Even chicken-keepers have occasional holidays!

We rarely publish a blog on Sundays, today is an exception. The reason for following the example of doctors who, if Jeremy Hunt is to believed, traditionally leave their patients to die on Sundays, is a simple one – I usually take the day off and none of my allotments colleagues knows how to use a laptop. That sounds as improbable as Jeremy telling the truth, but true it is. I hasten to add that my own IT skills are rather basic when compared to those of my grandsons who are regularly called into action to explain what this key or that signifies.

Get to the point Dennis, I hear you mutter. Which is that several of us are tomorrow heading for the land of our long lost fathers, and I wished to avoid regular readers ringing inspector Knacker to report the disappearance of a bunch of slightly mad old codgers. We have no wish to be charged with wasting police time – they manage that without help from such as us.

If you regularly read our literary challenges to Shakespeare you will know that a number of us bought some years ago a near-derelict cottage in Porthmadog. Since then Albert, the only one amongst us with the appropriate skills if not patience, has led working parties which have divided their time between hammering and the local pub. And now the job is done and we plan to enjoy the fruits of our labours. Like us you are probably not too distraught at the fact that for a little while we will be ‘off air’.

So it would be nice to say adieu on a happy note. It comes courtesy of John Norberg’s ‘Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward’, which is due to be published this week. We will leave you to absorb the detail – suffice to say that John sets out a whole series of comparisons between life as it was back in 1828 and now. Then most people in Britain lived in what is now regarded as extreme poverty. Life was nasty (people still threw their waste out of the window), brutish (corpses were still displayed on gibbets) and short (30 years on average). Fast forward to 1981. Then just half of the world’s population had access to safe water, now 91 per cent do.

But bad news travels a lot faster now. We live in an era with global media and iPhones everywhere. Disasters do still happen, but in our minds they represent the norm and we become convinced that the world is heading for a new dark age.

And people of our age are the worst offenders. Nostalgia is biological: as we get older we take on more responsibility and can be prone to looking back on an imagined carefree youth. It is easy to mistake changes in ourselves for changes in the world. Ask most older folk about the moment in world history when they think it was the most harmonious and happy, they say it was the era they grew up in.

The truth is that whilst there are problems, these are the best days yet. So as the rain cascades down in Wales we will grin and bear it. My grin may be somewhat forced since Albert, whose sidelines include a dog-care service, will be staying in our house with the collies. Sadly the service never seems to include washing up or tidying.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” A true friend is one who stabs you in the front”….Oscar Wilde.
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Outsourcing our memories has serious implications!

Most of us went to Southport Flower Show yesterday. A delightful annual stroll in the sun amongst a sea of flowers, ideal garden layouts and an arena staging more events than Rio. Correction – this year we huddled together under any shelter we could find as the rain lashed down, and the only event to be seen was the sight of stoic Brits eating bacon butties with one hand and brollies in the other. One stallholder told us that on Thursday he had been rushed off his feet but today had seldom got on to them. Throughout the day an announcer assured us that his radar indicated that better weather was on the way but, like a Southern train, it failed to arrive and we eventually returned sodden but cheerfully lugging our haul of exotic plants and guides to irrigation.

This morning it was still raining as we cleaned our the hens, and in no time at all we were sheltering in the hut. Most of us were in a reasonably positive mood having watched last night’s TeamGB ladies hockey triumph, another step toward Great Britain finishing in second place in the world’s medal table – no mean feat for an island that the purveyors of doom tell us is no longer even noticed by the international community. But delight in that is somewhat tempered by the news that the Paralympics are threatened by a financial crisis.

That is a potential tragedy for so many for whom these have come to mean so much. Why anyone would have believed that staging the Paralympics in Brazil was a good idea is, to us, a mystery. Hopefully western governments will come to the rescue – we could perhaps divert a billion from the pockets of corrupt regime leaders who benefit from our generous foreign aid programme.

Sod’s law seems to ensure that every piece of good news is offset by bad. And hot on the heels of the Paralympics fiasco comes news that Orangutans will be extinct within ten years unless action is taken to preserve forests in Indonesia and Malaysia. In just 25 years more than a quarter of the forests – 76 million acres, an area almost the size of Germany – have disappeared. Land is being cleared at a frantic rate to clear land for palm oil plantations. The oil is used to make a vast array of products and earlier this year Greenpeace accused brands such as Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive of failing to make sure that their products did not contain palm olive grown on deforested land.

To accelerate the pillage, fires are being started across huge areas and Orangutans are being driven starving and terrified from their environment. Rescue centres fear that there will soon be no forests left into which to release these magnificent animals. Who cares? It seems that the answer is not many. What is the point of the United Nations if it cannot even inspire action on environmental issues such as this?

Perhaps the day will come when the human race will forget all that it has brought about. We mention that since we are becoming ever more convinced that our younger generation is beginning to affect what neurologists call the ‘plasticity’ of the human brain. It has, it seems, an ability to adapt its functions according to which neural pathways are most employed – and there is evidence that our brains are changing to meet the demands of this high-octane modern world. Humanity has invented the internet, a medium for being clever without using our intelligence or memory. And those are the very activities said to prevent dementia and memory-loss.

Thanks to technology, the need to know has been replaced by the ability to find out. Younger people, especially the ‘digital natives’ who have never known life without the web, are most comfortable in this new environment. In almost every profession or role, expertise is being made redundant. Even in the taxi industry, which had been revolutionised by apps such as Uber, London’s black cabbies have discovered that ‘the Knowledge’ – that impressively encyclopaedic study of the capital’s streets – has become all but obsolete. With Uber, anyone who can drive and has a smartphone can earn money as a taxi driver.

Even in high-pressure field such as medicine or law, the speed with which information can be found means that professionals rely on technology as much as everyone else. Some doctors freely admit to searching Google for symptoms as their patients describe them. Lawyers no longer need to remember the intricacies of tort law. Even languages are bypassed as we increasingly communicate via images to save time. Forget a thousand words; send an emoji.

But why worry? Perhaps memory is something we can afford to sideline, and instead we can focus on skimming off facts and figures while relying on short-term memory. Why bother learning ten things when your phone can find out any one of a million things in a few seconds?

The answer, we suggest, is that the brain requires exercise, and we allow it to atrophy at our peril. While we get better at juggling ideas our memories are taking a battering. An academic study into the ‘Google effect’ showed that people tend not to bother remembering something if they believe it can be looked up. People are now more likely to index; to remember where information is located rather than the information itself.

If everything is lost in the digital ether and nobody has bothered to remember anything, then what? Okay, so that is hopefully not going to happen. But when memories fail in old age, we feel we lose a part of us that rests deep within. It may well be that memory is more spiritual than we like to admit. It seems likely that by using our minds, we nourish a part of us that goes beyond the physical. Equally, by storing memory outside of ourselves on a piece of technology, we lose something fundamental.

We simply don’t know. But what really worries us is that the generation most involved in the outsourcing of our memories is still far too young to learn if there is a devastating outcome.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Memory and our sense of self are inevitably linked, because personal identity is founded on consciousness”…..John Locke.
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Cyclist who lost leg in lorry collision criticises driver’s £625 fine

Julie Dinsdale says Tesco driver’s sentence is evidence that courts treat cyclists as second-class road users

A midwife whose leg was amputated at the roadside after she was hit by a Tesco lorry has said she is hugely disappointed that the driver was fined just £625 and given five points on his licence after he pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention.

