Truth is as rare as hen’s teeth !

Every life requires the occasional period of measured calm, and our dose for today arrived early. No rain, no wind and the absence of Albert, who was engaged in terrorising his dentist, combined to make our hen-cleaning work a soothingly relaxed experience. Even the hens seemed less inclined to squabble in this pause in the perpetual rage of the elements. Undoubtedly outside of our little kingdom millions were tearing their hair out in traffic jams before arriving breathless at work, but suddenly we were in a silent time-warp where only the angry calls of the magpies reminded us that we are not alone.

The result was that there was no unseemly rush to reach the allotments hut. Instead we drifted in little groups, chattering as we slouched. My companions were mulling over last night’s Premiership results, and the latest example of Arsenal stumbling in the final strait. But what happens on the pitch in the so-called beautiful game was not the only topic. Even those of us addicted to the laddish culture of football are truly shocked by the story of former England star Adam Johnson. His name is now a stain on the game, his conduct has caused Sunderland fans to cringe at the memory of chanting his name. He has become a sickening symbol of football’s arrogance, sexual excess and dishonesty.

Perhaps this is just one of many such episodes. Certainly the potential exists – immature young men suddenly find themselves pocketing untold riches to perform before hordes wanting no more than to wear their names and clamber for their attention. Many of those are children for whom the overnight millionaires are role models. And the people supposedly in charge have but one interest – to overlook every aspect of their development and behaviour in the pursuit of the winning of matches. Sunderland management have a lot of explaining to do, and they are surely not alone.

By now we had gathered in the hut and, perhaps inevitably, the question of honesty and integrity emerged as the theme for today as we enjoyed our undeserved breakfast. Several of my fellow codgers, in a desperate attempt to defend their beloved sport, pointed out that football is far from alone in being a stranger to the truth. Yesterday Sir Michael Rose no less provided ammunition. He was summoned to appear before the Commons Treasury Committee to answer charges of “scandalous abuse” of ten-year old statistics to claim that EU membership is worth £3,000 to every UK family. The former Marks and Sparks boss appeared unable to answer questions, and eventually admitted that he had not read all the documents from which his claim was derived.

Asked why he had failed to quote from the ancient documents the net ‘disbenefits’ the head of the ‘Remain’ campaign seemed lost for words. If truth be told we suspect that an honourable man has become infected by the overall tenure of what is arguably the most important campaign to face the British people for decades. Every day the respective camps pour forth threats, most of which are clearly lies or inventions. Today we are told that outside of the EU we have no protection against external security threats. The reality is that, despite cuts, we are still the most powerful military nation amongst a Union of pygmies. Only Nato and the United States offer us the security we need.

We all face the responsibility of deciding the nation’s future. Given that we are clearly going to be fed distorted facts and invention that is going to be mission impossible. And behind the Westminster doors great effort is being devoted to preventing the promulgation of true facts. Yesterday the government was compelled by a public outcry to backtrack on its hastily drawn up plans to make major changes to the Freedom of Information Act. Even as things stand the Independent Commission has drawn attention to delays in responding to requests often lasting “several years”. Truth, it would seem, is not something that ministers regard as being intended for what our dear leader refers to as “ordinary people”.

Discussions along these lines invariably end up with Jeremy Hunt. He has managed to achieve a total breakdown in relations between the government and the medical profession by choosing to wage war on junior hospital doctors. He is right to be concerned about variations in mortality rates in the NHS, but wrong to jump to simplistic conclusions and try to extend cover over the weekend without committing funding and staffing to it. What he hasn’t told us is that a report from the Department of Health suggests that equal NHS cover over seven days would need 7,000 more nursing and ancillary staff, an extra 1,600 consultants and 2,400 junior doctors.

He has also forgotten to mention a report from Dr Michael Farquar, a consultant in Sleep Medicine. This warns that the proposed shift rotas for junior doctors runs a risk of “increasingly jet-lagged doctors, more likely to make mistakes while carrying out tasks which require high levels of attention and judgement”. At the very least, says Farquar, new rotas need to be “properly trialled”. That view is strongly supported by evidence written for the National Audit Office by the Cass Business School which expresses “serious concern about the stress and fatigue of junior doctors on shift work”.

