Suffer the little children !

The images of one tragic little boy have changed everything. For a long time now we have seen pictures of desperate people attempting to flee the brutal chaos of Syria, but it has taken that one picture of the limp body of a child being carried from the water to bring home to us all the fate of families for whom any escape, however dangerous, is better than the nightmare of attempting to survive murderous madmen and indiscriminate bombing. The mental scars will never heal, neither will the experience of escaping in the supposed care of smugglers, who abandon them to the cruel seas.

This morning we codgers remembered our long-gone days at Sunday School and those evocative lines instructing us to suffer the little children and forbid them not. For so long they have laid buried in our subconscious minds beneath an ever-growing concern about our population growth and open borders for EU citizens. But the fate of that little boy has brought us awake. These are not people deciding to seek better wages, homes or benefits. They are fellow human beings with only one possibility of staying alive, and we cannot pass by on the other side.

Our PR expert turned Prime Minister can usually be relied upon to read the public mood. This morning he faces a U-turn of monumental proportions. He has no alternative to creating a safe haven to accept a quota of desperate people. Of course it will only represent salvation for a tiny proportion, but someone has to follow the example of Germany in demonstrating compassion.

But the harsh reality is that once the floodgates are opened the flood will grow. The only lasting solution lies in facing up to the source of the human tragedy. The Kurdish enclave of Kobani in north-east Syria, once the home of Aylan al-Kurdi and his family, is largely in ruins after a four-and-a-half month siege by Isis fighters that ended in January. It was the scene of one of the greatest victories in Kurdish history, but a pyrrhic one that saw 300,000 Syrian Kurds flee. Isis may have been driven back, but Kobani enclave remains a desolate, ruined and very dangerous place. Some 70 per cent of the city was destroyed in the fighting by Isis suicide bombs and mortars, Kurdish counter-fire, and US air strikes using 500 and 2,000lb bombs to supposedly smash Isis positions. In most of Kobani City there is no water or electricity supply, and retreating Isis forces have booby-trapped many of the shattered buildings. And now the prospect of a counter-attack looms large.

The family of little Aylan, and thousands like them, faced a straight choice between starvation and probable death or a potentially fraught escape route. Who amongst us would have hesitated? And so long as the rest of the world continues to imagine that bombing will stop Isis more and more families will take the last-chance option. There is only one real option open to the EU, America and the other major powers – intervention on the ground. We cannot sit idly by hoping that the Kurds can single-handedly stop the fanatics and their British recruits, we should be demanding that the UN musters a modern army capable of ending this reign of terror once and for all. This is not an Iraq with its imaginary weapons of mass destruction, this is a war in which a frenzied rabble is terrorising the innocent, and only one response will stop them.

Sadly the British government has decimated our armed forces, but we should at least be prepared to make the best contribution we can to a multi-national response. We have a choice. We can either act to restore peace in the homelands of people like Aylan, or we can sit on our hands awaiting violence on our own streets as the madmen amongst us become ever more emboldened.

But the leadership of our once proud islands is no longer made of the stuff of Churchills. Why is that? Having cleaned out the hens we settled in the hut and found the answer in Jeremy Paxman’s ‘The Political Animal’. He makes the point that when a Prime Minister selects his government he has first to exclude from consideration the clapped out, the unproven, the unreliable, the hostile, the inept and the unstable. He will also wish to exclude those who may conspire against him. This leaves him with a very small group indeed from which to select his ministers. Then you must add in the need to ‘reshuffle’ with a view to weeding out his potential enemies and rivals. Take a glance at the post of Transport Minister and you will find that over the past twenty-nine years there have been twenty-one different ministers. By the time they have worked out what it is they are in charge of they are gone.

Many years ago parliament was not filled with career politicians. Every new parliament included a sprinkling of retired Generals, Doctors, Lawyers etc. They actually brought real experience and expertise to the table. It seems a reasonable assumption that given the presence of such we would not now be floundering in a sea of indecision and politically correct appeasement.

And the world would not be witnessing innocent children being carried from the sea.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” WE want the whole world to see this so that they can prevent the same from happening to others. Let this be the last!”…. Abdullah al Kurdi, father of Aylan.

Murdoch prepares to renew his BBC onslaught!

We find it increasingly difficult to shut our eyes to the daily pictures of the appalling plight of refugees fleeing persecution in Syria. Mothers desperately trying to stop their babies from drowning, people being left to suffocate in the backs of lorries, children’s bodies being washed to shore – the world stands by and allows cries for help to go unheeded. Whilst we doubt the claim by Citizens UK that large numbers are prepared to open their homes to families on the run from terror, we find entirely credible the petition calling for the creation of a UK “safe haven”.

Sadly the reality is that Britain alone cannot resolve this nightmare, and even a concerted response from the EU could well result in millions more joining the exodus. The only real answer is full-scale intervention by UN forces in Syria, and the chance of that is remote. We should at least make a gesture but to do more would require a much tougher line on EU immigrants flooding here simply for a “better life”. In a strange way the failure of the EU to act is leading inexorably to the need to reintroduce border controls. We can never recall a situation so desperate yet for which no obvious answer is available.

As if to add to our depression, this morning’s papers bring news of a new opinion poll by IpsosMori. It reports that 58 per cent of Scots now say that they would vote for independence if a referendum were to be held tomorrow. That represents a significant shift from the outcome of the 2014 referendum, a result influenced by the now infamous pledge by Cameron, Miliband and Clegg which unsurprisingly has proved to be so much hot air. And now the haggis men face rule by a Tory party with only one Scottish MP. Nicola Sturgeon responded with delight to the “sensational” poll, the rest of us should worry about the potential breakup of the Union. But at least we wouldn’t need to perpetuate the archaic Westminster bubble.