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Cancer: a gold medal for Canadian scientists!

A hat-trick of glorious sunny mornings! Can it be really happening we asked ourselves as we arrived at the allotments today. We pinched Albert to see if he squealed. He did, and if this rare sequence continues the odds are that he will forsake his flat cap. Having gone to bed after watching Laura Trott and Jason Kelly win yet more golds in Rio It seemed distinctly possible that we were in a dream – how they must feel this morning defies imagination.

Despite all the advance forebodings the Rio Olympics are proving to be remarkably successful. Team GB looks likely to secure second place in the world medals table, the spirit of togetherness of athletes from countries that normally devote their time to quarrelling has been thought-provoking. And just outside the Olympic village Massimo Bottura, the distinguished Italian chef, has produced an example of an even more impressive variety.

On an unused piece of wasteland in central Rio, Bottura has thrown up Refettorio , a restaurant where, for the past two weeks, Olympic ingredients have been served to those in the most desperate need of it, with 70 at each sitting. The idea has gathered momentum. Chefs from across South and Central America have been arriving daily to join Bottura for the ultimate test of their profession. No one can foretell what they will prepare because no one knows what the crammed delivery lorry from the Olympic Village will arrive with next. Bottura had witnessed the colossal scale of the food waste in the Village and managed to persuade the authorities to direct it his way.

Volunteers have arrived in droves to help cope with the frantic task of serving continuous ‘sittings’, and Bottura has insisted on top restaurant standards for people who have never before so much as entered a restaurant. A soup kitchen, he insists, does not have to be ugly, does not have to use plastic plates and plastic knives. And he plans to continue after the Olympians have departed when evening clientele of the well-heeled variety will provide the finance.

There is a lesson for the whole world here. The food being discarded daily by the Olympic Village caterers is misshapen or surplus and, in the hands of capable chefs, can be turned into attractive meals rather than landfill ingredients. Someone should find a gold medal for Massimo Bottura!

As we settled in the hut we concluded that another one is due for researchers at the Polytechnique Montreal and McGill University in Canada who, almost unnoticed amongst the Olympics clamour, have made a spectacular breakthrough in cancer research by developing an army of “nanorobots” that can navigate a patient’s bloodstream and target tumours. The scientists have discovered that the nanorobots can detect oxygen-depleted tumour areas or hypoxic zones, which are most resistant to most cancer therapies including radiotherapy, and deliver the drugs directly to them.

According to the findings published in the journal ‘Nature Nanotechnology’ the nanorobotic agents were actually composed of more than 100 million flagellated bacteria – and therefore self-propelled – and loaded with drugs that moved by taking the most direct path between the drug’s injection point and the area of the body to cure. This throws the door wide open to the use of new vehicles for therapeutic, imaging and diagnostic agents.

Do we understand all this? Of course not. But we understand enough to realise that suddenly there is a potential drug with a propelling force able to travel efficiently and enter deep inside tumours. And we all know that, in contrast, existing treatments often produce more side effects than results.

So as we rightly celebrate the feats of our athletes and their evidence that nations can co-exist peacefully, we should perhaps reserve some acclaim to those who are pioneering breakthroughs against cancer and hunger, two of man’s other nightmare afflictions.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” God help us if our sense of fair play in not the strongest of all our feelings”…Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Nobel Prize 1903.
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Anjem Choudary convicted of supporting Islamic State

Notorious hate preacher faces up to 10 years in prison after swearing allegiance to Isis, it can now be revealed

Anjem Choudary, one of the most notorious hate preachers living in Britain, is facing jail after being found guilty of supporting Islamic State.

Having avoided arrest for years despite his apparent sympathy for extremism and links to some of Britain’s most notorious terrorists, Choudary was convicted at the Old Bailey after jurors heard he had sworn an oath of allegiance to Isis.

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An unjust death !

Proud to be British? That has become unfashionable now, and the efforts of our late Prime Minister to portray us as utterly incapable of standing alone made things even worse. Not that the pride we codgers feel has ever been determined by politicians – our pride has always been based on sport. And of late that has been quite a challenge. The less said about the England football team the better, but the lads from Wales did stimulate a degree of pride in the Euro2016. The cricketers have shown occasional form but nothing to write home about. The rugby guys have performed reasonably well. But wherever our roving eyes have alighted pride of the waistcoat-busting variety has been noticeably lacking. Until now!

Yesterday more medals landed for Team GB. Today there is the prospect of yet more Golds for our cyclists, who seem more than capable of outstripping any in the world. It grows ever more possible that we will end up second in the world league table, with only the United States ahead of us. Even non-sports fans are finding it hard not to feel pride!

But as we gathered in the doughnuts hut our thoughts turned to another sports star whose life ended tragically yesterday. Former Aston Villa player Dalian Atkinson died within 90 minutes of being Tasered by police in Shropshire. He was 48 years old. He was visiting Ernest, his 85-year-old father, when he became “agitated”. Police were called and tragedy followed. Since no criminal action was involved we can only wonder why conventional restraint wasn’t used.

Dalian was a top-flight striker in the 1990s and was famed for a goal for League runners-up Villa against Wimbledon, which followed a mazy run from inside his own half, which was voted 1992-1993 goal of the season. He went on to score at Wembley in 1994 as Villa beat Manchester United to lift the League Cup.

The best known photograph of Dalian is of him holding the League Cup by the pitch at Wembley with his manager Ron Atkinson. Yesterday Ron reflected on “one of the easiest guys you could imagine managing…he was happy-go-lucky, he was always smiling, always laughing”. Gary Linekar led a host of tributes: “Dalian was a friend and mentor to me..he was a glass-half-full human being”.

But what we are about to say would apply to any victim of Tasering who was not posing a dangerous threat to others. In June former soldier Spencer Beynon die in the same way, and last year a landmark inquest verdict concluded that the fatal cardiac arrest suffered by a Manchester factory worker Jordan Begley was partly linked to being Tasered.

If you’re hit by the 50,000 volts unleashed by a Taser, you instantly collapse after losing control of your muscles. The excruciating pain has been likened by one victim to “being shocked by a cattle fence but 50,000 times stronger”. And if the person on the receiving end has an unknown heart condition the result can be fatal. We are not unsympathetic to police officers who so often risk their own lives in confrontations with armed criminals – in those situations the Taser is a godsend. But why, oh why, are they now using a weapon of last resort as the first?

Last year Chorley Police were called out to investigate claims of a man carrying a machete in the town centre. An officer spotted a partially blind man using a white stick and Tasered him from behind as he slowly walked. He suffered great pain and distress, the police suffered great local derision and criticism. It was a classic example of inappropriate use of a potentially lethal piece of kit. And now the Police Federation is calling for even more officers to be allowed to carry Tasers.

No law abiding citizen opposes any aid to police and public protection, especially now that the number of ‘enemies within’ is growing at a frightening rate. But, in our view, the Home Office must insist that it is not used indiscriminately to replace the conventional method of restraint always used for people who are unarmed and not posing an immediate serious danger to others.