In his haste to achieve “victory” Hunt has imposed an unworkable and dangerous contract. It is perhaps pertinent to remind him of one very relevant fact. No western democracy has attempted to provide a high quality, safely staffed service at less that 8 percent of GDP. The NHS gets 6.8 percent and needs an additional 1.2 percent to recover. That involves an increase in National Insurance contributions.

Amongst Mr Cameron’s ‘ordinary people’ one meets many totally honest souls. Sadly the number to be found amongst the more powerful politicians, business leaders and sporting icons is on a par with hen’s teeth!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The EU referendum is a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. Given the real facts, members should make their choice on what they want for their children and grandchildren”…. John Longworth, British Chambers of Commerce.
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Adam Johnson guilty of sexual activity with a child

Former England footballer found guilty of one count of sexual activity with schoolgirl, but cleared of second count

The footballer Adam Johnson is facing the prospect of five years in jail after being found guilty of sexual activity with a 15-year-old schoolgirl.

The former England footballer was cleared of another count in which she was alleged to have performed a sex act on him.

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Leave well alone !

In the view of the Met Office the meteorological Spring is with us. Our sanity was saved the morning as a result of our deciding that ours will begin on March 20th, the Vernal Equinox, for this morning was winter at its worst. We arrived at the allotments in a hail storm, and in no time at all our first snow of 2016 provided the main course. Captain Scott would have been proud of us as, resembling ruptured penguins, we cleaned out the coops before the hens scuttled back inside them. If this wasn’t bad enough I then made the mistake of volunteering to fetch our corn supply.

I should have echoed the famous words of Oates about being gone for some time. I was already on the M6 slipway before I realised that I was trapped in what the Highways Authority refers to as difficult traffic flow. In fact it didn’t flow at all, and I spent what felt like eternity parked behind a vehicle which proclaimed that “We never stop in our search for perfection”. I eventually wearied of its stifling proximity, and resorted to my mirror and the opportunity to watch a demonstration of eyebrow-plucking being diligently carried out by the young lady in the car nestling behind mine. It has to be said that all of my immobile neighbours seemed relaxed and resigned to their fate. Once again some halfwit had decided to drive too fast in poor visibility and to hell with the rest of us.

Eventually we moved off in the manner of tortoises on a Stag do, and passed the villain of the piece in earnest “I was only doing 50” conversation with the police. Our supplier chastised me for arriving late and, when I eventually returned to my colleague who had by now devoured the last crumb of our Eric Pickles breakfast, they did likewise.

I picked up on the tail-end of their discussion about Amazon. The American giant, which has already put most bookshops out of business, has apparently now joined forces with the supermarket Morrisons. We will now be able to order our fresh food on line via the Amazon Pantry delivery service – presumably the first shot at adding to the internet destruction of the retail trade. In fairness it has to be said that Amazon is incredibly efficient and Tesco and the rest will need to sharpen up. But for us there is one major problem – by supposedly invoicing via Luxembourg, Amazon avoid corporation tax on profits. So if Gorgeous George and his treasury pals continue to turn a blind eye to tax avoidance they will in due course end up with income in the didly-squat category.

The other grouse I picked up on as I sulked about my lost repast, was the old one of nuisance calls. Being regularly called from ladders to hear an automated voice advising me on Payment Protection Insurance mis-selling claims I was delighted to learn that the originators, Prodial Limited, has been fined £350,000 by the Information Commissioner. The company was based at the
house of the mother of one of its directors, before being sold on to business partner Phil Carrington for £40,000. More than 46 million people have been bombarded as part of the scam, despite the fact that it is illegal to make cheap recorded marketing calls to people who have not consented to receive them.