We cleaned out the hens and retired to the hut for our brew, but even this failed to break the sense of impending doom and gloom. But this was undoubtedly heightened by the loss of our small army of young visitors now restored to the arms of their teachers. By the time we reached for our doughnuts we began to reflect that things could be worse. We could be in the boots of our dear leader. He has to wrestle with the conflicting signals that the number one concern of the electorate is now immigration offset by an equally passionate desire to open the door to refugees. He has to face the possibility of being the Prime Minister that presided over the breakup of the United Kingdom. And he has to face the prospect of the return of Rebekah Brooks and the inevitable daily reminders of the role he and his Chancellor played in the News Corp takeover affair, a corrupt collaboration only stalled by the breaking of the ‘hacking’ scandal.

Yesterday Jacqui Hames, a former police officer and ‘Crimewatch’ presenter, led a chorus of disbelief. “It’s beyond parody and not the actions of a company with any willingness to put the past behind them, it’s just business as normal”, he said. Evan Harris, director of press reform group ‘Hacked Off’, said that Ms Brooks had revealed herself to be an “incompetent executive” who was “unaware of industrial-scale criminal wrongdoing”. Certain it is that the re-appointment contradicts the public relations narrative of News UK over the past two years, when it has stressed its desire to reform its culture through new editors, new senior executives, a new logo and even a new headquarters.

Out with the new and back to the old. And that means only one thing. Rupert Murdoch has summoned Ms Brooks back to lead his newspaper business in its fight against the BBC. And to renew his stranglehold on their influence on their friends in government who are happy to pay whatever price is necessary to enjoy the support of their editors and to finish off the state-owned broadcaster, the only unbiased access to the news still available.

Even as we write our dear leader is probably resuming his ‘LOL’ notes to Rebekah seeking advice on what action he should take on immigration and the rest.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought!”…. Simon Cameron.

Remain or leave ?

Puddles everywhere, and not a drop to drink. The former because September celebrated its arrival by proving the allotments with an overnight mini-monsoon, the latter because United Utilities have had us boiling water for the past three weeks. We codgers will never understand the supposed logic behind privatising the supply of water, and the performance and charges of the only supplier available do nothing to convince us.

And as we splashed about in the hen runs we extended our cynicism to the so-called Big Six energy suppliers. Yesterday it emerged that they have all dropped their green energy tariff. The consumer collective ‘The Big Deal’ described the decision as an “appalling abdication of responsibility”. It is certainly a major blow to the campaign to persuade customers to switch to energy suppliers providing zero-carbon electricity. But for us it is yet more evidence that the supposed competitors are in reality a cartel. How can there ever be real competition between six companies that act as one in all things? Unlike water it is clearly possible to derive benefits as a result of competition on power supplies, but only if the potential sources are actually competing with each other. The fact that this money-making charade has gone on for so long has destroyed any faith we had in the regulators responsible for monopolistic behaviour. If this goes on for much longer they will need to emulate Julian Assange in staging an escape from their luxurious offices dressed as Coco the clown.

But by the time we reached the dry hut our attention had switched to the news that our dear leader has, in his infinite wisdom, agreed to change the wording of the EU referendum question from “yes” or “no” to “remain” or “leave”. That must means that he believes that the new words improve his chances of avoiding the stigma of being the Prime Minister that took us out of Europe. Perhaps he has reflected on the experience of his hero Tony Blair who asked the North-east if it wanted its own regional assembly complete with elected mayors. The response suggested that given the opportunity to cry No the masses find it irresistable. Who knows? But one thing is for sure – selling the idea of continuing as members of a club that provides an ever-increasing population will require all of Mr Cameron’s undoubted PR skills.

We remain indifferent to the supposed attraction of Brussels and its zillions of regulations. But we are very aware of the annual £15 billion that the UK pours in. Some local enterprises who have received EU grants extol its virtues, seemingly unaware that the money has reached them indirectly from their own pockets. Others talk of the importance of trade links, seemingly unaware that we buy more from Europe than we sell to it. Yet more talk of the need for wider unity, but we have seen little of that in evidence over the migrant crisis.

All of which may suggest that we have made our minds up. Not so. All we want is an informed debate setting out in words of one syllable the advantages that non-Euro members derive from membership of the world’s most expensive club. Whether the eventual campaign will provide enlightenment is another matter. Lord Sainsbury and others have poured money into the “Remain” campaign preparations but as yet it has no clear leader. In the other corner stand the ‘Business for Britain’ group, supported by anti-EU Tories and a few Labour politicians, and a rival ‘The campaign group funded by Ukip donor Arron Banks. Again there is as yet no clear leader and the antis will have sighed with relief at the refusal by Nigel Farage to play the role, given that he would be too divisive a figurehead by far.

It would be nice to believe that the competing advocates will run an honest campaign putting the interest of Britain above all else. It would also be naive. They are certain to be politicians – enough said. We suspect we will hear a lot about the supposed dangers of isolationism and ‘Little Englanders’. On the other side the increasingly reducing powers of Westminster will feature. People like Theresa May who yesterday contended that the only people allowed to enter the UK should be those with a written job offer, will be cast to one side.

Yet for us she has put her polished finger on the only real issue.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Cricket is a game which the English, not being a spiritual people, have invented in order to give themselves some conception of Eternity”….Lord Mancroft.