But there was better publicity for the police yesterday when they reunited Rufus the runaway pet skunk with his owners after he was found in an Ipswich park. The 3-year-old animal had disappeared from its home but local residents reported sightings to the local nick. It was tracked down to Stonelodge Park and ‘arrested’ without a Taser in site. Apparently a sense of smell coupled with a dose of commonsense was all that was needed.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” In journalism, there has always been a tension between getting it first and getting it right”….Ellen Goodman.
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The forgotten brutality !

A Gold rush is not something one expects from a country that the prophets of doom told us would sink into worldwide obscurity post Brexit. As if to celebrate, the sun was very much in evidence this morning as we reflected on medal after medal in Rio. Only the United States stand between Team GB and the pinnacle of the Olympic medals table, and yesterday will live long in the memory. Farah, Trott, Rose, Kenny, Murray led the charge and who will ever forget the astonishing spectacle of Max Whitlock winning two Golds in the space of one hour in the gymnastics. This promises to be GB’s greatest performance ever in an ‘away’ Olympics – not bad for a doomed nation!

Inevitably there are those who are missing their usual diet of headlines about Brexit, terror, economic woes and political wrangling. Robert Smith from Surrey demands that “when the five-ring circus is over in Rio, we have two weeks of sport-free news”, and Philip Stevenson from Cambridge complains that “such a level of coverage is disproportionate”. Cheer up chaps – come next week you will find that the Jeremy Corbyn story is still running. Meantime rejoice in the Olympics which make champions of “normal” people, not just overpaid footballers. And where else could you watch the sheer drama of four years of relentless training culminate in just minutes of nerve-wracking judgement?

Perhaps it was the combination of so much positive news and a liberal dose of sunshine that quickly dispersed our usual Monday blues. Certain it is that by Monday standards we were all in a very jolly mood as we settled in the hut with our Yorkshire tea and doughnuts. But then the mood shifted to more sombre tones.

Over the past few weeks most of us have shared and read Paul Ham’s international bestseller ‘Sandakan’, the harrowing story of the Borneo death marches of 1944-5. Paul Ham has consulted thousands of documents to assemble a chilling portrait of exactly what happened to the people who suffered and died in British North Borneo, and who was responsible. For the first time the heroes and victims of the “forgotten war” attract the sort of spotlight that has always, and rightly, been focused on victims of the Holocaust and, more recently, the so-called Islamic State. And, hard though it is to believe, the treatment of prisoners after the fall of Singapore in 1942 by the conquering Japanese Army exceeded in brutality even these.

Some 2,500 British and Australian prisoners were transferred to a jungle camp at Sandakan, on the east coast of North Borneo. There they were beaten, broken, worked to death, thrown into bamboo cages on the slightest pretext and subjected to tortures so ingenious and hideous that the victims were driven to the brink of madness. For decades after the Second World War the British and Australian governments would refuse to divulge what had happened there for fear of traumatizing the families of the victims.

It is perhaps the degree of sadism on the part of the captors that shocks the reader above all else. Prisoners were force-fed gallons of water after which guards jumped up and down on their distended stomachs. Others were hung upside down in the scorching sun, yet more were strapped to wooden frames which were then stretched until limbs severed. It really is impossible to imagine how human beings could behave in such a barbaric way, and even harder to grasp that this was prescribed from above in the manner of regimental orders.

But it was only the beginning of the nightmare. In late 1944, when Allied aircraft began bombing the coastal towns of Sandakan and Jeselton, the Japanese resolved to abandon the prison camp and take the prisoners 250 miles inland to Ranan as slave labour , carriers and draught horses. The journey there became known as the Sandakan Death Marches. Of the thousands who set out, only six survived. Starved and nearing collapse, the men staggered on until they could carry their loads and further. At that point they were clubbed or bayoneted to death.

In October 2012 Paul Ham sent his findings to Tenno Heika, His Imperial Majesty The Emperor of Japan. He provided evidence of a 99.5 per cent death rate amongst British and Australian prisoners of war. He describes how many were starved, tortured, shot, bayoneted or beheaded. How some were crucified and disembowelled, how others were clubbed to death when they collapsed from exhaustion or disease or hunger. He points out that to this day no Japanese government has recognised or accepted historic responsibility for what happened.

In his letter Ham acknowledges that the world remains appalled by what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of Japanese cities. His work is not an attempt to present the Allies as innocent victims. But he does believe that the whole story must be told and the names of so many tortured, brave souls recorded rather than hidden as if they never walked this earth.

We recommend this beautifully researched and written book in the hope that right across the world men will say “Never Again”.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Sandakan should be remembered because it was more than a battle between nations and conflicting ideologies. It was a war between human decency and human depravity”….Ex Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, whose uncle died on the Death Marches.
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Alzheimer’s – a dramatic breakthrough ?

Perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies. As we arrived at the allotments on another damp, dull and chilly August morning we learned that record high temperatures are scorching countries from Morocco to Saudi Arabia and beyond, and climate experts are warning that the severe weather could be a harbinger of worse to come. With the mercury hitting the hottest ever recorded in the eastern hemisphere, going out is said to be like “walking into a fire”. No sign of such a trend here, but it is of course a huge problem for the mushrooming populations in the Middle East and North Africa, where temperatures almost too hot for human survival will lead to extreme water scarcity. It is easier for those who choose to question global warming here, but one imagines that they are thin on the ground out there!

No such problems here this morning as we codgers chatted excitedly about the latest exploits of local hero Sir Bradley Wiggins. At Rio last night he became Britain’s most decorated Olympian, and the medals for Team GB continued to pour in. Now we hope to see our track and field competitors follow suit. Either way it has to be said that the spirit in which the Games are being played out is an example to sportsmen everywhere. Today our attention will shift a little to the Premiership and we hope that the megastars will take the hint. We are not overly optimistic.

But as we gathered in the hut to boost our blood sugar levels, another item of news dominated our gossip. If truth be told one fear takes precedent over all others in our usually carefree minds. We hen-keepers are all in our eighties and we tremble at the thought of losing our minds. The Alzheimer’s Society says that 225,000 people will develop dementia this year alone, or one every three minutes. What happened to a friend of ours has left a terrible scar on our consciousness, and try as we might we cannot avoid a feeling of dread every time we forget the simplest thing. It may be a shameful thing to say but we regard Alzheimer’s – the most common type of dementia – as a fate worse than death.

It is not surprising therefore that we were, to put it mildly, excited by news of a potentially dramatic breakthrough at Manchester University. A painkiller similar to Ibuprofen that is used to treat period pain and costs about £1.50 a week has given hope of reversing Alzheimer’s. Memory loss and brain inflammation in mice were completely reversed when they were given mefenamic acid, which is a common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Dr David Brough, who led the study published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’, warns that more research is needed to identify its impact on humans. But he says that his team is “very excited” because it is the first time that a drug has been shown to target an important inflammatory pathway called the NLRP3 inflamasome, which damages brain cells. Up to this point it had been assumed that at least 15 years would be needed to develop a new dementia drug from scratch. This drug is already available, and if follow-up tests go as well as anticipated would be at offer at a nominal cost immediately under the brand name Ponstan.

Dr Doug Brown, of the Alzheimer’s Society, has long made it clear that research must include the testing of drugs already in use for other conditions. That of course makes absolute sense, yet there is surely irony in the fact that the long awaited ‘eureka’ moment is centred around something that already exists and requires no massive start-up costs or unending negotiations. Fingers crossed – this could be salvation for sufferers and the worried-well alike!

