 per cent of those killed were civilians”…United Nations statement.

Double standards all round!

If anything it seems to be getting hotter. For the first time several of us reported disturbed sleep, something that bothers us more than it should since dozing off in the day rather spoils our slightly shaky image as human versions of Wilson of the Wizard. Older readers with an early passion for comics will recall that he competed in the Commonwealth Games and, at the age of 120, pocketed enough medals to fill Eric Pickles chest. Having moaned for months about the monsoons we shouldn’t complain, but it has to be said that our climate does tend toward the extremes.

In common with everyone else we codgers continue to follow the story of the shooting down of Flight MH17. Today brings pictures of a Russian-made BUK-M1 surface-to-air missile system inside the rebel-held area shortly before the Malaysian airliner crashed. It seems to confirm the obvious, only the so-called rebels had reason to be targeting planes. What is less clear is the extent to which Vladimir Putin has sway over what they actually do. As we pointed out a couple of days ago they ignored his demands for a cease-fire, and he refused to come to their aid when they were at one point besieged. It can also be argued that in bowing to international demands to stay out of the affairs of all but Crimea he conceded that the newly elected Ukraine government’s sovereign state was their affair, as was the task of controlling the motley gaggle of rebel forces.

But the fact remains that, having supported the UN resolution demanding tight control of the tragic crash site, the Kremlin has made little attempt to help enforce that. It remains our view that the UN should have backed up its unanimous ruling by forming an elite military unit to go in and secure the crash site asking Putin to contribute. At the very least it would have proved once and for all whether the Russian government was, or was not, speaking with a forked tongue. But we will never know for once again the only threat is sanctions. And right at the head of the advocates is our dear leader.

It was no surprise that the leading EU states have shied away from such a move. France have refused to cancel the delivery of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Moscow, and Germany is dependent on Russia for its oil supplies. Several other EU countries have important trade agreements with Moscow and there has been much muttering about shooting ourselves in the economic foot. There has also been much muttering about British ‘hypocrisy.

This is not without foundation. MPs warn today that at least 251 UK export licences for the sale to Russia of controlled goods – ranging from sniper rifles to night sights – remain in place despite the call from David Cameron for other EU countries to halt lucrative arms deals with the Russians. A powerful committee of MPs is calling on the Government to show “more cautious judgement” when approving exports to Russia after the value of licences rose by more than half in the past year, from £86m to £131.5m. In addition to this 52 per cent increase in the sale of standard arms a licence was also granted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for the shipping of multiple military components, including missile systems, to Russian territory. The old adage about people in glasshouses comes readily to mind!

Add to all that the fact that the Conservative Party has accepted donations, worth more than £900,000 since 2007, from Russians with links to the Putin government plus the sheltering of many Russian oligarchs in London, and it is easy to understand why the French Jean-Christophe Cambadelis yesterday called for Britain to “start by cleaning up its own backyard”.

Sadly honesty will not prevail in the matter of sanctions since they only work well if placing them does not damage the economy of the imposer. This is not easy in our interconnected global economy. In reality Russia is busy imposing sanctions on itself. The point to grasp is that the Russian economy is a one-trick pony. More than 80 per cent of its foreign exchange earnings come from pumping or digging stuff out of the ground. Oil and gas account for two-thirds of its exports, with minerals a further 15 per cent. It is even more dependent on these primary products than it was in the Soviet era, when it had substantial machinery, armaments and other manufactured goods too.

The entire worldwide supply/demand equation is now being changed by the boom in US production of both oil and gas, thanks to ‘fracking’. The US this year passes Russia as the largest producer of oil and gas combined, and the price of gas in particular looks vulnerable as the US starts to crank up exports of gas in its liquefied form – liquefied natural gas or LNG. The principal market for Russia’s oil and gas is Europe, and Europe can buy its oil from anywhere. Gas is more complicated to transport because it needs either pipelines of expensive LNG terminals to import it. In the short term nothing changes. Germany is not going to stop importing Russian gas via its Nord Stream pipeline. But in the medium term Western Europe will gradually seek to diversify away from relying on Russia. We are already doing it; the South Hook terminal in Wales can take the largest LNG tankers in the world, and the UK is now buying a lot of cheap gas from Qatar.