Farewell to summer!

September. Autumn starts today, holidays have come to an end, and the vast majority of children are going back to school. They have our sympathies for we remember well the feeling of despair that accompanied the realisation that the long days of escape that beckoned in July are over. But here on the allotments the summer ended two weeks ago, and I am not referring to the depressing weather.

Even had the temperatures been sweltering the same remark would hold true. For about mid-August, something enormous in the natural world seems to come to an end. Everything we do is accompanied by the vocalisations of the birds, the noises which they make which are of two distinct types: songs and calls. Bird songs are often long and complex; calls are much shorter. They are used as a warning, or as a means of contact. Take our resident blackbirds; their song is rich and melodious, but their warning call – when they spotn, a cat, say – is just a sudden burst of half a dozen staccato notes, which many people will be familiar with.

It was once thought that the songs of birds represented singing just for the joy of it. But nearly a century ago an English industrialist and amateur ornithologist, Eliot Howard, discovered that they are signals made by male birds to defend a territory against other males, and to attract female birds as mates. By August the songs disappear and only the calls remain. The reason is simple: the business of mating and breeding is over and done with, and song is no longer needed. The only exception is the robin, which carries on singing as it defends its territory right through winter. When we hear the shift, something deep inside us is sure that summer is finished and shorter days beckon.

There are other harbingers of a changing season, evidence that our little world is far from unchanging. Not least among them are the spider’s webs which brush our faces as we arrive each morning. Garden spiders live for just one year, and are now reaching maturity. That brings with it an ability to spin webs that can measure 10 feet across. A handy method of trapping lunch or of irritating old men scuttling around with shovels. Yes, if like us you spend time in the great outdoors you become increasingly aware of the wonders of nature, and its constant reminder that ones life clock is ticking relentlessly on.

So wrapped up were we this morning that we had little time to scan the morning papers. But, as we gathered in the hut, we did notice that the British Medical Association has taken the unusual step of placing large ads posing a question for our dear leader. They want to know how he intends to fund his “truly seven-day NHS”. Clearly if his boast of round-the-clock consultants is to be realised he will need many more of them, not to mention extra nurses and diagnostic services. And this at a time when almost very hospital is heading for bankruptcy in the face of cuts and ever-increasing numbers of patients.

We presume to recommend that the bewildered medics read ‘The Political Animal’ by Jeremy Paxman. This excellent book traces the changes in the make up of parliament and its inhabitants. Gone are the worldly-wise specialist of yesteryear, now the bulk of those filling the green benches are people whose knowledge is limited to politics. Unless a government has a small majority the average bank-bencher is little more than voting fodder with virtually no knowledge of issues put forward by ministers. They in turn are focussed on career enhancement and that means avoiding ruffling the feathers of the Prime Minister. And he – invariably an he – is inevitably someone who entered politics straight from university and whose sole preoccupation is with sound-bites.

David Cameron is not unique amongst his political fraternity in knowing nothing detailed about anything. Like his sidekick Gorgeous George he has a sharp ear for what the public demands. Round-the clock NHS, Northern devolution – if they seek it promise it to them. Funding? Leave that to the NHS or Manchester Council – funding is their problem.

The medical profession should stop racking their brains. There is no hidden mystery, the Prime Minister is a spin doctor, not a real one. The advent of a new and comprehensive NHS is far less predictable than the arrival of comprehensive spider’s webs or the end of another year of bird song.
QUOTE FOR TODAY ” Politicians: they’re either untrustworthy, power-hungry, hypocritical misfits or hopeless idealists doomed to languish forever on the backbenches. And it’s not just the public and media who think of them this way – many politicians take a similar view of their colleagues”…Jeremy Paxman, ‘The Political Animal – an Anatomy’.

Legal system plumbs new depths!

To give them credit those who spent the day at Edgbaston yesterday did turn up to help with the hens this morning. But bleary eyes were the order of the day. Lancashire won the Twenty20 trophy and the tension of the day plus hours of joining paper-cups into a mile-long snake reduced our colleagues to a shadow of their former selves. But at least the fact that their heroes won served to spare us the usual stories of umpires needing a visit to SpecSavers, and batsmen suffering the onset of ‘rigor mortis’.

Had the rest of us wished to dress up as nuns we would have gone since tickets were as freely available as temporary membership of the Labour Party. But we didn’t and there was no general inclination to rabbit on about the suicidal tendencies of ‘Boom Boom’ Afridi when we retired to the hut. We were far more inclined to rant about the vagaries of the legal system, and the vast sums poured down its rapacious throat by humble taxpayers such as us.

Four terror suspects have been granted hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal aid in order to sue the UK government. These men are connected to a British terror cell that includes the notorious killer Mohammed Emwazi, better known as Jihadi John of old London town. Three of these men brought legal challenges against the imposition of control orders. Incredibly, they have all fled Britain, and yet are still able to claim legal aid to help with their actions, because the orders were launched before they left. The fourth man is suing the Home Secretary for daring to block his return after he travelled to Somalia. He was excluded on the grounds that he was “involved in terrorism-related activities and has links to a number of Islamist extremists” and that his presence in Britain “was not conducive to the public good”.

That men who have been subject to control orders, and then fled the country, are suing this country is odd enough. But the fact that they are using taxpayers’ money to do it – via a legal aid system designed to help the poorest – defies belief. Or, at least, it would if it was not part of a wider picture of mistaken priorities and abused goodwill. The abuses of the European Convention of Human Rights roll on. A recent example was a London terror suspect who was permitted to remove his electronic tag because he feared it was a bomb. Then there is the hard task of deportation, often undermined by legal action and bureaucratic failure. And what about the human rights of all those who they wish to blow to Kingdom Come?