And on that happy note we returned our attention to less painful reflections. Will the Labour Party ever stop tearing itself apart? Will people ever stop agonising over Brexit? Who cares – the solution to man’s greatest nightmare may be just around the corner at the local pharmacist!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” I guess we’d be living in a boring, perfect world if everybody wished everybody else well”….Jennifer Aniston.
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Sea level rise is greater than thought !

It seems that we are not alone in worrying about the perilous state of NHS hospitals. Yesterday’s piece drew a record number of ‘hits’, and readers from all parts of the UK provided examples of a sharp deterioration in A & E services. Admittedly many of the reports are unsubstantiated, but the indications are that over the next few months many regions will be obliged to do what North Devon District Hospital is threatening to do – close down emergency services to offset a £442m overspend. One reader did take a more pragmatic view by suggesting that we will just have to “learn to live with it”. Perhaps he meant die rather than live. Either way we find it incredible that any government can simply sit by and watch this happen.

But we gobbled a hearty breakfast in the hut in an optimistic mood induced by the Rio Olympics. We were especially thrilled by the performance of Katherine Grainger in the 2,000m double sculls where she won silver with her partner, Victoria Thornley. Her medal takes her past swimmer Rebecca Adlington’s four Olympic medals and makes her the most decorated female Olympian in the modern age. Katherine is 40 years old and has a PhD in criminology and has become chancellor of Oxford Brookes University.

Her triumph brings her Olympian career to its end and yesterday she said that for the first time for a very long time she no longer has to set her alarm for the crack of dawn. The remark reminded us of the tremendous personal sacrifice and dedication required by top competitors. Years of unrelenting effort culminate in a few minutes of triumph or heart-breaking disappointment – no chance of the redemption next week or the consolation of a massive pay cheque awaiting Premiership footballers. There is surely no greater example of the unifying and inspiring power of sport than the Olympics, and a bit of us wishes that they occurred more frequently than every four years.

But we seem to be in a phase where every bit of heart-warming news is offset by some of the opposite persuasion. And this morning we read the outcome of a study by the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado which reveals that global warming is pushing up sea levels at an unprecedented rate. Recent readings had suggested the reverse, and those who chose to question the whole concept of global warming had seized on ‘evidence’ of a cooling trend in sea temperatures. The study reveals that this was due to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines blocking out the sun to such an extent that the Earth temporarily cooled and sea levels actually dropped for a while.

This meant that the eruption artificially masked the true effect of the melting ice on the sea levels for the first two decades of satellite measurement – suggesting that the underlying trend was a fall in the rate of increase, when in fact it should have been speeding up. But the Mount Pinatubo effect has essentially worn off and the sea level is now starting to accelerate in line with original forecasts. Rising temperatures increase the sea level by melting land ice, which makes its way into the ocean and by expanding the water, which swells as it warms.

This poses a huge threat to large swathes of the world, initially to low-lying islands such as the Maldives which are slowly sinking and, in the longer term, to numerous metropolitan cities. Lead study author John Fasullo confirms that now the impact of the eruption has faded, the acceleration will become more evident. The sea is now rising at around 3 millimetres per year. Right now the main contributor is the melting of the giant land-based ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. The latter is the largest, covering an area of about 5.4 million square miles, and containing about 61 per cent of all fresh water on the Earth.

The Pinatubo eruption was the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century after the 1912 eruption of Novarupta on the Alaska Peninsula. It ejected roughly 10 billion tonnes of magma (molten rock) and 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide, the impact of which was magnified by the arrival of a giant typhoon. Tens of thousands had to be evacuated. At the time it seemed a natural disaster of monumental proportions, now it is clear that its effect on the penetration of the sun led us into a state of false optimism.

If ever there was a case for renewed international action on emissions this study is surely it. We optimists continue to believe that this will come, and in the meantime plant our trees with fierce determination. But realists look at the impotent United Nations talking shop and reach for their worry-beads!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing, It was here first”…Mark Twain.
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Radicalised girl’s death should prompt review of Prevent, says MP

Bethnal Green MP expresses concern over counter-terrorism strategy after death of Kadiza Sultana who was lured by Isis

The death in an airstrike of a radicalised schoolgirl who fled Britain last year to join Islamic State in Syria should prompt a full review of Prevent, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, an MP has said.

Kadiza Sultana, who left her home in Bethnal Green, east London, during the half-term break in February 2015 with friends Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, is reported to have died in the terror group’s stronghold of Raqqa in May this year.

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Essex woman’s death in Ghana hotel remains mystery after inquest

Coroner records open verdict into death of Charmain Speirs, rejecting possible conclusions of unlawful killing and suicide

The mystery surrounding the death of a British woman at a hotel in Ghana will hang over her husband “for the rest of his life”, her mother has said, after a coroner recorded an open conclusion at her inquest.

Charmain Speirs, 41, who was reportedly pregnant at the time, was found lifeless in the bath of a hotel room in the city of Koforidua in March 2015, two days after her husband Eric Adusah had returned to the UK, the inquest in Chelmsford heard.

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The NHS crisis is out of control !

Low clouds and driving rain greeted us as we arrived on the allotments this morning. Small wonder that our athletes in Rio are finding the burst of adverse weather conditions less daunting than many of their rivals – it must feel like home from home. We Brits are a stoical bunch, but it has to be admitted that this apology for a summer is beginning to wear us down. Next week several of us are planning to make our annual pilgrimage to the land of our long-lost fathers – Porthmadog to be precise – but the old sense of eager anticipation has been replaced by a search for new rainproof clothing.

Cleaning out our flock of squabbling hens was less than enjoyable today. But more hands made for quicker resolution – we were joined by Tom’s grandsons who are back from university. Sadly even their usually bubbly spirits seemed to be lower than usual. As we sat in the Eric Pickles hut they showed us the outcome of a study by the insurer Aviva which covers 18 to 35-year-olds. It tells us that more than a third of graduate “milennials” regret having gone to university because of rising debt and are struggling to cope in an economy that leaves them with an average monthly disposable income of less than £160.

Even more worrying is the loss of belief in the previously accepted wisdom that going to university improves life chances. Just under half of newly qualified graduates now believe that they could have got to where they are without obtaining a degree, and would not have the millstone of a an average debt of £44,000 around their necks. This is the generation that will in due course lead our society, and it is depressing to say the least.

As is the situation with the NHS. For many a year we codgers have banged on about damaging and costly ‘reforms’, top-down bureaucracy and the rest, but now the situation has worsened to an extent that should frighten every family incapable of paying for private treatment, and that means most of us. Yes, we have heard it all before. The NHS, we have consoled ourselves, hasn’t collapsed so we’ll muddle through. But this crisis is real, the biggest since its birth in 1948.

Right across the UK NHS Trusts are heading for bankruptcy. Population growth and increased longevity have compounded the effect of repeated impositions of so-called efficiency savings and we have passed the point of longer waiting lists and minor service cuts. Yesterday the United Lincolnshire NHS Trust revealed plans to close accident and emergency services at night. It echoes similar moves in many areas as shortage of money and of medical staff bite hard. This is no longer a political or academic debate – people are going to die unnecessarily in what is still a wealthy economy.