Russia needs the West as a market, for though it can deal with China the price will be damagingly low. It also needs Western technology to get the stuff out. One of the reasons why BP is a partner in Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, is that BP knows more about getting oil out of difficult places.

So there you have it. The sort of half-hearted sanctions being brandished by such as our dear leader will have little impact. World opinion in the longer term will determine the extent to which the West diversifies. Play their cards right and Russia could be to the EU what Canada is to the USA.

All of which explains why we codgers believe that Putin just might have seen being part of a limited duration UN force at the MH17 site as good long-term politics. Instead Western leaders have chosen hypocrisy and in that regard Vladimir Putin is a match for anyone.

But who are we to challenge the massive intellect of the audience tranquilliser Philip Hammond?
A STORY FOR TODAY (AS PROVIDED BY READER G). A little girl was selling kittens outside her gate when a cavalcade pulled up. Out stepped Ed Miliband. “A lovely idea for raising money for charity”, he said, “and are they well behaved kittens?”. “Oh yes” said the child, “and they are Labour supporters”. The delighted Ed sped off to arrange a photo shoot.

Two days later the little girl was still at the gate with her kittens. Up pulled Ed followed by crews from the BBC, ITV and Sky. The cameras rolled as Ed asked again if the kittens were well behaved. “Oh yes” said the child, “and they are Ukip supporters”. Ed recoiled. “But you said they supported Labour!”. “Oh yes”, the girl replied “but now their eyes have opened”.

Boris Johnson may pull out of tennis match with Russian ex-minister’s wife

Lubov Chernukhin made winning bid of £160,000 at Tory fundraising auction for match with mayor and David Cameron

Boris Johnson has indicated he could pull out of a tennis match that was bought at a Tory fundraising auction for £160,000 by the wife of a former minister in Vladimir Putin's government.

The London mayor is due to play a match with David Cameron and Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladimir Chernukhin, who was deputy finance minister under Putin in 2000. She won the right to play the match last month when it was auctioned off as the star lot at the Conservative summer party at the Hurlingham Club in Fulham, west London.

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Tony Blair in never-never land!

Another beautiful morning. When we arrived at the allotments the rows of sunflowers were beaming back at their God, and the masses of begonias were bathed in shining glory. At such moments we codgers are always reminded of the famous lines about Solomon in all his glory not being arrayed as such as these. It is quite a sobering thought that even in an age of a multi-billion fashion industry we mere mortals still cannot match the glorious splendour of plants that just three months ago were seeds capable of being blown away by the gentlest breeze. It always serves to reassure us that despite being scruffy we can still play a part in the creation of something that even Lady Gaga cannot outshine.

Having cleaned out the hens, and lifted another half-dozen rows of new potatoes, we settled on the wall alongside the shed for our tea and doughnut break. There was considerable amusement at the news that the officer in charge of police horses let slip the fact that Rebekah told him that the retired horse she acquired from them was for the use of David Cameron. Our hearts go out to our dear leader who this morning faces the dual task of persuading the decidedly reluctant Aunty Merkel to impose real sanctions on Vladimir Putin, plus explaining for the umpteenth time that he scarcely knew either Mrs Brooks or her horse. His life seems to be dogged by difficult women, and even the arrival of the thigh-flasher has done little to ease his burden.

But our butterfly brains soon alighted on weightier matters. Yesterday, whilst Ed Miliband was hob-nobbing with President Obama, his perpetually dark shadow Tony Blair was giving the inaugural Philip Gould lecture to a rapturous audience of former Blairites. As ever the former leader managed to convey the earnest air of a latter-day saint as he emphasised that young Ed must be prepared to leave his “comfort zone”. He wasn’t specific but there were some outside of the worshipping throng who wondered if he had one or two invasions in mind. They probably wondered too about his claim that money is not important, something so often asserted by those who have acquired enough to take over the Bank of England.