It is bad enough to have people such as these living amongst us. It may not be politically correct to say so but the simple fact is that most people are sick and tired of the soft approach to them and their mad preachers. And the final straw is the sight of money being heaped upon human rights lawyers who manipulate the liberal instincts of the UK and its demented legal system.

It is the action of people such as Emwazi that is leading vast numbers of innocent families to take to the high seas in unseaworthy vessels. Yet we refuse to contemplate offering them sanctuary whilst rewarding their would-be assassins with millions of pounds of ludicrous legal aid and comfort.

Today we read of great concern on the part of the police at the news that yet another ‘British’ family has fled to Syria to fight for Isis. Why bother? If they hate this country so much let them go and lock the door after them. And for heaven’s sake resist the temptation to allow them to sue us for not providing free transport.

On second thoughts perhaps dressing up as Nuns and Bishops to watch cricket is not so mad after all!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself”…. Charles Dickens.

Ignore the spin – the economy is in deep trouble!

Today is a special one in the calendar of our cricket fanatics, and several have headed for Edgbaston to spend the day at the Twenty20 finals. Over the past weeks they have watched every round on Sky, and it has to be admitted that the short version of the game has much to commend it. Today Lancashire are one of the semi-finalists and Lanky the Giraffe is competing in the mascot’s race, just one of the diversions provided to fill in the gaps between the games. From an allotments workload point of view it is fortunate that Albert hates cricket, he has been preoccupied with attempting to register hens for the Labour leadership election. His reasoning was that the election of his fellow vest-wearer Corbyn is crucial, but his attempt at perverting the course of justice failed. Perhaps he should have used names with a more human inference than Jemima Puddlechook? Then again if people claiming expenses for cleaning moat-houses can become Lords perhaps all things are possible?

The exodus of the white-ball brigade left us short-handed so there was less time for idle chatter as we cleaned out the hens and buried the proceeds. But we did note a disturbing piece of news. We have long realised that the Government’s fitness-to-work tests for benefit claimants are farcical, not least because over half of those pronounced fit to work by a private contractor are found to be anything but. But statistics published yesterday reveal an even more disturbing trend. In response to a Freedom of Information request the Government has disclosed that more than 2,300 people who had been told they would no longer qualify for Employment & Support Allowance died within 24 months of losing their supplement. As he rests in his weekend mansion Mr Duncan Smith should spare a moment to reflect on the fate of his hapless victims.

By the time our diminished band reached the hut we were relieved to take the weight off our feet, and to focus on increasing it around our waistlines with a generous helping of doughnuts. It was then that we turned to The Spectator, one of the many magazines that our collective ‘library’ subscriptions buys each week. The Spectator is unashamedly right-wing, but today has nothing but condemnation for the man we call Gorgeous George Osborne. It focuses on his response to the worldwide stock-market jitters and his comment that “we are better prepared than we would have been a few years ago”. Oh no you’re not thunders the magazine.

In fact we are far more vulnerable than we were last time. In 2008, the national debt was 37 per cent of GDP. Now, the national debt stands at 80 per cent of GDP and we have no more room for manoeuvre. While lecturing everyone about austerity, Osborne has swollen the national debt to some £1.5 trillion and has not finished yet. This is not QE-style imaginary debt but real debt that has to be repaid by real British taxpayers, working out at about £56,000 per household.

Like a drunk holding 2 a.m toasts to the notion of sobriety, the Chancellor salutes the notion of financial prudence while borrowing £190 million each day. This week, he said that the financial crisis was a reminder for all governments to put their financial houses in order – yet no one needs this advice more than him. The British government is still the worst debt addict in the continent.

There are not many certainties in politics or economics, but one thing is for sure: we will have a future financial crisis. And how prepared is Britain? The look of panic on Osborne’s face during interviews this week gave the game away. He has bet the house (and other people’s houses) on there being no new crash, having become addicted to this new level of cheap debt. Were interest rates to return to anything like normal our debt repayments would push Britain into bankruptcy. The Chancellor is gambling on zero real interest rates which will instead push savers in the same direction. He is not managing, he is – to quote The Spectator – a gambling man.

Despite the impression created by lurid headlines the Chancellor has shaved little more than 2.9 per cent off state spending in five years. He has declined to tackle tax avoidance, promoted block-busting schemes such as HS2, allowed the bankers to continue with their profligate ways, supported wasteful activities such as Trident and the expansion of the Lords. And he has compensated by borrowing even more. He has relied on the lack of understanding of the public about the national debt.

But suddenly the economic storm clouds are gathering and the usually suave demeanour is crumbling. Gordon Brown may have been a grump but he was no gambler. He never so much as contemplated gambling with the nation’s economic health. Mr Osborne has to find a new scapegoat.

We like to end with platitudes such as never mind, all is well with our world. Today it would not be appropriate.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention than to any other talent”… Isaac Newton.

Enough is enough – in more ways than one!

A friend of Tom lives in Leicestershire, and earlier this week was woken at 3.00am by the shrill tone of his telephone. Family crisis? Emergency? Terrible news? The thoughts flooded his mind as he scrambled from his bed. But no, it was an automated cold-call promoting a home security system. The Information Commissioner’s office has powers to impose fines up to £500,000 for intrusions of this kind, and one wonders just how long it will take for them to decide that enough is enough.