During the Brexit campaign much was made of the supposed benefit of using £100,000m saved by ending EU contributions and passing the loot on to the NHS. But even if this is reality it cannot happen for at least two years, and action is needed now to bring the UK healthcare funding up the levels of countries such as Germany and France as a percentage of GNP. As things stand the NHS budget is growing by about 1 per cent a year, but its costs are rising by about four times as much because of the ageing population and, ironically, medical advances.

We realise that Mrs May has inherited a bulging in-tray. But it is hard to think of any issue that transcends the one of people dying or left unattended for hours on end. And yesterday Stephen Cannon, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons, warned that patients will now wait “two or three years” for operations, even those suffering “crippling pain”. And talk of the private sector is an irrelevance, given that the consultants employed there are the self same ones as those that serve NHS hospitals.

At the very least, our new Prime Minister should start an honest debate about how we will fund the health service we all need. Even better she should bite the bullet and increase National insurance contributions and extend them to include all those aged older than 65 who can afford to pay. The amount per person would not be significant and the choice a straight one.

Pay a little more or risk an avoidable family tragedy. It has finally come down to that!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY “The crisis is the most acute since the founding of the NHS. In private Tory politicians admit a crisis is coming, but in public they seem to be in denial”…..Andrew Grice, Independent.
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Judge and defendant exchange insults in court

John Hennigan, being jailed in Chelmsford for racist abuse, shouted offensive remarks at judge who said them right back to him

A judge who was verbally abused by a defendant reciprocated at a court hearing where he was being sentenced for breaching an antisocial behaviour order.

John Hennigan, 50, who had breached the order by using racist language towards a black woman and her two children told Chelmsford crown court judge Patricia Lynch QC that she was “a bit of a cunt”. And Judge Lynch replied: “You are a bit of a cunt yourself.”

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Corbyn campaign reported to watchdog over cheque from pro-Palestinian group

Electoral Commission is asked to look into Friends of al-Aqsa cheque as questions are asked about where £10,000 donation went

A £10,000 donation raised by a pro-Palestinian group for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign has been reported to the Electoral Commission by the chair of the Labour Friends of Israel.

Joan Ryan, a Labour MP, has also written to the Labour leader asking for bank statements from the campaign to be published.

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Never dismiss myths as just myths !

We love the Olympics. Despite the furore that develops every four years about stadiums not being ready, risks of local security outrages, cheating and the rest they always produce dramas, always produce evidence of the unique power of sport to unite mankind in a common aim. And, despite all the dark forebodings and empty seats, Rio is producing the same sense of theatre, of escape from the ‘real world’ of false ambition and nationalism. There really is something quite dramatic about watching an athlete face triumph or disaster over a matter of minutes, having trained unstintingly over years. Never was this better illustrated than in the long-distance cycling – in both men and women events one small error in the closing stages brought catastrophe to the leaders who had used their finely-tuned skills and athleticism to outstrip the field. As an analogy for life it was beyond compare. And we still have such as Mo Farah and Usain Bolt to look forward to.

In our normal routine lives we codgers have a narrow interest in sport. Cleaning out the hens is usually accompanied by talk of Premiership football and, occasionally, cricket. This week there has been much talk of fencing, judo, dressage, synchronised swimming…the list of sports that usually pass us by goes on and on. Suddenly sport takes over our consciousness and topics such as Corbyn, Brexit and even the sainted Theresa vanish in the breeze. Our only negative is our worry that the International Olympics Committee seems weak in its handling of doping allegations. If the day ever comes when we no longer trust what we are seeing the greatest human spectacle will be destroyed for ever.

We hope we never learn that the belief in the purity of the Olympic spirit was after all nothing more than a myth. As we settled in the hut for an Eric Pickles-sized breakfast we consoled ourselves with the thought that myths often prove to be based on reality. And today news comes that reinforces that possibility.

According to legend, Emperor Yu tamed the flooded Yellow River, marking the dawn of the Chinese civilisation. Now, for the first time, evidence has been discovered suggesting that this is more than just a myth. Up until now we have always assumed that, like many of the stories in the Bible, this was simply a tall story invented long ago and gradually embellished down the years. Now we wonder.

Scientists have found an earthquake that rumbled across China 4,000 years ago could be the source of the “great flood” that laid the foundation of Chinese civilisation, according to analysis of children’s skeletons. Evidence of remnants of a landslide, caused by an earthquake, was found in Qinghai province near Tibet. The landslide blocked the river, creating a huge lake that grew for six to nine months. When the waters eventually breached the dam, it could have flooded land 1,200 miles downstream with more than 16 cubic kilometres of water, according to the research published in the journal Science this week.

By radiocarbon dating the skeletons of the children crushed in the flood, and using stratigraphic data, the scientists estimated that the Yellow River flood took place around 1920 BC. The flood would have been one of the worst worldwide over the past 10,000 years, and reflects tales of the “great flood” that were part of the legend of the start of Chinese civilisation. Lead author Wu Qinglong explains that he and his colleagues had stumbled on sediment from the ancient dam. They subsequently discovered that the so-called black sand previously revealed by archaeologists at the Lajai site could be, in fact, the deposits from the outburst flood. Subsequent study showed that the sediments from this outburst flood are up to 20m thick and up to 50m higher than the Yellow River – indicating an unprecedented, devastating flood.

In the Chinese tradition, Yu eventually tamed the flood waters, “earning him the divine mandate to establish the Xia dynasty, the first in Chinese history”. Up until now many historians have believed the story of the flood to be a myth. It seems that they were wrong. Stand by for red faces on Noah’s ark too!

The advances in radiocarbon dating are providing archaeologists with dramatic opportunities to explore what many prefer to see as myths. One such is the Christmas story – one that only dates back half of the time of the Yu one. Of course the reports may have been distorted in the telling, but did those events of which we sing each year actually happen?

Like fishermen and their catches our stories grow bigger in the telling. But that doesn’t make them myths of the fairy-tale variety. Scientists may yet change the way we feel and believe to an astonishing and exciting degree!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers”…Mahatma Gandhi.
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Andy Burnham selected as Labour candidate for Greater Manchester mayor

Shadow home secretary wins 51% of vote to stand in elections next May and says he hopes to win back voters party has lost

The Labour party has selected the shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, as its candidate to fight the Greater Manchester mayoral election in May 2017.

Burnham won 51% of a vote from party members in the region, beating the area’s police and crime commissioner and interim mayor, Tony Lloyd (29%), and the MP for Bury South, Ivan Lewis, who was a government minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (19.8%).

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Ignore the media spin – we are not hate-filled!

A dry morning with lots of cloud formations. And that is how many of us like it, for we love clouds. Sabbaticals in several countries where wall-to-wall blue skies are the norm had us missing the cloud-strewn skies of Britain. It surprised us at the time but we came to realise that clouds are the most egalitarian of nature’s displays. We all have a fantastic view of the sky, yet there always seems to be something very personal about the cloud formations. Everyone forms relationships with them when they are young and have memories of looking up and finding shapes.

My most treasured photograph is of a witch-shaped cloud. It was snapped by a friend who spotted it moments before it fragmented, and provides a permanent reminder that quiet contemplation provides an ever-changing series of images. To an extent we each see what we want to see as they provide visible expressions of the mood of the atmosphere. One moment an old lady, the next a prancing horse. Those who never glance skywards miss out on the greatest moving picture show of them all.