We codgers know only too well that there is much to be said for casting aside old grudges. But we find it hard to forgive our former hero for the lies he told at the time of his joint adventure with George W Bush. Millions died in the aftermath of the supposed quest for weapons of mass destruction and to his day the carnage continues in iraq, with the repercussions still haunting those charged with the security of these islands.

But peace comes at a price say those who still cling to the illusion that whilst wrong in substance, Tony Blair was right in principle. Peace? Try telling that to the people of Iraq. Yes, many were relieved to see the fall of Saddam Hussain but what they didn’t grasp was that there was no rational plan to avoid their tortured country from sliding into an age of brutality that even Saddam couldn’t match.

A few days ago we were chatting to a Church leader who has spent time in Iraq attempting to assist the large Christian community in the north. He told us that the last Christians are right now fleeing from places where their communities have lived for almost 2,000 years. All of them face a deadline for them to convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed. And this is no empty threat. Isis, the new brutal and fanatical extremist ‘army’, lives by its statement that for those who fail to comply “there is nothing to give them but the sword”. Already thousands have been slaughtered.

Isis now rules an area larger than Britain and has already ‘eliminated’ many of the ancient Christian communities of eastern Syria. Those leaving Mosul, captured by Isis on 10th June, in order to seek refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan are being stripped of all their possessions. Our informant said that every Christian stopped at a checkpoint were stripped of everything they were carrying, but it was a better fate than that of those who were executed. Meantime the ancient Christian churches have been ransacked and the ruins now fly the black banners of Isis and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self appointed Caliph and wearer of expensive Rolex watches.

The rapid elimination of Christians is not of course the only nightmare building in Iraq. Females are losing their right to education and much else, and repressive dress codes are being enforced. On the spot executions of anyone inclined to protest are commonplace and kidnappings, such as that of two nuns and three orphans when they stopped at a petrol station, are an almost daily occurrence.

None of which was the responsibility of Blair or Bush. But the carnage which they triggered achieved nothing and in retrospect has nothing to commend it. The only meagre consolation is that we learned an important lesson, we should not commit military action to societies that we simply do not understand. The idea that Iraq would hold elections with an equivalent of the Lib Dems accepting the outcome was naive beyond words.

So we codgers cannot find it in our ancient hearts to forgive Mr Blair, his copy-book is spoiled beyond any hope of a clean page.

Of much lesser moment are the deeds of the England cricketers, but they didn’t entirely escape our censure this morning. Some of us still help with schoolboy coaching and the first lesson always is that you should leave the high or wide ball alone on the grounds that if you don’t hit them you can’t be out. Yesterday a constant procession of England batsmen did and they were.

The word pathetic rent the allotments air twice this morning, but the cricketers at least will hopefully prove us wrong.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Frisbeetarianism is the philosophy that when you die, your soul goes up on a roof and gets stuck there”…George Carlin.

An odd time to slash our armed forces!

We were intrigued by the response of President Obama to the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. He supports it, he said, because it is proportionate. Heaven knows what he would regard as disproportionate – a nuclear attack perhaps? But we let the thought drift away on the warm air as we cleaned out the hens this morning. The world is becoming less safe by the day, but there is nothing we plebs can do and we have the Commonwealth Games to attend to, not to mention the dire state of the England cricket team. Just as well, for were it not so we would be inclined to ask whether the government has been entirely sensible in reducing our armed forces to the point where they would struggle to defend the Isle of Wight at a time when the whole world is becoming a powder keg.

The Middle East is dissolving into a region-wide Sunni-Shia civil war, China daily jousts at sea with its neighbours, Afghanistan’s future is uncertain, Iraq is a living hell, Islamist insurgencies multiply in Africa, Libya slides to failed statehood, a Hindu nationalist PM is elected in nuclear-armed India, home grown terrorists now threaten the UK. This morning Vice Admiral John McAnally has suggested that Britain should be restoring its armed forces, not cutting them. That’s his knighthood gone for a while, but it is a good point.