As we cleaned out the hens this morning the phrase hung in the chilly air as we mulled over the morning news. For the umpteenth time the subject of immigration qualified. The latest figures reveal that the net figure for the year ended March of this year hit record levels. Over 300,000 were added to our burgeoning population – a new record. The pledge by our dear leader lies in the dust, and the pressure on services and infrastructure grows. Many argue that room must be found for skilled workers and those fleeing persecution, and few wokld disagree. But the central problem is the free movement of EU citizens which accounted for 183,000 arrivals.

Whatever one’s views on immigration there is one irrefutable fact. At a time when our hospitals, schools, social services, housing, roads and other essential services are being subjected to draconian cuts their burden is growing at a frightening rate. The simple reality is that they are heading for gridlock and collapse. Predictably Nigel Farage was quick to remind us that we are “borderless”. Suddenly the EU referendum looks threatening to all those who support membership. However enamoured you may be with the concept of a multi-cultural society you can surely only accept that unless and until funding for service growth is available this is a matter of pure mathematics. It is literally the case that enough is enough.

If the trend is to continue extra money will have to be found. As we gathered in the hut for our daily doughnut fix we reflected that there seems to be plenty available for extraordinary extravagance. Yesterday 45 new members of the House of Lords were appointed. It takes the membership up to more than 800, making it the second largest legislative assembly in the world after the National People’s Congress of China. Each member costs the taxpayer up to £13,500 per day in expenses when the Lords is sitting. And it is significantly larger than the elected House of Commons.

You may argue that its noble members are people of great integrity and wisdom who provide a valuable service in monitoring the decisions of the lower chamber. But take a closer look at yesterday’s new ermine-wearers. Among the largest group are ex-MPs, almost half of whom had to repay a total of £55,000 in overpaid or unjustified expenses. They include such as Douglas Hogg and Andrew Lansley. Hogg indirectly billed the taxpayer for the cost of cleaning his moat and tuning his piano at his country house. Lansley had his thatched Tudor cottage painted inside and out and had his driveway re-shingled before selling the house for £433,000, and for good measure ruined the NHS before being sacked.

Corbynites apart, few oppose the concept of honouring those who devote their time to serving others. But what is happening here is cronyism writ large. A once revered institution is now reviled by the vast majority of the population. Enough is enough – too many in fact.

Mention of Lansley and his so-called NHS reforms prompted Phil to tell of his wife’s urgent referral to a specialist. After many weeks of worried waiting they reluctantly decided to transfer to a private hospital. Within three days she saw the very specialist to whom she had been referred, and handed over a cheque for £300. Arise Lord Lansley!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Independent peers are one of the few things that the public like about the House of Lords but David Cameron appears intent on reducing their influence…we need a cap on the size of the chamber, a brake on PM appointments and a move to a far more regulated system”… Professor Meg Russell, University College London.

Relatives of Hewitt family killed in Quebec crash say they are devastated

Fiona and Richard Hewitt and their children Felicity and Harry died when their light aircraft crashed into mountainside in Bergeronnes area on Sunday

Relatives of a British family killed in a seaplane crash in a remote Canadian forest have said they are “struggling to come to terms with the loss”.

Fiona and Richard Hewitt, their 17-year-old daughter Felicity and 14-year-old son Harry, along with two other people on board, died when their light aircraft crashed into a mountainside in the Bergeronnes area of Quebec on Sunday.

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Women deserve better protection !

The crops on the allotments are the best that any of us can remember. By way of a bonus we haven’t once had to water the beans and peas – just as well given the contaminated water pouring forth from United Utilities. As in all things there is of course a flip-side. Every bare patch of earth converts to a jungle in no time at all, and our usual free time is now occupied with re-enactment of the Tarzan films that once held us in awe. Albert insists on wielding an ancient scythe, refusing to accept that anything but root removal merely encourages even more growth, whilst the rest of the relatively saner codgers resort to forks.

It was raining when we arrived this morning, but the sun soon appeared. Such an event always triggers our thought processes and for the umpteenth time my pals were rabbiting on about what passes in the UK for a democratic process. In reality it is anything but – in the recent election only 19 of the 390 non-marginal seats changed hands. In other words millions of voters are effectively disenfranchised. With the option of Proportional Representation kicked into grass even longer than that on the allotments it is worth reflecting on the number of votes each party needed to land just one seat in parliament.

The Conservatives needed only 34,244 votes for each seat won in May, against 40,290 for Labour, 25,972 for the SNP, 301,986 for the Lib Dems, 1.16m for the Greens and 3.88m for Ukip. Ludicrous isn’t it. Our democratic system is to democracy what Eric Pickles is to hang-gliding. Is it any wonder that the number bothering to vote is so low?

But by the time we had reached the hut we had tired of the infernal subject. As we munched our doughnuts – we still cling to the hope that researchers will suddenly reveal that wads of jammy fat prevent ageing – we turned our attention to the greatest injustice of them all. A YouGov survey carried out by the campaign group ‘End Violence Against Women Coalition’ has revealed that 43 per cent of women living in London has experienced sexual harassment in public places. Sex offences on London’s Tube and train network rose by more than 32 per cent to record levels last year. Some incidents were violent, others intimidating and frightening. All were totally unacceptable in a civilised society, and cuts to police numbers undoubtedly made the situation worse.

Presumably Jeremy Corbyn had all this in mind when yesterday he called for women-only carriages on trains at night. It is not an original idea for countries such as Japan, India and Russia already have them, but the bearded one surely deserves credit for proposing something similar here. Unlike the Lamas of Dorset who have a £3 vote in the Labour Party leadership election we have no vote, but we are beginning to admire a politician who dares to be different and to tackle issues swept under the carpet for far too long.