So one of the parasites who earn fortunes by annoying millions and exploiting the vulnerable has gone. But there are many others, and all of us would help to bring about their demise by registering our numbers with the Telephone Preference Service on 0345 070 0707. The service is free and allows consumers to opt out of unsolicited telesales calls. It is a more calming method of eliminating rodents than that used by Albert, which involves a good deal of yelling and words that his mother didn’t teach him.

But the main target for our wrath this morning was Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. He was but the latest minister to tell us yesterday that he has “radical plans to scale back the size and ambitions of the BBC”. The chant is becoming intensely annoying, not least because even asthmatic ants know what is really going on. At the time of the Murdoch BSkyB bid his close friends Messrs Cameron and Osborne were poised to nod the anti-Beeb plan through when the Milly Dowler scandal rocked the Digger’s boat. Since then we have read many a report of clandestine dinner parties, and favours ranging from the loan of horses to private jets.

None of which would matter too much if it wasn’t for the constantly repeated lie that the great British public desires nothing more than the replacement of the state broadcaster by commercial television and radio. Last week the results of a review commissioned by the Government revealed that the public overwhelmingly believes that the BBC provides value for money, helps raise broadcasting standards, and should not be cut back in size or scope. Just 2 per cent said otherwise.

Not surprisingly the BBC Trust was quick to claim that “The public has spoken loud and clear”. Not surprisingly ministers were quick to smear the findings which were, they said, “influenced by left-wing campaign groups”. Just how patronising and ridiculous can they get in the cause of Rupert?

We codgers value the Beeb. There is no deeply held intellectual reasoning behind this. We simply like our news to be uninfluenced by politicians – the fact that both the Conservative and Labour Party claim that the BBC is biased reassures us. We also hate ads. A few nights ago ITV screened an excellent portrayal of Churchill’s declining years, starring Michael Gambon. We watched it last night, having recorded it. Each time meerkats or a fat geezer with a waxed moustache appeared we pressed fast-forward. Continuity was maintained, and thirty minutes cut off the viewing time.

Maybe you like ads. But either way ask yourself this. Is it right that decades of state-owned broadcasting should be cast aside simply to enable a tiny number of rich cronies of the government to acquire undue and potentially corrupt influence over the British people?
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Once again the public have spoken loud and clear. It’s very important that the Government takes full account of this evidence”…. BBC Trust.
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Blair – the truth is out !

Welcome to the first day of what the Met Office regards as the meteorological Spring! Hopefully its first morning is not a portent of things to come, for before we were even half way through cleaning out the bedraggled hens we were wetter than Darcy in that memorable scene, and a good deal less appealing in appearance. Being a superstitious bunch we decided against a monsoon laden omen, and postponed our opening of the long-awaited season to the equinox. And so another miserably wet morning became nothing more than the tail-end of a wretched winter. Like the Downing Street spin-doctors we are not averse to a U-turn.

In no time at all we were inside the warm and dry hut, which quickly resembled a Turkish bath as the steam from us, our piping hot Yorkshire tea and Albert’s foul pipe combined to produce a reminder of Dickensian films where Fagin can never see beyond the end of his false nose. We wiped the steamed up windows and gazed in despair at the mini-lakes covering the ground that was to have been the scene of our first March plantings. Perhaps it was meant to be, suggested Tom as he rubbed his aching back. It was a good enough rationalisation for the rest of us, and we sat back to devour both the daily comics and enough sugar to see us summoned before our GPs – if we still had any.

In fact the first report to catch our eye involved the medical profession, nurses to be precise. It seems that our local hospitals have over 2,000 unfilled nursing posts and right now are carrying out a recruitment drive in the Philippines. Meantime they are spending money they haven’t got on enriching agencies. Apparently the number of British youngsters taking up nursing has plummeted as a result of the decision to discontinue the Department of Health funding of university fees in favour of student self-funding. This inevitably leads to a debt on qualification of around £50,000 – a formidable burden given a nurse’s initial salary of £21,000. The subject was aired on last night’s ‘Inside Out’ programme on BBC1, but Jeremy Hunt declined to be interviewed. Perhaps he is as mystified as the rest of us.