Meantime the situation in Ukraine worsens by the day, and it is impossible to imagine the distress of the relatives of those whose bodies have been desecrated by armed thugs. The response of the West has been pathetic. Cameron is typical of the various leaders in believing that threatening Vladimir Putin with sanctions against the owner of Chelsea Football Club is all that is needed to force the Russian leader to sort out the so-called pro-Russian separatists. They would do well to remember Lenin’s maxim of: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, push!”. Threatening Mr Putin with mush will have little impact.

There is another angle to consider here – are we reading the Putin attitude correctly? The first thing to recognise is that there is no way that Putin, or anyone else in the Kremlin, will have been rubbing their hands in glee. The downing of a civilian airliner over Ukraine is at least as much of a catastrophe for Russia as for everyone else. Russia is automatically blamed. But the Western assumption is that Putin controls what happens in eastern Ukraine, even if Russia has not actually invaded. But as the days pass it is not at all clear that this is so. The military hardware the rebels have at their disposal could equally have been ‘captured’ in Ukraine. And appeals from Moscow to observe a ceasefire after the Ukranian presidential election were ignored. All the signs are that since the election of President Poroshenko two months ago, Mr Putin has progressively abandoned the rebels in the east. All their appeals for Russian help have gone unanswered, and there was no assistance forthcoming when their military stronghold at Slovyansk was lost.

There is here a terrible irony. Ever since the Crimea was annexed illegally, the West has warned Russia of the consequences of invading eastern Ukraine. As Putin might see it his reward for withdrawing his troops from the border, and not doing so, has been to be held responsible for the continuing civil war that ultimately produced the atrocity. Since Thursday the West has been begging Russia to intercede and Putin might well ask whether the West wants him to accept Ukraine’s sovereignty or not.

We simply don’t know but there clearly is a possibility that, short of invasion, Putin has less control of the madmen than we choose to believe. There is only one way to find out. The United Nations flag should be used to warn what is in reality a small gaggle of rebels to immediately grant full access to the crash site or receive a visit from a powerfully armed unit of special forces from America, France, Holland, Germany and Britain. And Russia should be asked to contribute as a UN member state. This would compel Mr Putin to reveal the extent to which he is, or is not, incapable of independent action. The world owes action to the distraught relatives and if need be force must be met with force.

On second thoughts there is one amendment to that idea. Leave out Britain – sending part-time, part-trained reservists would not be appropriate.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” The disaster is being made all the more harrowing for all the families because they don’t think their loved ones, their bodies, are being treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve”…..Nick Clegg.

A disgusting lack of respect for the dead!

According to the Sunday Telegraph the whole nation is in raptures at the sheer brilliance of our dear leader’s cabinet reshuffle and, doubly so, at the progress of the infant Prince George. We codgers have always suspected that our allotment is a small nation apart and this confirms it. Our rapture is rather limited in both respects, and we like to imagine that there are others out there who this morning are preoccupied with rather more important matters than thigh-flashers and privileged babies. As you will have already gathered we were in one of our grumpy moods as we cleaned out the hens today, and even the fact that we were spared the horrendous storms did little to lighten our mood.

We make no claims to sainthood but one of our enduring beliefs is the observance of respect to the dead, something maintained even during the horrors of the first World War. From time to time the sounds of battle ceased as both sides collected their fallen comrades, thus providing evidence that even in the midst of hatred and mindless slaughter some traces of decency survived. Sadly that is not the case in the Ukraine air disaster where the behaviour of the so-called pro-Russian rebels has shocked the civilised world.

Having murdered 298 innocent passengers on Flight MH17, the rabble has cast aside even the fundamental principle of human decency that victims and their possessions should be treated with dignity. They have refused access to the site by experts, they have destroyed vital evidence and, worst of all, they have looted bodies before leaving them to rot in the hot temperature. One source has suggested that many of the thugs were intoxicated, several others that cash and credit cards have been taken from their tragic victims. One heavily armed madman was pictured waving a child’s toy in the air – human depravity is plumbing new depths.