But enough of such musing – we had a busy morning ahead. But before setting about the most pleasant task of all – the harvesting of the fruits of our months-long labours – force of habit dictated that we gather in the hut for refreshments. Yesterday’s headlines in the daily comics told us that we Brits have become a nation of secret snackers, but we make no secret of our indulgences and have yet to become even remotely obese, a fact we can only put down to endless digging and hoeing.

But tea and doughnuts always trigger reflection, and this morning we were in high dudgeon. Ever since the Brexit vote the media has maintained a constant dialogue about “hate-filled Brtain”. Suddenly, it seems, our once tolerant society has become consumed by hate. To prove the point pictures of a brick thrown through Ms Eagle’s constituency office window and a group of Geordies waving racist banners are shown again and again. This, we are told, is how we have become. We believe it to be rubbish. Of course there are some extremists and bigots out there, but they represent a tiny minority.

It’s almost impossible to argue reasonably that Britain is a bigoted country where ethnic minorities are somehow kept down. On the contrary, they are now more likely than whites to hold top jobs (doctors, lawyers, chief executives). More than a million Londoners voted for Sadiq Khan in May, giving him the largest direct mandate enjoyed by any individual in British history – not bad for the capital of a nation which, according to Lady Warsi, has become a nation where it is “socially acceptable” to despise Muslims.

But wait cry the BBC prophets of doom, the number of recorded hate crimes is reaching “epidemic” levels. And the evidence? The police say that 3,192 reports of hate incidents were received in the last two weeks of June, and 3,001 in the first two weeks of July. Apparently that constitutes a rise of 48 per cent and 20 per cent respectively on last year’s levels. But allow us some scepticism here. Most of these incidents were reported through True Vision, a police-funded website that allows anyone anywhere to report something they either experienced or witnessed, anonymously if they like. No evidence is needed. Everything is instantly logged as a hate incident.

Already two of the much publicised post-Brexit ‘incidents’ have benn debunked. That much publicised attack on a tapas bar in Lewisham has proved to be a burglary. A photo of four boneheads in Newcastle saying “Stop Immigration, Start Repatriation” was widely shown as evidence of xenophobia. But Geordies have pointed out that those idiots have been holding up that banner for years.

But the key factor here is the new definition of a hate crime. It is, say the police, “any criminal offence that is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic”. The police’s ‘Hate Crime Operational Guidance’ now stresses that the victim’s perception is the deciding factor in whether something is measured as a hate crime. No evidence is required, merely a belief on the part of a ‘victim’ that the real reason for an offence was prejudice. Thus should you yell at someone who happens to be gay who has bumped into your car in a supermarket car park constitutes an homophbic crime even though you didn’t know that he was gay.

The method being used to record hate crime is deeply flawed. And the frantic search for ‘evidence’ of an upsurge in hate is a slur on millions of good, tolerant people. And it spreads fear amongst large numbers of equally good and tolerant minority groups. Yet according to one hysterical daily Britain now evokes “nightmares of 1930s Germany”. Really? Unlike in mainland Europe the extreme right-wing parties such as the BNP and EDL have died electoral deaths here. And just how many people in your community have suddenly taken to yelling abuse at anyone?

The hate-crime epidemic is a self-sustaining myth – a libel against the nation.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” What the BBC calls an epidemic is a product of the authorities redefining racism and prejudice to such an extent that almost any unpleasant encounter between people of different backgrounds can now be recorded as hatred”….Brendan O’Neill, The Spectator.
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August 8th – and it’s ‘Earth’s overshoot day’ !

It is perhaps appropriate that a Monday morning should herald not only dark clouds, rain and howling winds, but also the annual ‘Earth’s overshoot day’. Ever since we codgers retired from our various occupations we have continued to be plagued with a touch of the Monday blues. Illogical of course, but it does seem to be the case that if anything dismal is likely to happen it chooses today for its manifestation. Unless of course you happen to be on ‘Dave’s’ ‘Resignation Honours List’, so called because everyone is resigned to the fact that it will be full of Tory donors, time-servers, personal friends, hairdressers and people who don’t deserve an honour at all. Then again Sam Cam’s stylist has pointed out that hers were the only Downing Street cuts that were effective.

But we digress, for you are probably wondering just what is ‘Earth’s overshoot day’. It marks the day on which humanity’s demand on the planet’s natural resources exceeds what it can regenerate in a year. This year it will fall today, its earliest date yet. In the 1960s, humans only used about three-quarters of the Earth’s replaceable resources but since then a tale of potential disaster has gathered pace.

The day is calculated by the international think tank Global Footprint Network. The organisation uses United Nations data on thousands of economic sectors, including the energy industry, transport, fisheries and forestry, and calculates the number of days the Earth is able to provide resources for humanity’s ecological footprint. According to the network, greenhouse gas emissions are the largest and fastest-growing environmental impact, accounting for 60 per cent of the ecological footprint. And since the 1970s, economic and population booms combined with modern consumer demands have played their part in speeding up the depletion of resources.

Pascal Canfin of WWF said today that as from this morning “we are living on credit”. In other words for the next five months the developed nations of the Earth will continue to fly, waste food, drive cars, burn lights, consume energy and the rest to an extent that consumes the Earths natural resources at an irreplaceable rate. The larder is shrinking whilst the demand is growing.

As we gathered in the allotments hut for our daily repast we reflected on this sombre news with much head-shaking but few ideas as to how mankind can save itself. Of course we all see daily examples of extraordinary waste. One only has to go along to local supermarkets to see skip-loads of food, much of which has been transported halfway across the world, being carried away to landfill sites – there to create yet more emissions. And you don’t even need to go that far to see new energy-consuming appliances by the dozen and cars chosen for their prestige rather than fuel economy.

And already such as Stamford University’s Professor Chris Field is warning that it is already clear that the increase in global warming limit of 15C target set at the Paris negotiations in December is already proving unattainable. Perhaps the time has come for an international easy-to-understand call for the need for each and every one of us to economise. Perhaps some latter day Churchill has the ability to convince us that the need for this exceeds all else – that it is even more important than Brexit, Olympic Golds or even wider screen TVs. Dream on!

It is a depressing note on which to start another week of unremitting consumption. So let us attempt a positive ending. Let us recommend that on Friday evening you venture forth to somewhere free of light pollution, and gaze skywards. There will be a dazzling display of Perseid meteors as Earth ploughs through a dense cloud of comet debris. This year’s spectacle will be more dramatic than usual as the Perseids reach the high point in their 12-year activity cycle. The meteors consist of particles, almost no bigger than a grain of sand, shed by Comet Swift-Tuttle. They enter the Earth’s atmosphere at 37 miles per second and burn up.

It will be well worth the effort. And you could choose to believe that nature is providing us with a spectacular reminder that we are in the last chance saloon.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” As men we are all equal in the presence of death”….Publilius Syrus.
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Abuse victims deserve better !

Our resident seaweed-based meteorologist Albert had predicted a beautiful start to the weekend, and he was vindicated as we cleaned out the hens this morning. Unlike our late prime minister we realise that the sight of flab is not appealing and we restricted our state of undress to short-sleeved Tesco shirts, but even the feeling of warm sun on our arms was a rare treat.