Some campaign groups such as the ‘Everyday Sexism Project’ were less than enthusiastic, arguing that such a move “accepts that the problem is inevitable”, and we understand their sentiment. But the fact remains that there are a lot of loutish men out there who regard vulnerable women travelling alone as fair game. Groups like ‘Everyday Sexism’ and ‘Stop Street Harassment’ regularly highlight just how prevalent street harassment is and the extent to which many women feel anxious and unsafe just going about their daily routines. But at least there are usually other people around. Sitting alone in a carriage of drunken louts must feel far, far more threatening.

Andy Burnham yesterday drew fire for remarking that Labour should only have a woman leader “when the time is right”. It is right now. And failing that it would be reassuring to have a man who actually understands what it feels like to be targeted. And is prepared to do something about it!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power”….Lao Tzu, ‘Tao Te Ching’.

Stupidity, not ideology, is destroying vital services!

A new study by Dr Peter Eibech of Oxford University out today reveals that retired people pay fewer visits to GPs than their younger compatriots. It seems that the combination of extra sleep, less stress and more exercise offsets the ageing process. The findings match our experience although we would add acceptance. We have come to accept the inevitability of creaking joints and aching limbs and, like owners of old cars, tend to ignore symptoms that would raise alarm in newer models.

In our case the extra sleep bit comes from going to bed earlier for keeping chickens involves early rising. But apart from episodes such as last weeks ingestion of Albert’s hearing aid by a hungry chook, episodes of high stress are rare. Mind you it does sometimes feel as though we would qualify for the British moaning team, were one to be formed. I have tended to attribute that to Grumpy Old Men syndrome, but Dr Eibech’s findings prompted me to do a little research of my own. As we gathered in the Eric Pickles hut I began to take mental note of the subjects that came up. Someone famously remarked that the only people who seem to know how to run the country are either too old or driving cabs, and there is undoubtedly an element of delusion here. But one thing struck me immediately.

The catalogue of ire had nothing to do with political ideology since, with the exception of Brother Corbyn, there is no detectable difference between the major parties. The issues being mulled over all stemmed from plain stupidity. First up was the decision to offset the reductions in ambulance crews by sending fire crews to medical emergencies. The hapless Jeremy Hunt has announced that a trial scheme in the Midlands has resulted in patients arriving at hospitals quicker and has “freed up hundreds of hours of ambulance time”. But firemen are not paramedics, and racing off with a suspected heart attack patient is hardly the safest approach. And what happens if a fire call occurs en route? Wrong solution.

So is the decision to axe the majority of school nurses at a time when the population is rocketing and deprivation with it. A Government report reveals that there are five more children under 14 who die every day in the UK than in countries such as Sweden. School nurses had a unique opportunity to help improve some of the key issues facing children’s health, not least the huge increase in obesity. The Government response is that teachers must take over. But as with firemen they are not health related experts, and like firemen they have other matters to attend to. Wrong solution.

The reform of the benefits system came up too. Few deny that reform is needed to reduce the cost of paying people capable of working for not doing so. But the assessment of incapacity claimants is long-winded and incompetent – over half of those identified as fit for work are subsequently proved to be incapable of working. And the restoration of benefits takes months. The Government’s response? It produces literature featuring “satisfied” users who prove to be inventions, made-up people with fictitious names. It was, says Mr Duncan Smith, stupid. Indeed.

Mental health services are in crisis, and provide another example of stupidity and waste, not to mention inhumane treatment. Last week a patient in Blackpool was in desperate need of hospitalisation. The only bed available was in Exeter. That involves crossing many authority boundaries and no agreement could be reached as to meeting the cost of a specially manned ambulance. After two nights in a police cell the patient had to be transported at huge cost by a private ambulance crewed by mental health professionals. The cost would have paid for three beds in Blackpool for six months. Wrong solution.

The list went on and on. Someone even mentioned the Labour Party leadership election. Who in heaven’s name decided to sell for £3 the right to vote alongside long-standing members who pay £40 each year? Stupidity.

Yes like most Brits we enjoy a moan. But it is not without reason. The country is going to rack and ruin not because of ideology, but because no one on high seems capable of applying common sense. The only exception seemed to us to be the much maligned Eric Pickles. He was sacked. Not stupid enough perhaps ?
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Parliament. But I repeat myself”… Mark Twain.

Facts to knock you sideways!

. The soil in your back garden is two million years old.

. Between 1908 and 1965 Winston Churchill drank 42,000 bottles of champagne.

. There are enough empty homes in China for everyone in the UK to have one each.

. Women have been awarded only four of the 406 George Crosses awarded to date.

. A cat’s brain can store 1,000 times more data than an iPad.

. The name sign of the town of Lost in Aberdeenshire is the only one in Britain that is welded to its pole.

. You are statistically more likely to die in an accident at home than you are to win the National Lottery.

. Ladybirds can fly as fast as racehorses can run.

. Every Christmas Day 400,000 Britons go out to a shop to buy batteries.

. Reindeer have golden eyes in summer and blue eyes in winter.

. The Red Arrows were originally known as the Red Pelicans.

. Oliver Cromwell was dug up and beheaded two years after his death.

. Lizards can’t breathe and walk at the same time.

. John F Kennedy’s brain was removed during his autopsy and is still missing.

. The Milky Way gives birth to a new star every 50 days.