We have to admit that at the time of the Crimea uprising we felt a grudging respect for Vladimir Putin. He was, we argued, merely responding to the will of former Russian citizens who wished to return to the authority of the nation of their birth. But now all respect has gone. On the very day that the fated airliner crashed to earth he could easily have imposed order on the site, heaven knows he has enough troops massed on the border. He could have demonstrated to the world that what had happened was never intended by the Kremlin. Instead he has stood by and allowed the basic rule of civilisation to be trampled into Ukranian soil by a foul-mouthed, drunken mob whose behaviour has destroyed any claims that they make about the barbarous treatment meted out by the Kiev government. There may yet be developments resulting from investigations, but nothing can mitigate their treatment of the mortal remains of innocent fellow human beings.

By a terrible coincidence last night’s news brought new evidence that the authorities in our own country are happy, albeit in a less overt fashion, to show total disrespect for those who are no longer with us. The police suddenly let it be known that they are to investigate a claim by a man living in Australia that the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Viscount Tonypandy, sexually abused him over forty years ago. No evidence as yet, no explanation as to why it has taken the supposed victim the best part of half a century to reveal this and no live witnesses. Yet the authorities immediately publicised the claim and instantly besmirched the reputation of a highly respected and much loved man whose ability to inspire affection was mirrored in the invitation by Prince Charles to read the lesson at his wedding. In choosing him Charles spoke of a man of great integrity.

George Thomas, a coalminer’s son from Tonypandy in Wales, was elected Speaker in 1976, and for six turbulent years which included the resignation of Harold Wilson and Jeremy Thorpe followed by the loss of an overall majority by the Labour Government, won countless admirers for his maintenance of order and mutual respect. George was a Christian Socialist and a Methodist lay preacher. His actions on behalf of others at times like the Aberfan disaster won him millions of admirers and even the most strident republicans applauded his elevation to the Lords.

None of which of course proves that the mysterious accuser is lying, but it certainly demonstrates that the same anonymity afforded the accuser should have been applied to the accused until, and if, the story proved to have any substance. Many of our Welsh friends are outraged this morning. No one who knew George Thomas believes a word of this, and they are outraged at the ease with which anyone can accuse a dead man of anything and achieve immediate headlines on BBC news programmes.

Yes, we condemn with all our strength the thugs of Ukraine. But we must never forget the looting of bodies that sullied our reputation at the time of the blitz and, now, we must add to our sense of unease an apparent willingness to destroy the reputation of public heroes without any evidence or justification.

And it seems that we are less inclined to speak ill of those who are alive. A few days ago we wrote of the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair and the report of an investigation into allegations of inappropriate indoctrination of children by Islamic extremists. The damning report has rightly led to the resignation of the Governors, but what about the teachers? Still in post. One such is Mozz Hussain, the principal of Park View, who expressed “mind-blowing” anti-American views at assemblies, and Razwan Faraz, deputy head at Nansen and the brother of a convicted terrorist. Both were part of a group whose members promoted homophobia, denial of the murder of Lee Rigby and “highly offensive comments about British Service personnel”.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Six months into the crisis in Ukraine, the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner marks a defining moment in the West’s approach to Russia. or at least it should. Mr Putin is a pariah. He must now be treated as such!”….. John Kampfner.

Madmen in Ukraine, madmen here !

It was no surprise to discover that the murder of 298 Malaysian Airlines passengers is the headline story in every newspaper this morning. We now know that 80 children perished and the pictures of their books and toys lying amongst the wreckage are desperately upsetting. According to some reports the so-called rebel soldiers looted possessions long before they allowed experts near the tragic scene. Soldiers? Scum would seem a more accurate description.