Only Tom had sat up to watch the Rio opening ceremony and the rest of us were distinctly perky. However we were pleased to hear his glowing report of a “cool” affair that featured 5,000 volunteers, 500 musicians, 200 professional dancers and no fewer than 12,000 costumes. Of course there was scope for the critics to get their teeth into, not least in the appearance of a huge Russian contingent. There was also the thought of 88,000 troops and police officers being required, but that doesn’t reflect solely the troubled state of Brazilian society. It is sadly a reflection of the world in which we now live. Anyway it is time to put aside reservations for a fortnight and to enjoy the unique spectacle of the world’s best in action. And provided that team GB lands around fifty medals we Brits will deem it a very successful affair.

Which is more than can be said for the troubled inquiry into child sex abuse. The sudden resignation of Dame Lowell Goddard is astonishing. Appointed in February last year by the then Home Secretary Theresa May, following two earlier resignations, she was confidently expected to bring a sharp legal and independent mind to proceedings. She arrived from New Zealand to rave reviews from the media, plus a £360,000 a year salary and a £2,000-a-week publicly funded London home. Her entirely unexpected ‘Dear John’ letter consisted of two lines as she boarded the plane for home. Apart from a reference to missing her “beloved family” – something that she must have anticipated – we have no clue as to what has gone wrong.

But it is desperately disappointing news for victims of abuse who for so long have lived with soul destroying memories. Equally depressing is the inevitable further delay in coming up with proposals aimed at making sure that such foul acts can never happen undetected again. Yes justice demands that individuals and organisations be named and shamed, but that is far from enough. Every decent citizen demands that children have access to sympathetic ears and protection agencies well-trained in immediate intervention.

We mulled this over as we enjoyed our Saturday morning breakfast perched on the hut wall. it seems to us that the least that the globe-trotting Dame Lowell can do is explain just why she felt it necessary to leave. We say that because it seems to us likely that the terms of reference may have proved too extensive. The inquiry has a remit so sprawling that staff are already swamped with possible evidence of abuse. Tasked with investigating past and present abuse in Britain’s institutions – from Westminster councils and the NHS to churches Anglican and Catholic – it all sounds like mission impossible, or at least one that will take even longer than the Iraq inquiry. And children are in peril right now.

To avoid any suggestion of starting again it would clearly make sense to appoint an existing member to the top role. It would also seem prudent to start with the here and now with recommendations for a legally binding code of practice for every relevant institution overseen by a national child protection investigation and enforcement organisation. That having been done the painstaking task of investigating the past could begin, secure in the knowledge that today’s generation are not vulnerable.

Yes we realise that this all sounds overly simplistic. But the first priority is surely to ensure that foul creatures such as Saville are not still free to gain access to children in places where they should be protected. Our hearts do go out to victims of the past, but we feel sure that they too will share the view that top of the list is the need to ensure that never again means as from now. And action one should be to reverse the years of cuts to social services – large case loads are a green light to abusers.

By way of light relief we offer help to Donald the Trump, who is out-Clegging Clegg in the business of destroying support. We hate to see a fellow idiot in distress, and wondered if it might help him to learn that Hilary Clinton’s great-great uncle Remus Rodham was hung for horse stealing and train robbery in 1889. Then again the Clinton spin-doctors are on the ball, and might well reply that Remus passed away at an important civic function held in his honour when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed. But that’s the best we can offer Donald and his prospects of the Presidency now look akin to a Corbyn landslide in 2020.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The surprising thing about young fools is how many survive to become old fools”…Doug Larson.
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Russell Square knife attack suspect ‘a polite and pleasant boy’

Zakaria Bulhan’s neighbours express shock that he might have carried out the London stabbings in which a US woman was killed

The teenager who allegedly killed an American woman and wounded five others in a stabbing spree in central London was a polite and pleasant boy who rarely got into trouble, according to neighbours.

Zakaria Bulhan, 19, a Norwegian of Somali descent who has been identified as the suspect in the attack in Russell Square on Wednesday night, lived with his mother, 42, his younger brother, 16, and his sister, 24, in a flat in south London.

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Computers should carry a health warning !

The allotments were bathed in sunshine as we arrived this morning. We pinched ourselves as we gazed at the wondrous scene. The runner beans were a mass of reds, the begonias a mass of every colour know to man and the lilies arrayed as Solomon in all his glory. Even the feathers of our Columbian Blacktails seemed aglow. More mornings such as this could have us forgetting that Donald Trump is running the Bank of England.

But we were intent on the butterflies, more specifically in looking for those of the speckled wood variety. Our search was prompted by the wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, which has let it be known that as the climate has warmed it has spread to colonise much of northern England. The speckled wood is aptly named, flying in partially shaded woodland with dappled sunlight. Scientists are keen to understand why it is thriving at a time when three quarters of the UK’s butterflies are in decline, with many widespread species experiencing worrying slumps. Sir David Attenborough has appealed for news of sightings, and our eyes are wide open. For more detail of this potentially hopeful development go to www.bigbutterflycount.org.

Incidentally we noticed that the commentator on the Wimbledon centre court on the day of the Andy Murray triumph announced that “The famous naturist David Attenborough is with us today”. The omission of just two letters can give a somewhat false impression!

However, enough of such minutia. We must obey the widespread exhortation to whip ourselves into a frenzy over the Rio Olympics. Yes we hope to see team GB raking in the medals, but some aspects of the affair are somewhat off-putting. Riot police have used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear demonstrators as the Olympic torch arrived – it seems that the £9bn cost of the games has riled many who live in abject poverty. Over 80,000 police and security staff are being used, double the amount used at the London games. Meantime the inept handling of the Russian doping findings has cast its own shadow. It is not the happiest background for Mo Farah’s attempt at another double-triumph. But we will cheer him on and blame the chaos on Brexit.

By now we had completed the for once pleasurable experience of cleaning out the hens. On arrival in the hut I plugged in my battered laptop, only to be warned that it is bad for my health. An odd claim, but my pals had in their possession a copy of a study conducted by Dr Steven Mann of the research health body UKactive. It covered 400 children at 14 schools in the North West between the ages of eight and nine over a 13-month period.

Tests after they returned from last year’s summer holidays reveal that the 80 per cent boost in aerobic capacity gained over the school year was lost over the six-week break. The fitness gains made by the children as a result of PE and school sports were wiped out.

According to Dr Mann the explanation is not hard to find: “In years gone by school summer breaks would be spent being active outdoors building dens and playing games, whereas today’s generation are more likely to be found hunched over screens or playing on computers”. He even welcomes modern crazes like Pokemon Go which at least involve physical movement!

In truth the findings will surprise few. But they are immensely worrying given that medical experts now believe that physical and mental well being for life is heavily influenced by fitness levels during our formative years. Some parents we know have imposed a ban on screens during their annual family holidays, which at least reduces the annual period of indolence by one third. But many – themselves now addicted to screen-watching – simply don’t bother.

Expect the chattering classes to come up with computer health warnings soon. And for once it seems that it is important we take what they say without so much as a pinch of that “deadly” salt!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Everything that I understand, I understand only because I love”….Leo Tolstoy.
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Underfunded researchers unlock more nightmares!