. A third of British office workers have the same thing for lunch every day.

. Being lonely is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

. A quarter of unmarried Japanese 30-year-olds are still virgins.

. The world’s oceans contain 20 million billion tons of chlorine.

. The International Space Station travels at five miles a second.

. Usain Bolt ate 1,000 chicken nuggets during the Beijing Olympics because he didn’t like Chinese food.


Louise Mensch takes Twitter swipe at Corbyn campaign – and hits herself

Former Tory MP claims searches paint damning picture of Labour leadership candidate’s supporters – but they turn out to be from her own search history

The former Tory MP Louise Mensch came unstuck on Friday night when a series of apparently antisemitic suggested Twitter searches that she said were indicative of abuse from Jeremy Corbyn supporters turned out to be a record of her own search history.

The author tweeted a picture of a Twitter search bar, into which she had typed the handle of Liz Kendall’s Labour leadership campaign account @lizforleader. Referring to the options that then appeared underneath, she wrote: “Twitter’s autocomplete on Liz Kendall MP. This is the sewer that is Jeremy Corbyn’s support.”

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HS2 is not the answer for our chaotic railways!

Saturday always has a special feel to it. Live football on the box, athletics from China and the latest instalment of a Test series in which the Ashes rivals vie with each other to demonstrate that the art of batting is as dead as the Dodo make this one especially promising for people like us who regard sport as the meaning of life. The fad for happiness testing started by our dear leader seems to miss the point. For sporting fanatics it fluctuates wildly according to the latest results, and the latest findings which have it that Darlington is the happiest place in Britain seems wide of the mark. At the end of last season a group of us travelled there in the football play-offs, were soundly thrashed and ended up waiting on a drafty railway platform for hours. We failed to sense the reported rampant happiness.

Come to think about it our railways seem capable of wiping any feel-good factor from the face of the earth. Now the new-wave Corbynites want to nationalise them, and their posh opponents want to bankrupt the country by building HS2, a venture that at best will take over 20 years to produce an outcome. We venture to suggest that what is really needed is a root and branch reform right now.

The unending rise in population and car ownership is turning many of our motorways into near-permanent traffic jams, and the need to provide an alternative form of travel is a pressing one. The rail improvements promised during the election have inevitably been shelved and regions such as ours are served by overcrowded, unpunctual and near obsolete rolling stock. On the intercity routes the cost of fares is ludicrous, and the much-lauded special deals invariably involve the response that none are available for the foreseeable future.

Worst of all each private operator seems determined not to co-ordinate their services with another and travellers spend hours on cheerless stations waiting for connections. Competition would help to drive down fares and ramp up performances, but our segmented structure provides no scope for rail companies running trains on the same route, thus offering a choice. And squatting over the whole mess is Network Rail, a highly subsidised monolith that provides the perfect get-out when the complaints pour in.

Are we codgers the only people left who believe that neither high-speed or the re-creation of British Rail are the only hope of making rail travel a bearable and affordable experience? We venture to suggest that the Government needs to invest in the existing system and to force operators to work together whilst competing with each other. And to recognise that anyone forced to travel at short notice should not be obliged to take out a mortgage to do so. And to do it now.

As we cleaned out the squabbling hens we worked ourselves into quite a lather about our local trains. But by the time we reached our hut such thoughts had drifted away with the steam from our mugs of Yorkshire tea. Of the escapism on offer today the most intriguing is the big athletics event in China. Can we punters any longer believe the evidence of our own eyes as those muscular beings break the winning tape?

The suspicion is that, as with the railways, high-speed comes at the expense of everything and everyone else!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one” C S Lewis.

Odd facts! Did you know….?

. New Zealand’s 90-mile beach is 55 miles long.

. When he enlisted in the army, J.R.R. Tolkien’s son Michael put down his father’s profession as ‘Wizard’.

. The New Zealand Olympic badminton team was named ‘the All Black Cocks’, but had to drop it after complaints.

. Over the last 10,000 years Niagara Falls has moved seven miles upstream.

. Barry Manilow’s No 1 hit ‘I Write the Songs’ wasn’t written by Barry Manilow.

. 25 November 2012 was the first day since 1960 that there was no murder or manslaughter in New York City.

. Switzerland monitors its airspace around the clock but only intercepts illegal flights during office hours.

. By the time they are eight children have forgotten 60% of what happened before they were three.

. Traffic lights were introduced 18 years before the car was invented.

. 84% of writers to the letters page of The Times are men.

. During his lifetime Lewis Carroll wrote 98,721 letters.

. From 2000 BC to AD 1992 astronomers discovered three new planets. In 2014, 700 were found in a single day.

. After the Battle of Hastings King Harold’s body was identified by the tattoo of his wife’s name over his heart.

. A fight between chameleons is always started by the one with brighter stripes.

. British families throw away the equivalent of six meals a week.

. 88% of women routinely wear shoes that are too small for their feet.

. There are one billion dogs in the world.

. NASA estimates that the near-earth asteroid Eros contains 20 billion tons of gold.

. Every day the human body makes 300 billion new cells, three times as many as there are galaxies in the universe.


Malala Yousafzai celebrates string of A* grades at GCSE

Nobel peace prize winner, who has travelled the world campaigning for education rights for girls, achieves six A*s and four As

Even after winning a Nobel peace prize, with glittering invitations to speak to presidents across the world, education activist Malala Yousafzai always had one priority: her schoolwork.

And the Pakistani pupil’s dedication to her studies has paid off, according to her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, who tweeted that the 18-year-old had achieved six A*s and four As when the GCSE results were released on Thursday.