As we codgers swept the overnight monsoon deposits from the approaches to the hen-runs, we found ourselves in agreement about the identity of the murderers. The Ukraine government can be ruled out on the grounds that its enemies have no planes and Russian army missile operators have the equipment and skill to differentiate between military and civil aircraft. That leaves only the mixed bag of separatists opposing Kiev. They have been supplied with ground-to-air weaponry which they have used in recent days to target government jets and helicopters. Without doubt Vladimir Putin intended they be used as part of his covert support for extending beyond Crimea the areas won back by the Kremlin. He will have been encouraged by the pathetically weak response of the West to the Crimea take-over. What he won’t have expected was that the madmen he sees as pawns in his game would commit an act guaranteed to set the whole world against him.

What happens next is the question on everyone’s lips this morning. Suddenly a lot of nations in possession of nuclear weapons are squaring up to Russia, and none will settle for the Putin claim that had the Ukraine government established control over its citizens this would not have happened. Whilst that is undoubtedly true, the reason for the failure is the covert support of the Kremlin. Our simple prayer is that Putin will admit that in supporting those of Russian stock who refused to bow the knee to the murderous Ukraine government, he did not allow for the possibility of their attacking civilian aircraft. That would not bring back the murdered passengers, but it would prevent an escalation that could threaten world peace.

As we remarked yesterday the failure of the less than United Nations is a disaster that has given free rein to madmen who place no value on human life. If any good is to come out of this unbelievable massacre of innocents it can only come from a new worldwide realisation that arms sales are indirectly sanctioning ever greater outrages whether they be in Ukraine, Israel, Iraq or Syria. It is time to end the age of toleration.

And that must surely apply too here in Britain. If the horrors of 24/7 and Lee Rigby taught us anything it should have been that we are too tolerant of extremists, who preach the gospel of murder wrapped up in a mish-mash of supposed religion. God is good they cry, and we should ask what sort of God would condone such lunacy.

Yesterday saw the publication of reports into the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ affair, and the leader of Birmingham City Council, Sir Albert Bore, summed up our collective folly. He said: “The actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the reputation of our great city. We have previously shied away from tackling this problem out of a misguided fear of being accused of racism”.

The council report quoted a teacher allegedly telling children at Golden Hillock School “not to listen to Christians as they are all liars”. Another teacher reportedly told children they were “lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews”. At Nansen school 28 female teaching assistants were dismissed. At Oldknow Academy, children were told not to send Christmas cards and that “Mary was not the mother of Jesus.” The children were taught to chant that they did not believe in Christmas.

Various schools put up posters warning children that if they didn’t pray, they would “go to hell”.
Christmas was cancelled and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be “punished by angels from dusk to dawn”. In total the council found evidence of religious extremism in 13 schools as governors and teachers tried to promote and enforce radical Islamic values. It is from this sort of educational corruption that many young boys and girls have already found their way to more violent radicalisation.

The report finds that the blatant and dangerous extremism went unchecked because the council “disastrously” prioritised community cohesion over doing “what is right”. They are not alone. As if on cue the Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned that some universities and colleges must stop gender separation and the widespread preaching by extremists in favour of segregation.

It is time to enforce the laws of our country without fear or favour. The disaster in Ukraine has no direct connection with what is happening here, but it does provide a terrifying warning. There should be no hiding place for the disciples of terror anywhere on the globe. Tolerating such people is akin to a death sentence for innocents.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” We found evidence of coordinated, deliberate and sustained attempts to impose an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos in our schools. There were segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain of Sunni Islam”…Peter Clarke, former counter-terrorism chief, reporting yesterday.

Oh for a real United Nations!

Most of us codgers are inclined to live in our own little world from which we observe the follies of mankind as peacock-like politicians prove on an almost daily basis that in reality they are a major barrier to any sort of rational progress. They seem to us to have only one positive feature, their provision of thigh-flashing material for humour. But suddenly there is little humour in the sultry air, for yesterday’s events have cast a dark shadow born of man’s inhumanity to man.