Our attention flicked on to the latest threats of doom from our dear leader who is maintaining his record of a daily prophecy about the misfortunes that await us should the great British public decide to jump from the loving arms of Aunty Merkel. Today the farmers are in his sights. If we leave they will lose their annual subsidies of £3bn. Sadly he forgot to mention that we currently pay £6bn each year to the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Doesn’t that mean that should we leave, the UK taxpayer could still pay the subsidies and save £3bn into the bargain? Never mind, tomorrow there are to be official warnings that invaders from outer space will arrive here once we are no longer protected by the EU little green men early warning system is denied us.

It was at this moment that we spotted the coverage of a biography by acclaimed investigative journalist Tom Bower, which is this week being serialised in the Daily Mail. Entitled ‘Broken Vows’ the book does what the Chilcot inquiry into the invasion of Iraq has failed to for six years. The story it tells is a shocking one.

Bower reveals that Prime Minister Blair kept his invasion plans hidden from most of his Cabinet and senior civil servants, because he did not want his true intentions to leak out. He ignored pleas to make proper plans for post-war Iraq, saying that “the Americans have it all sewn up”. He attempted to get rid of senior military figures such as Admiral Boyce who questioned the plan. He told MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove, to bring raw intelligence straight to him as he tried to strengthen the case for regime change. He told Sir Richard, who helped to compile the notorious ‘dodgy dossier’ on Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, “Richard, my fate is in your hands”.

In March 2002, Mr Blair’s adviser David Manning briefed the British Ambassador in Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, that the prime minister favoured ‘regime change’ – and that failure wasn’t an option. Yet, at a Cabinet meeting on March 7, Mr Blair spoke only of bombing Iraq. In July Mr Blair denied to Parliament that any decision had been taken. But in private he had committed to war. He told President Bush that “We will be with you come what may”. Manning told him: “You can’t say that because you’re committing the British Army to an invasion which no one else knows about” – Mr Blair was unmoved.

Most catastrophic of all was the prime minister’s decision not to allow the military to begin planning for invasion for fear of ‘leaks’. Bower points out that British soldiers later died because of the lack of sufficient body armour and appropriate vehicles.

Clearly we cannot do justice to what is an exhaustive and lengthy book. But we are astonished that despite all the resources poured into Chilcot, it has taken a journalist to unearth so much damning evidence. Some of the people who were close to Downing Street at the time have already responded, and we were particularly intrigued by a comment from Andrew Turnbull, who was at the time about to take over as Cabinet Secretary. He looks back and says: “I wouldn’t call it a lie. ‘Deception’ is the right word. You can deceive without lying, by leaving a false interpretation uncorrected”.

Read the detail and judge for yourself. Pause to note such things as the first draft of the 2002 dossier by John Scarlett’s Joint Intelligence Committee which admitted there was “very little intelligence” about Saddam’s WMD programme. Then note a sharp shift when just two weeks later the comment had changed to “Iraq could produce more biological weapons within days…and nerve agents within months”. Then note Alastair Campbell’s demand to Blair’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell that the first report required a “substantial rewrite…it has to be revelatory”.

Our impression is one of sickening lies, serial deceit and blood on the hands of a man holding the highest office in the land.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: “The Iraqi military are able to deploy these weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of the decision to do so”…..Scarlett dossier comment fed to media and not contradicted by the Prime Minister.
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A leap in the not so dark !

Had it not been for the sight of beautiful maidens waiting on bended knee when we arrived at the allotments we codgers would have forgotten that today is the only one in four years when ladies are permitted to seek out the men of their dreams. As you will gather our fervid imaginations were in overdrive by Monday morning standards today. It was probably down to yet another dry morning after what the Met Office tells us was the wettest winter recorded since Julius Caesar decided that the toga was not a dress for all seasons. Either way it was a pleasant diversion from fretting about being members of Gorgeous George’s Northern Powerhouse, whilst living in an area named this morning as providing the 24 towns and cities in greatest decline.