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The world must take on Isis!

So incensed are we at the continued barbarism of the maniacs labelled Isis that we have decided to reproduce here a letter published in this morning’s Independent under the above headline. We believe that it sums up the feelings of countless millions.

“Yet another atrocity that defies any and all humanitarian instincts; the decapitation by Isis of Khaled al-Asaad, the 82-year-old curator at the Palmyra Unesco site for 50 years.
The global threat posed by this deranged group must be addressed full-on by all nations with extreme force, and thereafter by talks, once the upper hand has been secured”
Paul Garrod, Portsmouth.

You speak for us all Mr Garrod. We know that the lies of Blair and Bush led to a disastrous conflict, but there are no lies involved here. In our rage we call the Islamists animals, but few animals behave as they do. If the United Nations is impotent in the face of such appalling lunacy it has no useful purpose at all.

This is becoming as huge a threat to world peace and security as that posed by Hitler. And we all know what would have happened then if the appeasers had ruled the roost.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The struggle for peace and the struggle for human rights are inseparable” …Willy Brandt, Nobel Prize 1971.

Water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!

I once lived in Nigeria for a spell. The greatest nuisance was the chore of boiling water – failure to do so meant confinement to the smallest room or worse. I little imagined then that one day the same problem would dominate life in my native Lancashire. But thanks to the ineptitude of the French-owned United Utilities that is exactly what we now have to do here.

Some two weeks ago the water monopolists announced that contamination had been discovered. No explanation was given and yesterday we were told to carry on boiling. And that sums up the mental state of the natives who are becoming increasingly weary of the daily ritual, a state of mind not helped by ever-rising water-service bills. And the fact that no minister has grasped the opportunity to appear on television to describe the dynamic action being taken by the government is unusual. It is a sign of our increasing persecution complex that the omission of Fracking sites in southern England in yesterday’s list of selected candidates was greeted with a degree of suspicion.

Our new found paranoia was not helped by news that the widely circulated leaflet from the Department for Work and Pensions on the subject of benefit claimants was little more that a pack of porkies. It centred around a series of claimants all describing themselves as delighted with the new system. Such as ‘Sarah’ who reported breathlessly of her ecstasy at being taught the ways and means of preparing a job-winning CV. It seems that, like the other beaming, satisfied claimants, Sarah is merely the figment of a spin-doctor’s imagination.

At the time it all seemed odd given that MPs on the Work and Pensions select committee had concluded that the new approach by Iain Duncan Smith was geared towards punishing the unemployed and might not help them find work. Yesterday, in response to a freedom of information request by the Welfare Weekly website, ministers were obliged to reveal that the photos were “stock pictures”, the names “fictitious” and the quotes “scripted by staff”. We should have guessed.

Never mind, my fellow codgers are joining the family for a celebration tonight. It is sixty years since she-who-must-be-obeyed and I were manacled together and we are marking our Diamond Wedding day. Hopefully Albert will behave himself – given the presence of Mrs Albert there is every chance.

Perhaps we should bill United Utilities for the crate of bottled water?
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” He who knows others is learned; he who knows himself is wise”…. Philosopher Lao-Tzu.

Unjustified and unsustainable!

We codgers are delighted by today’s new stamps from Royal Mail. Several of us are philatelists, but that is not the only reason for our applause. The set of ten beautifully crafted stamps feature six bee species from across the UK and serve to remind us of the importance of bees without which pollination would be endangered and a large proportion of our food crops and flowers eliminated. On the allotments we do our best to attract the life-giving buzzers but would tear our hair out – if we had any – at the stupidity of politicians prepared to relax bans on pesticides known to endanger them. If you want to join our fightback all you have to do is plant Echinops (Globe Thistle) to provide a boost.

This morning there were almost as many bees around our clumps as there are ermine-wearers in the House of Lords. Almost. Yesterday Dr Meg Russell of University College London criticised our dear leader whose rate of appointments has been so fast that “the size of the chamber is going up in a completely unsustainable is unjustified and unsustainable”. The reason for her outburst was the news that up to 50 new peers are expected to be named in the next fortnight, boosting the membership of the Lords to 830, far in excess of the elected Commons.

The large majority of the new peers will be Conservative nominees and include party donors, Tory special advisers, party officials and such as Michelle Mone, the founder of Ultimo lingerie. Every Lord is entitled to claim £300 simply for signing in and the cost to the public purse is astronomic. And it is hard to imagine anything more undemocratic and potentially corrupt.

We should perhaps be aware of the dangers of being labelled Corbynites. The newly emerged contender for the Labour leadership has dared to question the value of the noble peers, and continues to shock true socialists such as Blair and (Lord) Mandelson by even complaining about the performance of the privatised essential services and their multi million pound salaried leaders. This morning the rail companies are the subject of a study by ‘Action for Rail’.

It tells us that fares have risen nearly three times faster than wages over the past five years, leaving commuters “seriously out of pocket”. Season tickets have increased by 25 per cent since 2010. The study concludes that if routes coming up for tender were given to public sector organisations fares would fall sharply.It has of course failed to explain how the French and German governments would cope with a fall in their dividends.

I wish I could end on a happy note on this sunny Tuesday morning. But a hen was found dead this morning and the ‘autopsy’ found Albert’s hearing aid wedged in its gullet. The nearby bees buzzed their disapproval at the careless folly of man.

QUOTE FOR TODAY: “Wisdom entereth not into a malicious mind, and science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul”…. Francois Rabelais.