The most appalling irony of all is that the likelihood is that those involved in the instant destruction of 295 innocent air travellers, and the merciless assault on the Gaza strip, believe that their foul deeds are carried out in the name of God, the very being to whom the distraught relatives of the murdered turn for solace in their darkest hour. It is almost as if madmen are determined to slaughter to prove that their imaginary God is in some way better than the imaginary deity of others. In the absence of any meaningful world leadership one can only despair.

Having cleaned out the hens this morning we retired to the hut in sombre mood. Someone attempted to imagine the scene on board the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, as the passengers enjoyed their coffee and gazed through the windows at a bright blue sky, seemingly safe from all worldly travails at 33,000 feet. But that cross-section of the world’s nationalities was but seconds from an instant death, and minutes later their bodies and possessions lay scattered across eastern Ukranian soil. It is early to reach conclusions but already we know that the plane was destroyed by a missile and experts tell us that the only one capable of reaching such an height was a Buk, part of a family of medium-range surface-to-air projectiles developed by the former Soviet Union. In service since 1979, it has been continually upgraded, improved and refined: it can fire missiles up to an altitude of 72,000 feet and can be launched from the ground extremely quickly.

It is believed that pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine have a Buk system and the near certainty is that the al-Qaeda element are the only logical suspects. The Ukanian government has no reason to use such weaponry given that their opponents do not use planes. It seems unthinkable that the Russian government would carry out such an outrage, not least because it would be illogical. But it has supplied such weaponry to what are supposedly pro-Russian fighters, but which in reality have attracted terrorists who see the conflict as another opportunity to wage ‘Holy war’.

Establishing the truth in such a chaotic region will not be easy, mainly because there is no world body capable of enforcing its will and maintaining the peace. The original concept behind the United Nations, when it replaced the League of Nations, was an exciting one. A small council comprising the most powerful nations on earth would act as a world police force which would deal swiftly with any aggressor. The reality has been total failure as the major members have pursued their own vested interests. Only the appearance of a threat external to our globe could ever have united them. Greed and perverted national pride quickly destroyed any hope of the UN becoming a force for good.

And not to be outdone in the killing stakes, Israel yesterday launched yet another major ground invasion of the Gaza strip, having already killed large numbers of innocents by the use of missiles. We are not so one-eyed as to imagine that the blame for this unending conflict lies wholly with Israel, but the fact remains that it has huge superiority in weaponry and seems unprepared to show mercy to vast numbers of people whose support for Hamas is tenuous at best. And Israel’s backers, the United States, show no inclination to order restraint.

The dream of an all-powerful United Nations is all that we have. If only America, Europe, Russia and China could find common cause Ukraine, Gaza and all the other blood-soaked areas of the world could be policed by a force infinitely too strong to be defied. Fantasy? Then that merely shows just how rapidly the human race is heading toward its own destruction. Alarmist? Remember that more and more countries are building nuclear arsenals!

Even we codgers cannot reasonably claim that all politicians are weak or evil. There are undoubtedly good men and women amongst them. But even they seem afraid to stand up for what they believe in. A small example is provided this morning by Ed Miliband. He has gone to great lengths to avoid accusations that he is planning to ‘re-nationalise’ the railways. This despite evidence that the state-owned Eastern Rail is efficient, and provides the treasury with a handsome profit return. Yet the vast majority of the electorate tell pollsters that they favour the sort of state-ownership operating across Europe.

Given such timidity at the bottom of the worldwide political structure the possibility of world unity is distinctly unlikely in what is becoming a world of hatred and tears.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “Israel’s bombardment of Gaza amounts to a deliberately disproportionate form of collective punishment” ….Nick Clegg.

All in a (shabby) day’s work!

There are these days consultants in every conceivable subject ranging from splitting the atom to making battleships from bog rolls. But this morning’s headline-grabber is a Consultant in Heatwave Management, a subject surely requiring only part-time attention in our island. But today is his moment, and we are blessed with the benefit of years of study. We ‘older people’ must stay indoors. Being rebellious by nature we old codgers risked our lives by carrying out the usual hen-cleaning and bean-picking, so if this page is blank tomorrow you will know that our imposing torsos and giant brains have melted in the manner of a Mars bar placed in a microwave.