Oh to be in England now that summer is here! The wind this morning was fierce enough to dislodge teeth, if we had any, and by way of a dessert precipitation trickled down to our nether regions. Who’d be a chicken? Who’d be someone daft enough to devote their lives to looking after them?

As happens on such all too frequent occasions we cleaned out the coops at speeds achieved without the aid of performance enhancing drugs, and retired to the hut in search of consolation. Copious amounts of Yorkshire tea and even greater amounts of doughnuts later we were ready to put the world to rights in the assured manner of people with no responsibilities, and even less understanding of the complexity of the task.

The Bank of England under our equivalent of Donald Trump is said to be about to reduce interest rates to the lowest levels since William 111’s defeat to France. There are widespread reports of children with mental health problems being hospitalised hundreds of miles away from their families. As we speak reports are coming in of what sounds like another Isis-inspired deluded individual creating murderous mayhem in central London. Our much lauded Northern powerless Powerhouse is said to be back in a minister’s in-tray. Oh come on – there must be some good news.

Well there most certainly is, but you have to search hard to find it. Occupying about one fifth of the column inches devoted to the Davies family who have won £61.1m in the EuroMillions jackpot is a story that rightfully should be on every front page. More of that in a moment, but we have to wish the Davies family well, particularly since at the time of ringing her daughter with a request to buy a ticket mum Sonia was in Florida having a life-saving operation that our cash-strapped NHS couldn’t provide. We do tend to wonder why prize money isn’t better spread, but good luck to them.

The good news we sought concerns three US researchers. Ulrich Hartl of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, Arthur Horwich of the Yale School of Medicine and Susan Lindquist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have won the Albany Medical Centre Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. They were chosen for their discoveries about the transference of genetic information from amino acids to cell proteins. Protein folding is a concept with important implications for the treatment or delay of Parkinson’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease, Huntingdon’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions as well as cancer and drug resistance.

This is truly a ‘eureka’ moment. The discoveries have major implications for the treatment of a range of conditions that take an enormous toll of people everywhere. Boffins toiling in laboratories can suddenly transform the fate of millions, and after years of unheralded labour can suddenly achieve more for the human race than a zillion politicians, astronauts or even much lauded Olympians.

So how can it be that so much of what they do is conducted on shoestring budgets, mainly derived from charitable donations and tin-rattling? Without doubt secrets capable of unlocking doors to life saving and transforming treatments are out there. Why does mankind believe that research merits so little support or attention? Just the cost of HS2 alone would fund hundreds of additional research centres, and people across the developed world can all think of countless other ‘priorities’ that bear no comparison in terms of the quality of human life.

Yes this is extremely exciting news, but it prompts us to focus yet again on the greatest mystery of all. The recipe for a healthier and happier life lies in a test-tube. Yet world leaders simply shrug and choose to believe that they are immune from the list of diseases that show no respect for status, creed or colour.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Don’t be sweet, lest you be eaten up; don’t be bitter lest you be spewed out”…JewishProverb.
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British woman dies after cycling into ravine on Pyrénées holiday

Family pay tribute to ‘devoted mother and treasured wife’ Jennifer Hill after accident near Gavarnie in poor visibility

Tributes have been paid to a Welsh woman who died after cycling into a ravine in fog, while on holidays in the Pyrénées.

There was speculation that Jennifer Hill, who was on a cycling holiday with her husband, may have missed a sharp turn while descending a steep road above the resort of Gavarnie. Visibility was described as poor by local firefighters at the time of the accident on Sunday evening.

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Faith in human nature needs a boost !

The descendants of Michael Fish had warned us to expect the equivalent of two-month’s rain yesterday, and our Ikea ark kit had been laid out in the workshop. In the event we had, er, none. We do realise that it only takes a puff of heavenly breath to move the jet stream and render predictions as accurate as opinion polls, so we attach no blame to the Met Office. But we do wonder why we all spend so much time watching TV weather forecasts.

Perhaps it is symptomatic of our daily lives where we pay similar homage to the news despite knowing that its reflection of reality is equally false. Day after day, hour after hour, we are deluged with stories of murderous Islamists, politicians scoring points off each other and rigging honours for their cronies, and wealthy bankers explaining why they need to pay us ever decreasing interest. And we sigh and say that that’s human nature for you. And we are wrong.

As we cleaned out our flock of squabbling hens we began to wonder why it is that a general lowering in public morale and trust has become the norm in this new age of instant communication. Could it be down to our newly found preoccupation with ‘national’ news and its underlying theme of me-first and political sleight-of-hand? Have we come to believe that the inherent goodness in ‘ordinary’ folk that once dominated such news as we received no longer exists? It seems to us a plausible theory.

One factor could be the slow death of local newspapers. Some still exist, albeit on a much reduced circulation, and last evening we spotted a story typical of the ‘revelations’ that once helped Dad wile away his evenings. An elderly lady named as Mrs Richardson from Blyth tried to call her granddaughter when she fell in her bathroom and was unable to stand up last Sunday morning. She tried to use the mobile in her dressing gown pocket to call her granddaughter, but in her panic pressed the button for her local BMW dealership.

Salesman Dang Vuong picked up the phone and, having asked for her postcode and used Google for her address, drove to the rescue. When he arrived he found Mrs Richardson lying on the floor with blood on her nose, chin and side of her cheek. He “cleaned her face”, “scooped her up” and “made sure she was all right” before alerting her family. He was in the middle of making a cup of tea when they arrived.

A simple story, far removed from the daily diet of mighty ministers of dubious repute, but it illustrates the fact that buried beneath depressing sagas, lie vast numbers of examples of the still present kindness and consideration for others that exist out there. Yes the old close-knit communities have gone but the vast majority of people still have hearts of gold.

It is a cheering thought in a world that has seemingly gone mad, and as we settled in the hut for a doughnut or four we wondered if what we really lack is inspiring leadership of the kind that could unite and inspire all those millions of sane, quiet citizens who together could be a force for good.

We raise the concept having recalled what happened at the outbreak of World War 2. At its outbreak many experts believed the most potent threat to national resistance was a breakdown of the country’s collective mental health. The Ministry of Health was warned it could expect three to four million cases of mental breakdown, and a glance back at the horrors faced by the civilian population shows why this was the expectation. Large numbers of buildings were requisitioned and converted into temporary mental health hospitals. But they were never needed.

Why not? Freudian psychoanalysts argue that since fear infantilises people, what the country needed was a “father figure”. When the bellicose Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain – a man tainted by his association with pre-war appeasement – the change was seen as “psychologically helpful”. From the shrinks’ point of view it was a case of: “Take a dose of Churchill and call me in the morning”. Churchill pulled no punches, offered no reassuring options. But he roared defiance against the common enemy – and with his label of “little guttersnipe” turned Hitler into a verminous version of Charlie Chaplain. WE – it was always WE – will fight them in the streets and in the beaches he roared. The masses responded.

Today we are not too far from war with an even deadlier foe. The nation is divided along wealth and political lines as never before. The time for PR smoothies and overly polite leaders has gone. We need a ‘father’ or ‘mother’ figure at the helm, one capable of uniting and inspiring all those hidden-from-view good and caring people.

Perhaps in Mrs May we have found one. If not the clock is ticking at an ever faster rate.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Defeatism about the past is a grievous error; defeatism about the future is a crime”….Philip Noel-Baker, Nobel Peace Prize, 1959.
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