But it seems to be inevitable that what we see bears little resemblance to what we hear from our dear leader and his fellow politicians. As we settled in the hut for a repast that would have made Eric Pickle’s eyes water, we spotted a classic example in this morning’s comics. According to the latest figures from the EU’s own Eurobarometer optimism about the future of the Union amongst its member states has plummeted to new depths. In France 52% of the population see the ‘club’ as a “failure”. Germany clocks in at 48% and smaller countries are even more pessimistic with such as Greece at 63%, Cyprus 58% and Austria 56%. There are rosier figures, notably in Poland and Romania, which report low levels of disillusion at 21%. We think we can work out the reason for that.

Now we are really confused. isn’t this the very institution which our dear leader tells us is our only hope of survival? It is indeed, but it seems that vast numbers of our fellow Europeans are clamouring to get out at the very moment when many of us are clamouring to stay in. On the latter point we can tell you that over the past few days we codgers have conducted our own very unscientific survey. Each of the twelve of us undertook to ask thirty people chosen at random for their views. The collective result is interesting.

A relatively small number said that, in roughly equal measure, they have already decided. Their totals balanced out. But the vast majority said that they are undecided, and do not trust politicians of any political persuasion. And they resent the daily outpourings of threats, most of which are so infantile as to comprise an insult to the intelligence of a demented ferret. It seems that what people want are objective assessments, something notably absent thus far.

Even this amateurish mini-survey prompted us to take a closer look at the fear-tactics being used. Arguably the most dramatic was Friday’s ‘letter’ from a group of ex-Generals warning us that ‘Brexit’ would render us vulnerable to attack from everyone from Isis to Vladimir Putin. Within hours of the letter’s publication signatories such as Sir Michael Rose had demanded apologies since they had not so much as seen the document, and others had claimed that it was the work of civil servants whose knowledge of defence was akin to that of Aston Villa.

Hot on their heels came articles from people such as Col Richard Kemp, the recent army commander in Afghanistan. He argues passionately that of all the arguments in favour of leaving the EU, defence is the most clear. Most EU members lack of commitment to defence is shown by their low spending – no other country equals the amount the UK spends in absolute terms, or as a percentage of GDP. Nato is the only military alliance and there is no suggestion that we would leave that. By leaving, argues Col Kemp, we would gain control over our borders and be better placed to confront those with “the potential to undermine the very fabric of our society”.

This is an important decision even though there are significant signs of the whole EU structure disintegrating. What we really find astonishing is the talk about the British people “leaping into the dark, being subject to profound shocks, being incapable of standing alone, of being too small”. If David Cameron really believes this it is, to quote Iain Duncan Smith, surprising that he would wish to run such a pathetic country.

At this point in the conversation many of my pals expressed great concern that anyone so much as contemplating a leap into the not-so-dark could be seen as anti-European. As our favourite madman has rightly pointed out it is entirely logical to love Europe, its culture, and its people whilst wishing to leave a Fifa-like bureaucracy that many of them now hold in contempt. Boris isn’t always right, but on this he talks sense.

There are months of this tortuous campaign to come, but we are weary of it already, and today we resolved to put it back in its box and to close the lid. We will reopen it only when both sides begin to treat us all as intelligent human beings. Meantime if our dear leader wishes to destroy the Conservative Party by threatening such as Michael Gove that is his affair.

Meantime we prefer to fill our heads with real threats, such as the fact that 14.4 per cent of our secondary schools already have excess pupil numbers, whilst many more are at the limit. An additional 300,000 young people are set to enter by 2020 and there is a real risk of their not being able to be find a place.

Unless ministers begin to pay attention that is a real risk of a leap into the dark, rather than an imaginary one!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” I see Nato as the cornerstone of our security – not the EU. It works very well and I don’t see any need for a smaller organisation to usurp the role already carried out by Nato, which has a global reach”….Captain William Carver, Veterans for Britain, who completed two tours in Afghanistan.
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