It being before the expert predicted peak danger time of 11.00am, we were still un-melted when we retired to the hut for our latest study of Esther McVey’s thighs. The new saviour of this embattled isle certainly fulfilled her remit to achieve a high profile for our dear leader’s press groupies have shots of her visiting bicycle factories, wind farms, pig-breeding farms and more TV and radio stations than we knew existed. Alongside her wondrous presence David Cameron positively glowed at his coup. Sexism it may be but one has to acknowledge that he would not have enjoyed as much attention had he been accompanied by Eric Pickles, who shows a marked reluctance to indulge in thigh-flashing.

But a glance at the morning papers may have dented the PM’s optimism about having won over the female voters. At least one of them appears less than enamoured with him. Mrs Gove (Sarah Vine) has gone on air to describe his demotion of her beloved as a: “Shabby day’s work which Cameron will live to regret”. Since, according to the leading commentators, the Gove move was engineered by George Osborne as part of his leadership bid it is hard not to feel sympathy for our dear leader who has made a point of steering clear of any decision on everything bar the name of the new Number Ten cat. But he has doubtless alerted Inspector Knacker to this dire threat.

The poor man has trouble enough without this. His announcement that Lord Hill is our new EU commissioner has caused more confusion than the late Stanley Unwin was ever capable of. The majority of people, including us, assumed that it was the Lord Hill that at one time regularly delivered health advice in a fruity voice as the Radio Doctor. It was only when we worked out that he would by now be 120 years old that we suspected that there is another Lord Hill. A check on Google revealed that this one is, like the PM, a former PR guru whose only utterances to date have been centred on a marked disdain for Brussels. Never mind, he should find solace in the company of Nigel Farage.

Shabby? Whatever the truth about the sudden pricking of the Gove balloon, it does seem apt since the day brought news of yet another Conservative donor who in return for handing over £50,000 has won exclusive access to the ‘Leader’s Group’, a body that provides meals and cosy chats with Cam and Sam. On the day that Jeremy Hunt admitted that there are “far too many” failing care homes, it emerged that the latest recruit to the favoured ones is Ravinder Gidar, a director of Gold Care Homes. The Care Quality Commission has taken enforcement action, which is reserved for serious or repeated breaches of regulations, against two of Gold Care’s homes. The move follows the refusal of a local authority to place elderly people in their care.

According to investigations by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Independent newspaper one-third of the Tory donor’s homes failed to meet basic standards in the most cent inspections. Residents were found “lying naked in their own urine and had not been helped despite being in visible distress”. Gold Care Homes made pre tax profits in 2013 of £1.31m, after the four directors had withdrawn £1.23m from the company in remuneration.

In a statement issued by its lawyers the company said that action plans are in place and are being implemented. Perhaps the time has come for all three mainstream political parties to stop havering on the need to reform party funding. It is bad enough that in exchange for money wealthy businessmen can gain direct access to, and influence over, ministers who are the custodians for public money. It is even worse that some of them appear to make financial gain at the expense of the misery of others. And why do the parties need so much money for election campaigns? The likelihood is that the vast majority of their election broadcasts, brochures, billboards etc have no influence whatsoever on a public disillusioned with the constant flow of lies and childish abuse.

Equally shabby were the latest claims that the government is getting tough with tax avoiders. No one believes that, neither will they until Amazon and all the other business giants are denied use of offshore ‘offices’ to process their invoices. And even the dashing Chancellor himself has shown a marked reluctance to refute the claims by 38 Degrees that he is an “artful dodger”.

But maybe none of this was what Mrs Gove had in mind as shabby. Perhaps she is planning a more specific retribution. Just in case our dear leader might be well advised to send for Fox and Werrity, those world-renowned specialists in defence.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Rich Englishmen really aren’t interested in talking to you unless you’ve been to school or to bed with them”….Lady Nancy Keith.